Cincinnati Bengals @ Philadelphia Eagles
In the season finale of Thursday Night Football, the Bengals find themselves in a must-win game against the Eagles. Before last week’s games went final, nobody would have thought that Philly had a fighting chance in this game. Cincinnati leads the NFL in sacks and the scotch-tape offensive line of the Eagles has been one of their major weaknesses this season. Also, practically their entire offense is injured; that normally spells trouble. The Eagles had lost eight straight games and were on the verge of dropping their ninth when Nick Foles pulled off a beautiful 2 minute drill and lead his team back from a two score deficit to win on the final play. At about the same time, the Bengals relinquished their two-score lead to the Cowboys and lost the game courtesy of a Dallas field goal, also on the final play. Before this game, Cincy was looking like it was ready to go on a run and they were playing really well. Their momentum was crushed with last Sunday’s loss. Even so, they can get back on the train if they are able to pick up a win in Philly on Thursday. This will be easier said than done. As an interesting little nugget, the Eagles have not dropped a game during Week 15 since 2001. Philadelphia does not frequently lose home games in December either. Therefore, the Bengals will have their work cut out for them. This time when these two teams meet, it will probably not end up in a tie like it did in 2008. It is likely that the Eagles add another win to their record given their impressive late-season statistics and the fact that Cincy has to travel on a short week to a hostile environment. This one should be close throughout, but the Bengals will come up on the short end of the stick.
Philadelphia 24, Cincinnati 21
New York Giants @ Atlanta Falcons
This is a game between two teams that seem to have their eyes on the NFC Championship this season. It is also a rematch of the Wild Card game from last season, however this time around it will be played in the dome. Matty Ice does not lose in the dome. The Falcons are a perfect 6-0 at home this season and have beaten some decent teams at home. This probably does not phase New York since they have developed the reputation for being road warriors. Unfortunately for the G-Men, they will not be able to rely on starting in Atlanta territory on 75% of their drives like they did last week against the Saints. Matt Ryan can be lights out at home as well. With this porous Giants’ secondary, this could spell trouble. Look for the Falcons to go to the air to pick up big chunks of yardage en route to a solid win at home. Besides, the Giants usually have a typical December setback. This could be that game.
Atlanta 28, New York 20
Denver Broncos @ Baltimore Ravens
With Jim Caldwell becoming the new defensive coordinator, the Ravens could be willing to run the ball a lot more with their talented backfield duo. Yards have been hard to come by through the air against this Broncos’ defense as of late. Quarterbacks are completing a very low percentage of deep balls against them, and Joe Flacco loves to go deep. Plus, the Ravens entire defense is banged up. It is tough enough to play Peyton Manning with a fully healthy defense; it is an entirely new obstacle to overcome when you don’t have a bunch of your key players. The Broncos present a ton of match-up problems as well on offense. The only way the Ravens have a chance in this one is if they can successfully trade points with the Broncos. This will not happen and the Ravens will drop their third straight.
Denver 38, Baltimore 24
Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears
If the Bears don’t come out motivated to earn a win in this one, then they will never do so at all this season. A Green Bay win would lead to a lockup of the division in their favor. A Chicago win won’t lead to a division championship right away, but it could after the outcomes of games during Week 16 and 17. If nothing else, a win at home versus the Pack will almost guarantee the Bears a Wild Card spot. Jay Cutler should be good to go in this one, so that will not be a problem. What will be is the Chicago run defense. Lately, teams have been able to scamper for nice handfuls of yardage against this unit. Why is this so important for the Packers? Well, since their win against Minnesota, Green Bay seems to have found a running attack. This bodes very well for the Green and Gold; it helped them out quite a bit during their 2010 run at the Super Bowl. The Packers should try to exploit this weakness and stick to the ground and run between the tackles. Running outside against the Bears may not be a good idea with Charles Tillman waiting to punch the ball out. The key to this game will be each team’s offensive line play. Each has allowed a bunch of sacks to their quarterbacks this season. With the return of Clay Mathews, the advantage of a pass rush would have to go to the Pack. Cutler may have a tough day if he is able to live in the backfield. Anyways, the Packers should win this one and their second straight division title simply because they seem to be becoming more balanced with regards to their play calling. Their defense has also been stepping it up lately and if they can contain Brandon Marshall like they did Calvin Johnson last week, this game could become elementary.
Green Bay 23, Chicago 16
Washington Redskins @ Cleveland Browns
One way or another, this game will become a battle of rookie quarterbacks (with the Redskins offering up either RGIII or Kirk Cousins to face the Browns’ Brandon Weeden) and running backs (Alfred Morris vs. Trent Richardson). Believe it or not, Cleveland is riding a three game winning streak while the Redskins boast four straight wins. The ‘Skins have looked good on offense throughout this entire year with RGIII. If he is a scratch, this game could become an issue for Washington. They do need this game badly because if they triumph here, they can close out the season against Philadelphia and Dallas. Wins in both of those games plus this one could be enough to land them in the playoffs. No matter who the Redskins send out at QB, they will be leaning heavily on their rushing attack. The Browns will be able to attack through the air against this 31st ranked pass defense. Expect them to do so as they try to build up some momentum for next year. With the anticipation that this game will come down to a defensive battle, it is only fitting to select the team that can play better defense. As of right now this is the Browns (and as a bonus this game will be played in Cleveland). Pat Shurmur’s team should pull this one off on the strength of a boatload of Phil Dawson field goals.
