The 2013 NFL regular season is hurtling closer to its conclusion, with just one game to play before Week 15. The stakes are high, and opportunities abound for less-flourishing teams to play spoiler.
But there are a couple of clashes between clubs in the playoff race in which the underdogs are being disrespected with regard to the spread.
Below is a look at predictions for every game on tap for Week 15, along with a breakdown of the matchups in which the favored teams will fail to cover their projected margins.
|Away Team||Home Team||Pick (Spread)|
|San Diego Chargers||Denver Broncos||Chargers (+10)|
|Washington Redskins||Atlanta Falcons||Falcons (-6)|
|San Francisco 49ers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||49ers (-5)|
|Arizona Cardinals||Tennessee Titans||Cardinals (-2.5)|
|New Orleans Saints||St. Louis Rams||Saints (-4.5)|
|Seattle Seahawks||New York Giants||Seahawks (-7)|
|Chicago Bears||Cleveland Browns||N/A|
|Houston Teans||Indianapolis Colts||Texans (+6.5)|
|Buffalo Bills||Jacksonville Jaguars||Bills (-2)|
|New England Patriots||Miami Dolphins||Patriots (-2.5)|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Minnesota Vikings||Eagles (-4.5)|
|New York Jets||Carolina Panthers||Panthers (-11.5)|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Oakland Raiders||Chiefs (-3.5)|
|Green Bay Packers||Dallas Cowboys||N/A|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Pittsburgh Steelers||Bengals (-3)|
|Baltimore Ravens||Detroit Lions||Ravens (+6)|
San Diego Chargers (+10) over Denver Broncos
Chargers head coach Mike McCoy was the offensive coordinator in Denver before taking the helm in San Diego, so there is some familiarity there. When these two AFC West rivals met in Week 10, Denver held off a rally by the hosts to pull off a 28-20 road victory.
Given that this is a Thursday night affair, anything can happen on a short week between the explosiveness of these two passing attacks led by Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers.
Thus, a double-digit spread between two familiar foes seems a little bit generous, even with the AFC's best team playing at home.
Defense has prevented the Chargers from being true contenders in 2013, but their season is on the line in this one, and they generated at least some momentum in Week 14. San Diego shut out Eli Manning and the New York Giants in the first half of a 37-14 triumph to improve to 6-7.
Then again, Peyton is playing absolutely sensational football, as he set another record in Denver's 51-28 rout of Tennessee on Sunday:
Although the Chargers may come up short, this should be an exciting shootout between Manning and Rivers that comes down to the final possession.
Prediction: Broncos 41, Chargers 34
Houston Texans (+6.5) over Indianapolis Colts
Last year's AFC South champions have really had a rough go of it in the midst of an 11-game losing streak that got coach Gary Kubiak fired this past Friday.
But the Texans have been knocking on the door to get off their slide for weeks now, with each of their past seven losses coming by seven points or fewer. That may be a sign of a talented team not executing down the stretch, but there is no way this Houston bunch is going to lay down with pride still to play for.
Which Week 15 underdog is likeliest to win outright?
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck bounced back after a string of underwhelming performances with four touchdown passes in Week 14. The problem was that Indianapolis yielded 42 in the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
This spread is too big based on the suspect Colts defense, a nonexistent running game to complement Luck and the trend of the Texans playing in close contests.
With a bit of extra time to prepare following Thursday's loss to Jacksonville, all the elements are in place for Houston to pull the upset at Lucas Oil Stadium in winning outright.
Prediction: Texans 27, Colts 24
Baltimore Ravens (+5) over Detroit Lions
The wacky end to the Ravens' monumental win over the Minnesota Vikings immensely boosts the defending Super Bowl winners' prospects of returning to the postseason.
Baltimore is clinging to the No. 6 seed in the AFC at 7-6 thanks to a defense that has improved throughout the year and, really, in spite of an inept offense.
Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco has not played up to his billing, with 17 interceptions, a yards-per-attempt average of 6.64 and a completion rate under 60 percent. Flacco has had shoddy protection and not much of a backfield to rely on, but he must cut down the mistakes down the stretch.
B/R's Matt Miller doesn't believe Flacco is worth such a lucrative contract:
Not worth 6 years/$120MM at all. RT @RavensInsider: That's 17 interceptions this season for Joe Flacco— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 8, 2013
Meanwhile, Detroit returns home after facing a difficult, snow-struck field in Philadelphia, where it fell to the Eagles and got chewed up on the ground—something the Ravens aren't as capable of doing, thankfully.
But with the way Baltimore is competing and how error-prone the Lions seem to be in their inability to play consistent, winning football from week to week, this has all the makings of an upset special.
Although it is wise to trust the Lions' combination of cannon-armed QB Matthew Stafford and star receiver Calvin Johnson, Flacco did just pull out an improbable win late in Week 14 on a last-second touchdown strike.
That's the type of clutch Stafford has rarely displayed in his young career. Unless that changes on Sunday at Ford Field, look for the Ravens to cover and emerge victorious in this penultimate edition of Monday Night Football.
Prediction: Ravens 23, Lions 20