The New England Patriots seek to clinch a spot in the playoffs as they take on the Cincinnati Bengals in their final road game of the regular season.
It’s almost the end of the line for the 2019 NFL regular season. With just three weeks left until the New Year and the postseason, it’s time to take a look around the league and figure out just where everybody stands with so much still on the line before the holidays.
This is the final week of the season where we’ll get Thursday Night Football. Starting next week (Week 16), we’ll actually have NFL games on a Saturday, as well – including the New England Patriots‘ all-important home date against the Buffalo Bills. More on that game in a second.
For the Patriots this week, though, it’s a real chance at getting back to their winning ways. New England has dropped back-to-back games for the third time in the past two seasons. It actually happened on two separate occasions in 2018, but before then, the Pats hadn’t lost back-to-back games since 2015.
Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the rest of the squad will travel to Cincinnati, Ohio, this weekend to match up against the worst team in the AFC – and, by record, the worst team in the entire NFL.
Indeed, the 10-3 Patriots taking on the 1-12 Bengals looks like one of the biggest late-season mismatches in recent history. It also doesn’t help matters if you’re a Bengals fan that this Patriots team is probably as pissed off right now as they’ve been all year after dropping all three of their games against the AFC’s best teams in the Ravens, Texans, and Chiefs.
And if all this wasn’t enough, now there are allegations of cheating between the Pats and the Bengals, with reports claiming that a New England film production crew shot footage of the Bengals’ sideline during the first quarter of their Week 14 game in Cleveland.
If the Patriots defeat the Bengals on Sunday, New England will punch their ticket to the postseason. There’s still a lot to be decided as far as their actual playoff positioning is concerned – and none of that comes into play this week in terms of clinching scenarios – but more than anything else, Pats fans should be pulling for their team to emerge victorious in Cincy to lock up their 11th consecutive playoff appearance.
Here’s what else fans should be watching and rooting for around the league this week:
New York Jets (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (11-2); 8:20 pm EST; FOX/NFL Network (Thursday)
This is what it’s come to, Patriots Nation: we’re all actively, earnestly, passionately rooting on the New York Jets in a meaningful December football game. Of course, the game tonight isn’t meaningful at all if you’re a Jets player, coach, or fan, as Gang Green has already been eliminated from postseason contention. But if the unthinkable happened and the Jets managed to upset the Ravens on the road – they’re 14-point underdogs – the race for the No. 1 seed in the AFC might actually become a race again.
Houston Texans (8-5) at Tennessee Titans (8-5); 1:00 pm EST; CBS
The Texans and the Titans will meet twice over the next three weeks to close out the regular season. While the Colts are technically still in the race for the AFC South, most oddsmakers favor either Houston or Tennessee to ultimately wrap up this division. Between the two of them, the Texans have the easier third opponent (Buccaneers) in Week 16 than the Titans do (Saints). The South will probably end up in Deshaun Watson’s hands, but you never know…
Denver Broncos (5-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-4); 1:00 pm EST; CBS
The Broncos and rookie quarterback Drew Lock just went on the road in Houston and dismantled a division leader in the AFC. Could they do it again this week versus the Kansas City Chiefs? If they do, Bill Belichick needs to send John Elway and Vic Fangio a pair of gift baskets or something. The Broncos upsetting the Chiefs on the road, however unlikely, would drop K.C. to five losses on the season – and potentially expand the gap between the Chiefs and the Pats just a bit more in the race for a postseason bye.
Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) at Washington Redskins (3-10); 1:00 pm EST; FOX
The Eagles finish out their season with three straight games against their NFC East brethren: at Redskins in Week 15, home versus Cowboys in Week 16, and at Giants in Week 17. If they go 3-0 during that stretch, they’ll finish with a 9-7 record, clinch their division, and head to the postseason as the No. 4 seed. Of course, Philly is far from a sure thing to do just that… especially with the Cowboys also needing to execute a similar feat of their own to win the division.
Seattle Seahawks (10-3) at Carolina Panthers (5-8); 1:00 pm EST; FOX
For one brief moment, the Seahawks looked like the class of the NFL. Seattle upended the 49ers and the Vikings before falling flat on the road in Los Angeles versus their division rivals in the Rams. This is all important because whoever wins the NFC West this year – and it’s going to be either the Seahawks or the 49ers – will likely end up with a postseason bye, while the runner-up will hit the playoffs on the road during wild card weekend against either the Packers/Vikings or the Cowboys/Eagles.
