With just three weeks left in the regular season, plenty of teams are making a playoff push, especially in the NFC, where the Redskins, Cowboys and Vikings each trail the Bears and Seahawks by one game in the Wild Card race.
Aside from the Wild Card chase, there are also some key matchups for the current division leaders, too, specifically Colts-Texans, Broncos-Ravens, Giants-Falcons and 49ers-Patriots. Week 15 promises to be a good one.
Over in the “Pick Your Knows” department, I posted an 8-8 record last week, leaving me below the .500-mark over the last two weeks combined. Hopefully, this weekend I can get back on track.
Last Week: 8-8
This Season: 116-92
Last Two Seasons: 144-112 (2010) and 131-125 (2011)
It’s once again time to “Pick Your Knows” – the only time it’s not a disgusting habit – and here are Week 15’s scheduled games (with spreads as they appear through CBS Sports Fantasy).
Pick Your Knows: 2012 NFL Week 15 Picks Against the Spread
Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles (+3.5)
The Eagles have played better football over the last few weeks, including Nick Foles, who has zero interceptions over his last three games. But here’s the only stat you really need to know with this game, and it’s in the trenches. Philadelphia’s offensive line has really struggled, allowing 41 sacks on the season, which is the third most in the NFL. On the other side, the Bengals have 42 sacks on the year, which is the most in the NFL. Translation: Philadelphia is going to have a heck of a time protecting Nick Foles. The Eagles have the home field advantage and have been playing better, but facing an aggressive defense that is in the thick of a playoff race, it’s hard to expect another top-notch performance from them. Take the Bengals to cover on the road.
KP’s Pick: Cincinnati
Update: Bengals 34, Eagles 13– The Eagles actually led by three points in the third quarter, until a complete implosion and barrage of turnovers put the Bengals in business. Too bad the win didn’t gain me any ground in the pool that I’m in.
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans (-8.5)
The Colts pulled out another come from behind win last week, while Tom Brady and the Patriots torched the Texans. Indianapolis actually controls its own destiny in the division. The question remains how this game will pan out, as Houston is licking its wounds and playing on short rest after Monday night’s game. The Colts have less talent, and Andrew Luck will have a challenge facing off against one of the league’s more talented defenses. Still, the defense of the Texans has given up 30 or more points in three of its last four games. While I think the Texans will come out hungry and angry about last week’s loss, it’s still hard to bet against these Colts, especially with the spread this high. The last time Andrew Luck faced off against a highly rated team, the result was a 35-point loss to the Patriots. Here’s banking that doesn’t happen this week. Take Indy and the points.
KP’s Pick: Indianapolis
New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons (-1.5)
Ahmad Bradshaw has a sprained knee and may not play, but it may not matter considering just how great David Wilson was filling in for him last week. The Falcons are undefeated at home and Matt Ryan has a great history there throughout his career. The Giants have been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde team, but the talent is clearly there. New York has allowed just 15 sacks on the season, leaving plenty of time for Eli Manning to move the ball down the field. When I look at each of the offenses, I see similar weapons in the passing game, but New York has more balance and talent in the run game, as Michael Turner has failed to produce this season. Therefore, in a tossup game – and one that the Giants may need more considering the tight race in the NFC East – I’m giving the slightest edge to Eli and the Giants. New York wins on the road.
KP’s Pick: New York Giants
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-3.5)
Tampa Bay’s defense is lopsided, sitting first against the run (78.2 yards per game) and dead last against the pass (312 yards per game). Plain and simple, the Saints are not a running team, which means that the Bucs will see a heavy dose of Drew Brees and the New Orleans pass game. Assuming that the Saints will post a big number against Tampa Bay’s pass defense, it will come down to whether Josh Freeman can match Brees. Clearly, the New Orleans defense has also struggled, and this should wind up being a shootout. But, Tampa Bay is 26th in third down conversions and 28th in third down conversions allowed, while the Saints are 6th in conversions. Playing at home, I like Drew Brees and the Saints to build off the momentum of the home crowd, winning this one by a touchdown. Saints cover.
KP’s Pick: New Orleans
Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams (-3.5)
Adrian Peterson is tearing defenses apart in recent weeks, and should have more success against a St. Louis defense that has surrendered 15 touchdowns to opposing running backs. As mentioned in previous weeks, Minnesota is weak in the pass game, but the Rams aren’t much better, sitting 22nd in the league. St. Louis also may be again without Danny Amendola, which will hurt the passing game. Considering the Rams do not have a very potent offense or defense, it’s really hard to bet against Adrian Peterson right now, especially with a 3½ point spread in place. Take the Vikings and the points.
