2023 NFL Week 15 winners and losers: Joe Flacco, Christian McCaffrey headline the day as Cowboys fall flat

The NFL’s Week 15 slate has been nothing short of dramatic. Saturday’s tripleheader included the Bengals surviving the Vikings in overtime, the Lions beating up on the Broncos and the Colts cruising past the Steelers to shake up the crowded playoff picture. And that’s not even accounting for Sunday, when Joe Flacco won again, the Tommy DeVito magic evaporated and the Panthers won 9-7.

Which players, coaches and teams deserve the most praise or critique? Here are Week 15’s biggest winners and losers:

Winner: The Dolphins’ playoff hopes

Beating the Jets is one thing. Dropping 30 on Robert Saleh’s defense on a day Tyreek Hill was unavailable due to injury is another. Not that Miami wasn’t already playoff-bound, but actually dominating a legit “D” in December is a promising sign for Tua Tagovailoa and Co.’s chances of making a legitimate push. If they can actually get and stay healthy, that’ll help, too.

This feels like beating a dead horse, but as long as the Chiefs keep trotting Toney out to serve as a real player in Kansas City’s receiving corps, he’ll be subject to attention. And while his spotty hands didn’t cost the team a win against the Patriots, they did keep New England more competitive than necessary, denting his reliability as a Patrick Mahomes outlet even further.

The Buccaneers may not be a world-beater, but they’re on track for a playoff appearance after Mayfield balled out against the slumping Packers defense. His four passing touchdowns give him 24 on the season, which is proof enough that he’s overachieved on a so-so team in transition. On a one-year deal, he could be on the fast track to another starting gig in 2024.

Every contender is prone to a slip-up. Just look at how badly Dallas beat the Eagles a week ago. But after suddenly appearing to be in the 49ers’ class as an NFC heavyweight, Dak Prescott and Co. crashed back to earth in Buffalo, where the Bills ran all over Dan Quinn’s vaunted defense. It’s just a reminder that for all their talent, the ‘Boys still have hurdles to clear when it matters most.

Winner: Joe Flacco’s Browns legacy

It’s growing by the week! The ageless pocket passer wasn’t nearly as sharp against the Bears, whose “D” has turned a corner lately, and for a little bit it looked like his picks might hand Chicago a surprise win. But Flacco kept firing, kept chucking it downfield, and in the end he prevailed, feeding Amari Cooper and David Njoku to lift the club to 9-5. AFC contenders, be warned.

Somehow, someway, the rookie QB walked off the field under his own power late in overtime against the Texans. But it wasn’t for a lack of failed protection in the trenches. Houston was all over the big-armed signal-caller in a tight game, and Levis was practically mangled on the sack that forced him to the sidelines. He’s got spicy physical tools, but let’s hope he gets help in the future.

Brock Purdy is doing everything he needs to do as the 49ers’ QB. But how can his top multipurpose weapon not have the edge in San Francisco’s race to represent the MVP? With almost 200 total yards and three TDs in a blowout of the Cardinals, the star running back boosted already-lofty numbers and confirmed himself as the centerpiece of Kyle Shanahan’s attack.

The NFL’s Week 15 games were filled with dramatic moments and surprising outcomes. The Bengals, Lions, and Colts all had notable wins, while the Dolphins’ dominant performance against the Jets boosted their playoff hopes. However, Toney’s inconsistent performance for the Chiefs raised concerns about his reliability. Baker Mayfield’s impressive performance helped the Browns in their push for a playoff spot. The Cowboys suffered a crushing defeat against the Bills, highlighting their challenges in crucial games. Joe Flacco’s strong performance against the Bears added to his growing legacy with the Browns. Tommy DeVito faced significant pressure and lacked protection in his game against the Texans. Brock Purdy’s outstanding performance as the 49ers’ QB solidified his position as a top contender for the MVP title.

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