Yardbarker's NFL Week 15 game-by-game analysis, grades
Saints QB Drew Brees celebrates Monday night after breaking Peyton Manning's career touchdown record with a 5-yard pass to Josh Hill in the third quarter against the Colts. Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Yardbarker's NFL Week 15 game-by-game analysis, grades

In an easy win over the Colts on Monday night, Saints QB Drew Brees broke Peyton Manning's record for career TD passes. In Pittsburgh on Sunday night, the Bills clinched a playoff spot with a win over the Steelers. Here's Yardbarker's Week 15 whip-around.

 
1 of 16

NEW ORLEANS 34, INDIANAPOLIS 7

NEW ORLEANS 34, INDIANAPOLIS 7
Colts QB Jacoby Brissett struggled, passing for only 165 yards and no TDs. Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

COLTS (6-8): The Colts' slim playoff hopes were put to rest, capping a disappointing season for a talented roster put together by GM Chris Ballard. A step back offensively was expected with the switch from Andrew Luck to Jacoby Brissett at QB, but few thought the defense would fall as far as it has. Entering Week 15 ranked 18th in scoring defense per drive (1.97 points), the defense was shredded by Drew Brees, who averaged 10.2 yards per attempt and set an NFL game completion percentage record as he went 29-for-30 (96.7 percent). The secondary and pass rush struggled, as the Colts failed to register a sack or pass deflection. That is especially disappointing considering Indianapolis has invested 10 draft picks in defensive backs and edge defenders over the past three years. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)

-- Michael Nania


SAINTS (11-3): Drew Brees made history, tossing four touchdown passes to reach 541 for his career, breaking Peyton Manning's NFL record. It has been quite the ascension for Brees, who sat behind Doug Flutie in his 2001 rookie season with the Chargers and threw more interceptions (33) than touchdowns (28) over his first two seasons as starter in San Diego from 2002-03. In 2004, Brees broke out, posting a 104.8 passer rating that at the time was the ninth-best mark in NFL history, beginning a stretch of dominance that has continued to this day. Brees has led the NFL in passing yards seven times and passing touchdowns four times. In 2019, he is on track to lead the NFL in completion percentage for the sixth time. Brees remains one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the game, as his 21-to-4 (5.3 to 1) touchdown-to-interception ratio stands as the second-best mark of his career. The Saints, who have scored 30-plus an NFL-high nine times this season, are the most explosive offensive team in the NFC and remain in the mix for the No. 1 playoff seed. GAME GRADE: A+ | NEXT: at Titans (Sun.)

-- Michael Nania

 
2 of 16

BUFFALO 17, PITTSBURGH 10

BUFFALO 17, PITTSBURGH 10
Led by rookie QB Devlin Hodges, the Steelers managed only 229 yards against the Bills. Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

BILLS (10-4): It’s hard to envision Buffalo being playoff-bound were it not for key additions made during head coach Sean McDermott and since-fired GM Doug Whaley’s few months together. In the spring of 2017, the Bills added Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer – the safeties via team-friendly free-agency deals and CB White via a momentous first-round trade that gave the Chiefs Patrick Mahomes. That trio quickly helped Buffalo assemble a formidable pass defense, one that is belatedly receiving attention. Likely en route to All-Pro acclaim, White intercepted Devlin Hodges twice – the second pick leading to a Bills field goal – and Poyer notched one of the visitors’ two end-zone picks. The third-year Bills were the difference in another defensive battle, one that cemented the franchise’s first 10-win season since 1999. White’s six interceptions are tied for the league lead. Buffalo’s secondary equips QB Josh Allen with a safety net, and it keeps showing up in big spots. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Patriots (Sat.)

