Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Week 15 NFL Picks
Bleacher Report NFL correspondents Gary Davenport, Brad Gagnon, Kalyn Kahler, Matt Miller, Brent Sobleski and Master Tesfatsion bounced back from a slump with a winning week picking every game against the spread in Week 14, and that was under tricky circumstances with 10 of the 16 games containing spreads below four.
This week, only three lines are within a field goal, and a quarter of the games on the docket feature double-digit-point favorites. We'll see if that leads to more clarity and an even stronger performance from the B/R NFL gang.
Here's how the crew has fared overall:
1. Gagnon: 104-101-3 (9-7 last week)
2. Sobleski: 102-103-3 (8-8 last week)
3. Miller: 99-100-3 (10-6 last week)
4. Davenport: 100-105-3 (9-7 last week)
5. Tesfatsion: 96-103-3 (7-8 last week)
6. Kahler: 97-106-3 (6-10 last week)
Consensus picks: 86-90-2 (8-6 last week)
And here are 16 fresh takes for Week 15.
Los Angeles Chargers (4-9) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-6)
DraftKings Line: Las Vegas -3
The best advice we can offer regarding the last Thursday night game of the 2020 NFL season? Don't spend any leftover holiday money on either the Los Angeles Chargers or the Las Vegas Raiders. Neither has been remotely reliable of late (or in L.A.'s case, since about 2010), and by favoring the home team by a field goal, oddsmakers and the public are essentially offering up one of these: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
It's fitting that our writers are deadlocked.
Davenport on the Raiders: "Las Vegas was well and truly exposed for what it is last week against the Indianapolis Colts: a fringe contender with a bad defense. Firing Paul Guenther isn't going to fix that, and I wouldn't relish laying more than a field goal with them. But the Chargers might be even worse on defense than the Raiders, who should be able to move the ball up and down the field with relative ease. Justin Herbert will keep the Bolts in this one and the backdoor is a possibility, but Vegas will keep its slim playoff hopes alive here and win by a touchdown."
Gagnon on the Chargers: "I was more enthusiastic about the Bolts when they were getting a hook, and now I'd imagine the most likely result is a push. Injuries are a big factor for both sides, which is why I'd just stay away from this divisional game. Still, the Chargers are accustomed to playing for nothing, while the Raiders might be dejected as their free-fall continues. I think there's a good chance Herbert and Austin Ekeler carve up that 30th-ranked scoring defense."
Davenport: Las Vegas
Gagnon: Los Angeles
Kahler: Las Vegas
Miller: Las Vegas
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Tesfatsion: Los Angeles
Score Prediction: Raiders 27, Chargers 24
Buffalo Bills (10-3) at Denver Broncos (5-8)
DraftKings Line: Buffalo -6.5
The Denver Broncos beat the Carolina Panthers on the road despite a slew of offensive injuries last week, thanks partly to the fact that second-year quarterback Drew Lock was lights-out against a weak opponent. But the Buffalo Bills are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, and a slim majority of our pickers don't feel the Broncos have enough in them to cover a 6.5-point spread as an underdog Saturday against Buffalo.
"Lock back on the field and playing well coming off a Broncos victory certainly makes this contest far more interesting," Sobleski admitted. "Still, the Broncos rank in the middle of the pack in total defense. Josh Allen, meanwhile, has played near an MVP level the last two weeks with a four-touchdown performance against the San Francisco 49ers before helping to orchestrate an impressive victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers."
Denver has been quite unpredictable this season. The Broncos recently hung with the Chiefs and beat the Panthers, and earlier this season they hung with the Steelers and beat the Miami Dolphins. But they've also been blown out by the Chiefs, Raiders, New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and it's notable that they followed up their last three wins with losses by margins of seven-plus points.
Throw in the possibility that Lock's strong Week 14 performance might have been an anomaly considering his 2020 stats, and the Bills get the nod coming off three consecutive double-digit-margin wins.
