Week 15 NFL Predictions

Joe Flacco is looking to lead another Ravens play-off charge

It’s that time of the season where every game matters, for the right or wrong reasons. Teams in the play-off hunt are desperate to earn a place in the post-season lottery while coaches of the sides at the opposite end of the spectrum are in a fight to save their jobs. Additionally play-off seeding and home-field advantage are up for grabs plus next April’s draft order is far from decided. Here are my picks for this weekends full slate of NFL games, where hopefully I can erase my incorrect prediction of a Denver win on Thursday after they were upset at home by the suddenly relevant San Diego Chargers.

Washington @ Atlanta

Both of these teams won their division a year ago, but what a difference twelve months makes. The Falcons have been awful on their way to a 4-9 record although in fairness they have suffered through injuries to stars including Steven Jackson, Roddy White and Julio Jones. The real story to follow here this week is the Redskins benching of Robert Griffin III (covered in this weeks AFF Podcast which can be found here) for backup Kirk Cousins, who’ll be looking to impress against a weak Falcons defense. After losing to the Matt Flynn led Packers a week ago I’m loathe to pick Atlanta here and as bad as Washington have been lately I’m backing Kirk Cousins to go out and have a good game in the first of his three game trial. Redskins 27, Falcons 17

Chicago @ Cleveland

The Browns will be wondering how on earth they didn’t hold on and beat New England last week, but unfortunately they’ll have little time to get over that defeat and they face tough opposition in Chicago. The Bears put on a clinic against Dallas last Monday and find themselves in a tie for first place in the NFC north after Detroit slipped up in the Philadelphia snow. Jay Cutler returns at quarterback for the Bears despite the excellent play of Josh McCown in his place during his absence, so one thing to keep an eye on is that situation should Cutler struggle early on. However with weapons such as Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to throw to Cutler should be just fine and as long as Chicago don’t take the Browns lightly they should walk away from Ohio with a crucial late season road win. Bears 24, Browns 16

Houston @ Indianapolis

Neither of these teams are playing well currently and the Texans have been so bad that after last weeks loss to Jacksonville coach Gary Kubiak was relieved of his duties. Chuck Pagano has slightly more leeway with the Colts after his side raced out to a good start including wins over Denver and New England but he’ll still be aware that his team needs to pick up some momentum heading into the play-offs. Houston will be dangerous opposition here but I’m afraid the Texans are such a shambles that they’re just the medicine Pagano will have ordered for his stuttering team. Home win and a big day for Andrew Luck. Texans 18, Colts 30

Buffalo @ Jacksonville

 Much like the Washington – Atlanta game this matchup features no play-off implications. However both sets of players still have pride to fight for and the Jaguars have actually been one of the leagues better teams over the last month or so. Coach Gus Bradley has unveiled a few trick plays on offense including half back and wide receiver passes while the former Seahawks defensive co-ordinator has got that side of the ball playing steady football again. After Buffalo were hammered by Tampa Bay last week it’s difficult to pick them here and the form book certainly points towards a home win. I’m going to go by that book – however I think it’ll be close and could actually provide some entertainment to fans of these two ailing franchises. One final point; Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts is likely to miss out with a groin injury while Maurice Jones Drew is doubtful with a hamstring strain so Bradley may have to get even more creative on offense. Bills 13, Jaguars 17

New England @ Miami

I have to admit I’ve been mightily impressed with how Joe Philbin’s Dolphins have rebounded from the unseemly ‘rookie hazing’ saga involving Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, with Miami all of a sudden finding themselves well positioned to make the play-offs at 7-6. The Patriots survived a scare last week at home to Cleveland but they’ll have to be wary of a dangerous Dolphins team who could cause them some problems. New England know that three wins from three will secure them homefield throughout the AFC play-offs; an incentive to win if ever there was one. Ryan Tannehill will go up against the legendary Tom Brady in what promises to be a tasty AFC east affair and upon further inspection the youngster has eerily similar stats to the three time Superbowl champion on the season. With Rob Gronkowski out injured I have reservations about the visitors ability to put up points on a stout Miami defense. I also think Tannehill has enough weapons on offense, including speedster Mike Wallace, to out duel Tom Brady and complete the upset. Patriots 20, Dolphins 23

