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NFL Week 15 lessons: Bengals are AFC’s hottest team, and perhaps its best

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It’s probably the most wonderful time of the 12 months, with the vacation season in full swing and crunch time in full effect within the NFL.

Five teams — Kansas City and Dallas (on Sunday), Minnesota and Buffalo (on Saturday) and San Francisco (on Thursday) — all clinched playoff berths in Week 15.

Epic comebacks also were a theme: Minnesota rallied from 33 down and Cincinnati and Jacksonville each overcame 17-point deficits to win. Those three, plus Buffalo, Detroit, Jacksonville and Las Vegas, all pulled off comebacks after trailing within the fourth quarter. And 7 teams (Buffalo, Detroit, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Minnesota and the Chargers) recorded game-winning scores in the ultimate two minutes of regulation or time beyond regulation.

So what did we learn from Sunday’s 11 contests? Here’s our game-by-game, team-by-team breakdown.

Recent York: Brian Daboll’s throwback approach in remaking the Recent York Football Giants is working, and thoroughly could end a six-year playoff drought. A smash-mouth run game, and two big defensive stands, enabled the Giants to improve to 8-5-1 and strengthen their hold on the sixth spot within the NFC postseason race. Along with his team nursing a five-point lead with 6:06 left, Daboll needed a knockout punch and thus put the sport in Saquon Barkley’s hands. The back ripped off runs of 12, 15 and 14 yards to maneuver his team toward field-goal range. In one other display of the gritty, physical mindset Daboll is working to instill, Recent York’s defense got here up with two stops (a forced fumble and a turnover on downs) contained in the 10 to seal the victory.

Washington: Taylor Heinicke is a feel-good story. Sunday, though, his fumble on the Recent York 9 loomed large within the eight-point loss, and so too did the undersized quarterback’s struggles to operate within the pocket on obvious passing downs. Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner has done well masking Heinicke’s deficiencies. But shortcomings in these second- and third-and-long situations make it hard to view the Old Dominion product as anything but a bridge quarterback. … Washington (7-6-1) has little margin for error now with San Francisco, Cleveland and Dallas left on its schedule.

Cincinnati: Are the Bengals the most effective team within the AFC? They definitely are the most well liked, extending their win streak to 6 games and winning eight of their last nine. A 17-0 deficit didn’t even faze Joe Burrow and the boys, who scored 34 unanswered to beat the Bucs and take control of the AFC North.

Joe Burrow has 4 TD passes within the second half! @JoeyB

📺: #CINvsTB on CBS
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/jGmlqb2Tyq pic.twitter.com/tMocI41vuH

— NFL (@NFL) December 19, 2022

Tampa Bay: For nearly the whole first half, the Buccaneers appeared to have finally found out the offensive formula that may help them finish the season on a powerful note and carry momentum into the postseason. But then got here 4 second-half turnovers (including two Tom Brady interceptions), and a collapse that dropped Tampa Bay’s record to 6-8, and its division lead to simply one game.

Las Vegas: Few coaches possess the sort of intimate knowledge of one another as do Josh McDaniels and old boss Bill Belichick. But the previous Patriots offensive coordinator prevailed despite blowing a 17-3 lead — thanks largely to continued ineffective work by his miscast successor, Matt Patricia. Chandler Jones, one other former member of the Patriots, delivered the pick six for the walk-off victory that kept the Raiders’ slim playoff hopes alive.

Recent England: Did Patricia really do this poor of a job of teaching his players the way to run a hook-and-ladder play, or did Jakobi Meyers panic and go rogue? And why were they running that anyway, when they might have just gone to time beyond regulation? Either way, with terrible execution/decision-making like that, and Mac Jones’ constant frustrations with the labored and ineffective play-calling process, Belichick has to know he must hire an actual offensive coordinator this offseason. The Patriots’ playoff possibilities took a big hit with this loss.

What just happened?? The @Raiders win on the ultimate play!! #NEvsLV pic.twitter.com/cmKNUuab1k

— NFL (@NFL) December 19, 2022

Jaguars 40, Cowboys 34 (OT)

Jacksonville: Jacksonville and Trevor Lawrence (318 yards, 4 touchdowns) continued their upward trend by stringing together back-to-back victories for under the second time all 12 months. A walk-off pick six by safety Rayshawn Jenkins sealed the improbable victory. After a 2-6 start, Doug Pederson’s squad is 4-2 since Week 9 and still has a shot on the postseason.

Dallas: Is trouble brewing in Dallas? Per week after nearly losing a really winnable game against Houston, Dallas did falter against Jacksonville. Because of help from the Giants, the Cowboys still clinched a playoff berth. But you desire to be playing your best football this time of the 12 months, and Dallas is just not. Also, hopes of overtaking the Eagles for the division lead are fading. Dallas now trails Philly by three games with three left and may’t afford to lose to the Eagles on Christmas Eve.

Chiefs 30, Texans 24 (OT)

Kansas City: It sure wasn’t pretty, but a win’s a win, and by defeating Houston on this trap game, the Chiefs clinched their seventh consecutive AFC West title and their eighth straight postseason berth. Truly a remarkable run of dominance for Andy Reid and company, who tie the L.A. Rams (1973-79) for the second-longest division winning streak and trail only the Patriots, who won the AFC East 11 seasons in a row from 2009-19.

