Week 15 is upon us, and it is going to be nearly impossible to follow the incredible action we saw over the past seven days. There was a record 859 points scored in Week 14, some wild finishes, and some epic clashes in the middle of driving blizzards. Simply put, that is football at its finest! With that whirlwind behind us, let’s break out that crystal ball and look ahead to the sixteen games that are on the docket for this week. Outside of the Monday night game between the Ravens and Lions, there are not many games that pit two teams in must-win situations. However, almost every game this weekend carries major playoff implications with it, so that is always fun. Speaking of fun, did you know that fifteen out of the sixteen teams in the AFC are still listed as “in the hunt”? Only the Texans have been eliminated from playoff contention in the American Football Conference (while six teams in the NFC have been axed; those being the Giants, Buccaneers, Rams, Falcons, Redskins, and Vikings). And we all thought the NFC was the most competitive coference… Anyways, I went 13-3 in my picks last week and look to roll on with another challenging week at the helm. With that being said, let’s get going! Here are my Week 15 picks and predictions.
Thursday, December 12th, 8:25 e.t.
San Diego Chargers (6-7) @ Denver Broncos (11-2)
San Diego managed to keep their playoff hopes alive in their thrashing of the New York Giants at the “Q” last week, however the task for them will be much taller this time around as they head to the Mile High City to take on the Denver Broncos. The Chargers fell to these guys 28-20 at home just a few weeks ago, but they played well enough to win in that one. Defense was key for the Bolts in that contest and it will have to be again in this face-off. Peyton Manning has thrown an incredible 45 touchdown passes this year (putting him just five short of Tom Brady’s all-time record of 50 in 2007) and at this point it doesn’t even seem like the cold December air can slow him down. Perhaps a missing Wes Welker can; Welk is sitting this Thursday-nighter down due to his concussion. However, Manning has other options. He has really formed a nice connection with Eric Decker over the past couple of weeks, and the duo of Julius and Demaryius Thomas is quite lethal. Although the San Diego defense played well against the other Manning last week, I’m guessing that Peyton is going to be a bigger handful, especially on the road. If Philip Rivers can find a way to get the ball to all of his receivers in a quick and efficient manner, the Chargers stand a chance. However, I think the Broncos will take this one at home. Their offense is consistently putting up over 400 yards and making opposing defenses look silly. San Diego’s defense hasn’t looked great at times this year either; I say Peyton picks them apart in the cold Denver air.
Denver 38, San Diego 20
Sunday, December 15th, 1:00 e.t.
Houston Texans (2-11) @ Indianapolis Colts (8-5)
The Indy defense was flat out embarrassed by Andy Dalton and the Bengals a week ago as the Colts lost in Cincy 42-28. By now, we all know the narrative: Indianapolis doesn’t lose two straight games. Will that trend continue this Sunday when the 2-and terrible Texans come to town? I think so. With Gary Kubiak packing his bags and the inconsistencies on offense, it is going to be hard to take Houston on the road against a quality opponent. Also, the Colts may have found a spark plug on offense in Da’Rick Rodgers. He made three catches for 107 yards (with two touchdowns) last week against a solid Bengal defense. Now, Wade Philip’s defense is not bad at all, but they have been had on a couple of occasions this season. I think that the Indy offensive coordinator, Pep Hamilton, finds some creative ways to insert Rodgers into the game plan and get him out into space. Houston has struggled with their tackling lately, so this would probably be a good idea. Plus, Andrew Luck is a beast, I don’t care what anybody says. If his protection holds up this guy can be an elite level talent. That is a big if though. Luckily taming the Texans isn’t that hard, so that is a problem the Colts will have to address later. I like Indianapolis at home here.
