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Illini in the NFL: Week 15 Update

The playoff picture is becoming clearer. Illini alums are making a difference. Happy Holidays, everyone!

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Two former Illini helped one NFL team make history on Sunday. The New England Patriots are no longer in playoff contention; our Illini Miami Dolphins had a big say in putting the nail in New England’s coffin.

In unrelated news, welcome to Champaign-Urbana, Coach Bielema!

Baltimore Ravens

Jihad Ward, defensive end: Surprisingly and without much explanation, Ward was a healthy scratch from Sunday’s Ravens win. Ward played in Weeks 13 and 14.

Buffalo Bills

Del’Shawn Phillips, linebacker: Unfortunately for Phillips, he was put on the Injured Reserve list for the second time this season. Per league rules, that means his season is officially over — he is ineligible to return to the active roster since he’s been placed on IR twice. We wish Phillips the best in his recovery and hope he has plenty of opportunities down the road. Congrats to the Bills for winning the AFC East.

Dallas Cowboys:

Malik Turner, wide receiver/special teams: Turner was inactive for Sunday’s game versus the San Francisco 49ers. He has not played since Week 4.

Houston Texans:

The Texans had another game against their division rivals the Indianapolis Colts, losing 27-20.

Corey Liuget, defensive tackle/special teams: Liuget was on the active roster, and for the first time since he’s joined the Houston Texans this season, he was named a starter. He did not make a tackle, but was credit for a QB hit in the game. He appeared in about 13 of Houston’s defensive snaps and also partook in special teams.

Whitney Mercilus, outside linebacker: Mercilus started the game against the Colts and recorded 1 tackle.

Indianapolis Colts:

Tavon Wilson, safety/special teams: Wilson had 1 tackle against the lowly Texans. He’s a backup and veteran presence to one of the best secondary units in the entire league. He’s a key player for Indy’s special teams unit.

Also, credit to Tavon for holding up his end of the bargain. Losing a bet to your NFL teammate who went to ‘Nern can’t be easy:

Jacksonville Jaguars:

At 1-13, Jacksonville is really bad. The Jags lost their 13th consecutive game when they fell to the Ravens 40-14.

Dawuane Smoot, defensive end: Smoot had himself another great game in his fourth consecutive start, despite the fact his team is total garbage. He had 3 tackles including a sack, and was credited for 2 QB hits along with a force fumble. He’s due for a new contract and will be paid a considerable amount this offseason.

Kansas City Chiefs:

Nick Allegretti, guard: Allegretti and the Chiefs offense played an NFC contender the New Orleans Saints on the road in the ‘Dome. Allegretti started his eighth consecutive game for the Super Bowl champs at left guard.

Miami Dolphins:

The Miami Dolphins had an important game for their playoff hopes when they took on division foes New England Patriots. Not only was this game important for their own sake — it was important for the NFL. The Dolphins had the pleasure of knocking the Patriots out of playoff contention for the first time since 2008.

Ted Karras, center: As has been the case all season long, Karras earned the start at center for Miami. He had himself a nice game, including playing the role of lead blocker on Tua Tagovailoa’s QB winning sneak touchdown late in the 4th quarter.

Clayton Fejedelem, safety/special teams: Fej recorded 1 tackle and participated on special teams.

Minnesota Vikings:

Hardy Nickerson, linebacker/special teams: Nickerson was back in action for the Vikings against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. He recorded 2 tackles, playing in 14 of Minnesota’s defensive snaps in addition to his special teams duties.

New England Patriots:

Akeem Spence, defensive tackle/special teams: It’s been an up and down year for everybody in 2020, and that’s no different for Akeem Spence. Spence did not record a tackle in New England’s loss on Sunday. He played in only 6 defensive snaps for his team on Sunday and a few special teams snaps as well.

New Orleans Saints:

Justin Hardee, cornerback/special teams: Hardee is back out there and ready to fight on special teams. He returned to the lineup last week after missing the previous 5 games, just in time for New Orleans’ playoff push. Against the Chiefs, and with a healthy-and-back-in-the-lineup Drew Brees, the Saints fell to the Chiefs 32-29. Hardee continues to make a difference on special teams and recorded 1 tackle.

New York Jets:

Chase McLaughlin, Kicker: Strangely enough, McLaughlin did not play in New York’s first win of the season at the LA Rams on Sunday. Sam Ficken (a former LA Ram himself) was the Jets’ starter instead. Leave it to one of the NFL’s worst teams to have two kickers active on the 53-man roster for a game. Stay tuned to see what happens with McLaughlin in the coming days...

*Just a reminder, Detroit Lions wide receiver Geronimo Allison and New England Patriots tight end Matt LaCosse opted out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19.