Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-2)
Thursday Night Football this week is bringing us a juicy matchup between two AFC heavyweights in the Chargers and Chiefs, who are separated by only one game in the AFC West. Led by MVP-frontrunner Patrick Mahomes—who has passed for 4300 yards and 43 touchdowns so far this season—the Chiefs can clinch the division with a win. The Chargers are winners of three straight and nine of ten, and shouldn’t be overlooked in this game—especially considering star pass rusher Joey Bosa is rounding into form with 4 sacks in his 4 games this season.
Kansas City is coming off a tightly contested overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens. Without an amazing Patrick Mahomes throw on a 4th-and-long play late in the game, the Ravens could have stolen this game and the narrative surrounding the Chiefs heading into week 15 would be far different. But, as we know, the Chiefs won and have a chance to close the door on the feisty Chargers once and for all. Losing Kareem Hunt has hurt the Chiefs offense, as they lost a superb runner and underrated receiver out of the backfield. On defense, the trio of Chris Jones, Justin Houston and Dee Ford pressures quarterbacks more frequently than any other trio in the league. The return of superstar safety Eric Berry should also provide a boost to a vulnerable Chiefs pass defense.
Chargers running back Melvin Gordon will be a game-time decision on a short week, and the Chargers will likely have to rely on their passing game. The Chargers’ offense ranks 5th in the league in scoring at 28 points-per-game, and their defense is also a top-10 unit—giving up only 20.8 points-per-game. Rookie safety could be a difference maker in this matchup, as he comes into week 15 leading the Chargers with 88 tackles, 3.5 sacks and 3 interceptions. If James isn’t the defense rookie of the year, he will at least garner significant consideration.
In a game that might end up being the deciding factor in the AFC West, expect competitive performances from both teams.
Dallas Cowboys (8-5) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
Two months ago, we likely wouldn’t have imagined both the Cowboys and Colts were still in the running to win their respective divisions—let alone make the playoffs. After a terrible shutout loss to the Jaguars, the Colts earned an impressive victory on the road over a Houston Texans team that had won 9 consecutive games. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have been a different team after trading for Raiders’ wide receiver Amari Cooper. Both of these defenses are underrated, and with offensive firepower on both sides of the ball, this could be a deceptively entertaining matchup.
In six games with the Raiders before being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper caught 22 passes for 280 yards and 1 touchdown. In his 6 games with Dallas, Cooper has exploded for 40 receptions, 642 yards and 6 scores. After being crucified for surrendering a first round pick for the inconsistent Cooper, the Cowboys are looking like the clear winners of this trade. Cooper has opened up the field for Zeke Elliot as well. In last weeks’ win over the Eagles, Elliot managed a staggering 40 total touches for 192 yards. Elliot is the NFL’s leader in rushing yards and has also added 65 receptions for over 500 yards through the air. The combination of Cooper and Elliot will be hard for the Colts to handle, however, they are coming off a game in which they essentially shut down DeAndre Hopkins and the entire Texans’ offense.
Andrew Luck has been a man on fire all season. Heading into week 15, Luck has nearly 3,800 yards and 34 touchdowns, including 399 yards and 2 scores against the Texans solid defense. The Cowboys are the NFL’s best scoring defense, however, so how the Colts plan to attack them will be key in deciding this game. Although Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton are a dynamite combination, will they be enough to test the Cowboys defense?
New England Patriots (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1)
The Miracle in Miami handed the Patriots a memorable yet devastating loss in Miami last week, but the Patriots should be able to get back on track before the season is over. Inversely, the Steelers have dropped three consecutive games against the Broncos, Chargers and Raiders. With the Ravens now just one game behind them in the AFC North, The Steelers need a win in the worst way. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had this to say of the game: “This is playoff football for us right now. We have to win this game no matter what.”
Pittsburgh has the advantage of having a solid offensive line in a matchup against a Patriots defensive line that isn’t very good at getting to opposing quarterbacks. The duo of Juju Smith-Shuster and Antonio Brown has combined for over 2300 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season, and tight ends Vance McDonald and Jesse James have been under the radar contributors with 509 and 414 yards, respectively. On defense, Pittsburgh leads the NFL in sacks with 45, and will need to get to Tom Brady early and often if they want to win this game.
The Patriots blew the game against Miami last week, but their offense did enough to win. Tom Brady posted a line of 27 of 43 for 358 yards, with 3 touchdowns an no interceptions. Rob Gronkowski had his best game in months with over 100 yards and 1 touchdown. Josh Gordon has quietly been a major contributor in this New England offense, adding 96 yards on 5 catches, while his running mate Julien Edelman caught 9 passes for 86 yards and a score. A solid showing for the Patriots offense should give them confidence heading into Pittsburgh.