Philadelphia @ Minnesota

Both Adrian Petersen and Toby Gerhart miss out for the Vikings as they host the NFC east leading Eagles, which should make a difficult task that much harder. Philly have won five in a row through a combination of explosive offense (they lead the NFL in plays of 20 yards or more) and improving defense (they haven’t given up more than 21 points for six straight weeks). Matt Cassel starts at quarterback for the Vikings which should encourage Bill Davis’s defense further still and without their major threat on the offensive side of the ball it’s hard to see how Minnesota can keep this close into the fourth quarter. Although the Eagles will have to be wary that they don’t fall for the classic ‘trap game’ there’s such a gulf between the teams that I can’t look past a Philly win which would move them to 9-5 for the year. Eagles 31, Vikings 17

Seattle @ New York Giants

One of the leagues best quarterbacks this season, Russell Wilson, takes on one of the worst. Yes, I know Eli Manning has two Superbowl rings (Trent Dilfer has one) but he’s been atrocious this season en route to his worst season since he was a rookie. Factor in that he’s facing the unparallelled Seahawks defense and, well, it doesn’t look good for the G-men. Percy Harvin misses out with injury for Seattle but his loss is offset by the Giants own Jason Pierre-Paul hitting the sidelines. After a tough loss to the 49ers last week expect Seattle to come out hard tonight and bounce back with a convincing win, sending the Giants to 5-9 in the process. Seahawks 28, Giants 14

San Francisco @ Tampa Bay

While the 49ers are the clear favourites on paper here don’t write off the Buccaneers, who have played excellent football in recent weeks. They’ve won four of their last five and with Mike Glennon showing he can be the QB of the future in West Florida things are looking up for Greg Schiano’s crew. Whether or not Shiano’s done enough to keep his job beyond this season is questionable but a win here would go a long way to keeping him employed for 2014 and beyond. Both teams head into this one healthy which should lead to a competitive game. After last weeks emotional win against Seattle this just screams ‘let down’ for San Francisco, who could be in for a shock in the form of the surging Buccaneers. I think Tampa has enough about them on defense to control Colin Kaepernick and if they can break a few big plays with the ball they could nick a huge win and condemn the 49ers to a shocking defeat. 49ers 16, Buccaneers 17

New York Jets @ Carolina

I’m not sure how, but the Jets are 6-7 and not out of the race for the final AFC wild-card spot. Nonetheless I don’t give them a prayer against the Panthers who’ve impressed this season primarily with their stellar defense, a troubling sign for Geno Smith and New York’s terrible offense. Cam Newton should be able to make more than enough plays to outscore the pitiful Jets offense and it’s likely he’ll have favourable field position on more than once occasion if Smith continues to turn the ball over at his current rate. I’m going for a Panthers win (obviously), and I don’t think it’ll be particularly close. Jets 10, Panthers 30

Kansas City @ Oakland

This AFC west battle all of a sudden becomes that much more important for KC to win after Denver’s slip up on Thursday night, with the Chiefs knowing that a victory ties them with the Broncos at 11-3. Although the Broncos hold the tie-breaker over Kansas City courtesy of their head to head record Andy Reid will know that a first round play-off bye is within his grasp and he’s unlikely to let a mediocre Raiders side get in his way. Matt McGloin will start at QB for the Raiders a week after Terrell Pryor got the nod and performed terribly against the Jets (that’s how New York has won six games!). McGloin actually looked good during the second half of that game but thanks to his limited arm strength he can only do some much with the football and when you factor in running back Darren McFadden’s absence it’s likely the Raiders will struggle to keep pace with a suddenly prolific Kansas City offense. I’ve seen Andy Reid coached teams slip up in similar situations before but I just can’t see it happening this week. Oakland, I’m afraid, are just that bad. Chiefs 34, Raiders 17

