Not every NFL game can be a matchup worthy of the national microscope, but ofttimes it is the showdown that fans least expect that turns out to be the most entertaining.
For example, look no further than Week 14. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots welcomed the Cleveland Browns to Gillette Stadium—obviously an easy win for the home team, right?
Wrong. The Patriots survived in a highly entertaining affair but needed 16 points in the fourth quarter and a touchdown with 31 seconds remaining to escape with a 27-26 victory.
This seems like a weekly occurrence in the NFL. Week 15 has several matchups that appear lopsided at first glance but will end up being well worth fans' time for the entertainment aspect.
|Washington Redskins||Atlanta Falcons||Atlanta Falcons|
|Chicago Bears||Cleveland Browns||Chicago Bears|
|Houston Texans||Indianapolis Colts||Indianapolis Colts|
|New England Patriots||Miami Dolphins||Miami Dolphins|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Minnesota Vikings||Philadelphia Eagles|
|Seattle Seahawks||New York Giants||Seattle Seahawks|
|San Francisco 49ers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||San Francisco 49ers|
|Buffalo Bills||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Oakland Raiders||Kansas City Chiefs|
|New York Jets||Carolina Panthers||Carolina Panthers|
|Green Bay Packers||Dallas Cowboys||Dallas Cowboys|
|Arizona Cardinals||Tennessee Titans||Tennessee Titans|
|New Orleans Saints||St. Louis Rams||New Orleans Saints|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Pittsburgh Steelers||Cincinnati Bengals|
|Baltimore Ravens||Detroit Lions||Detroit Lions|
Chris Roling's predictions.
Chicago Bears Outlast Cleveland Browns
Let's just kick things off with the Cleveland Browns.
Why not? The Browns are 4-9 and have lost four in a row, but it is amazing how competitive the team can be with veteran quarterback Jason Campbell under center.
Don't expect that trend to suddenly stop. As ESPN's Tony Grossi illustrates, Campbell will be playing at a high level the rest of the way in an effort to keep the starting job going into next season:
Campbell returned last week and gave the Patriots all they could handle with his 391 passing yards and three touchdowns. Now Campbell gets a shot at a Chicago Bears defense that ranks in the top 10 against the pass but dead last against the rush with an average of 157 yards allowed per game.
As great as the Browns looked last week, an emotional loss like that takes its toll. Now the Browns must return home and face a Chicago team thick in the playoff race and finally getting starting quarterback Jay Cutler back per ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Bears HC Marc Trestman makes it official, names Jay Cutler as starter Sunday in Cleveland.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 12, 2013
Cleveland touts a defense that ranks in the top 10 against the rush and pass, but it would be unwise to underestimate a team desperate for a playoff berth. Cleveland gave all it had a week ago. Chicago pulls off the road win with Cutler back under center.
Prediction: Bears 21, Browns 17
Indianapolis Colts Overcome Houston Texans
Do not think for one second a game featuring a team riding a streak of 11 losses will not lack for entertainment—especially if it is a divisional battle where the opponent at a disadvantage wants to dash the playoff hopes of the favored party.
Thus is the case when the 2-11 Houston Texans make the trip to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on the AFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts.
Remember, these two did the dance when Houston was just as bad back in Week 9. The result was a narrow 27-24 victory for Indianapolis. That is a familiar tune—five of Houston's last seven losses have been decided by a touchdown or less.
They are a dangerous team. They’re the third-ranked defense in the league. J.J. Watt’s a premier player. They have two solid corners, a very stout front seven. We have our hands full. We know how dangerous they can be.
Luck threw three touchdowns the last time these two met, and he appears on track to do so again. Indianapolis lost to Cincinnati in Week 14, but the long-awaited replacement for receiver Reggie Wayne finally emerged—twice—in the form of Da'Rick Rogers (6 catches, 107 yards, 2 TDs) and LaVon Brazill (3 catches, 53 yards, 2 TDs).
That bodes well for Luck and the offense in the face of the NFL's No. 2 pass defense. A win at home will be difficult, but the fans make out like bandits considering an 11-loss team is involved.
Prediction: Colts 28, Texans 20
San Francisco 49ers Slip Past Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There may be no worse combination possible for a favored team than a game with plenty of letdown potential after a major win, paired with a streaking team out of the running that would love nothing more than to play the spoiler.
Best under-the-radar Week 15 matchup?
That is the story in a nutshell set to go down from Raymond James Stadium when the San Francisco 49ers get off the plane to take on a dangerous Tampa Bay squad.
Yes, the 49ers are coming off a major 19-17 win over Seattle, but therein lays the letdown aspect of the equation. The other half? The Buccaneers are 4-9 but have turned things around as of late and won four of their last five.
Still, the Buccaneers have plenty to worry about. San Francisco ranks in the top 10 with an average of 133.2 rushing yards per game, and Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano is more than familiar with running back Frank Gore, as he told the team's official website:
He’s an incredibly tough-minded individual. I remember even in high school. This guy is tough, so he’s going to bring it every down. He plays with pain and all those things. I think that’s what lends to his longevity. As an athlete, he’s got tremendous vision, balance, vision, explosiveness – very, very explosive guy. His high school tape was legitimately sick. He was something.
The Buccaneers will hang tough thanks to a strong defense (No. 17 against the pass, No. 8 against the rush), but eventually the talent disparity will take over. From there, Gore and quarterback Colin Kaepernick will bruise their way to a much-needed victory.
Prediction: 49ers 17, Buccaneers 14