Weekend Preview - Week 15

by SumerSports|December 14, 2023

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Welcome to the Weekend Preview!

This year at SumerSports.com, we are excited to bring you an analytical look at the NFL twice a week on Mondays and on Fridays. In this preview of another football weekend, we will be laying out which games you should consider watching, what a win or a loss could mean for your team’s playoff chances, and more.

Be sure to check out the SumerSports podcast feed, follow us on Twitter @SumerSports, and sign up for our newsletter for more content like this. Also, take a look at our new customizable data tables that include teams, players, and more!

Playoff Leverage

Each week, we are seeing some big changes in how the playoff picture is shaping up. Last week there were teams like the Browns and Buccaneers that saw an increase in their chances to make the postseason while the Falcons and Steelers saw a large decrease.

The AFC Wild Card picture continues to be very tangled as Colts-Steelers on Saturday proves to be a pivotal matchup between two teams that have a lot on the line. If the Colts get the win, they jump all the way to a 67% chance to make the playoffs but a loss would drop them down to a 36% chance as the Steelers would gain the tiebreaker over them and become a 50/50 shot at the postseason. Also in the AFC, the Bills and Broncos have a lot of playoff leverage in Week 15.

In the NFC, there are still two divisions up for grabs between the NFC South and NFC East. A Buccaneers win over the Packers would lift Tampa Bay to a 64% chance to make the playoffs and a 49% chance to win the division. If the Falcons take care of business against the Panthers, they’d put themselves at a 43% chance to make the playoffs and a 35% chance to win the NFC South. While the Eagles don’t have any playoff leverage on the line Monday Night against the Seahawks, if they lose that game, they will only have a 59% chance to win the division. The Eagles have the easiest schedule the rest of the season while the Cowboys have the 8th toughest.

Games to Watch

As we look ahead to Week 15, we can use a combination of team strength (using Elo), spread, projected points, and quarterback play to see which games we could be watching during the full slate.

Week 15 kicks off with an interesting slate of games on Saturday featuring 4 backup quarterbacks but is headlined by a great matchup between the Broncos and the Lions in Detroit.

On Sunday, the early slate looks weak on face value but watching Patrick Mahomes vs. Bill Belichick is always an interesting matchup, and there is a game with big NFC playoff implications as the Buccaneers travel to Green Bay. Later in the day, we may have one of the games of the year as the quarterbacks that rank 2nd and 3rd face off in a game that should feature a lot of scoring in Buffalo.

The primetime games to close out the week look great as there’s a huge AFC matchup between the Ravens and Jaguars followed by the Eagles looking to all but secure the division on the road against a Seahawks team looking to stop their losing streak.

Dallas Cowboys @ Buffalo Bills

The Cowboys enter this game ranking top 10 in every offensive category, in large part due to the high level play of Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb. Prescott ranks 3rd in EPA/play while Lamb ranks 7th in yards per route run and the Cowboys have leaned into that with a +3% pass rate over expected on the season. Since Week 10, Brandin Cooks and CeeDee Lamb have had the same total EPA as the Cowboys continue to increase Cooks’ target share. 

With the strength of the Bills defense being their safeties in Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde, expect the Cowboys to target Rasul Douglas, who has the highest yards allowed per pass snap of any Bills defender this season. If A.J. Epenesa can’t go, Buffalo will need big games from Gregory Rousseau and Leonard Floyd, who rank 2nd and 3rd respectively in pressure rate for Bills defenders. The Bills defense ranks 22nd in explosive play rate allowed going up against a Cowboys passing attack that has been privy to those plays as of late.

On the other side of the ball, the Bills are also going to lean into passing. coming into this game with a +3.5% pass rate over expected as Josh Allen ranks 2nd in EPA/play on the season. The Cowboys ranking 3rd in EPA/play allowed but 17th in success rate allowed shows that they’ve relied on turnovers as they have ranked 1st in EPA gained off turnovers among all defenses. With the Bills having the 4th highest interception rate among any team this season, a lot of this game is going to come down to whether they can avoid a crucial interception. Jourdan Lewis has allowed the most yards in coverage among all Dallas defensive backs and could be someone Buffalo attacks with Gabe Davis. With Dawson Knox back last week, Buffalo used 12 personnel 31% of the time, which has been the personnel grouping that Dallas has had the most trouble with in the pass game this season. Overall, this should be a great game with a lot of scoring.

Baltimore Ravens @ Jacksonville Jaguars

Since losing Mark Andrews to a season ending injury, the Ravens offense has put out varying results with 20 points against the Chargers and 37 points against the Rams. Without Andrews, Zay Flowers and Odell Beckham have gotten the bulk of the targets as they rank 55th and 30th in yards per route run respectively (both above average). The Jaguars defense started off the season at a very high clip but has now dropped down to 12th in EPA/play allowed and has shown some weakness in their pass defense. 

Both Tyson Campbell and Darious Williams are below average in yards allowed per pass snap as the Ravens will likely build a gameplan around their receivers vs. those outside corners. The Jaguars have the 5th best defense when sending 5 or more pass rushers as Lamar Jackson has had above average production when not blitzed but below average when blitzed. It will be interesting to see what Todd Monken’s answer to pressure will be.

On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars continue to be an offense that has been good on a down to down basis but has lost the 3rd most EPA due to turnovers, which makes their overall production look worse than it is. They get a very tough matchup against a Ravens defense that is 2nd in EPA/play allowed and has been very good against the pass. The Ravens defense is led by the middle of their defense in Roquan Smith and Kyle Hamilton so it’ll likely be a quieter Evan Engram game than last week as Calvin Ridley and Zay Jones will need to step up in a big way with Christian Kirk on IR. Travis Etienne could also be used in the passing game depending on the matchup.

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