It’s Week 15 of the NFL season. There are six or seven awesome games on the schedule this week, depending on what teams you like. There are a lot of playoff implications. It’s going to be tough to pick some of these games, but that’s the great thing about the NFL.
You just never know what might happen.
Before we get to this week's games, I have some quick thoughts on the final Thursday game of the season.
Cincinnati 34 Philadelphia 13
The game was even in the first half with the Bengals jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, the Philly defense holding on in the second quarter and then their offense coming back to give them the 13-10 lead at the half.
In the second half, we saw the Eagles turn the ball over the way they’ve done all year as they finished the game with five turnovers (an interception and four lost fumbles). It was not a pretty sight to see them implode the way they did.
The Bengals didn’t blow them away with a strong passing attack (Andy Dalton had only 127 passing yards) although the run game did well with 157 yards on the ground.
This game was more about the Eagles mistakes and the Bengals capitalizing on them. Now the Bengals are 8-6; a half game up on the Steelers heading into their big game against each other next week.
Record Straight Up After Week 14:
140-67-1 .676 (Last week 13-3)
All game times are Eastern.
NY Giants (8-5) at Atlanta (11-2) 1:00 p.m. ET
I’m very torn on this game. On the one hand, I leaned toward the Falcons early in the week because they’re one of those teams I always want to pick at home. However, the Falcons are a team that does not have a lot of depth on offense, and when I see that star WR Roddy White is a game time decision due to a knee injury, that worries me.
The Falcons offense has struggles during stretches when other WR Julio Jones has been banged up. Obviously they’ve overcome injuries to sit atop the NFC with only two losses, but I think there is reason to worry with them.
What about the Falcons run game? It has been poor. A team like the Giants can find ways to slow down the passing attack. Without an effective run game, the Falcons are definitely beatable.
When I think about the Giants, I am worried about a letdown after a 52-27 win against the Saints last week because that’s just what they do. They win in dominant fashion one game and then they have a stinker the next game.
What I like about them right now is not only the inclusion of explosive RB David Wilson in the run game, but also the fact that WR Hakeem Nicks looks healthy again.
The Falcons defense is better than most people think.
When you look at that team, you immediately think of the offensive firepower, but the defense has been playing sound football because defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is one of the best defensive coaches in the game. It will be important for them to create turnovers and give the offense a short field, because if they do that they can win this game.
For this game, I’m leaning toward the Giants. If they meet in the playoffs I may pick the Falcons to win, but I think the injury to White is significant whether he plays or not. If he plays, how effective can he be?
Aside from RB Ahmad Bradshaw being hurt with the knee injury (on Friday it was confirmed that he’s out), the Giants come into this game relatively healthy and I think they’ll be very focused. Hopefully they aren’t going to pull one of their letdown games because I’m picking them to win in exciting fashion.
Minnesota (7-6) at St. Louis (6-6-1) 1:00 p.m. ET
The Rams defense is really impressing me. In over 25 years of being a Rams fan, I can’t remember a time when the defense was significantly better than the offense. That’s the case with the current structure of the team.
The defense completely shut down the Bills last week in a 15-12 win at Buffalo. The key for the defense has been the play of the defensive line, which is led by ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn. Rookie DT Michael Brockers has really emerged in the second half of the year as a run stuffer.
They play about seven guys on the defensive line and they rotate them all the time to stay fresh. Due to the pressure caused by the front four, they can play tight coverage on the outside and the linebackers are put in positions to make plays, which they’ve done all year. I love how my team is being built.
I don’t think there’s any team in the NFL that can “stop” Adrian Peterson.
Now that the Vikings aren’t shy about giving him the ball 20-plus times per game, even when they’re losing you know that he’s going to make a difference in the game. The key is slowing him down and preventing those runs over 50 yards for touchdowns. I think the Rams defense is disciplined enough to do well against Peterson.
On the other side of the ball, the Rams should have some success. It sounds like Danny Amendola is going to play, but even when he’s been out Sam Bradford has shown he can win games late even without his best receiver.
The comeback drive in Buffalo last week was awesome. The offensive line has improved and because of that protection, Bradford’s throws have been really accurate.
Along with Bradford, RB Steven Jackson has been a monster and is playing on every down nearly all game long because of the timeshare he was earlier in the year. He’s fresh. That’s bad news for the Vikings.
Peterson may get a TD or two, but I think the Rams will show up big in their last home game of the season. I like my Rams to win their fourth straight game.
Jacksonville (2-11) at Miami (5-8) 1:00 p.m. ET
Bad game. On one of my fantasy teams where I pick up a different defense every week, I went with the Dolphins this week. The Jags have shown the ability to throw the ball in recent weeks and they might have success at it in this game, but I think the Dolphins are the better team.
The Jags can’t run the ball, the Dolphins know that and will do everything they can to force Chad Henne (a former Dolphin) into mistakes. Defensive touchdowns by the Dolphins would be welcome, of course.
