The Chargers are fighting for top spot in the AFC
Week 15 in the NFL marked the start of the Saturday afternoon games. While this seems completely unnecessary, I definitely don’t hate having another day of NFL football on my TV. The week started off with a Thursday night game between the top two teams in the AFC West, who also happen to be two of the top teams in the entire NFL. All of the hype this year in the AFC has been about the Chiefs, but the Chargers have been right behind them all season long. The Chiefs took an early lead and controlled most of the game, until the last few minutes.
The Chargers cut into that 14-point deficit with 3:49 left in the game and then scored with just 4 seconds left. Then they were faced with the decision to play it safe and kick the extra point, which isn’t exactly a sure thing anymore, or go for two points and the win. Basically, you can play to win or play not to lose, and the Chargers decided to play to win.
Mike Williams was the star for the Chargers on Thursday, finishing up with two receiving touchdowns on 76 yards, along with a 19-yard rushing touchdown and of course that game-winning two-point conversion. Philip Rivers also had a solid game, throwing for 313 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions. Lost in all of the drama is the fact that the Chargers were able to win the game without their top two running backs in Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, both of them out with injuries.
The most impressive part of the game was how the Chargers were able to keep Kansas City’s offense in check, limiting them to 294 total yards, including only 60 yards on the ground. Almost more impressive than their ability to stop the run was how they kept Tyreek Hill quiet. He had four catches for 46 yards but wasn’t able to find the endzone, but he has been dealing with a foot injury. Without Kareem Hunt, and now a banged up Hill, the Chiefs offense is getting less dynamic just as the playoffs are about to begin.
There was another big game between two more AFC contenders this week, this one featuring the Patriots and the Steelers. While historically, New England has dominated Pittsburgh in the Brady era, this hasn’t been a typical Patriots season. They’ve struggled on the road, but as usual they’ve been perfect at home. Unfortunately, those away games are looking like they’ll cost the Patriots home-field advantage later in the playoffs. So while the Patriots have dominated the Steelers since Brady showed up, this game also happened to be in Pittsburgh.
Early on it seemed like it would be a shootout, with both teams reaching the endzone on their opening drives, but things stalled after that. The Steelers were leading 14-7 at halftime, but the Patriots had to ball to open the second half. Belichick has become known for scoring at the end of the first half and then again to open the second, but this time around those two possessions both ended up with punts. The second half became more about missed opportunities, with both teams failing to generate any scoring. They traded field goals, but nobody was able to find the endzone for the final 42 minutes of the game. The Patriots were in position to take a lead in the fourth quarter, but Brady made his only big mistake of the game, an interception to Joe Haden ended the drive inside the 5, and the Steelers came back down the field to extend their lead to 17-10. With 2:30 left on the clock and no timeouts, the Patriots had one final chance to tie the game, but the drive ended after a 4th down pass was knocked down at the goal line.
The Patriots record is now 9-5 this season, but they are 6-0 at home and 3-5 on the road. Luckily, they finish the year with two home games against the Bills and Jets. At the moment they sit 3rd place in the AFC, but still have a chance at catching the Texans for the 2nd seed and a first round bye. The game was much more important for the Steelers, who are still fighting for their playoff lives with the Ravens right behind them, while even the Browns still have a chance at winning the division. It’s a slim chance, nearly impossible honestly, but it’s still a chance.
The Steelers weren’t the only underdog fighting for a playoff spot this weekend, as the Eagles faced off with Rams on Sunday night. Once again, the Eagles have turned to Nick Foles to save their season, and so far it’s working. The Rams are a different challenge though. They were shut down last week by the Bears, so this game was a chance to prove how good they still are, but it didn’t exactly go how they planned. At halftime, they were tied 13-13, and things got even worse over the next 15 minutes. The Eagles scored 17 points in the third quarter, with Wendell Smallwood scoring two rushing touchdowns while Jake Elliott added a field goal.
However, if any team this season is capable of overcoming a 17 point deficit, it would be the Rams. After cutting the lead to just 7, the Rams defense stopped the Eagles on their following drive, but the punt return nearly cost them. The catch was fumbled and recovered by the Eagles at the Rams 36 yard line, putting them just on the edge of field goal range. With a chance to put the game out of reach, Elliott attempted a 53-yard field goal but missed, giving the Rams a chance. Goff took the Rams down the field but simply ran out of time, and the Eagles escaped Los Angeles with a 30-23 win. The Rams are now 2nd in the NFC behind the Saints, while the Eagles are just a game behind the Cowboys for top spot in the NFC East, while also just out of a wild card spot.
Speaking of playoffs, here’s how the matchups are looking right now. Obviously, there’s still a lot that can change over the next two weeks.
In the AFC, the Chiefs are Chargers could still trade places, which could be disastrous for Kansas City considering the success they’ve had early in the season. Meanwhile, the Colts, Titans and Dolphins are still fighting for a playoff spot, while the Browns could end up in the mix if they win out and get a lot of help. Over in the NFC, the Eagles, Redskins and Panthers are currently the only teams on the outside looking in that still have some hope, while the Packers and Falcons both can only look at this season as a disappointment.
In case you missed it, check out the Week 14 recap here.