Cleveland 22, Washington 14
Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans
This is the first time of many that Andrew Luck will get a crack at the Houston Texans in his career. Houston is coming off of a disappointing and disturbing loss to New England in Foxboro. They may return home mad at themselves and ready to pound the living daylights out of someone, or they could come in and play rather lethargically as if the air was just let out of their balloon. The Colts have something to prove as well; they want to show that they can compete with the big-boys of the division and that they are worthy of playoff competition this year. A Houston win will solidify their spot atop the AFC South perch and an Indy win could make things a little interesting down the stretch. The Texans should come out firing after being held to a meager 14 points on Monday night. Luck can keep up if this game turns into a track meet, but it is only appropriate to go with a veteran (in Schaub) over a mistake-prone rookie in these types of games. Each defense is struggling, so it will be up to the offenses to even the odds. At this point, the Texans hold a slight edge in that category given their ability to run and throw the ball. Houston should bounce back and lock up their division in the process.
Houston 30, Indianapolis 28
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Miami Dolphins
The Chad Henne bowl will be on display in Miami this weekend. He will be gazing at a shadow of himself in Ryan Tannehill. Miami is pretty much dead in the water given their recent loss to San Francisco. Jacksonville has been dead for a long time now… so there will not be much to play for in this game. With this in mind, it will be the Jaguars who manage to swallow their pride and take the road loss. Henne has not looked as explosive as he was ever since the Jags last win vs. Tennessee. This will lead to a get-well game for Miami’s defense.
Miami 17, Jacksonville 7
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints
Two weeks ago these two teams seemed to be in serious playoff contention. Now in Week 15, each seems to be left on the porch with losing records. Both are coming off of equally disappointing losses to NFC East squads and will be looking to vent their frustration on one another. There is almost no reason to not expect this game to turn into a shootout. Two of the worst pass defenses in the league will be on display and each quarterback will be looking for some vengeance after not playing at the top of their games last weekend. Running against the Bucs defense is becoming impossible to do, so the Saints will have to rely on Drew Brees to carry the team… again. This usually does not bode well for New Orleans. Also, these two have split the season series for four consecutive years. Since the Saints have already won, look for Tampa Bay to pick up their seventh win of the year here and continue to add to the misery that has turned out to be the 2012 New Orleans Saints.
Tampa Bay 43, New Orleans 30
Minnesota Vikings @ St Louis Rams
The psychic who predicted that this game would turn out to be very important for a reason other than the determination of who gets the first round draft pick next season should win a gold medal. Essentially, this will become a playoff game since the loser will find themselves on their couches during the real postseason. This one is also rather difficult to predict as well. The Rams do a good job at shutting down what other teams do best. In this case, it will require them stopping A.P. The Vikings generally do a nice job at preventing big plays and pass coverage. Since the Rams do not present the big issue of an explosive offense, the Vikes can rest easy. The reason why this game is going to go to Minnesota is because of number #28 in the backfield. This beast is chasing history and will inch even closer to a 2,000 yard season with another 100+ yard performance in St Louis. The Rams do not play their best ball all the time when it comes to opponents outside of the NFC West either.
Minnesota 27, St Louis 20
Detroit Lions @ Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals do not have an offense. It does not matter what their defense is able to do, their offense will not be able to help them in any way. After turning it over eight times and losing 58-0 in Seattle last week, it is easy to understand why the Lions should run away with this one. The fact that they are playing in Arizona helps, but it will not lead to the Cards snapping their nine-game losing streak.
Detroit 38, Arizona 3
Seattle Seahawks @ Buffalo Bills
After their rout of Arizona last week, one has to wonder if this Seattle team has what it takes to actually make a run at a Super Bowl. They have a great defense, a solid rushing attack, and a rookie quarterback who just gets it. There is not much else that a team needs to have success in this league. The one problem with Seattle is the fact that they do struggle on the road from time to time. Will this be a game where that happens? Probably not, but it would not be surprising. The biggest story of this game will be the fact that Marshawn Lynch is returning to Buffalo for the first time since they cut ties with him in 2009. He should get the ball in his belly at least 20 times and run like a monster as he looks to place a guilt-trip on the Bills. Russell Wilson will not have to do much in this one, his surrounding cast will handle the deed for him.
