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Week 15 NFL Preview

FIRST PLACE ONLINE IN THREE DIVISIONS, SATURDAY GAMES ON TAP, RECORDS READY TO FALL IN WEEK 15

The journey is closing in on the destination, but the intrigue is especially exciting.

For only the third time since 1990, the league enters Week 15 without a team having clinched a playoff berth (also 1993 and 2014). With four weeks to play, 28 teams remain in playoff contention.

No question, the competitiveness of the NFL is as good as it’s ever been. The logjam of clubs with six, seven, eight or nine wins – 21 teams – is unprecedented. Previously, the most such teams through 14 weeks was 19 in 1995. The group of 24 teams with at least six wins is the largest entering Week 15 in NFL history.

MOST TEAMS WITH SIX-PLUS WINS THROUGH 14 WEEKS, NFL HISTORY
SEASONTEAMS
202124
200622
198322

STREAK SPEAK: Four NFL teams – NEW ENGLAND (seven consecutive wins), KANSAS CITY (six), MIAMI (five) and TAMPA BAY (four) – have winning streaks of four-or-more games. The last time the league entered Week 15 with as many winning streaks of that length was 2016.

  • The Dolphins (6-7), who host the NEW YORK JETS (3-10) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS), are attempting to become the first team in NFL history to reach the playoffs after winning one of their first eight games. Miami is also just the second team in league annals to win five consecutive games following a seven-game losing streak, joining the 1994 NEW YORK GIANTS.
  • In Miami’s last game, wide receiver JAYLEN WADDLE registered nine receptions for 90 yards. Waddle has six games this season with at least eight receptions, tied with ODELL BECKHAM JR.(six in 2014) for the most games with at least eight by a rookie in NFL history. Waddle also has at least eight in three consecutive games, joining ODELL BECKHAM JR. (four consecutive games in 2014) and SAQUON BARKLEY (three consecutive games in 2018) as the only rookies with at least eight receptions in three consecutive games all-time. 

A DOZEN BOUNCEBACK TEAMS AND COUNTING: With four weeks remaining, 12 teams already have improved their win totals from last season, including the CINCINNATI BENGALS (7-6), who have three more wins than all of 2020. Four of those teams – ATLANTA (6-7), CINCINNATI (7-6), DENVER (7-6) and SAN FRANCISCO (7-6) – have rebounded from last-place finishes in 2020 and enter Week 15 either in playoff position or well within reach.

  • Since 1990 – a streak of 31 consecutive seasons – at least four teams every season have qualified for the playoffs after failing to make the postseason the year before.
  • The DENVER BRONCOS (7-6) have already improved by two wins over their record from last year. They meet the Bengals on Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High (4:05 PM ET, CBS).
  • Sunday’s contest features a pair of top-10 selections in the 2021 NFL Draft, Cincinnati wide receiver JA’MARR CHASE (selected fifth overall) and Denver cornerback PAT SURTAIN II (ninth).
  • Chase, who had five receptions for 77 yards and two touchdowns last week, now has 1,035 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches in 2021. He is the fifth rookie in the Super Bowl era with at least 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer RANDY MOSS (1998), ODELL BECKHAM JR. (2014), MIKE EVANS (2014) and JOHN JEFFERSON (1978).
  • Surtain, a key cog on a defense that ranks second in the NFL by allowing just 17.5 points per game, leads all rookies this season with four interceptions. Over his past three games, he has three interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
  • In last week’s win, Denver running back MELVIN GORDON rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns. Gordon, who has seven rushing touchdowns this season, became the sixth player in league annals with at least seven rushing TDs in six consecutive seasons, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers JIM BROWN (nine consecutive seasons), LADAINIAN TOMLINSON (nine) and EMMITT SMITH (seven), as well as ADRIAN PETERSON (seven) and SHAUN ALEXANDER (six). 
  • Bengals defensive end TREY HENDRICKSON has a sack in nine straight games, joining CHRIS JONES (11 straight in 2018) as the only players with a sack in at least nine consecutive games within a season since 1982.

