NFL Week 15 Picks: Last-Minute Expert Predictions from Around the Web
At this point in the 2013 season, some NFL teams are playing for little more than pride. In fact, on some level, winning is counterproductive at this point. All victories do is cost the team spots in next year's draft.
So knock it off, Jacksonville Jaguars!
However, for others, every game is immensely important. The defending Super Bowl champions, for example, have no margin for error, making the Baltimore Ravens' trip to face the NFC North-leading Detroit Lions one of Week 15's biggest games.
Here's a look at how experts from around cyberspace expect things to play out.
Experts Roll Call
Before we move on to Week 15's games, let's take a look at our panel of experts.
ESPN: ESPN's picks are a combination of the selections of 13 experts. Those experts include writers like Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter, as well as former players such as Keyshawn Johnson and Eric Allen.
CBS Sports: The CBS Sports picks feature eight writers, including senior NFL columnist Pete Prisco and NFL insider Jason La Canfora.
USA Today: As with the other sites on our panel, USA Today uses a committee approach, with seven writers offering their picks for this week's games.
Bleacher Report: I would be remiss not to include the prognostications of my esteemed colleagues here at Bleacher Report. This year's starting lineup for Bleacher Report's picks team features each of the national lead writers as well as the lead writers covering the NFL's divisions.
There you have it: over 40 NFL experts (plus one computer) all offering their picks for this week's games.
Week 14 was another great week for the panel, who hit double-digit "wins" for the second straight week.
Last Week: 10-5
New England Patriots (10-3) at Miami Dolphins (7-6)
Final Verdict: Sunday's first final continued a theme that began on Thursday night.
It's shakeup week in the AFC.
Not only did the New England Patriots fail to capitalize on Denver's loss to the San Diego Chargers, but in falling 24-20 to the Miami Dolphins the Pats opened the door for the Cincinnati Bengals to take control of the number two seed in the conference.
Think they miss Rob Gronkowski yet?
ESPN: Dolphins (7-6)
CBS Sports: Dolphins (5-3)
Fox Sports: Patriots (4-1)
USA Today: Dolphins (4-3)
Bleacher Report: Patriots (8-4)
Overall: Patriots (24-21)
The New England Patriots are easily the most depressed 10-3 football team in the NFL.
That's because last week's come-from-behind win over the Cleveland Browns came at a very high price. And now, with tight end Rob Gronkowski out for the year, the Patriots have to figure a way past the loss of a critical part of their offense.
Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman isn't seeing it, casting his vote with a large block who feels the Dolphins will keep their playoff hopes alive at home.
"Rob Gronkowski's loss is devastating in any number of ways," Freeman wrote, "and it keeps this game close. The Dolphins are dangerous now."
However, NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey disagrees, joining an even larger block forecasting a win for the Pats:
Look, I spent months telling y'all to wait until Gronkowski's back to see the Patriots offense in its true glory. So I'm not going to sit here now and say that his loss isn't going to hurt their production. Still, they won a lot of games without him, so I trust that to happen here as well.
Washington Redskins (3-10) at Atlanta Falcons (3-10)
Final Verdict: Sunday's game in Atlanta did absolutely nothing to quell the growing quarterback controversy in the nation's capital.
In fact, if anything it cranked up the volume another notch or two.
Yes, the Redskins turned the ball over seven times and lost to the Falcons 27-26, but it wasn't entirely the fault of quarterback Kirk Cousins, who threw for 381 yards and three touchdowns in defeat.
Gonna be an interesting week in DC.
ESPN: Falcons (12-1)
CBS Sports: Falcons (7-1)
Fox Sports: Falcons (3-2)
USA Today: Falcons (7-0)
Bleacher Report: Falcons (12-0)
Overall: Falcons (41-4)
Last year, the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins were division champions.
This year, both teams are dumpster fires.
On two teams with 20 losses between them, there's sure to be no shortage of bad news. Washington appears to be winning this race to the bottom, with the new nadir being the recent benching of second-year quarterback Robert Griffin.
The change under center isn't going to change Washington's losing ways in the opinion of the panel.
In fact, Bleacher Report AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst sees a ray of light for the Falcons:
Things are falling into place a bit for the Falcons. Players are getting healthier, and they've found ways to better compensate for those who are not. While this is a collapse from their almost-in-the-Super-Bowl 2012, it pales in comparison to what is happening in Washington. Whether it's RG3 or Kirk Cousins under center, Washington isn't going to fare well this week on the road.
