Chris Simms' Week 15 NFL Picks
Heading into Week 15 of the 2017 NFL season, we have a number of teams still vying for home-field advantage in each conference. In the AFC, Sunday's battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots could determine the No. 1 seed.
If you've ever been to a playoff game, you know that it's a special atmosphere. For the home players, that feeling is amplified because they know that almost the entire crowd is behind them as they fight to play another day.
I can tell you having home-field advantage throughout the playoffs feels downright magical—I was with the Tennessee Titans in 2008, when we earned the No. 1 seed. We didn't earn home-field advantage or a first-round bye when I was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2005. If we had, there's no telling how far we might have gone.
Having home-field advantage means you were the best team in your conference in the regular season and that teams hoping to reach the Super Bowl are going to have to fight you and your home crowd to get there.
Getting into the postseason is obviously goal No. 1, but teams are going to fight hard for home-field advantage as long as they have a shot at it. Even if they cannot get it, earning a first-round bye and the right to host at least one game is huge.
While the Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles have already locked up playoff spots, both have chances to clinch home-field advantage this week (in addition to winning, the Eagles need a Minnesota Vikings loss). Teams like the Vikings, Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams are still battling for first-round byes.
It's safe to say there's plenty at stake in Week 15. Here's how I see it playing out.
Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts
When: Thursday at 8:25 p.m. ET (NFL, Amazon, NBC), Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
The Indianapolis Colts are hosting this game, and I like to favor the home team in Thursday night matchups. However, the Denver Broncos are the more talented team. Hopefully, last week's 23-0 victory over the New York Jets taught the Broncos that when they're careful with the football, they can play through their defense and win.
As much as I respect the Colts and their ability to play tough, I don't think they have enough weapons to pick apart Denver's defense. On the other side, the Colts' passing defense has been just as bad as the Broncos' passing attack.
Expect Denver to play smothering defense and to get just enough production on offense to stay ahead of the Colts in this one.
Prediction: Broncos 23, Colts 20
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions
When: Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET (NFL), Ford Field, Detroit
The first thing that jumps out in this matchup is the fact the Chicago Bears are the type of opponent Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford can beat by himself. He has the ability to buy time in the pocket and pick apart zone coverage, which Chicago relies heavily upon.
This game is tailor-made for Stafford to shine, especially with Leonard Floyd out for the year and Eddie Goldman dealing with a hip injury. It isn't going to be easy for Chicago to pressure Stafford.
Now, this game could still be close because Detroit's defense hasn't been playing well as of late. The Bears have certain weeks in which they can dominate with the running game, and that could cause problems for Detroit.
Still, the Lions are at home, they have Stafford and they still have an outside playoff chance to fight for.
Prediction: Lions 27, Bears 24
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs
When: Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET (NFL), Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
I have liked the Kansas City Chiefs offense the last two weeks under new play-caller Matt Nagy. It's been more creative, Alex Smith has had a more aggressive mindset and his downfield throws have helped open up the running game. We saw improvement with the defense last week as well with some nicely disguised schemes and good play from cornerback Darrelle Revis.
That's encouraging for the Chiefs defense, and this is a night game at Arrowhead. The crowd is going to be fired up, and that's another advantage for Kansas City.
I have to go with the Los Angeles Chargers, though. While the Chiefs are showing improvement, the Chargers have been playing as well as any team in football for a while now. Their offense is balanced, it's great at pass protection and the Chargers' passing attack is lights-out.
As good as the Chiefs defense looked last week, it isn't good enough to stop the L.A. offense. The Chargers defense is playing well enough to give even this new-look Chiefs offense trouble. Expect Los Angeles to keep rolling.
Prediction: Chargers 24, Chiefs 20
Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey
It's going to be interesting to see how much the Philadelphia Eagles adjust their offense with quarterback Carson Wentz out for the season. I think that if head coach Doug Pederson switches to more of a ball-control offense—with a strong running game and a few big throws from Nick Foles—Philadelphia can remain one of the best teams in the NFC.
Wentz is special, and his loss hurts. But this is still a phenomenal Eagles team. It's certainly better than the New York Giants. I expect Philadelphia to come out with a spirited effort, knowing other areas of the team have to pick up their play to compensate for Wentz's absence.
The Giants are going to have a hard time blocking Philadelphia's talented defensive front, and I have no faith in the New York offense anyway. The Eagles should be able to get enough guys open downfield to have a functional passing attack with Foles under center.
This game may be uglier than the Eagles like, but they'll still pull it out.
Prediction: Eagles 22, Giants 13
Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
This is the Mike Zimmer bowl, as the Minnesota Vikings head coach used to be the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals. These types of games always make for some intriguing matchups since they have a personal aspect attached.
