The playoff picture remains cloudy with two weeks to go. And there’s only one division title to be clinched in the NFC. Welcome to the NFL’s stretch run.
Heading into Week 15, there were more than a handful of clubs that had the opportunity to wrap up either a playoff berth or division title. The Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Chargers were successful in their quests. As for the rest of those clubs, well…
AFC East: For the second time this season, the New England Patriots have lost two games in a row. And Bill Belichick’s suddenly-struggling team wound up 3-5 on the road this season following a 17-10 loss to the Steelers at Pittsburgh on Sunday. Both the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets fell in Week 15, the former at Minnesota (41-17) and the latter at home to the Houston Texans on Saturday (29-22). Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills were the only club in the AFC East to notch a win this week, edging the visiting Detroit Lions, 14-13.
AFC North: The Steelers ended a three-game losing streak as well as a five-game overall skid to the New England Patriots by clamping down on Tom Brady and company, 17-10. In fact, all four teams in the AFC North came up victorious this week. It started on Saturday at Denver where the Browns snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Broncos with a 17-16 triumph. On Sunday, Baltimore edged Tampa Bay, 20-12, while Cincinnati outlasted the visiting Oakland Raiders, 30-16.
AFC South: The Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans all won in Week 15. Houston rallied to beat the New York Jets at East Rutherford, 29-22, on Saturday. Meanwhile both the Colts and the Titans came up with shutout victories on Sunday. Frank Reich’s team blanked the Cowboys, 23-0. And Tennessee running back Derrick Henry ran roughshod through the New York Giants, 17-0, on Sunday at East Rutherford.
AFC West: The Los Angeles Chargers are in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Last Thursday night, the team rallied in the fourth quarter to edge the host Kansas City Chiefs, 29-28. It snapped the Bolts’ nine-game losing streak to this AFC West rival. On Saturday, the Denver Broncos fell at home to the Cleveland Browns, 17-16, and are not going to the playoffs for the third consecutive year. And the Oakland Raiders lost their 11th game of 2018 with a 30-16 setback at Cincinnati.
NFC East: The Dallas Cowboys entered Sunday with a five-game winning streak and were in position to wrap up the division with a win at Indianapolis on Sunday. But Jason Garrett’s club was manhandled by the much-improved Colts, 23-0. Meanwhile, both the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles won road games on Sunday. The latter got a game-winning field goal at the gun to edge the Jacksonville Jaguars, 16-13. And the defending Super Bowl champions rose to the occasion by upending the Rams, 30-23. Finally, the New York Giants were officially eliminated from the postseason with a 17-0 home loss to the Tennessee Titans.
NFC North: The Chicago Bears are NFC North champions for the first time since 2010. They ended an eight-game home losing streak to the Green Bay Packers (which included a setback in the 2010 NFC title game), and came away with a 24-17 win. The Minnesota Viking stayed in the playoff hunt and are back above the 500 mark thanks to a 41-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins. And the Detroit Lions fell at Orchard Park to the Buffalo Bills, 14-13.
NFC South: The Carolina Panthers, losers of five straight games, will host the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. Keep in mind that a year ago, Sean Payton’s club defeated this NFC South rival three times a year ago, including a first-round playoff matchup at the Superdome. Elsewhere, the Atlanta Falcons ended a five-game losing streak by routing the visiting Arizona Cardinals, 40-14. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell at Baltimore, 20-12.
NFC West: There’s a lot to be said for good defense in this league and how it can affect even the most potent of offenses. The Los Angeles Rams have found that out two weeks in a row and on Sunday night at the L.A. Coliseum they dropped their second game in a row, falling to the shorthanded Eagles, 30-23. The Seattle Seahawks had an opportunity to grab a playoff berth on Sunday but were surprised at San Francisco, 26-23, at overtime. Meanwhile, the Arizona Cardinals continued their miserable season with a 40-14 loss at Atlanta.