-- Sam Robinson


STEELERS (8-6): It's a shame Pittsburgh is so limited offensively with QB Devlin Hodges, who doesn't have the arm strength to make big-time NFL throws. Duck's performance (23-for-38, 202 yards, four interceptions) negated another stellar showing by the defense. LB T.J. Watt, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, was spectacular (two tackles for loss, two QB hits), and DE Cameron Heyward was a force, routinely beating Quinton Spain, especially when aligning on the outside shoulder of Buffalo’s top-heavy left guard. Heyward’s aggression and hustle set the tone for what may be the NFL's best defense. Too bad the Duck couldn't fly. GAME GRADE: C + | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)

-- Matt Williamson

 
3 of 16

PHILADELPHIA 37, WASHINGTON 27

PHILADELPHIA 37, WASHINGTON 27
Philadelphia rookie Miles Sanders, eluding two Redskins, has 687 yards rushing this season. Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

EAGLES (7-7): For the second consecutive game, the Eagles needed somebody on their banged-up offense to step up. Rookie Miles Sanders delivered, rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and grabbing six passes for 50 yards and another TD. In the process, he smashed the Eagles' rookie record for yards from scrimmage, held by DeSean Jackson. He has 1,120. Philadelphia needed every yard it could get from Sanders, as the defense struggled to contain a Washington offense that averaged 7.1 yards per play. The Eagles are far from perfect, but their talented backfield of Sanders and Boston Scott has allowed them to overcome injuries. An NFC East showdown against Dallas awaits. GAME GRADE: B  | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Sun.)

-- Michael Nania


REDSKINS (3-11): For the Redskins, all that really matters is the development of rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who suffered from poor pass protection and drops by his receivers in his first five starts. Against the Eagles, Haskins finally got more aid and he had the most productive performance of his pro career. He completed 19 of 28 passes for a career-best 261 yards and posted career-highs in yards per attempt (9.3) and passer rating (121.3). Haskins has a special connection with former Ohio State teammate Terry McLaurin, who caught five passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. A special guest watched from Daniel Snyder's owner's box: Urban Meyer, Haskins' coach at Ohio State. Hmmm. Does Jerry Jones know? GAME GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Giants (Sun.)

-- Michael Nania

 
4 of 16

DALLAS 44, LA RAMS 21

DALLAS 44, LA RAMS 21
Dak Prescott (right) congratulates linebacker Sean Lee after an interception of the Rams' Jared Goff. Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

RAMS (8-6): The defending NFC champs' playoff hopes were virtually extinguished after a performance much more reminiscent of their midseason slump than their recent two-game winning streak. Los Angeles is at its best when it runs the ball effectively, but the Rams totaled just 22 yards on the ground. Todd Gurley did next to nothing, averaging fewer than two yards per carry, and Jared Goff’s numbers (284 yards passing) were inflated by garbage-time production. The Rams could still go 10-6 and miss the playoffs, but they should not be fooled into thinking that there aren’t significant issues to fix. Chief among them is Goff’s performance this season. His passer rating of 84.8 is significantly below the league average of 91.3, and he has been the main cause of multiple losses. Since Los Angeles has guaranteed more than $100 million to Goff, the goal must be to maximize his production and performance, although it is fair to wonder just how high his ceiling is. GAME GRADE: F  | NEXT: at 49ers (Sat.)

-- Chris Mueller


COWBOYS (7-7):  Finally. Dallas earned its first win over an opponent with a winning record. Credit the O-line. Against a defense that entered the game ranked second in pressure rate (30.1%) and seventh in sack rate (8.4%), QB Dak Prescott was not sacked in 23 pass attempts. Los Angeles had also been dominant defending the run, entering the game allowing the fourth-fewest yards per rush attempt (3.8). But Dallas shredded the Rams, rushing 45 times for 263 yards (5.8 per attempt) and scoring three touchdowns. Ezekiel Elliott led the way 24 totes for 117 yards (4.9 per attempt) and two scores, but Tony Pollard was dynamic (131 yards on just 12 carries, 10.9 per attempt). The game marked just the eighth time in Cowboys history that Dallas ran for 250-plus yards and three-plus touchdowns. Run like this and the NFC East is theirs. GAME GRADE: A +  | NEXT: at Eagles (Sun.)

-- Michael Nania

 
5 of 16

ATLANTA 29, SAN FRANCISCO 22

ATLANTA 29, SAN FRANCISCO 22
The Falcons surprisingly shut down Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners' offense, which had 313 yards. Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

FALCONS (5-9): What. A. Stunner. George Kittle led the 49ers with 13 catches for 134 yards, but the rest of San Francisco's receiving corps combined to catch just nine passes on 17 targets for 66 yards (3.9 per target), a testament to the Falcons' lockdown coverage. Blidi Wreh-Wilson, getting extended action for just the fifth time this season, led the Falcons with three passes defended. Desmond Trufant, who entered the game as Pro Football Focus' third-ranked corner from Weeks 11-14, stayed quiet against Deebo Samuel and Emmanuel Sanders. Dan Quinn's defense held QB Jimmy Garoppolo to 5.9 yards per pass attempt, his second-worst mark of the season. Since the bye week, Atlanta is 4-2 and allowing just 19.2 points per game. Will Quinn keep his gig? GAME GRADE: A+ | NEXT: vs. Jaguars (Sun.)

