And with Week 14 in the books, we can say goodbye to the byes.

We have entered the final stretch of the 2022 regular season, with every team in action over the final four weeks as they jockey for playoff positioning and postseason berths.

With last Sunday’s emphatic win over the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles punched their ticket to the playoffs and enter Week 15 as the only team assured of continuing their season past Jan. 8. (The San Francisco 49ers clinched the NFC West title with Thursday night’s win over the Seattle Seahawks.)

This week, they face the only NFC team that has already been eliminated from contention – the Chicago Bears. (Hint, not a game we’ll be previewing.)

The other 14 NFC teams are still alive in the postseason picture – albeit a number of them are barely showing a pulse (though maybe Baker Mayfield has more Hollywood magic up his sleeve).

By the time Week 15 concludes, however, five more teams can join the Eagles with a playoff berth.

While the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills are on the cusp of the playoffs, a loss for several other teams could put their playoff aspirations on life support.

We’ll take a look at three games this weekend that could go a long way in solidifying some playoff positions and provide deeper examinations of their pivotal matchups.

Miami Dolphins (8-5) at Buffalo Bills (10-3), Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET

  • Win Probability: Bills 62.3%
  • Key Matchup: Tua Tagovailoa vs. Buffalo’s secondary

As mentioned earlier, the Bills are on the precipice of a playoff berth. They’re in with a win, which would also give them a three-game lead atop the AFC East with three games to play.

It wasn’t too long ago, however, the Dolphins were in the driver’s seat in the division. A mere two weeks ago, they appeared to be in great shape for a playoff berth as they were tied with the Bills atop the AFC East and had the upper hand having already won their first matchup.

Then the NFL threw the Dolphins some nasty curveballs to an already daunting schedule and they’re now in sixth place in the AFC standings. A cross-country, 10-day trip to California was already going to be a challenge with games against the 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers, but then the game against the Chargers was flexed to Sunday night. That marked the first of two schedule changes as this game (a third straight road game!) was bumped up to Saturday, giving the Dolphins another hurdle to overcome with one less day to prepare for this showdown – not to mention the team returned to Florida early Monday morning after a late night in California on Sunday. Whew!

The Dolphins made the most of their home-field advantage in the first matchup back on Sept. 25, surviving in the sweltering south Florida heat for a 21-19 victory. Buffalo outgained the Dolphins 497-212 but with its sideline in the sunlight for the game’s entirety, it ultimately wilted. Now it’s the Bills who have the clear weather advantage. They’ve won the last three December/January matchups with Miami in Buffalo, and the conditions in Orchard Park on Saturday night project snow and temperatures in the 20s.

Should be fun to watch on TV but not exactly ideal for a Miami team trying to get its scuffling offense back on track. Not to mention this Bills team is second in the league in scoring defense and has yielded 22 total points in the last two weeks.

The Dolphins have scored 17 points in each of their two December games after reaching the 30-point mark in each of their four previous contests. An offense that churned out successful pass plays at a rate of 46.1% through the first 12 weeks – the fourth-highest rate in the NFL – has dropped to 35.7% in the last two weeks – the seventh-worst rate in the league.

Jumpstarting the offense begins with Tua Tagovailoa, who completed just 10 of his 28 passes in Sunday’s 23-17 loss to the Chargers. Tagovailoa was among the frontrunners for league MVP through the month of November, but has been underwhelming since the calendar flipped.

Tua Tagovailoa NFL ranks
(Min. 175/25 Attempts)

While quarterback play only makes up a part of the passing game, an argument could be made his top receivers of Tyreek Hill and Jaylon Waddle are struggling with their efficiency. A look at the numbers shows that really hasn’t been the case.

Through 12 weeks, Hill averaged 4.7 burn yards per route – the best in the NFL among all receivers with a minimum of 200 targets – while his open percentage of 86.8 ranked fourth among qualifying receivers.

In the last two weeks, he’s seen a slight dip in his open percentage – down to 75.0 – but his average burn yards per route has jumped to 10.5 – the second-highest in the NFL among receivers with at least 15 routes.

Waddle, meanwhile, has produced the third-highest burn percentage in the last two weeks at 88.9 – up from 63.5 over the first 12 weeks – and has the fifth-highest burn yards per route at 8.3. His open percentage has also increased in the last two weeks, up to 88.9 from 70.6.

