NFL Week 15 Storylines: Bears could be biggest NFC threat to Rams, Saints

khalil-mack-pressures-jared-goff

Chicago Bears linebacker Khalil Mack (52) pressures Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) during a game on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, in Chicago. (David Banks/AP)

Only three games per team remain in the 2018 NFL season. I’m sure we ask ourselves these questions every season – ignoring previous years in the process – but how did we get to Week 15 so fast? And can you even remember a time when so much was still up in the air?

The answers are usually along the lines of: “Well, life moves fast,” and “Yeah, probably last year.” But the reason we ask those questions, redundant as they may be, is the excitement that comes with this time of the season.

Let’s dive into it!

Was the “Miami Miracle” the greatest game-changing final play in NFL regular-season history?

It’s a high bar to reach, but the fact you just thought about it and didn’t immediately shut it down suggests there’s a conversation to be had. Post-season plays are a different animal, of course. From the “Music City Miracle” that still makes Bills fans ache to the Case Keenum-to-Stefon Diggs touchdown that the Saints secondary botched a mere nine months ago, post-season performances echo louder.

The “Miami Miracle” wasn’t either of those, but it still made noise. Not only are we talking about it days later, but both teams will need to sober up, if you will, from the abruptness of that dramatic ending.

For Miami, as intoxicating as that game was, it’s still just one game and they’re still on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. For New England, their season will be remembered for how many playoff games they play, not how a single regular season one ended.

Each week, Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt tackle the most impactful stories in the world of sports and their intersection with popular culture. Come for the sports; stay for the storytelling and cigars.

It’s rare for anything to have negative lingering effects for the Patriots. Their only issues seem to be attrition through injuries and – so far at least in 2018 – New England and their key contributors are as healthy as they’ve been in a long time. But are there enough of them left for it to matter?

New England’s historical dominance is no secret. Patriots fans have seen their team make it to the Super Bowl three of the last five years, winning in both 2015 and 2017, and if they hadn’t blown home-field advantage to Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos in his final season they could have had another shot at a title.

Instead, they lost their last two games that year against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins and it cost them. New England can avoid making that same mistake by delivering a fourth straight defeat to a reeling Pittsburgh Steelers team – ensuring they get the bye along with the Chiefs – by winning on Thursday to lock up the No. 1 seed.

Thursday night creates scheduling struggles

We’ve had some strong Thursday evening matchups this year – including that great defensive battle between the Dallas Cowboys and the New Orleans Saints – and that’s why I’m genuinely disappointed that this week’s game between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs is being played on one. Both of these teams are so good and the matchup is so tantalizing, but thanks to the scheduling they’re also both going to be playing on less than three days of rest.

The end-game for Kansas City and Los Angeles is the playoffs. Neither coach – and certainly neither team’s administration – should see it fit to risk the long-term health of any of their key players over the next seven weeks just to win this particular game.

Reach Deep
Seahawks against good defenses is a cause for concern
December 11 2018

Given how much Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill was limping on his right foot midway through the second quarter of their game last Sunday, and how tenuous the health of all the Chargers’ running backs seems to be, we won’t get the game we deserve, and life will go on.

Rest will continue to matter into Week 16. The Chiefs are set to face the Seattle Seahawks while the Chargers will take on the Baltimore Ravens, except this time the Chiefs and Chargers will have an extra three days of rest. This late in the year, I’m not sure that’s right either.

The alleged Arrowhead effect

Speaking of Kansas City, there’s a bit of an issue that needs to be resolved there this January, and it isn’t being talked about enough. I’ve heard for 30 years how difficult it is to win at Arrowhead, but the playoffs simply don’t bear that out.

The Chiefs currently have a home playoff game losing streak of six games, dating back to the 1996 season. Their last home win came courtesy of Joe Montana, who led them past a Steelers team quarterbacked by Neil O’Donnell in 1993. Since then Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac, Matt Cassel, Trent Green and Alex Smith (twice) have all lost playoff games at Arrowhead.

Good Show
Schwartz: Patrick Mahomes could lock up NFL MVP Thursday
December 12 2018

As a whole, the playoffs haven’t been kind to Kansas City. The Chiefs won their only playoff game in the past 25 seasons in 2015 at Houston, and then went on to lose the following week to the Patriots. Since then, they’ve seen lethargic home playoff losses against the Steelers and, last season, the Titans – although in fairness, losing tight end Travis Kelce to injury before the second quarter ended didn’t help. Last year, Tennessee came back from being down 21-3 at the half to win, and the prior season the Chiefs couldn’t score a touchdown after the first quarter in an 18-16 loss to New England.

This year the pressure is really on, especially at home. No one denies Andy Reid’s coaching acumen, but he has lost his fair share of home playoff games – including during his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles. Adding another loss at Arrowhead won’t soon be forgotten.

Believe in the Bears

You can now officially believe in the Chicago Bears. I didn’t like what was staring them down on Sunday night: a rusty Mitchell Trubisky who hadn’t been on the field in 21 days, a Rams team fighting for first overall, and it just didn’t seem cold enough for a Soldier Field night game in December!

None of it mattered. For the first time since Sean McVay’s been the Rams coach, they failed to score a touchdown, and I’m not sure they would have had they played another couple of quarters.

Chicago isn’t just Khalil Mack. Prince Amukamara has turned back the clock a couple seasons at cornerback, Kyle Fuller is a great complement to him on the other side of the field at cornerback, and Roquan Smith would go a lot higher than eighth overall if we re-drafted the 2018 class.

The Bears will be the team neither the Saints nor the Rams want to see that second playoff weekend.

What we know the playoffs will give us

Speaking of playoff matchups, only one looks pretty set, and I cannot wait to watch the Seahawks play at the Cowboys. Both teams would have to fall flat on their face to deny this Wild Card Weekend matchup, and you know how the weakest matchup always ends up at 4:30 p.m. ET on the Saturday?

This one will not.

It’s Dallas rising from the dead after starting their season 3-5 to win five straight, and just when we were certain Pete Carroll had coached his final Seahawks playoff game, Seattle looks like a sure thing to be the fifth seed. If that happens, it’ll be familiar territory for Carroll. He’s 9-5 in the playoffs with Seattle and among current coaches only Belichick and John Harbaugh have won more games with their current team – Mike Tomlin is next closest at 8-7 with the Steelers.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.