Picks For All NFL Week 15 Games
Even Ed Hochuli Doesn't Know How This Will End
With only three divisions claimed in the NFL going into week 15, it is safe to say that parity has really been taken to the extreme. Gone are the days of the top two or three teams so far ahead of the others that it almost wasn't even fair to go through the playoffs.
If you take a good look at either conference, the old Bill Parcell's adage that "you are what you're record says you are" must be thrown to the wayside. The Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans, both sitting at 11-2 are not even considered the most complete teams, and many won't even pick them to get to the Super Bowl.
Realistically, all seeds are wide open for anyone that wants them heading into the final three games. To think that at this point, the Seattle Seahawks could win the NFC West, the Texans can lose the division to the Indianapolis Colts, and the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns still have a faint pulse is almost unfathomable.
Yet here we are looking at some key match-ups this week that can make the final two weeks as exciting as we have ever seen in the NFL. We have the opportunity to see three rookie QBs, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson lead their teams to playoff berths, while a resurgent Peyton Manning looks to take his Denver Broncos to either a two seed or, if the chips fall right, possibly the top seed in the AFC.
Here are my picks for all of the NFL Week 15 games that will surely make me look a fool as more times than not, you can never tell just what will happen on game day. Feel free to leave a comment or share your own picks below.
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Cincinnati Bengals(7-6) at Philadelphia Eagles(4-9)
The Cincinnati Bengals suffered a huge blow last week losing to the Dallas Cowboys on a last second field goal. The Philadelphia Eagles received an inspiring performance by Nick Foles who threw for almost 400 yards and 2TDs while deflating the playoff hopes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
All the Eagles can do is play the spoiler at this juncture and if the Bengals do not get back to what they do best, their own playoff hopes will end on Thursday night. It may be a lot to ask of Andy Dalton to go into Philadelphia and escape with a win in a hostile environment. If the Bengals defense can get at Foles and create turnovers, and protect Dalton while giving him the opportunity to get in sync with A.J. Green, then that will be their recipe for success.
I do, however, look for the AFC playoff picture soundly take shape this weekend and it will start with the Bengals, well, being the Bengals. The Eagles have played better as of late, and they would like nothing more than to really muddy up the waters in the NFC East.
Eagles 27 Bengals 23
New York Football Giants(8-5) at Atlanta Falcons(11-2)
This is a typical showdown between powerhouse teams that will go a long way in deciding the NFC. While I look for the AFC to clear up their playoff picture this weekend, the NFC may have to wait another week. The New York Giants looked great putting up 52 points this past week against the high octane New Orleans Saints, in which all three phases clicked.
The issue lies in if Ahmad Bradshaw will be suited up on Sunday, or if David Wilson will be getting the bulk of the carries. The Atlanta Falcons have an athletic defense and an explosive offense that looked like they took a week off against the Carolina Panthers in only their second loss of the season. The Giants pass rush will begin to come alive and it starts against the Falcons.
With Michael Turner not as effective running as he should have been all year, it is not unreasonable for the Giants to be able to shut down the Falcons one dimensional offense. This is the first classic game this week that proves that Bill Parcells' statement is dated.
Giants 34 Falcons 17
Minnesota Vikings(7-6) at St. Louis Rams(6-6-1)
The Minnesota Vikings have a precarious situation ahead as they now sit as the ninth team on the rung of playoff hopefuls. A win against the St.Louis Rams this week would go a long way in giving them an edge going into the final two weeks. But this is the Rams, and they are not as bad as their record indicates as they have beaten the Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks while tying and beating the San Francisco 49ers.
This will be a tough task for the upstart Vikings, but whenever you have MVP candidate Adrian Peterson, nothing is impossible. A win on Sunday will go a long way in setting them up for a big game against the Houston Texans in week 16.
Vikings 24 Rams 13
Jacksonville Jaguars(2-11) at Miami Dolphins(5-8)
As one of the dud games this Sunday, not every match-up will have playoff implications. But if you are a fan of one of these teams, then all you can do is sit back and enjoy that three hour window. The Miami Dolphins have had the unfortunate luck playing the 49ers, Patriots and Seahawks the past three weeks only beating Seattle. The Jacksonville Jaguars can not seem to get out of their own way and are learning that Chad Henne is not the answer.
From a pure NFL standpoint, this is nothing more than a non-competitive game against two teams that are going nowhere but the front of the draft. The question to this pick is whether either of these teams really want the win, and which team will do enough to lose.
Dolphins 17 Jaguars 13
Green Bay Packers(9-4) at Chicago Bears(8-5)
This is another game with a high magnitude of implications on who will be playing in January. The Green Bay Packers visit a Chicago Bears team that has lost four out of their last five and have not been pretty doing it. The loss of Brian Urlacher is tremendous and will undoubtedly be the difference in their pass rush and allowing the middle of the field to be exploited by Aaron Rodgers.