The two seem to have favorable matchups against the Bills.

Although Tre’Davious White is a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, last Sunday’s 20-12 win over the New York Jets was just his third game back since returning from a 2021 knee injury. In his limited time on the field, he’s registered a subpar 61.5 burn-allowed percentage.

It’s uncertain who will start opposite White, as the Buffalo secondary isn’t solidified with Xavier Rhodes and Dane Jackson each getting starts in recent weeks. Jackson has been getting picked on the most by opposing quarterbacks, as he’s been targeted 75 times – tied with the Indianapolis Colts’ Stephon Gilmore for the fourth most in the league. It’s been with good reason Jackson has been thrown out with such frequency seeing as his 64.0 burn-allowed percentage is the second worst in the NFL among the 54 corners who have been targeted at least 50 times.

So the onus appears to be on Tagovailoa to regain his accuracy and find his open receivers for Miami to get back in the win column.

Detroit Lions (6-7) at New York Jets (7-6), Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

  • Win Probability: Jets 70.2%
  • Key Matchup: New York’s pass rush vs. Detroit’s pass protection

Raise your hand if you had this game circled on your calendar when the schedule came out. This one probably wasn’t even on your radar as recently as a month ago, but a sudden surge by the Lions makes this game surprisingly one of the more intriguing ones as far as playoff implications go.

Though both teams have similar records and are just outside the playoff picture, they’ve taken very different paths to get here. While the Lions have won five of six following a 1-6 start, the Jets have lost two in a row and three of four after starting the season 6-3. We’re still giving the Jets a 52% chance of making the playoffs – compared to just 24% for the Lions – but a loss for either team would almost certainly doom its chances of making the postseason.

Detroit’s surprising turnaround stems from a suddenly prolific offense. Since Week 10, only the Cowboys (35.4) are averaging more points than the Lions (32.2), and with last Sunday’s 34-23 win over Minnesota, Detroit has scored 25 or more points in five straight games in a single season for the first time since 1954.

While the Lions have been piling up points at a higher rate in the last few weeks, the Jared Goff-led offense has been one of the most efficient all season. It ranks right with four of the league’s most highly regarded offenses, which are all led by MVP contenders at quarterback.

Offensive EVE leaders

And then there’s the Jets.

New York has one of the league’s most unproductive offenses – ranking 29th in successful play percentage at 44.5 – and has been a bit of a mess in recent weeks. Coach Robert Saleh has flipped between Zach Wilson and Mike White at quarterback, and excluding a blowout win over the lowly Bears in Week 12, the Jets have managed just two total offensive touchdowns in their three other games since their Week 10 bye.

Defense has been New York’s calling card this season, and the unit will have to step up against Goff and company. That starts up front with Quinnen Williams, whose health is in question after he left last Sunday’s 20-12 loss to the Bills with a calf injury. Coach Robert Saleh said he’s “50-50” to play, and his presence is crucial for New York pressuring Goff.

Before exiting against the Bills, Williams sacked Josh Allen twice to give him 11 on the season – tied for sixth most in the NFL and tied for most by a defensive tackle with the Chiefs’ Chris Jones.

He’s been a monster inside, registering a pressure rate of 21.4% – the fourth highest among 56 defensive tackles with a minimum of 100 pass rushes. His adjusted sack rate of 5.2% trails only the Eagles’ Javon Hargrave (6.8) among qualifying defensive tackles.

This could spell trouble for the Lions up front.

While right guard Evan Brown has a pressure rate-allowed percentage of 6.0 (better than the league average of 8.1), he hasn’t played since injuring his ankle against the Giants in Week 11. Kayode Awosika then started at right guard in Weeks 12 and 13 before suffering his own ankle injury, leaving third-string Logan Stenberg to get the start last week.

Considering they’re backups, it’s not too surprising that neither Awosika nor Stenberg have done as well as Brown in their limited time. Awosika has a pressure rate-allowed percentage of 9.4, while Stenberg’s is at 18.9 – the second worst among the 89 guards with a minimum of 75 plays in pass protection.

The good news is Brown is back practicing and appears to be nearing a return. Other good news is center Frank Ragnow is solid and will likely be asked to double-team against Williams wherever he lines up. If Williams doesn’t play, however, this takes significant pressure off the Detroit offensive line and gives the Lions a bit of an edge in the trenches.

