Creature Vs. Creature: NFL Week 15 Key Predictions

Chaz MattsonAnalyst IDecember 10, 2008

**As part of a new series, a group of B/R writers make their picks on key
football games of the week.  With the NCAA D-I taking a break before the bowl season this week its six key NFL match-ups. Minus numbers in parentheses denote how much a team is favored to win by.

This week in the NFL there are games from divisional bash, playoff past, possible playoff future, and even one intriguing inter-conference clash.


Saints @ Bears (-3) [Thursday Night]

Game Overview:

It wasn’t all that long ago both of these teams played for the right to go to the Super Bowl on a cold Chicago day in January.  The Saints have always been a threat to the conference since acquiring Drew Brees.  Since that time both teams have dropped off a bit and are now fighting for their playoff lives.  This probably won’t be a playoff preview, but this could be one of the best games of the day.


The Saints average 310 yards passing per game.  New Orleans is the number one rated team in total offense averaging over 405 yards per game.  The black and gold average over 28 points per game while yielding over 25.  On the road Drew Brees has thrown 7 TD’s vs. 10 INT’s.  New Orleans run defense is ranked 20th and yielding just about 113 yards per game, the Bears average on the ground per game.


The Bears are only 15th best rushing the ball and are ranked a poor 29th against the pass.  This translates into the Bears having to step up with a more punishing ground attack.  The Bears have a formidable run game. 


Keys to the Game:

Both teams have All-Pro talent at punt returner in Devon Hester and Reggie Bush who are both threats to take it the distance every time they touch the ball.  So you have to account for this explosive potential.  Hester has done well at receiver, but has not broken one for a touchdown yet.  Reggie Bush has started to blossom in the return game.


The Bears hold a 12-11 all-time edge on New Orleans, which is sort of a slim margin considering the history of the Saints.  This one should be listed as EVEN instead of the (-3) that is listed.  That number is strictly due to the fact the Bears are tough at home and have not lost a home to the Saints since 2000. 


Both of these teams are 7-6, the Bears are 4-2 at home and the Saints a horrid 1-5 on the road.  The Saints are currently last in one of the best division in football, so their need is a little more extreme than the Bears who are one game behind the Vikings in the NFC North.  The Saints are currently hotter than the Bears and finding their stride.   


Point spread: (-3) Chicago will NOT cover.
Prediction:  Saints 27 Bears 24 OT
Confidence Meter: Four Stars


Buccaneers @ Falcons (-3)

Game Overview:

The Bucs lost a key game for the division lead against Carolina and they are determined to get back on track fast.  The Falcons have the leagues 5th best offense and the Bucs have the 9th best defense.  The Buccaneers are 16-12 all-time against the Falcons and 7-6 at Atlanta.


Keys to the Game:

There are two large keys to this game.  Tampa Bay took it to the Falcons in week two that fact will not be forgotten in this game.  Atlanta is still too young as a team to beat a good team like the Buccaneers in a key game like this one. 


Point spread: (-3) Falcons will NOT cover.
Prediction:  Buccaneers 20 Falcons 16
Confidence Meter: Four Stars


Steelers @ Ravens (-2)

Game Overview:

Pittsburgh beat Baltimore in the fourth game this season 23-20 at home.  The Steelers must now travel to Baltimore where the Ravens are hot and on a roll.  The Steelers own an all-time series lead at 16-10.  The Steelers are have the top ranked defense in the NFL, the Ravens have the second.  On offense the Ravens are the fifth best rushing attack and out distance Pittsburgh by roughly 20 total yards per game.


Keys to the Game:

The Steelers are banged up and yet they remain on a hot streak having won four games in a row.  The Ravens have won three games in a row.  Baltimore is 5-1 at home while the Steelers are 5-1 on the road.  If Pittsburgh wins the divisional race is essentially over, this game counts like two games.  If the Ravens win the game they at least have a shot at the AFC North crown with two games to go.  Pittsburgh is 4-0 in divisional games and the Ravens are 4-1.  These two teams emulate one another like no other teams in the league.  Expect a very tight game that is a defensive battle to the end.


