If you remove the Rams/Seahawks game that floated around a pick’em all week, NFL favorites posted a ninth consecutive winning Sunday, finishing 7-3-1 against the closing number. Over the past nine Sundays, favorites are a combined 66-36-6 ATS (64.7%). Nome of the three underdogs who covered (Giants +7.5, Jets +16, Titans +2.5) won outright. Home teams turned a small profit on the day at 6-5-1 against the spread, and eight of the 12 games went over the closing total, while one total pushed.
While the Patriots-Steelers game captured most of the national attention (for good reason), we did see four other games on Sunday decided by five points or fewer. The 13.5 point average margin of victory was really skewed as a result of blowout wins by the Vikings, Rams and Jaguars, who each won by at least 27 points.
AFC Playoff Picture
- Patriots (11-3)
- Steelers (11-3)
- Jaguars (10-4)
- Chiefs (8-6)
- Titans (8-6)
- Bills (8-6)
Still Hopeful: Ravens (8-6), Chargers (7-7)
Life Support: Raiders (6-8), Dolphins (6-8)
Eliminated: Jets (5-9), Bengals (5-9), Broncos (5-9), Texans (4-10), Colts (3-11), Browns (0-14)
- With their come-from-behind fourth quarter win against the Steelers, the Patriots clinched the AFC East, and now simply need to finish the year with two home wins over the Bills and Jets in order to secure home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. It appears as if the AFC will ultimately be decided in Foxborough, which sounds all too familiar.
- The Steelers, who clinched the AFC North last weekend, missed out on a golden opportunity to get in prime position for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Pittsburgh should still eventually clinch a first-round bye, as they finish the season with games against the Browns and Texans. If they somehow slip up in either game, they could potentially get passed in the standings if the Jaguars win out, since Jacksonville owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.
- The Jaguars are playoff bound for the first time in a decade, and they also moved one step closer to clinching the AFC South by completely dismantling the Texans 45-7. With the Titans falling to Jimmy Garoppolo and the rejuvenated 49ers on the road, the Jaguars simply need to win one of their final two games (at SF, at TEN) or get a Titans loss next weekend. Tennessee needs to defeat the Rams and hope the 49ers can upset the Jaguars in order to set up a Week 17 showdown in Nashville for the division crown.
- The Chiefs took complete control of the AFC West after sweeping the season series with the Chargers, effectively taking a two-game lead in the division with two to play. Los Angeles now only has one unlikely path to a division title — win their last two games (at NYJ and OAK), and hope KC also loses their final two (MIA and at DEN). According to this NYT Playoff simulator, there is a six percent probability of this scenario playing out. The wild card now becomes the most realistic route for the Chargers to secure a postseason berth, although that same simulator only gives them a 14 percent overall chance of getting in. LA does have a head-to-head advantage over Buffalo, but their 4-6 conference record could ultimately cost them in a multiple-team tiebreaker. It appears as if we will see Kansas City host a playoff game, while the Chargers sit at home thinking about the Week 2 missed field goal against the Dolphins.
- For now, the Ravens sit on the outside looking in, but they do control their own playoff destiny, and — with home games against the Colts and the Bengals remaining on the schedule — you have to like their chances. Keep in mind that a loss in either game would hurt their common opponent tiebreaker if the Bills lose to the Patriots and defeat the Dolphins, as Buffalo defeated Indianapolis and Cincinnati earlier this season. If the Ravens do indeed win out, they will most likely clinch the five seed and head to Kansas City on wild card weekend.
- As a result of the last-second Titans loss, the Bills now also control their own playoff fate, although their path to 10-6 is significantly more challenging, as they finish the season with two road contests against the Patriots and Dolphins. Buffalo can also make the playoffs by just beating the Dolphins if the Ravens lose once, the Titans win next week/lose Week 17, or Titans simply lose in Week 17 without the Chargers finishing 9-7. Got all of that?
- The Titans’ most likely path to the playoffs involves a Week 17 win over the Jaguars, who could potentially be playing for nothing, and a Patriots win over the Bills this coming weekend. Tennessee’s game against the Rams won’t mean that much if the Jaguars also win, as the out-of-conference win won’t help them a great deal in potential wild-card tiebreakers.
- With their loss in Buffalo on Sunday, the Dolphins really find themselves up against it at 6-8. According to the aforementioned NYT playoff simulator, the Fins’ chances now sit at only three percent. Short of a miraculous end to the season, it’s safe to assume the Dolphins won’t get into the playoffs, but they will still have a major say on the AFC playoff picture, since they finish the season with games against the Chiefs and Bills.
- After a crushing loss on Sunday night, the Raiders also find themselves on the brink of elimination. Derek Carr had a chance to significantly improve Oakland’s playoff chances, but his fumble through the endzone for a touchback essentially ended their season, as they now have a less than one percent chance of getting to the postseason.
