Previewing NFL Week 15

Lamar Jackson started the weekend with another five-touchdown passing show against the Jets that moved the Ravens one step closer to clinching the top seed in the AFC. They hold a one game lead plus a head to head tie-breaker over the Patriots, who figure to beat Cincinnati Sunday. The Ravens last two games are against the Browns and Steelers. The Ravens and the Chiefs are the two AFC teams to clinch division titles. Both have three game leads. The Saints are the only NFC team to have clinched a division title with a four-game lead with three left. The other five divisions are close with no more than a game separating the top team from the second team. And then there’s the NFC East with the Cowboys and Eagles, who play next week, tied for first with losing records at 6-7.

Game of the week

The Texans and Titans are tied for first place in the AFC South at 8-5 and will meet twice in the last three weeks. If either team sweeps, they will clinch the division title.

Game of the weak

The 2-11 Giants and the 3-10 Dolphins meet in a game that may decide the second spot in the draft. Cincinnati is in the lead at 1-12. The game will feature the second start in a row for Eli Manning, who was benched for rookie Daniel Jones earlier this year, but got the job back when Jones was sidelined with a high ankle sprain.

What to look for this weekend

—The 8-5 Rams will attempt to stay in the wild card race in the NFC when they go to Dallas. It is a meaningless game for the Cowboys because they can lose this game and still win the division at 8-8 if they beat the Eagles and Redskins in their final two games. The Cowboys would have the tie-breaker edge with a sweep of the Eagles. The Eagles play at the Redskins Sunday.

—The 9-4 Bills go to the 8-5 Steelers, who started out 1-4, in a game that has a lot of playoff ramifications. The Bills can’t afford to look ahead to the game next week at New England. If the Bills win the next two, they would be tied with New England in head to head and division and conference records, assuming the Patriots beat the Bengals. A Steeler victory would likely mean both the Steelers and Bills get wild card spots.

—The Raiders play their last game in Oakland against the Jaguars before moving to Las Vegas next year. The amazing thing is the Raiders are leaving, but the Oakland fans still root for them. But both teams are struggling with the Raiders at 6-7 and the Jaguars at 4-9 so it is not likely to be a memorable matchup except for the atmosphere at the stadium.

—The 10-3 Packers can stay one game ahead of the 9-4 Vikings in the NFC North with the victory over the Bears. Meanwhile, the Vikings are at the Chargers. Both the Bears and Vikings have to stay focused. The Bears are an old rival and Mitch Trubisky is suddenly playing better. And the Chargers are better than their 5-8 record with all their losses by one score.

—The game between the 3-9-1 Cardinals and the disappointing 6-8 Browns wouldn’t seem to be much of an attraction except that it features a duel of the last two Heisman Trophy winners with Baker Mayfield facing Kyler Murray. Both played at Oklahoma.

Looking back at NFL Week 14

The week featured what is likely to be the play of the year in the Saints-49ers game when the 49ers faced 4th and 2 on their 33-yard line late in the game. George Kittle caught a short pass and bulldozed his way for 39-yard gain while his face mask was being pulled. Then the 15-yard penalty was added on and 49ers won with a late field goal.

The win vaulted the 49ers from fifth to first seed in the NFC while the Seahawks dropped from first to fifth with the loss to the Rams. It also means the Saints are in danger of going on the road if they get to the NFC title game, which is always challenging for a dome team.

In the AFC, Baltimore kept a grip on the top seed by beating Buffalo.

Positives

—Jimmy Garoppolo boosted his record to 19-4 with four touchdowns and 349 passing yards as he outdueled Drew Bree’s. The Saints scored on their first four possessions and lost. Going into the game, teams that scored on their first four possessions were 44-0 since 2000.

—The rejuvenated Rams beat the Seahawks with defense as they survived two interceptions by Jared Goff, including a Pick Six.

—The Ravens also relied on their defense as they held the Bills to 278 yards of offense as they retained the top seed in the AFC. They have now won nine in a row, seven against winning teams.

—Ryan Tannehill boosted his record to 6-1 since replacing Marcus Mariota as the Titans crushed the Raiders, but Derrick Henry has been the key to their four-game winning streak with 599 yards and seven touchdowns. He got 103 against the Raiders.

—The Eagles rallied for a tying touchdown in the fourth quarter and then marched for a game winning touchdown in overtime to beat the Giants and tie the Cowboys for first place in the NFC East. They did it even though Carson Wentz was down to one healthy receiver. But it is hard to imagine the Eagles going deep into the playoffs even if they make it.