Green Bay @ Dallas

The famous Bob Marley song goes “no woman, no cry”, and the Packers may as well rewrite their own lyrics “no Rodgers, no chance”. Except against the hapless Falcons, of course. Even though linebacker Sean Lee is missing for Dallas here I just can’t see Matt Flynn doing much against the rest of the Cowboys defense, although running back Eddie Lacy could have some joy on the ground. Tony Romo wasn’t at his best on Monday against Chicago but he’s still one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL and he should have no trouble putting the necessary points on the board to win this one and keep the Cowboys hot on the trail of Philadelphia. Packers 17, Cowboys 26

New Orleans @ St. Louis

There won’t be many times this season where the gulf in class between quarterbacks is as large as it is in this game, where Drew Brees squares off against Kellen Clemens. To be perfectly honest the Rams would be better off with a roided up Roger Clemens throwing the pigskin, but hey ho. A huge win against Carolina last week put the Saints in the box seat to win the NFC south and claim a first round play-off bye and they’ll be thankful they have this relatively easy game sandwiched in between the return game against the rival Panthers. St. Louis have a pretty good defense so they won’t go down in embarrassing fashion here but so long as the Saints stay on point they should have no trouble cementing their status as the second best team in the NFC. Saints 28, Rams 18

Arizona @ Tennesssee

While Bruce Arian’s Cardinals are still in contention for a wild-card spot in the NFC unfortunately the same can’t be said of Mike Munchak’s Titans. Tennessee had a slim chance of catching the Colts in the AFC south but after they lost the their divisional opponents that hope evaporated, yet Arizona know that after they beat St. Louis last week a win here would very much keep their play-off hopes alive. Ryan Fitzpatrick once had a good half season in Buffalo, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Carson Palmer probably had a good season once, too, but thankfully for him and Cardinals fans he’s surrounded by far better talent on the offensive side of the ball and he can also rely on a very good defense to get keep the opposition out of the end zone more often than not. Cardinals 23, Titans 14

Cincinnati @ Pittsburgh

Whisper it, but Cincinnati could be well on the way to establishing an AFC north dynasty. Coach Marvin Lewis has done a fantastic job of hiring the right staff, including co-coordinators Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer, as well as acquiring talent on the field. I still have my doubts about Andy Dalton’s ability to become a franchise quarterback and get it done in the play-offs but in fairness many people had the same doubts about Joe Flacco until he won a Lombardi in February. The Steelers are just about done for the season now after losing at home to Miami last week so it’s difficult to envision them keeping the Bengals at bay here, especially when you consider their poor defense and the fact they’ll be up against Cincy weapons A.J Green and Marvin Jones. There’s only one way I’m leaning here and that’s towards the visitors and their tenth win of the season. Bengals 30, Steelers 20

Baltimore @ Detroit

These two 7-6 teams square off in Monday Night Football with both in the knowledge that a loss will severely hamper their chances of reaching the post-season. Detroit looked strong early against Philadelphia last week but faded late, although it’s fair to blame the snow for their poor showing. Back in the under cover comfort of Ford Field they should be able to involve Megatron more this week and they’ll also be hoping to have Reggie Bush back after he tweaked a hamstring in the warm up last Sunday. Baltimore will be no pushovers however and they’ve enjoyed a good run of late by winning five of their last six games. This is a difficult game to pick but I’ve come to the conclusion that even though the Lions are at home they aren’t in the greatest run of form unlike their opponents, while Baltimore also have more big game experience following their Superbowl victory earlier this year. Ravens 24, Lions 20

Do you agree with those picks? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @fredjstanley. I’ll be back later in the week with the AFF podcast, so until then.
 

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