The NFL playoff picture is getting clearer as season draws to a close

The good, bad and ugly from NFL week 15

San Diego pulled off a big win. Chargers Team Website

Wow! What a week 15 we had in the NFL this week. Just when we thought we had it all figured out, the league showed us why the games are played. Here's how I saw week 15 play out:

The Good

-The Chargers beat the Chiefs on a gutsy call. Down 28-14 with about eight minutes left, they managed to come back. After scoring the second unanswered touchdown to bring the score to 28-27, they elected to go for the two point conversion. A missed man coverage assignment covering a bunch formation later and they went up 29-28 with four seconds left in the game. Major props to Chargers coach Anthony Lynn for that call.

-The Vikings fired offensive coordinator Joe DeFilippo after last week's loss to the Seahawks. Head coach Mike Zimmer wanted a more run based offense. This week with their playoff hopes in the balance, they dropped a 40 burger on the Dolphins. Sure they held the Phins to 37 yards passing, but the Vikes rushed for 220 yards and controlled the clock. Big boy football is back in Minnesota.

-The Browns are 4-2 since firing head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. More importantly, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has improved with Freddie Kitchens now calling the plays. Whether interim coach/defensive coordinator Gregg Williams gets the permanent job or not, Kitchens should be the OC. His work with Mayfield has been invaluable.

The Bad

-The Colts ended the Cowboys five game win streak 23-0. This was the first time the Cowboys had been shut out since 2003. How you ask? They ran the football well, controlled the clock, and forced the Cowboys into a pass-heavy offense which they aren't adept at doing. They also kept their own playoff hopes alive by doing so.

-Speaking of shutouts, the Titans shut the Giants out in their own home. This was the first time since December 15, 2013 that the Giants have been shut out at home. This was surprising considering rookie sensation Saquon Barkley can almost single-handedly change a game.

-The Rams dropped a home game to the lowly Eagles 30-23. Backup Nick Foles came into L.A. and led the charge. Their defense stepped up as well. Now the Rams are essentially two games behind the Saints for homefield advantage in the playoffs in the NFC.

The Ugly

-Happy trails to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Word came down that the team is looking to part ways with the former Super Bowl MVP following this season. Flacco was Wally Pipped by rookie Lamar Jackson earlier this season and the team hasn't looked back.

-Jags lost to the Skins 16-13 on a field goal as time expired. Losing on a game winning field goal is one thing. But losing on a game winning field goal to a quarterback that hasn't been on his team's roster for a whole month is something else. This Jags team needs to hit the reset button.

-The Packers lost to the Bears 24-17. At 5-8-1, they've been eliminated from the playoff picture. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers says he wants to play in the team's final two games. However, I think it's best he sit out. They have two first round picks in the upcoming draft. I suggest they look at using them and their cap space to build a better team while Rodgers has anything left.

We saw the Patriots lose their second consecutive game in December for the first time in forever. We also saw teams move into more or less favorable playoff positions; depends on which fan base you ask. Late season NFL has gotten much better because of the way the schedules have been done lately. Here's to hoping it keeps up over the next couple weeks.

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Houston can win series on Sunday

Timely hitting helps Astros edge out D-backs to even series

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Astros had two losses over the last 24 hours; one a game against the Diamondbacks in the series opener on Friday night, the other the news that their recovering ace, Justin Verlander, announced Saturday afternoon that he is opting to undergo Tommy John surgery. The decision and surgery will likely sideline Verlander through 2021 when his current contract with Houston ends.

With that, the Astros headwinds continued to increase, meaning a win to even the series with Arizona on Saturday would be a much-needed pick-me-up. Here's how they did:

Final Score: Astros 3, Diamondbacks 2.

Record: 26-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Enoli Paredes (3-2, 2.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luke Weaver (1-8, 6.51 ERA).

D-backs score two on Javier who is pulled early

Kole Calhoun, who drove in four runs, including a home run in Friday's game, would start the scoring on Saturday with a solo home run off of Cristian Javier in the top of the second, giving Arizona an early 1-0 lead. Javier allowed another run in the top of the third, giving up a leadoff single that would move to third on a groundout then score on a sac fly, doubling the lead to 2-0.

Javier finished the third and tossed a 1-2-3 fourth, but whether it be due to a pre-determined pitch count or other situation, he would not go any further, ending his night there on just 77 pitches. His final line: 4.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 77 P.

Astros grab a lead in the sixth

The Astros were able to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the third, getting a leadoff single by Josh Reddick, who would move to third after a walk and fielder's choice before scoring on an RBI-groundout by Jose Altuve, making it 2-1. Enoli Paredes was first out of Houston's bullpen, taking over for Javier in the top of the fifth and retiring six straight batters for two perfect frames.

Houston would get to Luke Weaver in the bottom of the sixth, getting a leadoff single by George Springer, who would score from first on an RBI-double by Altuve to tie the game. Altuve would come around as the go-ahead run later in the inning on an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, knocking Weaver out of the game as the Astros took their first lead of the game, 3-2.

Houston evens the series and moves back up to .500

Josh James was the next reliever for Houston in the top of the seventh, and despite getting into a jam by issuing a one-out walk and hitting the next batter, he was able to get out of it. It was thanks to a great play by Michael Brantley, who started a double play by catching a lineout and throwing a runner out at second to end the inning.

Brooks Raley had the eighth and erased a one-out walk by retiring the next two batters to maintain the one-run lead. After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, the Astros turned to closer Ryan Pressly to get another save and finish the one-run game. Pressly would do so, as Houston would move back up to .500 and even the series 1-1 heading into the rubber game on Sunday.

Up Next: The finale of this series between Houston and Arizona, and Houston's last regular-season home game of 2020, will get underway at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53) ERA will be on the mound for the D-backs, while Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will start for the Astros.

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