Negatives

—The home team usually gets the calls, but the officials blew critical calls that went against the Patriots in their loss at home to the Chiefs. They cost them two touchdowns, blowing the whistle on a scoop and score and nullifying a second touchdown by ruling the runner was out of bounds when he wasn’t. Still, the Patriots didn’t play well and Tom Brady seems to be showing his age.

—Kyle Allen apparently isn’t the Panthers quarterback of the future. After a 5-0 start, he has lost six of seven, including the loss to Atlanta. If they don’t keep Cam Newton, finding a new quarterback will be Job One for the new coach.

—The Houston Texans beat New England a week ago but then were drilled by Denver and rookie quarterback Drew Lock. The Texans now face the Titans twice in the last three weeks and are in danger of missing the playoffs.

—The Indianapolis Colts also are in danger of missing the playoffs after blowing a 14-point third quarter lead and losing to Tampa Bay. If they don’t make the playoffs, it will be the fourth time in the last five years they are failed to make it.

—The Lions fell to 3-9-1 with the loss to the Vikings but coach Matt Patricia tried to claim the team is better than its record. The team was 6-1 in his first season after replacing Jim Caldwell, who was fired for going 9-7. Patricia seems likely to be the latest Bill Belichick assistant to fail as a head coach.

Previewing NFL Week 14

The NFL has an entertaining tripleheader for much of the country on Sunday. It starts with the Saints-49ers at 1 p.m. on Fox, the Chiefs-Patriots on CBS as the late afternoon game and Rams-Seahawks on NBC as the Sunday night game. Unfortunately, the MNF game is the Eagles-Giants and the NFL can’t flex that game. Any of the three Sunday highlight games would have been a better attraction on Monday night.

Game of the week

Chiefs at Patriots. Early in the season, this looked like the game of the year in the AFC, but Baltimore has surpassed both teams. Still, it is a good game as Patrick Mahomes faces Tom Brady, who plays the role of the aging gunslinger facing the new kid on the block. Brady’s dealing with injuries and the lack of an elite receiving corps, but he is still Brady. The Chiefs will try to hand the Patriots their second straight loss after they were beaten by Houston Sunday night.

Game of the weak

The 3-9 Dolphins face the 4-8 Jets, who lost to the Dolphins in the first game and have now lost to two winless teams. The Dolphins were 0-8 when the Jets lost to them and the lost to the 0-11 Bengals. The Dolphins were supposed to be tanking to get the first pick but their three wins, including last week’s victory over the Eagles, has them two games behind the 1-11 Bengals.

What to Watch for this weekend:

—The game between the Saints and 49ers, both 10-2, could be a preview of the NFC title game and a battle for the top seed although the Seahawks are also 10-2. The top seed is the only thing the Saints have to play for because they are the only team in the NFC South with a winning record. But the 49ers are locked into a struggle with Seattle for the NFC West title. They play the Seahawks in the last game of the year.

—The 7-5 Rams need a win over the Seahawks to keep their wild card playoff hopes alive. With the Saints and 49ers at 10-2, they have no chance to win the division title. The Rams showed signs of getting it together when they routed the Cardinals last week, but it has still been a disappointing season for the Rams.

—Surprising Buffalo, which is 9-3 and is likely to get a wild card spot, will try to upset Baltimore, which is playing to keep the top seed. A Buffalo win and New England loss to Kansas City would leave the two teams tied for the AFC East title at 10-3 with three games left. The Bills play at Pittsburgh and New England the next two weeks.

—The 7-5 Titans, who are a game behind Houston in the AFC South race, can’t afford to look ahead to the Texans game next week. They play at Oakland, which has been unpredictable and is 6-6.

—Eli Manning returns to the starting lineup because rookie Daniel Jones is injured and faces a familiar foe in the Eagles, who will tie Dallas for first place in the NFC East at 6-7 with a victory. Yes, 6-7, that is how bad this division is. The Cowboys or Eagles will not only win the division, but host a playoff game against a team with a better record. That will cause howls of protest from those who favor reseeding at the end of the regulation season. But the league wants to put a premium on teams winning their division. There will be more howls if the Eagles or Cowboys win a playoff game at home against a team with a better record but it appears unlikely.

Looking back at NFL Week 13

There’s a new sheriff in the NFL.

