The NFL playoff picture is crystalizing with three weeks remaining in the regular season.
The Broncos and Falcons proved to be pretenders Sunday. The Bengals gave themselves new life, the 49ers virtually locked up a spot, and the Cardinals might be headed for another late-season collapse.
The Bears still appear on the “In The Hunt” portion of the playoff graphic, but that's as close as they are getting to the postseason barring a miracle.
COVID was the biggest story in the NFL in Week 15, as outbreaks forced three games to be postponed, leaving the weekend slate light, meaning the two best games of the week took place before Sunday.
On Thursday, Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs outlasted Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers in overtime, recapturing the No. 1 seed in the AFC along with their sixth straight win. Then, on Saturday, the New England Patriots fell back to earth in a 27-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Meanwhile in the NFC, the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers can turn their attention to the playoffs after clinching the NFC North and NFC South titles, respectively.
Here’s where every team stands after Sunday's Week 15 action:
32. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12): The Jags ejected Urban Meyer on Thursday after a putrid 13-game tenure. That’s bigger than any on-field win they can get this season.
31. Houston Texans (3-11): Houston has won eight consecutive games against the Jags. The last time the Texans lost to Jacksonville, Blake Bortles beat T.J. Yates.
30. New York Jets (3 -11): Zach Wilson’s Completion Percentage Over Expectation is now minus-10. That would be the second-worst mark in the history of the stat, trailing only C.J. Beathard’s minus-11 percent in 2017. Lots of work to be done in Gotham.
29. New York Giants (4-10): Things were so bad for the Giants they had to bring in Jake Fromm to relieve Mike Glennon. Big Blue is an unwatchable product.
28. Detroit Lions (2-11-1): With their upset win over the Cardinals, the Lions are no longer in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 pick. That’s bad news for either Kayvon Thibodeau or Aidan Hutchinson, who likely will be headed to Jacksonville come April.
27. Chicago Bears (4-9): Can someone explain why the Bears are waiting to fire Matt Nagy?
26. Carolina Panthers (5-9): Maybe Joe Brady wasn't the problem with the Panthers' offense, just a guess.
25. Seattle Seahawks (5-8): Somehow, the Seahawks still have a pulse in the NFC playoff race, but they need to beat the Rams on Tuesday to keep them from flatlining.
24. Atlanta Falcons (6-8): It’s a miracle the Falcons have won six games. I'm not sure they have one position group that is above average outside of tight end and kicker.
23. Las Vegas Raiders (6-7): Derek Carr promised this Raiders team would be different. It isn’t. It might be time for the QB and the Silver and Black to part ways this offseason.
22. Washington Football Team (6-7): Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke both are trending toward returning from the COVID list by Tuesday’s must-win game vs. the Eagles. Allen isn’t anything special, but it’s better than trusting your playoff hopes to Garrett Gilbert.
21. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1): Mike Tomlin should win Coach of the Year just for finding a way to win seven games with Big Ben’s rotten arm and this do-nothing offense.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7): Carson Wentz reached the 75 percent snap threshold for the Colts, meaning the Eagles will have three first-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft. That’ll do as long as they don’t pass on the next Justin Jefferson.
19. Minnesota Vikings (6-7): With COVID depleting the Bears' defense, the Vikings have no excuse not to get back to .500 on Monday.
18. Miami Dolphins (7-7): The Dolphins have run through an assembly line of cupcakes during their winning streak. Doesn't matter. A six-game winning streak in the NFL is impressive no matter what.
17. New Orleans Saints (7-7): It’s criminal that the Saints have this defense and elected to trot out the trio of Jameis Winston, Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill at QB.
16. Denver Broncos (7-7): It’s time for the Broncos to clean house, and that might include John Elway if he can't find a quarterback this time around.
15. Cleveland Browns (7-6): Baker Mayfield? Case Keenum? Nick Mullens? COVID has the Browns playing the worst game of quarterback roulette for Monday night’s game vs. the Raiders.
14. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6): Cincinnati now has the first-place team in the AFC North and the College Football Playoff-bound Bearcats. Must be the chili.
13. Baltimore Ravens (8-6): The Ravens took the Packers to the wire with a JV roster and Tyler Huntley as the trigger man. Credit John Harbaugh. The Ravens never quit.
12. San Francisco 49ers (8-6): The Falcons were the perfect opponent for one-read Jimmy Garoppolo. Things will get tougher over the final three weeks and into the playoffs.
11. Tennessee Titans (9-5): The Titans aren't the same without Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Julio Jones. Either they get them back, or they’ll be the team everyone wants to face in the Wild Card Round.
10. Buffalo Bills (8-6): Sean McDermott, the AFC's Mike McCarthy, is ready for another shot at the Patriots. Careful what you wish for.
9. Los Angeles Chargers (8-6): The only mistake Brandon Staley made vs. the Chiefs was not going for two when the Chargers were up seven. Every other decision was sound. He believes in his team, and they’ll be dangerous in January.
8. Indianapolis Colts (8-6): One Jonathan Taylor run ended a decade-plus of the Colts getting outcoached, out-toughed, and outplayed by the Patriots. These Colts are contenders even with a Carson Wentz-sized weight around their ankles.
7. Arizona Cardinals (10-4): Kyler Murray says the Cardinals aren’t about to fold down the stretch like they did last season. I’ll believe it when I see it.
6. Dallas Cowboys (10-4): Dak Prescott hasn't looked right since he returned from injury. The Cowboys need No. 4 to get back to balling if they want to make any noise in January.
5. New England Patriots (9-5): The Patriots beat themselves for three quarters and still almost came back to knock off the Colts. The AFC is still there for Mac and Hoodie to take.
4. Los Angeles Rams (9-4): The Rams appear to have benefitted from their game vs. the Seahawks being pushed back to Tuesday. The Seahawks are losing guys to the COVID list as the Rams get healthier. Them’s the breaks.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4): The Saints are Tom Brady’s Kryptonite, but the Bucs have bigger issues than a loss to the Saints as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette all left Sunday’s game with injuries.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (10-4): Just like that, the Chiefs are back in first place in the AFC. Same as it ever was.
1. Green Bay Packers (11-3): The Packers are 11-3 despite their special teams being dog water. They might be impossible to beat if they ever get that ironed out.
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