-- Michael Nania


49ERS (11-3): San Francisco was on top of the NFC but left the door wide open for Seattle and New Orleans with a sloppy loss. The 49ers never got going on offense, with only George Kittle providing a consistent threat, and their vaunted pass defense was unable to keep Matt Ryan from going down the field for the winning touchdown. Other than a scramble by Ryan, every play on Atlanta’s winning drive was a pass. That’s problematic for the 49ers, who knew what was coming. Ultimately, the Niners might not need home field, or even to win the division, because when things are going along well, their style of play wins anywhere, as they proved against the Saints. Still, this performance should serve as a wake-up call; they might be loaded with talent, but they're not nearly good enough to overlook anyone.  GAME GRADE: F  | NEXT: vs. Rams (Sat.)

-- Chris Mueller

 
6 of 16

HOUSTON 24, TENNESSEE 21

HOUSTON 24, TENNESSEE 21
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports Whitney Mercilus' 86-yard interception return was a game-changer for the Texans

TEXANS (9-5): Houston wasn’t perfect, but it did enough to seize control of the AFC South. While the story of the Texans’ season is primarily about superstar talent – specifically QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins – Kenny Stills was a key figure in the victory over Tennessee, doubling his season touchdown total with two scores. Watson took advantage of Titans cornerback Adoree Jackson’s absence (foot) to hit Stills twice in situations in which Hopkins and Will Fuller commanded significant defensive attention and Stills drew man-to-man coverage. Houston's chances of winning the division are better than 90%. If Stills, RB Duke Johnson and the rest of the supporting cast take advantage of their opportunities, Houston can beat anyone. GAME GRADE: B +  | NEXT: at Bucs (Sat.)

-- Chris Mueller


TITANS (8-6): The stats would suggest QB Ryan Tannehill and RB Derrick Henry cooled off from their torrid recent pace, but had Tennessee not suffered multiple self-inflicted wounds, it would be atop the AFC South. Tannehill threw for two touchdowns, ran for another and was victimized on his only interception by a blatant drop by Anthony Firkser. Firkser’s play likely will decide the division, as Tennessee was poised to go in for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Instead, Houston scored a touchdown two plays after Whitney Mercilus’ 86-yard interception return. One more win for Houston will give it the division; the playoff hopes of the Titans, who must win out to take the AFC South, are grim. That's bad news for them, good news for the rest of the AFC. The way things were going, Mike Vrabel’s team looked like one of the most dangerous teams outside of Baltimore. GAME GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun.)

-- Chris Mueller

 
7 of 16

ARIZONA 38, CLEVELAND 24

ARIZONA 38, CLEVELAND 24
In Arizona, it was a dismal game for the Browns and Baker Mayfield, who passed for 247 yards. Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY

BROWNS (6-8): Embarrassing. The body language from this team was simply awful. And the Browns' play on the field was sloppy and extremely uninspired. Where is the leadership? Is veteran WR Jarvis Landry providing it? He was spotted sulking. Where's Odell Beckham? He and Landry combined for 89 yards receiving on 21 targets against a poor defense. Baker Mayfield has a lot of TV commercials, but he's still finding his way. Head coach Freddie Kitchens, a possible Black Monday candidate, is lost. Cleveland should add veterans who have won in the league. It sure could use a player like Steelers CB Joe Haden. Oh, wait, they had him. GAME GRADE: F  | NEXT: vs. Ravens (Sun.) 

-- Matt Williamson


CARDINALS (4-9-1): Arizona owes David Johnson plenty of money, but it may have found a full-time running back in Kenyan Drake, at least if the price is right. Johnson will count $16.2 million against the cap in 2020, but Drake now has two 100-yard games in Arizona after Sunday’s 137-yard, four-touchdown effort. Drake, acquired from Miami earlier this season, had just two 100-yard outings as a Dolphin. Drake will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, but his career statistics suggest that a big contract is not likely in the open market. Arizona has major areas of need in the draft; trying to retain Drake could fix one of them without the use of a valuable pick. GAME GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Seahawks (Sun.)

