NFL fans are surely catching their collective breath from Thursday night’s scintillating AFC West showdown between the Chargers and Chiefs, which following a thrilling collection of games Sunday afternoon. Now the focus for the rest of Week 15 turns to some other critical matchups, highlighted by the Patriots-Steelers game in Pittsburgh.
With that, here’s The Post’s NFL High Five for Week 15:
Week 14 encore to watch
What could the league possibly have in store for an encore this week after last week — the most exciting and compelling week of the season?
Think about what occurred in Week 14:
- The Dolphins “Miami Miracle’’ shocking of the Patriots on the final play of the game on a multi-lateral 69-yard catch-and-run.
- Chiefs wunderkind QB Patrick Mahomes completes a no-look pass in before leading his to a thrilling victory over the Ravens in overtime.
- Steelers kicker Chris Boswell slips on the chewed-up Oakland turf on a game-tying field goal attempt in the final seconds of a 24-21 loss.
- The Cowboys beat the Eagles in OT when Dak Prescott’s pass was deflected by Eagles defensive back Rasul Douglas into the arms of Dallas receiver Amari Cooper for the winning TD, his third of the game.
- The Bears defense suffocating the prolific Rams offense in a statement win in Chicago.
- Derrick Henry’s 99-yard TD run from scrimmage highlighting a four-TD night in a Titans win over the Jaguars.
- Drew Brees leading the Saints to a comeback from an 11-point deficit at Tampa Bay to get New Orleans to 11-2.
- Even the Jets and Giants won on the same day. Cats chasing dogs.
Week 15 has a lot to live up to.
Champion’s fall to watch
The Eagles’ chances of defending their Super Bowl title were significantly diminished when they lost to the Cowboys to fall to 6-7, two games out of the NFC East lead.
In the days following that loss, things got no better. They will be without starting quarterback Carson Wentz when they play the Rams on Sunday (and possibly for the rest of the season) as they try to keep their flickering playoff hopes on life support.
Wentz was diagnosed with a vertebral fracture in his back and likely will be shut down for the final three games. Wentz dealt with a back injury earlier in the season, but the team didn’t feel like it was a major issue. It flared up again during the week, though Eagles coach Doug Pederson said the latest issue didn’t come in the loss to the Cowboys.
Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will start in place of Wentz. Foles started the first two games of the season as Wentz returned from a torn ACL and went 1-1 with a 65 percent completion rate with one TD and an INT.
Hawkish team to watch
There was some chirping from former Seattle cornerback and current 49er Richard Sherman a few weeks ago when he played against his former team for the first time. Sherman called his former team a “middle of the road” team before the Seahawks ripped him and the 49ers, 43-16, at CenturyLink Field. As the two meet again Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif., the Seahawks are 8-5 and can clinch a playoff berth with a win over Sherman and the 49ers.
That led to Seattle defensive end Frank Clark to call the Sherman era “over.”
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“He’s not in this locker room no more, so his opinion really doesn’t matter,” Clark, who leads the Seahawks with 11 sacks, told reporters. “They’ve got some problems over there in San Fran that he needs to be worried about. This is my team now. This is my defense. Richard Sherman, his era is over here.
“We’re 1-0 against Richard Sherman right now. We are 1-0 against the San Francisco 49ers this year. Our plan is to be 2-0. So we are going into that stadium next week with our pure aggression. We are going to stop that run, and we are going to have fun on third downs.”
Sherman, a three-time All-Pro cornerback, is in his first season with the 49ers after being cut by the Seahawks in the offseason — a release he’s been on record he was unhappy about. The 49ers are 3-10 this season.
Redskins QB to watch
Just a month ago, the Redskins were 6-3, in first place in the NFC East and seemingly in complete control of their playoff destiny.
Then quarterbacks happened. First, starter Alex Smith suffered a serious broken leg. Then backup Colt McCoy suffered a fracture. Then, newly signed Mark Sanchez flopped badly in a 40-16 loss to the Giants last Sunday.
Enter Josh Johnson, quarterback No. 4.
Despite having just joined the team the previous week, Johnson was inserted into the Giants game when Sanchez was benched and he’ll start Sunday against the Jaguars. It’ll be Johnson’s first start since Week 13 of the 2011 season. Johnson told reporters he learned his teammates by playing a video game.
“I had to play ‘Madden’ to learn just the other day,” he said. “You come in on a short week, you learn there’s so many moving parts. For me, I played ‘Madden.’ I was able to get on the ‘Madden’ and learn my teammates.”
Asked what he learned, Johnson said, “I learned their names.”
Johnson, in relief of Sanchez, completed 11 of 16 passes for 195 yards. He threw for one TD and ran for another.
The problems at quarterback have apparently adversely affected the team’s defense, which has allowed five of the past six opponents to gain more than 400 yards.
Washington coach Jay Gruden coached Johnson in 2008 when the two were in Tampa Bay and in 2013 in Cincinnati.
“We do understand how difficult it is for him to come in and in a short amount of time to play,” Gruden said. “Fortunately he’s been around me for a while and can handle the terminology.’’
Struggling offense to watch
Just 13 games into his Vikings career, the heat is beginning to rise around quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was badly exposed in Monday’s 21-7 loss in Seattle.
Cousins, who signed a three-year, $84 million free-agent contract with a team that went 13-3 last season, has not played up to it. Minnesota was considered a Super Bowl contender, but now are clinging to the final playoff spot at 6-6-1.
Sure Cousins’ numbers are impressive — 24 TD passes, 9 INTs and a 70.6 completion percentage — but his numbers always have been good. That’s the deceiving thing about Cousins.
The question is this: What has he won? The answer: Very little.
Cousins is a startling 4-24 against opponents with a winning record. He’s 12-22-2 on the road. He, too, has been terrible in prime time — 0-7 on “Monday Night Football” and 5-13 overall in prime-time games. He also has never won a playoff game.
The first victim to fall because of Minnesota overpaying Cousins was offensive coordinator John DeFilippo — who was fired on Tuesday, hours after the loss in Seattle. Kevin Stefanski, the quarterbacks coach, was elevated to take over for DeFilippo.
Interestingly, after the Giants hired former Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, the Vikings blocked the Giants from interviewing Stefanski from interviewing to become the Giants’ offensive coordinator.
Stefanski was considered by many as a front-runner at one point to replace Shurmur, but DeFilippo was hired from Philadelphia. That run for DeFilippo lasted just 13 games with the Vikings, in four of their past five games, failing to gain at least 300 yards.
So now it’s Stefanski’s turn to work with Cousins. He’s the longest tenured member of the Vikings coaching staff.
The reasoning for DeFilippo’s firing was his play calling, with his failure to commit enough to the run. That was excuse No. 1. Let’s see if a new coordinator finally can get Cousins to win a big game or two. Otherwise more dominoes will fall in Minnesota.