Week 15 NFL Previews and Predictions

NFL Steve O Speak

With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the suspense continues to build as teams make their final playoff push. So far, three spots have been clinched – Denver (playoff spot), Indianapolis (AFC South) and Seattle (playoff spot). That leaves nine spots available and there are still 25 teams in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII.

In the AFC, Cincinnati, Denver and New England can each win its division this weekend. The Bengals will lock up the AFC North with a win and a Baltimore loss. The Broncos allowed an opportunity to win the AFC West and earn a first round bye slip away, at least momentarily, with their loss at home to San Diego. The Patriots will clinch the AFC East with a victory over Miami. The Chiefs can lock up a playoff berth with a win.

Seattle is the only team to have locked up a postseason spot in the NFC and the Seahawks can win the NFC West and clinch a first-round bye with a win and San Francisco loss. Seattle will claim home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win and losses by San Francisco and New Orleans. The Saints will secure a playoff spot with a win. Both Carolina and San Francisco can also lock up a postseason berth with a win and other scenarios.

Of the 9 available spots, 25 teams remain in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII. That ties for the fourth-most teams remaining in contention with three weeks to play since the NFL instituted the 16-game schedule in 1978. The most teams remaining in contention for a trip to the Super Bowl with three weeks to play since 1978:

Offense still dominates the league as, NFL games have averaged of 701.8 total yards per game, which is on pace to surpass the single-season record set in 2012 (694.4 per game). Passing is still on the rise, as a result, so is points, and close finishes.

Through Week 14, there have been 102 games decided by seven points or fewer, tied for the third most through the first 14 weeks of a season in NFL history (105 in 2012). NFL teams combined to score 104 touchdowns in Week 14, the most in a single week in NFL history. Ninety of those touchdowns were scored on Sunday, the most in a single day in NFL history.

That brings the season total to 1,096 TDs scored, the most at this point in NFL history (1,055 in 2012). Of the 1,096 touchdowns, 662 have been TD passes, the most through the first 14 weeks of any season. The previous high was 620 in 2012.

Week 15 kicked off with the final Thursday night game of the year, as the NFL now enters the world of Saturday football with the completion of college football’s regular season. In a stunning turn of events, the San Diego Chargers (7-7) upset the Denver Broncos, 27-20– in the Mile High city to keep their playoff hopes very much alive.

This is nothing new for the Chargers and their gun slinging QB, Philip Rivers. San Diego is 31-6 in December/January regular-season games since the start of the 2006 season and Rivers is 10-3 as a starter in those two months in the regular season against teams with a winning record. The latter mark rates best in the NFL in that span; the former ranks second best, trailing only the New England Patriots, who are 32-4. 

The Chargers beat the Broncos high-powered attack by keep Manning and the Denver high-powered offense on the sidelines. Thanks to Ryan Mathews, who rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown, the Chargers held a 17-minute time of possession advantage. With his win over Eli and the NY Giants last week, Rivers became the second starting quarterback to beat the Manning brothers in consecutive weeks, joining Vince Young, who did it in 2006. By the way, there is no way I would have ever picked the Chargers to win that game but here are the rest of Week 15’s predictions and previews, complete with a few upsets.


Redskins @ Falcons:

With a 3-10 record, it’s been As The World Turns Redskins style these days. The soap opera in D.C involving HC Mike Shanahan, QB RG3 and owner Daniel Snyder is seemingly just getting started, as Griffin has been “shut down” for the rest of the season. Shanahan says the move is designed to keep Griffin healthy as the Redskins look to next year. Griffin has been sacked 24 times during five straight losses, and Washington plays two of its last three games on artificial turf—What? — In his place is former Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins, whom the Skins may be trying to audition to gain back a first round pick they lost when they traded with the Rams for the chance to draft Griffin. If you could not follow that, I’m not even going to into the rest. Cousins has made six career appearances for the Redskins. They won his only start, 38-21 at Cleveland on Dec. 16 as he threw for 329 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in Washington’s fifth straight victory during a stellar finish to last season. All you need to know is the Skins, from top to bottom, are a mess at the moment. With an identical 3-10 record, the Falcons are just as bad but void of the drama.The Falcons offense was considered one of the most dangerous in the NFL coming into the season but during a 1-6 stretch, the Falcons have been held to 18.4 points per game. Major injuries combined with limited pass protection for quarterback Matt Ryan has turned 2013 into a major letdown for a team that was one win from the Super Bowl last season. This one will not be pretty but the Redskins offense can still score points and the Falcons defense cannot stop anybody. The Skins may actually benefit playing away from D.C. this week—In a mild upset, if that’s possible between two teams that are a combined 6-20, I’ll take the Skins by a field goal late in what could be an entertaining game. Redskins 30 Atlanta 27.

