Now that we are entering the fifteenth weekend in the 2014 season, it’s do or die time for the Texans, Chiefs, Browns, Dolphins, Bills, Panthers, Cowboys, and 49ers. Losses for these teams would be devastating, so we can expect to see their best shots on Sunday. For other squads, playoff spots are easily within reach. The Colts can close out the AFC South with a win over Houston, the Pats can clinch the East with a victory over Miami, and the Broncos can become AFC West champs by defeating San Diego. In the NFC, Philadelphia can really put the Cowboys in a bad spot with a win, while the Seahawks can all but eliminate San Fran with a “W” at home. It’s a race to the finish, and Week 15 will go a long, long way in determining who gets into the post-season. Here are my picks.
Last Week: 12-4
Thursday, December 11th, 12:30 e.t.
Arizona Cardinals (10-3) @ St. Louis Rams (6-7)
The ship was sinking fast for Arizona until last week when they gutted out a close 17-14 victory at home against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Cards are now 7-0 at home, but 3-3 on the road. They will travel to St. Louis to take on a Rams team that isn’t letting anybody score these days. They have not allowed a single point since the fourth quarter in Week 12 as they have shut out both Oakland and Washington; two offensively challenged teams. Ever since Carson Palmer went down, the Cardinals have not exactly been dynamic on that side of the ball. I say the Rams take advantage of this in order to score a huge home win and pull to .500. They should be able to put pressure on Drew Stanton, and since Arizona has struggled to run the ball all year, that will not be much of an option for them in this one. Advantage: St. Louis.
St. Louis 20, Arizona 14
Sunday, December 14th, 1:00 e.t.
Washington Redskins (3-10) @ New York Giants (4-9)
Unless you are a hardcore fan of either of these teams, is there any reason to watch this game other than Odell Beckham Jr.? In all seriousness, can you remember a player garnering so much attention for pre-game warm-ups? People want to see what this youngster will do next, and I think he can shred the Washington defense in this contest. Jim Haslett’s unit has been passable this season against the run, but teams have been able to throw it on them. The Giants shall take advantage of this and score 35 points. Is Robert Griffin III starting this game? Is any competent quarterback going to suit up for the Redskins? Yes, and no. G-Men win.
New York 35, Washington 15
Houston Texans (7-6) @ Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
Like I said in the beginning, the Colts will clinch a playoff berth and win the AFC South if they can defeat the Texans at home. I think they will be able to do so, but barely. Listen, Arian Foster is probably the most underrated player in football right now. It is going largely unnoticed what he is doing for Houston, with his 1,028 rushing yards and eight touchdowns (to go along with his four receiving touchdowns) have really helped the Texans stay relevant this season. I think he goes nuts in this game with 160 yards and two scores. However, when it comes down to it, do I really trust Ryan Fitzpatrick to out-duel the dynamic Andrew Luck at Lucas Oil Stadium. No, no I don’t.
Indianapolis 30, Houston 28
Oakland Raiders (2-11) @ Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)
The Raiders were able to king the Chiefs in the “Black Hole” just two weeks ago, but now business is serious for Kansas City, having dropped three straight with their playoff hopes fading faster than Brian Hoyer’s effectiveness (too soon?). After seeing the egg that Oakland laid on the road against the other team from Missouri two weeks back, I can’t put much confidence in them here. Yes, they did beat the 49ers last week, but we all know that the Raiders specialize in losing games and that they don’t win back-to-back contests. As long as the Chiefs don’t turn the ball over more than twice and Jamaal Charles rushes for 75 yards and a TD, the home team should be fine here.
Kansas City 27, Oakland 13
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) @ Atlanta Falcons (5-8)
I looked at this game and thought that it seemed like a game that the Falcons should win. Think about it: just when you think the Steelers will roll for a win, they get trampled by an opponent from the NFC South. It is trends like this that makes Pittsburgh a frustrating team to predict. However, this is a trap. It seems like we should roll with the Steelers after their dominating fourth quarter win in Cincinnati, but then again the Falcons produced some late game magic in Lambeau to make the Packers sweat a little bit on Monday night. I think Pittsburgh turns it on against a defense that cant sack a QB if they bring a ten-man rush. Le’Veon Bell doesn’t make it four straight weeks with 200+ yards from scrimmage, but 130 with a TD seems reasonable. For viewers of this game, if you have some housework to do, maybe knock some of that out before sitting down for this one. The score will probably be 10-7 at half. But, as you can see from the final score prediction, the two will save most of the action for the second half again and turn this one into an exciting shootout.
