Week 15 saw six underdogs win outright. How many will win in Week 16?
With so many teams out of playoff contention, late season matchups are both entertaining and unpredictable. You see teams play surprisingly inspired football, but there are also teams that mentally check out and get boatraced. Take last week for example when we saw Tampa Bay, San Diego, Detroit and Buffalo get crushed. Conversely, Arizona and Carolina, despite being eliminated from playoff contention, played impressively en route to victories.
So which out-of-contention underdogs will put up a fight this week and who will lay down? Which underdogs playing to improve their playoffs chances will pull off an upset?
Because lines fluctuate as the week progresses, to be considered an underdog in this article a team must be at least a 2.5-point underdog.
The Lions have lost six consecutive games, four of which have been by one score or less. The team with the NFL's first-ranked passing attack is due for a win.
Out of playoff contention, the Lions welcome to town the Atlanta Falcons who are coming off an impressive win against the Giants. The two team's records make this a trap game.
The Lions, who have nothing to lose, will relish their final nationally televised game whereas Atlanta is vulnerable to a letdown game considering how emotionally taxing last week's win was last week.
The X's and O's are favorable to Detroit.
Detroit can match Atlanta's passing attack as the Falcons' 18th-ranked pass defense will have fits against Matt Stafford and the pass-happy, first-ranked passing offense of Detroit.
Bottom-line, the Lions have a stage, are playing at home and can build momentum into next season by beating a better Atlanta Falcon team.
Prediction: Lions 31 Falcons 28
The Bengals can clinch a playoff berth with a road win against the Steelers.
They enter the game a four-point underdog but are playing better football than Pittsburgh. Cincinnati has won five of its last six whereas Pittsburgh has dropped two straight.
In their first matchup against the Steelers, the Bengals lost in a closely-contested game. Pittsburgh's top-ranked pass defense could be problematic for the Bengals, but the recent production out of BenJarvus Green-Ellis will keep the Steelers defense honest.
It will be tough to win such a critical game at Heinz Field, but the Bengals are a more than capable underdog.
Prediction: Bengals 21 Steelers 17
The Saints' season has been disappointing.
A perennial playoff contender, the Saints showed last weekend with a 41-0 annihilation of Tampa Bay that they have not packed up their U-haul's despite their playoff ineligibility.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, need this win to further their wild-card push. It seems like the perfect storm for America's team to trip up and blow their postseason aspirations.
Ironically, by beating the Cowboys, the Saints might increase the chances that Jerry Jones could hire their suspended coach Sean Payton.
Look for a shootout and for Dallas to look very December-Dallas like and lose to the upset-minded Saints.
Prediction: Saints 31 Cowboys 27
St. Louis has a glimmer of a chance to make the playoffs and Tampa Bay has been playing atrocious football.
The Rams are 6-5-1 as a underdog this season and Tampa Bay is 2-2 as a home favorite.
Both of these teams lost a week ago, but Tampa Bay's embarrassing 41-0 blowout was far more glaring. In their first game since being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Buccaneers appeared to mentally be in the offseason already...not too mention Tampa Bay has lost four straight.
Look for the Rams to be motivated by their slim playoff chances and for Tampa Bay to not show up.
Prediction: Rams 17 Tampa Bay 10
It was a despicable nine-game losing streak that featured some eye-gouging quarterback play, but Arizona's brutal streak finally ended with a 38-10 win over Detroit.
The Cardinals' momentum from that win, in combination with the Chicago Bears' season spiraling off the rails, gives Arizona a good chance to upset Chicago.
Even during their woeful losing streak, the Cardinals played fantastic defense. Chicago's offense has been a travesty over the last six games as they haven't eclipsed 17 points.
This game has all the makings for an ugly defensive game, a type of game that Chicago typically wins. However, given the way the Bears have played recently it is hard to back the former Monsters of the Midway for this game.
Prediction: Cardinals 13 Bears 10