NINERS JOIN LAST-PLAY CLUB: This season in the NFL, a game-winning score on the final play has decided 28 games, the most through Week 14 all-time. Last week, the SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (7-6) earned a last-play victory when JIMMY GAROPPOLO connected with BRANDON AIYUK on a game-winning 12-yard touchdown pass in overtime. This week, the 49ers host the ATLANTA FALCONS (6-7), who have won four of their past five on the road, on Sunday (4:05 PM ET, CBS).

  • In last week’s win, 49ers tight end GEORGE KITTLE recorded 13 receptions for 151 yards and one touchdown. 
  • Kittle, who had 181 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions in Week 13, is the first tight end in NFL history to record at least 150 receiving yards and a touchdown catch in consecutive games.
  • Kittle also became the fourth tight end ever with at least 13 receptions in three career games, joining ZACH ERTZ (four games), JASON WITTEN (four) and Pro Football Hall of Famer KELLEN WINSLOW SR. (three). Previously, Kittle had 15 receptions in Week 4 of the 2020 season and 13 receptions in Week 15 of 2019.
  • In Atlanta’s win last week, rookie tight end KYLE PITTS registered five receptions for 61 yards. Pitts now has 54 receptions for 770 yards this season and is the fifth rookie tight end all-time with at least 50 receptions and 750 receiving yards, joining Pro Football Hall of Famer MIKE DITKA (1961), KEITH JACKSON (1988), JEREMY SHOCKEY (2002) and CHARLE YOUNG (1973).
  • Both San Francisco’s DEEBO SAMUEL (six rushing, five receiving) and Atlanta’s CORARRELLE PATTERSON (five rushing, five receiving) are among three NFL players this season with at least five rushing touchdowns and five receiving touchdowns. The Chargers’ AUSTIN EKELER (nine rushing, seven receiving) is the other.

JONES, PATRIOTS IN RARIFIED AIR: On Saturday night, the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (9-4) will put the league’s longest active winning streak on the line in a key intraconference battle against the INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (7-6) at Lucas Oil Stadium (8:20 PM ET, NFLN). Both teams are coming off Week 14 byes.

  • Over the past five games, the Patriots have surrendered only three second-half points. New England’s 15.4 points allowed per game this season leads the league. The Patriots also rank third with 310.0 yards allowed per game.
  • Patriots linebacker MATTHEW JUDON has 12.5 sacks this season, tied for fifth in the NFL. Under head coach BILL BELICHICK (2000-21), Judon’s 12.5-sack effort is also tied for the most in a single season, matching the 2007 total of MIKE VRABEL and the 2015 total of CHANDLER JONES.
  • New England quarterback MAC JONES can become the first rookie in NFL history to win his first seven road starts. With a 6-0 record on the road this season, Jones is tied with DAK PRESCOTT(six in 2016) and BEN ROETHLISBERGER (six in 2004). Both Prescott and Roethlisberger lost their seventh road starts. 
  • Also, only three rookie quarterbacks in the Super Bowl era have led their teams on winning streaks of at least eight games, a group Jones can join on Saturday.

The rookie starting quarterbacks with the most consecutive wins in the Super Bowl era:

PLAYERTEAMSEASONSTREAK
Ben RoethlisbergerPittsburgh200413
Dak PrescottDallas201611
Kyle OrtonChicago20058
Mac JonesNew England20217*
*Active streak

In the Colts’ Week 13 win, Indianapolis running back JONATHAN TAYLOR rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns. He became the fifth player all-time with a rushing touchdown in at least 10 consecutive games within a single season, joining Pro Football Hall of Famers JOHN RIGGINS (12 consecutive games in 1983), LADAINIAN TOMLINSON (12 consecutive games in 2004) and EMMITT SMITH (11 consecutive games in 1995), as well as PRIEST HOLMES (11 consecutive games in 2002).

