NFL Picks Week 15: Eagles and Giants, Jaguars and Colts Battle for No. 1
No teams, with the exception of the New England Patriots, have clinched a sure playoff spot, yet the postseason picture continues to solidify.
The West (both NFC and AFC) continues to be muddled, as the San Diego Chargers shut out the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14 31-0, improving to 7-6 and recovering from their Week 2 loss to the Chiefs. The 5-8 San Francisco 49ers unexpectedly blew out the Seattle Seahawks on the same day, keeping themselves in the hunt.
The Patriots have looked brilliant in their last two showings, dominating both the New York Jets and the Chicago Bears with a combined score of 81-10.
The Philadelphia Eagles beat the Dallas Cowboys by a narrow margin (30-27 the final score) to improve to 9-4, tied with the New York Giants.
Another key game with respect to the playoff picture was on Monday night, when the Baltimore Ravens (9-4) beat out the Houston Texans (5-8) in overtime.
Because the NFL adjusted its schedule following the 2009 season, many teams will face divisional rivals as the regular season begins to close with each team having only three more games left to play.
Here are my predictions and previews for the Week 15 games.
San Francisco 49ers (5-8) at San Diego Chargers (7-6)
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After a slow start that has become typical for Norv Turner's Chargers, the team has again impressed, winning four of their last five games.
Mike Singletary's 49ers were projected as a serious playoff contender, but after an early-season slump, hold an unimpressive 5-8 record, but somehow are still in contention in the weak NFC West.
Both teams are looking to solidify shaky playoff hopes, but expect to see Philip Rivers lead San Diego's offense to a high-scoring finish.
Final Predicted Score: Chargers 30, 49ers 23
Buffalo Bills (3-10) at Miami Dolphins (7-6)
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The Buffalo Bills have played good football as of late. They started off the season by losing eight games in a row, but have gone 3-2 since then. One of these losses came in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in which the Bills, despite several key mistakes, went into overtime and lost, partly due to a 40-yard touchdown drop by Bills WR Steve Johnson.
Miami has struggled, starting 2-2, then losing one game out of every two played since to now sit at 7-6. However, a tough defensive stand against the New York Jets could inject some life into this team who technically could make the playoffs but realistically stand little chance of going into the postseason.
Buffalo has come out and played some decent football recently. I'll go with upset pick on this one and take the Bills winning a close game.
Final Predicted Score: Bills 17, Miami 13
Detroit Lions (3-10) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5)
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The Lions beat the Packers in a battle of the backup quarterbacks last week, while Tampa Bay narrowly avoided overtime due to an improbable extra-point botch by the Washington Redskins.
The Buccaneers are battling for a wild-card spot in order to make the playoffs.
Tampa Bay needs this win in order to stay in the postseason scenario, and I expect them to deliver.
Final Predicted Score: Buccaneers 24, Lions 14
Arizona Cardinals (4-9) at Carolina Panthers (1-12)
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After a 43-13 blowout of the Denver Broncos, the Arizona Cardinals look to improve to 5-9 with a win here.
At this point, the Cardinals are basically eliminated from the playoffs and are just looking to finish out the season respectably.
The Panthers are 1-12, showing little signs of life, and their season was over many games ago, with Coach John Fox already looking over his options to rebuild for next season.
Final Predicted Score: Cardinals 28, Panthers 13
New Orleans Saints (10-3) at Baltimore Ravens (9-4)
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A pick-six sealed the deal in overtime for the Baltimore Ravens last Monday night as they won a tough road game against Houston to improve their record to 9-4 and stay in contention for the division title.
The New Orleans Saints have won an amazing six games straight and are only one game behind the Atlanta Falcons to win the NFC South, but even if they don't win their division they are almost certain to get the wild-card berth.
The Saints' offense is certain to pose problems for the Ravens D, but the home-field advantage for Baltimore could be the swinger for this game.
Final Predicted Score: Ravens 24, Saints 23
Jacksonville Jaguars (8-5) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6)
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The Indianapolis Colts have struggled, but look to get back on track with a win against division rival Jacksonville Jaguars.
Injuries have decimated the Colts' lineup, one of the reasons Peyton Manning has struggled recently, but they are still a formidable team.
The Jaguars came out on top against the Oakland Raiders last week in a 38-31 shootout thanks to Maurice Jones-Drew and their rushing attack.
The key match-up in this game is Jacksonville's dynamic rushing offense led by Jones-Drew against the Colts' porous run defense.
Final Predicted Score: Jaguars 31, Colts 28
Philadelphia Eagles (9-4) at New York Giants (9-4)
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This is the toughest game to call this week, and it could swing either way.
Both of these teams play great football.
