It’s mid-December, and Christmas and NFL playoffs are in the air. That means with Week 15 of the season upon us, NFL picks get harder and harder to make.
The heavier the implications, the harder it is to figure out just who is going to get the edge and ride a hot hand into the playoffs.
Games in December are when teams make their final cases for playoff contention. We aren’t at the “win or go home” point just yet, but that is on the horizon and approaching fast.
Which teams are going to give their respective fan-bases their early presents this weekend? Let’s take a look at each of the critical matchups this weekend, and who is going to come out on top.
Green Bay Packers (9-4) over Chicago Bears (8-5)
The last time the Packers and Bears met, Jay Cutler was sacked seven times, half of those by linebacker Clay Matthews. Unfortunately for Cutler and the Bears’ offensive line, Matthews has been upgraded to probable this week, according to CBS Sports.
Chicago needs this game in order to stay a leg up in the NFC’s playoff hunt. Green Bay has different plans, though. The Bears are currently in free fall mode and it’s about to get even worse. After starting the season 7-1, Chicago has lost four of its last five matchups.
The Pack has won 11-straight NFC North Division games and will increase that streak with a road victory over the Bears in Week 15. Plus, the win will also clinch the division title for the Packers and make the remaining two weeks of the season a tune-up for the postseason.
New York Giants (8-5) over Atlanta Falcons (11-2)
The Atlanta Falcons have slowed down after an 8-0 start. Most games have been closer than the Falcons would like, as well. That will pose a problem for the team during the playoffs and this week, too. Week 15 is a game that will definitely have a playoff-like atmosphere.
Overall, this is more of a gut call than anything else. New York needs this game in order to ward off the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins who have made the NFC East Division race much closer than the Giants imagined.
Atlanta is already in the playoffs and don’t need the win as badly.
Denver Broncos over Baltimore Ravens
After starting the season with a respectable 3-3 record, the Denver Broncos have rattled off eight wins in-a-row and are in the hunt for a first-round bye in the playoffs. If the season ended today, they would be on the losing end of a tiebreaker with the New England Patriots for that advantage.
But the Broncos have something the Patriots don’t have down the stretch: A very winnable schedule. The Broncos have games against Baltimore, Cleveland and then a season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs. A win over Baltimore, who is also fighting for its playoff hopes, will force the Pats to have to win each week as well in order to keep the advantage over the Broncos.
Denver has been too good offensively, and the Ravens have struggled too much on both sides of the ball. Baltimore lost its first home game since 2010 against the Steelers in Week 13. Another loss here will be the first time the team has lost back-to-back home games since 2007. Baltimore dropped four straight during that season.
Pittsburgh Steelers over Dallas Cowboys
The Cincinnati Bengals’ trouncing of the Philadelphia Eagles has made this game a must-win for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger has been back for a week and has had plenty of time to shake off the rust and get back into the groove.
It will be tough against a stingy Cowboys’ pass defense that’s allowing just 217.8 yards per game through the air. But, if there is anyone capable of penetrating that unit, it’s two-time Super Bowl champion Roethlisberger. Pittsburgh has plenty of weapons available, and his ability to scramble and improvise gives the team a chance for big plays no matter who it’s playing against.
Pittsburgh’s defense is banged up but its tough and physical pressure upfront should be able to disrupt a Cowboys’ offensive line that has played poorly this season. Without the ability to run the ball, Dallas will be forced into obvious passing situations, and the Steelers will capitalize with turnovers and forced errors on Tony Romo.