With a win, the Packers can win the NFC North. They have now won seven out of their last eight and are looking like one of the best teams in the league, while the Bears are trending the other way. The Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall tandem has been amazing all year, but it will not be enough without the help needed from RB Matt Forte. This will be a stinging loss for the Bears who began the season 7-1, and now will be playing for a wild card.
Packers 38 Bears 23
Washington Redskins(7-6) at Cleveland Browns(5-8)
Let's put to rest the playoff talk about the Cleveland Browns after Sunday. Yes they have won four out of their last six and are on the outside looking in, but this is not the year for end of the world(sorry, Mayans) or for the Browns to make the playoffs. With or without Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins are focused because they have one of the best game planners in the league in Head Coach Mike Shanahan.
Kirk Cousins is a viable backup that can run the offense and secure a push for the playoffs. But all indications will be RGIII making the trip and getting the start because that is what leaders do, and he is one of the most inspiring leaders in this league.
Redskins 24 Browns 12
Denver Broncos(10-3) at Baltimore Ravens(9-4)
This game has been penciled into all fans calendars since the preseason as the Denver Broncos head to play the Baltimore Ravens. While Ray Lewis may say that he wants to play, that is highly unlikely, and even if he does, would not have much of an impact on the field after missing several games. Add to that the firing of the Ravens offensive coordinator, and it looks as if they are in the midst of turmoil.
Enter the Broncos who have won eight straight and sit at 10-3 and considered by most to be the class of the AFC along with the Patriots. Peyton Manning and his offense is clicking on all cylinders from the second quarter on, while Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense is sputtering. Defensively, if the Ravens can crack one of the league's best offensive lines and create turnovers, they will leave themselves in position to win.
What the Ravens have to be wary of, though, is the pass rush of the Broncos that includes DPOY candidate Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil and Derek Wolfe. The Broncos defense is top five in the NFL and is athletic as they come under Coordinator Jack Del Rio. That does not bode well for the Ravens, if the Broncos are able to shut down explosive back Ray Rice. With a Denver win, they will be in good position to gain the two seed or better in the AFC.
Broncos 28 Ravens 20
Indianapolis Colts(9-4) at Houston Texans(11-2)
After a complete dismantling at the hands of the Patriots, the Houston Texans need to regroup, and do it quickly as the surprising Indianapolis Colts come to town with a little bit of luck. The Texans looked susceptible to quick passes and the hurry up offense while mostly playing a man coverage this past week. The Colts may not be the quickest offense, but Andrew Luck knows how to find WR Reggie Wayne and TE Coby Fleener at will.
For the rookie QB, playing in one of the most important measuring stick games in his early career, Luck will find a way to keep his Colts in this game. DPOY candidate J.J. Watt looked anything but against the Pats, and now needs to re-establish himself as a game changer. If he doesn't, and Matt Schaub looks pedestrian again for the second week in a row, then the door will be opened for the Colts to really push to win the division. Let the games begin. Yes, I'm calling an overtime upset here.
Colts 27 Texans 24
Tampa Bay Buccaneers(6-7) at New Orleans Saints(5-8)
Another team that will soon be looking towards next year after sticking close to the playoff race all year is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Josh Freeman and rookie Doug Martin have had incredible years and they will make the Bucs contenders for years to come, but not this year. The New Orleans Saints got embarrassed by the Giants last week and will be looking to reconcile that at home.
The Saints need to end this year on a high note, now that the Bounty Gate scandal is behind them. Drew Brees will lead this team into the last three weeks looking to play spoiler against the Bucs and next week versus the Cowboys. For this week, it will be all Saints marching in.
Saints 42 Buccaneers 27
Detroit Lions(4-9) at Arizona Cardinals(4-9)
What do you get when you put one team that has lost six of eight against another team that has lost nine straight and is on the heels of a 58-0 drubbing? An embarrassing evening of football that makes you turn to the NBA if you are a fan of either team. Break out the paper bags, call for coaches being fired and wonder when your owner is going to sell the club.
Welcome to the 2012 season for the Detroit Lions and the Arizona Cardinals. This game will most likely a high scoring slug-fest between two teams that can not wait to go home for the off-season. Neither defense shows up, a lot of turnovers will be created, and you will witness some shoddy running and QB play. So who wins? Does anyone really care?
