NFL Week 15 takeaways – What we learned, big questions for every game and future team outlooks


Week 15 of the 2021 NFL season will have different feel thanks to postponements because of a leaguewide COVID-19 outbreak.

Raiders at Browns, originally scheduled for Saturday, has been moved to Monday (5 p.m. ET, NFL Network). Additionally, there will be two Tuesday games — Seahawks at Rams and Washington at Eagles — both at 7 p.m. ET on Fox.

On Saturday night, the Colts took an early lead and hung on, thanks to a late Jonathan Taylor TD, to beat the Patriots.

On Thursday, quarterback Patrick Mahomes helped the Chiefs force overtime against the Chargers and win the their seventh straight.

Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about a team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.

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What to know: The Colts have gone from being the eighth seed, which was on the outside of the AFC playoff picture, to now the fifth seed in the conference. Indianapolis ended its eight-game losing streak to the Patriots with defense, forcing two turnovers and blocking a punt. — Mike Wells

Can the Colts rely on quarterback Carson Wentz? Wentz, outside of having three quarterback sneaks for first downs, didn’t play well. He threw one interception, and the Patriots dropped two other interceptions. Those types of mistakes will hurt the Colts down the stretch. — Wells

Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 3.7. The Colts will be favored in two of their final three games — Las Vegas and Jacksonville. They’ve positioned themselves to get in the playoffs for the third time in four seasons under coach Frank Reich.

Next game: at Cardinals (Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Patriots dug themselves too big of a hole, and their late comeback bid fell just short. A disastrous first half, and falling behind 17-0, proved too much to overcome. In that first half, the Patriots made too many mistakes and were controlled at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Meanwhile, the Colts had made their defensive intentions clear leading into the game: Take away the run game, put the ball in quarterback Mac Jones’ hands and see how he responds. As it turned out, Jones had his worst first half as a pro. He threw his first red zone interception of the season (late in the second quarter) and then opened the third quarter with a pick deep in the Patriots’ own territory. Jones had a total of two interceptions during the Patriots’ seven-game winning streak. He rebounded a bit in the second half, but it was too late. — Mike Reiss

How costly is the loss for playoff seeding? The Patriots had been in control of possibly earning the No. 1 seed, but now they no longer are in that position. Dropping to 9-5, they are behind the Chiefs (10-4) and have games remaining against the Bills (home), Jaguars (home) and Dolphins (road). So they are still in the driver’s seat in the AFC East, with the Dec. 26 game against the Bills an obvious biggie. Then there is the short-term picture: Is this a sign of trouble ahead? — Reiss

Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 6.8, up from 7. Every team gets a mulligan over the course of a season. The Patriots had slowly been rising up the ranks, but this sets them back a bit.

Next game: vs. Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)


What to know: Travis Kelce still has it. There was some concern about the 32-year-old tight end, who has four games with 30 yards or less this season. But he delivered for the Chiefs on Thursday night against the Chargers in the biggest game of the season with a huge fourth quarter and overtime. — Adam Teicher

Should the Chiefs be concerned about their defense? The Chiefs, who allowed 27 points total in their previous three games, gave up 28 against the Chargers. But the Chiefs not only played against a top-level quarterback and a strong offensive opponent, but they also did so without three key defensive players, including defensive tackle Chris Jones. Jones would have made a difference in a pass-rush that struggled much of the game in getting pressure on Justin Herbert. So it’s premature to lose confidence in the defense. — Teicher

Teicher’s confidence rating (0-10): 9.4, up from 9.1. The Chiefs weren’t great for the full game against the Chargers, but they looked like a championship team when it truly counted.

Next game: vs. Steelers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)


What to know: The Chargers are almost there. Almost. If they had scored after making it to the 5-yard line, they could have won this game. Coach Brandon Staley insists going for it on fourth down (even though they failed three times) is the right course of action and is “how this team will play” because he believes in it. So do his players. — Shelley Smith

Can they win a tough game by going for it on fourth down? We shall see. They came close Thursday, but what about the next three games against at the Houston Texans, vs. the Denver Broncos and at the Las Vegas Raiders? — Smith

Smith’s confidence rating (0-10): 7, no change from 7. The Chargers are still in the playoff hunt but likely lost their shot at the AFC West title.

Next game: at Texans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

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