The Week 15 slate of contests will place a plethora of teams in compromising positions in relation to their playoff hopes. Thursday night's battle between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers kicked things off in an exciting fashion, with the Chargers failing to overtake first place in the AFC West, ultimately remaining in a wild-card spot. The playoff picture is unbelievably cluttered across both conferences, with few teams having been mathematically eliminated thus far.
Each passing week will see more and more teams involuntarily withdraw from contention. We've reached the crucial part of the campaign where victories increase the likelihood of a playoff appearance dramatically and a defeat create an uphill battle that's extremely difficult to climb. We've identified three teams who find themselves in "must-win" situations in Week 15.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Current Odds: 75%. Odds with a loss: 32%
As we inch closer toward the postseason, the playoff-odds pendulum will swing in exuberant margins going in both directions depending on the outcomes. That fact is especially captured by the San Francisco 49ers, who will enter Sunday's crucial contest against the Atlanta Falcons with a healthy 75% chance at qualifying for the postseason but could see their fortunes drop to just 32% with a defeat.
The return of George Kittle paired with the continued break out of Deebo Samuel has led to an offensive renaissance in San Francisco as of late. Winners in four of their last five games, the surging 49ers are capturing their best form at the opportune moment. Starting quarterback Jimmy Garappolo has taken advantage of the weapons at his disposal, having completed north of 68% of his passing attempts for nine touchdowns and just three interceptions during San Francisco's recent string of impressive performances.
Kyle Shanahan's 49ers are heavy favorites and should face little resistance from a Falcons team that is wildly inconsistent. The NFC is loaded with Super Bowl LVI contenders, but don't sleep on a 49ers team that is getting hot at the right time.
Current Odds: 37%. Odds with a loss: 10%
The Philadelphia Eagles received excellent news on Friday afternoon when head coach Nick Sirianni announced that starting quarterback Jalen Hurts practiced in full and should suit up for Tuesday's ever-important contest against the Washington Football Team. Hurts' full participation was especially welcomed after the former Oklahoma signal-caller was a limited participant throughout the week. The Eagles are going to need Hurts to perform like his magical self down the stretch.
Philadelphia's current playoff chances stand at a decent 37% but would plummet to a hopeless 10% with a defeat on Tuesday. A showdown with a familiar opponent in Washington looms especially large. The Eagles are considered the favorites due to some unfortunate circumstances currently revealing themselves in Washington. Like several other teams around the league, Washington is dealing with a rather large outbreak of COVID-19, with more than 15 players currently inactive due to protocol-related reasons. That list includes quarterbacks Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. Former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who signed with the team on Friday afternoon, is currently in line to receive the start under center. We’ll see which players are able to suit up by game time.
Current Odds: 40%. Odds with a loss: 14%
No team is dealing with a more concerning outbreak of COVID-19 than the Cleveland Browns currently are. The league announced on Friday afternoon that Saturday's contest between the Browns and Las Vegas Raiders will now be played on Monday at 5 p.m. ET. It's a notable break for a Browns team that has lost upwards of 15 players due to the virus in a relatively short span, including several high-end starters such as Baker Mayfield, Jedrick Wills, Wyatt Teller, Jarvis Landry, and multiple others.
The extra two days will give Cleveland some much-needed time to get healthier while preparing for an epic showdown with a Raiders team that finds themselves in a similar can't-lose situation. Both of these squads enter Monday's match with their literal playoff backs against the wall. It's tough to say exactly who will suit up for Cleveland on Monday, but what we do know is that a defeat at the hands of the struggling Raiders would deliver a catastrophic blow to Cleveland's playoff chances.