Look Between the Lines: Handicapping the NFL for Week 15
James Hernandez has more than 15 years in the sports handicapping industry and will contribute weekly for FOXSports.com as our betting expert. Have comments or questions? Make sure to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @jhern81.
Arizona Cardinals (+5) over St. Louis Rams
The Cards head into St. Louis hoping to avoid a third straight road loss when they meet the Rams for a Thursday night divisional showdown. Just a month ago we were asking if the Arizona Cardinals were the best team in football, but after injuries to their starting QB, RB and top wideout, you have to wonder if they have enough left to get to the playoffs. Arizona's run game got a shot in the arm last week with the emergence of second-year back Kerwynn Williams, who gained 100 yards on 19 carries in his first NFL start. It will be a battle of the back-up QBs as Hill looks to guide his Rams to a fourth win in their last five games against Drew Stanton, who hopes to keep his Cards a game up in the NFC West and hold onto the NFC's top seed. Take the points in this dogfight as both teams play close to the vest in a game that is sure to go down to the wire.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Money-line -150) over Atlanta Falcons
With three games remaining, the Pittsburgh Steelers are fortunate enough to control their own playoff fate. If they can run the table these final three weeks they will emerge as AFC North champions and host at least one playoff game in the Steel City. Before that can happen they will have to stifle a suddenly potent Matty Ice and his plethora of offensive weapons. The NFC South division leaders hung in with the Kings of the North at Lambeau Monday night and that offensive display should have Mike Smith encouraged enough to believe that the playoffs are within reach -- even if their record is sub .500. Le'Veon Bell is having the best year of his young career, leading the AFC in total yards from scrimmage with 1,924 through 13 games, including eight trips to the end zone. This game should be close, so taking the money line instead of laying the points may be the difference between a win and a push or loss.
Cincinnati Bengals (Pick em) over Cleveland Browns
It truly is about time that Brown's management realize that Brian Hoyer is merely a serviceable starter at best, and now is the time to see what "Johnny Football" can bring to this team not only the remainder of this season, but going into the 2015 season as well. With that being said, coach Mike Pettine isn't doing Manziel any favors by running him out there against a fast, tough defensive unit looking to avenge a 21-point home loss to these Browns back in Week 10. Even without Vontaze Burfict, who was placed on the IR with a knee injury, this defense still has the pieces to contain and confuse a rookie QB making his debut as a starter. This game is huge for Cincy's playoff hopes as they face Denver and Pittsburgh the final two weeks of the season and don't want to face a situation where they need wins the final two weeks to qualify for the playoffs. Expect a heavy dose of Bernard and Hill on the ground and A.J. Green through the air as the Bengals even the season and continue their march towards a second consecutive division title.
New England Patriots (-7) over Miami Dolphins
Two top-10 AFC defenses get set to do battle in Foxboro in a pivotal conference clash. After losing to the Ravens at home last week the Fins know they have zero margin for error if they hope to join the postseason party. On the other hand, the Pats know they will have to win out in order to host the AFC Championship Game and not have to leave home until a potential trip to Glendale. After winning last Sunday in San Diego, the Pats reached 10 regular season wins in 12 consecutive seasons -- which is second only to San Francisco's 16 consecutive. A win over Miami Sunday will give New England their sixth consecutive AFC East title and the 14th division title overall since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994. The Patriots have not been swept by a divisional opponent since 2000 and are currently riding a 16-game home winning streak within the division and are 32-5 vs. the AFC East all-time at Gillette Stadium. Take Brady and Belichick as they continue their mastery of the AFC East and take one more step towards securing home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
Philadelphia Eagles (-3) over Dallas Cowboys
The winner of the Sunday night game between Philly and Dallas will have the inside track to the NFC East title and possibly a first-round bye in the playoffs. The Eagles will look to execute a game plan similar to Thanksgiving Day, where they shredded the Cowboys defense for 464 total yards, including 256 on the ground. The Eagles' defense was equally impressive that day, holding Demarco Murray under 100 yards rushing for only the second time this year as they held the Dallas offense to only 10 points. Two of the league's elite running backs will be lighting up the Linc all evening long and the offensive line that provides their back with the most room to operate will more than likely be the victors. It has been a while since Dallas has played meaningful December games and just because they were able to beat a lifeless Chicago team last week doesn't mean Romo has gotten past his December woes. Lay the points with the better team as Philly crushes the Cowboys' hopes of a division title in front of a prime-time audience.