  • Taylor now has 30 touchdowns (27 rushing, three receiving) in 28 career games and has tied Pro Football Hall of Famer EARL CAMPBELL (28 games) and BILLY SIMS (28) as the third-fastest player to reach 30 touchdowns in the Super Bowl era. Only Pro Football Hall of Famers EDGERRIN JAMES (25) and CURTIS MARTIN (27) reached the mark in fewer games.

PARSONS AUTHORING PHENOMENAL ROOKIE CAMPAIGN: The DALLAS COWBOYS (9-4) are one of five teams that can reach 10 wins this week when they travel to meet the NEW YORK GIANTS (4-9) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).

  • In the Cowboys’ win last week, rookie linebacker MICAH PARSONS had two sacks and a forced fumble. Parsons, who has recorded a sack in each of his past six games, is the third rookie with a sack in at least six straight games since 1982, joining JEVON KEARSE (eight-game streak in 1999) and MIKE CROEL (six in 1991).
  • Parsons, who has 12 sacks and three forced fumbles this season, is the fifth rookie with at least 12 sacks and three forced fumbles since 2000, joining MARK ANDERSON (2006), DWIGHT FREENEY(2002), JULIUS PEPPERS (2002) and TERRELL SUGGS (2003).
  • His 12 sacks are tied for the fourth-most by a player in his first 13 NFL games since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic. Only JULIUS PEPPERS (13), Pro Football Hall of Famer REGGIE WHITE (13) and LESLIE O’NEAL (12.5) had more over their first 13 league games.

PACKERS FACE TOUGH TEST IN CLASH OF DIVISION LEADERS: The GREEN BAY PACKERS (10-3) begin a stretch of two games in six days against AFC North opponents, beginning with the division-leading BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-5) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX).

  • Green Bay’s MATT LAFLEUR aims to lead his team to 11-or-more wins in each of his first three seasons as an NFL head coach. Since the 1970 league merger, only JIM HARBAUGH (San Francisco, 2011-13) and former Ravens defensive coordinator CHUCK PAGANO (Indianapolis, 2012-14) have accomplished that.
  • Packers quarterback AARON RODGERS, who played in his second NFL game exactly 16 years ago Sunday at Baltimore, has now won 10-or-more starts in 10 seasons.

The starting quarterbacks with the most seasons of 10-or-more wins in NFL history:

PLAYERTEAMSSEASONS
Tom BradyNew England, Tampa Bay19
Peyton ManningHOFIndianapolis, Denver14
Aaron RodgersGreen Bay10
Brett FavreHOFGreen Bay, Minnesota10
  • Green Bay cornerback RASUL DOUGLAS returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown last week, after returning an interception 33 yards for another score in Week 13. Douglas is the first Packers player with interception-return TDs in consecutive games since Pro Football Hall of Famer HERB ADDERLEY in 1965. 
  • Last week, Baltimore tight end MARK ANDREWS had 11 receptions for 115 yards and a touchdown. Andrews leads NFL tight ends and paces the Ravens in both receptions (75) and receiving yards (926).

MAN IN THE ARENATOM BRADY currently leads the NFL in completions (378), attempts (554), passing yards (4,134) and touchdown passes (36). He has never led the league in all four categories during any of his previous 21 seasons.