Philadelphia pulled out a close 30-27 win against the game Dallas Cowboys last week, while the Giants were able to coast over the Minnesota Vikings in an easy 21-3 victory.
Both teams stand 9-4 coming into the face-off that will virtually clinch the division for the winner.
In a close match like this, I'll make the safe call and go with the home-field advantage.
Final Predicted Score: Giants 27, Eagles 24
Cleveland Browns (5-8) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-11)
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Both of these teams are eliminated from the playoffs and hold the bottom spots in the AFC North, so this game is just for rivalry's sake.
The Bengals have fallen far from holding the division crown last season, but the Browns are moving up the totem pole after finishing strong last season by winning their last four games. They are only one win away from improving on their last season record of 5-11.
With Marvin Lewis on the hot seat, Cincinnati has fallen far short of expectations this season even with two star WRs in Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. I don't expect them to get the win.
Final Predicted Score: Browns 23, Bengals 9
Houston Texans (5-8) at Tennessee Titans (5-8)
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Both of these teams are hanging on to a very thin thread of playoff hopes. Also, both have suffered from losing streaks, the Tennessee Titans having lost six straight and the Houston Texans losing six of their last seven games, including a heart breaker in which they erased a 21-point second-half deficit, only to lose in overtime.
Houston is looking for a spark coming into this road game and could end up with a beat down of the deflated Titans.
Final Predicted Score: Texans 31, Titans 20
Atlanta Falcons (11-2) at Seattle Seahawks (6-7)
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Whenever the Seattle Seahawks lose this season, it seems like it's a blowout, especially when they play good teams.
The Atlanta Falcons this season are a team that have successfully harnessed their potential, allowing third-year signal-caller Matt Ryan to lead them to an apparent division championship and playoff berth.
This team is out of Seattle's league and should come out strong to prove it, although the Seahawks might make this game closer with the playoffs on the line.
Final Predicted Score: Falcons 28, Seahawks 17
Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) at St. Louis Rams (6-7)
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Both of these teams are great comeback stories, bouncing back from bad seasons in 2009 to be contenders in the playoff hunt.
St. Louis has improved their team with the addition of Sam Bradford, who has been a solid young quarterback and led the Rams to a shot at the postseason.
Under Todd Haley, the Chiefs have played good football, but are looking to bounce back after a 31-0 shutout loss at San Diego.
Final Predicted Score: Rams 20, Chiefs 16
Denver Broncos (3-10) at Oakland Raiders (6-7)
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The Oakland Raiders put up a fight against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, but couldn't finish the game and had to walk off the field after a tough loss.
They'll be looking to avenge that on the hapless three-win Broncos, who are in disarray after a deluge of bad PR that resulted in a fired coach and most recently, a 43-13 blowout by the Arizona Cardinals.
Final Predicted Score: Raiders 24, Broncos 10
Washington Redskins (5-8) at Dallas Cowboys (4-9)
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The Washington Redskins haven't put up more than 28 points on the scoreboard all season long, so how can they compete with a Cowboys team that has scored 30+ in all of its wins under Jason Garrett?
The Dallas offense have looked much better under Garrett's leadership and should put up big numbers against a bad Redskins secondary.
Final Predicted Score: Cowboys 31, Redskins 26
New York Jets (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3)
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Led by Mark Sanchez, the New York Jets are slumping, and after a loss to the 7-6 Miami Dolphins they will try to rebound against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It's not a good match-up.
The Steelers are playing at home, they're coming off two straight division wins, and Dick LeBeau's defense is playing spectacularly.
Final Predicted Score: Steelers 19, Jets 9
Green Bay Packers (8-5) at New England Patriots (11-2)
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With a five-game win streak, the New England Patriots are looking, yet again, at a division title. They've elicited league-wide praise at the level of football they're playing.
The Green Bay Packers have slumped recently, and Aaron Rodgers' concussion has put the team in jeopardy as they were able to do nothing on offense in last weeks 7-3 loss to the Detroit Lions.
At this point, Green Bay seems to be preparing for Matt Flynn to start, which does not bode well for the struggling Packers.
Final Predicted Score (If Rodgers sits): Patriots 28, Packers 10
Chicago Bears (9-4) at Minnesota Vikings (5-8)
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The Minnesota Vikings' quarterback troubles continue as Tarvaris Jackson is sidelined by injury, which means that they could start either Patrick Ramsey, who hasn't played in a game since 2008, or undrafted rookie Joe Webb.
Don't count out the possibility of Favre coming back just yet, though.
Minnesota has looked like a shadow of the NFC Championship team that it was a year ago, and the Chicago Bears should capitalize.
Final Predicted Score: Bears 17, Vikings 6