Pittsburgh 35, Atlanta 33
Miami Dolphins (7-6) @ New England Patriots (10-3)
The Dolphins are in desperate need of a win after being outscored 28-3 in the final three quarters of last week’s contest at home against the Ravens. Good luck getting it. The Pats don’t lose at home to AFC teams in December. In fact, they just don’t lose at home in general. They have not lost a regular season home game since Week 15 of the 2012 season. Tom Brady was less than impressive when he played the ‘Phins in Week 1 this year, but now he is playing on a different level. He’s really forming good chemistry with all of his receivers and the defense is playing great. The Dolphins’ only chance in this game is to run the ball and control the clock. Even then, I think they will struggle to score points. Pats should roll here.
New England 35, Miami 10
Green Bay Packers (10-3) @ Buffalo Bills (7-6)
This game just feels like a trap game for Green Bay. They are traveling on the road to Buffalo to go up against the vicious front-seven of the Bills. Seriously, how good would that defense be if Kiko Alonso were healthy? Anyways, Aaron Rodgers will be tested in this one. He will have to get the ball out quick or become a punching bag for the NFL’s leading defense in terms of sacks; they have 48 of them. They also just snapped Peyton Manning’s consecutive games with a touchdown streak at 53, in Denver no less. Don’t take Buffalo lightly. I don’t think that Green Bay will, and since the Seahawks are now putting pressure on the Packers for that #1 seed (and with Arizona currently sitting atop the standings in the NFC) Mike McCarthy’s team cannot afford to stumble. They pick up a win in a very interesting game.
Green Bay 27, Buffalo 24
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) @ Baltimore Ravens (8-5)
The Ravens have had a lot of success against the teams from Florida this year. They are 2-0, outscoring them 73-30 on the season. Joe Flacco has been good as of late, as has the Baltimore running game. Remember, if this team had been better in the red zone two weeks ago against San Diego, they could be 9-4 and sitting atop the AFC North. Instead, they are in a second place tie with Pittsburgh and in the thick of things for a wild card spot. Their game next week against Houston will be big, but they won’t overlook the Jags here. Gary Kubiak should limit Joe Cool to just 25 throws in this game as Jacksonville is actually very good at getting after the opposing quarterback (3rd in the NFL with 39 of ’em). This is a game that the Ravens can win with their defense and running game. It will happen.
Baltimore 24, Jacksonville 13
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11) @ Carolina Panthers (4-8-1)
Of course, our prayers go out to Cam Newton after he fractured his transverse process in a car accident. He should not be suiting up for this game. Does that change how this one plays out? I don’t think so. Derek Anderson has been pretty good in relief of Cam this season, and remember he helped them pick up the win in Week 1 against these same Bucs, on the road. Well, Tampa Bay doesn’t win at home as they are 0-6 there on the season. So maybe they have a better chance at this one since it is being played in Carolina. I don’t think so, because the Panthers have shown some signs of recovery lately. Despite losing 31-13 to Minnesota, I didn’t think that they played all that badly in that game (especially on defense). Furthermore, they just blew out the Saints in New Orleans. Maybe they are ready to make a serious run at the division crown. That is a scary thought, but not because I think this team is formidable, but rather because it is scary to think that a team with only 3 wins going into December has a chance to win a division. Yup, that’s the NFC South for ya!
Carolina 29, Tampa Bay 19
Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1) @ Cleveland Browns (7-6)
After a month of inadequate football, the Browns and Mike Pettine have finally decided to yank Brian Hoyer and replace him with Johnny Manziel. I agree with this decision. With Cleveland’s playoff chances fading fast, it’s worth a shot; maybe Johnny Football gives these guys a spark. This contest is very unpredictable because we don’t know how Manziel will play, and it is tough to predict Bengals games. Andy Dalton runs hot and cold, and since Cincy is coming off of a game where their offense wasn’t terrible, it may be time for them to go down the tubes again. Cleveland made Dalton look like Tim Tebow with an eye infection and a broken arm in Week 10, and they have the goods to do it again. I’m gonna take the Browns here only because it just seems like they should win. It would complicate things majorly in the AFC North, and I’m all for seeing that happen.
Cleveland 31, Cincinnati 24
Sunday, December 14th, 4:05 e.t.
Denver Broncos (10-3) @ San Diego Chargers (8-5)
The Chargers defense played pretty well against the Patriots a week ago, until the fourth quarter where they surrendered 10 points and then could not score any of their own on offense. Now they take on a similar team in the Broncos at home. Denver was held down a bit last week through the air, but C.J. Anderson’s legs were enough for them to notch the “W” over Buffalo. The now two-dimensional offense that the Broncos sport should scare teams, and if their defense plays like it did two weeks ago against Kansas City, this squad will be a tough out no matter where they play. The Chargers should find that out this week. Philip Rivers might play the game of his life, but I don;t trust the San Diego defense to stop both the passing attack from Peyton Manning and the Denver ground game. It will be too much for them to handle.