  • This week, Brady and the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (10-3) square off with their NFC South nemesis, the NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (6-7), on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC). Since Brady joined the team prior to the 2020 season, the Buccaneers are 0-3 in regular-season games against New Orleans and 21-5 (.808) against the rest of the NFL. Tampa Bay did defeat New Orleans in an NFC Divisional playoff game last season.
  • Last week, Brady passed for 363 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a 105.6 rating and added a rushing touchdown in the Buccaneers’ overtime victory. Brady, the league’s all-time leader in passing yards (83,338) and passing touchdowns (617), now has 7,156 career completions and surpassed DREW BREES (7,142) for the most completions in NFL history. 
  • Brady has 4,134 passing yards in 2021, his 13th career season with at least 4,000 passing yards. He surpassed DREW BREES (12 seasons) and PHILIP RIVERS (12) for the second-most such seasons all-time. Only Pro Football Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (14 seasons) has more.
  • Wide receiver BRESHAD PERRIMAN, who scored on a game-ending 58-yard touchdown reception in overtime last week, became the 91st individual to catch a touchdown pass from Brady, including the postseason. The touchdown pass also marked the 700th of Brady’s career, including the postseason.
  • Buccaneers wide receiver MIKE EVANS, who enters Sunday’s game with 885 receiving yards this season, needs 115 receiving yards to become the first player with 1,000 in each of his first eight NFL seasons in league history.
  • Tampa Bay tight end ROB GRONKOWSKI, who has 8,982 career receiving yards, needs 18 to become just the fifth tight end in NFL history with at least 9,000 career receiving yards.
  • New Orleans running back ALVIN KAMARA had four receptions, 145 scrimmage yards (120 rushing, 25 receiving) and a rushing touchdown in the Saints’ win last week. 
  • Kamara, who has 362 receptions since entering the NFL in 2017, surpassed ROGER CRAIG (358) for the most receptions by a running back in his first five seasons in NFL history. 
  • Kamara also has 67 career touchdowns (47 rushing, 19 receiving, one kickoff return), tied with ADRIAN PETERSON (67) for the fifth-most touchdowns by a running back in his first five seasons all-time. Only Pro Football Hall of Famers LADAINIAN TOMLINSON (80) and EMMITT SMITH (75), as well as SHAUN ALEXANDER (72) and TODD GURLEY (70) have more.

RAMS WITHIN ONE GAME OF FIRST PLACE IN NFC WEST: Fresh off an impressive Monday night victory at Arizona, the LOS ANGELES RAMS (9-4) need a win against another divisional foe, the SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (5-8), to improve their NFC West record, a key tiebreaker. The Rams host the Seahawks on Sunday at SoFi Stadium (4:25 PM ET, FOX).

  • Since Week 13 of last season, NFL teams that win on Monday are a combined 16-0-1 in their following games. 
  • Rams wide receiver COOPER KUPP, who had 123 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 13 receptions last week, leads the NFL in receptions (113), receiving yards (1,489) and receiving touchdowns (12). Kupp also leads the league with eight 100-yard games. Kupp has at least 90 receiving yards in nine consecutive games, tied for the longest streak in NFL history. 

The players with the most consecutive games with at least 90 receiving yards in NFL history:

PLAYERTEAMSEASONGAMES
Odell Beckham Jr.New York Giants20149
Michael IrvinHOFDallas19959
Cooper KuppLos Angeles Rams20219*
*Active streak
  • Defensive lineman AARON DONALD had three sacks last week and became the fourth player since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic, to record at least eight sacks in each of his first eight seasons. Donald is the only player in the NFL with at least 10 sacks in each of the past five seasons.
  • Last week, Rams quarterback MATTHEW STAFFORD completed 23 of 30 attempts for 287 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions for a 139.2 rating. He ranks second in the NFL with a 108.4 passer rating.
  • Meanwhile, Seattle quarterback RUSSELL WILSON passed for 260 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a 115.2 rating in the Seahawks’ win last week. Wilson now has 89 career games with at least two touchdown passes and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (88 games) for the second-most such games by a quarterback in his first 10 seasons in NFL history. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (92 games) has more.

HERBERT TARGETS NFL RECORD: Quarterback JUSTIN HERBERT and the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (8-5) have an opportunity to take first place in the AFC West when they host the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (9-4) on Thursday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, FOX/NFLN/Amazon).

  • Herbert (8,158) needs 39 passing yards to break the NFL record held by ANDREW LUCK (8,196) for the most passing yards through a player’s first two seasons. Herbert also needs 178 passing yards to join JAMEIS WINSTON as one of two players ever to reach 4,000 in each of their first two seasons.
  • Kansas City can secure its seventh consecutive season with at least 10 wins and become the fifth team in NFL history with seven straight 10-win seasons, joining the 2003-19 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (17 consecutive 10- win seasons), 1983-98 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (16), 2002-10 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (nine) and 1975-81 DALLAS COWBOYS (seven).
  • PATRICK MAHOMES enters Week 15 ranking fourth in the league with 3,642 passing yards and can join Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING as the only players in NFL history with at least 4,000 passing yards in four of their first five seasons.