Consensus: Buffalo -6.5
Score Prediction: Bills 28, Broncos 20
Carolina Panthers (4-9) at Green Bay Packers (10-3)
DraftKings Line: Green Bay -8.5
The Green Bay Packers are now alone in the No. 1 spot in the NFC, and the majority of our predictors figure a veteran Green Bay team won't mess around under those circumstances as an 8.5-point home favorite Saturday evening against the four-win Carolina Panthers.
"I know Green Bay has experienced the odd letdown this season," Gagnon said, "but I think the Packers likely learned from a near-loss to the Jaguars at home last month and they're unlikely to cut it close again here.
"Carolina is probably going to be without Christian McCaffrey against a vulnerable run defense, and its 27th-ranked pass D in DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average at Football Outsiders) is likely in big trouble against the NFL's highest-rated passer. The Packers should have a blowout in them here."
It's not as though those have been hard to come by. Green Bay has an NFC-best six 14-plus-point victories this season, and the Panthers may be due for a dud after they were essentially eliminated from playoff contention in that Week 14 home loss to the depleted Broncos.
Still, we're far from a unanimous consensus here as that number is quite high and the Panthers have had some fight in them all year.
Gagnon: Green Bay
Kahler: Green Bay
Miller: Green Bay
Sobleski: Green Bay
Consensus: Green Bay -8.5
Score Prediction: Packers 31, Panthers 20
Seattle Seahawks (9-4) at Washington Football Team (6-7)
DraftKings Line: Seattle -5.5
The Washington Football Team hasn't lost by more than three points since Week 5. Half of our experts predict that trend will be halted by the Seattle Seahawks in a critical Sunday matchup between the two NFC playoff contenders, but the other half has Ron Rivera's team keeping it close again in another split.
Davenport on Seattle: "That taking Washington and the points here is even a consideration speaks to how well the WFT has been playing defensively of late. But I just can't do it. Seattle's defense isn't great (or even good), but they have been playing better, and the Washington offense has all kinds of issues moving the ball consistently. Add injuries to quarterback Alex Smith and running back Antonio Gibson and the fact that even against a very good WFT defense the Seahawks are going to put up 20-plus points, and the road team is the play here."
Gagnon on the WFT: "This line was close to a field goal before Seattle crushed the New York Jets, and I think the movement is an overreaction considering how terrible the Jets are. Washington hangs with everyone and is hosting the Seahawks at 10 a.m. Seattle time. Russell Wilson was sacked five-plus times in Seattle's three November/December losses, and now he'll have to deal with one of the most intimidating defensive fronts in the NFL. This feels like a field-goal game."
We shouldn't forget that the Seahawks lost to the New York Giants at home just two weeks ago, but you'd also be smart to consider the fact that the unreliable Dwayne Haskins might start in place of the injured Alex Smith at quarterback for Washington. Put it all together and you might want to sit this one out.
Score Prediction: Seahawks 26, Washington 20
Houston Texans (4-9) at Indianapolis Colts (9-4)
DraftKings Line: Indianapolis -7
When the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts met in Texas earlier this month, the Texans might have pulled off the upset if not for a fumble inside the Indy 5-yard line late in the fourth quarter. But it's possible that brutal result destroyed the Texans, who were smashed by a struggling Chicago Bears team in Week 14 and have since lost starters Brandon Dunn and Justin Reid to season-ending injuries.
With that in mind, our gang is pretty confident the Colts can cover a seven-point spread at home in Sunday's AFC South rematch between the two.
"The Colts are one of the harder teams in the league to get a read on," Davenport confessed, "but you don't need one here. Indy is running the ball well with Jonathan Taylor, and the Texans can't stop the run. T.Y. Hilton is red-hot at wide receiver, and the Texans secondary is a mess. Never mind that Houston's skill-position talent around Deshaun Watson has been shredded by injuries. The Colts are playing for an AFC South title. The Texans are playing for draft position—on behalf of Miami. Indy rolls."
