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Sunday Playbook: Can Mariota handle the Arrowhead tumult?

There's no shortage of highlight games Sunday in Week 15 of the National Football League season, but the meeting of the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City looks like the most meaningful.

It matches two teams that share the lead in their respective divisions in the American Football Conference and two of the hottest teams in the league. Kansas City has won its last three and eight of its last nine. Tennessee has won its last two after an 0-4 start under coach Mike Mularkey.

Three AFC teams, New England, Kansas City and Oakland, can wrap up division titles, favorable playoff seeding or playoff berths with wins on Sunday. They need no help. Dallas, Detroit and the New York Giants can assure themselves of a division title or a playoff berth Sunday, but they need outside help.

A capsule look at the Week 15 games:

Game of the day

Titans (7-6) at Chiefs (10-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Chiefs (-5½)
The scoop: Chiefs clinch playoff berth with a win. KC's rookie sensation Tyreek Hill ended up at little West Alabama after he got thrown out of Oklahoma State ... Titans rank only 22nd in NFL in total defense, but against the run they are third behind only Baltimore and Seattle. One big reason: They've faced only 286 rushing attempts. That's almost 100 fewer than the Bills. ... Titans QB Marcus Mariota completed only 6 of 20 in win over Denver last week.
Outlook: Mariota will have to play like he did before Denver game, which you can't expect with Arrowhead noise, KC pass rush and secondary. Chiefs, 27-16.

Top attractions

Steelers (8-5) at Bengals (5-7-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Steelers (-3½).
The scoop: Even though he didn't have huge game versus Bills, Steelers WR Antonio Brown still leads league with 93 receptions and is third with 1,130 receiving yards and second in TD catches with 11. ... Pittsburgh improved in all areas as season went along and looks like a legit Super Bowl contender. Even with A.J. Green missing, Bengals have underachieved.
Outlook: Steelers had won five of last six visits to Paul Brown Stadium. Pittsburgh, 30-24.

Lions (9-4) at Giants (9-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Giants (-3½).
The scoop: Start of brutal final stretch for Detroit, which goes to Dallas next week and closes at home with Green Bay in game that may decide division title and could knock Lions out of playoffs. Still, Detroit can clinch division and reserve playoff spot with a win Sunday and help from Bears against Packers at Soldier Field. It's possible for Giants to clinch a wild-card berth in NFC but they must win while Redskins, Vikings and Packers all lose. ... How much will wearing glove to protect finger injury suffered last week affect Matthew Stafford, who directed another fourth-quarter comeback against Bears last week?
Outlook: It ever there was Team Mediocre, it's the Lions. They're right in middle in most stats, yet they lead the NFC North. Giants pass rush and finger injury bother Stafford. Giants, 23-16.

Patriots (11-2) at Broncos (8-5)

TV: CBS, 4:25 p.m.
The line: Patriots (-3½).
The scoop: Denver isn't 3-point underdog at home very often. ... Patriots clinch AFC East and first-round playoff bye with a win. No sooner do Arizona Cardinals cashier WR Malcolm Floyd after DUI charge, than New England scoops him up to add to receiving corps that doesn't look so bad with addition of ex-Bill Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell to Julian Edelman. ... Denver's offense has slipped to 25th in NFL statistics. Super Bowl Broncos of last season were 16th.
Outlook: New England is 0-3 at Mile High since 2011 and 5-3 overall against Broncos since then. Tom Brady Revenge Tour scores breakthrough, 24-17.

Buccaneers (8-5) at Cowboys (11-2)

TV: NBC, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Cowboys (-7).
The scoop: Even though Dallas offense was limited to one touchdown at Giants last week, rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott ran for 107 yards and leads league with 1,392 rushing yards and has 12 touchdowns. Dak Prescott had bad game against Giants but still is third in league with 102.7 passer rating. ... Dallas has already clinched playoff berth but needs a win plus help to claim NFC East and first-round bye this week. ... Tampa Bay probably will need win to keep pace with Falcons, who play woeful 49ers at home, and stay in NFC wild-card race with Giants, Redskins and NFC North runner-up. Bucs' defense, which shut out Drew Brees and Saints last week, and QB Jameis Winston have grown a lot this season.
Outlook: Can't see Buccaneers going to Jerry's House and winning big game, though they will give it a good go. Cowboys, 30-27.

Best of the rest

Eagles (5-8) at Ravens (7-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Ravens (-6).
The scoop: Field goal kickers Caleb Sturgis (28-33) and Justin Tucker (31-32) are a combined 59 of 65. They should be busy Sunday. ... Eagles have lost last four. Defense has kept Ravens relevant despite hot-cold season from QB Joe Flacco (17 TDs-12 INTs). ... Lacking true deep threat, Eagles have turned to TE Zach Ertz more and more. He has 19 catches in last two games. ... Philly has home divisional games against Giants and Cowboys  after Sunday.
Outlook: Ravens one game in back of Steelers in AFC North have done well to be where they are in Week 15. They will struggle with Eagles, 24-21.