Chicago Bears (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-9)
Final Verdict: If the Chicago Bears are going to get the playoffs, it will be in spite of their defense, not because of it.
The Bears were finally able to stop the streak of 100-yard rushers against them in Sunday's 38-31 win, but the team still allowed 31 points and over 350 total yards of offense to the Jason Campbell-led Browns.
Still, a win's a win, and with the victory the pressure's on the Detroit Lions to keep pace with the Bears on Monday night.
ESPN: Bears (12-1)
CBS Sports: Bears (7-1)
Fox Sports: Bears (3-2)
USA Today: Bears (6-1)
Bleacher Report: Bears (8-4)
Overall: Bears (36-9)
The Chicago Bears are a tough team to figure out.
The offense has been humming along, even with starting quarterback Jay Cutler sidelined. Now, with Cutler set to retake the reins, will things keep humming along as well as they have with Josh McCown under center?
And what about that leaky defense, which has allowed half a dozen ball-carriers in a row to break the century mark? Can the Bears buckle down against the run this week?
In the opinion of Bleacher Report NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse, the answer to those questions is yes:
The Bears offense will function with either Josh McCown or Jay Cutler because of how well the playmakers are currently operating. The real question is the defense, which has allowed six straight running backs to break 100 yards. I think that streak comes to an end, as Chicago gets a huge road win late in the season.
The panel agrees, predicting a win that will keep the Bears in the thick of things in the NFC North.
Houston Texans (2-11) at Indianapolis Colts (8-5)
Final Verdict: Every time you think the Houston Texans have hit rock bottom, the team punches through and finds a new low.
12 straight losses? Check.
Fired Coach and benched quarterback? Check and check.
A sloppy 25-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in which the Texans looked very much like a team that has thrown in the towel on the 2013 season?
After Week 15, check.
ESPN: Colts (12-1)
CBS Sports: Colts (7-1)
Fox Sports: Colts (5-0)
USA Today: Colts (7-0)
Bleacher Report: Colts (10-2)
Overall: Colts (41-4)
The Houston Texans were supposed to win the AFC South again in 2013.
At this point, they'd settle for winning a game. After winning their first two contests this season, the Texans have imploded, dropping 11 in a row.
Head coach Gary Kubiak was fired following last week's loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but quarterback Case Keenum still believes the Texans aren't a team to be taken lightly, according to Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle:
We’ve got nothing to lose and I think that’s pretty scary for other teams. Because we’re really talented and have nothing to lose, and I think a lot of guys are pissed off. So, that’s kind of a scary combination.
Not a scary enough combination for our experts, who overwhelmingly picked the Colts to beat the Texans for the second time this year.
Philadelphia Eagles (8-5) at Minnesota Vikings (3-9-1)
Final Verdict: At this point, it's fair to wonder whether anyone even wants to win the NFC East, because every time a team has a chance to take real control of the division they run screaming onto the night.
This time it was the Philadelphia Eagles. Facing a Minnesota Vikings team without Adrian Peterson and backup Toby Gerhart, the Eagles were expected to cruise.
Giving up three touchdown runs to third-stringer Matt Asiata en route to a 48-30 loss doesn't meet any definition of "cruising" I've ever heard.
ESPN: Eagles (13-0)
CBS Sports: Eagles (8-0)
Fox Sports: Eagles (5-0)
USA Today: Eagles (7-0)
Bleacher Report: Eagles (12-0)
Overall: Eagles (45-0)
The Philadelphia Eagles played in one of the wildest weather games in recent memory a week ago, downing the Detroit Lions in a snowstorm to claim sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
The Minnesota Vikings played in wintry weather of their own last week, but a last-second touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Marlon Brown put one more nail in a Vikings coffin that's already securely shut.
Adding injury to insult, star running back Adrian Peterson injured his foot in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens. And with the team possibly without its best player, not a single pundit thinks the Vikes will get the win in this game.
In the words of Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter, "It could be closer than most suspect given the way the Vikings are getting big plays at all the right times lately, but the Eagles are just too much better (and hotter)."
Seattle Seahawks (11-2) at New York Giants (5-8)
Final Verdict: Now this is cruising.
The Seattle defense didn't just help the Seahawks cruise past the New York Giants 23-0 in Week 15.
They did a drive-by beatdown on Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Manning, who already led the NFC in interceptions entering Sunday's game, tossed five more in the loss, bringing his total in a nightmarish 2013 to 25.
That's from a player who takes up over 15 percent of his team's total salary cap...by himself.