-- Chris Mueller

 
8 of 16

MINNESOTA 39, LA CHARGERS 10

MINNESOTA 39, LA CHARGERS 10
Danielle Hunter eyes a sack of Chargers QB Philip Rivers, who had four turnovers. Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

VIKINGS (10-4): Danielle Hunter is a stud. The 25-year-old end out of LSU recently became the youngest player in history to get 50 sacks. Against the Chargers, Hunter caused the Philip Rivers fumble that was returned for a Minnesota touchdown. Shortly afterward, he recovered a fumble by RB Melvin Gordon, one of seven Chargers turnovers. As usual, Hunter’s extreme length and great get-off was on full display against an overwhelmed Chargers line. When Hunter entered the league, he was a piece of raw clay. Man, he has learned the game. Hunter's Week 16 matchup against Aaron Rodgers, sacked once by the Bears on Sunday, will be intriguing. GAME GRADE: A  | NEXT: vs. Packers (Mon.)

-- Matt Williamson


CHARGERS (5-9): Most NFL teams would trade their skill-position arsenals for what the Bolts have. The Melvin Gordon-Austin Ekeler-Keenan Allen-Mike Williams-Hunter Henry quintet is healthy, but the Chargers still turned the ball over seven times. The franchise had not committed seven turnovers in a game since 1986, in an era when interceptions were more commonplace. Philip Rivers threw three interceptions, running his season total to 18 (second-most in the league), and lost a fumble the Vikings returned for a touchdown. Gordon lost two fumbles. The one-time Charger cornerstones are lumbering toward free agency. While Gordon has little chance to return to Los Angeles, unless his market craters to the point the Bolts re-sign him via a buy-low agreement, Rivers certainly could be back. But after this season, can the Chargers convince themselves to bring back an immobile 38-year-old – at a franchise-QB price – who fared this poorly despite having high-end weaponry? GAME GRADE: F  | NEXT: vs. Raiders (Sun.)

-- Sam Robinson

 
9 of 16

KANSAS CITY 23, DENVER 3

KANSAS CITY 23, DENVER 3
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, rumbling against the Broncos, has four straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

BRONCOS (5-9): While the 2018 Denver draft/UDFA class produced Bradley Chubb, Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay, the Broncos' reliance on two less remarkable members of the class has limited the offense. QB Drew Lock cannot count on 2018 fourth-round pick DaeSean Hamilton, a wideout whom the Broncos hoped would step up after the Emmanuel Sanders trade, and third-round RB Royce Freeman has not shown a high ceiling. The Broncos fell behind early and rushed for 52 yards on a snowy day in K.C. So Lock opted to throw Hamilton and ex-UDFA Tim Patrick a combined 16 passes; five of them were completed. Freeman averaged 2.4 yards per carry – his eighth game averaging fewer than 3.5 per tote this season – and continues to fail the eye test. The Broncos need better auxiliary weaponry to support Lindsay, Sutton and Noah Fant next season. With Denver owning a rookie quarterback contract and seven picks in the first four rounds in 2020, upgrade avenues exist. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: vs. Lions (Sun.)

-- Sam Robinson


CHIEFS (10-4): A CBS graphic indicating Travis Kelce’s first seven seasons have produced more receiving yardage than any tight end was deceiving. Microfracture surgery ended Kelce’s rookie season after one stat-less game. The 2013 third-round pick’s 6,367 yards in six seasons better every other tight end’s first seven years. Comparing Kelce’s first six healthy seasons to the field, the Chief has 812 more yards than any tight end in NFL history. Kansas City began using its near-unrivaled chess piece frequently against Denver to avoid testing cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib. Since 2016, the perennial Pro Bowl weapon has posted four 100-yard games against the Broncos; his 11 catches for 142 yards Sunday were easily season-highs. With both Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes, Kelce has been the Chiefs’ skill-position centerpiece. He’s swung the AFC West’s balance of power. With a tight end-record four straight 1,000-yard seasons, the 30-year-old playmaker is on track for the Hall of Fame. GAME GRADE: A  | NEXT: at Bears (Sun.)

