Week 15 Picks — Might We See a Lot of Blowouts?

Posted: 12/18/2016 by levcohen in Football

The theme of the first two games of Week 15 is that they were both competitive in the first half and turned into total blowouts in the second. The Seahawks led 10-3 against the Rams at halftime, although given LA’s lack of offense it felt more like 30-3. Then, they scored 14 unanswered in the second half and won 24-3. Last night, the Dolphins led the Jets just 13-10 at halftime with backup quarterback Matt Moore at the helm. Then, they scored 21 unanswered in the third quarter and ended up winning 34-13. Moore attempted 18 passes. Four of them went for 25+ yards and two went for 50+ yard touchdowns. He ended up throwing for four touchdowns. How did the Jets let a quarterback with one start since 2011 post a 94.4 QBR against them? How did the Rams allow the game to get out of hand? I think it’s the same answer for both: it’s Week 15, and neither the Jets nor the Rams have anything to play for. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are fighting for a first round BYE and the Dolphins need to keep winning in order to make the playoffs. Seattle and Miami were definitely the better teams and deserved to win, but neither should have won by three touchdowns and neither would have won by three touchdowns had these games been played in Week 6. This has been a season in which there haven’t been many blowouts or dominant performances, largely because there are no elite teams this year. At this point of the year, though, you don’t need to be an elite team to blow a team out. You just need to play an unmotivated team. We could see a few more games this week that mirror the first two, because we’re at the point of the season when a lot of teams are unmotivated.

*- upset pick

Philadelphia Eagles (5-8, 5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (7-6, 5-8):
Spread: Ravens favored by 5.5
Over/under: 41
My prediction: The Eagles have lost four straight games and have generally been uncompetitive over the last month, with the exception of last week against the Redskins. Meanwhile, the Ravens are a game out in the AFC North and need to win to keep pace with the Steelers, who should beat the Bengals. Carson Wentz has been poor on the road this year, with an average of just 5.98 yards per attempt and a 7:8 TD:INT ratio. When the Eagles can’t run the ball, they put too much pressure on Wentz, who turns it over. I don’t think they’re going to be able to run the ball in the Baltimore rain, as, despite showing a few holes in the past few weeks, the Ravens’ run defense is still easily the stingiest in the league. To make matters worse for the Birds, Darren Sproles is out with a concussion after a nasty hit as he was catching a punt last week. Sproles is the team’s most explosive player, and he might have found some holes on checkdowns. Now, Wentz won’t have that option, and his tight ends might also find it tough to break down a defense that hasn’t given up more than 70 yards to an opposing tight end group this season. The Ravens don’t have much on offense, but they won’t need much to win this game. Mike Wallace has the type of speed to bother Leodis McKelvin, who has been burned over the top time after time. And Steve Smith should have plenty of room to operate down the field against what might be the worst group of cornerbacks in the NFL. Ravens win 23-13.
Ravens cover

Green Bay Packers (7-6, 7-5-1) at Chicago Bears (3-10, 5-7-1):
Spread: Packers favored by 4.5
Over/under: 38
My prediction: There are three things that could trip the surging Packers up this week. One is Aaron Rodgers’s calf, which is forcing the Packers to activate three quarterbacks this week, a sure sign that it’s not in great shape. The second is the temperature, which will be four degrees and dropping at game time with a wind chill of -13. The third is Chicago’s improving defense, which has toughened up instead of folding. In Pernell McPhee, Leonard Floyd, and Akiem Hicks, they have some pass rushers who can harass an immobile Rodgers. These are three legitimate factors, and they’ll keep this game close. In the end, though, it’s still Aaron Rodgers against Matt Barkley. Expect a game similar to the one the Bears played last week, when they lost 20-17 in Detroit. Packers win 17-16.
Bears cover

Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11, 5-8) at Houston Texans (7-6, 6-6-1):
Spread: Texans favored by 3.5
Over/under: 39.5
My prediction: Want more evidence of how bad the Texans are? They’re favored by only 3.5 despite playing at home against a 2-11 team a week after they won in Indianapolis. I want nothing to do with the Jaguars here, as Jacksonville always finds a way to lose while the Texans have been good at home and against their division. Are the Texans good enough to win by more than a field goal against a team with eight straight losses and a coach who’s on his way out? Maybe just barely. Texans win 24-17.
Texans cover