ESPN: Seahawks (13-0)
CBS Sports: Seahawks (8-0)
Fox Sports: Seahawks (5-0)
USA Today: Seahawks (7-0)
Bleacher Report: Seahawks (12-0)
Overall: Seahawks (45-0)
We've reached a period of detente with this week's picks. For the second straight game, our experts are in unanimous agreement.
This time it's in New York, where a Seattle Seahawks team smarting after a close loss to the San Francisco 49ers will visit a New York Giants team eliminated from playoff contention a week ago.
As the Seahawks showed last week, they're a much more beatable team away from the Emerald City. However, Bleacher Report NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland doesn't expect Big Blue to put up much of a fight:
The Giants have made it a point to turn things around the second half of the season, but they still have a hard time competing with the best. Unfortunately for New York, the Seahawks are the best of the best in the NFC, which means you should expect them to make quick work of the Giants. Manning will turn the ball over like he’s accustomed to, and Russell Wilson will have a bounce-back game.
San Francisco 49ers (9-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9)
Final Verdict: Don't look now NFC, but the defending conference champions appear to have gotten their affairs in order.
The San Francisco 49ers blasted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33-14 in Week 15, their fourth straight win and ninth in their last 11 contests.
Not only that, but wide receiver Michael Crabtree caught his first touchdown pass of the season against Tampa, a great sign for a team that looks to be getting hot at the perfect time.
ESPN: 49ers (13-0)
CBS Sports: 49ers (7-1)
Fox Sports: 49ers (5-0)
USA Today: 49ers (7-0)
Bleacher Report: 49ers (11-1)
Overall: 49ers (43-2)
The San Francisco 49ers are riding high right now. They have won three straight and eight of 10, and last week's two-point victory over the Seattle Seahawks was the team's biggest of the season.
This week, the 49ers travel east to face a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has regained a measure of respectability after an 0-8 start. Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller predicts a win for San Francisco, but he doesn't expect an easy one.
According to Miller, "The Tampa defense is no joke, and the 49ers should be ready for a fight. But the difference will be the San Francisco defense against rookie Mike Glennon in a close one."
However, a couple of experts picked the Bucs in an upset. They include NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter, who said, "My upset sense is tingling. Tampa Bay's 4-1 over the last five and hosting a 49ers team that hasn't been consistently impressive all season."
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9) at Buffalo Bills (4-9)
Final Verdict: The experts jinxed them...it's the only explanation.
After all, how else could the juggernaut that is the Jacksonville Jaguars possibly lose? I mean, it's not like they lost their first eight games this year before winning four of five.
Sure enough, the first time the panel picks the Jags all season it cools the team off, with Jacksonville coming up short against the Buffalo Bills 27-20.
ESPN: Jaguars (12-1)
CBS Sports: Jaguars (8-0)
Fox Sports: Bills (4-1)
USA Today: Jaguars (6-1)
Bleacher Report: Jaguars (10-2)
Overall: Jaguars (37-8)
Break up the Jacksonville Jaguars!
The Jaguars, who not too long ago were an 0-8 laughingstock, have won four of five and three straight.
That's the longest current winning streak in the AFC.
No, seriously, it is. Look it up.
That hot streak has caused something to happen in Week 15 that, to this point, had not happened all season long.
The Jaguars are the experts' consensus pick.
Said Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman of picking the Jags, "What's happened in Jacksonville is pretty remarkable. Totally different team. Head coach deserves the credit. Has finally found way to spring MJD."
Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) at Oakland Raiders (4-9)
Final Verdict: It's Jamaal Charles' world. The rest of us are just living in it.
The sixth-year running back, who entered Week 15 third in the NFL in rushing, scored four touchdowns in the first half of Sunday's AFC West matchup with the Oakland Raiders.
Charles added a fifth in the second half for good measure, propelling the Chiefs to a 56-31 win that got them back into a tie for first in the division.
ESPN: Chiefs (13-0)
CBS Sports: Chiefs (8-0)
Fox Sports: Chiefs (5-0)
USA Today: Chiefs (7-0)
Bleacher Report: Chiefs (11-1)
Overall: Chiefs (44-1)
After losing three games in a row, some dark clouds were starting to gather around the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs stopped the bleeding in a big way a week ago, demolishing the Washington Redskins 45-10.
There was some demolishing going on the first time these teams met this year too. The Chiefs rolled over the Oakland Raiders in Arrowhead back in Week 6, propelled to a 24-7 win by an 11-sack effort by the defense.
