NFL Week 15 takeaways: Vikings inch closer to playoff lock

The Vikings' win put them closer to a playoff seat. Two NFC East teams were shut out. The Bears hung on to get to 10 wins, and the Ravens tallied their fourth victory in five Lamar Jackson starts. In the later slate, the Pats slid out of a first-round bye and the Seahawks were upset at San Francisco.

All that and more in Week 15's biggest takeaways from NFL Nation.

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New Orleans Saints 12, Carolina Panthers 9

Over the past three weeks, the Saints have somehow morphed into a team that relies on its dominant defense while the offense continues to struggle. But those three offensive flops have all come outdoors on the road. And since the Saints (12-2) keep winning, they might get to play all the rest of their games inside the Superdome until the Super Bowl. The Saints play their final two regular-season games at home, and they just need to win one of them to clinch the NFC's No. 1 seed. -- Mike Triplett

Now that the Panthers are all but eliminated from playoff contention with two games remaining, the biggest question is should quarterback Cam Newton sit out the final two games to figure out what needs to be done for his sore right shoulder that has him playing at less than 100 percent? Newton said that's not in his plans after Monday night's loss. He also admits it has been frustrating dealing with the pain and not being able to throw twice a week for most of the past two months. Newton's long-term future should be a priority the final two weeks. As center Ryan Kalil said, this season and a six-game losing streak have "beaten up" Newton physically and emotionally. "Nobody is more frustrated than Cam," Kalil said. "I've played with him a long time, and he takes it personal."-- David Newton

Philadelphia Eagles 30, Los Angeles Rams 23

Nick Foles leads the Eagles to an improbable win. Of course. a 30-23 thriller over the Rams keeps Philly's playoff hopes alive (its odds of making the postseason jumped to 34 percent) and adds intrigue to the close of the 2018 season. Carson Wentz could be shelved for the rest of the year with a fracture in his back, so Foles has a chance to stir the city's imagination once more. -- Tim McManus

The Rams, who once appeared destined for a Super Bowl, suffered their second consecutive loss Sunday in a 30-23 defeat by the Eagles. It's the first time in Sean McVay's two seasons as coach that the Rams have lost back-to-back games, and McVay said afterward that the Rams have "Got to be able to figure this out and figure it out fast." The Rams have two weeks to solve their issues -- which appeared in all three phases Sunday -- before the playoffs. -- Lindsey Thiry

Chicago Bears 24, Green Bay Packers 17

Chicago has reached the postseason six times since the Mike Ditka era ended after the 1992 season and not at all since 2010, but the Bears are headed to the playoffs in 2018 -- and look like they'll be there plenty in coming years. Under first-year coach Matt Nagy, the Bears have a roster loaded with starters below the age of 28, including All-Pro pass-rusher Khalil Mack, who's under contract through 2024. Every season presents unique challenges, but the Bears look set up for long-term success. -- Jeff Dickerson

When asked what changes are coming in the final two weeks now that the Packers are eliminated from playoff contention after Sunday's loss to the Bears (combined with the Vikings' win), interim coach Joe Philbin said, "Nothing." That would seem to apply to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who said several times that he expects to keep playing. "I'd like to be out there and lead us the last two weeks," Rodgers said. -- Rob Demovsky

Indianapolis Colts 23, Dallas Cowboys 0

The Colts winning with Andrew Luck throwing for less than 200 yards and lacking a touchdown pass? It used to be out of the question. Oh how things have changed. They ended Dallas' five-game winning streak and got their first shutout since October 2014 by rushing for 178 yards and holding Dallas to 292 total yards of offense. More important, the Colts have won seven of their past eight games to remain in the thick of the AFC playoff race, with a home game next week against the Giants. -- Mike Wells

With a chance to win the NFC East on Sunday, the Cowboys came out listless in their loss to the Colts. With a victory next week against the Buccaneers, they can clinch the division title for the second time in three seasons. "Just the way we didn't give ourselves a chance pisses me off, pisses everybody off," quarterback Dak Prescott said. "We knew what was on the line and it's been on the line. It will be on the line next week. We just got to go and get better this week in practice." -- Todd Archer

Baltimore Ravens 20, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 12

Lamar Jackson continued his winning ways, helping the Ravens keep hold of the final playoff spot in the AFC. Jackson, now 4-1 as a starter, tallied 226 yards of offense (131 passing, 95 rushing) against the NFL's No. 27 defense. He will face his toughest test Saturday, when he goes against the Chargers; it will mark the first time he will face a defense ranked in the top half of the NFL (No. 8). -- Jamison Hensley

