NFL Picks Week 15: Home Favorites That Will Fail in Crucial Matchups

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 09:  Matt Ryan #2 of the Atlanta Falcons calls a play during their game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on December 9, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A late-season home game can make all the difference for a team making it into the postseason or sitting at home watching 12 other teams battle it out for the right to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the air. 

As we inch closer to the start of Week 15, playoff positioning is starting to take shape. Only four teams have clinched playoff berths thus far, including Atlanta, New England and Denver winning their respective divisions. 

We still have a lot to be settled over the final three weeks, with some of the biggest matchups this weekend going a long way towards determining who will be playing where come January. Here are the home teams we are looking at on upset alert. 

Odds courtesy of Bovada

New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons (-1)

The Falcons have done an incredible job of finding ways to win close games, though that formula is not sustainable for long-term success. They are 7-1 in games decided by seven points or less this season. 

The Giants have alternated wins and losses in their last four games, putting up 52 points in last week's blowout against New Orleans. Since the calendar has flipped to December, everyone naturally assumes this team will hit its stride and make another deep playoff run. 

While I don't think the Giants are that good, I have more questions about the Falcons right now. They gave up 195 rushing yards in last week's dreadful performance against Carolina. Matt Ryan has been a turnover machine since the start of November, throwing eight interceptions in the last five games. 

The Falcons will keep this game a lot closer than that 24-2 drubbing they took in the playoffs last January, but it still won't be enough to overcome the monster that is the New York Giants. 

Giants 31, Falcons 27


Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (-9)

Before you just assume that I am basing this prediction on what happened to the Texans against New England, I would like to point out two things that I do realize heading into this surprisingly critical AFC South matchup. 

First, I am more than aware that the Colts lost by 35 points to New England in Week 11. That was a game where people first started to pay attention to this young team and, unsurprisingly, they got knocked around by a superior team. 

Second, and more importantly, have you seen the way the Texans have been playing the last four weeks? There was a time when this defense was being talked about in the same breath as Pittsburgh's and San Francisco's as the best in the NFL. 

Since Week 11, the Texans have allowed 120 points. We all know New England can score points on anyone, but where is the explanation for allowing 37 points to Jacksonville or 31 to Detroit? This team can't stop the pass anymore, which puts even more pressure on J.J. Watt and the defensive line. 

The Colts aren't exactly a dynamic offensive force, as they don't have much of a running game, but somehow, someway they find ways to win even when they aren't playing their best football. 

A Colts victory in this game might seem like an upset, but when you pay attention to the way these two teams are playing right now, there really isn't that much separation between the Colts and Texans in the AFC South. After this week, the gap will be even closer. 

Colts 24, Texans 23


Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-3.5)

The Saints already got one victory this week, when former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue lifted the suspensions for the players implicated in the Bountygate Scandal. 

Now there is the matter of taking care of business on the field, something the Saints haven't done a lot of in recent weeks. After putting together five wins in six weeks to get their record back to .500, the Saints have lost their last three games. 

While the defense is a constant source of frustration, Drew Brees has been a big problem during the losing streak, throwing nine interceptions in that span. 

But this week Brees has the opportunity to go up against the 32nd-ranked pass defense, which would seem to be a plus for him. After all, he did have 377 yards and four touchdowns in a Week 6 victory against Tampa Bay. 

The difference between now and then is just in the way the Saints are playing. They were playing as well as this particular team was going to play all season, especially considering how bad the defense is. 

The Buccaneers have also lost their last three games, though it took a last-second touchdown pass from Nick Foles in Week 14 to keep that streak alive. 

I can't say that I trust either team to perform well in this matchup, but I have less faith in the Saints than the Buccaneers right now. There is a lot more balance to the Buccaneers on offense, and at least on defense they do something well (stop the run). 

The slim playoff hopes for the Saints will be dashed with this loss, while the Buccaneers will hang on by a thread. 

Buccaneers 34, Saints 30