NFL Week 15 Predictions: Playoff Hopefuls That Will Score Major Victories

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 10, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 08: Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins looks to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second quarter at Heinz Field on December 8, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Whether fans want to call the NFL mediocre or dress it up with something sexy like "parity" does not matter—we enter Week 15 with plenty of games featuring playoff implications.

For better or worse, the NFL is top-heavy, and a variety of teams with iffy records remain in the hunt.

Three games in particular stick out as perhaps the most important of the week. Whether it is a division leader in danger of losing its standing or a hopeful looking to sneak in with a wild-card spot, Week 15 has plenty of drama for fans of any allegiance.

NFL Week 15 Predictions
Away Home Prediction
San Diego ChargersDenver BroncosDenver Broncos
Washington RedskinsAtlanta FalconsAtlanta Falcons
Chicago BearsCleveland BrownsChicago Bears
Houston TexansIndianapolis ColtsIndianapolis Colts
New England PatriotsMiami DolphinsMiami Dolphins
Philadelphia EaglesMinnesota VikingsPhiladelphia Eagles
Seattle SeahawksNew York GiantsSeattle Seahawks
San Francisco 49ersTampa Bay BuccaneersSan Francisco 49ers
Buffalo BillsJacksonville JaguarsJacksonville Jaguars
Kansas City ChiefsOakland RaidersKansas City Chiefs
New York JetsCarolina PanthersCarolina Panthers
Green Bay PackersDallas CowboysDallas Cowboys
Arizona CardinalsTennessee TitansTennessee Titans
New Orleans SaintsSt. Louis RamsNew Orleans Saints
Cincinnati BengalsPittsburgh SteelersCincinnati Bengals
Baltimore RavensDetroit LionsDetroit Lions
Chris Roling's predictions.


Miami Dolphins Stun New England Patriots

The New England Patriots have all but wrapped up the AFC East at 10-3, but the Miami Dolphins are right in the thick of things for a wild-card spot at 7-6.

These two met in Week 8 in Foxborough, where the Patriots picked up a 27-17 win. Much has changed since then.

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 08: Tom Brady #12 celebrates with teammate Ryan Wendell #62 of the New England Patriots following a touchdown late in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns during the game at Gillette Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Foxboro
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

For one, the Dolphins have done a better job of protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill in recent weeks. The sophomore quarterback has only been sacked four times in his past two games. Better chemistry along the line means it may be difficult for New England to replicate its six-sack performance from Week 8.

Three primary factors work against the Patriots here. For one, it is a road game. Two, the Patriots needed a late comeback in Week 14 to beat 4-9 Cleveland by one point. Three, they will be without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is lost for the season, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:

With so much at stake for the Dolphins, expect them to pull through in a close one.

Prediction: Dolphins 17, Patriots 14

Philadelphia Eagles Run Past Minnesota Vikings

First things first—Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is reportedly fine after being carted from the field during the team's 29-26 loss to Baltimore in Week 14:

It may not matter.

The Philadelphia Eagles are on fire. Led by quarterback Nick Foles, the team has won five straight. In that stretch, Foles has 14 touchdowns to one interception.

That is horrific news for a Minnesota defense that ranks among the bottom two in pass defense with an average of 282.5 yards allowed per game.

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 08: Running back Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings is taken off the field after being injured during the second quarter of the game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Baltimore, Mary
Larry French/Getty Images

While there is something to be said for the presence of Peterson and home-field advantage, those are weak arguments. All-Day is hobbled and faces a Philadelphia defense that ranks in the top half of the league with an average of 112.8 yards allowed. The Eagles have lost just one game on the road this year (in Denver, of all places).

Philadelphia is doing all it can to hold off Dallas in the NFC East. The Eagles get a massive boost from the schedule here.

Prediction: Eagles 27, Vikings 20

San Francisco 49ers Escape Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The San Francisco 49ers now sit at 9-4 after a major 19-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14, but it was simply not enough to propel the team to the top of the NFC West.

Even worse, the 8-5 Arizona Cardinals are nipping right at their heels.

At first glance, a matchup with 4-9 Tampa Bay looks favorable.

TAMPA, FL - DECEMBER 8: Coach Greg Schiano of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers directs yells after a penalty during play against the Buffalo Bills December 8, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

But it truly is not. First of all, there is letdown potential here for San Francisco. Second, the Buccaneers have won four of their last five and tout a top-10 run defense that allows an average of 103.7 yards.

Considering rushing the football is what San Francisco does best (it ranks dead last in passing yards per game), this may turn out to be a major issue on the road.

The saving grace is quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He has turned things around in recent weeks and has five touchdowns to one interception over the course of the 49ers' three consecutive wins.

The combo of air efficiency and power running will be enough to will San Francisco to a win here, especially with so much at stake.

Prediction: 49ers 17, Buccaneers 14