Week 15 NFL Preview: What will be the deciding factors in this week's games
With just three weeks left in the NFL season, teams cannot afford to drop a game. Let’s take a look at five of the most important games in the Week 15 NFL preview.
Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings
With both the Bears and Vikings hanging around in the NFC wildcard race, every win is crucial.
Chicago’s defense continues to put them in position to win games, and should have success against the Vikings, even with the latter’s versatile offense. Chicago will focus on stopping RB Dalvin Cook by using their LBs to funnel him up the middle, where they can use their 2 ILBs in their 3-4 formation to close up the A gaps. With OLB Khalil Mack bringing pressure off the edge regularly, Chicago’s strategy largely rests on not giving the Vikings’ QB Kirk Cousins time to find his receivers downfield.
With a strong secondary, especially CB Kyle Fuller who should hold his own on an island against WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota will be forced to rely on their third and fourth receiving options more frequently. The Vikings will look to get their RBs and TEs on short out and underneath routes, as well as screens, especially if they can’t push the ball downfield for chunk gains.
The Bears, however, will spread the Vikings’ defense out across the field, with WR Allen Robinson providing a deeper threat as well. With a combination of crossing routes and spacing concepts, the Bears’ passing attack will look for holes amongst and behind the LBs.
RB David Montgomery will see plenty of snaps, mostly running up the inside, and needs to keep the focus of Minnesota’s defense on the middle of the field to open up space along the sideline for Robinson and fellow WRs Anthony Miller and Darnell Mooney. Although Minnesota will be able to generate pressure, quick release plays and a short passing game should allow QB Mitchell Trubisky to get the ball out before he takes too many hits.
Although the Vikings have the more potent offense, if the Bears’ defense plays to its potential as well, Chicago could walk away with the win. As the premiere unit in this matchup, they must dictate and control the game.
Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Football Team
Both Seattle and Washington are embroiled in fights to win their division, and for Washington especially, a loss puts them at risk of missing the postseason altogether. Although the Seahawks have had improvement on their OL as the season has progressed, Washington’s pass rush could be too much for them. QB Russell Wilson’s escapability and movement should help him evade some sacks, but his chances to connect deep with WR DK Metcalf could be reduced. Instead, Seattle will need to have WRs Tyler Lockett and David Moore on in routes and comebacks along the sideline to pick up small gains. Saving deep shots for when Wilson has the time to throw. Similarly, leaning on the running game a little more, even if it doesn’t move the chains effectively, will further set up the vertical attack. Seattle will need to use their 12 personnel often to set up counters and misdirects into the second quarter and beyond. If the pass rush can be negated, or at least slowed down, Seattle should be able to put points on the board.
Washington’s offense will be impaired if RB Antonio Gibson is still out with injury, as more of the burden will fall on JD McKissic to handle extra duties as a receiver out of the backfield, targeting the outside on swing and wheel routes. WR Terry McLaurin will draw attention with his slants over the middle, and should have a nice game as QB Alex Smith will have plenty of time to find him, given the Seahawks lack of pass rush outside of safety Jamal Adams. With McLaurin and McKissic freeing up space for TE Logan Thomas up the seam, and WR Steven Sims on the outside, there should constantly be an open receiver for Smith to target. Seattle’s defense can usually get enough stops to stay ahead, but on short and intermediate routes to the outside could struggle to keep Washington out of the red zone. While Seattle has been the better team this year and should continue to move the ball, it might be with a tamed offense that wins a close game.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Arizona Cardinals
Philadelphia’s playoff hopes rest on winning the NFC East, whereas Arizona are fighting for a wildcard spot. Both teams have been inconsistent this season, and not only do they need to keep winning, but if they are to succeed in January, they need to find some consistent strengths. The central battle for this game is if the Eagles’ DL can get enough pressure on Cardinals’ QB Kyler Murray, without him torching them on the ground. Philadelphia’s LBs lack the speed to spy Murray, so instead need to play contain on the edge, as well as cover the RBs heading into the flats. Arizona will get Murray moving, and should have success there, but should also have plenty of opportunities to move the ball through the air. With the Eagles’ starters in the secondary (CBs Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox and Rodney McLeod) injured and unlikely to play, Arizona’s WRs won’t face much tough coverage. WR DeAndre Hopkins especially will be targeted often, and will box out whichever CB he is up against, offering a perimeter threat on short and intermediate routes all game long.
