With the division races heading into the home stretch, there are obviously some games on the Week 15 NFL schedule that will have significant playoff implications.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who met in last season’s Super Bowl, are among the division leaders who can take a major step toward securing a division championship with wins over division rivals this week.
There are eight players with odds at +1800 or better to win the NFL Most Valuable Player Award and four of them will be playing in this week’s list of top games. Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady (-175) is the current favorite. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers (+550), Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes (+1000), Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert (+1600) and Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor (+1800) are other top contenders for the award.
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers
Odds: Chiefs -3
What to know: The scores and odds total has gone over in four of the Los Angeles Chargers’ last five games at home.
What a quarterback matchup this is. Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs had plenty of doubters earlier in the season, but a six-game winning streak has Kansas City tied with New England and Tennessee for the best record in the AFC.
A win over the Los Angeles Chargers would open up a two-game lead in the division for the 9-4 Chiefs.
A big question with Herbert is who will he be throwing to and handing the ball off to? Running back Austin Ekeler left the last game with an ankle injury. Receiver Keenan Allen has been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and fellow receiver Mike Williams is dealing with a heel injury. Tight end Jared Cook (quadricep) is also on the injury report. Having the game on Thursday night is not the greatest timing for the Chargers, as a Sunday game would give some of the ailing stars more time to get healthier. Ekeler is considered probable while Allen, Cook and Williams are all questionable.
#Chargers HC Brandon Staley expects WR Keenan Allen to play Thursday vs. Chiefs barring any setbacks
— Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) December 13, 2021
How important is this game to Los Angeles? The Chargers are one game in front of five teams at 7-6. Pittsburgh is 6-6-1 and two other teams are 6-7 so it is going to be a wild finish as the last spot or two in the AFC playoff field may not be settled until the final week.
Whatever defensive issues the Chiefs were dealing with earlier this season seems like ancient history as Kansas City has allowed seven, 14, nine, nine and nine points in the last five games. No AFC team with a winning record has allowed more points than the 336 given up by the Chargers.
New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts
Odds: Colts -2
What to know: The New England Patriots have covered in the NFL picks against the spread in five of the last six games against Indianapolis.
It will be a little strange to have a game between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts without either Tom Brady or Peyton Manning at quarterback. It will be New England rookie Mac Jones dueling with offseason acquisition Carson Wentz, a former No. 2 overall pick in the Saturday night showdown.
There will be plenty of eyes on the running backs as well. Indianapolis second-year back Taylor leads the NFL with 1,348 rushing yards. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in seven of the last 10 games and the Colts are 7-0 this season when Taylor rushes for more than 100 yards.
Both defenses certainly fall into the opportunistic category.
The Colts lead the NFL with a +13 turnover margin while New England, aided by 19 interceptions, is third at +10.
Much like the Chiefs-Chargers game, there is more on a line for the pursuer than the team being pursued. New England (9-4) has a two-game lead on Buffalo in the AFC East so a loss would not be catastrophic but the 7-6 Colts are among the many teams fighting for one of the last AFC playoff spots.
Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Odds: Titans -1
What to know: Seven of the last eight road games played by the Tennessee Titans have gone over the total listed by the La vegas odds. The total is 41½ for the Tennessee-Pittsburgh game, the second-lowest of this week’s games.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are doing everything they can to eliminate themselves from the AFC playoff picture. A tie against Detroit and a loss to Minnesota is really not in the script of how to secure a postseason berth.
Pittsburgh (6-6-1) is in the unfamiliar spot as a last-place team in the AFC North but, despite all of their hiccups, the Steelers could still make the playoffs.
Tennessee (9-4) has its sights a little higher than just making the playoffs. The Titans have a chance to earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
Getting Julio Jones back on the field should help the offense. The Titans, despite the loss of Derrick Henry to a foot injury, are still in the top five in the NFL in rushing yards per game.
This is not the easiest stretch of the season for Tennessee. After playing the Steelers, the San Francisco 49ers come to Nashville followed by a visit from Miami. Both the 49ers and Dolphins will be treating the game like a must-win scenario because, in reality, that is pretty much what it is.
Green Bay Packers at Baltimore Ravens
Odds: No line
What to know: The Green Bay Packers are 11-1 against the NFL point spreads in their last 12 games.
An Aaron Rodgers versus Lamar Jackson matchup would certainly be some must-see television. However, Jackson suffered a sprained ankle in a loss to Cleveland. The Ravens have been dealing with injuries all season long, but losing a player that is ninth in current NFL MVP odds, could be the toughest blow of all.
Back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh — when Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh went for a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter rather than risk winning or losing the game in overtime — and Cleveland has complicated things for Baltimore, which had seemed almost a lock to win the AFC North Division two weeks ago.
Along with Jackson and multiple running backs, Baltimore (8-5) has dealt with multiple injuries at the cornerback position and that could be a recipe for disaster going against Rodgers and Davante Adams.
Green Bay (10-3) is joined by Arizona and Tampa Bay atop the NFC standings. Obviously, a home playoff game or two in Wisconsin is a huge advantage for the Packers going against the other NFC contenders from warm-weather markets.
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Odds: Buccaneers -11
What to know: The total has gone under in six of the last nine games between the Saints and Buccaneers. The total is 46½.
It was business as usual as the New Orleans Saints defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the sixth time in the last seven meetings. At that point, the Saints were breathing down the necks of the NFC South-leading Buccaneers. Since that time, Tampa Bay has won four of five and New Orleans has dropped five of six.
It would take a meltdown of all meltdowns for the Saints to catch Tampa Bay in the division standing and it is more of a case of when and not if the 10-3 Buccaneers will win their first division title since 2007. The Saints are only a game behind San Francisco for the sixth spot in the NFC playoff race.
Getting running back Alvin Kamara provided a boost to the offense. At least it appeared to be a boost, but Kamara’s first game back from injury was against the New York Jets. Facing one of the top rushing defenses in the league will be a much greater challenge for Kamara and a banged-up offensive line. A 6-7 New Orleans team doesn’t have any margin for error the rest of the way if it wants to keep its playoff hopes alive.
Speaking of injuries, the Tampa Bay secondary has major issues right now. Cornerback Jamel Dean is the latest starter dealing with some issues. Can Taysom Hill expose Tampa’s depleted secondary? Time will tell.