2019 NFL: Week 15
Not all playoff teams are created equal.
Some of them have a realistic shot at the Lombardi Trophy. Others are just happy to be there. Others are in the NFC East and are so awful it’s an embarrassment they’re even in the postseason.
And with the NFL regular season whittling down to the last few Sundays (makes me emotional thinking about it), it’s time to break down which teams are for real and which are frauds wrapped in a playoff ribbon.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Ravens — For real
John Harbaugh deserves to be named coach of the year. Lamar Jackson deserves to be named most valuable player. Baltimore has been a revelation in 2019 and this squad seems to improve with every game.
They can run the ball, they’ve designed a passing attack that plays to Jackson strengths and with the addition of Marcus Peters, their defense hasn’t allowed a team to score more than 17 points in a month. It’s no surprise they’re the favorite to win the Super Bowl.
Patriots — For real
They can’t run the ball well. Tom Brady is taking a lot of hits. And when he’s on his feet, he doesn’t exactly have a plethora of solid receiving options. Their defense is still solid, but people have sheathed their comparisons to the ‘85 Bears. The national media has been lining up to take their shots … and yet, this team is still frickin’ 10-3. And in line to get at least one game at home in the playoffs.
As long as the Patriots have breath left in their bodies, they will find ways to manufacture points. They’ve developed a penchant for blocking punts and creating turnovers, which gives the offense short fields. Sell your stock on this team at your own risk.
Chiefs — For real
This is just one of those seasons for Patrick Mahomes. Injuries have seemingly followed him around, with the latest coming when he fell on his hand early in last week’s win over New England. He was able to finish the game and X-rays and other tests showed no serious damage was done.
However, it was clear that the injury affected his throws and he visibly winced multiple times. Well, the Chiefs’ hopes rest on that man. They’ve been better defensively this year, but if they have to go into the playoffs with Matt Moore taking snaps under center, they’re done. If it’s Mahomes, they’re more than capable of winning a championship.
Texans — Not for real
Deshaun Watson is among my favorite quarterbacks to watch. That being said, this team has a Jekly and Hyde quality that’s disturbing for a playoff team.
Who are they? The team that beat the Chiefs and Patriots? The team that hung 50-plus points on the Falcons? Or maybe they’re the team that lost to the Panthers at home. And got blown out by the Ravens. Not to mention last week’s embarrassing loss to the Broncos as rookie quarterback Drew Lock threw for more than 300 yards and 3 touchdowns.
It’s difficult to have much confidence in a team when you never know which version you’re going to get.
Bills — Not for real
Traditionally the first playoff game on the schedule every year is the game generating the least amount of interest. The Bengals would often play in that game. So would the Redskins whenever they would limp into the postseason.
You can guarantee the Bills, if they manage to hold on their wild card spot, will play in that game. Possibly against the Chiefs or Texans. Snore. By the way, that’s not to say they’re not capable of advancing to the divisional round. They very well could. But that’s all Buffalo can hope for. How much confidence do you have in this team to win on the road against the Ravens or Patriots?
Steelers — Not for real
Mike Tomlin is another name that should get some votes for coach of the year. How he’s managed to keep this team relevant at 8-5 is anyone’s guess. I’ve actually heard people mumble over the past couple years that he was on the hot seat in Pittsburgh. Those people are idiots. And the Steelers would be idiots to let him go.
That being said, sorry, not placing much faith in their championship hopes. Their defense keeps them in games, and they’ve put together a three-game winning streak while feasting on teams like the Browns, Bengals and Cardinals. Two of their last three games are against current playoff teams (Bills and Ravens). If they’re still in the playoff field until then, maybe I’ll reconsider somewhat.
Titans — Maybe for real?
On Oct. 13, the Titans were blanked by the Broncos 16-0. The following week, Ryan Tannehill made his first start in place of Marcus Mariota. Since then, the team won six of their next seven games, and are the first team out of the playoff bubble. They’re sitting at 8-5, the same record as the Steelers, who own the final wild card spot.
The bummer for the Titans is their remaining schedule: two games against the Texas sandwiched around a home game against the Saints. If they can somehow survive that stretch and reach the postseason, you’d have no choice but to take this team seriously.
49ers — For real
Their defense keeps offensive coordinators awake at night. Since acquiring wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders via midseason trade, the passing game has picked up. And they have arguably the most creative head coach in the game. You also can’t overstate how huge their win over the Saints in the Superdome last week truly was.
They play the type of football that travels well, which is rare for a West Coast team. They can pound the ball on the ground and play tight defense and match you with dynamic big plays. And forget those desperate people trying to poke holes in Jimmy Garoppolo’s quarterbacking ability. He’s not perfect, but what he does is good enough.
If they can hold off the Seahawks and lock up the NFC’s top seed, you can pretty much stamp their Super Bowl ticket.