Indianapolis 26, Houston 14
New England Patriots (10-3) @ Miami Dolphins (7-6)
After taking down the Steelers in snowy Pittsburgh a week ago, the Dolphins look to seize control of the #6 seed in the AFC with a win at home against the Patriots. New England has not been playing well in the first half of games this year, especially over their last three games. It took a miracle for them to down the Browns in Foxboro a week ago. Also, the win came at the expense of losing Rob Gronkowski. So it is very reasonable to expect the Pats’ offense to return to Week 2-5 form without the big guy in the lineup. This is good news for the Dolphins. They will be able to focus more of their attention on the receivers coming out of the backfield (namely Shane Vereen). If Miami can take him around, Tom Brady may be checking into the Heartbreak Hotel when a third down situation arises. To me, the winner of this game will be the team that performs the best on the money down. It takes a lot for me to say this, but I think the Dolphins have the edge in that department. Charles Clay has really come on these past two weeks and it seems like Mike Wallace and Ryan Tannehill are beginning to sync up. These ingredients should help the ‘Phins pull off the upset on Sunday.
Miami 20, New England 17
San Francisco 49ers (9-4) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9)
In a sense, I see this game as the big brother versus the little brother. San Fran is the type of team that the Buccaneers want to turn into under Greg Schiano and are clearly the superior squad coming into this contest. I look for Tampa Bay to try and be physical at the line of scrimmage on Sunday. They will likely be pushed around by the 49ers, but Schiano can use this game as a measuring stick for his team. If the Bucs come out and play well, I honestly think that the man will keep his job going into next year. For that reason, I do expect Tampa to play well. However, in a serious mismatch of talent, it will not be enough. San Francisco looks like they are about to go on a bit of run coming down the stretch. They are finally getting healthier on offense and their defense is continuing to hold their water. Simply put, San Fran is the more physically dominant team, and they will prove it this weekend in a dog-fight.
San Francisco 23, Tampa Bay 16
Washington Redskins (3-10) @ Atlanta Falcons (3-10)
Boy, have these teams fallen far from where they were last year. Each were a playoff team and looked primed to continue their success this season with some young and talented offensive players. However, as you can see, plans don’t always pan out the way you want them to. A couple of months ago we would have thought this game could have some serious playoff implications with two of the most talented young quarterbacks in the game today. Instead, we have two teams who are simply trying to play out their season. Also, we don’t get to see RGIII take on Matty Ice; we get Kirk Cousins versus Matt Ryan (that should be riveting). Anyways, the Redskins were awful in all three phases of the game last week as they were spanked by the Chiefs at home, 45-10. While that drubbing was taking place, the Falcons were struggling with the Matt Flynn-led Packers. They eventually lost 22-21 in Lambeau. That said, Atlanta did not look terrible. As I said last week, Roddy White seems to be coming on and his ineffectiveness was a huge reason why the Falcons had struggled earlier this year. I like what I have seen out of this offense over the past few weeks and in a game against one of the worst defenses in the league, they should roll. I’ll take the Falcons here; I’m not sold on Kirk Cousins yet.
Atlanta 34, Washington 13
Philadelphia Eagles (8-5) @ Minnesota Vikings (3-9-1)
Something about this one says “trap game” for the Eagles. Could it be the Sports Illustrated curse (Nick Foles will be appearing on the cover of this week’s issue)? I mean, the last three week’s cover boys have experienced painful losses recently (A.J. McCarron and the Crimson Tide lost to Auburn, Tony Romo and the Cowboys got crushed by the Bears, and Ohio State was knocked out of the BCS National Championship with their loss to Michigan State). I just thought you should know about this… Anyways, Philly is coming off of their impressive win in the “Snow Bowl” over Detroit. The team ran for an astounding 299 yards and will likely turn to it again this week against the #22 ranked rush defense. If the Philadelphia offensive line can dominate this game like they did their last, they should have no problems rolling the Vikes on the road. If, though, they can shut Shady McCoy down, I think this one could be interesting. As of Wednesday, Adrian Peterson’s status is unknown. If I had to take a guess, I’d say he’ll be out there on Sunday splitting carries with Toby Gerhart (who has looked good in limited action this year). If Minnesota can run the ball with success, they stand a chance here. However, Philadelphia has allowed just one 100 yard rusher on the season (Rashad Jennings, who managed 102 yards against them in Week 9). They are 15th in the league against the run, so they do have the ability to shut a team down on the ground. Because of that, I like them to win on the road here. This one should be a close game though, I’m feeling it for some reason.
