NFL Week 15 Picks (Early Games)

Matt SchaeferCorrespondent IDecember 11, 2008

Man I hate Thursday night games! Not only can I not watch the game on TV because my cable provider doesn't carry NFL Network (stupid Time Warner), but they also make writers like myself get our picks out earlier.

Well, I waited until the last minute, as it is, so let's just get it started.


New Orleans Saints (7-6) @ Chicago Bears (7-6), Dec. 11, 8:15 PM, NFL Network

Both the Saints and Bears are battling for a playoff spot and this game will be the most important one of the season for these two teams. Both the Saints and Bears are behind Redskins, Eagles, Falcons, Cowboys, and Bucs for the wild-card spot.

The winner of this game will keep their playoff hopes alive, while the loser can kiss their season good bye.

The two teams come in with one area of the game as their strongest point, New Orleans and their offense and Chicago and their defense.

However, Chicago's defense this year hasn't been as solid as it was in the past. There tackling hasn't always been there and neither has their passing defense.

While solid against the run (91.2 yards per game, six in the league) their passing defense has not always been there for them and they are letting up over 234 yards through the air per game. 

Look for Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his offense to have a great game in this one. The Saints come in averaging 28.2 points (second), 405.9 yards (first) and 310.2 yards passing per game. Look for Brees to spread the ball around, hitting all of his playmakers.

With the Bears being focused on stopping the pass coming into this game, look for the running lanes to open up a little bit. Reggie Bush and breakout player Pierre Thomas (second year in the league, 461 yards, 7 TDs) should be able to find some lanes to keep the offense moving down field.

We know that the Saints can put the points on the board but can they stop somebody?

The only good news for a defense in the league that ranks towards the bottom is able to go up against an offensive unit that isn't much better.

Rookie and 1,000 yard rusher Matt Forte should have a good game himself against a Saints defense that allows over 112 yards per game. If he can rip off good yardage on runs, and move the chains, the Bears might be able to ride on his back the entire game while trying to win the time possession battle to keep the Saints off the field.

PREDICTION: This will not be a low scoring game and the Saints have the most explosive offense on their side. The Bears will just not be able to get into a slug fest with them so I will choose the SAINTS to win in this one.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-4) @ Atlanta Falcons (8-5), Dec. 14, 1:00 PM, FOX

This game should be another great one in the NFC as two teams take to the field, fighting for a playoff spot.

Tampa Bay finds themselves in a little bit better position, as they are fifth in the NFC and have the first wild card spot, but the Falcons are only one-game behind them.

This is a Falcons offense that has received new life this year after rookie QB Matt Ryan and free agent pick up, Michael Turner have turned this team around. This is a game where Turner faces a defense that let up 301 yards to the two headed monster in Carolina Monday night.

Turner has also rushed for an average of 99.3 yards over the last three games. Turner and Jerious Norwood have helped Atlanta boast the second best rushing attack in the league, averaging 146.7 yards on the ground and they are going up against a run defense that is struggling (dropped from ninth best to 18th best after the thrashing it took last week).

Matt Ryan is going to have to keep the ball away from the Bucs though. They have a great secondary that already has 19 interceptions so far this season. As you can imagine, they have the fourth best rushing defense in the league only letting up 182.6 yards through the air a game.

What is going to kill the Falcons in this game in their defense (very similar situation with the Saints this year).

Veteran QB Jeff Garcia will look to lead the troops against an Atlanta defense letting up 223 yards though the air (23rd).

Vengeance will also be a big factor in this game as running back Warrick Dunn returns to the Georgia Dome for the first time after being dumped to the curb this offseason.  Dunn will be licking his chops, facing a defense letting up over 121 yards a game on the ground.  This should be a happy homecoming for him.

PREDICTION: The Bucs defense will step up its game after being punched in the mouth last game. They will also put some points on the board too. Jeff Garcia is 6-0 against Atlanta and that streak should continue. I like the BUCCANEERS in this one.


Washington Redskins (7-6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (1-11-1), Dec. 14, 1:00 PM, FOX

The second worst team in the NFL against a team that needs to put some W's on the schedule to stay alive in the NFC wild card race. A no brainier here, right?

No point in looking at anyone on the Bengals beside wide receiver, T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "Whose your mamma" has been the only bright spot on a piece of crap that is the Bengals. His 89 catches for 885 yards and four touchdowns speak for themselves. If only he had a quarterback who could throw him the ball...

The Redskins have been free falling after a fast start and now find themselves battling for their playoff lives. A game against the Bengals is just what the doctor has in order.

