It’s Week 15, and we’ve got some beauties on the schedule. I’m feeling good after an 11-5 week, and had the 49ers and Cardinals not blown late opportunities that record would have been even sweeter. On to the next. Let’s dig in.
Week 14 record: 11-5
Overall record: 124-82-2
Week 15 Cheat Sheet trivia question
Excluding undrafted players, Tom Brady is 19-3 all-time against quarterbacks who were drafted lower than him (199th). Who were the two quarterbacks who were selected after him in their respective drafts who’ve beaten him head to head?
Getty ImagesJim Rogash
Thursday night: Rams at Seahawks
If the Seahawks need a cure for a hangover after last week’s embarrassing loss in Green Bay, it’s a Rams team coming off an even worse loss with a new interim coach stalking the sideline as “the guy” for the first time in his NFL career. The Rams always give the Seahawks fits, but I just don’t see it in the cards under these conditions Thursday night. No flashy stat for you on this one; it’s a Seahawks win.
The pick: Seahawks 30, Rams 13
Saturday night: Dolphins at Jets
Four years ago, the Jets were knocking on the door for a playoff victory and a listless Dolphins team knocked them off in Week 17. Three years ago, the Dolphins were smelling the playoffs and Rex Ryan was on the hot seat. The Jets rallied and got one for Rex, ultimately getting him one more year as their head coach and keeping the Dolphins from the playoffs. There’s something weird about these late-in-the-season Dolphins-Jets matchups. The last time the Jets were home on prime time, they stunk it up. For some reason, I see them doing the opposite Saturday night. Upset special. The Jets — 30th in the league in rushing — find a way and give the Matt Moore-led Dolphins a serious setback in their playoff quest.
The pick: Jets 20, Dolphins 17
Sunday: Packers at Bears
Watch out for the Packers. They’ve won three in a row — in convincing fashion, too — after losing four straight in the middle of the season. They’re still not technically in the playoff picture, but they’re likely the one team in the NFC that no one wants to face come January. Through all that drama in October and November, if you look at the league leaders in Week 15, Aaron Rodgers is tops in touchdown passes with 32. Matt Barkley — having a fine season, all things considered — isn’t beating Aaron Rodgers.
The pick: Packers 31, Bears 21
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY SportsBenny Sieu
Sunday: Browns at Bills
Is this the week for the Browns?! I’m sorry, Cleveland fans. I just can’t see how the Browns — who haven’t won a game in more than a calendar year — can go on the road and beat a team playing for its postseason life. The Bills have the top-ranked rushing offense in the league. The Browns are 31st against the run. This has LeSean McCoy 30 carries and a win (and a few fantasy playoff victories) written all over it.
The pick: Bills 33, Browns 17
Sunday: Eagles at Ravens
Carson Wentz got his lunch served to him two weeks ago in Cincinnati, and I don’t think it’s going to go much better in Baltimore against an angry and hungry Ravens team. No rookie quarterback has ever beaten a John Harbaugh-coached team at M&T Bank Stadium, and the Eagles are 0-6 when rushing for fewer than 100 yards. Up against the Baltimore front seven? With Jimmy Smith in the lineup or not, I don’t see it.
The pick: Ravens 23, Eagles 14
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Sunday: Titans at Chiefs
The Titans beat the Broncos with a running game, opportunistic defense and a suffocating fourth-quarter attack last week. That’s the football you need to play to win in December and January. Unfortunately, the Chiefs play that way, too, and likely do it just a little bit better. You can call Alex Smith a game manager. Sticks and stones. He’s the quarterback of a 10-3 team that’s about to win its 21st of 24 games.
The pick: Chiefs 24, Titans 16
Sunday: Steelers at Bengals
Le’Veon Bell had more offensive yards than the entire Buffalo Bills offense last week. And yet I have the Bengals shocking the world and winning this one. Cincinnati didn’t have Vontaze Burfict the first time these two teams squared off this season, and though I’m not sure what triggered it Andy Dalton seems to be playing the best football of the season, all without A.J. Green or Gio Bernard in the lineup. The NFL is weird. Things happen that on paper maybe shouldn’t. I’ve seen Cincinnati be the team we thought it was going to be the last two weeks. Pittsburgh has lost games like this before. The resurgent Bengals throw the AFC North into a tailspin. They win this weekend.
The pick: Bengals 31, Steelers 24
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsCharles LeClaire
Sunday: Lions at Giants
You know it’s a big game when Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Erin Andrews are on the call. And if there are still Matthew Stafford doubters out there, this is a great opportunity to shut them all up. The Lions haven’t been and aren’t going to be handed anything this season, and with a murderer’s row of Giants, Cowboys and Packers up ahead on the schedule they’re going to be tested every week from here on out. Stafford could be dinged up, the defense could be ailing and the Giants could be riding high. I just have learned to not bet against Detroit. They’ll be down 3, late, and Stafford will ultimately find a way. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me seven or eight times, and maybe I just shouldn’t be fooled.
