NFL Sunday Preview, Week 15: Lions-Jets, Bengals-Bucs, and Giants-Commanders highlight a Sunday packed with playoff implications

Nov 27, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (1) walks onto the field before the game against the Chicago Bears at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Sunday Preview, Week 15: Lions-Jets, Bengals-Bucs, and Giants-Commanders highlight a Sunday packed with playoff implications

Philadelphia Eagles (12-1) at Chicago Bears (3-10)

Time/TV: noon CT/FOX

The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys have been on a collision course ahead of next week’s matchup in Dallas, but the Eagles have business to attend to this Sunday in Chicago first. Philadelphia would do well not to overlook the Chicago Bears, a team that, despite their 3-10 record, has figured it out on offense as the season has progressed. Chicago has averaged 27.8 points per game in the last six games started by quarterback Justin Fields, who has developed into an elite weapon in the run game while improving as a passer. Philadelphia’s defense ranks near the middle of the NFL at defending the run, an area that could present issues against the Bears’ ground attack. The problems for Chicago, and the reasons they are unlikely to topple the mighty Eagles, are all on the defensive end. The Bears traded away two of their most talented defenders in Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith, and have suffered as a result. Chicago’s defense ranks 30th in the NFL in points allowed per game, including 27 or more points surrendered in each of its last five. The Bears ought to be refreshed following their Week 14 bye, but will need a herculean performance to topple the 12-1 Eagles.

Atlanta Falcons (5-8) at New Orleans Saints (4-9)

Time/TV: noon CT/FOX

The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints enter Sunday afternoon’s divisional showdown both still involved in the NFC South race despite unimpressive records. When the Saints traveled to Atlanta in Week 1, the first matchup between these two rivals ended in an entertaining 27-26 triumph for New Orleans. Both starting quarterbacks in that game (Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston) have now been replaced, so Sunday’s battle at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will instead match up rookie Demond Ridder for Atlanta and veteran signal-caller Andy Dalton for the Saints. Ridder is one year removed from quarterbacking the University of Cincinnati into the College Football Playoff, and the Falcons hope that his dynamic skill set shines in a hurry at the pro level. Atlanta already boasts the league’s fourth-ranked rushing attack, so anything it can do to improve its ability to pass downfield would be a welcome change. New Orleans enters Sunday’s game having scored 16 or fewer points in four of their last five games. The Saints’ biggest issue offensively has been their tendency to turn the football over – only the Colts and Texans have given the ball away more frequently than New Orleans this season. New Orleans has dominated this divisional rivalry of late, winning five of the last six matchups.

Detroit Lions (6-7) at New York Jets (7-6)

Time/TV: noon CT/CBS

Very few fans would have expected that the Detroit Lions’ trip to the Meadowlands to battle the New York Jets in Week 15 would have playoff implications, yet here we are. Detroit has risen from the dead of late, winning home games convincingly each of the last two weeks over Jacksonville and Minnesota to improve to 6-7. The Lions rank fourth in the NFL in yardage gained per game and fourth in scoring this season. Detroit’s defense ranks second-worst in the NFL in points allowed per game, a big reason the Lions are just 6-7 despite scoring tons of points. The Lions may have caught a break ahead of their matchup with the Jets Sunday, who have ruled quarterback Mike White out for Sunday’s game. White has yet to be cleared by doctors for game action, meaning struggling former-starter Zach Wilson will once again take the reins in Week 15. Wilson has just four touchdown passes while throwing five interceptions in limited action this season and was lambasted by many media members for seemingly failing to take accountability for his struggles in recent weeks. New York hopes Sunday provides Wilson with an opportunity to resurrect his career, but realistically will be leaning on its defense. The Jets’ defense allows fewer yards than any other team in the AFC and held Buffalo to just 232 yards last Sunday.

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8) at Carolina Panthers (5-8)

Time/TV: noon CT/CBS

Mike Tomlin has been the Pittsburgh Steelers’ head coach for 16 years and is at risk of experiencing his first losing season during that span with a loss at Carolina. The Panthers have been feisty of late and suddenly find themselves just one game behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers atop the NFC South. Carolina has won two in a row since turning back to Sam Darnold as its starting quarterback, but is 0-3 against the AFC North on the season. The Panthers ran the football for 223 yards last Sunday in Seattle, thanks in large part to what offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo is calling their “Arby’s package” – a set in which Carolina puts a ton of beef on the field with eight offensive linemen in formation. Pittsburgh’s defense will not make things easy, having allowed more than 17 points just once over its last four games. On the offensive side of the football, the Steelers are traveling to Charlotte with more questions than answers. Rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett appears unlikely to play Sunday, and backups Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky have been splitting reps at practice in his stead. Both teams lead with defense and have never produced consistent results with the football this season, so expect a defensive battle Sunday afternoon.

