It is hard to match the standard set by last week’s action, but with the Titans and the Texans battling it out for A.F.C. South superiority, and the Bills and the Steelers facing off in a defensive grudge match, there should be plenty of fun ahead.
Here is a look at N.F.L. Week 15, with all picks made against the point spread.
Sunday’s Best Games
Texans at Titans,
The footsteps have been loud. When Tennessee running back Derrick Henry is involved, that tends to be the case. But the Texans (8-5) have been feeling the heat at the top of the A.F.C. South quite a bit in recent weeks from the Titans (8-5). The division’s day of reckoning has come.
Consider where both teams stood after Week 6: Houston, thanks to the sensational play of quarterback Deshaun Watson, was 4-2 and had just won a road game against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Tennessee was 2-4, having lost every bit of momentum from a big win over Cleveland in Week 1.
That week, the Titans did something outrageous. They benched quarterback Marcus Mariota, once pegged as the face of the franchise, and replaced him with Ryan Tannehill, who couldn’t cut it in Miami. It seemed like a desperation move designed to punish Mariota for poor play rather than one to help the team.
It appears there was more to it than that. In the seven games since, the Titans are 6-1, and Tannehill has been a huge reason. In those seven starts, he has thrown for an average of 264 yards a game with a passer rating of 121.7. He has thrown 15 touchdown passes against just four interceptions and he has shown some athleticism, rushing for 143 yards and three scores. He even turned one of his interceptions into a highlight for himself when he delivered a bone-crunching tackle to a 290-pound ball carrier in a win over the Raiders last week.
Even compared with the rest of the hot streak, the Titans offense has kicked into a noticeably higher gear over the last four weeks. The team’s 37-year-old offensive coordinator, Arthur Smith, previously better known for being the son of FedEx founder Fred Smith, has figured out how to combine Tannehill’s efficient passing with Henry’s explosive running style. The result? The Titans have averaged 37.5 points in four straight cakewalks. Along the way, Tennessee has chased down the Texans in the standings.
The Titans have momentum and are playing at home, so a win seems highly likely. This game will not decide the division outright, as the teams face off again in Week 17 in Houston, but to grab the division lead even for a week, and to keep pace with the other teams in the hunt for the wild card, would continue an incredible run for Tennessee. Pick: Titans -3
Bills at Steelers,
It may not have the wow factor of matchups between two great offenses, but a face off between the Bills (9-4) and the Steelers (8-5) should have thrills of a different nature thanks to the strengths of two top-tier defensive teams, both used to having their defenses carry the burden.
Pittsburgh is currently hanging on to the second wild-card spot in the A.F.C. by just a tiebreaker, and the Steelers would improve their chances of making the playoffs to 90 percent with a win, according to The Upshot, while their chances would plummet to 39 percent with a loss. That certainly gives them more motivation than the Bills, who have greater than a 90 percent chance of earning a wild-card berth either way.
It will likely come down to which offense can find a way to score a few touchdowns, and it is hard to look at both teams and not come away with the impression that the Bills simply have more scoring options. Pick: Bills +2
Broncos at Chiefs,
Having grown up in Kansas City as a fan of the Chiefs (9-4), Drew Lock, the new starting quarterback of the Broncos (5-8), was asked about the rooting interests of his friends and family. In doing so, he looked back with nostalgia — at the career of Patrick Mahomes.
“When I was a senior in college, that was that year he won,” Lock told reporters of Mahomes having won the N.F.L.’s Most Valuable Player Award. Lock quickly laughed off the statement after realizing he was referring to last season.
The 23-year-old Lock, who was a second-round pick in the 2019 draft but is only 389 days younger than Mahomes, was terrific in a surprise win over Houston last week, and is 2-0 since being promoted to starting quarterback. But even with 50 friends and family members at Arrowhead Stadium to support him, it’s hard to imagine him beating Mahomes. There is, however, a decent chance that Lock (with help from Denver’s defense) can keep the game close enough to beat the spread. Pick: Broncos +10
Falcons at 49ers,
Do the Falcons (4-9) have a shot in this game? Stop laughing.
Trying to imagine a scenario in which Atlanta has a prayer against the 49ers (11-2), who beat New Orleans last week, nearly beat Baltimore the week before that, and beat Green Bay three weeks ago seems impossible. But it is certainly more possible than it would have been if San Francisco were not entering the game without its starting center Weston Richburg, its star defensive end Dee Ford or its cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams. The 49ers need to get healthy more than they need to dominate this week, so a narrow win is far more realistic than the anticipated blowout. Pick: Falcons +11
How Important Are This Week’s Games?
Sunday’s Other Games
Bears at Packers,
The calls for Mitchell Trubisky’s benching have seemingly ceased during a three-game win streak in which Chicago’s quarterback has completed 70 percent of his passes and averaged 286.7 passing yards. It is not that he has beaten any good teams — no, the Cowboys are not good — but even solid performances against bad teams are a step in the right direction. Unfortunately for the Bears (7-6), that hot streak may hit a snag against the Packers (10-3), a team gunning for a first-round bye, and one that is always happy to beat Chicago. Pick: Packers -4
Patriots at Bengals,
For an idea of how bad New England’s offense has been recently, the Patriots (10-3) have scored the same or fewer points than the Bengals (1-12) in each of the last three weeks. There was some notable improvement for New England toward the end of last week’s loss to Kansas City, but that only mitigates so much. Tom Brady is keeping things light enough that he posted a joke to Instagram about Coach Bill Belichick’s famous “We’re on to Cincinnati” news conference, but his team has to be somewhere near panicking. That level of doubt is typically what suddenly powers Brady to another surge of greatness — and that is certainly on the table for this week’s game — but with the way New England’s offense has been playing, a nearly 10-point spread on the road is irresponsible. Pick: Bengals +9.5
Rams at Cowboys,
The Cowboys (6-7) have wilted against any and all decent teams this season, and with the Rams (8-5) having had a noticeable uptick in recent weeks, that trend should continue.