Packers — For real
They’re sitting with the No. 2 seed for now, and they make their way through the NFC North over the season’s final three weeks. If they end up with a first-round bye, it’s hard to not consider themselves a true contender, even though one can’t be blamed for having doubts about their ability to beat an NFC playoff team not named the Cowboys on the road.
Saints — For real, for now
Yes, they’re 10-3, but let’s take a closer look. Since their bye week, the Saints are 3-2. And those three wins are against the Buccaneers, Panthers and Falcons — division opponents in an NFC South that hasn’t exactly flourished this season.
Something about this team bothers me. Maybe it’s the fact they haven’t played the toughest schedule this year. Maybe it’s their defense, which has put in some impressive performances, but some teams haven’t had much of a problem scoring against them. Maybe it’s their lack of a deep threat.
Maybe it’s Sean Payton, who can’t seem to vanquish the officiating ghosts in his head. But something tells me, if they have to go on the road, they’re in big trouble.
Cowboys — Definitely not for real
This team sucks. And it’s a complete mystery why. When you look at their roster, they have some nice pieces to play with. And yet, when you throw all of their ingredients into a pot, you get chicken crap instead of chicken salad.
They’re 6-7 right now. If they lose to the Rams at home on Sunday, the best they can finish is 8-8. Does that really deserve a spot in the postseason? Just because teams have made it to January with worse records doesn’t matter. This is an abomination.
Seahawks — For real
The good news is they control their own destiny for the top seed in the NFC. The bad news is, they should face the final three weeks with the attitude that they must win out. More good news is, they face the Panthers and Cardinals — two teams going nowhere — over the next weeks.
Then comes the finale against the 49ers. Assuming San Francisco wins this week and next, the final Sunday will be for all the marbles. One game for the No. 1 seed. Talk about ratings.
What’s different about the 2019 Seahawks is their fortunes aren’t necessarily tied to their home stadium. They’ve proven to be capable of winning on the road, as they’re 6-1 away from CenturyLink Field. If they end up falling short of the top seed, they don’t need to fret.
Vikings — Not for real
Sorry, it’s Kirk Cousins. I don’t care what numbers he’s put up this year. He hasn’t proved to be capable of winning when the eyes of the nation are upon him. Dalvin Cook is dealing with an injury and their defense isn’t what it used to be under Mike Zimmer.
Plus, they’re likely to play only road games in the postseason. If they prove me wrong, I’ll be happy to eat my words.
WHAT’S THE CHATTER?
More filming?! It’s always something with the Patriots, isn’t it? Now they’re being suspected of having an advanced scout film the Bengals sideline last week? Good lord, do they have a disease? Allegedly?
Load management: I’m not a huge fan of teams resting their star players over the final week or two of the season. I feel it’s better to keep in rhythm and not take a risk of losing their edge. But if it means Lamar Jackson doesn’t have to take any hits, I’ll allow it.
They’re done: Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters that the league has “moved on” after the disastrous Colin Kaepernick tryout/dumpster fire. And so have I. It doesn’t appear as if a team will ever sign him, so there’s no real reason to bring his name up anymore.
Poor Sam: The Jets should feel good about Sam Darnold. He has unquestionable talent and if they actually put some players around him, the future is bright. Then again, these are the Jets, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they bungle every move they make.
APPOINTMENT VIEWING FOR WEEK 15
Patriots at Bengals: Let’s see if Bill Belichick puts all his footage to good use. Maybe he should throw this game just to throw the investigators off his trail.
Bears at Packers: Chicago is still in the playoff race, but they don’t really have much of a chance. However, they would assuredly love to at least mess with the Packers. Expect a physical affair.
Texans at Titans: Expect at rowdy crowd in Nashville. Maybe some bachelorette parties can make additional noise for the Titans.
Seahawks at Panthers: Seattle needs to keep pace for that top seed. They can’t afford a stumble here.
Eagles at Redskins: Keep an eye on this one. If Philly wins, they’re still in it for the NFC East title.
Vikings at Chargers: Keep a closer eye on this one. Teams tend to stumble during random trips out west in December. If the Vikings loser here and the Rams beat the Cowboys, they’ll fall out of the playoff bubble.
Rams at Cowboys: Los Angeles needs this one bad. Will Dallas finally right its ship?
Bills at Steelers: Buffalo with the rare appearance on Sunday night.
Colts at Saints: Hey, it’s Monday night. What else are you going to do?
Currently a Mobile Editor at Yahoo, Saraf spent 5.5 years (Oct. 2010 - Feb. 2016) working for FOX Sports as an NFL Editor and Writer. Prior to that, Saraf worked for CBS Interactive for 4.5 years (May 2006 - Oct. 2010) as a Staff Editor.