Week 15 NFL Takeaways: Gut punch losses made the playoff picture more clear

A few teams put themselves in a rough spot yesterday

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I feel terrible about this Mr. Brady.
I feel terrible about this Mr. Brady.
Image: Getty Images

The last four weeks of the NFL regular season have a different meaning to different teams and fanbases. However, the one commonality that all teams share is that the end is nigh. Soon, 18 of the NFL’s 32 franchises will be in team-building mode until post-Labor Day 2023.

For those teams with their playoff eligibility still in jeopardy, the final four weeks of the NFL season turn into an elimination round. One loss can get the offseason underway earlier than those teams desire. A few teams got hit hard in the stomach with Week 15 losses, and had better quickly steady themselves before their record calls off the fight.

The Buccaneers are determined to keep the NFC South race competitive

The Bucs were great early against the Cincinnati Bengals. At the end of the first half, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were up 17-3, and appeared ready to take down arguably the hottest team in the NFL, one that beat the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago.

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Then the Buccaneers imploded, at home. They were outscored 17-0 in the third quarter. The Buccaneers failed to convert a fake punt on the first drive of the third quarter, and would proceed to turn the ball over on their next four possessions. By the time the Buccaneers finally did punt the ball in the second half, the game was long out of reach.

For the game, the Buccaneers accumulated 396 yards of total offense compared to the Bengals’ 237. The Buccaneers went 2-3 on fourth down while the Bengals didn’t attempt any. The Bengals’ leading pass catcher was Ja’Marr Chase with 60 yards receiving. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans both totaled 83 receiving yards, and Russell Gage hauled in 59.

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This is the game that could’ve salted away the NFC South for the Buccaneers and gave them the appearance of a feisty team. Instead, they’re now two games under .500 and are still in a fight for a playoff berth.

The AFC South may be on the line Week 18

Speaking of hot teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars have been Florida in July since Thanksgiving. They have only lost once, and their last three wins have come against playoff-caliber teams.

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The Jaguars defeated the Baltimore Ravens with Lamar Jackson on the field, AFC South rival Tennessee Titans, and on Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys.

Trevor Lawrence is showing why he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He is showing the arm strength, accuracy, and athleticism that led Clemson to a National Championship, and why he was the no-brainer choice to be the first player off of the board in 2021.

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In Week 15, he had his struggles against the ferocious Cowboys’ defense. The game appeared to be over when the Jaguars went down 27-10 after his third-quarter interception. However, Lawrence led the Jaguars on touchdown drives on their next two possessions. He put the ball wherever he wanted, and then his defense brought the game home with an overtime pick-six.

On the other side of the country, the Tennessee Titans lost their fourth game in a row. Their most recent one was to the Los Angeles Chargers, who went down the field in 48 seconds to kick a field goal after the Titans tied the score with a touchdown. The Titans appeared destined for a third consecutive AFC South Championship in November. Now they have to spend the rest of this season fighting for their playoff lives.

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That Week 18 Jaguars, Titans matchup is in the running for games that might get flexed into that Sunday Night Football finale.

The Lions are still prowling around that final playoff spot

Dan Campbell still owes the public a video of him drinking the electrical current that he claimed to be his coffee order. You tell us that you consume more than 800 milligrams of caffeine in the morning, you need to prove it, Campbell. Have some fun with it. Make a frenzied TikTok with the woman who claims she downed three or four charged Panera lemonades.

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The energy source that has gotten into the Lions over the last two months has not been made clear, but whatever it has them on a tear. They have lost just once since Nov. 6. One of the NFL’s worst defenses has held four of their last seven opponents under 25 points.

Holding the Jets to 17 points in a victory isn’t that impressive, but squeezing out those necessary 20 points to defeat one of the best defenses in the NFL, on the road, is most certainly noteworthy. Not because the Lions had sustained success against the Jets’ stellar defense — they didn’t — but being able to hang on against a team with legitimate playoff hopes long enough to pull out a sixth win in seven games, is evidence that opponents had better find a way to charge up if they want to tango with Campbell’s crew.