There will be a different quarterback under center for the Raiders in Week 15, but all of the experts expect the same result.
All the experts, that is, save for Bleacher Report AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen:
Dennis Allen is coaching for his job and desperately needs a win. The Chiefs need another win to lock up a playoff spot, but it would take a special scenario for them not to make it, so they may look past this one a bit.
Oakland's defense confused Alex Smith in their last meeting. If defensive coordinator Jason Tarver can do it again, the Raiders could pull off the upset win at home.
New York Jets (6-7) at Carolina Panthers (9-4)
Final Verdict: Well, if Sunday's game with the New York Jets was a chance to for the Carolina Panthers to answer the bell after being blown out in New Orleans, then the team passed with flying colors.
Granted, the 30-20 win may not be the Panthers' most impressive game of the season, but Carolina controlled the action throughout, setting up a huge game with the Saints next week.
ESPN: Panthers (13-0)
CBS Sports: Panthers (8-0)
Fox Sports: Panthers (5-0)
USA Today: Panthers (7-0)
Bleacher Report: Panthers (12-0)
Overall: Panthers (45-0)
Riverboat Ron hit the reef last week, but it wasn't exactly a stunner.
After all, the Panthers were going for their ninth straight win against an angry New Orleans Saints team that had just had its head handed to it by the Seattle Seahawks.
It was hardly surprising when that Saints team came out and laid a 31-13 beatdown on Carolina.
With that said, how head coach Ron Rivera and the Panthers respond this week against an up-and-down Jets team will say a lot about their legitimacy as a Super Bowl contender in the NFC.
The experts, including Bleacher Report AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz, are unanimous in their belief that response will be a rebound:
The Panthers may have been blown out by the Saints on national television, and you can bet Rob Ryan is sharing notes with his brother Rex, but will it be enough? Perhaps the Jets can keep it close if their defensive line holds strong against the run, but their secondary has been exposed more this season than usual. If the Jets don’t get some pressure on Cam Newton, they could watch the Panthers receivers run free through the secondary.
New Orleans Saints (10-3) at St. Louis Rams (5-8)
Final Verdict: That game between the Panthers and Saints is big because of Week 15's biggest stunner of all.
It isn't just that the St. Louis Rams stunned the Saints 27-16. The Rams pounded New Orleans, controlling the line on scrimmage on offense and defense en route to a 27-3 lead.
An impressive win for the Rams, and a troubling loss for the Saints.
ESPN: Saints (12-1)
CBS Sports: Saints (8-0)
Fox Sports: Saints (5-0)
USA Today: Saints (7-0)
Bleacher Report: Saints (12-0)
Overall: Saints (44-1)
It's been an eventful couple of weeks for the New Orleans Saints.
Over the past two games, they took on two teams in the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers with a combined record of 20-6.
The Saints split those games, but last week's win over Carolina gave New Orleans sole possession of first place in the NFC South.
Everyone on the panel (with the exception of ESPN's Chris Mortensen) thinks the Saints will cruise this week in St. Louis, and Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman predicts a rough day for the Rams.
"The Rams are just awful right now," Freeman wrote in forecasting a 28-10 Saints win. "Wouldn't be shocked if the Saints put up 50."
Green Bay Packers (6-6-1) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
Final Verdict: Speaking of troubling.
The Dallas Cowboys had a 26-3 lead on the Green Bay Packers at halftime. It looked like Jerry's Boys were back in the NFC East chase.
Then the second half happened.
The Cowboys allowed Green Bay to score on five consecutive second-half possessions, Tony Romo threw a pair of late interceptions, and the Cowboys' December woes continued with a 37-36 loss.
ESPN: Cowboys (10-3)
CBS Sports: Cowboys (6-2)
Fox Sports: Cowboys (5-0)
USA Today: Cowboys (7-0)
Bleacher Report: Cowboys (11-1)
Overall: Cowboys (39-6)
It's December, which means it's time for fans of the Dallas Cowboys to start freaking out.
Of course, last week the Cowboys gave them a valid reason to. In last week's loss to the Chicago Bears, the Dallas defense failed to force a punt. It's the second time this year that's happened.
If that wasn't bad enough, linebacker Sean Lee, the Cowboys' best defensive player, will miss this week's tilt with the Green Bay Packers with an injured neck.
However, despite Lee's absence, the panel expects Dallas to bounce back at home this week against a Packers team that will once again be without quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
In the words of Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller, "Without Aaron Rodgers, it's impossible to pick the Packers to keep pace with a Dallas offense that will cause the Green Bay defense major headaches with the passing game."