Bears @ Browns:

Josh McCown played well for the Bears with three wins in five starts, but he’ll take a seat today as Jay Cutler returns under center for Chicago. The Bears hope to grab at least temporary control of the NFC North and put the pressure on Detroit, who hosts the Ravens tomorrow night.Cutler went through a full practice on Thursday after working out with the receivers following a walkthrough, and got the green light to start this week. Coach Marc Trestman, who is in a 50-50 win-lose situation, made it clear after Monday’s 45-28 home win over Dallas that Cutler would be the starter when healthy, despite McCown’s strong play. The Browns are once again the Browns, as they have dropped seven of eight, including four in a row to ensure its sixth straight losing season. Cleveland is coming off a stunning 27-26 loss at New England on Sunday, blowing a 12-point lead in the final 2:39. The Bears rank last in the league against the run at 157.0 yards per game and 27th in overall defense at 381.5 but go ahead, name me the running backs for Cleveland. It doesn’t matter, look for Browns CB Joe Haden to take away Cutlers favorite target today in Brandon Marshall, making No.6’s return a tough one. I like the losing but resilient Browns to win one at home today. Browns 24 Bears 20

Texans @ Colts:

The Indianapolis Colts have clinched the AFC South, but they aren’t playing like a team that’s ready to make some noise in the playoffs.The Colts have not scored a first-half touchdown in the last six games and have been outscored 114-24 in the first 30 minutes over that span, which began a week after the loss of receiver Reggie Wayne to a torn ACL on Oct. 20. Indianapolis has alsostruggled defensively, allowing an average of 32.2 points while dropping three of five. The Colts gave up 19.4 per game during a 6-2 start. Those concerns can be placed on hold today as the 2-11 Houston Texans visit Lucas Oil Stadium. The Texans will try to snap an 11-game overall losing streak when they play their first game under interim coach Wade Phillips, who replaced Gary Kubiak, who was fired after the Texans were beaten and subsequently swept on the season by the Jaguars 10 days ago. I simply refuse to pick the Texans until they win again, look for Indy to get healthy, at least for today with a big win at home. Colts 34 Texans 13

Patriots @ Dolphins:

The Dolphins are getting the Patriots at the right time. Rob Gronkowski’s season-ending knee injury against the Browns last Sunday puts Tom Brady right back where he was a few short weeks ago. Gronk missed the first six games of the 2013 season, as he was recovering from other injuries, and when he is out of the lineup, New England’s offense is merely average. They went from second to 22nd in the NFL in points scored, from fourth to 30th in red zone efficiency, from third to 19th in passing yards per game and from second to 16th in first downs per game. Since 2010, Brady has 5.1 touchdowns per interception with Gronk in the game and 2.2 without. The Pats will likely do what they did when Gronkowski was injured before — go to more three- and four-receiver sets and target running back Shane Vereen more often. Vereen had a career-high 17 targets last week in a game that New England had to score two touchdowns in the final minute to win. The Dolphins are trailing the Ravens for the final WC spot in the AFC but have won three of their last four games, as QB Ryan Tannehill seems to be take the proverbial next step in the maturation process. The young Dolphins must learn to finish and if they are going to finish the season with a playoff berth, they must learn to finish games. Only a step out of bounds saved Miami from losing in Pittsburgh LW and a botched FG against the Ravens earlier this season is the reason they trail them for the final playoff spot. The Dolphins have had the Pats on the ropes recently. When the two teams last met, the home crowd was booing the Patriots after Miami got out to 14-0 and 17-3 leads. However, the Pats scored the game’s last 24 points to win the contest, as Brady moved to 17-6 lifetime against Miami. I’m not sure if the Fins are ready for the playoffs but I like their chances to finish off Tom Brady today in South Florida. Dolphins 28 Patriots 24.