Baltimore’s gritty victory over San Francisco in rainy conditions and New England’s loss to Houston vaulted the Ravens into the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They both have 10-2 records but Baltimore has the tie-breaker because of its victory over the Patriots.

Meanwhile, the surprising Bills boosted their record to 9-3 with a victory at Dallas and still play the Patriots in the second to last game.

In the NFC, it now appears to be a three-team race for the top seed with Saints, 49ers and Seahawks all at 10-2. The 49ers go to New Orleans this week.

A look at what happened last weekend:

Positives:

—Baltimore showed it could win a low scoring defensive game in bad weather in beating the 49ers. Now they face another test at the surprising Bills.

—Seattle vaulted into contention for the top seed with the victory over Minnesota. It is now one of three 10-2 NFC teams with the Saints and 49ers.

—The Rams are still alive in the wild card race at 7-5 after routing the Cardinals as Jared Goff threw for 424 yards.

—Deshaun Watson outdueled a frustrated Tom Brady with three touchdown passes as the Texans beat the Patriots. The Texans have a game lead in the AFC South over the Titans, but play the Titans twice in the last three weeks.

—Cincinnati went back to veteran Andy Dalton at quarterback and beat the Jets to post their first victory after an 0-11 start. The Bengals, despite the win, are still in lead for the top pick in the draft.

Negatives:

-/Kirk Cousins lost another big prime time game as the Vikings lost to Seattle. Cousins is now 0-8 on MNF.

—Cleveland coach Freddie Kitchens wore a Pittsburgh Started It T-shirt and the Steeler finished it by beating the Browns. Kitchens ill-advised move raised more questions about whether he is destined to get a second year as the Browns’ coach.

—Carolina coach Ron Rivera became the second coach to be fired after the Panthers fell to 5-7 with a loss to Washington, which was the first team to fire its coach, Jay Gruden, this year.

—The Jets lost to 0-11 Cincinnati after earlier losing to 0-8 Miami. The 4-8 Jets would be 6-6 if they had been able to beat two winless teams.

—There is a chance the NFC East winner could have a losing record after the 6-6 Cowboys lost to Buffalo and the 5-7 Eagles lost to Miami. One of these teams will win the division and host a playoff game. The two teams play at Philadelphia in the second to the last game of the season.

Previewing NFL Week 13

In the aftermath of the three Thanksgiving Day games, New Orleans became the first team to clinch a playoff spot. But it now appears that five of the six NFC playoff slots are set with 10-1 San Francisco, 10-2 New Orleans, 9-2 Seattle, 8-3 Green Bay and 8-3 Minnesota virtual locks.

The only question is which two wind up with wild card spots. The sixth spot goes to the NFC East winner – Dallas or Philadelphia. In the AFC, only three teams – 10-1 New England, 9-2 Baltimore and 9-3 Buffalo appear to be locks. Six teams – Houston and Kansas City at 7-4 and four 6-5 teams – Colts, Titans, Raiders and Steelers – are fighting for the final three slots.

Game of the Week (and Maybe the Season)

San Francisco goes to Baltimore in what may be a Super Bowl preview. The 49ers defense will try to stop Lamar Jackson from putting on another show.

Game of the Weak

Tampa Bay goes to Jacksonville for a battle of two 4-7 teams. The Jaguars have given up more than 200 yards rushing in three consecutive games, but that string will likely be snapped because Tampa isn’t a rushing team. The game will turn on whether Jameis Winston can avoid throwing interceptions and how the Jaguars react to reports of internal strife between the coaching staff and the front office.

What to Look For This Weekend

–If not for the 49ers-Ravens matchup, a duel between 9-2 Seattle and 8-3 Minnesota would get top billing. Both teams are fighting for division titles in their respective divisions.

–Third string quarterback Devlin Hodges replaces Mason Rudolph as the starter for the Steelers against Cleveland, but the real question about this game is whether the two teams can avoid mayhem this time in the wake of now suspended Myles Garrett hitting Rudolph with his helmet two weeks ago.

–The Colts-Titans winner can tie for first place in the AFC South if the Texans, as expected, lose to New England. The Titans play the Texans twice in the last four games while the Colts play only one more division game left against the Jaguars.

–Philadelphia is 5-6 for the second consecutive year. Last year they won four of last five to make the playoffs at 9-7 with Nick Foles at quarterback. In the wake of Dallas’ loss to Buffalo, they control their destiny and they are well positioned for a playoff run. After meeting Miami Sunday, they have two games against the Giants and one with Washington. The key is their Dec. 22 game against Dallas.