The pick: Lions 27, Giants 23
Getty ImagesLeon Halip
Sunday: Colts at Vikings
It’s rare you get an interconference do-or-die game this late in the season, but that’s just what this is with the Colts and Vikings. Technically, both teams can still get in the playoffs with a loss, but it gets a heck of a lot tougher than squeezing in with a W. Andrew Luck is doing what he can, but when you see that Minnesota defense stepping up the way it’s been, it’s hard to go with Indy on the road after bad home losses to the Chiefs, Steelers and Texans. Sam Bradford doesn’t typically scream “big game, big performance,” but I expect one on Sunday. Skol Vikes.
The pick: Vikings 26, Colts 23
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Sunday: Jaguars at Texans
Knock the Texans all you want. Crush Brock Osweiler until you feel like you’ve crushed him enough. That’s all great. Guess what? If the playoffs were to start this weekend, the Texans would be hosting the Raiders in a playoff game. The defense is going to suffocate a Jaguars offense that hasn’t scored more than 23 points in 10 weeks or had a running back score a rushing touchdown in the past six meetings versus Houston. This won’t be pretty. But it’ll be a win. Another one for Houston.
The pick: Texans 24, Jaguars 17
Sunday: Saints at Cardinals
My NFL Network co-host Nate Burleson said Wednesday that David Johnson’s 2016 campaign is the most underappreciated storyline of the entire season. In an utterly disappointing year for Cardinals fans based on the team’s record, Johnson has proven to become one of the NFL’s historically great backs. He’s the only player in the NFL with 100-plus yards from scrimmage in all of his team’s games this season, he leads all running backs in receiving yards, and he’s the second player in NFL history with more than 100 yards from scrimmage in a team’s first 13 games. He does it all. And he will on Sunday, keeping the Cardinals’ playoff hopes — barely — alive.
The pick: Cardinals 30, Saints 20
Getty ImagesEric Espada
Sunday: 49ers at Falcons
I’ll be on the sideline for FOX on this one, with Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman and Charles Davis up in the booth. The Falcons led the 49ers 17-0 in this building in the NFC Championship four years ago, only to falter and have Colin Kaepernick take San Francisco all the way back in a 28-24 win. This isn’t that 49ers team. San Francisco will always compete, it’s just been a challenge to finish games. The 49ers have so many injuries, and at 1-12, it’d be easy to just not show up for a cross-country bout. But they will. They always do. Atlanta wins in a good one.
The pick: Falcons 23, 49ers 18
Sunday: Raiders at Chargers
Did anyone else look up and see “FARROW” on the field, carrying the rock for San Diego last week, and think “Who?” Quick lesson: It was Kenneth Farrow, Melvin Gordon’s replacement at running back, who may win someone a fantasy football playoff game this week. Farrow had just under 3,000 rushing yards and 34 rushing touchdowns in an illustrious college career at Houston but went undrafted. With Melvin Gordon’s hip an issue, he may be the guy on Sunday. Chargers fans would love nothing more than to see the Bolts spoil the Raiders’ dream season, but I don’t see it. The stadium will be filled with silver and black.
The pick: Raiders 31, Chargers 23
Sunday: Patriots at Broncos
The Broncos were the Kryptonite to Tom Brady’s Superman performance a year ago, beating the Patriots twice, with two different quarterbacks and a whole lot of defense. But this Broncos defense is suddenly susceptible to the run, ranking 29th in the league. Weird stuff there, and LeGarrette Blount is having a career year. This could be a career game. Give me New England in yet another December statement game.
The pick: Patriots 33, Broncos 17
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Sunday night: Buccaneers at Cowboys
Can I take the Bucs over the Cowboys in good faith? You better believe it. The Dallas offense has hit an unexpected road bump the past two weeks, averaging 12 points per game, and the Tampa defense is suddenly the 85 Bears re-incarnated. No one — not Philip Rivers, not Russell Wilson, not Drew Brees and not Alex Smith — has been able to figure them out. Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander could give Dak Prescott fits, and if this is the biggest game the franchise has been in since 2007 I don’t expect Jameis Winston to wilt away. Upset special. Give me the red hot Bucs, and let’s enjoy (suffer?) through a week of Tony Romo speculation before Cowboys-Lions Monday night football.
The pick: Buccaneers 23, Cowboys 20
Monday night: Panthers at Redskins
The Panthers are a team I would not want to face the final few weeks of the season. They’ve got too much pride, too much talent and too much respect for the game to not treat it as if this one was the other way around and they were just one win outside of the playoff picture. Josh Norman will be amped, but I think Cam Newton gets the best of the Redskins on Monday night. Again, pride. The season may not have gone as planned for Carolina, but this one would sure be sweet.
The pick: Panthers 31, Redskins 23
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Week 15 Cheat Sheet trivia answer
Trent Green and Ryan Fitzpatrick were both selected after the 199th pick in their respective NFL Draft classes. They’ve both beaten Brady head-to-head, and Fitzpatrick has done it twice.