Philadelphia 26, Minnesota 21
Seattle Seahawks (11-2) @ New York Giants (5-8)
After falling flat on the west coast, the Giants head across the country to host the Seahawks (a team that will be right on their tails, as they will be making the flight from California all the way to New Jersey). Honestly, I can see the Giants winning this one. They have done a nice job getting their ground game going over the past month and their defense had been playing very well. It is too bad the Chargers had to throw a monkey wrench into that trend; they were flat out dominated by the Bolts last week and because of it the G-Men are guaranteed to be watching the playoffs from their couches. Because of their 37-14 drubbing, it is going to be awfully tough for me to pick them against the best team in the NFC. New York has really struggled with containing mobile quarterbacks this season and Russell Wilson will be the best one they have faced. In compliance with a strong running game, I look for Seattle to move the ball on offense and put up some points. On defense, their secondary holds a big edge. Eli Manning has thrown 20 picks on the season (tied with Geno Smith for the league lead). Seattle is tied for third in the NFL with 17 interceptions. Their corners will get physical with the New York receivers, and when teams are able to do that to them, they struggle. The Giants just don’t have enough firepower to down the “Hawks, therefore I am taking them on the road here.
Seattle 27, New York 14
Chicago Bears (7-6) @ Cleveland Browns (4-9)
Don’t be embarrassed if you can’t remember the point in this season where the Browns were actually 3-2. It was eleven long weeks ago and Cleveland has (since then) lost seven out of their last eight. Perhaps most painful was the “L” that was handed to them by the Patriots last week. Clearly, the Joe Haden pass interference call was sketchy, but the Browns should have been able to put the game away before it had gotten to that point. The one good thing that came out of that contest was the re-emergence of Jordan Cameron. The big tight end had nine catches for 121 yards and a touchdown. Jason Campbell didn’t look to bad either; he had three touchdown passes and 391 yards in that game. In Chicago, Josh McCown tore the Cowboys defense up to the tune of 348 yards and four touchdown passes. He also ran one in for a touchdown as well. McCown has looked like a competent quarterback since taking over for the injured Jay Cutler and has proven that he can handle Marc Trestman’s new system. It does appear as if Jay Cutler will be back under center this week though as he is getting healthy enough to play. His first challenge will be taking on a Ray Horton coordinated defense. I don’t see the Bears hanging 45 points and nearly 500 yards on Cleveland this weekend. This will be a defensive game all the way. Chicago has been terrible against the running game this year; they have given up a 100 yard rusher in six straight games. Fortunately for them, the Browns have not been able to run the ball all year long. In fact, they have not had a 100 yard rusher all season long. Heck, they have only broken the 100 yard mark as a team just four times on the year, with a game high of just 126 yards. Yikes! I actually like the Bears to do an alright job against the run this week, and that should help them win. Let’s face it, Josh Gordon is turning out to be Cleveland’s entire offense. One-trick ponies don’t typically tend to win games against teams contending for the playoffs. Give me da Bears.
Chicago 24, Cleveland 19
Buffalo Bills (4-9) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)
The Jaguars have been on a bit of a roll as of late. They have won four out of their last five games including their last three in a row. Of course, those three wins have come against teams with a combined six wins, but who’s counting? It’s not like the Bills are world beaters in their own rights. E.J. Manuel will get a second crack at winning in the state where he played his college ball this week. Last week against Tampa, he was pretty bad (throwing four picks and eating seven sacks). I think he will play a bit better this week, but it won’t be enough to win. That’s right, I’m taking the Jaguars for the second straight week. Throw a trick play or two in there and we could have ourselves a wild contest. Jacksonville is tackling on defense during their hot streak, and bringing C.J. Spiller down on an initial hit will be huge. Gus Bradley is coaching with a lot of swagger and I really like where he has this team heading, even with their limited talent. They are also going to be well rested for this one, coming off of a victory last Thursday night against the Texans.