Lions 34 Cardinals 27
Carolina Panthers(4-9) at San Diego Chargers(5-8)
After a convincing win against the Falcons, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers seem to have found a groove of late, winning two of three. They play a San Diego Chargers team that manhandled the league's best defense in the Pittsburgh Steelers, while dropping 34 points last week. The Chargers are playing to save Norv Turner as Head Coach, although I do not believe that can be accomplished, or should be. The Panthers are only playing to get to next year, but this should still be a competitive game.
The big contest this week will be the Chargers fourth best defense against the run, versus the Panthers 11th best running attack that averages 119 yards per game. If the Bolts can limit Newton to a pocket passer, and prevent him from taking off, then the game will play right into their strengths. Phillip Rivers has to have crisp game with no turnovers, as the Panthers have a good secondary that can intercept the ball and an athletic defense that forces fumbles. This might actually be an entertaining game.
Chargers 31 Panthers 27
Seattle Seahawks(8-5) at Buffalo Bills(5-8)
The Seattle Seahawks are making a bid with a rookie QB to steal the division away from the suddenly vulnerable San Francisco 49ers. It starts this week with a win against a Buffalo Bills team that can put up scores in bunches when clicking. The Seahawks defense is fourth against the pass and 10th against the run, which does not make this a good match-up for the Bills, even at home.
C.J. Spiller and Ryan Fitzpatrick will have all they can handle against the Seahawks, who have won four of five. I look for Marshawn Lynch to be able to exploit the front seven of the Bills, while QB Russell Wilson leads a couple long drives to take one step closer to an NFC West title. The momentum gained from the mauling Seattle put on Arizona last week, 58-0, will go a long way in giving this club the confidence that they can score a few different ways and will be a team to be reckoned with the last two weeks.
Seahawks 38 Bills 23
Pittsburgh Steelers(7-6) at Dallas Cowboys(7-6)
The Pittsburgh Steelers are licking their wounds from a spanking at the hands of the schizophrenic San Diego Chargers in Ben Roethlisberger's first game back after a three game absence. The Dallas Cowboys needed a last second field goal to beat the Bengals after an anemic offensive performance through the first three quarters. I do not not see Tony Romo leading any last minute drives into field goal territory in this game however.
Big Ben will find his groove once again, as the Steelers prepare to play without RB Rashard Mendenhall, who was suspended for one game for conduct detrimental to the team. The Cowboys might be without their troubled WR Dez Bryant, who fractured his left index finger in Sunday's win. Either way, I see the Steelers doing what they do best: playing to enter the playoffs, while the Cowboys play to eliminate themselves.
Steelers 23 Cowboys 13
Kansas City Chiefs(2-11) at Oakland Raiders(3-10)
As a writer for the Denver Broncos, I see quite a bit if these two teams every year. This has got to be the worst the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders have been in some time, and that is saying something. The Chiefs are vying with Jacksonville for the number one pick at this juncture, while the Raiders look like they are trying to catch up so they can blow another number one pick.
It's simply amazing how two teams with so much talent just refuse to get out of their own way. I don't know if it is the coaching, the players, or the culture that has been created, but these storied teams need to get back on track.
Raiders 20 Chiefs 13
San Francisco 49ers(9-3-1) at New England Patriots(10-3)
The New England Patriots made short work of the AFC leading Houston Texans on Monday Night Football, 42-14. They now get to host one of the NFC's elite, the San Francisco 49ers, who have put their stock in second year QB Colin Kaepernick. This should not even be a tough decision on who will win this game as no one should ever bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichek at home in December with a possible one seed looming.
But Coach Jim Harbaugh will not make the same mistakes that Gary Kubiak made playing man coverage and allowing Brady to create space in the pocket and command the game. The 49ers defense is more well-rounded and athletic and their pass rush is more formidable. Brady will be harassed all game and might even have trouble finding an open man. But to think Kaepernick will be able to handle the Pats defense when Frank Gore is bottled up by Vince Wilfork, is simply foolish. Harbaugh would be wise to put Alex Smith in and stop fooling with the QB experiment. Pats still win.
Patriots 24 49ers 17
New York Jets(6-7) at Tennessee Titans(4-9)
Ah, the joys of being the only game on town. The New York Jets are actually alive in the playoff pursuit and all they have to do is win out and get help from about eight other teams. But first they have to travel to the Tennessee Titans,who again, lays Bill Parcells' statement to waste. Chris Johnson should be able to garner 115 or more yards against this Jets defense, while Jake Locker picks apart a secondary that hangs on by a thread.
Rex Ryan continues to volley back and forth between back-up QB's and Mark Sanchez still has no viable play-makers on offense, even with acquiring Braylon Edwards this week. The Jets playoff hopes end in the music city, and we can finally stop talking about the circus in the Meadowlands. This might also be the last Monday night game we see of the Jets in a long time.
Titans 23 Jets 17