Amusingly enough, this could be a playoff preview of sorts. Los Angeles is in the hunt for the second wild-card spot in the N.F.C., while Dallas has a 61 percent chance of capturing the N.F.C. East, a division title that will almost certainly come with the dubious distinction of getting a home playoff game against an opponent — potentially the Rams — with a superior record. Pick: Rams -1
Seahawks at Panthers,
Kyle Allen won five of his first six games as a starting quarterback for the Panthers (5-8), but has gone 0-5 since, making it extremely clear that in the eventuality that the team parts ways with Cam Newton this off-season, it will need to draft or sign a replacement rather than leave things in Allen’s hands. In Carolina’s first game under Perry Fewell, the team’s interim coach, they were crushed, 40-20, by Atlanta. The Seahawks (10-3) may have something to prove after last week’s loss to the Rams, so this game could be fairly lopsided as well. Pick: Seahawks -6
Vikings at Chargers,
With the Vikings (9-4), we know what we’re going to get: some solid offensive production both from the run and the pass, and a defense that does not live up to Vikings squads from previous years. The Chargers (5-8), meanwhile, are an enigma. Philip Rivers and Co. went out and crushed the Jaguars last week in such convincing fashion that the team’s perplexing losses over the previous three games seem unforgivable. If Rivers can stave off interceptions, and Los Angeles can commit to attacking Minnesota with Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, this could easily be an upset. Pick: Chargers +2.5
Eagles at Redskins,
At the time of Carson Wentz’s knee injury in 2017, he was leading the N.F.L. in the percentage of his throws that resulted in touchdowns, and was the top quarterback in ESPN’s total quarterback rating statistic. He was a leading candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award and he was 11-2 as a starter.
Since watching his teammates win the 2018 Super Bowl without him, Wentz’s numbers have dropped across the board, and he has gone just 11-13 as a starter. More important, the Eagles (6-7) are likely to miss the playoffs this season, as they currently have a 39 percent chance of winning the woeful N.F.C. East and less than a 1 percent chance of earning a wild-card spot. After needing overtime to beat the Giants on Monday night, Philadelphia can’t even afford to take the Redskins (3-10) for granted. Pick: Redskins +4.5
Browns at Cardinals,
That this game is not entirely irrelevant to the postseason is fairly incredible, but somehow, some way, the Browns (6-7) still have a 4 percent chance of making the playoffs despite having bottomed out at 2-6 after a Week 9 loss. A longstanding beef between Arizona’s (3-9-1) Coach Kliff Kingsbury and Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, which stretches back to their days together at Texas Tech, has been declared resolved by both parties, deflating some of the expected hype for this game. That leaves us with two teams which have enough talent to occasionally look great, but not enough to win consistently. With a win, Cleveland’s playoff chances would improve to 6 percent. Pick: Browns -2.5
Sunday’s Irrelevant Games
Buccaneers at Lions,
Jaguars at Raiders,
Dolphins at Giants,
All of these teams have a 1 percent chance or less of making the playoffs, according to The Upshot. The Buccaneers (6-7) have been on a bit of a roll, so they may be worth watching against the Lions (3-9-1); and the Raiders (6-7) are quite likely playing their final game in Oakland Coliseum, adding some intrigue to their matchup with the Jaguars (4-9). That being said, if you live in the Miami or New York metropolitan areas, and are not related to any players on the Dolphins (3-10) or Giants (2-11), it is an excellent Sunday to take the kids to see Frozen 2. Picks: Buccaneers -3; Jaguars +6.5; Dolphins +3.5
Colts at Saints,
The Saints (10-3) are coming off a tough loss at home to San Francisco in which they went toe to toe with the N.F.C.’s other dominant team and came up just short. Undoubtedly smarting from losing a huge game they could have won, they now have to stay focused enough to beat the Colts (6-7), who appear to have been told after Week 11 that their season was over and that they were free to go home. Indianapolis has tended to zig when you expect it to zag, but if New Orleans wants to make a statement with this win, the Colts are not going to stop them. Pick: Saints -9
With key injuries on both sides, we expected Baltimore to rest their starters early in an easy win, resulting in a pick of Jets +15.5. Instead, the Ravens kept their foot on the gas for most of the game, leaving Lamar Jackson on the field for all but the team’s last two possessions. As you would expect, that resulted in a 42-21 victory. Jackson, as he does most weeks, put on quite a show by tying his career-high with five touchdown passes, and with 86 rushing yards he broke Michael Vick’s record for single-season rushing yards by a quarterback. At this point Jackson could seemingly sit out the rest of the season and still win the N.F.L.’s Most Valuable Player Award.
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Patriots -9.5, for example, means that New England must beat the Bengals by at least 10 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
The post N.F.L. Week 15 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread appeared first on New York Times.