With Arizona likely moving the ball downfield on most drives, the Eagles’ own offense needs to carry this team. Their rushing attack was successful in Week 14 against the New Orleans Saints, and getting RB Miles Sanders going again against an easier run defense will set up the Eagles’ offense. QB Jalen Hurts will have some designed runs, with RPOs used often, and if either Sanders or Hurts gets to the outside they should be able to get past the LBs with their agility. Arizona’s pass defense has been better than their run defense, but with TE Zach Ertz back and WR Jalen Reagor providing speed up the seam, the Eagles will be able to use their full playbook. Philadelphia will also use Reagor in the run game, and their two-TE sets will help them create rushing lanes on the outside. Arizona will need to also play contain, much like the Eagles, but at least have the CBs to win one-on-one battles. Although the Cardinals’ offense should have an easier time moving the ball, their defense will find it hard to get enough stops to have a big lead. Arizona likely wins this one, but it could become a case of whoever scores last, wins.
Kansas City Chiefs @ New Orleans Saints
Before the season, many would have considered this a possible Super Bowl preview. But now, even though both teams are still fighting for the top seed in their respective conference, neither has been dominant for entire games on a weekly basis. With backup QB Taysom Hill not providing the spark the Saints would have hoped, they’ve been more reliant on their skill players and defense more than usual. RB Alvin Kamara hasn’t been involved as frequently in the passing game, and the Saints have been mostly limited to short and intermediate throws. The Chiefs will blitz Hill regularly to prevent him from finding a rhythm, as well as to make him reluctant to leave the pocket as a runner. While Kansas City’s LBs can be caught out in pass coverage, potentially giving TE Jared Cook a favourable matchup, Hill needs to find another level if he is to win a potential shootout.
New Orleans’ defense will be able to pressure QB Patrick Mahomes consistently, and while their secondary complements their pass rush nicely forcing coverage sacks. The speedy Chiefs duo of Hardman and Hill will require a deep safety at all times. As such, the second Safety, usually Malcolm Jenkins, will need to track TE Travis Kelce no matter where he goes on the field. Kansas City will also have their RBs used on screens and passes to the flat, forcing the LBs to the outside, leaving space open up the middle again for Kelce to exploit. With additional jet sweeps, reverses and end arounds to get the athletic wideouts the ball more often, the Saints’ defense will be spread across the field, softening them up for passes and runs up the middle. If New Orleans’ defensive front can’t get pressure and restrict the run, the Chiefs will be able to move the ball easily enough. New Orleans might like to think of themselves as a Super Bowl contender, but need to at least put up a good performance in this one to keep others thinking of them that way too.
Cleveland Browns @ New York Giants
With the Giants’ season on a knife edge, and Cleveland still trying to lock up a playoff spot to end one of the league’s longest postseason droughts, this game is pivotal to how the seedings will look. A loss for the Giants will essentially eliminate them if Washington and/or Philadelphia win, and a loss for Cleveland will possibly cost them one of the wildcard spots. However, for the Browns, the Giants haven’t shown enough potency on offense to prove too difficult, and as long as their own offense can continue playing well, they should get the win. New York have been largely ineffective running the ball this season, and against Cleveland’s defensive front, that is unlikely to change. Even with extra blockers, the Browns’ LBs have mostly restricted runs to the outside, and the DL closes up holes consistently, while also getting into the backfield often. Instead, the Giants’ chances for success will come through the air, and WR Darius Slayton especially will be a weapon all day to find space on the outside, while WR Golden Tate and TE Evan Engram run slants and deeper crossing routes to get open behind the LBs. The Browns’ Safeties and LBs have given too much space to receivers on intermediate and deeper routes, and this is where the Giants need to target to try and open up space to run the ball.
The Browns’ offense will function as normal, even with a strong Giants’ run defense. Cleveland’s 21, 12 and 22 personnel set up a variety of rushing plays. Disguising the ball carrier and direction, and leading to play action later in the game. With counters and pre-snap motion by the TE, RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will push the ball downfield for the whole game. With the passing attack secondary to the run, screens, slants and deep shots should be sufficient against the Giants’ DBs. Cleveland’s TEs will also provide underneath options and short out routes, giving reliable targets for 5-10 yard gains. The Giants will need to blitz QB Baker Mayfield to throw off his game, but lack the players to provide tight coverage against the RBs and TEs. While the Giants could pass the ball and get into the end zone to hang around, Cleveland’s offense should be able to set up enough scoring opportunities that the Giants are forced to comeback, allowing the Browns’ defense to adjust and focus on defending the pass only.