JEFFERSON ALSO AIMS FOR NFL RECORD The MINNESOTA VIKINGS (6-7) travel to face the CHICAGO BEARS (4-9) on Monday Night Football this week (8:15 PM ET, ESPN). 

  • Vikings wide receiver JUSTIN JEFFERSON, who had seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown last week, needs 68 receiving yards to establish the most receiving yards ever by a player in his first two seasons. Jefferson enters Monday’s game with 2,688 career receiving yards and can surpass both Pro Football Hall of Famer RANDY MOSS (2,726) and ODELL BECKHAM JR. (2,755) this week.

The most receiving yards ever by a player in his first two seasons:

PLAYERTEAMYEARSREC. YARDS
Odell Beckham Jr.New York Giants2014-152,755
Randy MossHOFMinnesota1998-992,726
Justin JeffersonMinnesota2020-212,688*
Bill GromanHouston Oilers1960-612,648
Jerry RiceHOFSan Francisco1985-862,497
*Entering Week 15

BIG BEN CLIMBING LADDER: When the PITTSBURGH STEELERS (6-6-1) host the TENNESSEE TITANS (9-4) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS), quarterback BEN ROETHLISBERGER can reach another significant career milestone. Roethlisberger has 63,414 passing yards and needs 27 to surpass PHILIP RIVERS (63,440) for fifth in NFL history.

  • The Steelers’ T.J. WATT, who has a career-high 16 sacks this season, has joined Pro Football Hall of Famer REGGIE WHITE (1985-88; 1990-93) as the only players with at least 13 sacks in four consecutive seasons since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic. Watt had 13 sacks in 2018, 14.5 sacks in 2019 and 15 sacks in 2020.

RAIDERS-BROWNS KICK OFF SATURDAY DOUBLEHEADER: The NFL occupies the Saturday television listings in three of the next four weekends, starting this week with a pair of AFC matchups exclusively on NFL Network.

  • On Saturday afternoon, the LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (6-7) visit the CLEVELAND BROWNS (7-6) at FirstEnergy Stadium (4:30 PM ET, NFLN). 
  • The Browns, bidding for their first division title since 1989, sit just a game out of first in the AFC North. 
  • Browns defensive end MYLES GARRETT, who returned a fumble 15 yards for a touchdown in last week’s win, ranks second in the NFL with a franchise-record 15 sacks this season.

ARIZONA CARRIES IMPRESSIVE ROAD STREAK INTO DETROIT: The ARIZONA CARDINALS (10-3) travel to meet the DETROIT LIONS (1-11-1) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX) with an opportunity to improve to 8-0 on the road. Should they win by at least 10 points, the Cardinals would become the second team in NFL history to win eight straight road games by 10-or-more points, joining the CHICAGO BEARS, who won nine straight road games by 10-or-more points from 1941-42.

WEEK 15 NFL SCHEDULE

(All times Eastern)

Thursday, December 16Kansas City at Los Angeles Chargers FOX/NFLN/Amazon8:20
Saturday, December 18Las Vegas at ClevelandNFLN4:30
New England at IndianapolisNFLN8:20
Sunday, December 19Carolina at Buffalo  FOX1:00
Arizona at Detroit  FOX1:00
Houston at Jacksonville  CBS1:00
New York Jets at MiamiCBS1:00
Dallas at New York GiantsFOX1:00
Washington at Philadelphia  FOX1:00
Tennessee at Pittsburgh  CBS1:00
Cincinnati at Denver   CBS4:05
Atlanta at San Francisco  CBS4:05
 Green Bay at Baltimore   FOX4:25
Seattle at Los Angeles Rams FOX4:25
New Orleans at Tampa Bay  NBC8:20
Monday, December 20Minnesota at Chicago   ESPN8:15
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