Week 15 in the NFL is a tipping point for the wild card races in both conferences, as teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Detroit Lions, and San Diego Chargers all face something close to must-win situations. This slate of games should provide some clarity in the playoff races for the AFC and NFC by the time the week is over. After going 11-5 last week, I think I've got an even better batch of picks in Week 15.
As always, winners are picked straight up, with home teams always listed on the right side. For all the odds on each game be sure to visit the SB Nation NFL Odds page, presented by OddsShark.com.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons – Although the Jaguars are coming off a surprising 41-14 blowout victory of the Bucs, they still aren't very good. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert still only threw for 217 yards, and the team was carried by two defensive touchdowns. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan and the Falcons gained control of a wild-card playoff spot in the NFC in week 14, and are looking to keep control of that position until the end of the season. Ryan had a huge day against the Carolina Panthers, throwing for 320 yards and four touchdowns on 22 of 38 passing. If he can keep that up, the Falcons may still become a factor in the NFC. Pick: Falcons
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – It was pretty enjoyable to see the grandstanding Cowboys owner Jerry Jones squirm in his luxury box during the team's week 14 loss to the division rival New York Giants on Sunday night football, and that's just being honest. With Tony Romo, something always seems to go wrong at the worst time. You never quite know what it's going to be, but more often than not there will be something that undermines the efforts of the team in the final minutes of the game. the good news for the Cowboys is that even if they don't get better, their competition in week 15 gets worse. Josh Freeman and the Bucks have now lost an astonishing seven games in a row, and own the second-worst point differential in the NFC (-138). The Cowboys simply can't lose this game. Pick: Cowboys
Cincinnati Bengals at St. Louis Rams – My obligatory Bengals analysis returns for yet another week, but this time as a counterpoint. The Bengals have beaten one team with a record currently over .500, the 7-5 Tennessee Titans, but have lost to all other playoff contenders they have played this season (Broncos, 49ers, 2x Steelers, Ravens and Texans). That example accounts for all of the team's losses, so when they play teams under .500 they managed to play just fine. The Rams are so far below .500 that they are actually closer to .005 right now (2-11), so Andy Dalton and company will be fine. Pick: Bengals
Washington Redskins at New York Giants – The Redskins are 1-4 in their last five games, so even if Rex Grossman is more palatable to watch than John Beck, he hasn't really led the team to any more success. Sometimes NFC West matchups can be weird, but the Giants of a whole lot more to play for and enough talent at the wide receiver position to give the Redskins fits. Pick: Giants
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings – Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder played poorly enough to get pulled during the Vikings' Week 14 game against the Detroit Lions, yet the team still managed to stay close and almost pull off an upset even without star running back Adrian Peterson. Do I think the Vikings are starting to play better football? No. Do I think Drew Brees and the Saints passing attack is simply too talented and explosive for the Vikings to keep pace? Yes. The Saints are optimized in dome environments anyways. Pick: Saints
Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs – As I've been saying for weeks now, I'm going to continue to pick Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense to simply outscore opponents until they prove me wrong. The Chiefs might have to start rookie Ricky Stanzi if Kyle Orton isn't cleared to play, and the Chiefs can't keep pace either way. Pick: Packers
Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans – T.J. Yates is almost causing me to rethink my stance on late-round rookie quarterbacks, but not quite yet. This would be a huge step in that direction, because if he could engineer a win over a blue chip rookie prospect like No. 1 overall pick Cam Newton, it would really bring Yates to center stage. Newton the Panthers are top 10 in nearly every offense of category in the NFL, but they haven't shown the ability to beat good teams yet. Arian Foster will help the Texans to build the lead, and their defense will force Newton into enough turnovers to seal the game at home. Pick: Texans
Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears – The Bears are coming off too horrible and heartbreaking losses that put them on the outside of the NFC wild-card picture, but all hope is not yet lost. Another loss here and then all hope will most certainly be lost, so it's now on Caleb Hanie to make something positive out of his opportunity. early struggles may lead the team to turn to veteran Josh McCown, so this is likely Hanie's last chance to prove himself. The Bears are a very good home team (5-2) and the Seahawks are never very inspiring on the road (2-4). Pick: Bears
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills – The Bills have plummeted back to earth after losing six straight games, and have effectively eliminated themselves from the playoff race despite starting the season 5-2. These are types of seasons that get people fired. If you want any confirmation on that, just ask Tony Sporano, who was fired after the Dolphins' loss in Week 14. This is a battle of two very disappointing teams, but if forced to choose I am taking the Bills to show some professional pride at home his week. Pick: Bills
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts – Colts suck. Titans don't suck. Tennessee can still claw into the playoffs if things break just right, and a matchup against the winless Colts is a good way to get the ball rolling. Pick: Titans
Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders – Ndamukong Suh is still being oddly abrasive in the wake of his suspension for stomping a Packers player on Thanksgiving (happy holidays!), but at least the Lions can say they didn't get blown out by Green Bay. The Raiders looked horrible at Lambeau on Sunday, while the Lions looked pathetic as they eeked out a win against a Vikings team playing its third-string QB and missing its best player. And these are potential playoff teams, people. Pick: Lions
New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles recaptured a bit of life with Michael Vick's return in Week 14, but they still can't make the playoffs and are relegated to a spoiler role. Guys like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin don't seem particularly interested in asserting themselves on a consistent basis, and the Jets corners will make them pay for taking plays off. Vick will struggle while Mark Sanchez will manage to not lose the game. Pick: Jets
Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals – I honestly don't care who wins this game, but I also don't have a very strong opinion on which team is better. That being said, I've seen more explosive potential in the Arizona Cardinals over the past few weeks than I have in the hapless Cleveland Browns. A lot of controversy has surrounded Colt McCoy's concussion diagnosis (or lack thereof), and that distraction will give the oddly competitive Cardinals enough of an edge to pull out yet another win. Pick: Cardinals
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos – I am pretty sure I understand the football reasons behind Tebow Time, but that hasn't stopped people from showing their fascination with his character and his efforts on the field. This is quite an interesting matchup for the Broncos, because it looks like one that would expose their biggest issues as a team. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker are too much for any NFL defense to stop for 60 minutes, but the Patriots defense is bad enough that they have allowed numerous teams to stay close. Can Tebow score points and be effective early in the game to keep his team within striking range, or will Belichick blitz and disguise coverages to expose the fundamental flaws in Tebow's game? I'd bet on the later every day of the week. Pick: Patriots
Sunday Night Game
Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers – NBC desperately wanted to flex Tim Tebow and the Broncos into the Sunday night slot, but the CBS network was able to use one of their two vetoes to avoid losing the ratings that go with Tebowmania. This isn't a bad matchup now that the Chargers have made themselves a dark horse player in the wild-card race, but it's nowhere near as profitable as anything with Tebow's name on it. Moms and daughters and soccer fans might tune in to see Tebow, but they won't tune in to see Norv Turner fight for his head coaching life. The Ravens are a better team, and finally get Ray Lewis back this week too. Look for Philip Rivers to turn the ball over one too many times in this one. Pick: Ravens
Monday Night Game
Pittsburgh Steelers at San Francisco 49ers – Ben Roethlisberger mangled his ankle in week 14, but may still find his way onto the field against the 49ers on Monday night. The 49ers are coming off a disappointing loss to John Skelton and the Arizona Cardinals, so expect that defense to be amped up and prepared to help the team secure home field advantage and a bye in the NFC playoffs. big Ben won't be 100%, but Patrick Willis and the 49ers defense will be focused and dominant on the prime time stage. Pick: 49ers.
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