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Your Week 15 NFL Matchup Guide: Saints-Chiefs Is a Potential Super Bowl Preview

New Orleans and Kansas City probably should have met in the big game two seasons ago. But with both teams currently in the hunt for no. 1 seeds, this may be the year it finally happens.

Three things stand out about this Week 15. First: Holy crap, it is Week 15. This year has been such a dumpster fire that the idea it could end soon is hard to believe. But here we are. Look at us.

The second thing is that the NFL has inexplicably scheduled two bad games on Saturday. Not only do those games suck, but they are up against two of the best college football games of the year. Plan your Saturday around college football, not the NFL. The third and final thing that stands out is our Game of the Week:

Game of the Week

Editor’s note: This section has been updated to reflect the news that Drew Brees will start at QB on Sunday for New Orleans.

Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) @ New Orleans Saints (10-3)

Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Chiefs -3
Over/under: 51

These teams are tied for the best cumulative regular-season record in the NFL through the past three seasons (36-9). They nearly met in the Super Bowl two seasons ago, but both lost controversial conference championship games (the Saints lost to the Rams after the refs missed a blatant pass interference penalty, and Mahomes never got to touch the ball in overtime against Tom Brady and the Patriots). Now we finally get a meeting between two juggernauts who could belatedly meet in the Super Bowl.

Based on both teams’ brands, Chiefs-Saints would seem like a clash of the offensive titans. These franchises lead the NFL in points in the past three years, and this season, Kansas City’s offense is operating on another plane of existence. Last week against the Dolphins, Mahomes had perhaps his worst half as a pro, throwing two interceptions and taking a 30-yard sack—and the Chiefs still entered halftime up 14-10. But Kansas City’s offensive line is hurting. The Chiefs might be without their top three tackle options this week, and they’re going up against perhaps the league’s best pass-rushing duo in Saints defensive ends Trey Hendrickson and Cameron Jordan. Plus, New Orleans has one of the league’s deepest secondaries. If any defense can emulate the impact Miami’s unit had last week, it’s this one.

But while the Saints defense is ready to play spoiler, New Orleans’s offense is no longer built to win shoot-outs. Drew Brees will apparently return to the starting lineup after suffering 11 rib fractures and a collapsed lung earlier in the season, but this comes just days after Saints coach Sean Payton said the QB still had “a ways to go” in his recovery.

Where the Saints do excel, though, is protecting leads, and Kansas City has been happy to relinquish leads all year only to come back in epic fashion. That includes two comeback playoff wins over Houston and Tennessee in January, and comebacks wins against the Broncos, Dolphins, and Raiders in three of the Chiefs’ past four games. Kansas City’s lone weakness seems to be starting slow (Tyreek Hill’s 200-yard first quarter against the Bucs notwithstanding).

But starting slow against the Saints could be bad for Kansas City. New Orleans’s defense is better suited than most to get the Chiefs off the field. And with Brees back on offense, the Saints will have a better chance to spread the ball around and keep Mahomes on the sideline.

(Pointless) Saturday Football

Buffalo Bills (10-3) @ Denver Broncos (5-8)

Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Channel: NFL Network
Opening point spread: Bills -5
Over/under: 48

Carolina Panthers (4-9) @ Green Bay Packers (10-3)

Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Channel: NFL Network
Opening point spread: Packers -9.5
Over/under: 51

Let’s just lump these two games together. The NFL has decided to let these two boring-ass contests go head-to-head with the best college football Saturday of the year. No. 3 Clemson is playing no. 2 Notre Dame in the ACC championship game at 4 p.m. ET, directly competing with Bills-Broncos. Then no. 1 Alabama plays no. 7 Florida in the SEC championship game at 8 p.m. ET—the same time as Packers-Panthers. Why?

These college football games were originally scheduled for earlier this month. But as COVID-19-related issues struck the conferences, they were rescheduled, and the NFL did not move its games accordingly. Other than flipping between games to avoid all the Aflac commercials during ABC broadcasts, there is no reason to watch the Bills manhandle the Broncos when you could instead see Trevor Lawrence make some people cry. Watch the college games, and learn about the Bills clinching the AFC East and Aaron Rodgers’s MVP case from your push notifications.