Eagles @ Vikings

The Eagles will be looking to extend a 6 game winning streak today in Minnesota versus a resilient but badly beat up Vikings team. All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson and his backup, Toby Gerhart will not play today. The Eagles will have their starting running back and he’s hot as the temperature outdoors in Minneapolis will be cold. Philly has followed a slow start with five consecutive victories, posting a conference-best 31.6 points per game since Week 9. RB LeSean McCoy compiled 148 of his franchise-record 217 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, as Philadelphia beat Detroit 34-20 in a blizzard last Sunday. Despite injuries to key players on the Vikings, the Eagles need to be careful. Minnesota has gone winless on the road this season but it’s posted back-to-back home wins over Washington and Chicago in going 3-3 on its own turf. Matt Cassell will be back under center for the Vikes, as he threw for 265 yards and two scores against the Ravens. Baltimore and Minnesota traded the lead an NFL-record six times in the fourth quarter and combined for five touchdowns over the final 2:05. This one won’t be that close down the stretch. Without Peterson and Gerhart, the Vikings will struggle to match Chip Kelly’s offense point for point. Eagles 34 Vikings 24

Seahawks @ Giants:

Coming off their first loss in two months, the Seahawks have an outside chance to wrap up the top seed in the NFC as early as Sunday when they travel to face the New York Giants. failed in its first attempt to win the NFC West and secure a first-round bye last Sunday as its seven-game win streak wassnapped with a 19-17 loss at San Francisco. The Seahawks’ first defeat since Oct. 6 meant no division title celebration, though that can happen this week if they defeat the Giants and the 49ers fail to beat Tampa Bay. The Giants were eliminated from postseason consideration last week following a 37-14 loss at San Diego.All season long, an issue for the Giants has been turnovers. They’ve given up the ball 34 times, most in the NFL, and Eli Manning has thrown an NFC-high 20 interceptions. Facing a Seahawks defense that is tied for second in the league with 28 takeaways, protecting the football is the key to today’s game. NY is 1-7 when committing more than one turnover. The Seahawks should win this game today but in the words of the Black Eye Peas, I’ve got a feeling——-In an a pure upset, take the Giants at home by a point. Giants 28 Seahawks 27

49ers @ Buccaneers:

Go BIG OR GO HOME—Or so I’m told. I mentioned I liked a few upsets this week and here is another. The defending NFC champions can secure a postseason berth with a road win Sunday and a little help, though the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers likely won’t let that scenario happen easily. San Francisco has won three straight following last week’s 19-17 victory over Seattle. Frank Gore rushed 17 times for 110 yards, including a 51-yard run that helped lead to Phil Dawson‘s 22-yard field goal with 31 seconds remaining. Greg Schiano’s team is coming off one of its best defensive efforts of the season, allowing 214 yards and forcing five turnovers in a 27-6 win over Buffalo. It allowed an average of 412.0 yards and 23.6 points over its previous three games. The Bucs will look to rookie QB Mike Glennon, who will have to contend with the league’s fourth-ranked pass defense. Glennon finished 9 of 25 for 90 yards and two interceptions last week, though he also threw a pair of TDs. Glennon has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns and seven picks with an 86.4 passer rating in 10 starts. The Buccaneers (4-9) have won four of five after dropping their first eight, make it five with a thrilling win over the Niners in Tampa today. Buccaneers 24 49ers 21.

Bills @ Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars will try for their first four-game winning streak in six seasons Sunday while looking to hand the reeling Buffalo Bills a fifth consecutive year of double-digit losses. Jacksonville (4-9) has won three straight for the first time since 2010 and four of five after an 0-8 start. However, the Jaguars will attempt to win four in a row for the first time since Sept. 16-Oct. 14, 2007. In the end, someone will win this game today and it’s likely to be Jacksonville. Jaguars 23 Bills 17

Chiefs @ Raiders:

The Chiefs can secure a postseason spot on the road Sunday while trying to hand the Oakland Raiders a fourth consecutive defeat. Kansas City ended its three-game losing streak and regained some swagger with a 45-10 road rout against reeling Washington last Sunday. RB Jamal Charles has averaged 6.9 yards per carry while gaining 359 yards and running for four TDs in the last three contests.  The Raiders need to improve a rush defense that allowed 287 yards on the ground to Dallas and New York in the last two weeks. They yielded an average of 99.1 in the first 11 contests. Oakland has also allowed Tennessee, the Cowboys and Jets to go 24 of 44 on third down during the three-game skid. Look for Charles to slice and dice his way into the end zone a few times, as the Chiefs defense stymies a struggling Raiders offense. The Chiefs will get their first season sweep of the Raiders since 2006, Kansas City has dropped two of three at Oakland since winning seven straight there. Chiefs 24 Raiders 13.