Jacksonville 24, Buffalo 20
Sunday, December 15th, 4:05 e.t.
New York Jets (6-7) @ Carolina Panthers (9-4)
I want to pick the Jets here, and I’m not even joking. I’m feeling kind of froggy. Maybe it’s because Gang Green is 3-0 against the NFC South this season. Or maybe its because I believe in Geno Smith. Okay, maybe that’s not it. Although they did manage to put up 37 points on the Raiders last week. But then again, that is the Raiders. So never mind, I’m going Carolina. The Panthers excel at keeping drives alive and holding their opponents out of the end zone. The Jets struggle with keeping drives alive and scoring touchdowns. Hmmmmm, I don’t think I am going to need a magnifying glass to figure this one out. The Panthers get back to their winning ways at home this week over the inconsistent Jets.
Carolina 33, New York 13
Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) @ Oakland Raiders (4-9)
The Chiefs can clinch a playoff berth with a win out in Oakland this week, but their head coach Andy Reid has never won as a head coach when traveling to the black hole. Okay, okay, he has only coached there once during his tenure with the Eagles, but doesn’t saying he has never won in Oak-town sound good on paper to the Raiders? I do like Kansas City to get the job done this week though. They are coming off of an impressive win against the Redskins and have to feel good about their chances after breaking their three game losing streak. Punt and kickoff returns as well as stellar defense was the reason for their 45-10 riot. It is hard for me to imagine them performing so well on special teams yet again, but I can see them popping a few nice returns (Oakland punter Marquette King has a tendency to outkick his coverage when booting the ball away). You know there aren’t too many games left in the season when you see me breaking down the punting of one team! That said, I like the Chiefs to suffocate the Raiders on defense and play ball-control on offense. In other words, KC will go back to square one and win in the same way they won their previous ten games; thus getting the team into the playoffs.
Kansas City 28, Oakland 10
Sunday, December 15th, 4:25 e.t.
Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) @ Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
The Dallas defense could not get through security last week as they were thrashed by the Bears in Chicago. That is why Cowboy fans have reason to feel nervous about this game, even if Aaron Rodgers does not play. I think Matt Flynn can move the ball against this defense and the Packers have a pretty good ground game when they are able to throw the ball. However, Eddie Lacy’s status is up in the air for this game and we all know that trying to guess whether or not Rodgers is going to go is a wild goose chase. For argument’s sake, we will say that both guys are out. Without them, I don’t know if the Packers can score points with the Cowboys. These guys are pretty good at home this year. Even if Rodgers is playing, I am going to take Dallas at home. They simply need to win here, seeing as how they now trail the Eagles in the NFC East. Plus, the Dallas defense can’t be that bad, can they?
Dallas 31, Green Bay 22
New Orleans Saints (10-3) @ St. Louis Rams (5-8)
The Rams have not looked as good over the past two weeks as they had the previous two weeks. Part of that has to do with the fact that they had been playing against great defenses. This time around, they will test themselves against the Saints who have a pretty solid “D” this season in their own right. Do I trust Kellen Clemens to lead the offense down the field over and over again as the Rams try to outscore the Saints? Not so fast. Clemens has had a couple of bad games and cannot be feeling too confident in himself. Also, the St. Louis running game has tapered off a little bit ever since they had hit their stride in the middle of the season. Furthermore, downing the Saints is going to be tough. New Orleans has to have that “mad-at-the-world” mentality coming into this one. Even though they got back on track in a romp of the Panthers last week at home, they still have to have a bad aftertaste of the Seahawk game in their mouths. What better way to wash the taste out than by beating a team on the road? As long as the offensive line can hold its water against Robert Quinn and Chris Long, the Saints should not have too much trouble winning this game.
