NFL Week 15 winners, losers: 49ers’ defeat leaves wide-open race in NFC

NFL Week 15 winners, losers: 49ers’ defeat leaves wide-open race in NFC

© Josie Lepe, AP 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner reacts during Sunday’s loss to the Falcons.

If there’s one thing Week 15 taught us, it’s that things in the NFL can change with one snap.

We saw a handful of teams clinch playoff berths, with the New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills all booking their tickets. We also saw the opposite, how some squads watched their playoff hopes disintegrate. The team that has the most damage control to overcome is the Los Angeles Rams, whose chances to play in January hang on needing the teams ahead of them in the standings to lose.

Meanwhile, both the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles won their respective games, setting up a mini NFC East championship game next week in Philadelphia.

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But before that goes down, here are this week’s winners and losers.

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WINNERS

Sean McDermott

For the first time since 1999, when they went 11-5, the Bills have reached double digits in victories. And with a hard-fought 17-10 victory on the road in a tough environment against the Steelers, Buffalo clinched a wild-card berth in the AFC. That McDermott, the coach of the Bills, notched it against his former college teammate in Steelers coach Mike Tomlin makes it just a little sweeter. Buffalo has some characteristics of a hard out in January. It runs the ball well. It has a smothering defense that can pressure opposing passers. And McDermott now has taken Buffalo to the playoffs in two of his three seasons.

PLAYOFF PICTURE: Big shakeup as five teams clinch postseason spots

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NFC East Nos. 1 and 2

The fourth seed in the NFC will go to either the Cowboys or the Eagles. Both of those squads entered Sunday with a 6-7 record, and both will face off in Philadelphia next week. The victor will almost certainly win the division. Yet, Dallas and Philadelphia first had to take care of business Sunday, and each won. The Cowboys get a slight edge, though, for the way they dominated a talented but inconsistent Rams team. Running back Ezekiel Elliott broke down the L.A. defense and Dak Prescott played cleanly in a 44-21 victory. The Eagles, meanwhile, battled with Washington but needed a game-winning touchdown in the final minute from quarterback-turned-receiver Greg Ward.

Houston Texans

They had been in a first-place tie in the AFC South with the Titans. After they toppled Tennessee, 24-21, on the road, however, it’s the Texans (9-5) who are in position to reclaim the division after they won it last year. Houston was outgained 432-374. It lost the turnover battle 2:1. It converted just one of three goal-to-go scenarios, while the Titans converted two of three. Yet, the Texans simply made more plays in key moments, like a blocked field goal in the first quarter. Both teams will play again in the regular-season finale, the game that could determine who moves on and who stays home. Making matters even better for the Texans, it’s the Titans who will be on the road in Week 17.

Eli Manning

It must’ve been bittersweet, playing a largely meaningless game, knowing that he no longer factors into the future of the only team he has played for in his 16-season NFL career. But in what will likely be his last home game with the New York Giants, potentially even making what could be the last start of his career, Manning led the Giants to a 36-20 victory over the Dolphins. He was honored during the game and cameras caught him in tears. He was given the game ball. Manning has long been a polarizing player. But whatever you think of his legacy, on Sunday, he walked out of MetLife Stadium on high note.

LOSERS

Freddie Kitchens

In a season in which he has appeared to be in over his head as a rookie coach for the Browns, Kitchens dropped to 6-8 with an embarrassing 38-24 loss against a Cardinals team that had entered Sunday with just three victories. It was emblematic of Cleveland’s problems all season long. Poor play calls haven’t put playmakers in position to succeed. Second-year quarterback Baker Mayfield left too many plays on the field. The team’s stars, like receiver Odell Beckham Jr., have become known more for what they say than what they do. Kitchens could be a one-and-done candidate after a season that can only be characterized as a massive disappointment.

City of Oakland

It was the last home game the Raiders will play in Oakland, and the franchise leaves on a low note. The Raiders squandered a lead in the fourth quarter and lost to the Jaguars, 20-16. The scene devolved further with some fans refusing to leave the stadium after the game ended, a handful rushing the field and others throwing objects onto the field. They booed several players, including quarterback Derek Carr, off the field. One of the quirkiest and most passionate fan bases in the NFL will now be without a team to follow after a often-contentious relocation process. The Raiders will move to Las Vegas for the 2020 season into a new stadium that is currently under construction near the Las Vegas Strip. As Patriots coach Bill Belichick reminisced earlier this week: “Pretty intense fans,” he said. “It’s like Halloween every Sunday there.” That will be hard to replicate.

Fred Williamson, Archie Matsos, Al Davis, Clem Daniels, Jim Otto, Art Powell posing for a photo: On Dec. 17, 1963, Raiders coach and GM Al Davis poses with six of his players who were named to the AP American Football League all-star team. From left: defensive backs Tommy Morrow and Fred Williamson, linebacker Archie Matsos, halfback Clem Daniels, center Jim Otto and end Art Powell.

L.A. Rams

Their hopes to sneak into the playoffs as a wild card were already pretty slim. Now, after a 44-21 thumping at the hands of the Cowboys, it’s basically all but over. Essentially, the Rams need to win both their games (against the 49ers and the Cardinals), but they also need the 10-4 Vikings to lose both of their remaining games (against the Packers and the Bears). Despite all that, there are still massive concerns. Dallas racked up 475 yards of total offense, including 263 on the ground. Quarterback Jared Goff, whose right hand was banged up when he followed through on a throw earlier in the game, missed open targets and couldn’t generate big plays down the field. The rushing game, which had been pivotal during the previous two-game win streak, was basically non-existent. This all points to the likelihood of the reigning NFC champs missing out on the postseason for the first time in Sean McVay’s tenure.

San Francisco 49ers

Just last week, the Niners shot up from the fifth seed in the NFC all the way to the first. This week, it was just the opposite. After one of the wildest finishes to a game you’ll ever see, San Francisco lost to the Falcons 29-22. San Francisco struggled to sustain drives on offense and failed to put away Atlanta when it had the chance. The loss essentially created a wide-open race for the No. 1 seed in which — basically — five of the six playoff teams in the conference now have a shot to claim home-field advantage. It’s a bit of a gut punch for the 49ers, but this remains: With games left against the Rams and the Seahawks, if the Niners win out, they’ll be back atop the NFC.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.

a man in a baseball uniform: Bills quarterback Josh Allen runs the ball against Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Week 15 winners, losers: 49ers’ defeat leaves wide-open race for home-field in NFC

Related slideshow: The 2019 NFL season (Provided by imagn)

Denver Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton (14) can t make the catch as Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward (35) defends during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium.


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