KP’s Pick: Minnesota
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (+3.5)
Jay Cutler is stating that he will play, despite suffering a neck injury last week, plus a sprained knee. Clearly, this is an important game for both teams, with the division on the line, and possibly a playoff berth, too. Jordy Nelson is unlikely to play, but Green Bay has plenty of other receiving weapons to help out Aaron Rodgers. The Bears have an advantage playing in front of its home fans, but the defense is still a question mark, with Brian Urlacher out and others battling injuries, too. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been blowing the covers off the stat books over the last month, but he’ll clearly be motivated facing a bitter division rival. The same can be said for Cutler and Brandon Marshall. In the end, it will come down to who protects his quarterback more, considering the Bears have allowed the 7th most sacks (37), while the Packers have allowed the 2nd most (42). Call it a gut pick here, but I can’t ignore how the Bears have been faltering as of late, and I think the Packers find a way to cover, but just barely.
KP’s Pick: Green Bay
Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens (+2.5)
The Broncos have had a few extra days of rest and prep time after playing last Thursday. The Ravens, meanwhile, lost a heartbreaker to the Redskins and fired its offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron. That’s where the twist comes in, as Jim Caldwell, formerly with Peyton Manning and the Colts, will replace him. It creates an interesting chess match, as coach and QB likely know each other’s tendencies. Rain is currently in the forecast, which adds an extra twist. Denver’s run game has improved, which gives it balance. Meanwhile, Baltimore will have a challenge using Ray Rice against Denver’s sixth-ranked defense (against the run). But coming back to the chess match between Caldwell and Peyton Manning, I’m always going to go with Manning, considering how hard he works. Denver finds a way to keep Baltimore reeling, and wins a tough one on the road. Broncos cover.
KP’s Pick: Denver
Jacksonville Jaguars at Miami Dolphins (-7.5)
Cecil Shorts is cleared to return for the Jags, which will help an offense that has struggled frequently this season. Miami is a top ten team against the run, but ever since MJD’s injury, the Jags clearly have had no run game. That will leave Miami’s pass defense, which is ranked 25th in the league, managing just 9 interceptions on the season. Jacksonville has played a little better on offense, and clearly will welcome the return of Cecil Shorts. Jacksonville has allowed 40 sacks on the season, and its offensive line will be the key. Protect Chad Henne just enough, and the Jags should be able to keep this game close. Combine that with the inconsistency of Ryan Tannehill and the Miami offense, and you have what is likely to be a close (and low-scoring) game. Take Jacksonville and the points.
KP’s Pick: Jacksonville
Washington Redskins at Cleveland Browns (-2.5)
The big question in this game is whether Robert Griffin III will play or not. RG3 has a sprained knee, but reportedly has been practicing some this week. Even if Washington keeps him out of the starting lineup, Kirk Cousins proved last week that he makes plays, too. But how would he fare on the road against a team that has a decent defense, and has been playing well? It’s important to note that the Browns often base its offensive attack off Trent Richardson and the run game. Washington is ranked 7th against the run, and may be able to shut the run game down, leaving Brandon Weeden and the pass game to knock the Redskins out. Washington has also played itself into the playoff race, and has motivation to keep this run going. But as reported, the Redskins will announce its starting quarterback until Sunday. The question remains, how much do you trust Kirk Cousins? In the end, Washington has played better on defense as of late, and has more offensive balance with Alfred Morris running hard and Pierre Garcon providing a spark to the pass game. That’s why I’m sticking with the ‘Skins, no matter who starts at quarterback come game time.
KP’s Pick: Washington
Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills (+4.5)
Sidney Rice may not be available for the Seahawks, a team that has been known to struggle on the road. Road woes aside, it’s important to note the stats in the run game. Seattle is the NFL’s fourth ranked rushing offense, led by Marshawn Lynch, collecting 152.3 yards per game on the ground. Meanwhile, Buffalo is ranked 28th against the run (134.5 yards per game) and has allowed an NFL-most 18 touchdowns on the ground. Combine that with the fact that Seattle has allowed the 7th fewest sacks on the year (24), and Russell Wilson could have time to throw, too. Buffalo has some potent weapons on offense, but Seattle’s defense will keep them in check. Seattle covers on the road and keeps its playoff hopes alive.