For the second consecutive week, the Buccaneers hung tough against a playoff team but struggled to overcome their second-half issues. Since Week 12, Tampa Bay has scored a total of 12 points in the second half of games. "We can't seem to get out of our own way almost," tight end Cameron Brate said. "You can't really pinpoint one thing or one play, one player or anything like that. Until we find a way to either not make those critical errors or find a way to get over them, we're gonna continue to struggle to win games." -- Jenna Laine

Minnesota Vikings 41, Miami Dolphins 17

The Vikings scored season-high 41 points in Kevin Stefanski's debut as interim offensive coordinator and maintained the sixth overall seed in the playoffs, now sitting with a 74 percent chance to reach the postseason, according to ESPN's live FPI projections. Minnesota accomplished what it's been trying to do all season in sticking to the run, which resulted in Dalvin Cook's career-best 136 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The Vikings can take another step toward the playoffs next Sunday when they visit Detroit. -- Courtney Cronin

Miami came into Sunday's game needing a victory to keep pace with the three other teams tied for the AFC's final playoff spot, but it laid an egg. Ryan Tannehill was sacked nine times, the offense produced only 193 yards and the defense gave up 41 points. The Dolphins can't prepare for 2019 yet given that this season is still alive, but they have just a four percent chance to make the playoffs per ESPN's FPI. -- Cameron Wolfe

Tennessee Titans 17, New York Giants 0

The Titans continued their physical play as Derrick Henry's 170 rushing yards and two touchdowns were enough to beat the Giants. The formula is simple: Control the game, win field position and play stout defense. It has resulted in Tennessee dominating consecutive opponents with a 47-9 point advantage. The Titans continue to work toward a playoff berth in coach Mike Vrabel's rookie season with a matchup against the Redskins on Saturday. -- Turron Davenport

The Giants' offense might not be fixed after all. Shut out by Tennessee, Saquon Barkley was stymied (31 yards on 14 carries) and the offense couldn't do anything in the heavy rain. It was the second time the Giants were shut out within a year and the seventh time in Eli Manning's career. There are still a lot of questions to be answered regarding the Giants' offense, including making a long-term decision on Manning. -- Jordan Raanan

Atlanta Falcons 40, Arizona Cardinals 14

The Falcons might not want to give up on Vic Beasley Jr. yet despite critics believing it's time to move on from the former No. 8 overall pick. Beasley has shown flashes late in the season, including two batted passes -- one that led to a pick-six for teammate Deion Jones -- and a sack in the Falcons' win over Arizona. Beasley aims to carry his momentum into the final two games, at Carolina and Tampa Bay, and maybe secure a future with the team. "Every game, my goal is to make a statement, to show the team, coaches, fans what I'm capable of," Beasley said. -- Vaughn McClure

The Cardinals strengthened their chances of securing the No. 1 draft pick with one of their worst showings of the season. After taking a 7-0 lead, they gave up 40 consecutive points for the second time in four games before scoring a garbage-time touchdown. Arizona showed Sunday its issues are widespread and will take a lot of moves to fix. -- Josh Weinfuss

Washington Redskins 16, Jacksonville Jaguars 13

The Redskins kept their playoff hopes alive, but do not control their own fate. However, if they can win their final two games to finish 9-7, they could still end up either winning the division or sneaking in as a wild card. That would be quite an accomplishment for a team that was nearly done and buried early in the fourth quarter Sunday. The Redskins relied on grit to beat the Jaguars, but they will need more to beat Tennessee and Philadelphia. -- John Keim

The Jaguars' offense has managed one touchdown in the past three games and totaled only 192 total yards -- just 20 passing -- on Sunday against Washington. Cody Kessler was sacked six times and threw a crucial late-game interception that led to the Redskins' winning points. Injuries forced the Jaguars to start nine players who are either backups or midseason additions on offense. The season can't end soon enough for Jacksonville. -- Mike DiRocco

Cincinnati Bengals 30, Oakland Raiders 16

The Bengals snapped a five-game losing streak, but interest in the team has waned in the past month, particularly with coach Marvin Lewis' future in question. As a result, Paul Brown Stadium looked fairly empty for the final home game of the season. However, the future looks bright for Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon and Sam Hubbard, who had two sacks and a forced fumble. Boyd hit 1,000 yards on the season, and Mixon is five yards away from his first 1,000-yard season. -- Katherine Terrell