Ultimately, though, the Vikings are one of the best teams in football, while the Bengals look broken. Cincinnati can be physical on defense, and it can make some big offensive plays with A.J. Green—though Xavier Rhodes' being on the other side may limit Green. However, Cincinnati looked like a team with zero heart in a loss to the Bears last week, and it's hard to see it having more fight in this game.
The Vikings are better overall, they're at home and they're still fighting for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. Minnesota is going to want this game a lot more than Cincinnati.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Bengals 14
Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland
The Cleveland Browns will be able to hang in there because of their defense and because they can make the game ugly early on. The problem is that this is still a good Baltimore Ravens offense, and the Browns don't have the weapons to exploit it the way the Steelers did last week.
The Ravens offense has been getting better too. The newfound aggressiveness and downfield throwing have opened up things for Alex Collins and the running game. There's a shocker, right? Backing guys off the line of scrimmage makes it easier to run the ball.
There are things the Browns do every week to like. The problem is that rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer or someone else always makes a critical mistake to ruin Cleveland's effort. This will be a close game, but I have to see the Browns show they can win before I'm going to pick them.
Prediction: Ravens 20, Browns 17
Arizona Cardinals at Washington Redskins
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), FedEx Field, Landover, Maryland
The Washington Redskins are a beaten-down team. They've suffered numerous injuries this season and are coming off two disastrous losses. I worry about their psyche in general. On the other side, the Arizona Cardinals are riding a little bit of momentum.
Blaine Gabbert is doing some good things at the quarterback position, and Kerwynn Williams has added a boost to the ground game. The defense still has some playmakers.
I worry about Washington's ability to stay motivated in this game if things start going south early. I don't have the same concerns with Arizona, a team that continues to play hard for head coach Bruce Arians. Because of that, I'm picking the Cardinals to win a close one.
Prediction: Cardinals 27, Redskins 24
Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
It looks like we could see Aaron Rodgers back for the Green Bay Packers this week. He's been medically cleared, anyway, and I'm picking this game as if he'll be under center. I'll say this, though. The Packers need to be careful with Rodgers against the Carolina Panthers.
He injured his throwing shoulder, and he'll be facing a big, physical Carolina front and a dangerous pass rush. Green Bay needs Rodgers healthy next season if it wants to improve and be a legit Super Bowl contender.
Are the Packers a better team with Rodgers? Sure, but we're not going to see the same Rodgers we saw before the injury. I don't care if you're Rodgers, Tom Brady or Dan Marino—when you miss time, you're going to come back rusty.
The Panthers have enough talent on defense to contain a less than 100 percent Rodgers, and they have enough offense to control the game and put up points. Expect Rodgers' return to give Green Bay a jolt, but it won't be enough.
Prediction: Panthers 23, Packers 20
New York Jets at New Orleans Saints
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
New York Jets offensive coordinator John Morton came from the New Orleans Saints, so there's going to be some familiarity here. The problem, though, is that the Jets are starting Bryce Petty at quarterback, and that's going to lead to an adjustment period.
The New York offense isn't going to be nearly as sharp as it was with Josh McCown under center. Against New Orleans' improved defense, that's an issue. While the Jets defense is good, the Saints offense is better and will put up points. New York will struggle to match it.
The Saints are the better all-around team, they're playing at home and they're still fighting to earn a first-round bye. At the least, New Orleans wants to win the NFC South and host a playoff game. This is a game the Saints should win, one they must win and one they will win.
Prediction: Saints 28, Jets 17
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (CBS), New Era Field, Orchard Park, New York
It looks like Tyrod Taylor will be back at quarterback for the Buffalo Bills if he's healthy, but we don't know for certain what to expect from the offense. What I do know is that I've liked what I've seen from the Miami Dolphins lately.
Jay Cutler has been playing well, and running back Kenyan Drake is a star in the making—he reminds me a lot of LeSean McCoy, actually. Miami's defense has been phenomenal over the past two weeks as well.
The Bills are sound and disciplined on both sides of the ball, but they lack playmakers. They don't have enough of them on offense to pick apart this Miami defense with the way it's playing right now.
Buffalo will have the advantage of being at home, but Miami is the better team at this point. I like the Dolphins to pull away very late in an otherwise close game.
Prediction: Dolphins 28, Bills 20
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars
When: Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (Fox), EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
It doesn't really matter who's in at quarterback for the Houston Texans. They don't have enough offensive firepower to take down the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Texans can run the ball well at times, but their biggest offensive weapon is DeAndre Hopkins. Jacksonville has Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye at cornerback—in my opinion, the two best in the NFL—and that limits the impact Hopkins can have.