-- Sam Robinson

 
10 of 16

NEW ENGLAND 34, CINCINNATI 13

NEW ENGLAND 34, CINCINNATI 13
Patriots corner Stephon Gilmore was stellar against the Bengals, who were held to 151 yards passing. David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

PATRIOTS (11-3): Despite Bill Belichick’s defenses being perhaps the most reliable 21st-century NFL unit, no Patriot has earned Defensive Player of the Year. On a team with an undependable offense, Stephon Gilmore should be given strong consideration to become the sixth cornerback to win this award. Shutdown corners are often avoided to the point where their stats suffer (see: Darrelle Revis, Champ Bailey or Raiders 1.0-years Charles Woodson), but Gilmore has six interceptions and two return TDs. Gilmore’s 64-yard pick-6 in Cincinnati came on a day when the eighth-year corner produced two INTs and four passes defensed. Although the Pats’ record is built on a weak schedule, Gilmore has thrived against all competition, regularly locking down No. 1 wideouts to lead a historically great DVOA pass defense. With impact stats plus weekly film showcases, Gilmore has his front-seven peers beat to join Mel Blount, Lester Hayes, Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders and Charles Woodson as corner DPOYs. GAME GRADE: A-minus  | NEXT: vs. Bills (Sat.)

-- Sam Robinson


BENGALS (1-13): Even though Cincinnati lost by 21, the defense is improving. Slumping Tom Brady barely completed 50% (15 of 29) of his passes for a measly 128 passing yards. James White, who gave Cincinnati’s suspect linebackers problems, was the only Patriot with more than 22 receiving yards. New England’s ailing rushing attack racked up 175 yards (5.5  yards per attempt). But after the Patriots' first drive, the Bengals' run defense held up well. Five turnovers, not their defense, cost the Bengals. Clearly, Cincinnati needs a QB. Where are you, Ohio native Joe Burrow? GAME GRADE: C  | NEXT: at Dolphins (Sun.)

-- Matt Williamson

 
11 of 16

GREEN BAY 21, CHICAGO 13

GREEN BAY 21, CHICAGO 13
Aaron Rodgers rarely was pressured by the Bears, whose playoff hopes are nearly extinguished. Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

BEARS (7-7): Aaron Rodgers attempted 33 passes (203 yards) but was sacked just once and rarely disrupted by Chicago’s pass rush. DE Akiem Hicks, put on injured reserve Oct. 15, returned and made his presence felt (4 tackles, 2 QB hits). But Chicago’s edge players, especially Khalil Mack, didn’t put enough pressure on Rodgers. Mack, who has had a down year by his amazing standards, draws most of the attention from offensive coordinators. He isn't a declining player, but his inability to impact this game (one tackle) is disconcerting. GAME GRADE: C  | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Sun.)

-- Matt Williamson


PACKERS (11-3): Kenny Clark is rarely mentioned among the league’s best defensive tackles, a big mistake. Powerful and with long arms and strong hammer-like hands, the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder gets off the ball quickly and with force. Chicago had no success with its inside running game, largely attributable to Clark's stellar play. (Overall, the Bears rushed for 96 yards on 27 carries.) An every-down force, Clark couldn’t be blocked when the Bears passed either, demonstrating a great bull rush and a wide variety of other pass-rush moves. Clark's dominance is evident in his stat line: eight tackles (six solo), two sacks and three tackles for loss. GAME GRADE: B + |  NEXT: At Vikings (Mon.)

-- Matt Williamson

 
12 of 16

TAMPA BAY 38, DETROIT 17

TAMPA BAY 38, DETROIT 17
With four TD passes against the Lions, the Bucs' Jameis Winston has a career-high 30 for the season. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

BUCS (7-7): Jameis Winston was stellar, rebounding from an early interception to throw for 458 yards (10.9 yards per attempt) and four touchdowns. Winston, who has thrown for over 10 yards per attempt in three of his past four games, eclipsed 300 passing yards in the first half. WR Breshad Perriman stepped up with Mike Evans out with a foot injury, grabbing five passes for 113 yards and three touchdowns. Winston has set a career-high in turnovers, but he is on track for career-highs in touchdown rate, yards per attempt and yards per game. Is he a franchise quarterback or not? At 67 years old, head coach Bruce Arians might not want to start over at QB. GAME GRADE: A  | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sat.)

