It's Week 15 in the NFL, and the haves and have-nots are starting to separate as the burgeoning middle class tries to do its best to jostle for playoff position.
Last week's game of the week (Houston vs. New England) ended up being not much of a game at all, as the Patriots imposed their will from the opening snap and never really let up on Monday Night Football. The Pats have installed themselves as this week's "best team in football," as both the aforementioned Texans and the Atlanta Falcons suffered embarrassing losses. Those Patriots get another test in Week 15 as the 49ers come to town.
A bunch of other great games are on the schedule as the NFL turns toward divisional games to finish off the season: Packers vs. Bears, Colts vs. Texans and Buccaneers vs. Saints should all be great games with playoff implications.
Check out our picks and more ahead!
Our B/R Panel of Experts
Note: All betting odds are for informational purposes only and courtesy of Statfox.com. Although spreads are provided, all picks are straight up.
Another weird week for the NFL, as teams like Philadelphia, Carolina and San Diego showed life against much better opponents. Things settled down once the late games hit on Sunday, however, as the experts went five out of six on unanimous picks to end the week.
Overall, the consensus went 10-6. Best expert of the week was Andrew Garda, who went 12-4.
B/R Consensus: Bengals (9-2)
Vegas: Bengals (-3)
While Nick Foles has provided the Eagles fanbase with some semblance of hope for the future, this isn't a team with a lot left to play for, and I'm not even sure it can save Andy Reid's job. The Bengals are headed for the playoffs and will treat the Eagles like the speed bump they are.
Nick Foles' magic may have been used up in the team's fourth-quarter win last week. The Bengals will attack an overrated Philadelphia secondary, with a dash of BenJarvus Green-Ellis up the middle on the way to a victory.
Look for the Bengals to use the Cowboys game as a lesson: Step on an opponent's throat when you have the chance. Andy Dalton and company show that lesson has been learned against the Eagles.
For the Cincinnati Bengals to reach the playoffs this year, they must keep winning, and it shouldn't be too difficult to do so over the terrible Eagles on Thursday night. Don't let the Eagles' Week 14 win (or the Bengals' loss) fool you—there's no way the Eagles will be able to contain A.J. Green, and no way for them to protect Nick Foles.
I like the way Nick Foles is playing, and the Eagles are battling, but I don't think this is a good matchup for Foles and the rest of that depleted offense. The Bengals need this one badly, and they should get after the quarterback often in a close road victory.
**Against the Grain**
What has Cincinnati done to make anyone think it'll win a tough road game? The NFC is just better than the AFC, so I'm taking the home team.
Also Picking the Eagles: Langland
B/R Consensus: Giants (9-2)
Vegas: Falcons (-2)
Every time the Giants look like the best team in football, they backslide again, but this game is different. You are not, as Bill Parcells said, what your record says you are. The Falcons are not as good as 11-2, and the Giants should be able to beat them easily.
The New York Giants are red-hot (per usual) heading into the playoffs. Expect Tom Coughlin to have his troops ready to go in a very tough road game. Matt Ryan will be pressured all day in a high-scoring affair that favors the Giants.
The Falcons are about to meet the best team in the NFC. Forget the letdown against the Redskins. The team that beat up the Packers and Saints is coming to town.
I don't envision the Falcons suddenly losing back-to-back games in December, so I think they take care of business at home against an inconsistent Giants team. I have a feeling we might see Bad Eli a lot at the Georgia Dome.
Was Sunday's loss to the Panthers a hiccup or a sign of a huge problem for the Atlanta Falcons? That question won't be answered until after the Giants game, but my gut says the Falcons are in more trouble than most believe. The Giants bring a pass rush like the Falcons have seen very infrequently this year. For a team with third-down troubles, this isn't good news.
Also Voting for the Falcons: Dunlevy
B/R Consensus: Rams (8-3)
Vegas: Rams (-3)
The Rams have a good (but not great) rushing defense, and Adrian Peterson could end up doubling the 110 yards per game they allow. Will it be enough? Maybe not, but the Vikings know better than to drop back and pass 40 times against that Rams pass rush. Vikings win a close one.