Defensively, Houston can give Jacksonville a hard time. The Texans are physical, and they aren't going to give Blake Bortles some of the easy completions he got from the Seattle Seahawks last week.
Regardless, the Jaguars are one of the best teams in football. The only question with them each week is whether they can be consistent enough in the passing game. They'll be consistent enough—and dominant enough on defense—to win this one.
Prediction: Jaguars 23, Texans 13
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
When: Sunday at 4:05 p.m. ET (Fox), CenturyLink Field, Seattle
The matchup between the Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams is one of the best of the week. The big thing here is that the Rams are the better overall team without question. What makes this tough to pick is the fact the Seahawks are at home and have Russell Wilson at quarterback.
Let's remember, though, that the Rams controlled the game the first time these two teams met this season. While Seattle ultimately won, it was largely because of mistakes from Jared Goff. I don't see him playing as poorly this time around, especially against a banged-up Seahawks defense.
While Wilson is fantastic and always gives Seattle a chance, guys like Aaron Donald and Mark Barron will make it difficult for him to take off and run. I don't expect him to struggle as much as he did in the loss to Jacksonville last week, but I don't expect him to make his usual magic either.
Expect Wilson and the Seahawks to fall just short in another physical battle between division rivals.
Prediction: Rams 24, Seahawks 23
Tennessee Titans at San Francisco 49ers
When: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS), Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, California
This is a dangerous matchup for the Tennessee Titans. They're still fighting for a playoff spot, but Marcus Mariota is banged up. And the passing attack hasn't been great. Tennessee is going to have to lean heavily on the run against the San Francisco 49ers, who have been playing well lately.
The 49ers offense is dangerous now that Jimmy Garoppolo is under center. He's had another week to get comfortable with head coach Kyle Shanahan's scheme, which is great at getting guys open downfield. While the Tennessee defense is good, it isn't great, and it doesn't do anything special. San Francisco is going to rack up some points here.
The question for Tennessee is whether it can match those points if the 49ers are focused on shutting down the running game. I don't think it can. Yes, the Titans are playing for something, but San Francisco is the hotter team. I'll take it in a close one.
Prediction: 49ers 28, Titans 24
New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
When: Sunday at 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS), Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
This is the clash of the titans for Week 15. As previously mentioned, this matchup essentially determines home-field advantage in the AFC.
The big thing is that the Patriots were missing some of their best defenders—like Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers—last week's loss in Miami. The defense should be healthier this week in Pittsburgh, and the Patriots are going to be a pissed-off team.
More importantly, Rob Gronkowski is going to be back for New England. Aside from Brady, he's the best player on the team.
Gronkowski is one of the biggest mismatches in all of football, and he's an even bigger mismatch now that the Steelers are without Ryan Shazier and have Stephon Tuitt playing with a biceps injury. In fact, this entire Patriots offense is a mismatch against a Steelers defense that is very reliant on zone coverage.
This game is in Pittsburgh, and the Steelers have the firepower to get into a shootout and beat New England. The Patriots have dominated the Steelers so much over the years, though, that I have to see the series swing Pittsburgh's way before I'll believe it.
Prediction: Patriots 31, Steelers 27
Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders
When: Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET (NBC), Oakland Alameda County Coliseum, Oakland, California
The Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders are two teams that were awesome last year but have struggled in 2017. On a base level, though, the Cowboys have the more talented team.
Oakland's defense just isn't good. While the Dallas defense isn't a whole lot better, the Cowboys at least have an efficient quarterback in Dak Prescott and a running game that can control the clock and keep the defense off the field.
The Raiders offense is one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Oakland cannot run the ball or control the clock, Derek Carr hasn't thrown the ball particularly well, and Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper have both disappeared at times.
Dallas is going to be fired up, and the offense should be motivated by its performance against the Giants a week ago. The Cowboys still have a shot at the postseason and will get Ezekiel Elliott back in a week. This is a big game for them, and they'll get it.
Prediction: Cowboys 27, Raiders 21
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When: Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN), Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are dangerous at home, and this will be a big night for them. The franchise is inducting Jon Gruden into its ring of honor, and the fans—who'd probably love for Gruden to return to coach again—will be wild.
The Buccaneers have experience playing against this Atlanta Falcons team too, so they're not going to be intimidated. They also have Jameis Winston and enough offensive weapons to be a threat.
The Falcons are the superior team, though. As long as they don't take Tampa Bay too lightly—they have the Saints and Panthers coming up—and aren't too lackadaisical coming out of last Thursday's win, they should be fine.
The Falcons defense is one of the fastest in football, and the Buccaneers offense is hit-or-miss. On the other side, I think very little of the Buccaneers defense. This isn't the same Falcons offense of 2016, but it's still great. That'll be enough in the end.
Prediction: Falcons 28, Buccaneers 27