NFL Week 15 overreactions, reality checks: Are Cowboys a product of a schedule? Should the Falcons kill Arthur Smith?

Week 15 in the NFL certainly focuses on the playoff races. Six teams entered the weekend tied for the #6 playoff spot in the AFC, while five teams were tied for the #7 spot in the NFC. Let’s not forget the three teams in first place in the NFC South.

Sunday’s slate of games certainly created some narratives as the league enters the Christmas week. Those logjams in conference playoff races have also become a little clearer.

With the playoff races as hot as ever, there was plenty of overreaction. Which week 15 conclusions are actually overreactions and which are reality? Here’s a look.

The Cowboys’ streak was a product of their schedule

Overreaction or Reality: Reality

That 31-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills was an indictment of how favorable the Cowboys’ schedule had been over the previous five weeks, all wins for Dallas. The Cowboys played the New York Giants at home, followed by the Carolina Panthers on the road, outscoring two teams with a combined record of 7-21 by an 82-27 margin.

The Cowboys didn’t have to travel for 27 days, playing the Washington Commanders (4-10), Seattle Seahawks (6-7) and Philadelphia Eagles (10-3) at home. The Eagles’ win was impressive, but Dallas also had 10 days off to prepare for a Philadelphia team coming off a four-game hitting streak (38-18 overall).

The schedule certainly favors Dallas, even though they are a good team. The Cowboys are still just 1-3 against teams with winning records, posting a -38 point differential in those games and -58 on the road against such teams. The Cowboys face the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions, so they can still change the narrative.

The Bills are the most dangerous team in the AFC

Overreaction or Reality: Overreaction

The Bills have been very impressive the past few weeks, losing a close game against the Eagles on the road (they had a 10-point lead in the second half), followed by a strong win over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium and a blowout win over the Cowboys at home. The Bills are 8-6 and still out of the AFC playoff picture, but they look like a team that will be a problem for anyone they face if they make the playoffs.

Are they the most dangerous team in the AFC? The Baltimore Ravens are very good and have tough tests against the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers in the next two games, so only time will tell. Buffalo deserves credit for turning their season around as they went 29-13 against three teams over three games to go 2-1.

The Bills look poised to make the playoffs in the AFC and will be a problem for anyone they face. But until Baltimore slips up, the Ravens get that “most dangerous team” thing.

The Rams are a playoff team

Overreaction or Reality: Overreaction

Currently the No. 7 seed in the NFC playoff rankings, the Rams are tied with the New Orleans Saints with a 7-7 record. Los Angeles holds the conference tiebreaker record over New Orleans, therefore the No. 7 seed in the conference.

While the Rams are in position to make the playoffs, their playoff destiny actually lies on Thursday night against the Saints. A win would put the Rams in a much better position to reach the playoffs with a head-to-head tiebreaker against New Orleans with two games to play.

The Week 18 game against the 49ers will mean something for San Francisco, so don’t expect the 49ers to rest their starters for this game. Los Angeles needs to win their Week 16 game to have any ground for that claim.

Arthur Smith should be fired as head coach of the Falcons

Overreaction or Reality: Reality

Losing to the Panthers is unacceptable, period. The Falcons had the advantage of playing the Panthers this week in what should have been one of the easiest wins of the year against a struggling team. Instead, Atlanta lost to Carolina despite the defense not giving up a touchdown.

The abuse of Kyle Pitts (four targets) and Drake London (three targets) is baffling. Let’s not forget that Bijan Robinson only got seven carries. That’s all the first-round draft picks Smith didn’t use in his offense.

The Falcons are 20-28 under Smith, never winning more than seven games in a season in the impoverished NFC South. Time to move on.

The Saints will win the NFC South

Overreaction or Reality: Overreaction

The Saints are the best of the three teams in the NFC South hunt, but have yet to show it on the season. New Orleans beat a bad New York Giants team, giving the Saints two convincing wins against bad teams (they outscored the Giants and Panthers 52-12).

Because of the Saints’ inconsistencies throughout the year, it’s hard to tell if this team will win the division. New Orleans plays the Los Angeles Rams next week before taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17 in what will likely decide the division.

Derek Carr threw three touchdown passes for the first time this season and the Saints have averaged 26.7 points over the last three weeks. New Orleans looks like the best team in the division, but still has a lot to prove.

Overreaction or Reality: Reality

Houston is currently the No. 8 seed in the AFC playoff race, tied with the records of the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts. Because of the tiebreaker, the Bengals and Colts are ahead of the Texans. Houston struggled to score without Stroud on Sunday in its overtime win, as the quarterback didn’t score a touchdown until 3:03 was left in the fourth quarter.

Defense against the Tennessee Titans is what kept the Texans in the game. Case Keenum was also without Nico Collins and Tank Dell at wide receiver, which put Houston in a hole in the passing game. Keenum deserves credit for keeping the Texans afloat in the playoff race, but this team falls short of making the playoffs in a crowded AFC wild-card hunt without Stroud at quarterback.

Houston has the Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts in the last three weeks as both teams are ahead of them in the wild card standings. Having Stroud back in time for next week would be huge.

The Jets should tell Aaron Rodgers not to play this year

Overreaction or Reality: Reality

With the Jets eliminated from playoff contention, what’s the point of Rodgers returning and risking further injury to his Achilles? While it’s incredibly impressive that Rodgers is practicing and could be ready to play 15 weeks after tearing his Achilles, playing him is a big risk for a team with nothing to play for.

Perhaps Robert Saleh is playing Rogers in a last-ditch effort to save his own job. The Jets can put that theory to rest by saying Saleh will be back as head coach next year no matter how their losing season plays out.

While it would be fun to see how Rodgers looks over the last three weeks, the Jets need him to compete and win the Super Bowl in 2024 (especially with this defense). Playing Rodgers isn’t worth it to the Jets long term.

New York’s season is over. Just play the string with Zach Wilson, Trevor Siemian or whoever. The Cleveland Browns — who play the Jets in Week 17 — would certainly appreciate it.

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