Look for the ‘Skins to give the ball to running back Clinton Portis throughout the entire game. Portis called out his head coach this week after a game in which he got limited work. Against a team that lets up almost 126 yards against on the ground, look for Portis to do his talking on the field this week.

Not only will they win the battle of possession, they will win the battle on defense, too.  Led by veteran linebacker London Fletcher, the defense is one of the better ones in the league (even with the trade for Jason Taylor not really working out for either side).  Also keep an eye on S LaRon Landry.  After going his first 26 career regular-season games without an interception, he has two picks in his past three outings.

PREDICTION: No need to talk about this game any longer, REDSKINS will get the victory.


Tennessee Titans (12-1) @ Houston Texans (6-7), Dec. 14, 1:00 PM, CBS

The Titans come into this game having the third best rushing attack in the entire league, rushing for 146.1 yards per game on the ground. Even if LenDale White can't give it a go (although I expect his does), Chris Johnson should be able to handle the load by himself as he goes up against the 24th ranked run defense of the Texans. 

Veteran QB Kerry Collins will be able to pass the ball pretty well in this one too, and the running game will open up the play action pass. I doubt he has to pass the ball much this game though.

The Titans defense will be just too much to handle for the Texans.  While Matt Schaub and Steve Slaton are locks on this team for years to come, I doubt either one of them will do much in this game through the air or on the ground where the Titans rank third and seventh respectively.

The only good news for Houston is that monster Albert Haynesworth did not practice the past two days although he is expected to go tomorrow.

With him in the lineup, no one can run on Tennessee. The Texans will turn one dimensional, especially when they find themselves down early, and that will not work out for them well.

PREDICTION: Here's another streak for everyone, the TITANS have won seven straight against the Texans and it should be 8 after they win again this week.


Green Bay Packers (5-8) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9), Dec. 14, 1:00 PM, FOX

Two of the most disappointing teams in the NFL do battle on Sunday afternoon.

With running back Fred Taylor out for the rest of the season, the workload will be put on Maurice Jones-Drew's shoulders. As a duo, this two can do great things on the field but when they are split up, the running game suffers. Jones-Drew does get a little bit of a break down going against one of the worst run defenses in the league.

While the defense as a whole hasn't been very good for the Packers, they have a pretty good secondary, ranked 12th best in the league. They are a defense that can take the ball away too with FS Nick Collins, Corners Charles Woodson, and Tramon Williams all having five interceptions a piece (the team as a whole has 18).

It is not a good match up for Jags QB David Garrad, who has thrown four interceptions in the last three games. During that same span, he hasn't gotten much protection from his offensive line either as he has been sacked 10 times in those three games. Garrad has also gone down 14 times in the last four games.

The Packers are a team that can put points on the board, averaging a little over 27 points per game which is good for fourth best in the league. If the Packers want to win this one, they are going to have to get a good performance from running back Ryan Grant.

Grant is trying to build off a 104 yard performance last week and is looking at a defense letting up 112 yards a game on the ground.

PREDICTION: It will be a low scoring game in this one, but the Packers will pull away in the end. GREEN BAY will win this ball game.


San Francisco 49ers (5-8) @ Miami Dolphins (8-5), 12/14, 1:00 PM, FOX

On paper, the 49ers are not a very good team; however, they are much better than their record indicates.

Shaun Hill has really impressed me in the last few games as he continues to get better and better every week. This season Hill has put up great numbers going 112 of 178 (62.9%) for 1,352 yards, 10 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He also gets a chance to go against the 21st ranked passing defense of the Fins.

It helps to have a guy like Issac Bruce to throw the ball to also. Bruce has six touchdowns receiving this season.

And how can you talk about the 49ers without their star running back Frank Gore.  Gore has shown that he can do it all. The fourth-year running back has 978 yards and six touchdowns (while averaging 4.2 yards a carry) on the ground to go along with 42 receptions for 367 yards and two more TDs.

This San Francisco defense is filled with veteran and young talent, too. Tackling Phenom Patrick Willis has 117 tackles so far this season. Guys like Michael Lewis, Takeo Spikes (three interceptions), Nate Clements and Walt Harris led a pretty solid defensive squad.

No offense to the Dolphins who under Bill Parcells and Tony Sparano have really turned the franchise around, but for some reason I see the 49ers get their winning streak up to three, although Chad Pennington, Ronnie Brown and crew might have something to say about it.

