Week 15 of the 2013 NFL season has arrived, and with it comes plenty of playoff implications. Even the teams that are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention are still looking to play spoiler.
Each week there is a handful of games that come down to the wire. This week will be no different.
Now, with the intensity of the approaching playoffs and the weather getting colder and affecting games, contests should become closer than they have all season.
Let's take a look at three highly contested games that should end with a very close score followed by a complete list of predictions for Week 15.
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Bad news struck the Patriots after their Week 14 contest with the Cleveland Browns. Tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a torn ACL and MCL and was placed on season-ending injured reserve.
MRI on Rob Gronkowski confirmed torn ACL, torn MCL. Season done.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 9, 2013
Without Gronkowski in the lineup, the Patriots offense has a tendency to falter. Before Gronkowski returned earlier this season, New England was able to score 27 or more points just two times in six games. After he came back, the Patriots were able to score at least 27 points in six of seven games.
His absence leaves the door wide open for Miami.
The Dolphins are beginning to click and now have a two-game winning streak. Second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has begun to emerge and has accumulated passer ratings of 94.2 and 95.5 in his last two games, respectively.
Random #Dolphins stat: QB Ryan Tannehill has had an 84.0 or higher passer rating in six consecutive games.— James Walker (@JamesWalkerNFL) December 12, 2013
Miami has been able to keep teams in check on the defensive side of the ball as well. The Dolphins are ranked 13th in the league against the pass and are allowing 21.1 points per game on average.
Add in home-field advantage for the Dolphins, and you have a recipe for a very close contest against a battered Patriots team.
Prediction: Dolphins 24, Patriots 21
Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons
This matchup is purely founded on maintaining integrity. Both teams have had abysmal seasons and currently hold 3-10 records. That was not expected whatsoever from two teams that reached the playoffs a year ago.
The Redskins broke some of the biggest news of the week when head coach Mike Shanahan announced that he would be benching Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season. Backup quarterback Kirk Cousins will get reps as the starter from here on out.
Surveyed 6 GMs to see what #Redskins could get for Kirk Cousins if they traded him: Everyone believes a 2nd, not a 1st. Audition time.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 13, 2013
This kind of switch can light a fire under a team sometimes. Cousins has the ability to produce as a quarterback. He gave a small sample size last season, putting up a great performance in a Week 15 game against the Cleveland Browns.
The Falcons have dealt with struggles of their own this year. Plagued by injuries, the Falcons' offensive proficiency has taken a nosedive. They lost wide receiver Julio Jones for the season due to a foot injury, and Roddy White has been hampered by nagging injuries all year.
These mishaps, along with an underachieving offensive line, have left the Falcons stagnant.
Both of these teams are very similar on the defensive side of the ball. Washington has given up 4,835 yards this season, and Atlanta has allowed 4,932. Washington is allowing an average of 31.3 points per game, while Atlanta is giving up 27.8.
These teams are extremely evenly matched right now, which should keep the contest exciting.
Prediction: Redskins 27, Falcons 23
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
At first glance, this may not seem like a closely contested matchup. After all, the Bengals have a 9-4 record and a stranglehold on the AFC North. Meanwhile the Steelers are 5-8 and in the midst of a two-game losing streak.
Cincinnati, however, has flourished due to its defense. Until last week, the offense had been stagnant, as quarterback Andy Dalton was struggling mightily. He posted some great numbers against a shaky Indianapolis Colts secondary in Week 14 but could be in line for a let-down game at Heinz Field.
Cold weather, gusty winds and a hostile environment are not conducive for a quarterback who has been struggling on the road this season. In three of the Bengals' four road losses this year, Dalton posted passer ratings of 58.2, 55.4 and 52.3.
Roethlisberger: "Absolutely no issue" with Haley; I love this offense http://t.co/t1Z9jI0VfK— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) December 10, 2013
Roethlisberger has been able to catch fire of late, posting passer ratings of at least 94.6 in each of his last four games. He is getting this battered Bengals defense at a perfect time to take advantage of inexperienced substitutes.
The stars are aligning for a potential upset here.
Prediction: Steelers 24, Bengals 20
Here is a complete list of predictions for the week's remaining games:
|Washington Redskins||Atlanta Falcons||Redskins|
|San Francisco 49ers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||49ers|
|Arizona Cardinals||Tennessee Titans||Cardinals|
|New Orleans Saints||St. Louis Rams||Saints|
|Seattle Seahawks||New York Giants||Seahawks|
|Chicago Bears||Cleveland Browns||Bears|
|Houston Texans||Indianapolis Colts||Colts|
|Buffalo Bills||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jaguars|
|New England Patriots||Miami Dolphins||Dolphins|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Minnesota Vikings||Eagles|
|New York Jets||Carolina Panthers||Panthers|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Oakland Raiders||Chiefs|
|Green Bay Packers||Dallas Cowboys||Cowboys|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Pittsburgh Steelers||Steelers|
|Baltimore Ravens||Detroit Lions||Lions|
Sean O'Donnell's Picks