Adrian Peterson's attempt at the rushing record will see a setback this week against a ferocious St. Louis defense. Michael Brockers is quickly becoming a top run defender, and with the speed of Chris Long and Robert Quinn off the edge, Christian Ponder is guaranteed to make mistakes.
Fresh off an upset win over the Chicago Bears, the Vikings have discovered the secret formula to winning: Peterson + Lots of Carries - Ponder Miscues = Winning. Using this super-secret formula, Minnesota will travel to St. Louis and give the Rams a healthy dose of Peterson.
As much as I like the Rams defense, they don't have the group needed to stop "All Day," while the Vikings defense has the horses to shut down Bradford and his average group of wide receivers.
St. Louis has managed to go from 3-6-1 to 6-6-1, meaning it has now won three games in a row for the first time since 2006. Offensively, the Rams are still not where they want to be, but Sam Bradford and company should get Danny Amendola back this week, so expect an uptick in production against Minnesota's weak pass defense. Rams win another close one at the dome.
B/R Consensus: Dolphins (Unanimous)
Vegas: Dolphins (-7)
This game isn't going to be pretty for anyone. What is eventually going to break in this game is the battle between the Jaguars rushing defense and a good Dolphins offensive line. Tannehill only needs to make a few plays; Reggie Bush and the rushing attack can take care of the rest.
The Miami defense will have no problems slowing down the no-name offense of the Jacksonville Jaguars. No problem at all. I'm taking Miami, and taking it big.
The Dolphins are a typical rebuilding team with some impressive parts that aren't near complete when put together as a team. But their parts are better than the Jaguars' parts.
The difference between the Blaine Gabbert era and the Chad Henne era is nonexistent. Miami wins at home.
The Dolphins are a much better team when they run effectively because it allows Ryan Tannehill to take a backseat. The Jaguars couldn't even prevent Mark Sanchez from having an effective day against them in Week 14. No reason Miami should lose this game at home.
B/R Consensus: Packers (10-1)
It sounds like Jay Cutler will play, but that might not matter. The Packers are firing on all cylinders right now, and they can run the ball just enough to keep that pass rush off of Rodgers.
Holding on to the No. 1 seed in the NFC North means beating Chicago on the road. With Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson expected back this week, that will be easier than you might think. Green Bay wins decisively.
The Bears have relied on Brian Urlacher to match wits with Aaron Rodgers at the line of scrimmage over the years. His absence makes a huge difference in this game. The Packers win with a running game and a secondary that lives to take the ball away from Jay Cutler.
Chicago has to win this game, but unfortunately, it hasn't been able to come up with the big play the last few weeks. While this is in Soldier Field (advantage Bears), the battered state of the Bears defense leaves me feeling that Aaron Rodgers and company will have a very good day. Mind you, if the Pack runs half as well as they did against the Lions, he might not have to throw much.
Voting for the Bears: Hansen
B/R Consensus: Redskins (9-2)
It's starting to sound like Griffin should be able to play, but no matter who is under center, the Redskins' rushing attack should be able to take advantage of the Browns' 18th-ranked rushing defense.
A hobbled Robert Griffin III against a tough Cleveland defense puts the advantage firmly in the Browns' corner. So does the fact that Josh Gordon can't be stopped by the overrated DeAngelo Hall.
RGIII? Cousins? It doesn't matter. The Redskins offense will move the ball with Alfred Morris on the ground and keep Brandon Weeden and the Browns offense off the field. Yes, that felt as weird to type as it did to read.
Yes, the Browns have won three in a row, but two of those wins came against Oakland and Kansas City, and the Redskins are even hotter. I think the hungry 'Skins make it five in a row regardless of who's at quarterback.
