NFL Week 15 Picks: Redskins, Bengals Highlight Weekend's Top Plays

Mark CrystelContributor IIIDecember 15, 2013

Move over Saints and Broncos.  The Bengals have scored 40-plus points three times in six games.
Move over Saints and Broncos. The Bengals have scored 40-plus points three times in six games.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With just three games left in the NFL regular season, teams like the Redskins are in rebuilding mode, while  the Bengals are gearing up for the playoffs.

With just two home playoff games in the last 10 years, the city of Cincinnati is smelling an economic boost and the possibility of January football, while the Redskins jumped ship on Robert Griffin III for the season.

This weekend the hot Bengals are just a small favorite at fading Pittsburgh, and the Redskins are catching a full touchdown at Atlanta.  But it's the underdog which will have something to prove after suffering an embarrassment in Week 14 at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs.

With 64 prediction articles in the books and a record of 40-18 with six ties, I'll put these two teams to the test and hope to win both in lieu of a boring split.  Read on for the reasons why.

Washington (+7) at Atlanta

As if the season wasn't going bad enough for the Redskins, last week they not only lost handily at home against the Chiefs but gave up 38 points in the first half alone.

As a result, the team is going in a different direction this week by starting Kirk Cousins instead of Robert Griffin III.

And, as a result, oddsmakers are spotting the Redskins a full touchdown at Atlanta.

While it's harder to forget Washington's performance last week, it's probably easier to forget Atlanta's identical record or the fact that the Falcons have won just one game all season by more than a touchdown.

But just because the Redskins got blown out doesn't mean they will play poorly again this week.

Take last year's Arizona Cardinals as an example.

After a 58-0 loss at Seattle, where they dug themselves a 38-0 deficit by halftime, the Cardinals surprised everyone the following week by coming back to defeat the Detroit Lions.  The Lions were a six-point favorite to win the game.

And similar to the Falcons, the Lions were 4-9 and out of playoff contention, providing an easier and less motivated opponent against which the embarrassed Cardinals could blow off some steam.

For a more recent example, go no further than the team the Falcons played last week.

Kirk Cousins will be anxious to play after a season on the bench.
Kirk Cousins will be anxious to play after a season on the bench.Rob Carr/Getty Images

Matt Flynn and the Packers looked awful on Thanksgiving Day and scored no offensive touchdowns, but they came back to defeat these same Atlanta Falcons the very next week.

Kirk Cousins will get the start at quarterback, and he finds himself in familiar territory.  Stepping in last season in Week 15, he went 26-of-37 passing and led the four-point underdog Redskins to a 38-21 win at Cleveland.

Another possible bonus is the Falcons having a new and healthy quarterback to prepare for, which means they won't have as easy of a time deciphering the Redskins' offense like prior teams did.  

In an article last week, I wrote about how Eagles defensive back Fletcher Cox knew what plays were coming before the ball was snapped when the Eagles beat the Redskins at home.

"Actually a few of the plays I called them out before they happened," said Fletcher Cox, per CSN Philly. "It all came from studying film and knowing when things were going to happen before they happened.”

That shouldn't be a problem this week with Kirk Cousins.

Embarrassment fuels motivation.  Look for the Redskins to bounce back from their awful performance at home versus the Chiefs and put forth a better effort in Atlanta.

And just like in 2010, when they lost at home to the Eagles 59-28 (giving up 45 first-half points in that beatdown) and came back the following week as a seven-point road underdog to beat Tennessee, a similar result may be in the cards for the Redskins this week in Atlanta.

Take Washington plus the points

Cincinnati (-2) at Pittsburgh

When discussing the best teams in the NFL, the teams most often mentioned are Seattle, New England, New Orleans and Denver. All four have powerful offenses.

But there's only one team that's scored 40 or more points on three different occasions over the last six games, and that's the Cincinnati Bengals.

While the Steelers suffered a heartbreaking loss to Miami—losing by inches as Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds at the 13-yard line on the game's final play—Cincinnati was continuing its hot streak with an impressive win over the Colts.

So instead of the Steelers coming in with some momentum from what would have been a miraculous win, the Bengals will be heading to Pittsburgh with a full head of steam.

And what would have been an energized Pittsburgh crowd is more likely to be a cold and deflated gathering.

Seattle owns the best record in the league, and the Patriots, Chiefs and Broncos have reached double-digit wins.

But had it not been for a pair of overtime losses, Cincinnati could be coming into Pittsburgh with a perfect record over its last nine games.

The Bengals own the tiebreaker with Carolina and New England, making them a legitimate contender for a first-round bye and the sleeper team nobody is talking about.

The Steelers have the home field, but the Bengals are a more complete team.  While Ben Roethlisberger is aging, Andy Dalton has been hot lately. And statistically the Bengals have superior yardage numbers to Pittsburgh on both sides of the ball.

Offensively the Bengals are coming off a fine game which saw rookie running back Giovani Bernard gain a season-high 99 yards on the ground.  Bernard and his backfield mate BenJarvus Green-Ellis give the Bengals a formidable running game.

On the flip side, the Steelers are next to last in rushing yards per game. 

The once dominate Pittsburgh defense is giving up 24 points per game this season, while the Bengals defense is allowing fewer than 19 points an outing.

If the Miami Dolphins can come up from sunny Florida and defeat the Steelers in the cold and snow, then expect the Bengals to reach 10 wins for the second consecutive season.

Take Cincinnati over Pittsburgh


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