Anything can happen in the NFL, and if you don’t believe that, you haven’t been watching much football on Sundays.
The Philadelphia Eagles were given lofty expectations for the 2012 season. The Indianapolis Colts were expected to finish at the bottom of the AFC South. But in a weird twist of fate that is parity in the NFL, the Colts are 9-4 and in the playoff hunt, while the Eagles are 4-9 with little left to salvage this season.
With the playoffs fast approaching, several teams are still playing for postseason berths. Teams with little chance of playing past Week 17 are playing the role of spoiler.
Here is a look at the top five teams that should be on upset alert in Week 15.
The Patriots have been on an absolute tear as of late, but their run could end this week against the 49ers.
San Francisco has fielded one of the best defenses in the NFL this season, and opponents are averaging just 275.5 yards and 14.2 points per game against them. It also boasts the best pass rush in the entire league, which should make Tom Brady very nervous.
Brady struggles when the pocket begins to collapse, though that hasn’t been a problem very often this season. If Aldon Smith can continue his impressive run at the sack title and get pressure on Brady early and often, San Francisco’s secondary should have a much easier time keeping the heat on Brady’s receivers.
The key to this game will be ball security. The Patriots haven’t turned the ball over much this season, but they haven’t faced a defense as tough as the 49ers. It should be a good game, but don’t give New England the win just yet.
San Diego is one of the most puzzling teams in the NFL right now. The Chargers lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, then turned around the following week and beat a Pittsburgh Steelers team coming off a big win against Baltimore.
Still, the Chargers are not a good football team this year, and they probably won’t string together two wins with a victory this week.
Carolina—though incredibly inconsistent—is playing some of its best football at the right time of the year. The Panthers beat a very good Falcons team last week, 30-20, in what could be a turning point for this team. They don’t have a shot at the playoffs, but don’t be surprised if the Panthers rip off a couple wins in a row before playing the New Orleans Saints in Week 17.
In his last three games, Cam Newton has thrown for 825 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s also rushed for another 246 yards and three touchdowns in that span. Newton has the hot hand, and he’s going to use that hand—and his legs—to roll over the Chargers this weekend.
Were Robert Griffin III a lock to start this week, Washington would likely be the favorite in this contest. RG3 sprained his knee in Week 14 against the Ravens, and the Redskins are unsure if he will play in Week 15.
Given the playoff implications of a Washington win, Griffin has a good shot at starting, which means this is an easy upset pick.
The Browns are coming off a three-game winning streak, but the last two came against the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. Washington is a much more consistent team, especially with Griffin under center. If RG3 is able to go, the Browns will see their streak end at three.
I take back what I said about the Chargers. The Saints are the most puzzling team in the NFL right now.
New Orleans was able to right the ship in Week 5, beating the Chargers en route to four wins in their next five games. It looked like the Saints could be making a push for the playoffs, but they dropped their next three games, including a blowout loss to the New York Giants last week.
The Saints have shown flashes of dominance, but there is just too much chaos to sustain any consistency in New Orleans. If things weren’t going poorly enough, they’ll face another surging NFC South opponent in Week 15.
Despite losses in each of their last three weeks, the Buccaneers have been playing pretty well. All three losses were by a combined 11 points, and their defense has been much more stable. New Orleans will still score points, but it won’t score as many as Tampa Bay this week.
The Giants could not have asked for a better time to play the Atlanta Falcons.
Atlanta is coming off a Week 14 loss to the Panthers, and one can’t help but wonder how much the late-season pressure is getting to the Falcons. They have been notoriously flimsy late in the season the last few years.
Meanwhile, the Giants are sure to be riding some late-season momentum after crushing the Saints last week. New York is always dangerous in December, and it seems Atlanta has drawn the short straw.
The Falcons will still make the playoffs, but I wouldn’t count on them rolling their way through New York and Detroit in the process.