NFL Week 15 overreactions, reality checks: Are Cowboys a product of schedule? Should Falcons axe Arthur Smith?

Week 15 in the NFL certainly focused on the playoff races. Six teams entered the weekend tied for the No. 6 playoff spot in the AFC while five teams were tied for the No. 7 spot in the NFC. Let’s not forget the three teams tied for first in the NFC South.

The Sunday slate of games certainly created some narratives as the league heads into Christmas week. Those logjams in the conference playoff races got a little clearer as well. 

With playoff races as hot as ever, there were plenty of overreactions to go around. Which Week 15 takeaways are actually overreactions and which are reality? Here’s a look.

Cowboys win streak was a product of their schedule

Overreaction or reality: Reality

That 31-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills was an indictment on how favorable the Cowboys schedule was over the previous five weeks, all wins for Dallas. The Cowboys played the New York Giants at home followed by the Carolina Panthers on the road, outscoring two teams with a combined record of 7-21 by an 82-27 margin. 

The Cowboys didn’t have to travel for 27 days, playing the Washington Commanders (4-10), Seattle Seahawks (6-7), and the Philadelphia Eagles (10-3) at home. The Eagles win was impressive, but Dallas also had 10 days rest to prepare for a Philadelphia team coming off four consecutive games against teams with winning records (a combined 38-18). 

The schedule certainly favored Dallas, even though it is a good team. The Cowboys are still just 1-3 against teams with winning records, having a point differential of -38 in those games and -58 on the road against such teams. The Cowboys face the Miami Dolphins and the Detroit Lions next, so they can still change the narrative. 

Bills are the most dangerous team in AFC

Overreaction or reality: Overreaction

The Bills have been very impressive over the past few weeks, dropping a close game against the Eagles on the road (they had a 10-point second half lead) followed by a strong win over the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium and a blowout victory over the  Cowboys at home. The Bills are 8-6 and still outside of the AFC playoff picture, but have the look of a team that will be a problem for anyone they face if they make the playoffs. 

Are they the most dangerous team in the AFC? The Baltimore Ravens are very good and have tough tests against the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers over the next two games, so time will tell. Buffalo deserves credit for turning its season around where they played three teams with a combined record of 29-13 over a three-game stretch and went 2-1. 

The Bills appear primed to make the playoffs in the AFC and will be a problem for anyone they face. But until Baltimore slips up, the Ravens get that “most dangerous team” nod. 

Rams are a playoff team

Overreaction or reality: Overreaction

Currently the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoff standings, the Rams are tied with the New Orleans Saints with a  7-7 record. Los Angeles holds the conference-record tiebreaker over New Orleans, hence the No. 7 seed in the conference. 

While the Rams are in position to make the playoffs, their playoff fate actually rests Thursday night against the Saints. A win will put the Rams in a much better position to make the playoffs with the head-to-head tiebreaker over New Orleans with two games to play. 

The Week 18 game against the 49ers will mean something for San Francisco, so don’t expect the 49ers to rest their starters for that game. Los Angeles has to win its Week 16 game for this statement to have merit. 

Arthur Smith should be fired as Falcons head coach

Overreaction or reality: Reality

Losing to the Panthers is unacceptable, period. The Falcons had the benefit of playing the Panthers this week in what should have been one of the easiest wins of the year against a struggling team. Instead, Atlanta lost to Carolina despite the defense not giving up a touchdown.

The misusage of Kyle Pitts (four targets) and Drake London (three targets) is baffling. Let’s not forget Bijan Robinson getting only seven carries. These are all first-round draft picks Smith doesn’t utilize in his offense. 

The Falcons are 20-28 under Smith, never winning more than seven games in a season in the poor NFC South. Time to move on. 

Saints are going to win the NFC South

Overreaction or reality: Overreaction

The Saints are the best of the three teams in the NFC South hunt, yet haven’t shown it over the course of the season. New Orleans beat up on a bad New York Giants team, giving the Saints two convincing wins against bad teams (they outscored the Giants and Panthers 52-12). 

Due to the Saints’ inconsistencies throughout the year, it’s hard to determine whether this team will win the division yet. New Orleans plays the Los Angeles Rams next week before facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17 in a game that likely will determine the division. 

Derek Carr tossed three touchdown passes for the first time this season and the Saints have averaged 26.7 points over the last three weeks. New Orleans looks like the best team in the division, but it still has a lot to prove. 

Overreaction or reality: Reality

Houston is currently the No. 8 seed in the AFC playoff race, tied with the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts record-wise. Due to tiebreakers, the Bengals and Colts are ahead of the Texans. Houston struggled to score points without Stroud on Sunday in its overtime win as the offense didn’t score a touchdown until 3:03 left in the fourth quarter.

The defense against the Tennessee Titans is what kept the Texans in the game. Case Keenum also didn’t have Nico Collins and Tank Dell at wide receiver, putting Houston in a hole in the passing game. Keenum deserves credit for keeping the Texans afloat in the playoff race, but this team isn’t making the playoffs in a crowded AFC wild card hunt without Stroud at quarterback. 

Houston has the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts in the final three weeks, as both teams are ahead of them in the wild card standings. Having Stroud return in time for next week would be massive. 

Jets should tell Aaron Rodgers not to play this year 

Overreaction or reality: Reality

After the Jets were eliminated from playoff contention, what’s the point of Rodgers returning and risking further injury to his Achilles? While it’s incredibly impressive Rodgers is practicing and can be ready to play 15 weeks after rupturing his Achilles, playing him is a major risk for a team that has nothing to play for. 

Perhaps Robert Saleh plays Rodgers in a last-ditch effort to save his own job. The Jets can eliminate that theory by saying Saleh will return as head coach next year no matter how their lost season plays out. 

While it would be fun to see how Rodgers looks over the final three weeks, the Jets need him to compete and win a Super Bowl in 2024 (especially with that defense). Playing Rodgers isn’t worth it for the Jets long term. 

New York’s season is over. Just play out the string with Zach Wilson, Trevor Siemian or whoever. The Cleveland Browns — who play the Jets in Week 17 — would certainly appreciate it. 

Week 15 in the NFL was filled with playoff races and tight conference standings. The Cowboys’ win streak was seen as a result of their favorable schedule, while the Bills were labeled as the most dangerous team in the AFC. The Rams were considered a playoff team, but their fate rested on a crucial game against the Saints. The Falcons’ head coach, Arthur Smith, was called out for his misusage of players and lack of success. The Saints were believed to have the potential to win the NFC South, but they still had a lot to prove. Without quarterback Stroud, the Texans were seen as unlikely to make the playoffs. The Jets were suggested to sit Aaron Rodgers for the rest of the season as their playoff hopes were dashed. Overall, there were many overreactions and realities in Week 15 of the NFL.

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