It would be a major coup for the Browns to pull off four consecutive victories with a win over the Redskins, but I don't see them doing it. Whether RG3 or Kirk Cousins is under center, it doesn't matter; this game will be about containing Alfred Morris, something that will prove too difficult for the Browns this Sunday.
Also Voting for the Browns: Dunlevy
B/R Consensus: Broncos (9-2)
If the Ravens utilize the uptempo offense, as they've promised after firing Cam Cameron, it's possible this game turns into a shootout and not just a Broncos beatdown. But even then, in the best-case scenario, wouldn't you go with Peyton Manning?
Peyton Manning's bird-carving skills will be on display as the Denver offense dismantles an aging Baltimore defense. Without Lardarius Webb, the Ravens are in major trouble against a top-flight offense like Denver's.
I fully expect the scapegoating of Cam Cameron to go as well in Baltimore as the scapegoating of Juan Castillo went in Philadelphia. Peyton Manning carves up the Ravens defense, and Von Miller cleans up by putting Joe Flacco on his back.
The Ravens aren't playing good football and had to take the drastic measure of switching offensive coordinators midseason. The Broncos not only have something to prove, but Peyton Manning also had extra time to prepare since the Broncos played last Thursday. Broncos win.
While the Ravens' switch from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator may provide more variety—and thus life—to their offense, it won't be a quick fix. Baltimore's ailing defense will need to contain Peyton Manning, while Joe Flacco may be tasked with trying to outscore him. I don't think either of those things is possible, so the Ravens will end up dropping their third straight game.
**Against the Grain**
When Denver has come up against a great opponent—Atlanta, Houston, New England—it has come up short. The question is whether Baltimore—with its battered defense, streaky Flacco and new offensive coordinator—is a great team or not. I lean towards yes, and while the defense has had issues, it has stepped up beyond those issues this season. Coming off a two-game losing streak, I don't see there being a third in a row, especially at home.
Also Voting for the Ravens: Frenz
B/R Consensus: Texans (Unanimous)
Vegas: Texans (-9)
If this game were in Indianapolis, I might be tempted to believe in Andrew Luck's magic. However, the Texans are at home and will be looking to mete out vengeance for their Monday night loss on somebody.
Andrew Luck has some kind of ninja-like ability to win close games in the fourth quarter, but the Texans won't let him keep it close. The AFC South kings will show the Colts just how far they have to go to compete with the big boys of the AFC.
Ignore the Colts' gaudy 9-4 record. They are much closer to a five-win team than a nine-win team. They've been eking out wins over the worst teams in the league. If this is within two touchdowns, Indy will have done well.
B/R Consensus: Saints (7-4)
Vegas: Saints (-3)
You want to believe in the Saints? Go right ahead. This is a rudderless battleship. There are plenty of weapons, but rarely anyone at the controls. Late in the season, I'm taking the better-coached team and the Buccaneers rushing attack.
The Tampa Bay offense is struggling, which gives me reason to doubt it can keep up with the New Orleans Saints offense—especially after watching the Tampa cornerbacks playing some of the worst football in the NFL lately.
Drew Brees is playing poorly. That all changes against an extremely porous Buccaneers secondary. Josh Freeman will have opportunities, but he'll be playing from behind after Brees comes out on fire and leaves Saints fans thinking about what might have been.
Neither Tampa Bay nor New Orleans has played well recently after showing signs of life. One will get a breath back after Week 14, and the other will be pronounced lifeless. Tampa Bay should be able to do more against the Saints defense than New Orleans can do against the Tampa Bay defense. The Saints will have some successful strikes, but the Buccaneers will pound and pound all day long.
Also Voting for the Buccaneers: Garda, Hansen
B/R Consensus: Lions (10-1)
Vegas: Lions (-6)
The worst offensive line vs. a defensive line that is already licking its chops? The Cardinals defense could keep this close for a while, but the Lions defense could end up scoring double-digits by itself.
