National Football League

Fade Route

December 17, 2020

By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL analyst

The weather is getting colder and the playoff races are getting hotter with just three weeks left in the NFL regular season.

With only one matchup of winning teams in Week 15, I still found value in fading the public favorites with my wagers for this week. 

You can win $100,000 with your Week 15 picks by entering the NFL Challenge contest on the FOX Bet Super 6 app for free. Download now at foxsuper6.com.

Denver Broncos (+6.5) vs. Buffalo Bills:

The Bills had an impressive victory over the Steelers on Sunday Night Football, and now they are the darlings of the NFL. The line for this game opened with Buffalo favorited by five, and now it has climbed to nearly a touchdown. I love the Broncos in this spot.

For starters, public road favorites of nearly a touchdown aren’t covering at the same rate this season, going 9-17 against the spread. Add into that Broncos coach Vic Fangio is 14-7 as a dog and the numbers are on my side.

Now to the matchups. The games where the Bills have won by less than a touchdown or lost outright all have one thing in common. The opposing team commits to running the ball, something the Broncos want to do. The Bills, with their 32nd-ranked rushing defense according to Pro Football Focus, have allowed big yards on the ground to the Chiefs, Cardinals, Rams, Titans and Patriots. While the Broncos rushing attack will never be confused for those five teams, Denver will commit to the run Saturday night, which is important to keeping this game close.

If the Broncos do need to rely on the passing game, their quarterback Drew Lock has sort of not been terrible lately. Since Week 11, Lock is fifth in expected points added and is playing more consistently. If he can avoid committing turnovers, the Broncos offense can do enough to keep this one close.

While I just need the Broncos offense to do enough to cover, I can rely on the Denver defense to be stout against the Bills offense. According to PFF, the Broncos rushing defense is sixth in the NFL, while their coverage ranks fourth. They have a complete defense, which can give the Bills issues.

The Broncos only allowed 22 points to the Chiefs' high-powered offense just two weeks ago, and when you include their other games with an actual starting quarterback, they’ve allowed just 20.6 points over the last month.

The weather is going to be cold, windy and with some wet stuff Saturday Night. All of this will help the Broncos cover that line.

Arizona Cardinals (-6.5) vs. Philadelphia Eagles:

The Eagles benched Carson Wentz, started Jalen Hurts and upset the Saints last weekend. Now, they are a public darling, which provides the perfect opportunity to fade them in Arizona this week.

The Eagles caught a Saints team that hadn’t seen Hurts before. Philly's offense looked crisper with the rookie QB in the lineup, but the attack wasn’t as explosive as the scoreboard might have indicted. The Eagles scored 24 points, which included an 82-yard rushing touchdown from Miles Sanders. Hurts added more than 100 yards rushing, which helped the Eagles top 200 yards on the ground.

But now the blueprint is out. The Cardinals see the Eagles' game plan for Hurts. It will be to run the football and protect him in the passing game, as Hurts only had 5.8 air yards per attempt and five total passing attempts in the second half. Against a Cardinals defense that’s well-rounded, ranking ninth in DVOA, I do not expect this formula to produce enough points to keep this one close.

Arizona's offense looked putrid for weeks, as Kyler Murray was nursing a shoulder injury. That seemed to change in a victory over the Giants as Murray looked more like himself. In the previous three games, Murray had rushed the ball, either by design or scramble, 15 times. Against the Giants, that number was 13, which is how the Cardinals offense is successful.

It will be important for Murray to be mobile because the Eagles have a pass rush that’s elite. They will get pressure, but if Murray is healthy, he will be able to escape and get down the field for big plays. DeAndre Hopkins struggled during Murray's slump, but he broke out against the Giants secondary. Now they get a beat-up Eagles secondary, and the Cardinals offense should be able to throw it down the field. 

 Cleveland Browns (-4.5) at New York Giants:

Sticking with Cleveland after an emotional loss on Monday Night Football could be looked at as risky, but I believe the wild defeat to the Ravens will provide the Browns with motivation. When you’re a young team and you’ve risen to the point of having a successful season, you need a loss like that to let you know you haven’t arrived yet. I know that thinking seems backwards, but we’ve seen losses like these propel teams going forward. The Browns know their team is legit.

Giants coach Joe Judge announced quarterback Daniel Jones sustained another injury against the Cardinals and might be limited again, or out this week against the Browns. Either way, I’m on the Browns.

We saw last weekend that a limited Jones is going to struggle. He was routinely sacked and hit against the Cardinals pass rush. Now the Giants offensive line gets the Browns pass rush, including Myles Garrett. With either Jones or Colt McCoy at QB, the Giants offense will be very limited at home, and Cleveland's defensive front should get consistent pressure.

On the flip side, the Browns offense is heating up with Baker Mayfield finally complementing their outstanding rushing attack. The last two games, against quality opponents in the Titans and Ravens, Mayfield has thrown for 677 yards and four touchdowns.

Head coach Kevin Stefanski is dialed in when calling plays, and he's getting the offense into situations where Mayfield can use his legs to get into the open, or use play-action for easy throws.

When the Browns want to run the ball, they will run into New York's stout run defense. However, the Giants are one of the worst tackling teams and if you can’t tackle Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt, your defense will have a long day. 

Sam Darnold under 202.5 passing yards

The Jets lost a heartbreaker against the Raiders two weekends ago, and to no one’s surprise, went on the road to Seattle and got smashed. Now, they stay on the West Coast for a game against the Rams, one of the best passing defenses in the NFL.

The Rams are first in the NFL in passing yards allowed, only givinig up 191.7 yards per game. Sam Darnold hasn’t thrown for over that amount but three times this season. He only has been above 200 yards twice this season. Darnold will struggle again this weekend.

THREE-TEAM TEASER:

Los Angeles Chargers: From +3.5 to +9.5 (at Las Vegas Raiders):

The Chargers might be awful, but they play close games. Only three of their nine losses was by more than nine points. Now, LA travels to visit a Raiders team that’s in must-win mode but also in a downward spiral. Las Vegas just fired its defensive coordinator, and I expect Justin Herbert to tear apart the Raiders' meager defense. 

Arizona Cardinals: From -6 to Pick 'Em (vs. Philadelphia Eagles):

I’ve made my thoughts clear about the Cardinals above. They win this game outright

Indianapolis Colts: From -7 to  -1 (vs. Houston Texans):

The Colts are meeting the Texans just two weeks after they escaped with a 26-20 victory in Houston. I like Indy to win this game by that touchdown spread, but I’ll take the line down to a single point. The Colts are better in the trenches on both sides, plus are just healthier than the Texans, who looked awful on the road last week against the Bears. 

You can win $100,000 with your Week 15 picks by entering the NFL Challenge contest on the FOX Bet Super 6 app for free. Download now at foxsuper6.com.

Geoff Schwartz played nine seasons in the NFL for five different teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports.


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