The season is winding down but the action is heating up in NFL Week 15 as teams scrap and claw for playoff spots.
Due to the way the NFL schedules the season — prioritizing late-season matchups for divisional rivals — this weekend’s slate is loaded with big games.
Looking at the biggest games this Sunday, there are some exciting players to watch. With that in mind, here’s our take on the biggest X-factors in those games.
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
X-factor: Allen Robinson, Bears receiver
The Bears have been heating up over the past month. Mitchell Trubisky is starting to show out, and with a competent offense Chicago’s defense has become so much more lethal. One key player who’s had a lot to do with the Bears’ latest three-game winning streak is receiver Allen Robinson. In fact, heading into NFL Week 15 Robinson is among the hottest players in the league.
Over his past three games — all wins for the Bears — Robinson has hauled in 19 receptions for 265 yards. Pretty decent. But here’s what has this receiver on our list: Robinson has caught four touchdowns in these games, and he most recently caught two against the Dallas Cowboys to spark a huge win.
Another big game from Robinson could be the spark Chicago needs to go into Lambeau Field and knock off the Packers.
Houston Texans vs. Tennessee Titans
X-factor: Harold Landry, Titans EDGE
Assuming the Texans defense stays the course and continues to let opposing offenses score in bunches, Houston’s offense will need to be red hot to win this huge AFC South rivalry game on the road. And, of course, the guy who usually sparks that kind of action is Deshaun Watson, who can be lethal.
Watson’s Kryptonite is pressure. Because he’s a playmaker of the highest order and is always looking to pass first, Watson loves to hang in the pocket as long as he can so his receivers can find an opening. Teams that can bring pressure off the edge have been able to force Watson into turnovers. For the Titans, the main man is second-year star Harold Landry, who has nine sacks on the season.
If Landry can consistently win off the edge and gets to Watson early, the Titans should win this game.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins
X-factor: Boston Scott, Eagles running back
When the Eagles needed a hero against the New York Giants, it was Boston Scott who ripped off his jersey and became Superman. This second-year back piled up 59 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and caught six passes for 69 yards, giving the Eagles a much-needed boost in a must-win game.
Head coach Doug Pederman expects to use Scott more going forward, even when Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders are fully healthy.
“Sure, (because of) where we are right now as a team, an offense (and) his performance and what we’ve seen in practice, too,” Pederson said, per NBC Sports Philly. Really, it goes all the way back to training camp and some of the preseason games where he played and showed some of that speed and quickness. I think he can really make an impact for us.”
If Scott can keep making big plays for the Eagles, who sorely lack playmakers in the passing game, then the team should win against Washington and stay alive for the NFC East crown.
Los Angeles Rams vs. Dallas Cowboys
X-factor: Tyler Higbee, Rams tight end
Rams starting tight end Gerald Everett is still out with a knee injury. But when he comes back, he may not keep his starting job. The reason being, his replacement, Tyler Higbee, has been on fire.
Higbee, a fourth-round pick out of Western Kentucky back in 2016, has seemingly found his groove, hauling in 14 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown the past two games.
As Higbee’s playmaking prowess has unfolded, Los Angeles’ entire offense has opened up. Should he continue to make a positive impact this week as the Rams battle the Cowboys in Arlington, then Los Angeles will be in great shape to come away with a much-needed win to stay alive in the NFC wild-card race.
Buffalo Bills vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
X-factor: Devlin “Duck” Hodges, Steelers quarterback
A couple of AFC playoff contenders will take center stage on Sunday night when the Steelers host the Bills. In this game, which features two young quarterbacks going against elite defenses, you can be sure turnovers will play a massive role in the outcome.
Speaking of turnovers, that’s the one thing that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin will not abide. That’s why Devlin Hodges is under center these days, rather than Mason Rudolph. He’s done an outstanding job of not trying to do too much and protecting the football with just two turnovers in five games.
But if Hodges succumbs to pressure from Buffalo’s dominant front seven, the Bills will have a big chance to steal this road game and remain a force heading into the playoffs.