Green Bay (9-4) at Chicago (8-5) 1:00 p.m. ET
I’m all about the Packers in this game. The Bears are falling apart. Injuries are decimating them—especially on defense—and the offense has been very inconsistent in losing four of their last five games. Right now they’re in a playoff spot, but if they drop this game, they could be tied with other teams rising up in the NFC.
You know who the Bears need to have a big game? Matt Forte. He’s only had two 100-yard rushing games this season. I know they throw to him a lot too, but he hasn’t been a factor all year long. He got paid the big bucks.
It’s time to step up for your team when they need you the most. Against a Packers defense that is vulnerable against the run, the Bears should feed Forte early on and then if the Packers turn their focus to him, that’s when Cutler can beat them with some deep strikes. I don’t have faith in the Bears giving it to Forte more, so I’ll pick the Packers.
Why the Packers? Because of Aaron Rodgers.
It was amazing to see last week that the Packers beat the Lions largely because of their run game. It showed how much Rodgers has grown as a quarterback. Teams are going to put nickel and dime coverage on the field on first down, so Rodgers is going to audible to a run and beat you that way.
They don’t even have above average running backs. They just call a smart game every week. I think the Packers will win this game, crush the Titans at home next week and then win at Minnesota to finish the season off with a first-round bye.
Washington (7-6) at Cleveland (5-8) 1:00 p.m. ET
I’m leaning towards the Browns as a home upset. Even if Robert Griffin III was playing (he's not), I'd still pick the Browns. Their defense is sneaky good. Of course they started 0-5 and got crushed in a lot of those games, but since then they’re 5-3 and it’s largely because of the defense. They bring teams down to their level.
The key for the Browns offense will be Trent Richardson. I think he’ll be very motivated in this game because he was the top RB in the draft and now people are saying maybe Redskins rookie RB Alfred Morris is better than him.
If you look at the yards Morris is ahead, but I think Richardson is the better player. That extra motivation could propel him to a big game in a cold weather game built for a running game.
As long as the Browns don’t turn it over too much they should be able to hold on for the victory thanks to running the football and a strong defensive front.
Denver (10-3) at Baltimore (9-4) 1:00 p.m. ET
It’s a tough game to pick between two playoff teams fighting for position. Of course Denver is the hotter team with eight straight wins, and in seven of those games they’ve scored 26 points or more.
Can the Ravens slow them down? I don’t think so.
I think the Ravens could match up well with them in the playoffs if their defense was totally healthy, but with star OLB Terrell Suggs banged up and MLB Ray Lewis still out, their front seven isn’t as effective as it used to be. They still have S Ed Reed back there, but I don’t think he’s going to be able to trick Broncos QB Peyton Manning into anything because he’s seen it all many times before.
The interesting thing about this game is the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Former Colts head coach Jim Caldwell takes over, and I wonder if that means they’re going to feature Ray Rice even more.
If so, that would benefit the Ravens because he’s their best player.
When you play against the Broncos, you need to establish the rush because if you rely on the pass they are going to get after you with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. The secondary is really good too, thanks mainly to veteran CB Champ Bailey.
I think there are too many question marks with the Ravens. They have that impressive 9-4 record, but I think they could have dropped a few games too. The Broncos are way more consistent.
Plus, it’s hard for me to go against Peyton Manning with the way he’s playing. With Denver’s next two games being home tilts against the Browns and Chiefs, you know they’re hyped about this as their last big matchup before the playoffs. They’ll be ready.
Indianapolis (9-4) at Houston (11-2) 1:00 p.m. ET
I think the Texans will kick their butts. I don’t think last week’s destruction in New England is going to hurt Houston as much as some people may think. It could be a wake up call. We know they’re talented, they have depth all over the place and the chances are very good that their defensive front seven are going to wreak havoc on the young Colts offense.
It’s the first time Andrew Luck will play against them and I think that unfamiliarity could lead to some mistakes out of the impressive rookie. A team like Houston capitalizes on those mistakes and converts them into touchdowns.
I think Houston jumps out to the early lead, lets the defense carry them and wins this game in a way that sends a message to the entire NFL, saying this team is a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
I’m sensing a big game from Arian Foster here.
The Texans offensive line should be able to control the game and that will lead to a lot of success for the Texans star running back. As long as the Texans takes care of the ball, I think they’ll win this game without too much stress.
Tampa Bay (6-7) at New Orleans (5-8) 1:00 p.m. ET
I like the Bucs to win this game that doesn’t have playoff consideration. I know the Bucs could technically get in if they win out and get a lot of help, but that’s very unlikely. Their three straight losses have knocked them down a peg after winning four games in a row.
That’s the definition of an inconsistent team.
I think the Saints are also reeling after losing three in a row, though. Something is wrong with that offense. It’s not just the defense. The offense has been very inconsistent, and that includes QB Drew Brees. Maybe he’ll go nuts in this game and show everybody how great he is. I think he might. That doesn’t mean their defense will do enough to win the game for them, though.
This is one of those games where if you are in the fantasy football playoffs and you have any offensive player on either team (except one of the many Saints RBs) you should start them because the defenses are so bad that there will be a lot of points scored.
