Week 15 Picks

Posted: 12/19/2015 by levcohen in Football

It’s week 15, aka the first of two weeks with a bizarre Saturday night game. The Saturday games are foreign to fans, but given that they barely conflict with college football (there are a couple of bowl games tonight and one more next Saturday night), they’re certainly economically advantageous for the NFL, which gets another night of primetime spotlight after adding Thursday Night Football in 2006. I think we’re going to see this more and more; a sport that once only took place on Sundays is going to be spread more evenly throughout the week, because that just makes sense fiscally for the NFL, and money seems to be the only thing the league cares about. Anyway, this is another week with very few matchups that popped out at me, with Pittsburgh-Denver being the only game between winning teams. But there are a few other intriguing games, including Eagles-Cardinals (will the real Eagles please stand up?), Packers-Raiders (can Oakland make it back-to-back upsets?), and Panthers-Giants (probably the best chance for us to see a Carolina loss before the playoffs). Meanwhile, the Colts and Texans will play in a game that probably won’t be fun to watch but is definitely important, as it may well determine the AFC South champion. So let’s get to it, starting with the aforementioned Saturday Night Football game.

*= upset pick

New York Jets (8-5, 7-5-1) at Dallas Cowboys (4-9, 4-9):
Spread: Jets favored by 3
Over/under: 41
My prediction: I think the Jets should be favored by more. Rather, I think the Cowboys should be more than three point underdogs after showing unequivocally over the last two weeks that they are lost without Tony Romo. All that the Jets have to do is stop Darren McFadden, and their #1 DVOA against the run (by a landslide, too) says that they will do that. I don’t think the Cowboys top 14 points, which makes it very hard for me to believe that they’ll win this game, especially since New York has put up 91 points over its past three games, all wins. Jets win 26-13.
Jets cover

Chicago Bears (5-8, 7-6) at Minnesota Vikings (8-5, 10-3):
Spread: Vikings favored by 5.5
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Watch out, Minnesota, because you could have a problem if you lose this game. The Vikings will probably make the playoffs, as they’re two games up on their wild card competition, but they could lose out if they drop this game, at which point they might well miss the postseason. The Bears are a Jekyll and Hyde team, beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead and the Packers at Lambeau and losing to the Niners and Redskins at home. I think they could play a good game here, as they are 4-2 on the road (5-1 against the spread), but I think they’ll fall short in the end thanks to a huge Adrian Peterson performance (he’s due). I’ll take the Vikings in an uninspiring 21-17 win.
Bears cover

Atlanta Falcons (6-7, 4-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8, 5-7-1):
Spread: Jaguars favored by 3
Over/under: 49
My prediction: The Falcons stink. We know that now. The Jaguars might actually be a decent team, and they certainly still have something to play for, as they’re just one game out of the playoff race. They’re 4-3 in their last seven games, and they’ve averaged 38 points per game over their last three. I like them here — a lot. Jaguars win 34-20.
Jaguars cover

Houston Texans (6-7, 6-7) at Indianapolis Colts (6-7, 6-7):*
Spread: Colts favored by 2
Over/under: 42
My prediction: Matt Hasselbeck is 40 years old, and his body knows it. He’s really banged up, and with Andrew Luck still out, he’s going to start another game. Given that he’s going to be rushed by J.J. Watt, will he finish the game? I kind of doubt it, and I really like the Texans against Charlie Whitehurst. They too will be without their starting quarterback (Brian Hoyer has a concussion), but I like T.J. Yates a lot more than a Hasselbeck/Whitehurst combination. Expect a really ugly game, though. Texans win 19-16.
Texans cover

Carolina Panthers (13-0, 10-3) at New York Giants (6-7, 7-5-1):
Spread: Panthers favored by 4.5
Over/under: 48
My prediction: It’s really hard to pick against the Panthers at this point, but I think they have a good chance at slipping up here. The Giants have played well as moderate underdogs, losing by one against the Patriots as seven point dogs and beating the Bills as 6.5 point dogs, and they have the offensive firepower to take down Carolina. Odell Beckham is going to have to have another huge game, though, and he’s going to match up at least some of the time against standout cornerback Josh Norman. I think the Giants will keep it close, but the Panthers will hold on thanks to some more timely runs from Cam Newton, the most clutch player in football this year. Panthers win 27-24.
Giants cover

Tennessee Titans (3-10, 4-8-1) at New England Patriots (11-2, 6-5-2):- Lock
Spread: Patriots favored by 14
Over/under: 46.5
My prediction: It’s time for me to face the fact that the Titans really stink. I picked them to beat the Jets in New Jersey last week, and I watched them lose 30-8. It wasn’t even that close. Can they rebound by coming into New England and beating the Patriots? Well, no. Patriots win 30-10.
Patriots cover

Buffalo Bills (6-7, 6-6-1) at Washington Redskins (6-7, 6-7):*
Spread: Bills favored by 2.5
Over/under: 44
My prediction: Last week, the Bills went into Philadelphia as one point underdogs. They lost by three. Meanwhile, the Redskins went into Chicago as four point underdogs and won outright. Why in the world are the Bills giving 3.5 more points this week than they did last week, when they were coming off of a win over the Texans? Are the Redskins that much worse than the Eagles? I don’t think so. The Bills aren’t that good defensively, which is surprising for a Rex Ryan-coached team. And their offense relies heavily upon Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy. When their two studs aren’t playing well, the offense is completely taken out. So no, I don’t think the Bills are very good. At the same time… is there any reason to like the Redskins? The offense and defense are both thoroughly mediocre (if not worse), and they are really bad at rushing the ball. They are good at home and especially as home underdogs (4-1 against the spread)…. I have no idea who’s going to win this game, but I feel strongly about the fact that the Redskins aren’t five or six points worse than the Bills, so I’ll take Washington. Redskins win 26-23.
Redskins cover

