NFL Week 15 matchups: Your insiders’ guide


L.A. Rams (8-5) at Dallas (6-7), 4:25 p.m. ET

Inside Rams numbers: Jared Goff is back on track, averaging over 9.0 yards per pass attempt in three of his past four contests. Robert Woods has been Goff’s favorite target; over the last three weeks, he leads the NFL in targets (36) and receiving yards (367). 

Inside Rams roster: After a nondescript three-plus seasons, Tyler Higbee has become a key weapon for Sean McVay’s retooled offense. In shifting from his tried-and-true three-wideout looks to more double-tight end sets as this season’s progressed, McVay has seen his blocking tight end break out for 223 yards over the past two games. Filling in for the injured Gerald Everett as Los Angeles’ top pass-catching tight end, Higbee has authored a fourth-year emergence to help explain why the Rams extended the former fourth-round pick in September.

Inside Cowboys numbers: Dallas is 0-5 against teams ranked in the top-12 of scoring defense per drive, including losses in each of the past three weeks. The Cowboys averaged only 18.8 points in those games, versus 30.0 per game in all others. The Rams enter Week 15 ranked sixth in fewest points allowed per drive (1.63), having held opponents to 17 points or fewer in six of their past seven games. 

Inside Cowboys roster: Over the past 32 years, Dallas has seen just one kicker – Dan Bailey – make it through more than three full seasons with the team. The team cutting 60-yard field goal maven Brett Maher, who was shaky from most other parts of the field, continues a trend that predates Jimmy Johnson’s tenure. Tom Landry-era kicker Rafael Septien was the Cowboys’ previous long-term specialist before Bailey, and Maher (20-for-30 on field goals this season) joined the parade of short-term legs to come through Dallas.

Atlanta (4-9) at San Francisco (11-2), 4:25 p.m. ET

Inside Falcons numbers: After recording four takeaways over their first nine games, the Falcons have collected 10 takeaways over their past four. Since returning from their bye in Week 10, the Falcons have been one of the better defenses in the NFL, allowing the fourth-lowest touchdown rate (14.8 percent).

Inside Falcons roster: Not that it matters much at this point, but Atlanta has gone from its elite Julio Jones-Mohamed Sanu-Calvin Ridley receiver trio to Jones and spare parts after the Sanu trade and Ridley’s season-ending injury. Ridley’s sophomore campaign, however, showed he can be a viable Jones wingman. The 2018 first-round pick has 1,687 yards and 17 touchdown catches in two seasons, with his 66.6-yard average besting his rookie-year mark by 15 yards. Given the trouble the Falcons are dealing with at many other positions, it helps they are solidified at wideout.

Inside 49ers numbers: The 49ers are not just a defensive team — they are proving they can score with the best of them as well. San Francisco is third in points per drive (2.45), ranking third on third down (45.9 percent), fourth in net yards per pass attempt (7.4), and 10th in yards per rush attempt (4.6).

Inside 49ers roster: With games against the Rams and Seahawks upcoming, the 49ers have little margin for error but will need to navigate that stretch without key starters. Dee Ford (again) and Richard Sherman may miss the rest of the regular season with hamstring injuries, and center Weston Richburg is out for the season. Ex-Falcons guard starter Ben Garland will take over at center on a 49ers line that has dealt with starter unavailability throughout the season. While the team has won without Ford as well, Sherman was nearly back to his All-Pro form and will be difficult to replace.

Buffalo (9-4) at Pittsburgh (8-5), 8:20 p.m. ET

Inside Bills numbers: The defense continues to play at an elite level, just having held the Ravens to season-lows in rushing yards (118) and total yards (257). While they are ranked second in fewest points allowed per drive (1.29), the Bills can still improve in the red zone, where they are ranked 20th (58.8 percent). 

Inside Bills roster: After being a trade candidate for years, Shaq Lawson has become Buffalo’s most productive edge rusher in his contract year. Although the former first-round pick remains an off-the-bench player, he has 5.5 sacks and lately has played more than starter Trent Murphy. Lawson’s 15 quarterback hits lead the Bills, and although the team declined his fifth-year option in May, the Clemson alum is making a case to be a free-agency priority for a team with a murky edge defender situation.

Inside Steelers numbers: Mike Tomlin’s pass rush is ferocious, leading the NFL in quarterback hits (96) and ranking second in sack rate (9.8 percent). DE T.J. Watt is having a season worthy of Defensive Player of the Year consideration. He is tied for the league lead in quarterback hits (29) and ranks fourth in sacks (12.5) and pressures (70).

Inside Steelers roster: Sunday night will feature a showcase for one family’s genes, with all three of the Edmunds brothers – Terrell, Trey and Tremaine – set to suit up in Pittsburgh. The Steelers employ the oldest of ex-tight end Ferrell Edmunds’ sons, fullback Trey Edmunds, and drafted middle-child Terrell in the 2018 first round. Both Terrell and 21-year-old Bills linebacker Tremaine have been two-season starters. While Minkah Fitzpatrick has been the headline-garnering Steelers safety, Terrell has surpassed his rookie-year tackle total in 13 games with 83 and looks like a long-term starter.

MONDAY

Indianapolis (6-7) at New Orleans (10-3), 8:15 p.m. ET

Inside Colts numbers: Jacoby Brissett has been mediocre over his four games since returning from injury, posting 6.8 yards per attempt and a 3.2 percent touchdown pass rate (league average 4.5 percent). The offense has lacked explosiveness under Brissett, who has averaged no more than 8.4 yards per attempt in any one of his 11 fully played starts this season. 

Inside Colts roster: Chase McLaughlin’s work the rest of the way could force the franchise to make a tough decision in the offseason. Adam Vinatieri’s season-ending knee surgery has not yet deterred the future Hall of Famer from planning to attempt a 25th NFL season. The soon-to-be 47-year-old kicker is not signed beyond 2019 but has inked six Colts contracts – the most recent a one-year, $3.9 million deal – and was a reliable performer from 2006-18 in Indianapolis. Vinatieri has not kicked well in 2019. Would the Colts opt to bring him back if McLaughlin, who can be controlled through 2022, fares well this month?

Inside Saints numbers: Cameron Jordan has been dominant for the defense, leading defensive ends with 13.5 sacks and ranking second in the NFL with 73 pressures. Jordan’s efforts have helped power the Saints to eighth in sack rate (8.0 percent), fifth in pressure rate (26.5 percent), and fourth in quarterback hits (90). 

Inside Saints roster: With New Orleans’ defense – the 49ers shootout notwithstanding – performing like one of the NFL’s better stoppage groups, this might be the most complete team Sean Payton has fielded. The Saints’ offense has also benefited from rookie return man Deonte Harris, a 5-foot-6 Division II product added as a UDFA in May. Harris’ 213 all-purpose yards Sunday added to his resume, one that includes an NFL-most 269 punt-return yards and a touchdown. Succeeding fellow diminutive return man Tommylee Lewis, Harris has given the Saints shorter fields this season.





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