Jets @ Panthers:

Carolina had its eight-game winning streak snapped in a hurry with a 31-13 loss at New Orleans last week, falling a game behind the Saints in the division race. While the Panthers will have a shot at redemption next week at home vs. New Orleans, they cannot overlook the NY Jets, who have a win over New Orleans this season. Coming back to Bank of America Stadium, where the Panthers have won five straight, could also benefit Cam Newton, who was sacked five times against the Saints. Newton has a 100.2 passer rating while completing 65.2 percent of his passes for 1,148 yards and 10 touchdowns with five interceptions during the five-game winning streak in Charlotte. He’s also been sacked just seven times, while rushing for 223 yards with three TDs on 34 carries. But look for the Panthers defense to rebound after its worst performances of the season, giving up a season-high 304 passing yards and 373 overall. They also gave up four passing touchdowns to New Orleans after yielding just nine over the first 12 games. Carolina allows a league-low 14.5 points per game, and ranks second overall while allowing 296.2 yards. The Jets, meanwhile, are 31st in the league with just 17.4 points per game, which drops to 13.2 on the road. — where they’re 1-5. Look for that defense to force Jets rookie QB Geno Smith into another bad performance, as the Panthers dominate at home with a big win setting up next week’s rematch with the Saints. Panthers 27 Jets 3

Packers @ Dallas:

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is not going to start today and he’s probably not happy, especially considering the Cowboys are the opponent. Dallas is on pace to allow the most passing yards in franchise history (4,775) and is coming off a horrendous showing at Chicago on Monday night. Instead, Matt Flynn gets another start under center but it would help if had rookie RB Eddie Lacey next to him. The Cowboys have not been much better against the run than they have been against the pass, allowing 128 yards per game. While not as bad as the Cowboys defense, the Packers’ defense doesn’t conjure up memories of the 2000 Ravens. Just two weeks ago, Green Bay allowed 561 yards and 40 points to Detroit on Thanksgiving. Dallas gave up on its ground game early in Week 14 for some reason, but DeMarco Murray is in the midst of his best season as a pro. If the Packers commit to stopping the run QB Tony Romo will take to the air to look for Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Terrance Williams and Jason Witten. Green Bay’s pass rush also has a mere two sacks combined over its past two outings. The Bears managed to get to Romo Monday with some timely blitzes from LB James Anderson so look for Green Bay to do the same. In the end, these are two teams mathematically very much in the hunt for a playoff spot but aren’t playoff teams by any stretch of the imagination. Although it’s not Aikman vs. Favre, Romo and Flynn should provide an entertaining battle with Dallas prevailing in the end at home. Cowboys 34 Packers 30.

Cardinals @ Titans:

With a solid defense and a resurgent Carson Palmer, the Arizona Cardinals (8-5) remain one game behind wild-card leaders San Francisco and Carolina. The 49ers will win any tiebreaker with Arizona due to a better division record, but the Cardinals own the head-to-head edge over the Panthers by virtue of their Week 5 victory. Arizona will face a Tennessee team that has allowed an average of 29.0 points during its four-game home losing streak. The franchise has not dropped five in a row at home since 1996, when it was the Houston Oilers. Incredibly, the Titans haven’t allowed a touchdown pass in that stretch. All nine touchdowns the Tennessee defense has yielded during the skid have come on the ground, with the offense’s 10 turnovers not helping matters. That streak ends today—no, not the losing streak but the not allowing a TD pass as Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald will hook up at least once. Take the Cards to stay in the hunt with a win on the road in the Music City. Cardinals 23 Titans 10

Saints @ Rams:

Another example of going big or going home presents itself and I like this one a lot. The Saints have some renewed confidence after they rebounded from a 34-7 loss at Seattle on Dec. 2 with a 31-13 victory last Sunday over Carolina. With the win, New Orleans improved to 7-0 at home and took a one-game lead over the Panthers in the NFC South—but this one is on the road where Drew Brees and company haven’t fared nearly as well. The Saints average 32.9 points and allow 15.4 per game at home but are scoring 18.8 and giving up 22.5 per contest while going 3-3 on the road. Brees has thrown 23 of his 33 touchdowns while posting a 122.5 passer rating at home. On the road, he’s thrown five of his eight interceptions and has an 87.7 rating. Though Rob Ryan’s defense ranks sixth overall at 313.6 yards per game, its three worst yardage and point totals have come away from home. New Orleans has dropped three of the last four on the road while allowing its opponent to score first in each contest. Other than maybe a return by Tavon Austin and a breakaway run by Zack Stacey today, I can present no offensive proof that the Rams can take advantage but I like what Jeff Fishers teams have shown at times vs. better competition. Besides, either the Panther or the Saints will overlook one of their lessen opponents today and I have already picked the Cats to beat the Jets. Take the Rams at home by 3. Rams 30 Saints 27