The backdoor is always a possibility with a number like this in a divisional game, and you never know when Deshaun Watson is going to explode. But Indianapolis has the No. 6-ranked pass defense in DVOA, and Watson appears to miss suspended wide receiver Will Fuller.
This seems like a safe bet.
Consensus: Indianapolis -7
Score Prediction: Colts 34, Texans 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (4-9)
DraftKings Line: Tampa Bay -6.5
So much for the revival of the Atlanta Falcons, who are 1-3 straight up and against the spread since their Week 10 bye. And so much for the demise of Tom Brady, who posted a 120.9 passer rating in an impressive Week 14 Tampa Bay Buccaneers victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
With those trends in mind, our predictors are unanimously backing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a 6.5-point favorite Sunday against the division-rival Falcons.
"When Brady and the Buccaneers are rested and facing inferior opponents with poorly ranked defenses outside of prime time, they're a sure bet," Gagnon said. "In fact, after easily disposing of the Vikings under those circumstances in Week 14, the Bucs are now 6-0 straight up and 5-1 against the spread with an average margin of victory of 16.5 points this season in non-prime-time games against teams not currently in the playoff picture.
"This game fits that profile, so I'm down with spotting Atlanta less than a touchdown."
Atlanta still can't run the ball effectively and is facing the league's second-ranked run D in DVOA, while the passing game has also been a mess with receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley hobbled.
This might be a laugher.
Davenport: Tampa Bay
Gagnon: Tampa Bay
Kahler: Tampa Bay
Miller: Tampa Bay
Sobleski: Tampa Bay
Tesfatsion: Tampa Bay
Consensus: Tampa Bay -6.5
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 34, Falcons 17
New England Patriots (6-7) at Miami Dolphins (8-5)
DraftKings Line: Miami -2.5
The Miami Dolphins continue to perform like a playoff-caliber team, the New England Patriots have lost most of their pre-2020 luster, and Miami gave New England fits even before those teams started moving in opposite directions.
Still, a small majority of our writers think Miami could hit a speed bump as a small favorite Sunday against an old bully. They're taking 2.5 points with the Pats in South Florida.
"I'd try to buy up to an even field goal here now that this line has moved to 2.5 points," Gagnon said, "but I'm still willing to roll the dice on Bill Belichick with extra time to prepare for a rookie quarterback. Belichick has won 11 consecutive games against rookie signal-callers, and the Pats have outscored the last three rookie first-round quarterbacks they've faced by a combined margin of 118-17. Leave it to Belichick to deliver Tua Tagovailoa's his first major NFL wakeup call."
But since this is a high-profile game and the Dolphins received two votes as a 2.5-point fave, here's Sobleski's dissenting opinion: "New England doesn't have the weapons at this point in the season to threaten the Dolphins' second-ranked scoring defense. If the Patriots can't create chunk plays, there's no reason to believe they can put up the points necessary to beat their division rival."
Fair enough, but tread carefully with Belichick up against the ropes.
Davenport: New England
Gagnon: New England
Kahler: New England
Tesfatsion: New England
Consensus: New England +2.5
Score Prediction: Patriots 21, Dolphins 20
Chicago Bears (6-7) at Minnesota Vikings (6-7)
DraftKings Line: Minnesota -3
This is another hung jury on one of those divisional matchups between two relatively closely matched teams in which the home squad is laying the name-brand three points. It's hard to be inspired by either the Chicago Bears or the Minnesota Vikings right now, and so here we are.
Sobleski on the Bears: "There's absolutely no reason to believe in Mitchell Trubisky yet. However, his three-touchdown performance against the Texans showed a capable quarterback who might have used his time on the bench productively by reassessing his position in the Bears organization. Granted, Trubisky could just as easily regress after one solid outing, but the Vikings don't find themselves in too many dominant performances based on their offensive approach. The points are too tempting in this particular case."
