Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:55 AM

Sunday's Essentials - Week 15

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Broncos at Chiefs (-9.5/45), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: After a huge win in New England, Kansas City looks to match its longest winning streak of the season by holding serve against a Denver team that has covered in five of six and comes off back-to-back upsets over the Chargers and Texans. The Broncos have beaten exclusively AFC teams this season and have ridden rookie Drew Lock to a resurgent finish. Rookies are 1-6 at Arrowhead since 1950 and Patrick Mahomes has only lost one of his 11 starts against divisional foes in his career, so trends aren’t in the visitors’ favor here.

The Chiefs come in ranked in sixth in total offense while the Vic Fangio-led Broncos have the 10th-rated defense. Kansas City won 30-6 at Mile High on Oct. 17 and may ride its ground game more here since Mahomes has been nursing a bruised passing hand after being struck last week. DE Frank Clark will play for Kansas City after nursing a stomach ailment, while TE Noah Fant will suit up for Denver after getting his foot stepped on last week. Snow is almost certain to play a role in this one, which may help the Broncos’ secondary deal with Tyreek Hill. Hill’s duel with CB Chris Harris will likely be this contest’s most compelling individual matchup.

Bears at Packers (-4.5/40), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Green Bay has won six of seven in this series against an NFC North rival, which includes its 10-3 win on the opening Thursday night of the season. Aaron Rodgers was still getting acquainted with first-year head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense and has a 23 TD/2 INT ratio entering this Week 15 clash, one of the best in league history. The Packers are closing in on a playoff berth in their final home game of the regular season and have only dropped one game at Lambeau this season. Green Bay is 4-3 ATS at home after failing to properly put away the Redskins last week as it the Aaron Jones-led run game and the its defense past rookie QB Dwayne Haskins’ Redskins.

The Pack will probably have to work harder and risk more against a Bears’ defense that remains among the NFL’s most respected. With games against the Chiefs and Vikings ahead, Chicago must be at its best to try and overcome its four-game losing streak and reach the playoffs despite its 3-5 start. Mitchell Trubisky has thrown six touchdown passes and compiled a 116.9 passer rating in wins over the Lions and Cowboys, so Green Bay will be dealing with a hot quarterback in addition to a defense that gets back standout defensive tackle Akiem Hicks from IR after dislocating his elbow. LB Danny Trevathan remains out. Temperatures were as low as 8 degrees on Sunday morning and won’t get into the 20s. Rodgers typically thrives in these kinds of games and could have a big day if his coverage holds up.

Seahawks (-6/49) at Panthers, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Russell Wilson leads the league’s fifth-ranked offense, which comes in third in rushing thanks to Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny and will look to keep Seattle’s hopes of finishing with the NFC’s top record alive by winning their road finale. The Cardinals and 49ers come through Century Link Field over the next two weeks, so a 13-3 finish is certainly feasible. Penny is out after tearing his ACL last week, so CJ Prosise is likely to play a large role.

Although Christian McCaffrey sat down the stretch in last week’s blowout loss, the Panthers are likely going to lean on him just as heavily as they have all season, allowing him to extend his streak of consecutive games with 100-plus yards from scrimmage to eight so long as he stays healthy. Wilson also has a chance to have a big game and is facing a defense that has surrendered an average of 33 points per game over their last four losses. Three of the past four QBs to take on the Panthers have thrown for over 300 yards. With Jadeveon Clowney and Mychal Kendricks out and Ziggy Ansah and Shaquill Griffin questionable. Rookie third-round pick Cody Barton will get his second start at middle linebacker. A pretty day is expected in Charlotte, where temperatures will be just shy of 60 degrees.

Texans at Titans (-3/51), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Derrick Henry is set to play despite nursing a hamstring injury and has been tremendous over the past few weeks, reaching 12 touchdowns for the season for a second straight year. The ground attack has been able to help QB Ryan Tannehill get the passing game going despite the loss of tight end Delanie Walker, and Tennessee enters this game having averaged 37.5 points per game over its last four. The Texans surrendered 38 points last week, although Denver’s defense aided the cause with a couple of touchdowns, but they also gave up 41 points last time they hit the road and have given up 30 or more points in three of their last six away from Houston.

