There are only three weeks left in the NFL’s regular season, and looking through the matchups, Week 15 should be one of the best we’ve seen so far this year. With multiple contests featuring playoff teams and a few others matching up those in the heat of the playoff chase, it is safe to expect some fireworks.
There were no teams who were able to clinch playoff positions last week, leaving eight of the 12 total spots still up for grabs. While the AFC seems to have some pretty heavy favorites for the remainder of its openings the NFC is wide open, and some of this weekend’s games should help to provide some clarity moving forward.
For the second straight week, I turned out some dreadful results with my picks, and a season that started out rough is beginning to look like it might finish the same way. After an overall tally of 23-25 for the week I am currently sitting with the following numbers:
Straight: 134-73 (65 percent)
Spread: 100-107 (48 percent)
Over/Under: 106-101 (51 percent)
The straight up number remains respectable, but if I finish the season below .500 against the spread it’s going to be a long offseason licking my wounds. Over the next three weeks I’ve got to be at least seven games above 50 percent to crack this barrier, so I’m hoping that a week that will undoubtedly make the season for a few NFL teams will provide some promise for me as well.
Here’s my take on the weekend’s matchups. For the first time since I started writing this column I’ll just be giving analysis for those games which are most intriguing. There will just be picks for the less interesting matchups because, let’s be honest, nobody wants to read about Oakland and Kansas City.
Cincinnati Bengals (-3.5) at Philadelphia Eagles (O/U = 45.5)
On Thursday night the Eagles host the Bengals as they hope their first win in over two months in Week 14 was not just a fluke. Rookie QB Nick Foles was able to lead his team to victory on a late game drive that ended with a touchdown pass with zeroes on the clock. Now that he’s been cemented in the as the starter for this team, the next step is to gain some support heading into next year.
The Bengals had a chance to take a strong grasp on a wild-card spot last week, but instead fell to the Cowboys at home to drop to 7-6 on the year. They are now instead tied with the Steelers for second in the division, and on the outside of the playoffs based on tiebreakers. This team had been on a roll heading into that game, so it will be key for the Bengals to have a short memory and get back to their winning ways quickly if they want to make it to the postseason.
Washington Redskins (+1) at Cleveland Browns (O/U = 37.5)
The Redskins were forced to take some bad with the good in Week 14. The good, of course, being a key win in their run for the playoffs, but the bad was that it came at the hands of backup QB Kirk Cousins after RGIII left with a knee injury late in the game. The injury apparently looked worse than it was as the rookie signal-caller seems to be on pace to get back this week for the matchup with Cleveland.
After a shaky start the Browns have now rolled off three straight victories, and while their playoff chances are already shot, they have proven that they are making strides in the right direction. The consistency of Trent Richardson has been a godsend for this squad, and the rookie RB looks on pace to make it to 1,000 yards in his first professional season.
While I’m impressed with the Browns over the past month, I have to give the edge to the upstart team that is still in the playoff hunt.
Indianapolis Colts (+7.5) at Houston Texans (O/U = 48)
In a matchup that was hyped up to be one of the best of the season in Week 14, the Texans came out and laid an egg against New England, losing by four touchdowns. It appears that their weak secondary has been figured out by their opponents, and quarterbacks are continually putting up stellar numbers against them.
The Colts are on a three-game winning streak, and remain in the driver’s seat for the AFC’s top wild-card spot. With a win here and some help by the likes of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, they could clinch a playoff berth, a somewhat miraculous feat considering they only notched a single win last year.
With so much on the line, I expect Indy will enter this one playing at a high level, but I think a Texans team that was embarrassed last week will come out just a bit stronger.
Denver Broncos (-2.5) at Baltimore Ravens (O/U = 48)
Despite an overtime loss to Washington last week, the Ravens still remain in total control of the AFC North, and are a close to a guarantee for the playoffs as you can get at this point. Due to off-and-on struggles, they decided to part ways with their offensive coordinator after last week’s loss, and it will be interesting to see how this talented offensive unit responds.
The Broncos are one of the four teams that have already punched their playoff ticket as AFC West champs, and they continued to roll against Oakland last Thursday. Peyton Manning is in the top 10 in both passing yards and QB Rating in his first season with the team, and after another 300-yard performance last week, he looks to be primed and ready for a playoff run.
With a new OC against a stellar defense it’s not a great situation for Baltimore, and I think Denver will steal this one on the road behind a disruptive performance by Von Miller.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3.5) at New Orleans Saints (O/U = 54)
After hitting what seemed to be rock bottom in Week 14, the Saints fell even further in a 52-27 thrashing at the hands of the Giants. While Drew Brees did throw for over 300 yards, it only produced one TD and two INTs. His frustration with this season is becoming more visible, and that mentality kind of personifies the Saints' fall from grace this season.