Seattle 23, Buffalo 10
Carolina Panthers @ San Diego Chargers
It is crazy to think that each of these teams are coming off of wins versus Pittsburgh and Atlanta respectively, but this is true. It is also a proven fact that if Carolina and San Diego do not turn the ball over, their teams win games. Cam Newton is looking more and more like himself over the last few games and he has not turned it over since the Panthers lost to Tampa Bay. Philip Rivers may have discovered gold in wide-out Danario Alexander. The two of them hooked up for a couple of scores against Pittsburgh last week. Cam Newton and Greg Olsen are developing the same kind of rapport on their side of the ball as well. In addition, both of these defenses can play well at times. Overall, we are looking at two teams that have the ability to shock a tough opponent on any given Sunday. With this in mind, there will be no shock with whoever picks up this win. The Panthers will win this one though because it is more likely that Philip Rivers will make an extra turnover rather than Newton who (as mentioned above) is playing safe with the ball as of late. Panthers win… barely.
Carolina 17, San Diego 16
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are like an old car battery: they do work well at times but could self-destruct at any given moment. Plus most people are counting on them to die out eventually. Throughout the years this would have been an appropriate metaphor, but this season is looking a little different since Dallas has not lost in December yet. Tony Romo is having a great year and is just piling up the yardage (much like a car with this old battery). The one downside to the Cowboys’ game is the fact that the team cannot run the ball. Things do not look to get any easier against the Steelers this week. Pittsburgh will be playing with some possible added motivation; if the Ravens lose to Denver, then the Black and Yellow would have an opportunity to pull even with them in a win in Big-D. Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr have been struggling recently and will have their hands full with a bunch of wide receivers that love to stretch the field. The Cowboys have been beat deep more than a couple of times this season as well. Pittsburgh may head outside of its game a little bit if they decide to attack deep throughout this one. Their defense should be able to shut down a Dallas WR corp that will be without Dez Bryant in this one. There is just too much to like about the Steelers in this matchup. Their strengths will take full advantage of the Cowboys’ weaknesses and help them win this game.
Pittsburgh 20, Dallas 10
Kansas City Chiefs @ Oakland Raiders
Which team is worse? That is the real logic behind this pick. It is very tempting to pick the Chiefs since they have been playing better as of late. Jamaal Charles could gash the Raiders for a couple of long scores as well. However, that 30-7 loss they suffered at the feet of the Cleveland Browns really makes it hard to roll with Kansas City in this situation. Oakland was able to hang around in their game against Denver last week as well, so they probably have more of a fighting chance than do the Chiefs. The Raiders should triumph here simply because Kansas City does not provide any reason for people to believe they can win. At least Oakland hung tough against Denver…
Oakland 20, Kansas City 12
San Francisco 49ers @ New England Patriots
If Giants @ Falcons, Packers @ Bears, Colts @ Texans, or Steelers @ Cowboys were not enough to quench a football fan’s thirst for this week, then this game certainly will. It pits two teams that are arguably the very best in their individual conferences, a great offense versus a great defense, and a surefire hall of famer in Tom Brady squaring off against the up and coming Colin Kaepernick. This also might be the second consecutive Sunday Night snow game. What is missing from this game that a normal football fan would want? Anyways, outside of how good the matchup is, there are specific things that do single out a winner. For instance, the Patriots simply do not lose in the second half of the season. They also do not lose at home… ever. Their one loss over the past two seasons came in Week 2 vs. Arizona this year (which, to this day, is a head-scratcher). Tom Brady loves playing teams that decide to use man coverage and blitz, which is partially why New England dominated last week against Houston. San Francisco will present a new challenge entirely. They can get consistent pressure on a quarterback without blitzing and can play coverage with the best receivers. The 49ers were built to beat teams like New England. An effective running game will be much desired as well if the conditions take a turn for the worst. This would heavily favor the 49ers, who specialize in counters and sweeps. The Pats defense is fast, but it may not be fast enough to stop the San Fran RBs if they are able to gain the edge. Colin Kaepernick will prove to be a game-breaker as well. Brandon Spike, Jerod Mayo, and Dont’a Hightower will be sprinting their tails off all game trying to spy and tackle this man. Eventually they will wear down and quite frankly, the Patriots don’t have any shutdown cornerbacks as of right now. The 49ers present the biggest challenge New England will face all year. For Week 15, San Francisco will seem as though they are the best team in the NFL with a win.
San Francisco 26, New England 24
New York Jets @ Tennessee Titans
Somehow, some way, the Jets are still alive in the playoff race. They have proven that they can win games this season, but that only happens if they form a good ground attack. If the Jets fall behind then they may be in trouble since they will have to pass the ball (which has been a disaster for them so far this season). Tennessee gets a home game on a Monday night; this will cause the fans to be very rowdy and they will make things difficult on Mark Sanchez. Through all of this, it seems reasonable to say that the Jets find some way to win this game. It may take a return TD, or a miraculous Sanchez comeback, but it is going to happen. Say what you want about Rex Ryan and his job as a coach. At least he has his team in a position to make a prayer about the playoffs. His team will salvage the moment and squeak by Tennessee (who may have some questions at quarterback after this season expires).
New York 16, Tennessee 13
Last week was a very busy week for me. I did not get the chance to post reviews of each game. I will make sure to get back on that for Week 15 starting on Friday. Be sure to check back!