Welcome to Week 15 of the 2022 NFL season, where the playoff picture is beginning to take shape.
Saturday’s three-game slate started with the Minnesota Vikings hosting the Indianapolis Colts, who built a 33-0 halftime lead before Kirk Cousins and the Vikings pulled off the biggest comeback in NFL history — clinching the NFC North in the process. In the afternoon game, the Cleveland Browns rode a stingy defense and uncharacteristic Justin Tucker misses to beat the Baltimore Ravens in Cleveland. And in the night game, Josh Allen threw four TD passes as the Buffalo Bills clinched a playoff berth with a win over the Miami Dolphins.
Our NFL Nation reporters react with the biggest takeaways and lingering questions off this week’s matchups and look ahead to what’s next. Let’s get to it.
Jump to a matchup:
What to know: The Bills rebounded from a sluggish third quarter and played at a high level when it mattered most, coming back from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit to win. It marked the Bills’ largest fourth-quarter comeback win since Week 1 of the 2019 season vs. the Jets (trailed by 13). There’s no doubt that Buffalo has things to clean up, but for all three phases to step up when it mattered most was significant for this team’s larger aspirations. The Bills also extended their winning streak to five games and clinched a playoff berth in the process.
Can the tight ends and running backs be involved in the passing attack consistently? All four of the Bills’ receiving touchdowns went to a running back or a tight end, which marked a career high for Josh Allen. Tight end Dawson Knox was involved in the passing game in a way he hasn’t been all season, finishing as the team’s leading receiver with 98 yards. Getting Knox — along with running backs Nyheim Hines and James Cook — involved in the passing game should open the door to more opportunities for those players and benefit the offense moving forward. As Allen said, “That’s what makes an offense scary and dangerous, when you know at any point any of these guys can catch the ball and make a play.” — Alaina Getzenberg
Next game: at Bears (Saturday, Dec. 24, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: All is not lost for the Dolphins. Yes, the NFL is a results-driven business, and Miami has now lost three straight games in the most critical month of the season. But Saturday’s loss didn’t feel as hopeless as the Dolphins’ previous two. Their offense came back to life with 405 total yards, they ran for more than 100 yards for the first time since Week 10 and made into the red zone on four occasions after failing to do so over the past two weeks. If this loss to the top-seeded Bills represents a return to form for Miami, this team shouldn’t have a problem winning at least two of its next three games.
Can the Dolphins hang on to their playoff position? Of the five other teams jockeying for the three wild-card spots in the AFC, the Dolphins hold a tiebreaker over three of them. They also play the New England Patriots and New York Jets over the next three weeks; beating both gets the Dolphins into the playoffs. If they’ve truly broken out of their offensive rut from Weeks 13 and 14, the playoff drought in South Florida should be over soon. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
Next game: vs. Packers (Sunday, Dec. 25, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Vikings clinched the NFC North title in the most dramatic way imaginable, launching the largest comeback in NFL history — regular season or in the playoffs — to overcome a 33-point deficit to the Colts. Cornerback Patrick Peterson told players in the halftime locker room that that they would win if they could score five touchdowns thereafter, a whopping number that not everyone thought was realistic. But they did exactly that, and now have won 11 of the first 14 games of coach Kevin O’Connell’s tenure.
Which Vikings team will we see in the playoffs? Is it the one that fell behind 33-0 at halftime, having allowed a blocked punt to be returned for one touchdown and an interception returned for another? Or is it the one that outscored the Colts 39-3 the rest of the way? No one was willing to say afterward the Vikings had solved all their deficiencies, but quarterback Kirk Cousins said that Saturday’s performance was “something that doesn’t happen to average people.” — Kevin Seifert
Next game: vs. Giants (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Colts’ second-half breakdown had many contributing factors. Chief among them were the offense’s inability to generate first downs and the defense’s failure to prevent big plays. On offense, the Colts produced just 132 yards in the final 40 minutes — the second half and overtime. That gave the Vikings numerous chances on offense, leaving the Indianapolis defense struggling to get stops. The big plays were especially damaging, with Minnesota ripping gains of 64, 63, 35 and 21 yards on plays in the second half. It takes a total collapse for a comeback of this magnitude to happen.
