Week 15 NFL takeaways: Packers, Eagles avoid letdown, and Texans take control in AFC South

The Texans' win put them in great shape in the AFC South, while the Eagles' victory kept their hopes alive in the NFC East. And the Patriots, as expected, secured a playoff berth with a win, as did their AFC East rivals, the Bills. The Packers held off a late charge by the Bears, and the Chiefs got it done in the snow.

And on Monday night, Drew Brees etched his name in the record books with a masterpiece performance as the Saints forged a four-way tie at the top of the NFC playoff race -- four teams enter Week 16 with 11-3 records.

Here are Week 15's biggest takeaways from NFL Nation.

Jump to a matchup:

Buffalo Bills 17, Pittsburgh Steelers 10

The Bills are playoff-bound! Don't adjust the settings on whatever screen you're reading this on: For just the second time since the turn of the century, the Bills will play in the NFL's postseason. With two games remaining in the regular season, the Bills now can aim for an AFC East title. They can pull even with the Patriots when they face off in Week 16 and can take the division outright if they win out and the Patriots lose out. Clinching a playoff berth was a major milestone -- but with the division crown still in reach, Buffalo will save the celebrations for later. "We didn't win the Super Bowl," left tackle Dion Dawkins said. "This is normal now, this is normal. We're going to keep it going and see how far we can get." -- Marcel Louis-Jacques

Next game: at New England (4:30 p.m. ET Saturday)

The offensive weaknesses that have been consistently masked by stout defensive performances came to a head on Sunday. Two series-ending interceptions tossed by quarterback Devlin "Duck" Hodges late in the fourth quarter made clinching a playoff spot more difficult for the Steelers. Their chances to make the playoffs dropped from 59% entering the game to 45% with the loss. The Steelers still hold the No. 6 spot thanks to a tiebreaker with the Titans, but Pittsburgh will need to keep winning to ensure a playoff berth. The Steelers locker room certainly hasn't lost hope. "We control it," guard Ramon Foster said. "We can't go dig a hole for ourselves and think it's over with." -- Brooke Pryor

Next game: at New York Jets (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Houston Texans 24, Tennessee Titans 21

The Texans put a dagger in the Titans' hopes of winning the AFC South, despite quarterback Deshaun Watson throwing two interceptions. Now Houston can win the division for the fourth time in five years with a victory over the Buccaneers on Saturday. -- Sarah Barshop

Next game: at Tampa Bay (1 p.m. ET Saturday)

The Titans' four-game win streak, in which they scored 30 or more points per game, came to an end. Now they'll need all hands on deck against the Saints' high-octane passing attack next week. Also, keep an eye on the kicking game, which struggled thanks to another Ryan Succop field goal attempt being blocked. With the loss, Tennessee now has to win its final two games to have any chance of making the playoffs. -- Turron Davenport

Next game: vs. New Orleans (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Green Bay Packers 21, Chicago Bears 13

What the NFL and outsiders think of the Packers may be quite a bit different from what they think of themselves. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers acknowledged after what to some might have looked like another ugly win. "I don't think we have the full respect of the league yet based on some of our performances where we got beat by a couple of scores and based on the reaction we got to know," Rodgers said. "But we are 7-1 at home and we have an inside track at the 2-seed. We have an opportunity to win the division next week which guarantees a home game and the third seed at worst. I like our chances. I like our football team." -- Rob Demovsky

Next game: at Minnesota (8:15 p.m. ET Monday, Dec. 23)

The Bears have no one to blame but themselves for mediocre 7-7 record. Chicago's roster is deep enough to win double-digit games, but the Bears squandered countless opportunities earlier in the season. They really have no business being even a .500 team. What's especially galling is how well the Bears played over the past month when they won three straight and four of five before dropping a heartbreaker to Green Bay. The Bears should be good enough to play with the NFC elite, but for whatever reason, they failed to resemble an elite team for a chunk of the season, and it cost them. -- Jeff Dickerson

Next game: vs. Kansas City (8:20 p.m. ET Sunday)

New Orleans Saints 34, Indianapolis Colts 7

It doesn't seem right that the Saints (11-3) are still stuck in third place in the NFC after a nearly perfect performance. But they do still have a realistic path to the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. And they'll go far if they show the kind of excellence they displayed in Monday night's 34-7 rout of the Colts. Led by Drew Brees' record-breaking mastery, it was as close to perfect as it gets in the NFL. -- Mike Triplett

Next game: at Tennessee (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Colts completed their late-season collapse. Indianapolis was officially eliminated from making the playoffs in their worst loss under head coach Frank Reich. The Colts now have missed the playoffs four of the past five seasons. Injuries to receiver T.Y. Hilton (six games) and tight end Eric Ebron (three games) and, of course, the retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck were major factors in their demise after a 5-2 start. -- Mike Wells