Let’s now take a look at the three most meaningful AFC takeaways from Week 15 …
1. Steelers have no replacement for Shazier
Patriots (-2.5) at Steelers | Pats win 27-24 (Under 53)
Tom Brady orchestrated another fourth-quarter comeback in vintage fashion, leading his team down the field in five plays for a go-ahead touchdown with under a minute left. Pittsburgh ultimately could not cover Rob Gronkowski, who caught three balls for 67 yards on the final drive (and also caught a pass on New England’s successful two-point conversion attempt). In six career games against the Steelers, Gronk has 39 receptions on 49 targets for 664 yards and eight touchdowns. The loss of Ryan Shazier really hurt Pittsburgh yesterday, and should continue to haunt their defense for the remainder of the year.
The Steelers did have a chance to force overtime at the minimum after JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 69-yard reception set up Pittsburgh inside the Patriots’ red zone, but Ben Roethlisberger forced a throw that the Patriots picked off to clinch the crucial road victory.
Pittsburgh did receive good news after the game about Antonio Brown, who should recover from his calf injury in time for the playoffs. However, even with a healthy Brown, I can’t see this Steelers team winning in Foxborough if these teams meet again.
Three stars of the game:
- TE Rob Gronkowski (NE) – 9 catches 168 yds
- QB Tom Brady (NE)– 298 yds 1 TD
- RB Le’Veon Bell (PIT) – 29 touches 165 yds 1 TD
2. Watch out: K.C. got its grove back
Chargers at Chiefs (PK) | win 30-13 (Under 47)
Déjà vu. The Chiefs defeated the Chargers for the eighth consecutive time to take complete control of the AFC West.
Remember that Chiefs team that defeated the Eagles and Patriots early in the season? Well, that team has regained its early-season form just in time behind a rejuvenated Kareem Hunt, who gained over 200 yard from scrimmage. The Chargers’ run defense, one of their few glaring weaknesses on paper, ultimately may have cost them a shot at January football.
Guess who else is back? Marcus Peters. After sitting out due to a suspension last week, the highly talented cornerback produced one of the most spectacular performances from a defensive back in the 2017 season. Peters forced three turnovers and didn’t allow a single catch on six targets.
The Chiefs now sit in the driver’s seat of the AFC West, as they will clinch the division with one more win or one more loss by both the Raiders and Chargers. The fans in the “City of Fountains” can finally exhale for the first time in many weeks.
Three stars of the game:
- RB Kareem Hunt (KC) – 31 touches 206 yds 2 TD
- CB Marcus Peters (KC) – 3 PD 2 INT 1 FF
- RB Melvin Gordon (LA) – 169 yds 1 TD
— NFL (@NFL) December 17, 2017
3. Bortles will be Jags’ ultimate wild card in playoffs
Texans at Jaguars (+10.5) | Jaguars win 45-7 (Over 39.5)
Jacksonville clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time in 10 years after winning a laugher against a lifeless Texans team. The Jaguars led 31-0 at the half, their largest halftime lead in franchise history.
Blake Bortles, who has taken his play to another level over the past month, turned in his best game as a pro (326 yards, 3 TDs), despite the fact that he was missing his top three wide receivers. If Bortles can maintain his recent form, nobody in the AFC will want to face Jacksonville in January.
The stout Jags defense was on display yet again, holding the Texans to only 58 yards in the first half — and 186 in the game. Calais Campbell finished with two of the Jaguars’ four sacks, as they applied pressure on T.J. Yates from the opening snap.
Three stars of the game:
- QB Blake Bortles (JAX) – 326 yds 3 TD
- WR Keelan Cole (JAX) – 186 yds 1 TD
- RB Corey Grant (JAX) – 69 yds 1 TD
— NFL (@NFL) December 17, 2017
Key Week 15 AFC Injuries:
Bills WR Kelvin Benjamin – Knee (?)
Bills CB E.J. Gaines – Knee (?)
Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders – Ankle (?)
Broncos QB Trevor Siemian – Shoulder (IR)
Chargers WR Keenan Allen – Back (?)
Chargers LT Russell Okung – Groin (?)
Chargers LB Denzel Perryman – Hamstring (?)
Chargers LB Jatavis Brown – Back (?)
Chargers DT Corey Liuget – Knee (?)
Chargers RB Austin Ekeler – Hand (?)
Chiefs DL Jarvis Jenkins – Elbow (?)
Chiefs LB Kevin Pierre-Louis – Shoulder (?)
Colts WR T.Y. Hilton – Hand (?)
Jaguars WR Marqise Lee – Ankle (?)
Ravens WR Jeremy Maclin – Knee (?)
Steelers WR Antonio Brown – Calf (OUT)
Titans OL Taylor Lewan – Back (?)