Denver 32, San Diego 24
New York Jets (2-11) @ Tennessee Titans (2-11)
If you like watching teams fight for coveted prizes, then this game is for you. After all, the loser might land the #1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Either squad could use Marcus Mariota on their team, so a loss here could be key for both. Will the Jets or Titans lie down in this one just to gun for that #1 pick? I don’t think New York will. These guys are playing hard for Rex Ryan and will do so again on Sunday. The Titans, meanwhile, have really struggled on offense this season. Converting third downs has become a nearly impossible task for them. I think the Jets will be able to run the ball enough in this game to protect Geno Smith and close it down with their defense late to pick up the win.
New York 17, Tennessee 12
Sunday, December 14th, 4:25 e.t.
Minnesota Vikings (6-7) @ Detroit Lions (9-4)
It really doesn’t seem like the Vikings are just one game under .500, but here they are sitting at 6-7. Of course, they haven’t played the most difficult of schedules down the stretch with their last four wins coming over Tampa Bay, Washington, Carolina, and the New York Jets; three of them coming late (with two in overtime). So methinks that this 6-7 mark is a bit misleading. Either way, they will try to claw back to .500 on the road in Detroit. The Lions are a team that normally struggles in December, but this year is a bit different. The offense seems to be getting better week-by-week and the defense has been playing well all year. Jim Caldwell has this Lion team believing and I think that this is important. It is likely that at least one 10-11 win team in the NFC will miss the playoffs and Detroit doesn’t want it to be them. Therefore they will come out and play well this weekend against the Vikings and score the home win.
Detroit 30, Minnesota 16
San Francisco 49ers (7-6) @ Seattle Seahawks (9-4)
Does anybody have any faith in the 49ers anymore? Furthermore, does anybody give them a shot on the road in Seattle that has regained the swagger they had heading into last year’s Super Bowl? I know I don’t. Seattle would be my “sure bet of the week” but the Niners do seem to rally right when they seem cooked. So there is a slight chance that they come out and play inspired football this week, but even if they do I don’t think they are good enough to beat the Seahawks. Seattle has wins over Green Bay, Denver, Arizona, and Philadelphia this year. I think they suffered their mid-season hiccup and are now on their way to a strong finish. I they win out and Green Bay stumbles just once down the stretch, the ‘Hawks will be the #1 seed in the NFC. Nobody wants to play them on the road. San Fran will tell you that themselves after they lose this one.
Seattle 29, San Francisco 15
Sunday, December 14th, 8:30 e.t.
Dallas Cowboys (9-4) @ Philadelphia Eagles (9-4)
The Eagles and Cowboys meet for the second time in three with the division lead up for grabs again. Dallas was able to rebound with a nice win over Chicago on Thursday night last week and they should be well rested for this contest, unlike they were the first time around when they were going on four days rest. Here they will have had nine days to prepare, and I think that makes a difference. On the other hand, Philadelphia was just shut down by the Seahawks in Philly last week; being held to just 139 total yards of offense. Even with that low mark, the Eagles had their chances to keep that game close and had Malcolm Jenkins not dropped that sure-fire pick-six in the fourth quarter they could have made it interesting. Anyways, it’s Week 15 now and the division is in question. These are the games that Dallas does not seem to win. I see them dropping this contest, but not because of their history in these situations. I just think that the Philly front-seven has been playing very well lately and the Cowboy defense has been exposed by the Eagles offense already this year. “America’s Team” is 6-0 on the road, but they will see that streak snapped this week. DeMarco Murray will run for 121 yards, but it won’t be enough. Give me the Eagles.
Philadelphia 34, Dallas 24
Monday, December 15th, 8:30 e.t.
New Orleans Saints (5-8) @ Chicago Bears (5-8)
The Saints used to struggle on the road and play lights out at home. However, ever since losing to the Bengals 27-10 in N’awleans, that script has flipped. The Saints have been okay away from the dome and I think they will be just fine in Chicago this week. The Bears will really miss Brandon Marshall in this game (who is out for the season with broken ribs and a collapsed lung). Alshon Jeffery has been playing at less than 100% this season, and he will be matched up with Keenan Lewis in this one. Lewis is probably the most underrated corner in the league and I see him having a good game in this one. Matt Forte can’t do it all on his own, so because of this I give the Saints the edge. That said, this one should be a good game. I see Jay Cutler playing well and throwing three touchdowns; two to Martellus Bennett. Jimmy Graham will be a factor in this one though. He ate the Chicago secondary alive in Week 5 last season and will do it again. He explodes for 136 yards and a score helping the Saints to a narrow victory.
New Orleans 26, Chicago 23
Week 15 Bonus Predictions
Upset of the Week: Cleveland over Cincinnati*
Sure Bet of the Week: Kansas City over Oakland
Rookie of the Week: Jordan Matthews
Offensive Player of the Week: Arian Foster
Defensive Player of the Week: Brandon Browner
Best Overall Offense: Pittsburgh Steelers
Best Overall Defense: St. Louis Rams
*PK on the Vegas Line
Feel free to leave a comment stating what you think will happen in this weekend’s games!