Not a team I would normally pick to win, but the Detroit Lions won't lose to the Arizona Cardinals. Calvin Johnson won't have his normal output against a good defense, but the Lions should be able to score on defense to put this one away.
These two are very similar teams. Both have one great wide receiver and a bunch of "dudes," good defenses and a head coach who might be feeling a bit warm. The advantage for Detroit is, it has a great quarterback to go with its awesome receiver. Try as Larry Fitzgerald might, he just can't magically produce touchdowns.
This won't be a blowout as bad as the Cards experienced last week, but the Lions will win this handily. Ken Whisenhunt can (once again) double check with the media that none of them can play quarterback.
Even though Arizona returns home to the desert, it shouldn't signal much significance considering it is currently the loser of nine straight games. Not to mention its quarterback situation is in worse shape than some Division I programs. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson should be licking their chops as this game has "big game" potential written all over it.
**Against the Grain**
The Cards are in free fall, but so are the Lions. I'm taking the team with the better defense at home.
B/R Consensus: Chargers (8-3)
Vegas: Chargers (-3)
Home-field advantage has a lot to do with this pick, but so does the fact that as each team tries to save its coach's job, the Chargers have more talent.
Picking Norv Turner to win a game in December is never foolproof, but against the Carolina Panthers, I'm feeling lucky. Cam Newton will get his, but this San Diego defense is loaded up front. Philip Rivers and Co. should have a relatively easy day in the victory.
The Carolina Panthers we saw on Sunday are not the real Carolina Panthers. Those guys were all doing Greg Hardy a huge favor and backing up some trash talk. Cam Newton is enjoying a return to 2011 form of late, but Carolina's defense can't keep San Diego from running up the score.
The Chargers always play well when the games are virtually meaningless. Expect that trend to continue at home against the inconsistent Panthers. How interesting would it be if the Chargers finished 8-8?
Picking the Panthers: Hangst, Dunlevy, Gagnon
B/R Consensus: Seahawks (10-1)
Vegas: Seahawks (-3.5)
C.J. Spiller is good, but I'm not sure he can shoulder the entire load against a good Seattle team. (Note: Previously, my comment didn't reflect that this game was in Toronto. However, inside/outside, Buffalo/Toronto...none of that changes that Fitzpatrick should have a rough day against Seattle's pass rush.)
I never pick against Seattle when it's at home...or when it's in Canada. The team travels cross-country to face the Bills in Toronto, and I predict Russell Wilson's offense to find a way to win against a Buffalo defense that's improved over the last four weeks. This one will be close, but Seattle wins.
The Seahawks won't find things so easy this week when they head to Toronto to take on a Bills team that has a bit more bite to them than the Cardinals. But Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch both still find plenty of space to operate.
After a 58-0 drubbing of the Cardinals, the Seahawks need to be careful, as this Bills game has "trap game" written all over it. However, Pete Carroll has kept his team grounded all season long through the good and the bad. On the road, the 'Hawks will need to rely on their run game and good team defense. Look for a low-scoring affair, with the Seahawks leading the charge to their ninth win of the season.
The Bills not only have to overcome their opponent, the tough Seattle Seahawks, but they must also overcome their head coach, who seems to be the one thing standing between the Bills being a bad team and an average team. The Seahawks have proven they can win on the road, and the Bills are not who we thought they were this offseason.
B/R Consensus: Steelers (7-4)
Vegas: Cowboys (-1)
I'm giving the Cowboys major props for the win against the Bengals last week, and I think this could be another surprise down in JerryWorld, but I just can't trust them. Tony Romo is playing great again and getting little respect for it; I'm just not sure he can hold up with the help around him against all the Steelers D is going to throw at him.
The Steelers are too inconsistent to get my vote in Week 15. The secondary will be picked apart by Tony Romo, even if Dez Bryant can't go, and I'm expecting big things from DeMarco Murray against a weakened front seven.
The Steelers laid an egg at home against the Chargers, but get back on track on the road. The Cowboys have been playing a gritty brand of football, but Dez Bryant's likely absence makes things tough on the offensive side of the ball.