Kansas City Chiefs (8-5, 7-6) at Baltimore Ravens (4-9, 3-8-2):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 7
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Oh, boy. Please tell me you didn’t watch a second of either of these team’s games last week, because they were both super ugly, ending in a 10-3 Chiefs win over the Chargers and a 35-6 Ravens loss at the hands of the dominant Seahawks. I don’t have much to say about this game, except to advise people not to watch it, because this, too, will be ugly. Chiefs win 17-13.
Ravens cover

Cleveland Browns (3-10, 5-8) at Seattle Seahawks (8-5, 6-6-1):
Spread: Seahawks favored by 15
Over/under: 42.5
My prediction: The Seahawks, currently ranked second in DVOA, have a great shot at finishing first for the FOURTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR after Andy Dalton, the quarterback for the #1 Bengals, injured his thumb. Meanwhile, the Browns rank 31st in DVOA and have to undo the damage done by their win over the Niners last week to their chances for the #1 pick. Good luck tomorrow, Johnny. Just get out of C-Link alive. Seahawks win 34-10.
Seahawks cover

Green Bay Packers (9-4, 8-5) at Oakland Raiders (6-7, 7-6):*
Spread: Packers favored by 3.5
Over/under: 48
My prediction: I’m back on team Oakland! After a win against the Broncos, I’m fully confident that the Raiders can make it two in a row with a win over the overrated Packers. Nothing could go wrong here, right? Raiders win 28-22.
Raiders cover

Denver Broncos (10-3, 7-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5, 8-4-1):*
Spread: Steelers favored by 7
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: This is how you know the Steelers are really good. Vegas has installed them as a seven point favorite against the 10-3 Broncos. Yup, the same Broncos who have an incredible defense. I’m really excited for this game, because it’s strength against strength. Not only are the Broncos great defensively and the Steelers an offensive powerhouse, but Denver ranks #1 against the pass with a -34.9% DVOA (which means they are 34.9% better than the average pass defense), well ahead of #2 Carolina (-24.3%). Meanwhile, the Steelers rank fifth in passing DVOA despite the fact that Ben Roethlisberger has missed about a quarter of the season. The Steelers are averaging 31 points per game in the games in which Roethlisberger has started and finished, and in the last three weeks they’ve put up 30+ every week, including 30 and 33 against stellar Seattle and Cincinnati defenses. But I’ve trusted the Broncos’ defense to this point, and they haven’t really failed me so far, so I’m going to go all in on the defense and pick the Broncos to win in a shocking upset. Broncos win 24-20.
Broncos cover

Miami Dolphins (5-8, 4-9) at San Diego Chargers (3-10, 5-8):
Spread: Chargers favored by 1
Over/under: 46
My prediction: In a game between two sub-par teams… take the home team. Also: don’t watch. Chargers win 23-20.
Chargers cover

Cincinnati Bengals (10-3, 10-2-1) at San Francisco 49ers (4-9, 6-7):
Spread: Bengals favored by 6
Over/under: 40.5
My prediction: I know the Niners stink, but should we really be giving A.J. McCarron this much credit leading up to his first career start? I mean, he looked alright last week in relief of Andy Dalton, but this spread would probably only be a couple of points higher with Dalton at the helm. I don’t think that’s fair to the injured quarterback, and I also don’t think this is the correct line. Bengals win 21-16.
Niners cover

Arizona Cardinals (11-2, 7-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-7, 6-7):
Spread: Cardinals favored by 3.5
Over/under: 51
My prediction: In the intro, I asked the real Eagles team to stand up. Well, I still think the real Eagles team is a mediocre one, and I think that mediocre team will stand up. Despite their mediocre record against the spread, I remain convinced that the Cardinals are really good, and, well, they’re 11-2. Larry Fitzgerald always kills the Eagles, and I expect him to have another big game, along with the rest of the Arizona offense. Could the Eagles win? Sure. All they need is a big game from a running back or three and a pass rushing day akin to the one they had against Tom Brady, a quarterback similar to Carson Palmer in his immobility and amazingness. But unless the Eagles get three return touchdowns again (that’s what they had against the Patriots), I don’t think it’s very likely that they’ll win this game. Cardinals win 34-24.
Cardinals cover

Detroit Lions (4-9, 4-9) at New Orleans Saints (5-8, 6-6-1):
Spread: Saints favored by 2.5
Over/under: 51
My prediction: For some reason, I just have a feeling that the Saints are going to destroy the Lions on Monday. It might be the fact that this is a primetime game, or the fact that the Saints will be hungry for a home win after losing two straight in the Superdome. Alternatively, it might just be the fact that the Lions stink and that their three game (and, if not for an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary, four game) winning streak was a mirage, which we know after their disheartening loss in St. Louis. It might even just be an irrational trust in Drew Brees. But I’m taking the Saints 38-20.
Saints cover

Upset picks:
Raiders over Packers
Broncos over Steelers
Redskins over Bills
Texans over Colts

Lock of the week:
Patriots over Titans


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