Early Sunday Slate

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) @ Atlanta Falcons (4-9)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Bucs -1.5
Over/under: 51.5

Prepare your Tom Brady vs. Atlanta 28-3 jokes. This is the first of two times Brady will face Atlanta over the next three weeks. A win for the Bucs almost guarantees them a playoff spot, but it’s equally important to see Tampa Bay start playing like a playoff contender. The Bucs beat the Vikings 26-14 last week, but they largely got lucky when Vikings kicker Dan Bailey missed three field goal attempts and an extra point. Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo would never. Koo has attempted 28 extra points this year and missed … three.

New England Patriots (6-7) @ Miami Dolphins (8-5)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Dolphins -3
Over/under: 43.5

Miami has long been New England’s House of Horrors. The Patriots have often lost in Miami, especially in games with important playoff implications. But those losses are memorable because they were surprising. This time, the shocking part is that the Patriots are expected to lose.

This is just the second time the Dolphins have been favored against the Patriots in the last 17 years, and now New England gets a chance to play spoiler. If Miami wins this week, the team’s chance of making the playoffs is roughly 40 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. If the Dolphins lose, though, it drops below 10 percent. Pats QB Cam Newton physically overpowered the Dolphins in their Week 1 matchup, but Miami’s defense looks quite different from the group that took the field in that game. Former Bill Belichick assistant and current Dolphins head coach Brian Flores surely understands New England’s limitations on offense better than he did in Week 1.

A Dolphins win could solidify the new AFC East pecking order. But a Patriots win to wound Miami’s playoff hopes would be quite the role reversal.

San Francisco 49ers (5-8) @ Dallas Cowboys (4-9)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: San Francisco -2.5
Over/under: 45

NBC flexed this game out of Sunday Night Football to instead show Browns-Giants. It was the first time the Cowboys have been flexed out of a prime-time game since flexing became a thing in 2006.

These two teams have turned injuries and incompetence into irrelevancy. The 49ers need to win each of their next three games just to have a 3-in-5 chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight, and they are all but eliminated with a loss. Meanwhile, the Cowboys would have just a 13 percent chance of making the playoffs even if they win out.

Seattle Seahawks (9-4) @ Washington Football Team (6-7)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Seahawks -3 (now Seahawks -6)
Over/under: 45.5

When the Seahawks have the ball, this might be the best NFL matchup you’ll see all weekend. Seattle’s offense is spectacular, and it’ll be going against a Washington defense that is one of the best in the league. Defensive end Chase Young is exactly as good as he was promised when Washington took him no. 2 in this spring’s draft. He had a season’s worth of game-changing plays against San Francisco last week, including a ridiculous forced fumble and another scoop-and-score recovery for a touchdown. Young is the real deal, and he’ll be chasing Wilson all day Sunday.

When Washington has the ball though, things won’t be so pretty. Washington quarterback Alex Smith may miss this game with an injury to his right calf (the same leg that required 17 surgeries after Smith suffered a broken leg and subsequent infection in November 2018). That leaves Dwayne Haskins, who lost the confidence of head coach Ron Rivera earlier this season because he lacked game awareness. That is an especially bad trait to have against the Seahawks. This year, Seattle safety Jamal Adams has set the single-season sack record by a defensive back (8.5), which he’s managed in just nine games.

Detroit Lions (5-8) @ Tennessee Titans (9-4)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Titans -8.5
Over/under: 52.5

This has a chance to get ugly. Lions quarterback Matt Stafford has a rib injury that could keep him out of this game. And he’s not the only one hurting. Lions starting center Frank Ragnow has a “fractured throat,” which means he can eat and breathe, but essentially has bruised vocal chords. Aside from the insane fact that this man played in an NFL game last week with a fractured throat, the Lions may have communication issues if their starting center can’t speak.

If Detroit can’t keep up on offense, it has little chance in this game. The Lions’ defense is graded dead last among teams on Pro Football Focus, and they have injuries all across their secondary. With Titans running back Derrick Henry attacking Detroit’s suspect run defense and receiver A.J. Brown working downfield, this could get bad—even by Lions standards.