Davenport on the Vikes: "Apparently, I get to offer commentary on every game this week I have next to no confidence in. The Bears are coming off arguably their best effort of the season last week against Houston, while the Vikings came back to earth against the Buccaneers. However, I'm not ready to buy the Chicago offense after one decent game, and the Vikes are just a significantly better team on that side of the ball. I can't quite bring myself to count on the Bears in consecutive weeks."
You might be better off if you can't quite bring yourself to place a bet one way or another here.
Score Prediction: Vikings 24, Bears 21
San Francisco 49ers (5-8) at Dallas Cowboys (4-9)
DraftKings Line: San Francisco -3
The depleted San Francisco 49ers seem to have the Los Angeles Rams' number this season, but every non-Rams game San Francisco has played since the start of November has resulted in a loss by at least an eight-point margin.
That has the majority of our experts wondering why the 49ers are laying a full field goal on the road in Week 15, even if it's against a beaten-down Dallas Cowboys team that was blown out by Washington in its last home game.
"This pick says less about confidence in Dallas than it does lack of confidence in San Francisco," Davenport said. "Yes, the Cowboys got a blowout win in Cincinnati last week, but that was against a crumbling Bengals team, and the Dallas defense is still terrible. Thing is, the Niners are so chewed to pieces offensively by injuries that it's hard to trust them even against that bad defense."
The hook was formerly in play here as well, although that's out the window for now. Still, in the worst-case scenario that could just turn a Dallas cover at +3.5 into a push at +3.
The Cowboys are not in good shape right now, but they did just pound Cincinnati, and they hung with both Pittsburgh and Minnesota last month. They're a lot more competitive than the 49ers, who might not be able to trick themselves into believing the Cowboys are actually the Rams in disguise.
Sobleski: San Francisco
Tesfatsion: San Francisco
Consensus: Dallas +3
Score Prediction: 49ers 24, Cowboys 23
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-12) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5)
DraftKings Line: Baltimore -13
A 13-point spread might seem intimidating for those looking to back the favored Baltimore Ravens on Sunday against the feisty Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Ravens have won an AFC-high six games by 14-plus points this season. And while the Jags have indeed hung with superior teams like Indianapolis, Green Bay, Minnesota, the Tennessee Titans and the Cleveland Browns, they've also lost five games by 14 or more points.
With that in mind, almost the entire crew is laying 13 with Baltimore at home.
"Normally, a near-two-touchdown spread would be a good sucker's bet," Sobleski said. "In this instance, Lamar Jackson looked like his MVP self upon returning to Baltimore's Monday night affair with the Browns. If the Ravens can continue to roll offensively—and there's no reason to think they won't against the Jaguars' 32nd-ranked defense—this game should turn into a blowout."
But Gagnon wouldn't get on board. His dissenting take: "It's possible breakout Jags back James Robinson will have some success against a run defense that has struggled against guys like Derrick Henry, Damien Harris, Miles Sanders and Nick Chubb/Kareem Hunt of late, and the backdoor cover is always a factor. Plus, the Ravens are operating on short rest after a track meet Monday night against Cleveland. Baltimore by 10 or fewer."
For what it's worth, he's the picks leader through 14 weeks.
Consensus: Baltimore -13
Score Prediction: Ravens 34, Jaguars 13
Detroit Lions (5-8) at Tennessee Titans (9-4)
DraftKings Line: Tennessee -10.5
It's somewhat surprising there's a posted line for Sunday's meeting between the sinking Detroit Lions and the likely playoff-bound Tennessee Titans. Injured Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford's status is in doubt, but it appears the books are operating as if the veteran won't suit up.
After all, this spread has moved across a key number from about eight last week. But the majority of our predictors still feel the Titans are the pick.
"This line still represents solid value for the Titans," Gagnon said, "and it's likely to shoot up more if Stafford is ruled out. There's some risk associated with betting it because Stafford could surprise the football world and play, but even then there's a decent chance Tennessee runs away with this.
