Week 15’s Top NFL Storylines: Derrick Henry, Carson Wentz and the Winner of Super Bowl LV
The biggest stories to emerge from football this week, and whether we’re buying or selling them
With Monday Night Football wrapped up with the Bengals upsetting the Steelers and, thankfully, no additional games scheduled for the second straight week, the 15th week of the NFL season is officially over. While we can’t get to everything — like New England’s historic streak of playoff appearances officially coming to an end — here are four of the top storylines to emerge from Week 15, and whether we’re buying or selling on ’em.
Buy: Derrick Henry will rush for 2,000 yards this season
With 1,679 rushing yards on the season after rumbling for 147 yards on 24 carries in a 46-25 win over the Lions in Week 14, Titans running back Derrick Henry is 321 yards away from becoming the eighth member of the NFL’s 2,000-yard club.
That means the 26-year-old will have to average 161.5 rushing yards over Tennessee’s final two games of the season against the Green Bay Packers and Houston Texans to join the club, which already includes former Titan Chris Johnson.
Guess what? He’s gonna do it.
The Texans give up an average of 150 yards on the ground per game, while the Packers surrender about 110, meaning a typical NFL running back could expect to rack up about 260 yards over the final two games of the season.
But, as Henry — who has hit 200 or more rushing yards four times since the start of the 2018 season — has proven, he is not a typical NFL running back. He’s rushed for at least 100 yards in nine games this season, and is the focal point of Tennessee’s explosive offense. Feeding him the ball isn’t just a good way to help him hit the 2,000-yard mark — it is also what the Titans need to do in order to win football games.
While that strategy may not be needed against the Texans (4-10), it will certainly be required against the Packers (11-3) when the Titans go to Green Bay for Sunday Night Football in Week 15. The Titans will want to run the clock and the ball in order to keep the Green Bay offense off the field and give Aaron Rodgers as little time to throw against a leaky Tennessee defense as possible. That’ll mean a lot of Henry.
“Obviously, the team comes first,” Titans running backs coach Tony Dews said of Henry hitting the 2,000-yard mark a few weeks ago. “However, obviously you are talking about potentially doing something that very few have ever done. I am sure that it’s exciting for Derrick and the teammates and all of those guys that are pulling for him to reach some personal goals as well. I have never been in this situation, so my thought is you do what is best for the team.”
Fortunately for Henry’s chances of hitting 2,000 yards, what’s best for the team is to give him the football as much as possible against the Packers.
Assuming the team does that and Henry has a good day at the office against Green Bay to get within striking distance of the rushing milestone heading into Week 17, it is hard to imagine Tennessee’s coaching staff not feeding him the ball in their season finale against a poor Houston rush defense that will have nothing to play for.
Mr. Henry, welcome to the 2,000-yard club.
Sell: Carson Wentz will start another game for the Eagles, ever
After rallying the Eagles for an upset win over the New Orleans Saints in the first start of his NFL career in Week 14, rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts fell a couple of plays short as Philadelphia lost 33-26 to Arizona in Week 15.
Though the Eagles lost, Hurts threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for 63 yards and a score on the ground. He wasn’t perfect — he took a safety for intentional grounding in the end zone and was sacked six times — but Hurts looks like he is, at the least, an NFL-caliber starting quarterback.
The same cannot be said for the player he replaced, Carson Wentz, at least based on his starts in 2020 and — if we’re being real — much of 2019.
Even before Hurts went off in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, Wentz — who the Eagles opted to keep over Super Bowl-winning QB Nick Foles — made it known he would prefer to play elsewhere if he isn’t the starter in Philly, according to a report from ESPN.
That’s some great leadership from the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, who has completed a career-low 57.4 percent of his passes this season for 16 touchdowns and a league-leading 15 interceptions. Given that, and his play, if Wentz wants to play elsewhere, the Eagles should grant his wish.
The financial ramifications of dealing Wentz are considerable — Philadelphia just gave him $107 million guaranteed last year — but the Eagles would be foolish not to roll with a quarterback who became the first player in NFL history with 500 passing yards and 150 rushing yards in his first two career starts — and acted like a leader while doing it.