New York Giants (7-5-1) at Washington Commanders (7-5-1), Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET

  • Win Probability: Commanders 53.1%
  • Key Matchup: New York’s run game vs. Washington’s run defense

Among all the Week 15 games, this one may have the most riding on it, with the winner gaining a huge advantage in the playoff race. That is, if there is a winner. These teams met just two weeks ago, and after 70 minutes, neither came away with a victory in a 20-all tie. That makes this matchup critical, as the winner (again, if there is one) will possess the head-to-head tiebreaker should they end the season with identical records. They currently have identical records at 7-5-1, but the Commanders are currently in possession of the NFC’s sixth seed while the Giants have the seventh because Washington has a better division record – which isn’t difficult seeing as New York is winless within the NFC East.

Given the fact that the Commanders and Giants have the same record and played to a tie just two weeks ago, they are pretty evenly matched. Through 13 games played, their offensive production is about as similar as you can get, with Washington averaging 19.5 points and 331.5 total yards while New York averages 20.5 points and 328.1 yards.

A major difference, however, is how each team has got to this point. Rallying behind Taylor Heinicke, the Commanders are 6-1-1 since Week 6 and haven’t lost in more than a month with their tie in Week 13 ending a three-game winning streak. The Giants, on the other hand, haven’t won in more than a month, going 0-3-1 since beating the woeful Houston Texans in Week 10. And whereas New York is coming off a 48-22 drubbing at the hands of the Eagles last Sunday, the Commanders got to enjoy their bye week. So Washington will have back-to-back games against New York and should be a bit healthier for this one with 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young expected to make his long-awaited season debut.

It’s still uncertain if Young will play, or how much, or what kind of effect he’ll have after spending more than a year recovering from a torn ACL he sustained in November 2021. He likely won’t be asked to do too much, too soon, however, as the star pass-rusher joins an already formidable defensive front that boasts a league-leading 44.3 pressure rate.

Washington has been stout on the inside with Jonathan Allen recording a 20.0 pressure rate – fifth among the 56 defensive tackles with at least 100 pass rushers – while Daron Payne has a pressure rate of 18.9% – the seventh highest.

Not that New York is planning to open up the passing playbook with its depleted and uninspiring wide receiver corps against Washington’s formidable pass rush, but establishing a ground game against the Commanders’ suspect run defense – and even running at Young to test his athleticism – could be the answer for the Giants.

Since Week 10, opponents are running successful rushing plays 54% of the time against Washington – the third-worst rate in the league. Like the Commanders, the Giants want to run first, but their opponents have been keyed in on stopping Saquon Barkley.

In the last four weeks, he’s been limited to 152 rushing yards with an average of 2.9 yards per carry with only three of his 53 attempts going for 10 or more yards. His best showing in that stretch, however, came against the Commanders, when he gained 63 yards on 18 carries with a 21-yard scamper and 13-yard touchdown.

Though his numbers are paltry over the last four weeks, the lack of production isn’t entirely his fault as his offensive line has had a hard time creating holes and when they do, they fill up quickly.

fewest yards before contact

Prior to this stretch, Barkley was averaging 2.95 yards before contact – the 12th-highest rate in the NFL among the 38 running backs with at least 75 carries through 10 weeks.

While Barkley has been getting bottled up immediately in recent weeks, not all hope is lost for the ground attack. A dual-threat quarterback helps keeps opposing defenses honest, and while Daniel Jones may not be deemed to be on the same level as Justin Fields, Lamar Jackson or Jalen Hurts, he is dangerous running the ball.

With Barkley the focal point of opposing defenses, the Giants have adjusted some of their offensive play calls to utilize Jones’ legs. New York is running zone reads on 16.1% of their offensive play calls in the last four weeks after running zone reads 9.1% of the time in the first 10 weeks. Through Week 10, the Giants were running inside zone runs 16.2% of the time and outside zone runs 14.3% of the time, but since Week 11, those rates have dropped to 10.3% and 9.2% respectively.

Against the Commanders two weeks ago, Jones rushed for 71 yards on a season-high 12 carries – including a 21-yard run – and he has already established a rushing record for a Giants quarterback with 548 yards on the season.

Without many playmakers on the outside, it’s crucial for the Giants to establish some semblance of a running game. If they fall behind early like they did last week against the Eagles and need to play catchup, the Giants could find themselves staring at another loss and on the outside of the playoff picture.