Detroit (4-9) at Arizona (4-9) 4:05 p.m. ET
I can’t see myself flipping to this game very often on Sunday afternoon. I think one of the biggest mysteries of the 2012 season will not only be how did the Cardinals beat the Patriots, but how did they even win four games?
This looks like one of the worst offenses in the history of the NFL. That’s saying something!
Their pass defense is pretty good, so it will be interesting to see if CB Patrick Peterson (their best defensive player) can slow down the amazing WR Calvin Johnson or not. Other than that, there’s not much excitement about this game.
Carolina (4-9) at San Diego (5-8) 4:05 p.m. ET
Another bad game. I don’t see the Chargers trying hard to save the job of their coach Norv Turner. His contract is up and he’s going to get fired. The Panthers have really showed me a lot on offense—wait a second, scratch that.
Cam Newton has really shown me a lot by having four impressive games in a row. This is the guy we expected to see all year. I think the lack of weapons around him has hurt him, so it’ll be up to management to surround him with better talent next year.
For this game, I’ll go Panthers because I think the Chargers have checked out despite their win last week.
Seattle (8-5) at Buffalo (5-8) (in Toronto) 4:05 p.m. ET
It’s pretty simple, Buffalo. What you need to do to win is run the ball. Since they played the Rams last week I watched them more than usual and I sat there wondering why they don’t run CJ Spiller more.
Now that Fred Jackson is out for the year, Spiller will get more carries. Look at his numbers. He’s got 944 yards rushing on the year with only 144 carries. That means his yards per carry is 6.6! He gets 6.6 yards per carry yet he only got more than 15 carries one time this season!
That’s why coaches get fired, though. If you don’t use your best players, you deserve to lose your job.
I think the Bills will use Spiller more because they have to, but I don’t think they’ll win. I like the Seahawks largely because of their defense that is dominant against the run and pass. Obviously they’re better at home (6-0 home, 2-5 road), but they’ve won four of their last five and the offense is playing a lot better during that stretch.
The Bills are too inconsistent for me to get behind them. They’ll probably lose a close game because that’s what they do, but I like Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch to make enough plays to carry their team to victory.
It also wouldn’t shock me to see the defense force two or three turnovers as well.
Bills football. So exciting. Not really.
Pittsburgh (7-6) at Dallas (7-6) 4:25 p.m. ET
I think Ben Roethlisberger should have sat out last week because he didn’t look like his normal self. This week I think he’ll be better prepared for the game. If Dallas wants to get in the playoffs, they need this win.
For the Steelers, they’d be able to get in even if they lose this game, but that’s only if they win against the Bengals next week. There’s a lot riding on this game, which should make it fun to watch. I’m going with the Steelers. Close game.
Kansas City (2-11) at Oakland (3-10) 4:25 p.m. ET
Somebody has to win since I’m not picking a tie. I said many weeks ago I won’t pick the Chiefs again this year and I stand by that. Oakland, I know you suck, but maybe your offense can score enough to win this game. That’s enough for me.
San Francisco (9-3-1) at New England (10-3) 8:20 p.m. ET
In my opinion, the Patriots are the best team in the NFL and they’re not going to let somebody come into their stadium to beat them. The Niners are very good defensively, but their offense does have issues at times where drives stall because of the lack of weapons they have in the passing game.
Guys like Randy Moss and Vernon Davis are not scaring anybody. Michael Crabtree is the go-to receiver, but he’s not elite and I would be shocked to see a Bill Belichick defense allow him to have a big game.
For my pick, I go with the Patriots largely because of how well Tom Brady is playing. This may be his best year ever and a big reason for that is because of how good their running game is. By being able to run the ball, their play-action pass game is absolutely destroying teams and I think even a smart defense like the Niners is going to have trouble dealing with them.
Maybe if they were in the same conference, they could find a way to slow the offense down a bit, but as a team that only plays the Patriots once every four years, I think the Niners will have trouble.
What the Niners need to do is establish their pass game early. The Pats run defense is very stout. Will the Niners surprise them and have Colin Kaepernick try some deep throws downfield?
They should. I bet they’d catch the Pats defense off guard. If you’re the Niners you have to be aggressive on offense because you’re not going to win 17-13. The Pats will score.
I’m excited about this game. I doubt I’m going to place a wager, but I think the Pats will win and hopefully it’s closer—unlike last week’s game was against the Texans.
NY Jets (6-7) at Tennessee (4-9) 8:30 p.m. ET (MON)
I really want all of the ridiculous “Jets might make the playoffs” talk to be over because if they were a playoff type team they wouldn’t be as inconsistent as they are.
I think the smart thing for the Titans to do would be to give the ball to Chris Johnson over 25 times and hope he can bust a few runs for them because their offense is a lot better when getting those big runs that set up their passing attack.
I don’t even know what to say about the Jets. They’ve probably overachieved this year. I don’t see them ending the year strong.
John Canton is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can read more of his work at his website TJRWrestling.com along with his talented staff of writers. He also writes a lot about the NFL at TJRSports.com, so check him out there as well! You can follow John on Twitter @johnreport, too.