Cleveland Browns (0-13, 3-10) at Buffalo Bills (6-7, 6-7):
Spread: Bills favored by 10.5
Over/under: 42
My prediction: It’s never a good thing when news comes out that your coach is going to be fired. It’s especially bad when that news leaks right before you have a game. That’s what the Bills are facing right now, as we’ve learned that Rex Ryan will be out after the season. This is a good reason not to predict a Buffalo blowout. It’s not a good enough reason to pick a Cleveland upset. The Bills still have LeSean McCoy, and they still have Tyrod Taylor. Against an atrocious defense, Taylor should be able to have one of his better games of the season with both Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods healthy. I think the offense should be motivated. The Ryan news might have more of an impact on the defense, so the Browns might be able to put up some points in this game. Bills win 26-21.
Browns cover

Tennessee Titans (7-6, 5-7-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-3, 7-6):
Spread: Chiefs favored by 6
Over/under: 43
My prediction: The Titans are without a doubt the best team in the AFC South. That’s why I’m rooting for them to win this game and then take the division. And I do think they have a chance here. It’s a good matchup for their offense, as the Chiefs haven’t been particularly good against the run. DeMarco Murray is going to have a huge workload and should have some success. The problem is that the Chiefs are so good in close games at doing whatever it takes to win. I know the Titans have won three of their last four, and I know Marcus Mariota has generally been very good this season. I really like the Titans to keep this one close. I just have to give the edge to the Chiefs at home. Chiefs win 20-17.
Titans cover

Detroit Lions (9-4, 8-4-1) at New York Giants (9-4, 7-5-1):*
Spread: Giants favored by 4
Over/under: 41
My prediction: Could these teams really be the second and third best in the NFC? I don’t think so. I think Seattle is certainly better, and Atlanta, Tampa, and Green Bay may be too. But these are the teams with matching 9-4 records, so the winner will all-but be assured a playoff spot. I don’t really understand why the Giants are favored by more than a field goal in this one. Yes, they have Odell Beckham and a surging defense, but the rest of their offense is stagnant. Meanwhile, the Lions haven’t given up more than 20 points in a game in their last seven contests. With stud cornerback Darius Slay healthy, I don’t see that changing this week. The Lions are the team more likely to bust open this game, even with Matthew Stafford banged up. I don’t think they’ll blow the Giants out, but I’ve seen enough of Eli Manning this season to know that he can’t move the ball without getting chunk plays from Beckham. If Slay and the Lions can limit those chunk plays, they’ll win this game. Lions win 17-13.
Lions cover

Indianapolis Colts (6-7, 6-6-1) at Minnesota Vikings (7-6, 8-5):*
Spread: Vikings favored by 5.5
Over/under: 45
My prediction: You know we’ve seen some low over/under totals when the highest one of the first seven is in a game featuring the Minnesota Vikings, whose games average a total of 37.1 points. It’s a big game for both desperate teams, with the loser almost certainly being eliminated from the playoffs. I’m not sure either squad deserves to make the playoffs, but that’s an entirely different conversation. The Vikings have been pretty strong at home this year and will get a huge boost from the return of Adrian Peterson. They rarely have trouble moving the ball between the 20s, but they can never seem to punch the ball in. Maybe that will change with Peterson back, but I doubt it. He’s rusty, and he didn’t have much success before he got injured. This spread seems like a bit of an overreaction to Indy’s disappointing loss to Houston and the return of Peterson. Is there really a big gap in talent between these two? In terms of overall roster talent, yes. The Vikings are much better on defense and have comparable offensive talent. The difference, of course, comes at the quarterback position. Andrew Luck was bad last week, but he’s still more than capable of carrying this team on his own, even against a good defense. I think he’ll pull this one out. Colts win 23-20.
Colts cover

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5, 8-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-7-1, 4-9):
Spread: Steelers favored by 3
Over/under: 45.5
My prediction: This is definitely a dangerous game for the Steelers, who have won four straight games but haven’t exactly looked great doing it. The Bengals are out of the playoff hunt, but they could well treat this game as their Super Bowl. They’ve won consecutive games, and they’ll want to close the season with some momentum. They definitely have the psychological edge, with the Steelers facing the Ravens next in a monumental game. With all that being said… this is where Pittsburgh’s offensive talent comes in handy. They can play sloppily and poorly and still pull out a win thanks to the individual heroics of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown. That’s kind of the way I see this game going. Steelers win 27-23.
Steelers cover