Point spread: (-2) Ravens will cover.
Prediction:  Ravens 25 Steelers 23
Confidence Meter: Four Stars


Broncos @ Panthers (-7 ½)

Game Overview:

The Broncos boast of the leagues second most potent offense and one curious statistic.  The Denver Broncos are the only divisional leader (in who knows how long) to have yielded twenty more points than they actually have scored.  The old Orange Crush had a mantra to live by, that was “bend but don’t break”.  These Broncos have lost five defensive starters and somehow got better, yes better, by bending here and there and breaking on occasion.  The point spread is very high for two playoff teams hoping to finalize their playoff plans this weekend.  The surprising thing the nation doesn’t know is that the Broncos defense is actually better now than it was in Kansas City and New England minus five starters.  Along the way the Broncos defense has become much more physical keeping perennial mis-match maker Tony Gonzales under wraps last weekend in Denver.  The Denver defense does have two glaring weaknesses, they lack quarterback sacks and have given up large chunks of real estate on the ground.  It’s almost a perfect storm for the Carolina Panthers offense to roll up some yards and points.  Denver has now beaten Cleveland, Atlanta, and the New York Jets in their last three road games.


Keys to the Game:

Time of possession is the key to this game.  Denver has proven they can move the ball against any defense in the league.  How well the Panthers do on the ground will most likely dictate the outcome of this game.  My fear for the Panthers is this is a trap game coming off the intense divisional game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Panthers will go to New York next week for what could be a preview of the NFC Championship game and may be a fight for the home-field advantage.  They will finish their regular season out at New Orleans.  Denver’s magic number is one and they are in the playoffs.  Expect this game to be a dog fight.


Point spread: (-7 ½) Panthers will NOT cover.
Prediction:  Broncos 26 Panthers 24
Confidence Meter: Two Stars

Vikings @ Cardinals (-3)

Game Overview:

Edge James where are you?  The Cardinals need your skills in their prime bruddah!  Probably the most telling stat that supports any votes for Kurt Warner as MVP is the fact that the AZ Cardinals are dead last in rushing this season, averaging a meek 75 yards per game.  Moreover the red birds are ranked second in passing where the Vikes land in AZ as the 25th ranked passing team.   Minnesota behind Adrian Peterson is ranked sixth and average 141 yards per game on the ground.  On defense the Vikings are ranked number two against the run and the Cards are 13th.  Overall these two defenses are keeping their teams in the playoff hunt.  The Vikings are ranked sixth overall and the Cardinals 10th.  Therein lays the Vikings chances and the Cardinals shortcomings.  The Vikings own an 11-9 advantage over the Cards.


Keys to the Game:

Minnesota can’t stop the Cardinals from passing, but they will shutdown the run.  The Vikings must contain the pass game and get a solid effort from their offense.  The scariest piece to this whole equation is that Kurt Warner is still on the Cardinals roster and all indications are he will show.  The Cards yield an average of 25 points per game and the Vikings 21. 


Point spread: (-3) Cardinals will NOT cover.
Prediction:  Vikings 24 Cardinals 22
Confidence Meter: four stars


Giants @ Cowboys (-3)   [Sunday Night]

Game Overview:

These two teams have defense.  The Giants proved it last year in the playoffs and the third meeting between the Cowboys and the Giants.  They denied a late Dallas rally to advance to the NFC Championship and eventually found their way to a Super Bowl championship.  Currently the Giants are sixth and the Cowboys eighth overall.  Offensively the Giants are sixth and the Cowboys ninth overall, separated by only seven yards per game.  The Giants have the leagues best ground attack, grinding out nearly 155 yards per game.  They will have to get those numbers without Brandon Jacobs, the Earth piece to the Earth, Wind, and Fire backfield.


This year, the Giants have more swagger and have been reeling from last year, feeling they are the most disrespected world champions of all-time.  That has been a mantra and a motivator most of the season.  Most recently however the Giants have been distracted by Plaxico-Gate.  It’s his repetitive off the field incidents and on the field self serving attitude that led the Giants to at least temporarily part ways this season by deactivating him after he shot himself in the leg at a New York night club.  For Dallas, the problem is they are more like the old soap opera Dallas.  While we do know who shot Plaxico, we don’t know if Tony Romo and T.O. are on the same page.  Dallas leads this match-up all-time 54-37-2.  The Cowboys were spanked in New York a little over a month ago.


Keys to the Game:

The key above all other keys is which team is going to bounce back.  The Giants are floundering from Plaxico and the Cowboys are now receiving public reprimands from the owner Jerry Jones.  Usually a house divided cannot stand.  It’s just which house is divided more?  The Giants players are probably all a bit put off and relieved that Plaxico won’t be a distraction any longer.  Dallas players are probably rallying around each other and somewhat isolated from their ego centric owner.  With the likes of the Bears, Falcons, Eagles, among other fighting for the last playoff spot, the Cowboys know this is a must win.  They have been charged to win out or big changes will be on the way.  Dallas still has to play Baltimore and Philly after this game.  It won’t get any better, but the opportunity might be at its best right now.


Point spread: (-3) Cowboys will cover.
Prediction:  Dallas 33 Giants 17
Confidence Meter:  three stars