New Orleans 30, St Louis 20
Arizona Cardinals (8-5) @ Tennessee Titans (5-8)
Each of these teams needs a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. With a loss, the Titans will be all but eliminated from playoff contention. You could say the same about the Arizona Cardinals as well. Dropping to 8-6 with games against the Seahawks and 49ers remaining will not be optimal. Therefore, this is a must win for both teams. Desperate teams tend to play good games. I think this will be one of the better games of the week for that reason. The Cards do boast a great defense with good ball-hawking skills. Meanwhile, Ryan Fitzpatrick is prone to throwing picks himself. But then again, so is Carson Palmer. Here is a wild prediction: I see a combined six picks from this game. I am not kidding. There will be turnovers in this contest and a lot of good defense to boot. Additionally, Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington possess that great straight-line speed and can break one at any given time in this one. This could be a high scoring game, but it won’t be because of poor defense. I see a few return touchdowns and short-field scores. And when it is all said and done, I think it will be the Cardinals who stand tall. Their defense is a notch above that of the Titans, as is their offense. I like Arizona to piece together a nice team win in an entertaining game.
Arizona 37, Tennessee 34
Sunday, December 15th, 8:30 e.t.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8)
The Bengals are currently chasing the Patriots for the #2 seed in the AFC and could overtake them if they win this game and New England loses (as I am predicting). However, the job will not be as easy as it seems when Cincinnati heads to the Steel City to play a desperate Steeler team. Pittsburgh is coming off of a tough loss to the Dolphins at home. It was a game that they had a legitimate shot at winning. As a result, their playoff chances are very slim. When these two teams played all the way back in Week 2, the Steelers could not sustain a lot of drives. Being able to convert on third down will be key for them here because if they are going three and out too often, it could result in a Bengal barrage of points. But, if they are able to shorten the game by going on long drives, I like them to pull this one out. Also, the loss of Geno Atkins will be felt here because I don’t see the Bengals mounting a good pass rush. When you can’t pressure Big Ben, he will be able to pick you apart; he has that ability. At home, on a Sunday night, I see the Steelers pulling off the upset.
Pittsburgh 21, Cincinnati 14
Monday, December 16th, 8:40 e.t.
Baltimore Ravens (7-6) @ Detroit Lions (7-6)
After having to play during blizzard-like conditions, each of these teams have to be thrilled to be playing inside of a dome this week. The last time the Lions played at home, they lit the Packers up to the tune of a 40-10 victory. Also, the Ravens have not been nearly as dynamic on the road as they have been at home. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens decide to play Calvin Johnson in this one. Baltimore likes to man up and play two safeties over the top. I am not so that strategy will work this week with Megatron running at them. They will likely need to double team him to stop him. For the blackbirds on offense, they need to be able to run the ball to help Joe Flacco out. If Ray Rice is unable to get any yardage in this one, then the big defensive line of Detroit will be able to pin its ears back and run right at the Super Bowl MVP. I see Rice having some difficulties running the ball. LeSean McCoy did go nuts in the fourth quarter last week against the Detroit “D”, but these guys are typically stout in their run defense. Making the Ravens offense one-dimensional is the key to victory and I think the Lions can do this. As long as they don’t turn the ball over like they have over the last few games, Detroit should be fine in this one. Playing Baltimore at home is a huge plus because had this game been played on the road, there is almost no chance that I pick the Lions. As it is, I am going with them because I like the way their defensive line stacks up on paper against a smaller Raven offensive line. They have a chance to dominate this game.
Detroit 27, Baltimore 20
Week 15 Bonus Predictions-
Upset of the Week: Miami over New England
Sure Bet of the Week: San Francisco over Tampa Bay
Rookie of the Week: Monte Ball
Offensive Player of the Week: Matt Ryan
Defensive Player of the Week: DeMeco Ryans
Best Overall Offense: Seattle Seahawks (I’d feel like I was cheating if I took the Broncos)
Best Overall Defense: Carolina Panthers
We are nearing the postseason and this week should go a long way towards clarifying the playoff picture. Hopefully you enjoy these final few weeks because in just about seven weeks we will be tying a bow around the 2013 season. Thank you for taking the time to read up on my predictions. I look forward to covering all sixteen of these games following their conclusions.