Three more weeks to go in the NFL regular season means things are really heating up. It was also a busy week for NFL news. Shockingly, the New England Patriots were at the heart of it, and it’s safe to say some of those stories may carry over into Sunday's action. There is a lot going on in Week 15, and some of the games will be vital.
So what should you be watching for? Here are 15 key questions for Week 15.
1. Will there be any residual from the Patriots’ taping controversy against Cincinnati?
Much of the NFL conversation this week has been dominated by whatever the Patriots were up to taping Cincinnati last week. The matter seems to be less of an issue in the respective buildings, where the Patriots have denied wrongdoing and the Bengals have been tight-lipped. This is a game that should allow New England to get back on track. As significant as this storyline has been for fans to talk about, it seems likely to become an afterthought once the game actually starts.
2. Are the Bears for real?
Chicago has won three in a row, with QB Mitchell Trubisky throwing for 582 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions in his past two games. One of those was against the Dallas Cowboys, and now Trubisky has to face another potential playoff team in the Green Bay Packers. Trubisky got absolutely nothing going in the first meeting between the teams. But if the Bears (7-6) are really on the upswing, they should be competitive. Either that, or the Packers (10-3) will have their way at home and send Chicago a major reality check.
3. Will Tampa Bay’s offense remain as explosive without Mike Evans?
All signs point to what should be a really good week for the Buccaneers offense. QB Jameis Winston is prepared to play through a fractured thumb, and the Detroit Lions have one of the league’s worst defenses. There is one potential issue for Tampa Bay this week: Mike Evans, their top receiver, won’t play again this season (hamstring). The Buccaneers still have Chris Godwin, and if their success is scheme-based, someone else should be able to step in and keep the Tampa Bay offense rolling in a great matchup for them.
4. Who are the real Houston Texans?
No team is more confusing than the Texans, who can beat the Patriots one week and get blown out by Denver the next. Now, facing a huge divisional game against the Titans (8-5), the question becomes which side of themselves will the Texans (8-5) show? They can reassert themselves as division favorites with a win, or make life very difficult for themselves if they fall short. It’s a huge swing game for Houston, especially in light of their recent inconsistency.
5. Can Drew Lock find continued success in a tough road game at Kansas City?
Lock surprised everyone by smashing the Texans a week ago, but the Chiefs should provide a less favorable matchup. While this will not be up against the most imposing defense in the league, this will be a road game for Lock, and a huge test going to a tough venue in Kansas City. While Lock looked like a game manager against the Chargers, he was outstanding against Houston. This will be his toughest challenge yet.
6. How much can Eli Manning take advantage of a favorable matchup?
If Manning really wants to start again next season, he needs to show teams he can still win. This game would be an excellent start. At home against the Miami Dolphins, this should be a winnable game, even for the struggling Giants (2-11). If he’s serious about being an NFL starter again, Manning is going to face much tougher tests than this one. If he looks weak, it really raises questions about whether he even deserves to be an NFL starter again.
7. Do the Eagles have the weapons to beat Washington?
The injury-wrecked Philadelphia offense, on paper, doesn’t have that tough a matchup against the lowly Redskins. Look a bit deeper, however, and there’s reason for concern: Washington has been losing, but they’re not getting blown out. The Redskins' defense hasn’t given up more than 21 points since Week 11, and last week, it held Green Bay to 20 points at Lambeau Field. That’s not what the Eagles, who will be without receiver Alshon Jeffery for the season, want to hear. This might be a tougher game than it appears given how the matchup shakes out.
8. What has happened to Russell Wilson?
Once an MVP candidate, Wilson has been lapped by Lamar Jackson and taken a big step back in recent weeks. He’s certainly not playing badly, but in his past four games Wilson has thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions while being held to an average of 229 yards per game. Seattle is 3-1 in those games, so the numbers are not really hurting the team. Wilson also faced the defenses of San Francisco and the Los Angeles Rams during that span. Things should get easier against Carolina this week, and we may see Wilson return to his best quickly.
9. Can the Jaguars even keep a game close?
When you hear of a team getting blown out twice in a row, it’s not exactly common or expected. When you get blown out five times in a row, it’s beyond the pale. That’s the Jacksonville Jaguars right now. Since winning in Week 8, the Jags have been outscored 174-57 in five games, and the closest loss in that span was by 20 points to Indianapolis. It’s one of the most awful stretches from any NFL team in recent memory. Facing the Raiders may be help things, but this is a team that has struggled to score or stop anyone lately, and it may be another unfortunate matchup for the 4-9 Jags.
10. Will the Browns shake off their drama against the Cardinals?
The week for the Browns has been marred by constant rumors about Odell Beckham’s future with the organization, a focus which is unlikely to help them as they travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals. This is a winnable game for Cleveland (6-7), whose playoff hopes are on life support, but it’s not a gimme — the Cards gave Pittsburgh a tough game a week ago. The Browns have been stuck answering Beckham questions all week, and would probably welcome a big performance from the wide receiver to silence that for a bit.
11. Can Kirk Cousins overcome the Chargers’ pass defense?
This is a tough matchup for Minnesota since the Chargers have been very good against the pass. It does make for an interesting matchup against Vikings QB Kirk Cousins, who has been excellent lately with just two interceptions in his past 11 games. This one will likely come down to who manages to get the upper hand in this particular matchup. If Cousins can take apart the Chargers’ secondary, it’s hard to see the L.A. offense keeping up.
12. Will Dallas demonstrate a sense of urgency against the Rams?
The pressure grows week by week with the Cowboys, but it might be higher than ever right now. They have the same record as the Eagles, and the two teams face off next weekend, making this a massive game for the 6-7 Cowboys. The good news is the Rams, offensively, are worse on the road. The bad news is their defense is quite good, and the Cowboys really need to wake up and find a way to stop QB Jared Goff and break through against this defense. If they don’t, their season is in danger of completely collapsing.
13. Will Kyle Shanahan show the Falcons what they’re missing?
It’s not as if Kyle Shanahan was ever staying with Atlanta long term. It is true, however, that the Falcons haven’t quite been the same team since Shanahan left as the team’s offensive coordinator following the 2016 season to take the San Francisco head coahcing job. The Falcons were the best offense in the league in terms of points scored under Shanahan, and they’ve fallen to the middle of the pack since. The 49ers are known for their defense, but they’re fresh off a big week against New Orleans, and with Atlanta’s own defensive deficiencies, this could be quite the week for San Francisco.
14. Can the Steelers move the ball against the smothering Bills?
Running back James Conner is expected to play for the Steelers (8-5) this week, which is great since Buffalo will probably do a number on Pittsburgh’s passing game. No disrespect to Steelers QB Duck Hodges, but this is a nasty defense that tends to stop opposing quarterbacks from doing what they want in the air. That may turn this into a real grind-it-out game where Pittsburgh will have to find some success on the ground if it wants any hope of winning. The Bills (9-4), meanwhile, can feel good about their chances of a 10th win here if they can stop Pittsburgh’s offense in its tracks.
15. Do the offensively-challenged Colts have the weapons to keep up with New Orleans?
The Colts are fading fast, thanks in large part to some very unfortunate injuries on the offensive side of the ball. Their defense hasn’t been as tight, and coming off a hard loss, the New Orleans Saints will be angry and looking to take full advantage. That will be bad news for the Colts (6-7). It’s hard to see Indy pushing 30 points right now given the state of their offense, and if the Saints (10-3) play to their potential, that might be what it takes for the Colts to stay in this game.
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