Next game: vs. Carolina (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Kansas City Chiefs 23, Denver Broncos 3

Patrick Mahomes' bruised passing hand was not a problem as he threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns. The 10-4 Chiefs cruised to victory, something that has become typical against divisional opponents. They raised their record to 26-3 against AFC West opponents in the last five seasons, are 5-0 in such games this season -- with four of the victories coming by at least 18 points -- and clinched a fourth consecutive AFC West championship last week. The Chiefs, one game behind the Patriots for the AFC's No. 2 playoff seed, have one game left against an AFC West rival: Week 17 against the Chargers at Arrowhead. -- Adam Teicher

Next game: at Chicago (8:20 p.m. ET Sunday)

Sunday's snowy loss in Kansas City guaranteed the 5-9 Broncos their third consecutive losing season and their fourth consecutive playoff miss. It's clear the gap between them and the Chiefs isn't getting any smaller, and it might actually be growing as Mahomes continues on this track. The Broncos haven't beat the Chiefs since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season. Oh, and Mahomes just turned 24 in September and has thrown 73 touchdown passes in his past 28 starts. -- Jeff Legwold

Next game: vs. Detroit (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)

New England Patriots 34, Cincinnati Bengals 13

The Patriots weren't looking Super Bowl-caliber at halftime, leading 13-10, but then turned it on to run away from the one-win Bengals. The bar has been raised so high in New England that anything but a double-digit blowout wasn't going to help quiet some of the growing questions about the team, and even then, the win might have come with a "Yeah, but it came against the Bengals." But this was a solid victory, buying the Patriots more time after back-to-back losses and providing some important things for them to build on with the Bills coming to town on Saturday in an AFC East clash. -- Mike Reiss

Next game: vs. Buffalo (4:30 p.m. ET Saturday)

Getting improved play out of its wide receivers will be a point of emphasis in the offseason. Once again, the unit was collectively called out by Bengals coach Zac Taylor after a lackluster offensive outing. Whether that comes from improved play from the current roster or bringing back A.J. Green or acquiring another player, the issue should be addressed given Taylor's comments throughout the season. "We got bullied," Taylor said after Sunday's loss to the Patriots. -- Ben Baby

Next game: at Miami (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Seattle Seahawks 30, Carolina Panthers 24

The Seahawks are resilient. That was already apparent but especially so Sunday as they overcame the absences of key defensive players. By the end of their win over Carolina that total reached six, including captain Bobby Wagner with a sprained ankle. The Seahawks would prefer a division title and a first-round bye, which they'd be assured of if they beat Arizona next week and San Francisco in Week 17. But their 7-1 record away from CenturyLink Field would make having to go on the road as a wild-card team seem at least a little less daunting. -- Brady Henderson

Next game: vs. Arizona (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

Panthers coach Perry Fewell said after last week's loss at Atlanta that Kyle Allen would remain his starting quarterback, but then said after Sunday's loss he would evaluate the tape. The different responses may mean nothing. Or they may mean the Panthers are close to giving third-round pick Will Grier a chance to see what he can do. Allen, as efficient as he was during a 4-0 start after replacing Cam Newton, has been making way too many turnovers to give the Panthers a chance to win. His three picks on Sunday gave him 15 over the past eight games to only 10 touchdowns. "I need to start putting us in a position to help win the game,'' Allen said after losing his sixth straight start. -- David Newton

Next game: at Indianapolis (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38, Detroit Lions 17

When asked about the losing culture that has characterized much of the Bucs' past decade, coach Bruce Arians proclaimed this week, "We ain't accepting this s--- anymore." Against the Lions, the Bucs showed they may indeed be in the midst of a culture overhaul, winning their fourth consecutive game to improve to 7-7. Now they have a shot at a signature win against a winning opponent when the Texans come to town next week. But they may have to absorb the loss of not only Mike Evans but also Chris Godwin, who left the game with a hamstring injury. Arians said, "It doesn't look good." -- Jenna Laine

Next game: vs. Houston (1 p.m. ET Saturday)

The crowd was fairly sparse and the fans -- at least in the first half -- gave more sarcastic cheers than real ones. It's another sign of frustration and apathy around a Lions franchise that hasn't been relevant in this NFL season since the start of November. The common word around the Lions' locker room is "frustration" about the game and the season. While players and coaches won't be jazzed about it, the loss did provide one good thing for Detroit: It moved the Lions closer to securing a top-five draft pick in 2020. -- Michael Rothstein

Next game: at Denver (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)