“I hate to lose more than I love to win,” Hurts said after losing to the Cardinals on Sunday. “It’s not a great feeling but it’s a learning lesson.”
Hopefully the Eagles have learned their lesson from keeping Wentz over Foles two year ago and don’t make the same mistake again with Hurts.
Buy: The Atlanta Falcons are still broken from losing Super Bowl LI
Leading 17-0 at halftime and 24-7 in the third quarter, the Atlanta Falcons were somehow able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and lose to Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-27 on Sunday.
The loss continues a trend of Atlanta blowing big leads that dates back to Super Bowl LI, when the Falcons led 21-3 at the half and 28-3 midway through the third quarter but somehow managed to lose 34-28 in overtime to Brady and the New England Patriots.
You might think that Brady just happens to be Atlanta’s kryptonite, but that isn’t the case, as the Falcons actually lost in Week 2 to the Dallas Cowboys after leading by 19 at the half, making Sunday’s loss to Tampa the second time this season the Falcons have been defeated after leading by 17 or more points at halftime.
Thanks to Sunday’s loss, the Falcons join the 2013 Houston Texans and 2011 Minnesota Vikings as the only teams in NFL history to lose multiple times in a single season when leading by 17 or more points at the break, according to Stathead. And while this season has been bad, it’s not a new trend: the Falcons also dropped a Week 6 game in 2017 against the Dolphins 20-17 after taking a 17-0 halftime lead. In all, that makes three times the Falcons have blown a huge lead at halftime since they did it during the Super Bowl. Only four other teams — the Broncos, Buccaneers, Bears and Chiefs — have even done it once in that span.
It would be easy to blame quarterback Matt Ryan — who was 28-of-36 passing for 301 yards and three TDs in the loss to the Bucs — as he is the common denominator in all the losses, but the truth is, the 35-year-old QB isn’t the issue. Neither is former coach Dan Quinn, who was with the team for the first comeback loss of the season but was fired before the second.
The real problem is that the Falcons, as an organization, have never gotten over losing Super Bowl LI and are still broken because of it. Until the franchise is able to put that defeat in the rearview, there will always be a lingering thought that no lead — no matter how large — is safe, and the Falcons will continue to be susceptible to folding like a 53-man deck of cheap cards.
Think the problems in Atlanta don’t somehow all tie back to Super Bowl LI?
Sell: Any team other than the Chiefs will win Super Bowl LV
With nearly 2-1 odds to win the Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs are the runaway favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February in Tampa Bay. And with all due respect to the Packers (+600), Saints (+850), Bills (+1,100), Steelers (+1,300) and Seahawks (+1,300), they should be.
With Sunday’s win over the Saints, the Chiefs are now 22-1 over their last 23 games, including the playoffs. Of the six other teams to accomplish that feat — the 2008-09 Colts, 2006-07 Patriots, 2003-04 Patriots, 1989-90 49ers, 1985-86 Bears and 1972-73 Dolphins — each made at least one Super Bowl and two (the ’03-04 Patriots and ’72-73 Dolphins) won back-to-back titles. Barring something happening to superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs will be the third of those seven teams to take home two Super Bowls in a row.
Now at 13-1 on the season with two home games against sub-.500 teams (Chargers and Falcons) remaining on the schedule, the Chiefs are almost a lock to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the accompanying bye week. An NFL-best +125 on the season, Kansas City will only need to win two playoff games at Arrowhead Stadium to punch their ticket to Tampa, where they have already won this season.
As the reigning champs, the Chiefs have taken the best shots of some of the most talented teams in the NFL, including the Ravens, Buccaneers, Bills and Saints, and won them all, often in decisive fashion. With a solid defense that has a knack for making big plays, good coaching courtesy of Andy Reid and his staff, and an offense that is as potent as any in recent memory thanks to Mahomes and his cast of playmakers, the Chiefs are the most well-rounded team in the league.
And thanks to last year’s Super Bowl run, they also have a playoff pedigree that none of the other contenders can match.
For those reasons, it will be a massive upset If KC doesn’t win it all — again.
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