Is playcalling a big part of the Colts’ offensive issues? There were some curious playcalling decisions by the Colts in this game. When Indianapolis lost All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor on the opening series, you’d think it might impact their play selection. But the Colts still called 37 combined runs for backups Deon Jackson and Zack Moss. It made sense when the Colts were up big, leading 33-0 at one point. But their lack of production in the running game combined with the Vikings’ terrible pass defense begs the question of whether the Colts got too conservative. Jackson and Moss averaged a combined 3.7 yards per carry. — Stephen Holder
Next game: vs. Chargers (Dec. 26, 8:15 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Browns completely shut down Baltimore’s offense — which was without quarterback Lamar Jackson — as they held an opponent out of the end zone for the first time all season. Cleveland’s defense has quietly been playing better of late — though it will likely be too little, too late for the 2022 season.
Can the 6-8 Browns still make the playoffs? Even after Saturday’s win, that still remains a long shot. The Browns will be officially eliminated from the AFC North race with just one more Cincinnati or Baltimore victory. And virtually every wild-card hopeful for the last two playoff spots — including the Dolphins, Patriots, Chargers and Jets — have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Cleveland, not to mention the better overall records. — Jake Trotter
Next game: vs. Saints (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Ravens’ offense is in shambles. Saturday marked the first time Baltimore was held to three or fewer points in a regular-season game since 2008. It’s been a tough stretch for the Ravens, who have been held to 16 or fewer points in three consecutive games — the team’s worst such rut since 2000. Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley couldn’t push the ball downfield (138 yards passing), but Baltimore’s problems won’t be totally solved even if Jackson (knee) returns for the next game. Over his past nine outings, Jackson has thrown seven touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Can the Ravens still win the AFC North? This loss put a dent in Baltimore’s hopes to capture the division and opened the door for the Bengals to take control. Baltimore’s chances to win the AFC North dropped to 52% with the loss, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index. The Ravens showed no signs of panic after the deflating defeat in Cleveland, though, and they know they can take the division if they win out. Baltimore’s final three games are home against the Falcons and Steelers before finishing the regular season at the Bengals. — Jamison Hensley
Next game: vs. Falcons (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET)
What to know: Niners rookie quarterback Brock Purdy continues to pass every key test thrown his way, including fighting through a painful rib injury to help beat the Seahawks and win the NFC West division. It’s too early to say where this is going with Purdy, but the Niners still have designs on winning the Super Bowl. It’s a huge ask of Purdy considering no rookie quarterback has ever started a Super Bowl, let alone won it. But the Niners have won seven in a row, and Purdy has been unfazed by the spotlight so far.
Now that they’ve clinched the division, how will the Niners handle their final three games? The 49ers can’t drop below the No. 3 seed in the NFC, but they can still realistically rise to No. 2. As long as that two spot is in play, don’t expect the Niners to take their foot off the gas, in part because they need to get Purdy as many snaps as possible before the postseason. — Nick Wagoner
Next game: vs. Commanders (Saturday, 4:05 p.m. ET)
What to know: The Seahawks have a long way to go before they can compete with San Francisco for NFC West supremacy. That was evident in their 20-point loss in Santa Clara in Week 2 and over the last month, as the 49ers blew out opponents while the Seahawks struggled against under-.500 teams. It was again obvious Thursday night as San Francisco controlled the game from start to finish with a third-string quarterback in Brock Purdy and no Deebo Samuel. It illustrated how big the gap has suddenly become between the 49ers and a Seattle team that used to own them not long ago.
Can the Seahawks still make the playoffs? That’s still very much in play. While they can no longer win the NFC West, ESPN’s Football Power Index had their chances of claiming one of the NFC’s two wild-card spots at 37% as of Friday. That’s because the Giants and Commanders also entered the weekend with seven wins, and Seattle has a head-to-head victory over New York. But it won’t be easy. Their defense has been reeling and they’ll be without star receiver Tyler Lockett for at least one game as he recovers from hand surgery. — Brady Henderson
Next game: at Chiefs (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET)