After a couple weeks in a row filled with premier showdown games (New England-Denver, New Orleans-Seattle, Carolina-New Orleans, etc), NFL Week 15 is a little on the dry side. But when there’s just three weeks left in the race for the playoffs and for seeding, most games take on heightened importance.
The NFL Week 15 TV schedule is highlighted by Green Bay-Dallas (4:25 PM ET, Fox) and Cincinnati-Pittsburgh (8:30 PM ET, NBC). The injury to Aaron Rodgers has taken some of the luster off the main late afternoon TV game, and the fade of the Steelers has de-emphasized the prime-time show.
Green Bay-Dallas: The word that Rodgers won’t play just became official and we’re still waiting on betting lines for this game. The Packers’ offense might be having problems, but they are about to play a defense that just allowed the Chicago Bears to score on every possession this past Monday Night. If Eddie Lacy is ready to play–the running back is listed as questionable with an ankle injury–Green Bay can run the ball and that may open up some room in the passing game for a steadily improving Matt Flynn.
If this were the Green Bay defense we expected to see-a unit that’s had its most notable components healthy for several weeks now–the Packers would still be in good position to pull off a road victory. But the Green Bay defense has been terrible in Rodgers absence and playing indoors, there is every reason to believe Tony Romo can have a big day throwing the ball.
Dallas will win a game played at a more frenetic pace, while Green Bay has a shot if they can turn the emphasis to the running game. I’ve just lost confidence in the Packers’ ability to do it and am picking the Cowboys.
Cincinnati (-125) Pittsburgh (+105): The Steelers are realistically out of the playoff picture. The Bengals can one of two ways in the AFC North–if they win here and Baltimore loses in Detroit on Monday Night, Cincinnati clinches. But if you flip those results, then the Ravens are within one game, hold the tiebreaker and we’d point to a head-to-head game in Week 17. To further sweeten the pot, Cincinnati is also in the hunt to catch New England for the #2 seed and first-round playoff bye.
The Bengals got some good running from Giovanni Bernard in last week’s win over Indianapolis, while Pittsburgh hasn’t run the ball all year. Whatever I say about the Steelers is going to end up being wrong–it’s just been that kind of year for them. I’m going to jinx them one more time in this game.
Ben Roethlisberger has had a very underappreciated year, keeping this team in games and stealing a few, as he plays with his worst supporting cast in years. It’s too late to matter, but this has the feel of a moment where a team with some proud players stands up to be counted on prime time. I don’t like the way Cincinnati nearly blew a 21-0 lead last week, and still feel like the Bengals will slip up just at the moment they’re poised to become Super Bowl contenders. This is that moment.
Three games will be seen by large portions of the country in the 1 PM ET window…
New England (-125)Miami (+105) (CBS): The main CBS game, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call, is the best game of the week. The Dolphins are coming on strong over the last five games and with the Patriots missing Rob Gronkowski, their offense isn’t going to be the same. Meanwhile, Miami has been better balanced, with Ryan Tannehill getting different players involved in the offense and having the pass-rushing defensive ends in Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon that can cause Tom Brady some problems.
The thing is…these are the kinds of games the Patriots seem to find a way to win. I don’t think they can make the Super Bowl without Gronk (I didn’t think they were going to make it with him), but I like their chances to break the hearts of a division rival pushing for a playoff spot.
Philadelphia (-230) Minnesota (+190) (Fox): I give the Vikings a lot of credit for the way they’ve kept competing in a lost season and on their homefield, this is going to be a tough game for Philadelphia. Where the Eagles have an edge is, that they way to contain good pass-rushing defensive ends like Jared Allen and Brian Robison, you need to be able to have someone run between the tackles with the threat of cutting back, thereby making the ends stay at home and not unleash immediately on the quarterback.
Is LeSean McCoy such a back? Yeah, I think the NFL’s leading rusher is, which is why I’m picking Philly, regardless of whether or not Adrian Peterson is good to go.
Seattle (-295) NY Giants (+245) (Fox): There’s some good arguments for picking the upset here. While Seattle hasn’t formally clinched the #1 seed in the NFC it looks like only a matter of time and the sense of urgency might not be there. There’s the West Coast team playing an early game out east and messing with everyone’s body clock theory–one which I believe. And there’s the theory that says the Giants still have Super Bowl-winning players who might want to gut it up one more time, akin to what I wrote further up about the Steelers.
If it weren’t for last week’s debacle in San Diego, where the Giants lost 37-14, I’d probably have been persuaded to take an upset shot. But that game suggests to me that New York has quit on the season almost as much as NFC East foe Washington has, albeit not quite as loudly. I can’t pick an upset if I’m not sure if the dog is even going to show up with some bite, so let’s roll with Seattle .
Other games with playoff implications…
NY Jets (+415) Carolina (-425)
Kansas City (-220) Oakland (+185)
Chicago (-115) Cleveland (-105)
San Francisco (-230) Tampa Bay (+190)
New Orleans (-265) St. Louis (+220)
Arizona (-145) Tennessee (+125)
Note that the first two games are late afternoon kickoffs, including Carolina on the East Coast. San Francisco’s visit to Tampa shapes up as the most interesting to me. The Buccaneers have won four of the last five and rank 8th in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game. Colin Kaepernick has started to play better in recent weeks, once he got Michael Crabtree back, and this might be the game the 49ers have to win by throwing the ball.
This week is also the best shot Arizona has at catching San Francisco and making their Week 17 showdown a possible battle for the final NFC wild-card spot. The 49ers have to lose once before that and next week’s game is at home against Atlanta.
I’m a little squeamish about the Cardinals in this road spot–another body clock game–but I’m a lot more squeamish about Ryan Fitzpatrick going against that Arizona defense. Even without Tyrann Mathieu, this is still a unit that can get after you in the front seven and has Patrick Peterson to make plays on the back end.
Jay Cutler comes back for Chicago in a move I think is a mistake. Josh McNown is playing too well right now to sit, and the Bears have no room for error. While they’re tied with Detroit, it’s the Lions who control the tiebreaker. Cleveland’s getting great production with Jason Campbell throwing the ball to Josh Gordon and I see a Browns victory coming here.
The Chiefs have new life in the AFC West after Denver lost at home last night to San Diego. Kansas City needs to win out and hope the Broncos lose one more.
Overall, my picks in the games above would be: Carolina, Kansas City, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Arizona.
And finally, the games only someone with nothing better to do would watch…
Washington (+235) Atlanta (-285)
Buffalo (-125) Jacksonville (+105)
Houston (+195) Indianapolis (-235)
My apologies to the good people of Indianapolis for dumping their AFC South champion Colts into this sorry mess. But Indy is locked into the division title and isn’t going to get a first-round bye, so the rest of the regular season is pretty well pointless. The other five teams have pointless games ahead for less noble reasons.
I’ve written some commentary already on the whole drama surrounding my beloved Redskins (I will be one of those with nothing better to do who watches). I’ve also spent a lot of time this week in social media, and finally I spent at least twenty minutes outside a gym in zero degree weather talking to a fellow ‘Skins fan about our travails after a rec league basketball game. So yes, I’m somewhat wrapped up in at all right now.
For this space, let’s just say I think everything is in place for Kirk Cousins to play well–let’s not forget in similar situations (bad opposing defense, conducive weather), RG3 had good games against Minnesota and the New York Giants in recent weeks, and I think Cousins can put up some yardage against the Falcons. Whether the defense and special teams give it all back is another question, but the (+235) price tag is enough for me to take the ‘Skins. I’ll take Indianapolis and Jacksonville in the other two games.
Season-Long Moneyline Record (-1715)