Philadelphia Eagles 37, Washington Redskins 27

Quarterback Carson Wentz led the Eagles to a comeback win for the second straight week. This time it was via a 4-yard touchdown pass to Greg Ward Jr. in the closing seconds to lift the Eagles over the Redskins and bolster Philadelphia's playoff hopes. The win sets the stage for Sunday's Week 16 home game against the Cowboys, which will go a long way in deciding the NFC East champion. Wentz did not have a fourth-quarter comeback win this season before Week 14 and now has two over the past two weeks. And they could not have come at a better time. His confidence, and his teammates' confidence in him, is on the rise. -- Tim McManus

Next game: vs. Dallas (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Redskins can feel good about rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins' performance. He threw for a career-best 261 yards and two touchdowns. And he executed the quick-passing game, preventing the Eagles from getting a sack. This season has become all about his development, and he has continued to make strides. He's becoming more vocal with teammates on the field, too. Sunday he posted strong stats in a loss. The Redskins still need to see more before anyone can be convinced of his long-term potential, but he at least moved in a good direction. -- John Keim

Next game: vs. New York Giants (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

New York Giants 36, Miami Dolphins 20

This sure looked like Eli Manning's final home start. The longtime Giants quarterback was taken out in the final moments of a win over the Dolphins and greeted with a standing ovation and chants of his name. Manning admitted afterward it was a "special" afternoon, especially after being greeted by his three young daughters and infant son as he walked off the field. If this is it -- Daniel Jones could be back next Sunday from a high ankle sprain -- at least Manning got to go out with a rare victory. He threw a pair of touchdown passes as the Giants snapped a nine-game skid. He also evened his career regular-season record at 117-117. -- Jordan Raanan

Next game: at Washington (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Dolphins are on to 2020, and their massive and plentiful holes start in the trenches. They have the NFL's worst rushing offense and total defense, and they have allowed the most sacks -- all signs of a lack of quality linemen on both sides. Miami may need four new starting offensive linemen and two starting edge rushers. It'll be a busy offseason with all the work that needs to be done. -- Cameron Wolfe

Next game: vs. Cincinnati (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Minnesota Vikings 39, Los Angeles Chargers 10

The Vikings' defense rediscovered its mojo in a 39-10 win over the Chargers. For the first time since 1995, Minnesota recorded seven takeaways (four fumble recoveries, three interceptions). And for the first time in a while, the Vikings were able to flex their muscle and rediscover the element of this team that has been missing. The cornerback rotation Mike Zimmer has deployed in Minnesota's past two wins might be the fix for its pass defense. There are still a handful of areas that cause concern, notably the third-down defense, but Minnesota being able to carry over this type of performance against Green Bay and Chicago will indicate how far the Vikings can go in the postseason. -- Courtney Cronin

Next game: vs. Green Bay (8:15 p.m. ET Monday, Dec. 23)

The 39-10 blowout loss to the Vikings was the Chargers' worst performance of the season. They had seven turnovers and dropped to 5-9, ensuring coach Anthony Lynn will have his first losing season with the Chargers. However, in a disappointing year that began with expectations of a deep playoff run, receiver Mike Williams has been one of the few bright spots for the Chargers. Williams showed he could run the full route tree, finishing with four receptions for 71 yards including his second touchdown of the season. "If you give a guy like that a chance and put it in a place where you think it's a good spot, he makes it right," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said. -- Eric D. Williams

Next game: vs. Oakland (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)

Arizona Cardinals 38, Cleveland Browns 24

The Cardinals gave a sneak peek of the future on Sunday with their win over the Browns. Arizona's offense looked as good as it's been all season. The question now becomes whether the Cardinals can continue to play at that level in the final two games, but for one week at least, all phases of the offense seemed to come together under quarterback Kyler Murray and coach Kliff Kingsbury. -- Josh Weinfuss

Next game: at Seattle (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

Cleveland's 2019 season began with massive expectations. With two games still to go, it could already be over. The Browns (6-8) were effectively eliminated from the playoff conversation Sunday, as the Arizona Cardinals put the finishing touches on one of the NFL's biggest disappointments with an emphatic victory. The Browns will officially be eliminated from playoff contention if the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday night. Either way, the focus moving forward in Cleveland won't be about the AFC North rival Baltimore Ravens, whom the Browns face next weekend in an anticlimactic rematch. Instead, it will be about what Cleveland might do in the offseason, and what changes might be coming.-- Jake Trotter

Next game: vs. Baltimore (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Jacksonville Jaguars 20, Oakland Raiders 16