"After all, Derrick Henry is again hitting his December stride ahead of a meeting with the league's 29th-rated run defense. And while the Titans D has had its issues through the air, the Lions won't be well-positioned to take advantage with an injured Stafford or backup Chase Daniel, especially with top receiver Kenny Golladay also hurt."
More broadly, Tennessee appears to be peaking, while the wounded Lions may be defeated following a gut-wrenching loss to the Packers that likely crushed their playoff hopes yet again. But because neither team has been overly trustworthy, it's appropriate that there's dissent among the group.
Consensus: Tennessee -10.5
Score Prediction: Titans 27, Lions 13
New York Jets (0-13) at Los Angeles Rams (9-4)
DraftKings Line: Los Angeles -17.5
Are the Los Angeles Rams three scores better than the New York Jets? On average and with eased gas pedals and garbage-time covers in mind, maybe not. But can anybody really bring themselves to pick one of the worst teams in NFL history right now, regardless of the number?
That's the primary philosophy behind the group's unanimous decision to lay 17.5 points with the Rams on Sunday, even if we'd strongly advise you to avoid this game entirely as a result of that bloated number.
"A 17.5-point spread for the Jets is awfully tempting," Sobleski admitted, "but there's no reason to believe they're going to play fundamentally sound football and compete with the NFC West's top squad. Los Angeles should easily control the point of attack on both sides of the ball and keep the Jets' 'perfect' season intact."
Again, though, this is a borderline-comical spread. Only five other games in the last six seasons have featured lines above 17 (the Jets or Dolphins were underdogs in all of them), and the Rams haven't laid this many points since the days of the Greatest Show on Turf.
Are the Jets terrible and likely uninterested in winning? Sure, but the majority of their losses have come by fewer than 17.5 points this season, so don't get any ideas about risking much beyond your membership in the Jelly of the Month Club on this game. Side with the Rams in your office pool if you must and then move on.
Davenport: Los Angeles
Gagnon: Los Angeles
Kahler: Los Angeles
Miller: Los Angeles
Sobleski: Los Angeles
Tesfatsion: Los Angeles
Consensus: Los Angeles -17.5
Score Prediction: Rams 35, Jets 10
Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1) at Arizona Cardinals (7-6)
DraftKings Line: Arizona -6
Have the Philadelphia Eagles tapped into something special with new starting quarterback Jalen Hurts? Did we really just write that sentence about a rookie second-round pick who entered the year backing up a $32-million-per-year former MVP candidate?
That's 2020 for you, and it's even more 2020 that the majority of our writers are backing Hurts and the four-win Eagles as a mere six-point road underdog against an Arizona Cardinals team that was the cat's pajamas earlier this fall.
"The Eagles and Cardinals are both coming off huge wins in Week 14," Davenport said, "with the Eagles stunning the Saints while the Redbirds got back on track against the Giants. The Cardinals are the better team and the club with something to play for. Arizona probably wins this game. But Hurts has given the Philly offense a boost, and the Eagles should be able to run the ball effectively against the Cardinals. That's going to help them stay close enough to cover, even in defeat."
The Cards did smoke the Giants last week, but their performance arguably wasn't as crisp as the final score might indicate, and the G-Men barely showed up for that game. For an Arizona team that would have been riding a five-game losing streak before Week 14 if not for a Hail Mary against Buffalo, a matchup with a potentially galvanized Philly squad could be a different story.
Remember, the Eagles lost Wentz late in 2017 and 2018. They went on to win the Super Bowl the first year and still won a playoff game the second year. This is an experienced and resilient team, and Arizona's run defense has indeed been vulnerable, which could take some pressure off Hurts in the pocket.
Maybe Kyler Murray takes over this game, maybe the Cards take advantage of a full start's worth of tape on Hurts, and maybe we get proof Sunday that Philadelphia's Week 14 performance was a fluke. But six points is still a lot to drop in favor of an Arizona team that was crashing and burning before running into the Giants.