Houston Texans (4-9) @ Indianapolis Colts (9-4)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Colts -6.5
Over/under: 52

These teams played just two weeks ago. That game ended when Deshaun Watson fumbled a bad snap just 2 yards from the end zone, and Houston lost by six. The next week, Houston lost to Chicago by 29. Which Texans team shows up this week? Considering Houston’s messy defense just got worse—the team lost safety Justin Reid for the season with a hand injury—this game probably won’t be as close as the last matchup between these two teams.

Chicago Bears (6-7) @ Minnesota Vikings (6-7)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Vikings -6.5
Over/under: 46.5

These teams have taken opposite paths to the same record. The Bears started 5-1, while the Vikings started 1-5. Since then, the Bears have gone 1-6 while the Vikings went 5-2. The Bears are coming off a cathartic shredding of Deshaun Watson and the Texans last week, but beating Minnesota’s defense won’t be nearly so easy.

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12) @ Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Ravens -11
Over/under: 46

The Ravens are heating up at the right time. Baltimore just beat Cleveland 47-42 in its biggest win of the season (a.k.a. the “Did Lamar poop or have cramps?” game). Right now, the Ravens are in eighth place in a seven-team playoff race, but this game should be a cakewalk. Baltimore’s unofficial leader in this matchup may be defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who publicly demanded a trade away from Jacksonville this offseason and said he would never play for the Jaguars again. He was traded to Minnesota, then from Minnesota to Baltimore, and now he gets his chance at revenge. “Yannick’s going to be out for blood,” Jags quarterback Gardner Minshew told reporters this week.

Late Sunday Slate

Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1) @ Arizona Cardinals (7-6)

Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Cardinals -6.5
Over/under: 47.5

Welcome to the Sooners bowl. This game features 2019 Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts vs. 2018 Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray. Hurts is coming off a huge win in his first career start, where he looked as calm and in control as could be. Murray, meanwhile, is coming off a win over the Giants, but Arizona’s defense and special teams had a bigger role in that than Murray’s play. The Cardinals defense could also feast against the Eagles. Arizona edge rusher Haason Reddick had five sacks and three forced fumbles against the Giants last week. And while Jalen Hurts has far better pocket awareness than Giants QB Daniel Jones, Hurts is playing behind a similarly bad offensive line.

Philly is also shedding offensive linemen—four of their five starters are out, and now the second-string guys are getting hurt too. This week it was backup right tackle Jack Driscoll, who will miss the rest of the season with an MCL injury. Driscoll was replacing right tackle Lane Johnson, and now the team will turn to Matt Pryor. This week will present Philly’s 13th offensive line combination in 14 games.

New York Jets (0-13) @ Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Rams -13.5 (Now Rams -17)
Over/under: 44.5

The Jets are 17-point underdogs in this game. Barring a win this week (which would be shocking), the Jets are in serious position to finish 0-16. Their final two games are against the Browns (who would love to make another team go winless) and then the Patriots (who would love to make the Jets go winless).

Sunday Night Football

Cleveland Browns (9-4) @ New York Giants (5-8)

Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Channel: NBC
Opening point spread: Browns -3
Over/under: 46

Entering this year, these teams had the fewest combined wins in the NFL over the past three seasons. Flash forward to this week, and this game was flexed into Sunday Night Football over 49ers-Cowboys. More amazing still, it was a good decision. The Browns played some of their best football in last week’s 47-42 loss to the Ravens. A win here would take their playoff odds to nearly 96 percent, and give them a double-digit win total for just the second time in 22 seasons.

Cleveland’s offense was humming against the Ravens on Monday Night Football last week, but the defense could be the focus in this game. Cardinals defensive end Haason Reddick feasted on Daniel Jones last week, and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett is probably looking at Jones and seeing dollar signs. Garrett, who is 2.0 sacks behind Aaron Donald for the league lead, could rejoin the hunt for the season sack title with a big week.

The Giants, meanwhile, need a win to stay in the NFC East race. They are a game behind Washington, but a win this week combined with a Washington loss would give the Giants the upper hand in the divisional race with just two weeks to go.

Monday Night Football

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) @ Cincinnati Bengals (2-10)

Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Opening point spread: Steelers -11.5
Over/under: 41.5

The Steelers have a lot of problems. They can’t catch, throw deep, block, or stay healthy. But now they play the Bengals. Last week, Cincinnati was dominated by Dallas, 30-7. If the Steelers cannot convincingly put the Bengals away, it will be hard to take them seriously as a Super Bowl contender.