Tennessee has the second-best record in the NFL over the past seven weeks as Tannehill has amassed a 118.5 passer rating. Safety Kenny Vaccaro has been dealing with a concussion but is expected to clear protocol in time to prepare. Corner Adoree Jackson hasn’t practiced due to a foot injury and DT Jurrell Casey has been limited, so the Titans may need to keep their foot on the gas to hold off Deshaun Watson and the Texans. WR Will Fuller V is looking to return from a hamstring issue after missing last week’s game and completely changes the Houston offense, making it far more dynamic. These teams will play twice over the final three weeks. The Texans have won seven of 10 in the series.

Jaguars at Raiders (-6.5/46.5), 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: Jacksonville has lost five consecutive games by 17 or more points, which means their issues are far greater than simply QB play or vulnerability due to the loss of talented defenders. Head coach Doug Marrone will likely pay with his job and the belief around Jacksonville is that owner Shad Khan is likely to clean house. Last week’s 45-10 loss the Chargers featured a performance where the Jags didn’t look ready to play, becoming the first teams since the 1986 Bucs (yuck!) to lose by at least 17 points in five straight. Another flat outing here could certainly yield another blowout since the Raiders are likely to be charged up as they take the field for the final time at Oakland Coliseum. This is truly it this time, so even though the Raiders have had a number of “final” games in Alameda County, Jon Gruden and his team know they’re truly closing a chapter here and want to close it in style.

Leonard Fournette struggled last week despite getting touches while rookie Gardner Minshew fell to 4-5 as the starter last week as the Chargers boat-raced him and the Jags’ offense. Oakland will look to snap its three-game losing streak and has also seen the bottom fall out of late, dropping its last three games by a combined margin of 83 points. Rookie RB Josh Jacobs is expected to be back in the lineup after being cleared to play after breaking a shoulder plate. Tackle Trent Brown is a game-time decision due to a pectoral issue. Jacobs and DeWayne Washington will try and victimize a Jaguars’ defense allowing 141.1 rushing yards per game, second-worst in the NFL. Guard Gabe Jackson (knee) and safety Erik Harris (hamstring) have been limited in practices.

Vikings (-1.5/45) at Chargers, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: Minnesota is closing out its road schedule and hoping to finish at .500 by taking advantage of the lack of homefield edge the Chargers are stuck dealing with for yet another disappointing season in Carson. L.A. has dropped four of its last five home games outright and are just 1-4-1 ATS in the building but have looked sharper on defense since getting back safety Derwin James. Windy conditions are expected, so this could be a game where the ground attacks dictate a winner. Dalvin Cook has scored in an NFL-high 11 games this season while both Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler have done a great job making the most of their opportunities of late. Both teams are averaging roughly 375 yards of offense and have given up just over 19 points per game. The Vikings have even allowed over 33 more yards per game but have obviously made better use of their chances and have pulled out games where the Chargers have failed.

Cook has been dealing with a shoulder issue but is expected to play while WR Adam Thielen is also expected to return from a four-game absence due to a hamstring injury, which will keep L.A. from keying on Stefon Diggs, who is closing in on another 1,000-yard season, ranking second in the NFL in yards per reception (17.8).

Rams (-1/48.5) at Cowboys, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: Dallas ranks second in the league in total offense and first in pass offense but hasn’t seen that edge materialize in many wins, putting them in a tough position with the Rams in town and the long-awaited matchup with the Eagles on deck next week. With Dak Prescott set to drop back, L.A.’s Aaron Donald-led defense will again be in the spotlight. AP reported that the Rams have an NFL-best 296 points off defensive takeaways since head coach Sean McVay and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips took over in 2017. They’ve recorded 11 sacks over the past two weeks and are up to 43 on the season, surpassing last year’s total. If the Rams can rattle Prescott and make the Cowboys one-dimensional, they could certainly control this game. Of course, Dallas’ offensive line is among the league’s best when healthy, so the battle up front figures to be telling.

Dallas is 0-6 against teams with winning records this season and will be looking to avoid sliding to 6-8 with their fourth straight setback. The Bears, Bills and Lions, offenses that don’t typically make scoreboard operators sweat, each got off against the Cowboys during this rough patch. Dallas has never made playoffs with multiple losing streaks of at least three games but have a 4,000-yard passer (Prescott), a 1,000-yard rusher (Ezekiel Elliott) and a 1,000-yard receiver (Amari Cooper) in same season for first time in franchise history, which is a stat worthy of a double-take given the history with this franchise. The Cowboys have lost three of their last four home games, both straight up and against the spread. LB Sean Lee is unlikely to play and Leighton Vander Esch has been ruled out, so Dallas will have to pull off a win despite a compromised linebacking corps.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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