Bengals @ Steelers:

For reasons I’m sure that are as plain to you as they are to me, Bengals QB Andy Dalton reminds me of Forrest Gump. With that said, The Red Headed Rifle is like that box of chocolates Gump refers to so much in the hit movie—-“you never know which Dalton you’re gonna git these days”. Dalton is coming off a three-touchdown game against the Indianapolis Colts that earned him an AFC Offensive Player of the Week award. He was also the October Offensive Player of the Month and it’s easy to see him as a leader in a Bengals playoff run. However, there was also November, when he threw just five touchdown passes versus five picks. He’s does not play well historically against the Steelers. He’s thrown five touchdowns and five picks in five games against Dick LeBeau’s defenses, which is about as average as it gets. In week 2, it took him 45 passing attempts to get one touchdown against Pittsburgh in Cincinnati’s 20-10 win. Like the Dolphins catching the Pats at a good time, Dalton is doing the same with Steelers defense. The 2013 Steelers defense is among the least impressive of the LeBeau era. They are 24th vs. the run and according to Football Outsiders’ opponent-adjusted metrics and they are 17th against the pass. It is even less effective against No. 1 receivers, which does not bode well for it against A.J. Green. Dalton has also been finding other targets of late; Marvin Jones and Jermaine Gresham also caught touchdowns against the Colts. Hey, if Joe Flacco broke his streak vs. the Steelers in Pittsburgh, then so can Dalton. Take the Bengals to win their third straight over Pittsburgh and sweep the Steelers for the first time since 2009. Bengals 31 Steelers 27

Ravens @ Lions: Monday Night Football

Baltimore (7-6) currently holds the final AFC wild-card spot, but only by a tiebreaker over Miami. The Ravens, who also lead San Diego and the New York Jets by one game, maintained that position by coming out on top in a wild game with Minnesota last Sunday. In the snow at M&T Bank Stadium, the teams combined for 36 points in the final 2:05, with Baltimore scoring 22. The Ravens capped their incredible finish to that 29-26 victory with Joe Flacco‘s 9-yard pass to Marlon Brown with four seconds to go. Its third straight win also kept Baltimore two games behind Cincinnati in the AFC North, but the Ravens will face three straight division leaders to conclude the regular season. Two of those games are on the road, including a visit to the Bengals in the regular season finale Dec. 29. Baltimore is 1-5 away from home, losing its last three there. The Lions (7-6) have had trouble in most of their recent games no matter where they’ve played, dropping three of four. They blew out Green Bay 40-10 on Thanksgiving but their inability to close out games reared its ugly head LW in Philadelphia. Detroit gave up 28 points in the final 15 minutes in a 34-20 loss — its third blown fourth-quarter lead in the past three weeks — and dropped into a tie with Chicago atop the division. The Lions own the tiebreaker thanks to their two wins over the Bears but know they have to get back on track quickly if they want to win their first division title since 1993. Detroit has committed a combined five turnovers in the final quarters of its last three losses and totaled 20 giveaways in its past six games. Baltimore has forced just four turnovers in its last four games after tallying 13 in its first nine, but sacks leader Elvis Dumervil may return after a one-game absence due to a sprained left ankle. Ravens rookie safety Matt Elam said this week of Lions WR Calvin Johnson, “He’s pretty old, so I don’t know how physical he’ll be. He is a big guy, but he’s older. I guess when they get older they’re not going to be as physical, you know what I’m saying? We’re going to have to be physical, make him uncomfortable.” The Lions could also get leading rusher Reggie Bush back from a calf injury that kept him out of the loss to Philadelphia. Despite Elam’s comments, Ravens QB Joe Flacco is Joe Clutch when it comes to games like this. Everything points to a Lions win but I remember feeling like everything pointed to a Bronco, Patriots and 49ers win LY in the playoffs. Take the Ravens, as Justin Tucker wins it with a last second field goal in a Monday night shootout. Ravens 33 Lions 31

Special thanks to NFL Communications, ESPN Stats & Information and Stats LLC…


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