5 winners and 4 losers from Week 15 in the NFL

For the better part of two decades we’ve waited for the guard to change in the AFC East. On Sunday it happened. Within hours the Buffalo Bills won their first division title since 1995, and the Patriots were officially eliminated from playoff contention.

There have been fleeting moments in the past where it looked like the impenetrable Pats dynasty was crumbling, but this really feels like the moment that everything will shift. Up to this point there was this sense of fate that no matter what happened, somehow New England would pull it all together. When Tom Brady was jettisoned prior to the season and Cam Newton stepped in it felt like Belichick pulled off another coup, and this would lead to another division title with a new quarterback under center.

In the end, it just wasn’t enough. A defense that was too poor, a lack of weapons on offense, a quarterback who fell off the face of the earth after contracting Covid, and never really found his stride again. Losing to Miami, an up-and-coming AFC East team with young talent ready to break out really punctuates how New England played itself over the last five or six years.

For all the deserved credit Bill Belichick gets, this transition season has highlighted how bare the cupboards are for the Patriots. For years the vaunted “Patriot way” allowed the team to pick up talented free agents on bargain deals, and gave plenty of room for error when it came to the draft. The whole “next man up” philosophy that’s been peddled really comes down to being able to play with house money for years, offering the promise of a championship to anyone who came to Foxboro. That’s all over now. The team is in need of a full rebuild, and whether the team believes Cam Newton can stick around or not, it doesn’t really matter. This project requires far more than just a quarterback to turn it all around.

The Bills are, perhaps, the most unlikely success story in the NFL en route to becoming one of the league’s best teams. That’s not to say Buffalo doesn’t deserve where they’ve gotten, but more that the method they used to reach this point almost never works. The team built its foundation off talent and personnel from the Carolina Panthers, then added to it with excellent drafting. Traditional wisdom tells us that good team can’t be formed with the scaffolding of bad ones, but general manager Brandon Beane and Co. have somehow made this all work. Of course, it helps when you have a quarterback like Josh Allen who made every draft analyst look like a fool while becoming one of the best passers in the league.

None of this should make sense, but it does. The pivotal move for the team this season was adding its final piece, the trade that brought Stefon Diggs to Buffalo. Getting one top-tier receiver proved to be what the team had lacked, and now they have everything in place it’s easy to see Buffalo making a deep playoff run. Everything goes through Kansas City when it comes to the AFC, and naturally that’s an almost impossible hill to climb right now — but there’s something about this Bills team that feels like they’re ready to shock the world.

It’s not safe enough yet to say that Buffalo will be the AFC East’s next big dynasty. Miami looks legit in the future, and who knows what will happen to the Jets, but for now it’s a great time to be a fan of the Bills.

Winner: Cardinals.

This is less about beating the Eagles, which should have been expected for a team pushing into the playoffs, and more about what else happened for Arizona on Sunday. We’re going to get to the Rams losing to the Jets, believe me, but also the way things are shaping up it’s actually an oddly favorable scenario for the Cardinals moving forward.

Arizona would face New Orleans if the playoffs started today. A tough game to be sure, but the Saints are certainly shakier than they’ve looked in the past. There’s shock potential to this game, and Arizona just getting the job done while the Rams are struggling could set this all up.

If Seattle beats Los Angeles next week we’re heading for a showdown between the Rams and Cardinals, which could determine who is hitting the playoffs. That’s a fun position to be in.

Winner: Dolphins.

The doormats of the Patriots for so long, you know Miami feels great about being the team to eliminate New England from playoff contention. Beyond that there’s a lot to feel good about for this team.

Winning on Sunday gave Miami a big time shot to make the playoffs, with a favorable game against next week against the Raiders. It’s going to be tight for sure, but another occasion where a team owns their own destiny. To make matters even better the Dolphins face the Bills in the last week of the season, in a game where it’s entirely plausible the Bills will rest players for the playoffs.

Loser: Falcons lol.

I’m so damn proud of you, Atlanta. It’s so critical that a team understands its identity, and blowing games you have under wraps is part of your football DNA. Not only did the Falcons ruin an opportunity to hurt the Buccaneers’ chances of making the playoffs, but also wrecked any lingering optimism fans may have been having about this team.

If there’s any silver lining, at least Atlanta will get a better draft pick!

Winner: DeShaun Watson.

This man deserves praise, because DeShaun Watson is doing so much with so little. He really pushed the Colts on Sunday, finishing with 373 yard passing, and two touchdowns in a valiant losing effort.

People will say that Watson deserves the plight he’s in by re-signing with a bad team, but no good player deserves this mess. We gotta save him.

Loser: Rams lol.

You lost to the Jets.

Loser: Vikings.

The Vikings keep finding ways to shoot themselves in the foot, and Sunday’s loss to Chicago really put a cherry on their excrement sundae. Minnesota did not deserve to make the playoffs this season, and technically they aren’t eliminated — but there’s nothing about this team that instills faith.

Minnesota will be trapped under Kirk Cousins’ contract for a while, they cannot win games reliably with him, and are, perhaps the most talented team with coaches that keep letting the team down.

Winner: Jalen Hurts.

This is a case where the team losing doesn’t really matter. Hurts looks like the real friggin’ deal. In the past we’ve seen middling passing with some incredible athletic plays, but this was the week he put it all together.

Hurts threw the ball extremely well (albeit inaccurately at times), and was a huge threat on the ground as well. He adds a dimension to the Eagles’ offense they simply never had with Carson Wentz under center.

The better Hurts plays there deeper the quarterback conundrum gets for Philadelphia, but that doesn’t matter in the scheme of things, especially when it means you have your guy of the future.

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