NFL Teams on Upset Alert for Week 15
This past Monday night, ESPN analyst Cris Carter gave this analysis as he picked the Houston Texans to defeat the New England Patriots, "I'm going with the best team in football." Following that prediction, the Texans gave up 28 straight points to open the game before eventually losing the game 42-14.
As the old adage says, that's why they play the game.
Teams on upset alert went 3-1 in Week 14, as only the Buffalo Bills were caught truly off guard by the St. Louis Rams. Yet, the Green Bay Packers (against the Detroit Lions) and the Washington Redskins (against the Baltimore Ravens) both seemed flatfooted at times against teams they were favored against.
Only the Cleveland Browns truly heeded my warnings this past weekend, as they rebounded from the Kansas City Chiefs' touchdown on the opening kickoff and defeated the Chiefs 30-7.
Remember the guidelines for Upset Alert: "Underdogs" are determined by Vegas odds (FootballLOCKS.com); putting a team on Upset Alert is not picking them to lose (it's just putting them on notice); potential Upset Alert teams are based on matchups, trends and team-specific scenarios.
So which teams should be worried in Week 15?
Minnesota Vikings vs. St. Louis Rams (-3)
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Anyone who spent a few moments watching last week's Vikings-Bears game knows where this is headed—Adrian Peterson is a beast.
Overall, St. Louis is the better team on paper (although it's close). The Rams are riding a three-game win streak and have taken the San Francisco 49ers to overtime twice (one win, one tie). They have a defense that is getting better by the week and an offense that is able, at the very least, to stay out of the way.
All that said...Adrian Peterson is a beast!
Peterson is matching up with the league's 13th-ranked rushing defense and could easily move that ranking downward quite a bit for the Rams if they let him. He's running behind an offensive line that is firing on all cylinders, and he looks like a man possessed just months after being written off with a major injury.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings are going to be coming for Sam Bradford. The Rams offensive line hasn't gotten the bulk of negative headlines that the Green Bay Packers or New York Jets have received, but they will have a rough time against the Vikings defensive front.
The Rams can certainly win this game, but that doesn't mean Peterson and the Vikings won't give them all they can handle.
San Francisco 49ers vs. New England Patriots (-5.5)
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This game should be fantastic. It's the league's best offense hosting the NFC's best defense. The crankiest coach, Bill Belichick, against a man quickly challenging him for the title, Jim Harbaugh. The closest thing the NFL has to a dynasty facing off against a potential dynasty in the making.
The Patriots are favored because they are home and because they are on a tear right now. In many respects, they look completely unbeatable. You can't shut them down because they can beat you in so many different ways.
For the 49ers, challenge accepted.
The Niners hope to use Colin Kaepernick to keep the chains moving, the score low and the Patriots defense on its heels. This is the same Patriots team that shut down Tim Tebow like no one else in 2011, but Kaepernick's throwing ability makes that an apples-to-oranges comparison.
Even if the Niners can't stop Tom Brady and Co., they can slow them down. If they keep the mistakes to a minimum, this game could come down to the wire. A fortuitous play or two by that 49ers defense could make us rethink who the hottest team in the NFL really is.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints (-3.5)
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Without knowing anything else, being a divisional game means this one is almost immediately up in the air. Anything can happen when two teams know each other so well and when offseason moves are made with divisional opponents in mind.
The last two times these teams faced, Drew Brees was on fire. The 35 points that the Saints hung on the Bucs was the second most the team has allowed all season. The Saints looked "back," and onlookers wondered if they had put Bountygate behind them.
Since then, the Saints are 3-4, and Brees' season has been very shaky. The Saints have tried to lean on their run game more and more, which will be a tough proposition against the Bucs' No. 1-ranked rushing defense.
If Brees is able to duplicate his Week 7 effort against Tampa Bay, the Saints should cruise. However, if he throws multiple interceptions, Josh Freeman and Doug Martin aren't going to slow down against the Saints' pitiful defense. If that's the case, this one could get ugly for New Orleans.
The Saints, like every other team on this list, shouldn't take their Week 15 matchup for granted. Anything can happen on any given Sunday. That's why we play the games.
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.