KP’s Pick: Seattle
Carolina Panthers at San Diego Chargers (-3.5)
Here’s a tricky game, as the Chargers were left for dead two weeks ago, only to bounce back and dominate the Steelers on the road last week. On the other side, Cam Newton has played great over the last three weeks. Looking at each defense, I’ve noticed that over the last few weeks, opposing running backs have torched Carolina. San Diego’s run game is ranked 27th in the NFL, while also just managing four touchdowns on the ground. That leaves Carolina’s pass defense, which is ranked 13th in the NFL and will have its hands full with Philip Rivers. But I come back to Newton, who has been playing well, not just throwing the ball, but avoiding sacks and making positive runs, too. He’s the difference maker here, and that’s why I’m taking the Panthers and the points, assuming that this one comes down to a late fourth quarter field goal.
KP’s Pick: Carolina
Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals (+6.5)
Detroit has a lot of talent on its defensive line and should cause a lot of problems for an Arizona offensive line that has given up an NFL-high 51 sacks. The Cardinals have gotten next to no production from the quarterback position, while Matthew Stafford will lead Detroit’s top-ranked pass offense. Arizona’s pass defense has played well, intercepting 19 balls and allowing just 197 yards per game (5th in the NFL). Still, how do you pick a team that has lost nine games in a row and is coming off a 58-point loss? Ryan Lindley will start again, and he has five picks and no TD’s in his previous two starts. The Cards are at home, but it’s hard to give them any other advantage, especially facing a team with an offense as potent as Detroit’s is. Lions cover on the road.
KP’s Pick: Detroit
Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders (-3.5)
After facing Denver last Thursday, Oakland has had a few extra days to rest and prepare for the Chiefs. The Raiders have allowed the third most touchdowns (17) to opposing running backs, which could bode well for Jamaal Charles and KC’s run game. But the Chiefs have also struggled against the run and Darren McFadden is practicing, despite suffering an ankle injury last week. An even bigger key is that Oakland’s struggles have been mostly on defense, while the Chiefs have had an inept offense. Brady Quinn had the one great game, but has otherwise struggled. Carson Palmer, on the other hand, has had no trouble moving the ball, and continues to rack up tons of passing yards. I see Oakland having no trouble at home against the Chiefs. Raiders cover.
KP’s Pick: Oakland
Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys (+1.5)
Dez Bryant has a broken finger, but wants to play. If he does, there could be an issue hauling in key passes at times. Furthermore, DeMarco Murray will need to have a big day, as Tony Romo and the pass game will have their hands full against Pittsburgh’s top-ranked pass defense, which is allowing just 169 yards per game. Ben Roethlisberger will be back again and likely feeling better physically than he did last week. Pittsburgh should also be feeling the pressure, knowing that the Bengals have already won, meaning that the Steelers need a win to keep pace in the Wild Card chase. I’m looking for a stat that would push me definitively to one side, but it’s been tough. Both teams are in the top five in third down conversions, while both are also in the top ten in opposing team conversions on third down. In the end, I go back to Pittsburgh’s pass defense, which has held opposing quarterbacks to a 77.4 QB rating. Roethlisberger and the Steelers find a way to get this one on the road.
KP’s Pick: Pittsburgh
San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots (-6.5)
The 49ers have one of the league’s best defenses, but will be facing a New England offense that is clearly hitting on all cylinders. Tom Brady threw four touchdowns at home in a blowout home win against the Texans last week. New England’s defense has been much improved and is ranked 8th against the run. The Niners build off its run game, and could have trouble moving the ball. That would leave Colin Kaepernick to try and keep up with Brady and New England’s firepower. Even with a defense led by Aldon Smith, I don’t see the 49ers having enough to throw at Brady, who is dominant when playing at home this late in the season. Pats win this game by at least a touchdown. New England covers.
KP’s Pick: New England
New York Jets at Tennessee Titans (-1.5)
Somehow, Rex Ryan and the Jets are still in the playoff race, albeit hanging by a thread. New York is struggling to score points, but could have some success against a Tennessee defense that is ranked 23rd against the run and 26th against the pass. Then again, the Jets are ranked 29th against the run, which could mean a very solid day for Chris Johnson and the Tennessee run game. Rain is in the forecast, which means that ball handling and turnovers could be a bigger key. But in the end, both teams are similar in the turnover department. That’s why I go back to the run game. The Jets have clearly struggled in games against teams with solid run games. Chris Johnson has played well and will be at home. Jake Locker has also had better success on his home turf. In a tight spread, I’m looking to the Titans and its run game on Monday night. Tennessee covers at home.
KP’s Pick: Tennessee