NFL Picks Week 15: Predicting the Week's Closest Matchups

Sean ODonnellContributor IIIDecember 14, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 08: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers passes to Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Miami Dolphins during the game on December 8, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Week 15 of the 2013 NFL season has arrived, and with it comes plenty of playoff implications. Even the teams that are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention are still looking to play spoiler.

Each week there is a handful of games that come down to the wire. This week will be no different.

Now, with the intensity of the approaching playoffs and the weather getting colder and affecting games, contests should become closer than they have all season.

Let's take a look at three highly contested games that should end with a very close score followed by a complete list of predictions for Week 15.

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins

Bad news struck the Patriots after their Week 14 contest with the Cleveland Browns. Tight end Rob Gronkowski suffered a torn ACL and MCL and was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

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MRI on Rob Gronkowski confirmed torn ACL, torn MCL. Season done.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 9, 2013

Without Gronkowski in the lineup, the Patriots offense has a tendency to falter. Before Gronkowski returned earlier this season, New England was able to score 27 or more points just two times in six games. After he came back, the Patriots were able to score at least 27 points in six of seven games.

His absence leaves the door wide open for Miami.

The Dolphins are beginning to click and now have a two-game winning streak. Second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has begun to emerge and has accumulated passer ratings of 94.2 and 95.5 in his last two games, respectively.

Miami has been able to keep teams in check on the defensive side of the ball as well. The Dolphins are ranked 13th in the league against the pass and are allowing 21.1 points per game on average.

Add in home-field advantage for the Dolphins, and you have a recipe for a very close contest against a battered Patriots team. 

Prediction: Dolphins 24, Patriots 21

Washington Redskins at Atlanta Falcons

This matchup is purely founded on maintaining integrity. Both teams have had abysmal seasons and currently hold 3-10 records. That was not expected whatsoever from two teams that reached the playoffs a year ago.

The Redskins broke some of the biggest news of the week when head coach Mike Shanahan announced that he would be benching Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season. Backup quarterback Kirk Cousins will get reps as the starter from here on out.

This kind of switch can light a fire under a team sometimes. Cousins has the ability to produce as a quarterback. He gave a small sample size last season, putting up a great performance in a Week 15 game against the Cleveland Browns.

The Falcons have dealt with struggles of their own this year. Plagued by injuries, the Falcons' offensive proficiency has taken a nosedive. They lost wide receiver Julio Jones for the season due to a foot injury, and Roddy White has been hampered by nagging injuries all year.

These mishaps, along with an underachieving offensive line, have left the Falcons stagnant.

Both of these teams are very similar on the defensive side of the ball. Washington has given up 4,835 yards this season, and Atlanta has allowed 4,932. Washington is allowing an average of 31.3 points per game, while Atlanta is giving up 27.8.

These teams are extremely evenly matched right now, which should keep the contest exciting.

Prediction: Redskins 27, Falcons 23

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

At first glance, this may not seem like a closely contested matchup. After all, the Bengals have a 9-4 record and a stranglehold on the AFC North. Meanwhile the Steelers are 5-8 and in the midst of a two-game losing streak.

Cincinnati, however, has flourished due to its defense. Until last week, the offense had been stagnant, as quarterback Andy Dalton was struggling mightily. He posted some great numbers against a shaky Indianapolis Colts secondary in Week 14 but could be in line for a let-down game at Heinz Field.

Cold weather, gusty winds and a hostile environment are not conducive for a quarterback who has been struggling on the road this season. In three of the Bengals' four road losses this year, Dalton posted passer ratings of 58.2, 55.4 and 52.3.

To make matters worse for Cincinnati is the fact that it is decimated with injuries in the secondary and faces a red-hot Ben Roethlisberger this week.

Roethlisberger has been able to catch fire of late, posting passer ratings of at least 94.6 in each of his last four games. He is getting this battered Bengals defense at a perfect time to take advantage of inexperienced substitutes.

The stars are aligning for a potential upset here.

Prediction: Steelers 24, Bengals 20

Here is a complete list of predictions for the week's remaining games:

Week 15 Predictions
Washington RedskinsAtlanta FalconsRedskins
San Francisco 49ersTampa Bay Buccaneers49ers
Arizona CardinalsTennessee TitansCardinals
New Orleans SaintsSt. Louis RamsSaints
Seattle SeahawksNew York GiantsSeahawks
Chicago BearsCleveland BrownsBears
Houston TexansIndianapolis ColtsColts
Buffalo BillsJacksonville JaguarsJaguars
New England PatriotsMiami DolphinsDolphins
Philadelphia EaglesMinnesota VikingsEagles
New York JetsCarolina PanthersPanthers
Kansas City ChiefsOakland RaidersChiefs
Green Bay PackersDallas CowboysCowboys
Cincinnati BengalsPittsburgh SteelersSteelers
Baltimore RavensDetroit LionsLions
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