Gardner Minshew II made a pretty good argument on Sunday to be the Jaguars' starting quarterback next season by leading his third game-winning drive. Minshew led the Jaguars to 17 unanswered points in the final 16 minutes. His numbers weren't impressive (201 yards, two TDs), but this was Minshew's best performance since he threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over the New York Jets on Oct. 27, the last game the Jaguars won. The Jaguars' quarterback situation is murky for 2020 and beyond. Nick Foles will be in the second year of the four-year, $88 million contract he signed this past March and carries a $33.875 million dead salary-cap hit. He played poorly when he regained the starting job after his collarbone injury and Minshew needed to finish the season strong to have a case to unseat him as the starter again. Minshew did his part on Sunday. -- Mike DiRocco

Next game: at Atlanta (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

Derek Carr was booed off the field. Vociferously. And while the Raiders' meltdown in their 20-16 loss to the Jaguars in their final game in Oakland might not completely have been his fault, the offense did go stagnant in getting shut out in the second half. It was as stunning as it was surreal, with angry fans throwing everything from nachos to beer to soda on the field in the closing moments of the game. And when Carr sprinted to the locker room, the boos grew louder. Asked about the fan reaction, Carr shrugged and smiled. "Oh, gosh," Carr said. "What's new with our crowd? Whenever we don't win, that's going to happen. Trust me, it's not under my skin. It's nothing." Asked what his message was to the fans, Carr said, "I'm sure they don't want to hear anything right now." -- Paul Gutierrez

Next game: at Los Angeles Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET Sunday)

Dallas Cowboys 44, Los Angeles Rams 21

After losing three consecutive games and hearing constant talk about the future of coach Jason Garrett, the Cowboys know this after beating the Rams on Sunday: If they beat the Eagles next Sunday, they will win the NFC East and make it to the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 2006-07. "We're lucky to have this opportunity," said linebacker Sean Lee, who had an interception and sack Sunday. "A lot of teams with our record don't and we need to take advantage of this situation. We know, especially the last three games, we didn't play like we wanted to play. Defensively, we didn't play up to our identity and so we have to do that continuously and make plays and get this win next week." -- Todd Archer

Next game: at Philadelphia (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday)

Count the Rams' loss to the Cowboys on Sunday among their most inexplicable losses in an 8-6 season, as they teeter on the verge of playoff elimination. The Rams entered Sunday's game knowing they likely would need to win their remaining three games to make the postseason, as they trail the Vikings for a final wild-card spot. After a performance that displayed a total lack of urgency on offense and defense, the Rams' playoff chances have dwindled to 5.1%, according to ESPN's Football Power Index, and they must now prepare for the 49ers on a short week. -- Lindsey Thiry

Next game: at San Francisco (8:15 p.m. ET Saturday)

Atlanta Falcons 29, San Francisco 49ers 22

The Falcons did the right thing in relying on their best player against arguably the NFC's top team as Julio Jones scored two touchdowns in the Falcons' upset of the 49ers. Jones caught 13 passes for 134 yards on a season-high 20 targets, including six receptions for 59 yards and the game winner on eight fourth-quarter targets. If this game shifted owner Arthur Blank's thinking on Dan Quinn's job status for the 5-9 Falcons, Quinn will have Jones to thank for it. Quinn and the Falcons now have beaten arguably the NFC's top two teams -- the 49ers and the Saints -- both on the road. But Quinn can't afford for his team to have a letdown next week at home against Jacksonville. -- Vaughn McClure

Next game: vs. Jacksonville (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The 49ers clinched a playoff berth and still control their playoff positioning, but they can't afford any more letdowns. The Niners learned the hard way Sunday how difficult it is to turn it back on after an emotional, playoff-type win in New Orleans last week, dropping a stunning 29-22 decision to the Atlanta Falcons (5-9). If the Niners win their final two games against the Rams (8-6) and Seahawks (11-3), they still can win the NFC West Division and clinch the NFC's No. 1 seed. But there's zero margin for error in either of those games if they want to make any noise in the postseason. "I hope our team learns from this game that if we don't bring the intensity, then we will be [headed to] a quick season ending," tight end George Kittle said. -- Nick Wagoner

Next game: vs. Los Angeles Rams (8:15 p.m. ET Saturday)

Baltimore Ravens 42, New York Jets 21

The Ravens continue to run over the NFL. In winning its 10th consecutive game, Baltimore ran for 218 yards against the Jets, keeping pace to break the league record for most rushing yards in a season. This marked the Ravens' fifth win by 20 points or more, and they can clinch the AFC's No. 1 seed with a win in Cleveland on Sunday. -- Jamison Hensley

Next game: at Cleveland (1 p.m. ET Sunday)

The Jets were totally outclassed by the Ravens. Now they will try to steal a win against the Steelers to avoid an 0-4 season against the AFC North. One positive: Jets running back Le'Veon Bell, who faces his old team, will be coming off his best rushing day (season-high 87 yards). -- Rich Cimini

Next game: vs. Pittsburgh (1 p.m. ET Sunday)