-- Michael Nania


LIONS (3-10-1): This was a bleak game for head coach Matt Patricia, the former Patriots defensive coordinator whose expertise is supposed to be, well, defense. Even without the injured Mike Evans, the Bucs threw the ball at will. Jameis Winston rarely was under pressure, and even more alarming, Bucs receivers ran free almost all game. Winston found receivers in short zones, deep -- heck, they were open everywhere. There were plenty of coverage busts, too. Tampa Bay’s best receiver in this game, Chris Godwin, didn’t even finish because of a hamstring injury. Eleven different Tampa Bay receivers had a least one catch. Is Patricia a Black Monday candidate? GAME GRADE: D-minus  | NEXT: at Broncos (Sun.)

-- Matt Williamson

 
13 of 16

NY GIANTS 36, MIAMI 20

NY GIANTS 36, MIAMI 20
Giants fans show their appreciation for Eli Manning at what could be his final home game with the team. Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

DOLPHINS (3-11): Miami deployed one of the least recognizable starting lineups in modern NFL history. The Giants’ rout moved them behind the Dolphins in the 2020 draft order as a result. With a potential draft-damaging game against the Bengals looming, there is no reason for the Dolphins to keep playing QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Josh Rosen would cover the Dolphins on multiple fronts. Two more starts would give the trade acquisition more experience and potentially enhanced trade value or, if said starts go as poorly as Rosen’s meetings and practices apparently have, the 2018 first-round pick could "help" the Dolphins lose their final two and secure the No. 2 overall draft slot. While it would look like an NBA-style tanking move, head coach Brian Flores sticking with the 37-year-old Fitzpatrick – as he said he plans to – serves no purpose for a rebuilding team that built 2019 around developing players and acquiring draft capital. GAME GRADE: D  | NEXT: vs. Bengals (Sun.) 

-- Sam Robinson


GIANTS (3-11): Eli Manning was solid in perhaps his final home game as a Giant, tossing two TD passes and averaging 10.1 yards per attempt. He had face-plant moments, too: three interceptions against a defense that entered the game allowing the third-highest passer rating in the NFL (103.7). If he decides to play next season, Manning should have no shortage of suitors. Cincinnati and Miami might want a stopgap starter while waiting for a rookie (Joe Burrow?) to develop. Perhaps Chicago or Jacksonville (where Manning has a connection with VP of football operations Tom Coughlin) will be in the market. Pittsburgh, with questions surrounding Ben Roethlisberger, might also seek a starter. If he can't find a starting spot, he could attract interest from a playoff-worthy franchise. GAME GRADE: A  | NEXT: at Redskins (Sun.)

-- Michael Nania

 
14 of 16

SEATTLE 30, CAROLINA 24

SEATTLE 30, CAROLINA 24
Rookie wideout D.K. Metcalf, who has 819 yards receiving this season, gives Russell Wilson another reliable weapon. Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

SEAHAWKS (11-3): Tyler Lockett, who had eight catches for 120 yards, is Seattle’s unquestioned No. 1 receiver (75 catches for 994 yards and seven touchdowns). Almost as important as Lockett’s emergence is the rise of rookie D.K. Metcalf, a second-round pick in the 2019 draft. Even though Metcalf was targeted only four times against Carolina, managing a 19-yard touchdown catch in the process, Russell Wilson’s growing trust in him is obvious. Metcalf’s targets have gone up, from 5.6 per game in the first half of the season, to more than seven a game. Metcalf’s detractors claimed he was a Combine superstar and not a polished receiver coming out of Mississippi, but he has proven to be anything but. His college teammate, A.J. Brown, also a 2019 second-round pick, is an emerging star for the Titans. GAME GRADE: B +  | NEXT:  vs. Cardinals (Sun.)

-- Chris Mueller


PANTHERS (5-9): It's clear Carolina has two glaring needs: run defense and quarterback. Against Seattle, the NFL's worst run defense was atrocious, yielding 154 yards (and two touchdowns) on 34 attempts. Proving he's nothing more than a backup, Kyle Allen continued his stretch of ugly play, posting a 58.7 passer rating (91.3 was league average entering Week 14) and tossing three picks. He averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt. Should Carolina bring back Cam Newton, who has missed most of the season with a Lisfranc injury? He was ineffective earlier in 2019. The Panthers will probably draft toward the lower end of the top 10, where Oregon's Justin Herbert, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa (if he comes out) and Georgia's Jake Fromm might be available. Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow appears out of Carolina's reach, barring a trade up. GAME GRADE: C-minus  | NEXT: at Colts (Sun.)