Quarterback Derek Carr continued his efficient, if unspectacular, play for the Raiders, which bodes well for the future. Hey, we're keeping it positive but real around these parts for a 3-11 team, right? Beside, Carr set a franchise record in not throwing an interception in his past 301 attempts, a streak running nine games. Up next? What promises to be a sublime Christmas Eve as the Raiders might be playing their final game in Oakland, against the rival Broncos. Buckle up. -- Paul Gutierrez

Buffalo Bills 14, Detroit Lions 13

Josh Allen rushed for 16 yards after running for 335 over the previous three games, but he accomplished two goals in Sunday's victory over the Lions: protecting his body and avoiding turnovers. Allen was not intercepted, improving his record to 3-0 in full games this season in which he has not been picked off. The rookie still took some chances as a runner and fumbled in the third quarter, but overall took a step in the right direction. -- Mike Rodak

Detroit's slim playoff chances ended in Buffalo with problems old (an unproductive offense with questionable playcalling) and new (Matt Prater's first missed fourth-quarter field goal in three years). No matter how it happened, the end result is a losing season for the Lions in Matt Patricia's first season. -- Michael Rothstein

San Francisco 49ers 26, Seattle Seahawks 23

The 49ers finally put an end to Seattle's 10-game run of dominance against them, but it came at a heavy price in the 2019 NFL draft. There wasn't a Niners player or coach who would trade Sunday's victory, but the Niners went from sitting on a prime chance to have the No. 1 pick to the No. 4 slot if the draft happened Sunday. Such a tumble could mean the difference between an elite, game-changing edge rusher or having to choose a top player at another position. -- Nick Wagoner

The Seahawks' overtime defeat might not have much bearing on their postseason fate. According to live projections from ESPN's Football Power Index, the Seahawks still have a 99 percent chance to claim a wild-card spot, which they can do with a victory over the Chiefs next Sunday night in Seattle. However, it isn't as easy to imagine the Seahawks making much noise in the playoffs if they play as sloppily as they did Sunday, when they committed 14 penalties for 148 yards. -- Brady Henderson

Pittsburgh Steelers 17, New England Patriots 10

Pittsburgh turned in one of its better defensive performances in years by slowing Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski and getting pressure on quarterback Tom Brady on third down. This bodes well for a playoff push. And rookie Jaylen Samuels can hold down the top running back job while James Conner is out recovering from ankle injury. -- Jeremy Fowler

The Brady-led offense needs to find what it can hang its hat on in the clutch if this team is to make a deep postseason run. The offense sputtered against the Steelers. Home games against the Bills and Jets to close out the season won't exactly provide any clear-cut answers entering the playoffs. -- Mike Reiss

Houston Texans 29, New York Jets 22

The Texans have moved into the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a first-round playoff bye thanks largely to the performances by DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt. There are issues to fix, including pass-protection woes and third-down struggles on both sides of the ball, but Houston continues to win. With the Eagles and Jaguars left on the schedule, the Texans have a chance to get to 12 victories. -- ESPN

Yes, the Jets stink, but at least there's hope at quarterback. Sam Darnold has played two good games in a row, cutting down on his interceptions and creating plays outside the pocket. The next coach, whoever it is, will inherit a promising young talent. -- Rich Cimini

Cleveland Browns 17, Denver Broncos 16

As the Browns play the waiting game in the playoff hunt, four wins in their past five games means they can finish with a winning record. Victories over the Bengals and Ravens in the final two games would mean the Browns finish above .500 for the first time since 2007. -- Pat McManamon

The Broncos sit at 6-8, poised for their third consecutive playoff miss, and they can blame their offseason free-agency work for their woes. Quarterback Case Keenum, who signed a two-year deal, was the centerpiece, but the Broncos have been unable to find consistency on offense. Denver's 2018 draft class should be celebrated, but the free-agent signings have to be better or they're simply using cap space for players who aren't contributing. -- Jeff Legwold

Los Angeles Chargers 29, Kansas City Chiefs 28

The Chargers clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2013 while getting into the conversation for the AFC West division title and a No. 1 seed in the conference. They also stopped a nine-game losing streak to the Chiefs with Thursday's victory. If the Chargers win out and the Chiefs lose one of their two remaining games, the Bolts will be hosting a playoff game at the StubHub Center. -- Eric D. Williams

The Chiefs won't always be able to score enough to overcome their leaky defense. This might not be a problem the rest of the regular season, with the Seahawks and Raiders the remaining opponents, but it could be a big obstacle in the playoffs, when high-scoring opponents such as the Patriots and Chargers could be on the opposite side of the field. -- Adam Teicher