The Bucs have now lost three straight after opening some eyes during the middle of the year, and have also fallen out of the playoff race at this point similar to NO. Last week it was the inability to stop the Eagles down the stretch that cost them, and that’s pretty disappointing considering the depths that Philly had fallen to.
For a game with no playoff implications, this one should provide some entertainment, and I’m going with NO to hold serve at home.
Straight: New Orleans
Spread: New Orleans
New York Giants (+1.5) at Atlanta Falcons (O/U = 51)
Following their convincing win over NO last week the Giants now head to Atlanta for a key late-season matchup. A win against ATL will guarantee they retain the lead in the competitive NFC East, and with the Redskins and Cowboys breathing down their necks they will have to perform under pressure.
The Falcons inexplicably lost at home to Carolina last week, and appear to have lost some tenacity since guaranteeing themselves a playoff spot. It is important for them to re-focus and get back on track if they want to snag home-field advantage for the playoffs, an advantage that would go a long way for a team that hasn’t lost at home this year.
The Giants have proven over the past couple years that they show up when there’s a lot on the line, but I can’t pick against the Falcons due to the stat mentioned a few lines up.
Green Bay Packers (-2.5) at Chicago Bears (O/U = 42.5)
Yet another huge game this week is between the top two teams in the NFC North in Chicago and Green Bay. If the Packers win, they will clinch the division title. After doing so once already against Chicago this year, they know it’s a good possibility. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and seem to be as hot as any team in the NFL.
The Bears have lost two straight after taking the division lead in Week 12, and the loss last week to Minnesota was especially disappointing. Their defense has been brought down a notch after early-season excellence, and against the strong GB attack, they will need to show up big to keep their division title hopes alive.
While I think the Bears will come out ready to play, something tells me that the roll GB is on cannot be stopped right now.
Straight: Green Bay
Spread: Green Bay
Pittsburgh Steelers (-1.5) at Dallas Cowboys (O/U = 44)
The Cowboys pulled out a come-from-behind victory against the red-hot Bengals last week to stay just a game behind of NY in the NFC East. Just when it looked like their playoff hopes were dashed they have showed up to win back to back games and keep their heads above water. They are right in the wild-card mix even if they can’t pull out the division title, so every game is important from here on out.
Getting Ben Roethlisberger back didn’t do a whole lot of good for Pittsburgh last week as they lost to San Diego at home. Despite the loss, they currently hold the second wild-card spot in the AFC, meaning this game is just as important for them as it is for Dallas when it comes to playoff hopes.
These are the types of games that the late regular season can provide, and I expect to see a couple of teams that will leave everything on the field in this one. I like the Cowboys at home with the momentum of back to back wins behind them.
San Francisco 49ers (+5.5) at New England Patriots (O/U = 47.5)
The most impressive victory of Week 14 undoubtedly goes to the Patriots after they ran through the Texans without a second glance. Tom Brady has the New England offense rolling like a well-oiled machine, and currently sits at the top of the rankings for QB Rating league-wide. The fact that he is doing so well without his top target in Rob Gronkowski has got to strike fear into the hearts of teams that might end up matched against them come playoff time.
The 49ers responded to their overtime loss to St. Louis by taking care of Miami at home in Week 14, and could clinch the NFC West with a win here and a Seahawks loss. It appears that Colin Kaepernick will retain the starting role for at least another week, and it will be interesting to keep tabs on the somewhat awkward Alex Smith story happening in the background. If they are able to keep winning behind the new passer, then I don’t expect a switch back any time soon.
With the roll they’re on it’s going to be hard for anyone to stop the Pats, but if anyone can, it's San Francisco. This will be a fun one to watch on Sunday night, but I have a sneaking suspicion it could turn out like the last “close” game the Pats were supposed to be in.
Straight: New England
Spread: New England
Jacksonville Jaguars (+7) at Miami Dolphins (O/U = 37)
Detroit Lions (-6) at Arizona Cardinals (O/U = 44)
Carolina Panthers (+3) at San Diego Chargers (O/U = 45.5)
Minnesota Vikings (+3) at St. Louis Rams (O/U = 38)
Kansas City Chiefs (+3) at Oakland Raiders (O/U = 43)
Seattle Seahawks (-5) at Buffalo Bills (O/U = 42.5)
New York Jets (+1) at Tennessee Titans (O/U = 42)
Straight: New York
Spread: New York
Spread and Over/Under Numbers courtesy of VegasInsider.com