Browns (0-13) at Bills (6-7)

TV: CBS, 1 p.m.
The line: Bills (-10).
The scoop: Browns have allowed their five quarterbacks to be sacked a league-high 48 times, which explains why they can't keep QBs healthy. Bills have allowed 40, but are last in the league in sacks allowed per pass attempt. League average is 28.5 sacks allowed. Unless Tommy Elrod gave Steelers the Buffalo defensive game plan, Bills run defense looked totally unprepared schematically in 236-yard goring by Le'Veon Bell last week. They could turn Isaiah Crowell into an All-Pro this week. He has 718 rushing yards and 4.6 average per attempt for a winless team that is almost always behind.
Outlook: This one has all the earmarks of a dog game. Bills labor for 17-13 win.

Packers (7-6) at Bears (3-10)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Packers (-6).
The scoop: Aaron Rodgers leads the league with 32 TD passes, including 12 to Jordy Nelson. Two have combined for 57 TDs, equaling most in Packers history and third among active QB-receiver combinations. ... Packers have returned to playoff form with wins last three weeks just when they were being counted dead. ... Packers defeated Bears, 26-10, at Lambeau on Oct. 20. ... A lot of folks were ready to bury Chicago coach John Fox a few weeks ago. Despite record, he's done well to keep a young team lacking talent in several positions competitive most game.
Outlook: Packers are awake now. Green Bay 27-10.

Jaguars (2-11) at Texans (7-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Texans (-5).
The scoop: How ineffective has Houston passing attack been with Brock Osweiler (14 TDs, 14 INTs) at QB? Texans have passed for just 2,470 yards. Only 49ers (2,302) and Bills (2,386) are more feeble. ... Houston's Bill O'Brien is 5-0 coaching against Jacksonville. Jags' only wins in rivalry were when Gary Kubiak coached Houston. Still trying to figure out why Jacksonville, trailing by nine, attempted 61-yard field goal with 5 seconds to go against Vikings last week. Guess, it was just to give home fans a thrill.
Outlook: This is one Texans must have if they are to win AFC South with home games against Bengals and trip to rival Tennessee left. Houston is 6-1 at home and 4-0 within division. Make if 5-0 because Jags will find a way to lose, 17-10.

Colts (6-7) at Vikings (7-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Vikings (-4½).
The scoop: Minnesota (954) is only team in league with less than 1,000 yards in team rushing. Welcome back, Adrian Peterson. They need you. Vikings have moved up to second in team defense with 304.3 ypg yield. ... Andrew Luck of Colts has become a turnover machine. He lost three last week, all leading to field goals in 22-17 loss to Houston that Indy needed badly.
Outlook: Colts WR T.Y. Hilton (second in league in receiving yards) is most overlooked receive in the league. Vikings, 20-10.

Saints (5-8) at Cardinals (5-7-1)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: Cardinals (-3).
The scoop: Saints lead league with 4,081 passing yards but Drew Brees hasn't thrown a TD pass for New Orleans since Nov. 27 versus Rams. New Orleans passing yards are 2,071 more than Bills' have. ... Even with last week's loss at Miami, Arizona moved to No. 1 in league in total defense.
Outlook: With No. 1 defense and Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson having big years, why are Cards so disappointing? Arrow points to QB Carson Palmer and his 13 INTS and six fumbles (all recovered by his team). Cardinals, 27-17.

Raiders (10-3) at Chargers (5-8)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Raiders (-3).
The scoop: A win puts Oakland in playoffs for first time since 2002. San Diego had 13-game win streak in series, including seven straight at QualComm, from 2003 through 2009. This could be last time they play in old Jack Murphy Stadium, where Raiders tormented Bolts so many times over the years. They started 9-0-1 there (1967 to 1976) before Chargers broke through in 1977 and Oakland won AFC Championship Game there in 1980 on way to Super Bowl triumph. ... Latavius Murray of Raiders is tied for second in league with 12 rushing touchdowns but needs 344 yards to reach 1,000 for season.
Outlook: San Diego is one of those teams that keeps finding ways to lose. Raiders, 35-24.

Panthers (5-8) at Redskins (7-5-1)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Redskins (-6½).
The scoop: He's no Brady, but Kirk Cousins of Redskins has moved into class of elite quarterbacks in NFL. He's sixth with 100.3 passer rating and he's third behind Brady and Matt Ryan of Falcons in average gain per pass attempt (8.17). ... Meanwhile Cam Newton of Panthers has fallen from league MVP status to huge disappointment.
Outlook: Redskins trying to stay alive so last game at home against Giants will be meaningful. Washington, 20-13.

Dog of the day

49ers (1-12) at Falcons (8-5)

TV: Fox, 4:05 p.m.
The line: Falcons (-14).
The scoop: San Francisco has given up 2,220 rushing yards this season. That's 1,239 more than league-leading rush defense (Baltimore, 981). Julio Jones didn't play versus Rams last week and still Atlanta won by 28 points and got Jeff Fisher fired as Los Angeles head coach. Jones may be held out this week, too.
Outlook: Niners and Falcon were in same division from 1967 to 2001. San Francisco has won last three in rivalry, but last two have been at home. Atlanta, only 3-3 at home, doesn't always pay attention. Falcons, 30-20.

Last week's results: 9-6 outright; 8-6-1 versus spread.

Season's record: 119-71-2 outright; 95-88-9 versus spread.

 

 

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