PREDICTION: Most teams in the NFL struggle when they cross the country to play.  However a fired up 49ers team will come out to play with nothing to lose. Mike Singletary will get his guys fired up and the 49ERS will come out of Miami with a win.


Seattle Seahawks (2-11) @ St. Louis Rams (2-11), Dec. 14, 1:00 PM, FOX

The stinker game of the week right here! So to show my great excitement to this game I will spend as much time writing the pregame as you guys will spend watching the game. Well, ok, I guess that should do it.

PREDICTION: The "Toilet Bowl" to crown the NFC West's worst team. For some reason, I want to say the Seahawks who played tough against the Patriots last weekend; however I think that Steven Jackson and Marc Bulger should have a field day against a terrible defense not to mention that Hasselbeck looks like a no-go for Seattle.

I'll take the RAMS in a thriller. Someone one will have to tell me if I'm right though, I certainly won't be watching this one.


Buffalo Bills (6-7) @ New York Jets (8-5), 12/14, 1:00 PM, CBS

The Buffalo Bills have lost six of their last seven games to drop to 6-7 on the year despite starting off the season 5-1. To make matter worse their offense hasn't scored a touchdown in nine quarters.

The Jets have been struggling themselves, but no where close to the suckfest that is the Bills. After dropping two straight games, the Jets are looking to battle back into the top of the AFC with a win at home this week.

Thomas Jones is officially a 1,000-yard rusher this season and looks to have another good game against a Bills run defense that is right in the middle of the pack. He is also to add on to his 12 touchdown total.

Brett Favre has been struggling too and hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in his last two games. He is facing a bend-but-don't-break Bills defense that is 11th in the league in pass defense, only allowing 203 yards a game.

I have no idea what I am thinking right now, but look for J.P. Losman to have a solid game this week. He dusted off the cobwebs last week and now has practiced as the number one guy for the last two weeks. 

To help him is a  Jets secondary that is second worst in the league, letting up over 250 yards throw the air a game.  Lee Evans should also have a big afternoon.

The biggest problem in this game is for the Bills though , how do you rush on the fourth best unit in the league?  It will be tough at first but with Marshawn Lynch and the offensive line being fired up; look for Beast Mode to take over towards the end of the game, as long as Marshawn gets around 25 carries that is to tire out this defense.

PREDICTION: It has to be the Bills fan inside of me hoping for this win, but I honestly think that the Bills might have a chance.  Look for a battle of turnovers to erupt as both teams have their share in this one. 

BUFFALO, with great play from their defense, takes the win and the huge upset in this one.


San Diego Chargers (5-8) @ Kansas City Chiefs (2-11), Dec. 14, 1:00 PM, CBS

Another terrible match up between a very disappointing team and one that we knew would be pretty bad coming into this season.

It seems like LaDainian Tomlinson could use an early Christmas gift to help out his disappointing campaign. What's that Santa? Well he is sending the 31st-ranked running defense for him to face. They let up just under 162 yards per game.  Darren Sproles will appreciate the early gift, too.

Chargers QB Philip Rivers leads the NFL with a 102.0 passer rating and needs 220 yards to surpass his career-high of 3,388 yards in a single season. Rivers threw for 316 yards and two TDs in Week 10 vs. the Chiefs' last-ranked defense which hasn't got much better since then.

PREDICTION: CHARGERS bolt out of KC with a win and keep their close to impossible playoff hopes alive.


Detroit Lions (0-13) @ Indianapolis Colts (9-4), Dec. 14. 1:00 PM, FOX

The only reason any time is being spend on this game is because the Colts are one of the two teams playing in it.

I'll quickly sum up the Lions in one sentence; they are the worst team in the league and will go 0-16. Well there you go.

As for Indy, they are looking to get their seventh consecutive victory. Their QB, Peyton Manning is playing pretty well, too. The Colts only down side is their lack of running game but that won't be exposed in this game against the worst rushing defense in the league.

Look for Manning to throw the ball all over the field on the Lions, too.

The only note on the Lions is that punter Nick Harris needs a raise. Think of all the wear and tear his leg is suffering right now. Seventy-five punts is the third most in the NFL this season. Averaging 44.1 yards a punt isn't that bad either.

PREDICTION: The last time these two teams meet up, was back in 2004, when Peyton Manning threw six touchdown passes in a 41-9 rout. Expect similar this week with the COLTS scoring the win.


Well there you have it. My NFL Picks for the Early games this week. Just in time, too, seeing as the Thursday night game that I cannot watch is on in 15 minutes.

Enjoy the game for those of you who can watch and for everyone else, check back for my picks tomorrow for the later games.


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