New Orleans Saints (5-8, 7-6) at Arizona Cardinals (5-7-1, 4-9):*
Spread: Cardinals favored by 3
Over/under: 49
My prediction: Carson Palmer stinks! This has been the main theme of Arizona’s season: heroics from David Johnson and great defense sacrificed by Palmer’s mistakes and missed chances. It was more of the same last week against the Dolphins in a game the Cardinals really should have won. I think it could happen against this week. Tyrann Mathieu is banged up, and both Deone Bucannon and Tyvon Branch are out. That could give Drew Brees just enough time and openings to bounce back after consecutive subpar weeks. I still trust Brees and wouldn’t bet on him putting up a third straight stinker. Saints win 27-21.
Saints cover

San Francisco 49ers (1-12, 2-10-1) at Atlanta Falcons (8-5, 8-5):
Spread: Falcons favored by 14
Over/under: 51
My prediction: The Niners had a great chance to get a second win last week. They were playing at home against the Jets, and they held a 14 point lead at halftime. They somehow managed to blow that game. After that performance, is there any chance they can stay with the Falcons’ offense in Atlanta? Well, the Falcons haven’t been great at home, and I don’t think they should be favored by two touchdowns here. They’ll obviously win this game, but don’t count out a sneaky cover by the Niners. I think Vegas might be overrating Atlanta a bit after they demolished the Rams, because we’ve seen over the last month that anyone can demolish the Rams. I still like Atlanta, but not as a two TD favorite. Falcons win 31-23.
Niners cover

New England Patriots (11-2, 10-3) at Denver Broncos (8-5, 8-5):
Spread: Patriots favored by 3
Over/under: 43
My prediction: Tom Brady does not like playing in Denver. That’s pretty well documented. He’s not going to be comfortable in this game, as he’s going up against a team with the best secondary and one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. This is the week that we see how good New England’s offense is without Rob Gronkowski. If they can pick apart the Broncos like they did the Ravens, they’re legit. Even if the Broncos can slow the Pats down, the problem is that their offense has been thoroughly unable to put up points. It’s not all Trevor Siemian’s fault. I actually think that Siemian has been decent. But the run game has disappeared with the injury to C.J. Anderson, and I’m not sure it’s going to come back this week against a very strong Patriots run defense. This is going to be a real struggle for both offenses, and I’m going to give the slight edge to New England, simply because they’re the more balanced team and are far more likely to convert on a tough third down late in the game. Patriots win 21-17.
Patriots cover

Oakland Raiders (10-3, 8-5) at San Diego Chargers (5-8, 7-6):
Spread: Raiders favored by 2.5
Over/under: 50
My prediction: The big news here is that the Chargers are going to be without Melvin Gordon. Apparently, San Diego isn’t willing to acquiesce to their star running back and put his future at risk so he can gain three yards and reach 1,000. That’s a big loss. I might have taken the Chargers here, but now I think it’s far more likely that a ton of pressure is put on Philip Rivers and he makes the same mistakes he’s made over the last couple of months. A win clinches the playoffs for Oakland, and they’d like to do it now with games against the desperate Colts and Broncos coming up. I think they’ll get it done. Raiders win 24-20.
Raiders cover

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5, 8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-2, 10-3):
Spread: Cowboys favored by 7
Over/under: 47.5
My prediction: I don’t really like the Cowboys as big home favorites in this game. They’re a good team, but they had some weaknesses exposed last week against the Giants, and the Buccaneers have been really solid recently, with five consecutive wins against pretty tough opposition. The Cowboys could well lose a second straight game here, but I do like the matchup for Ezekiel Elliott (Bucs are 21st in DVOA against the run). Cowboys win 23-20.
Buccaneers cover

Carolina Panthers (5-8, 4-8-1) at Washington Redskins (7-5-1, 9-4):
Spread: Redskins favored by 6.5
Over/under: 51
My prediction: Are the Redskins even better than the Panthers? Barring their weird blowout loss in Seattle, the Panthers have been competitive every week since Week 4. Meanwhile, the Redskins can’t really stop anybody and thus play shootout after shootout, regardless of the competition. Maybe this is the week that Cam Newton finally has a good week after four straight games in which he hasn’t completed half of his passes. The thing is that Newton and his Panthers haven’t been the type of team that has been able to keep up against high-octane offenses. He’s thrown more than two TDs once this season and for more than 300 yards twice. Kirk Cousins has managed to do the same three and six times respectively. The Panthers will have some offensive success, but the Redskins will have a whole lot more in a game they must win. Redskins win 34-24.
Redskins cover

Upset picks:
Saints over Cardinals
Colts over Vikings
Lions over Giants

Already picked Seahawks over Rams


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