GO DEEPER

NFL playoff picture at Week 15: Commanders lose tiebreaker to Giants

Houston: It’s kinda funky, but perhaps Lovie Smith and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton are onto something with this Davis Mills/Jeff Driskel quarterback tag-team approach. That’s two weeks now the Texans have kept formidable foes off-balance. But not to fret, the hunt for the No. 1 pick stays on the right track: Houston dropped its ninth straight and is 1-12-1.

Eagles 25, Bears 20

Philadelphia: Which is more impressive: How automatic Jalen Hurts and the Eagles are on the goal-line quarterback sneak, or the incontrovertible fact that 13-1 Philly has five defensive players with not less than six sacks this season? Those two elements are an enormous reason why the Eagles own the best record within the league. Hurts on Sunday scored 3 times (two sneaks and a 22-yarder), and Haason Reddick, Javon Hargrave and Josh Sweat racked up two sacks apiece. Hurts needs another rushing touchdown to tie Cam Newton’s single-season record of 14 by a quarterback. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ robust sack leaders list is as follows: Reddick 12, Hargrave 10, Sweat 9 1/2, Brandon Graham 8 1/2, Fletcher Cox 6.

Chicago: The Bears, now 3-11, definitely made the Eagles sweat. Chicago intercepted Hurts (who entered the sport with only three picks all season) twice in the primary half and took Philly right down to the wire. Justin Fields racked up one other 95 rushing yards to hit 1,000 for the season, joining Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson because the only quarterbacks in league history to achieve this.

Chargers 17, Titans 14

Los Angeles: In one other display of his ever-improving maturity, Justin Herbert shook off early struggles (two interceptions) and led a game-winning drive. A big win for the Chargers, who at 8-6 now hold the sixth seed within the AFC due to their head-to-head tiebreaker over Miami.

JUSTIN HERBERT. MIKE WILLIAMS. WHAT A PLAY!

📺: #TENvsLAC on CBS
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/bHzPqBxZV5 pic.twitter.com/LpNEWvsJVs

— NFL (@NFL) December 19, 2022

Tennessee: One other performance that reminds us of how poorly constructed this Titans team is. Where would Tennessee be without Derrick Henry (104 rushing yards and a touchdown, team-high 59 receiving yards)? … Tension needs to be at an all-time high after Mike Vrabel’s team lost its fourth straight game. At 7-7, its once-comfortable lead within the AFC South is evaporating. The Jaguars (6-8) seemingly are constructing momentum at the proper time, in order that season finale with the Titans in Jacksonville could have massive implications.

Lions 20, Jets 17

Detroit: The Lions did nearly every part they might to maintain the Jets in the sport, but ultimately, continued their improbable quest for the postseason by winning their sixth within the last seven games to enhance to 7-7.

Recent York: The Zach Wilson experience cranked back up, and … what an experience it’s: 317 passing yards and two touchdowns, but oh so many cringe-worthy moments that got here up short, including an interception and 17 incompletions in 35 attempts. “Recuperate soon, Mike White,” signed, the Jets’ defense and fan base.

Pittsburgh: Mike Tomlin’s streak of consecutive seasons with out a losing record (15) gave the impression to be in jeopardy when the Steelers began the 12 months 2-6. But since their Week 9 bye, Pittsburgh is 4-2 and owns a 6-8 record with three games left. Can the Steelers possibly extend the streak? A sweep of the Raiders, Ravens and Browns may prove too tall a task, but give Tomlin credit for keeping his players engaged and competitive during this 12 months of transition.

Carolina: The Panthers defense just couldn’t discover a approach to match the Steelers’ physicality and get off the sphere on third downs, where Pittsburgh converted 12 of 16 attempts and won the time of possession battle 36:11 to 23:49. Yet, at 5-9, the Panthers still could win the dreadful NFC South.

Recent Orleans: The Saints snapped a two-game losing streak and amazingly, despite owning a 5-9 record, still even have a shot to win the NFC South.

Atlanta: With Marcus Mariota in need of knee surgery and done for the season, Desmond Ridder took over at quarterback and made a forgettable NFL debut. The third-round select of Cincinnati managed only 97 passing yards while completing 13 of 26 attempts. Atlanta running back Tyler Allgeier single-handedly outproduced the quarterback, carrying the ball 17 times for 139 yards and a touchdown.

Denver: A rare win for the Broncos, whose offense surrendered six sacks in the primary half, but then found a rhythm on the back of Latavius Murray, whose 130 rushing yards eased the pressure on fill-in starting quarterback Brett Rypien. Nathaniel Hackett is likely to be clever to employ this approach when Russell Wilson returns.

Cardinals: Per week after turning to Colt McCoy following Kyler Murray’s season-ending torn ACL, Kliff Kingsbury lost McCoy to a concussion. With that, Arizona’s possibilities of snapping a three-game losing streak went down the drain. The Cardinals were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday, and Kingsbury is now assured of posting his second season of double-digit losses and third non-winning record in 4 seasons on the helm.

(Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice / Getty Images)

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