New England Patriots (7-6) at Las Vegas Raiders (5-8)

Time/TV: 3:05 p.m. CT/CBS

New England stayed out west following Monday night’s win at Arizona, practicing in Tucson this week ahead of their trip to Las Vegas. The Raiders await them Sunday afternoon at Allegiant Stadium, a team in desperate need of a win after having extra time to stew on last Thursday night’s collapse versus the Rams. The Raiders feel they’re better than their 5-8 record, and most of their stats indicate they are correct. Las Vegas ranks in the NFL’s top 11 in both points scored and points allowed and boast a balanced offensive attack capable of winning in a multitude of ways. The Raiders have shot themselves in the foot with their inability to finish games, having lost four games this season in which they led by double digits. The Patriots have been a challenging team to figure out in their own right, winning games by as many as 29 points while losing by as many as 19. New England ranks fifth in the NFL, allowing just 18.4 points per game, but ranks outside the league’s top 20 in both passing and rushing offense. With the Bengals, Dolphins, and Bills left on the schedule, the Patriots can hardly afford to lose in Las Vegas if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Arizona Cardinals (4-9) at Denver Broncos (3-10)

Time/TV: 3:05 p.m. CT/FOX

Both the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos entered the 2022 season with high hopes, but both look like rudderless ships with four games to go. Russell Wilson’s first year at quarterback in Denver has been a disaster, and he seems increasingly unlikely to play Sunday afternoon after entering the NFL’s concussion protocol earlier this week. If he is unable to go, Brett Rypien will start. The news at quarterback for Arizona is even worse following Monday’s loss to New England. Cardinals’ quarterback Kyler Murray tore his ACL in the first quarter of the game and is now out for the remainder of the season. In a battle between teams out of contention led by backup quarterbacks, Sunday’s result is meaningless in the grand scheme of the NFL – but for players and coaches on both sides hoping to secure employment for next season, Week 15 is another opportunity to prove their worth. If nothing else, Denver has performed at an elite level defensively this season. The Broncos are allowing the fourth-fewest points per game in the NFL, and their defense will need to live up to its reputation if Denver is going to pick up a fourth win on Sunday.

Tennessee Titans (7-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-6)

Time/TV: 3:25 p.m. CT/CBS

The Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Chargers both figure to play key parts in the AFC’s playoff hunt down the stretch, making Sunday’s game a critical measuring stick for both sides. The Titans have lost three straight, falling to 7-6 but still hold a two-game lead over the Jacksonville Jaguars atop the AFC South. Tennessee’s defense is in disarray due to injuries, especially in the secondary – potentially horrible news ahead of a date with Justin Herbert and his healthy set of wide receivers. The Titans have allowed 71 combined points over their last two games, blowout losses to Philadelphia and Jacksonville. Los Angeles has been moving in the opposite direction, getting healthier and entering Sunday’s game following an impressive home win over Miami. The Chargers’ passing offense ranks third in the NFL despite spending much of the season without wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the field together. If there is a glaring issue for Los Angeles heading into Sunday’s matchup with Tennessee, it is its poor run defense having to do battle with running back Derrick Henry. The Chargers allow 147 yards rushing per game, more than all but four teams in the NFL.

Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7)

Time/TV: 3:25 p.m. CT/CBS

After starting the season 2-3, the Cincinnati Bengals have once again turned into a clear threat to win the AFC. Cincinnati has rattled off wins in seven of its last eight games, including five in a row before Sunday’s trip to Tampa Bay. Quarterback Joe Burrow has had an excellent season, passing for 3,685 yards with 27 touchdowns and just nine interceptions despite throwing four interceptions in the Bengals’ opening game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been anything but consistent, especially on offense. The Bucs are averaging 15.6 points per game over their last five, and are dragging along the NFL’s worst rushing offense entering Sunday. Still, Tampa Bay is in first place in the NFC South, in the driver’s seat for a home playoff game if they continue on their current middling trajectory. Tampa Bay’s defense has been solid all season, allowing fewer than 20 points per game – but without Vita Vea available to clog up the middle of the field Sunday afternoon, stopping Joe Mixon and the rest of Cincinnati’s weapons could prove quite challenging. Both teams need to win Sunday’s game to ensure they’ll remain atop their respective divisions entering Week 16.

New York Giants (7-5-1) at Washington Commanders (7-5-1)

Time/TV: 7:20 p.m. CT/NBC

The New York Giants and Washington Commanders being flexed into the NFL’s Week 15 Sunday Night Football time slot is not something many fans would have predicted heading into the season. Both teams are currently in the thick of the NFC Wild Card hunt at 7-5-1 and are each looking to improve after their matchup just two weeks ago ended in a mutually-frustrating tie. The Commanders have had two weeks to stew on that game and should have plenty of pent-up energy ready to release when Sunday night’s home game at FedEx Field kicks off. The Giants did not have that luxury. Instead, New York was pummeled into submission by the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, a loud reminder to the Giants that Philly remains the top dog in the NFC East. The Giants will need to quickly channel that frustration into the task at hand and will likely be confident heading into Sunday night. New York erased a 10-point deficit to lead by a touchdown heading into the final minutes over Washington in Week 13 but could not make the plays needed to finish off the win. Washington ought to be plenty confident as well – despite the game ending in a tie, the Commanders outgained New York 411 to 316 and converted five more first downs. Sunday night’s battle in Landover, Maryland, should feel like a playoff atmosphere because it might as well be a playoff game. The winner will end the night in a much stronger position with just three weeks to go.

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