-- Michael Nania

 
15 of 16

JACKSONVILLE 20, OAKLAND 16

JACKSONVILLE 20, OAKLAND 16
Derek Carr passes for 267 yards in the loss to the lowly Jaguars. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

JAGUARS (5-9): Jacksonville managed to spoil the Raiders’ final game in Oakland with two late Gardner Minshew touchdown passes to Chris Conley. But the Jaguars' listless performance before that rally feels more relevant to their future than what happened in the game’s final five minutes. After Jacksonville's first drive yielded a field goal, its next five possessions featured four three-and-outs and 16 total yards. A beleaguered defense did well to keep the Jags in the game long enough. Head coach Doug Marrone can say his team hasn’t quit on him, but there was precious little to get excited about. GAME GRADE: C +  | NEXT: at Falcons (Sun.)

-- Chris Mueller


RAIDERS (6-8): Oakland fans have handled an unfortunate situation bizarrely well. The Raiders are about to become the first NFL franchise to leave their original city twice. They have one winning season since 2003 and went full rebuild in their final two Oakland seasons. Somehow, Raiders supporters accepted Oakland being a three-year lame duck after Mark Davis received relocation approval in March of 2017. The cascade of boos and assortment of items thrown onto the Oakland Coliseum’s field, after a blown lead against the Jaguars in the Raiders' home finale, seems restrained considering what the city endured. Other markets have not handled imminent relocation so well – see Cleveland in 1995 or Houston in ’96 – yet Raiders fans kept supporting a team that sold off top assets in a pre-Las Vegas purge. Do not be surprised if Raiders home games become somewhat like Chargers LA atmospheres in transplant-heavy Las Vegas. A good bet: Vegas Sundays will not bring the atmosphere the Black Hole provided.  GAME GRADE: C  | NEXT: at Chargers (Sun.)

-- Sam Robinson

 
16 of 16

BALTIMORE 42, NY JETS 21

BALTIMORE 42, NY JETS 21
Lamar Jackson ran wild (86 yards) and passed for five TDs against the Jets. Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

JETS (5-9): Lamar Jackson’s latest showcase came against a depleted secondary and revealed a perennial Jets deficiency. Surely drawing scorn from fantasy owners facing Jackson-led teams, the Jets’ pass defense was missing Pro Bowler Jamal Adams and bounce-back slot cornerback Brian Poole. Ravens targets ran wide open in the blowout – the Jets’ seventh loss by at least two touchdowns this season – and Jackson tossed a career-high five touchdown passes and averaged 9.2 yards per pass attempt. The returns of  Adams, Poole and C.J. Mosley will help, but needs remain at boundary corner and edge rusher for yet another offseason. The Jets, who ranked 22nd in pass-defense DVOA before the Jackson rampage, have one front-seven player (free agent-to-be Jordan Jenkins) with more than three sacks. Needs across the offensive line, and the ill-advised contracts Joe Douglas’ GM predecessor authorized – such as the nightmare pact given to cornerback (and imminent dead-money sinkhole) Trumaine Johnson – will not make defensive upgrades easy, however. GAME GRADE: D-minus  | NEXT: vs. Steelers (Sun.)

-- Sam Robinson


RAVENS (12-2): Thursday night's win, which clinched the AFC North for the Ravens, showed us how dangerous Baltimore's passing game is when TE Mark Andrews (58 catches, 759 yards and 8 TDs) and rookie WR Marquise Brown (43-563-7) are in the lineup. Coordinator Greg Roman does a great job scheming to get them open. Andrews stretches the field and makes plays after the catch, and he's a supreme weapon in the red zone. Brown isn’t quite Tyreek Hill (yet), but he's a threat against whom defenses must keep deep help on his side of the field. That can hurt against the Ravens' NFL-leading running game. Andrews and Brown combined for eight catches, two TDs and only 97 yards, but their impact went far beyond those stats. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Browns (Sun.)

-- Matt Williamson

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