Arizona Cardinals (8-5) at Tennessee Titans (5-8)
Final Verdict: With the San Francisco 49ers winning earlier in the day, the Arizona Cardinals knew there was no margin for mistakes heading into their matchup with the Tennessee Titans.
It wasn't an especially pretty win, but the Cardinals got the job done, slipping past the Titans 37-34 in overtime to insure Bruce Arians a winning season in his first year at the helm in Phoenix.
ESPN: Cardinals (11-2)
CBS Sports: Cardinals (7-1)
Fox Sports: Titans (3-2)
USA Today: Cardinals (6-1)
Bleacher Report: Cardinals (11-1)
Overall: Cardinals (37-8)
It's starting to look like Bruce Arians winning Coach of the Year in 2012 was no fluke.
Arians has the Arizona Cardinals in the thick of the playoff chase in the NFC in his first year in the desert, but at 8-5, the Cardinals are currently on the outside looking in.
That makes every week a must-win game, including this week's road trip to Nashville.
The folks at Fox Sports picked the Titans to pull off the upset, but the majority of the experts, including Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey, believe the Redbirds will get the win on the road:
The Titans aren't going to move the ball like they were able to against Denver. Meanwhile, their defense might be almost as vulnerable against a Cardinals scoring attack that is far greater than the sum of its parts.
Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8)
Final Verdict: Well it was a banner week for the top of the AFC.
After the Patriots failed to take advantage of the Denver loss, the Cincinnati Bengals were in a position to move into the two spot in the conference seedings.
Instead, the Bengals fell behind the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-0 before losing 30-20, and suddenly the Baltimore Ravens are in a position to move within a game of first place with a win Monday night.
ESPN: Bengals (9-4)
CBS Sports: Bengals (7-1)
Fox Sports: Steelers (3-2)
USA Today: Bengals (7-0)
Bleacher Report: Bengals (11-1)
Overall: Bengals (36-9)
A window of opportunity has been opened for the Cincinnati Bengals.
With Rob Gronkowski out for the year in New England, there's a real chance that the Bengals can catch the Patriots for the No. 2 seed in the AFC, especially with the Bengals holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.
However, if the Bengals are going to take the "next step" and not only advance to the playoffs but win their first postseason game in over two decades, then it's imperative that Cincy show they can win a big game on the road.
Sunday night's AFC North showdown in Pittsburgh certainly qualifies.
Over 80 percent of the experts think the Bengals will do just that, although Bleacher Report NFL National Leader Matt Bowen feels it's going to be a close game.
"This should be a classic AFC North game where special teams and defense play a major role in the outcome," Bowen writes. "I like the Bengals to get this win with a key fourth-quarter turnover on defense."
Baltimore Ravens (7-6) at Detroit Lions (7-6)
Final Verdict: For most of Monday night's game, it appeared the pressure of the situation was getting to everyone involved.
Everyone, it is, except Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker.
Tucker's led accounted for all 18 of the Ravens' points, and the second-year pro's 61-yarder (yes, 61) with under a minute left gave the Ravens their fourth straight win.
Don't look now, but the champs are back in it.
ESPN: Lions (13-0)
CBS Sports: Lions (6-2)
Fox Sports: Lions (4-1)
USA Today: Lions (4-3)
Bleacher Report: Lions (9-3)
Overall: Lions (36-9)
The last game of Week 15 is one of the most intriguing of the week, as neither the Baltimore Ravens nor the Detroit Lions have any margin for error in their push for the postseason.
Last week's wild win against the Minnesota Vikings put the Ravens in the driver's seat for the sixth seed in the AFC, but there are a pack of teams nipping at the heels of the defending Super Bowl champs.
The Lions weren't as fortunate in the snow a week ago. And after falling to the Philadelphia Eagles, they have dropped back into a tie for first place in the NFC North.
It's the Lions whom the panel picks to win this must-win game, with Bleacher Report AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst citing the venue as the deciding factor:
The Lions can shoot themselves in the foot like no other team, but mercifully that's been at a minimum at home. The Ravens are nothing to scoff at right now, having possession of the AFC's sixth playoff berth, Ray Rice finally breaking the 100-yard mark in Week 14 and tight end Dennis Pitta finally back to help out Joe Flacco. This game will be close as a result, but home field gets it here. Just imagine how many Michael Oher false starts the crowd could cause on Monday night.