After what happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week, don't expect them to come out flat against the Cowboys. This is an angry team on the verge of clinching a playoff spot, and it's going to show the Cowboys just how dangerous and strong a team it can be. Someone had to be sacrificed to the Steelers this week; this will not end well for Dallas.
Pittsburgh's desperate right now, and while it hung in there against Cincinnati, I still don't trust the depleted Cowboys defense right now. Dallas has a great opportunity here, but when was the last time this team actually delivered when we've said that?
Also Voting for the Cowboys: Hansen, Dunlevy, Garda
B/R Consensus: Raiders (6-5)
Vegas: Raiders (-2.5)
These are two horrible teams that have a lot of work to do in 2013 and beyond. I'm taking the one with the best player, Jamaal Charles. He'll run all over the Raiders' terrible run defense.
A letdown was expected in Week 14 following an emotional win at home in Week 13, but now the Chiefs just have to get back to playing football. Beating Oakland at home won't be easy for Kansas City, but on paper, the Chiefs are the much better play this week. Jamaal Charles should have a big day in a game with big fantasy football playoff implications.
In a game that could redefine "ugly football," the Raiders finally figure out a way to move the ball and score points prior to garbage time. The Chiefs' tough march toward the offseason continues.
Two bad teams, and the loser will be the only team left that is competing with Jacksonville Jaguars for the No. 1 overall pick. The Raiders won easily in Kansas City and get this game at home. Raiders win, but expect a competitive game between arguably the two worst teams in football.
Also Picking the Chiefs: Frenz, Gagnon, Garda
B/R Consensus: Patriots (8-3)
Vegas: Patriots (-3.5)
The Patriots are the best team in football, and Belichick is going to have them ready to face Colin Kaepernick. We saw what Brady could do against a good Texans defense; he shouldn't have that much harder of a time against the Niners.
I've said before that I never pick against Tom Brady...but guess what? I'm picking against Tom Brady. The San Francisco defense is unlike anything Brady has seen this year, and I'm not so sure the New England front five can stop the Smith Brothers off the edge. The 49ers get the win on the road in New England.
The 49ers will prove a much tougher test than the Texans did in Foxboro, but Tom Brady has too many ways to beat a 49ers defense that is tough and physical, but won't be up to the track meet Josh McDaniels will undoubtedly have prepared for the Pats offense to run.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are as good as it gets at home, so 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will need to have his biggest game of the year on the road. Unfortunately, I don't think it happens just yet. The Pats will get the better of San Francisco in Week 15, but Aldon Smith will inch closer to the single-season sack record, as Nate Solder will look overmatched.
Colin Kaepernick has looked solid at times, but unspectacular at others. The Patriots won't let him get away with that; they'll take away the running game, as they have much of the year, and put the ball in his hands. A second-year quarterback making his fifth career start against Tom Brady? I think we all know which way this is going.
Also Picking the 49ers: Dunlevy, Hangst
B/R Consensus: Titans (8-3)
Vegas: Titans (-1)
Who's stopping Chris Johnson? Nobody? Nobody.
The Jets are somehow still alive in the playoff race. They'll get the job done again against a Tennessee team that's woefully underperformed this year. Rex Ryan may be a loudmouth, but his team fights hard no matter the circumstance. That's good enough to secure my pick this week.
The Titans are not an extremely talented team, but they match up well with the Jets. Jake Locker and Chris Johnson do just enough to outscore Sanchez and the Jets, meaning it will probably be 13-10.
Say what you will about Rex Ryan and his team, but his guys never quit, and the Jets are just one game out of the playoffs because of it. The Titans, on the other hand, are in the throes of a three-game losing streak after a heartbreaker against the Colts. Two teams on opposite trajectories points to a Jets win.
This is a toss-up between two deeply flawed teams. There's no reason to like either of them, so I'm taking the home team.
Also Picking the Jets: Hansen
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.