Last-Minute Predictions for NFL Week 15
Just three weeks remain in the 2013 NFL season, and playoff berths and jobs are on the line. It makes for compelling theater.
There are several games with playoff implications, whether it's Monday night's tilt between Baltimore and Detroit, New England playing at Miami or Dallas hosting Green Bay. Come Monday, we'll have a better idea of where everyone stands in the playoff picture and the 2014 NFL draft.
Here are my last-minute predictions for Week 15.
Shane Vereen Will Lead New England to a Double-Digit Victory over Miami
The Patriots suffered a major blow to their offense last week when they lost tight end Rob Gronkowski for the remainder of the season. While his loss is significant, Shane Vereen has an opportunity to take on a bigger role.
Don't believe me? Check out this piece from Bleacher Report's Erik Frenz, who details Vereen's impact on the Patriots offense, both running the football and catching it out of the backfield. He's quickly become one of Tom Brady's most trusted weapons.
While Football Locks has New England favored by only one point, I don't see Miami keeping it that close. This is still Tom Brady and Bill Belichick versus Ryan Tannehill and Joe Philbin in an end-of-year divisional game.
On this particular Sunday, Vereen will be the star of the show, catching passes and running the ball with aplomb. He'll total more than 100 yards of offense and score two touchdowns as the Patriots move closer to home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Richard Sherman Will Have Pick-Six Versus Eli Manning
Eli Manning has had a season to forget.
He's thrown 20 interceptions to only 16 touchdowns, and his poor play is a big reason why the 5-8 Giants find themselves eliminated from playoff contention with three games still to play.
On Sunday, the Giants welcome in the 11-2 Seahawks and their "Legion of Boom" secondary, led by cornerback Richard Sherman. He is surely salivating over Manning's hot-potato routine with the football.
Manning told Conor Orr of The Star-Ledger, "He (Sherman) plays the ball very well in the air and on the go routes. He’s a good player, but I think we’ll have some routes and some different things to try to take advantage of his style of play."
You know what else Sherman does well, Eli? Dominate opposing receivers. Intercept the football. Make quarterbacks who are careless with the ball look silly.
Sherman will intercept a Manning pass and take it to the house as Seattle crushes New York and moves closer to securing home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
And if the Seahawks do claim home-field advantage, this won't be the last game they play at MetLife Stadium this season.
Josh Gordon Will Outperform Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery
Sunday's matchup between the Bears and Browns features three of the best wide receivers in football: Chicago's Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, and Cleveland's Josh Gordon.
While all three possess great physical attributes and a nose for the end zone, one stands above the rest, and it's Gordon.
Gordon just set the NFL record for most receiving yards over a four-game span with 774. He also leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,400) despite being suspended for the first two games of the season.
And when you factor in that he's done this despite having three different quarterbacks under center in Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, his accolades become even more impressive.
While Marshall and Jeffery are outstanding in their own right and should also put up big numbers, Gordon is the best of the three, and he'll prove it during the game.
Look for Gordon to go over 150 yards receiving and score two touchdowns as the Bears and Browns engage in a shootout in Cleveland.
Kirk Cousins Will Throw for over 300 Yards
This week, Washington's season of drama degenerated into theater of the absurd, with coach Mike Shanahan benching Robert Griffin III for the rest of the year. For my thoughts on that move, click here.
As a result, backup signal-caller Kirk Cousins gets the nod on Sunday against the Falcons. Luckily, Cousins is a capable option and should have little difficulty in shredding Atlanta's weak defense.
In fact, Washington is so confident in Cousins that Shanahan said he could end up fetching the team a first-round pick in the offseason.
Cousins will have success early and often against the Falcons and will throw for more than 300 yards as Washington ends its five-game losing streak.
Carolina Will Limit New York to Under 150 Yards of Total Offense
Sometimes, games are easy to forecast.
When the Jets take on the Panthers on the road Sunday, they won't be able to move the football and will struggle to put points on the board. Simply put, Carolina's defense will suffocate New York's offense and hold the unit under 150 total yards.
Rookie Geno Smith has little help around him at the skill positions, although getting Jeremy Kerley back is important moving forward.
Star Lotulelei told Newsday's Anthony Rieber, "We're going to try to make (Smith) uncomfortable. I think that's been the big emphasis that our coach has tried to get through to us. With a rookie quarterback, you always want to make him uncomfortable."
The Panthers defense is going to dominate, and the offense will put up enough points to ensure a comfortable win for coach Ron Rivera's team.
Matt Flynn and Eddie Lacy Will Light Up Dallas
Aaron Rodgers is still out with a broken collarbone, and with the team playing on the road against a desperate Dallas squad, it's fair to say that most Packers fans are worried.
If the team loses, it won't be because of the offense.
Sean Lee is out for Dallas, and the defense is already ranked 28th against the rush and 32nd versus the pass. Last week, Bears backup Josh McCown threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, and he was promptly benched the moment Jay Cutler was ready to return.
Green Bay might not win the game, but Flynn and Lacy will perform.
Giovani Bernard Will Rush Cincinnati to Victory on Sunday Night
The Bengals' Week 2 victory over the Steelers on Monday Night Football served as Giovani Bernard's coming-out party, as he scored his first two touchdowns of his career.
When the two teams meet again on Sunday night in Pittsburgh, expect more of the same. Rotowire believes Bernard will have an impact as well, and he's coming off a career-high 148 total yards versus the Colts.
Pittsburgh's defense is not what it was a few years ago. That was evident last week, when it made Ryan Tannehill look like the second coming of Dan Marino.
Bernard will go over 100 yards of total offense and score at least one touchdown as the Bengals complete the sweep of their division rivals and move one step closer toward winning the AFC North.
Baltimore Will Beat Detroit on Monday Night
Monday night's tilt between the 7-6 Ravens and 7-6 Lions in Detroit is rife with playoff implications and makes for a fascinating contest. Football Locks has installed the Lions as six-point favorites, but I don't see that happening.
Give me John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco over Jim Schwartz and Matthew Stafford any day.
In an interview with Fox Sports' Brendon Ayanbadejo, Harbaugh said this about potentially coming back to win the AFC North:
That's our goal. That is what we are hoping to accomplish, to put ourselves in position to make that game meaningful in that way. It's a tough challenge, it's tough for us to get it done but I know one thing when we come out the other end we will have earned it. We will be well-deserving of whatever playoff spot that we earn. We have our work cut out for us. As we always say, we are just the men for the job.
Since Harbaugh and Flacco came to Baltimore in 2008, the Ravens haven't missed the postseason and have won at least one playoff game each year.
Meanwhile, Schwartz and Stafford haven't shown that they're capable of rising to the occasion. They followed up a playoff berth in 2011 with a 4-12 mark in 2012.
In a season where the NFC North has practically been handed to them on a silver platter with injuries to Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, the Lions find themselves in a dogfight with both teams. On Monday night, they will take a step back versus the defending Super Bowl champions.