Chicago Bears (7-6) at Green Bay Packers (10-3); 1:00 pm EST; FOX
Speaking of the Packers, Green Bay has a one-game lead over Minnesota for first-place in the NFC North. The Bears – as improbable as it may seem – are technically still in the mix for the division crown as well. If the Packers win at home this week though, the Bears’ dreams of a second straight division title evaporate into the Wisconsin air. Chicago could even see their hopes of making the postseason at all vanish if they lose this game and either the Vikings or the Rams win this week. Add it all up, and this game should mean a lot to both teams at Lambeau Field on Sunday… we should have a good one.
Miami Dolphins (3-10) at New York Giants (2-11); 1:00 pm EST; CBS
While there’s sure to be six meaningful games played during the 1:00 pm time slot on Sunday, there’s also a pair of dud games that nobody will probably pay much attention to – unless you’re still in the mix for your fantasy football league playoffs, of course. Dolphins/Giants is one of those two games, as neither Miami nor New York has anything to play for in 2019. These two teams – or at least their fanbases – might actually want to lose this game more than win it in order to improve their draft positioning.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) at Detroit Lions (3-9-1); 1:00 pm EST; FOX
Here’s the other meaningless game during the early slate of NFL action on Sunday. The Buccaneers and the Lions have each long since been eliminated from their respective division races and postseason contention. Most of the star players for both squads aren’t even playing anymore either because of injury – guys like Matthew Stafford, Marvin Jones Jr., Mike Evans, or Kerryon Johnson. Feel free to skip this game.
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) at Oakland Raiders (6-7); 4:05 pm EST; CBS
The Raiders spend Weeks 16-17 traveling to take on the Chargers and Broncos, respectively, so this Sunday’s home game against the Jaguars represents the team’s last appearance at the Coliseum in Oakland. It should be an emotional day for members of the team and especially for the rabid Oakland Raider fanbase. For those reasons alone, this game might be of interest to casual viewers. The Raiders would also be eliminated from the playoffs with a loss and a Steelers win this week.
Minnesota Vikings (9-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-8); 4:05 pm EST; CBS
This could be a sneaky-good game, despite the disparity between these two clubs’ records. The Chargers might be 5-8 and eliminated from postseason contention, but they’re still playing inspired football, and are coming off a road drubbing of the Jaguars in Week 14. The Vikings will hope for a Bears upset of the Packers earlier in the day; that, combined with a win of their own over the Chargers, would tie Green Bay and Minnesota atop the NFC North at 10-4 each. The two rivals play each other in Minneapolis next week.
Cleveland Browns (6-7) at Arizona Cardinals (3-9-1); 4:05 pm EST; CBS
Shockingly, the Browns could lose this game against the Cardinals, fall to 6-8 on the season, and somehow still remain in contention to make the playoffs all the same. That scenario is contingent on the Bills beating the Steelers on Sunday Night Football, however. For Baker Mayfield and crew to avoid leaving their fate in the hands of their AFC North rivals, they need to beat Kyler Murray and the Cards on the road to improve to .500 on their season.
Los Angeles Rams (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (6-7); 4:25 pm EST; FOX
The Rams are one-point road favorites in this game, and rightfully so. Dallas has lost four of their past five games, including three in a row that started with the 13-9 loss in New England. While the winner of this game can’t clinch a postseason spot – and the loser can’t be eliminated from playoff contention – this game should still have a January feel to it because of how tight the NFC race is this year. It’s also a rematch of the divisional round game from last year that Los Angeles won at home.
Atlanta Falcons (4-9) at San Francisco 49ers (11-2); 4:25 pm EST; FOX
This game looks like a mismatch when considering the records of the two teams, but it could actually be a lot closer than most people think. The 49ers just won an instant classic on the road against the Saints in Week 14, and the Falcons just destroyed the Panthers. While no one is ever going to suggest that Atlanta is as good a team as San Francisco, the Falcons still have an offense capable enough of going toe-to-toe with the Niners.
Buffalo Bills (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5); 8:20 pm EST; NBC
While the Steelers can neither clinch a playoff spot nor be eliminated from contention this week, this game was rightfully flexed into Sunday Night Football because of the immense AFC seeding implications for both Pittsburgh and Buffalo. The Bills can clinch their postseason spot with a win on the road; doing so would officially the AFC North for the Ravens as well, assuming Baltimore doesn’t clinch with a win tonight against the Jets.
Indianapolis Colts (6-7) at New Orleans Saints (10-3); 8:15 pm EST; ESPN
If the Colts lose on Monday Night Football, the AFC South officially comes down to Tennessee and Houston. Why? Because a loss to the Saints would also eliminate Indy from wild card contention as well. Expect a spirited performance from Jacoby Brissett and his teammates for these reasons, but ultimately it would be a shock if the Saints don’t win this game going away because of their superior talent. New Orleans also has plenty to play for as they seek to regain their position for a first-round bye and potential home-field advantage in the NFC.