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Key questions for NFL Week 15

Larry Brown Sports logo Larry Brown Sports 12/15/2018 Grey Papke, Larry Brown Sports

It's go-time in the NFL playoff race, with three games to go for each team bar the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers. Several teams are essentially facing must-win situations, realistically if not mathematically. One game, a matchup between two longtime AFC powerhouses, could have huge implications for both teams depending on the winner. With numerous teams fighting for their playoff lives and others for positioning, it promises to be an exciting week.It’s go-

Here are 15 key questions to keep in mind for Week 15.

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Can Pittsburgh avoid a full-blown crisis at home to the Patriots?

For the Steelers, Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots is essentially a must-win. They’ve lost three in a row and have an even more difficult trip to New Orleans looming next week. If they lose to New England, it’s entirely possible they could go onto the final game of the regular season at 7-7-1 on the back of five consecutive losses. The Patriots are coming off a brutal loss themselves and haven’t been great on the road this year, so they have the opportunity to answer some questions of their own while really hurting an AFC rival.

a baseball player holding a bat © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Will a new offensive coordinator change anything in Minnesota?

The Vikings (6-6-1) are hosting a Dolphins team that has won just once outside of Miami this season, so the matchup is there for Minnesota to get back on track quickly after an awful Monday night loss to Seattle. The question is whether Kevin Stefanski, the new offensive coordinator, will have any tangible effect on Minnesota’s offense. Kirk Cousins was awful and also had weak protection, and nothing went right against the Seahawks. This is a more forgiving matchup, and they must show progress, especially with Ryan Tannehill hobbled.

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Does Aaron Rodgers have another run in him?

The 2016 Packers started 4-6 before winning six in a row to end the season in unlikely fashion, making the playoffs. It’s fair to say that a run is even more unlikely now. They’re 5-7-1 and have yet to win a game away from Lambeau Field this season. The task to stay alive would be to win at Chicago, which just came off a game in which they completely stuffed the Los Angeles Rams. Rodgers faces an extremely tall task if he wants to get this team anywhere close to the playoffs. The road has to start this weekend.

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Will the Rams’ offense get back on track to end Philly’s season?

The Rams (11-2) were taught a lesson by the overwhelming Chicago Bears last week and now get to go back home against a Philadelphia Eagles team fighting for a playoff spot without quarterback Carson Wentz. All eyes will be on Jared Goff and the L.A. offense to see how they respond to their worst game of the season. The Eagles’ defense hasn’t been airtight this season, so the expectation is that the Rams will rebound here, especially at home. They could really stand to get the good feeling back as quickly as possible.

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Is Baltimore's Lamar Jackson ready to get back on track against Tampa Bay?

Jackson produced a mixed bag against the Kansas City Chiefs, and it will be interesting to see how he deals with a Tampa Bay defense that is also a bit prone to quarterbacks who can make big plays. Jackson avoided an injury scare against the Chiefs and is set to start for Baltimore with the team in need of every win it can get to solidify playoff position. This should provide an easier test and give Jackson the chance to make some plays.

Cam Newton wearing a hat © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Can Carolina pull off a shocker to keep themselves alive?

There appears to be no end to Carolina’s freefall, and Sunday might be their last chance to stop it. The good news is they are still 5-1 at home and not out of the playoff picture yet. The bad news is that they’re facing the New Orleans Saints, who enter as the top seed in the NFC. Carolina (6-7) is going to have to dig deep and find something, especially with an ailing Cam Newton struggling under center. A loss here and they’re pretty much done.


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Will a visit from Dallas mean the potential end of the road for the Colts?

The Colts (7-6) recovered nicely from a disappointing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars to beat the Houston Texans a week ago, keeping them in the playoff race. They are home again this week, where they’ve won four of six, but they’re facing one of the hottest teams in the NFC in the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys (8-5) have had their road struggles, but they’re on a winning streak. A loss to Indianapolis would leave them with a pretty tough task the rest of the way. This is a big one for both teams.

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Will Seattle continue to quietly roll through the NFC?

They can’t win their division — such is the problem with being stuck in the same group as the Rams — but the Seattle Seahawks are rolling right along and can clinch a playoff bid if they beat the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners are capable of springing a surprise — ask the Denver Broncos — but Seattle (8-5) is well-poised and should clinch their spot sooner rather than later. This is definitely a team to watch in the playoffs, as their defense is sturdy and Russell Wilson is a good quarterback.

a football player holding a baseball bat © Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Will Tennessee avoid the trap game that the Giants seem to pose for people?

The Giants are pretty bad this year and have long been a non-factor in the playoff race, though they’ve won 4 out of 5. They’re capable of upset wins as the Chicago Bears found out the hard way two weeks ago. The Titans will have to be on alert. They’ve battled inconsistency this season but can still move to 8-6 with a road win. Tennessee is probably the better team, especially without Odell Beckham suiting up for New York, but that hasn’t always mattered with the Giants on the field this season.

a football player holding a football ball on a field © Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Is Washington capable of winning another game?

Fresh off a total disaster against the New York Giants, the Redskins have to regroup behind new quarterback Josh Johnson. They head to Jacksonville to play the Jaguars, who are 4-9 but favored anyway in this one owing to the travesty Washington turned into. Washington (6-7) might not win another game all season, as their injury-depleted roster just doesn’t have the talent to trouble many teams unless they don’t show up. Jacksonville is certainly capable of falling apart, so there’s some intrigue here, even if it’s the bad kind.

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Will Atlanta avoid looking like a disaster for a week?

Another hugely disappointing team in 2018 is Atlanta. The Falcons are 4-9, with a defense hit by injuries and an offense that hasn’t produced in any meaningful way. They’ll face the Arizona Cardinals, who are afflicted with many of the same problems, particularly on offense. This may be a chance for the Falcons to pick up an increasingly rare victory — if they even want one — and make their season look a little better than it has been.

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Can the Texans avoid a late-season slide?

After their nine-game win streak was snapped last week, the Texans (9-4) will want to ensure that it isn’t followed up by any sort of losing streak. Luckily for them, they get a forgiving opponent in the New York Jets. The Texans are still well on their way to the playoffs, but they’d like to get the division wrapped up as early as possible, and getting back on track with another win is imperative. They could even clinch if they win and Indianapolis and Tennessee both lose, so the incentive is there.

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Will Derek Carr continue his resurgence against the lackluster Bengals?

It took quite a while, but Carr is starting to look at home under center again for the Raiders. He hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 5, but the problem for several weeks after that was that he wasn’t throwing for much else, either. That has changed. In his last two games, Carr has thrown for five touchdowns and 607 total yards, completing three-quarters of his passes. The Raiders are done, and so are the Bengals, but it could be another exhibition for Carr against a weak Cincinnati defense.

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Can Lions-Bills be any more exciting than Detroit’s Week 14 game?

The Lions are fresh off a 17-3 win over the Arizona Cardinals. It had less to do with the defenses being great as it did with the offenses being on the inept side. The Bills have lost two straight, and they continue to average fewer than 20 points per game. In other words, this one could be a slog for both teams, as neither offense has played well at all in recent weeks. Perhaps the Bills will pose more of a challenge to Detroit, but this has a good chance of being Week 15’s ugliest contest.

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