Consensus: Philadelphia +6
Score Prediction: Cardinals 26, Eagles 23
Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) at New Orleans Saints (10-3)
DraftKings Line: Kansas City -3
"The Kansas City Chiefs haven't covered a spread since hammering the Jets in Week 8," Gagnon said, "and that hardly counts because the Jets are on the verge of relegation. But that just tells me Kansas City is due for a resounding victory, and there's suddenly good value attached to the league's best team with just a three-point spread Sunday against a New Orleans Saints squad that has quarterback issues."
In case it wasn't obvious, Gagnon is defending the gang's near-unanimous decision to side with Kansas City as a field-goal fave on the road Sunday. The key? Drew Brees may or may not return but almost certainly is not 100 percent for New Orleans.
"I'll spot the Chiefs three points against an injured Brees in a Superdome that won't be as full or as cacophonous as usual," Gagnon added, "and if Taysom Hill gets another start, this line likely rises anyway. Hill took five sacks and was less effective than usual with his legs in a Week 14 loss to the Eagles, and it's fair to wonder if more tape is helping teams figure him out."
The Chiefs have won 10 consecutive road games, all by at least a field goal. This one might be tougher than most of those, but at least you aren't even forced to give up a hook in this spot.
Davenport: New Orleans
Gagnon: Kansas City
Kahler: Kansas City
Miller: Kansas City
Sobleski: Kansas City
Tesfatsion: Kansas City
Consensus: Kansas City -3
Score Prediction: Chiefs 28, Saints 21
Cleveland Browns (9-4) at New York Giants (5-8)
DraftKings Line: Cleveland -5
A scenario exists in which the Cleveland Browns are exhausted, maybe even deflated, and possibly unfocused for a road matchup with the desperate New York Giants on short rest Sunday night. That scenario is worth considering because, well, they're the Browns and they went through the emotional wringer in that thrilling Monday Night Football loss to the Ravens.
But a slim majority of the crew is either so up on the hyped Browns or so down on a Giants team that may or may not have a healthy quarterback after a dud versus Arizona that they're willing to lay five points with Cleveland in East Rutherford.
"A hobbled Daniel Jones did more harm than good for the Giants last week," Gagnon said, "and now you wonder if the wheels are coming off for a team that was probably playing above its head anyway. That offense hasn't scored 20 points since Week 10 and wasn't likely to take advantage of Cleveland's defensive vulnerabilities anyway, and Baker Mayfield has a good matchup against a subpar pass D in DVOA. Even if this isn't a blowout, I think the fired-up Browns can take it by a full touchdown or more."
But there's been a lot of dissent this week, and one-third of the panel is either concerned about the dynamics from above or unprepared to give up on a Giants team that hadn't lost by more than one score since September prior to Week 14.
Davenport: New York
Tesfatsion: New York
Consensus: Cleveland -5
Score Prediction: Browns 26, Giants 20
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-10-1)
DraftKings Line: Pittsburgh -11.5
At this point, the Cincinnati Bengals might be encroaching on Jets territory in that you can't justify betting on them regardless of the line. With much of the offensive core residing on injured reserve, they've scored just seven points in each of their last two games, both of which were one-sided losses.
Now they run into a Pittsburgh Steelers team that should be angry and is unlikely to mess around against an opponent that they crushed just a few weeks ago.
That being the case, the vast majority of the gang is laying 11.5 points with Mike Tomlin's squad.
"A contest against the Bengals couldn't come at a better time for Pittsburgh after losing two straight games," Sobleski said. "The Steelers are banged up and not executing. By playing one of the league's worst squads, Mike Tomlin's group can refocus and get back on track. Cincinnati simply doesn't have enough, especially without Joe Burrow, to even make this game interesting."
The league's 29th-ranked pass defense in DVOA might be just what the football doctor ordered for a talented offense that hasn't been able to click in recent weeks. Watch for this to be a correction game.
Tesfatsion: No pick
Consensus: Pittsburgh -11.5
Score Prediction: Steelers 30, Bengals 10
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