It is crunch time in the NFL as teams right on the brink of clinching a playoff spot need to win. On the other hand, clubs with losing records are merely serving as spoilers playing against those teams in must-win mode.
For the first time since 2011, the Cincinnati Bengals have little hope at visiting the postseason. But they could trip things up for their divisional opponent in Week 15. There is also a sneaky-good defense out there that is making life extremely difficult for its opposing quarterbacks. Cowboys young signal caller Dak Prescott could the next victim of this vicious defense.
The details on those stories and more are covered here in our 10 bold predictions for NFL Week 15.
1. Bears score four touchdowns in close loss to Green Bay
The Chicago Bears drew the short straw and have been crippled with endless injuries all season. Third-stringer Matt Barkley is now the team’s starting quarterback. While Chicago’s season is pretty much history, Barkley should still be giving his best effort down the stretch.
After all, anything he has done and will accomplish moving forward could be viewed as an audition for the starting job next season. Fortunately for Barkley, Green Bay’s defense can be exposed.
The Packers have yielded 25 passing touchdowns so far this season. This is only five less than the bottom-feeding Cleveland Browns’ pass defense. Since starting in Week 12, Barkley has thrown four touchdowns, including one three-touchdown performance.
This week could see Barkley have another stellar outing with rookie phenom Jordan Howard putting up a score on the ground as well.
Not much is going to stop Aaron Rodgers’ offense from finding the end zone. But the Bears won’t make it easy in what we expect to be a close game.
2. Brock Osweiler and Blake Bortles combine for eight turnovers
We recently tagged this AFC South matchup as one of the stinkiest left on the NFL schedule. In Week 15, the first-place Houston Texans (7-6) square off with their lowly divisional-rival Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11).
This game has dumpster fire written all over it. Viewers who can stomach the action will be watching two of the most turnover-prone quarterbacks with their struggling offenses top-ranked defenses.
Jacksonville’s defense is no joke and ranks No. 5. It is followed by Houston’s defense at No. 6. In terms of the quarterbacks, Bortles has 25 touchdowns versus 15 interceptions. Osweiler’s touchdown-to-interception ratio of 14-to-14 is even more disgusting. Fortunately, he has a workhorse in Lamar Miller to help compensate.
But this game should be all about the turnovers which should far out-number any scores potentially set to take place. Six or seven interceptions along with one or two lost fumbles will be the stat etched in the record books this week.
3. Titans lend Oakland a helping hand
The Oakland Raiders (10-3) could sure stand for the Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) to stumble in Week 15. In order for this to happen, the underdog Tennessee Titans would need to pull off an upset win against Kansas Cit at Arrowhead.
This might not be a laughable as it sounds. The Titans are pretty hot after beating the Denver Broncos in Week 14. Furthermore, Tennessee also walked away with a victory in Week 10 against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, 47-25.
Given this, the Titans coming out ahead against the Chiefs is not exactly impossible. Kansas City has ceded 21 passing touchdowns and sports a run defense that ranks sixth-worst in the league. Surely, Marcus Mariota, Delanie Walker and DeMarco Murray could all put up stellar outings.
The Chiefs are bound to pile up points considering the Titans defense is allowing 23.5 on average per game. But the Titans should not be discounted and might just tip the scales in Oakland’s favor in a surprise win.
4. Bengals turn the tables on the first-place Steelers
The Steelers (8-5) have been picking up quite the speed as of late and have won their last four consecutive games. They have since passed the Baltimore Ravens (7-6) and own the top spot in the AFC North.
And for the first time in several years, the Bengals don’t possess much of a chance to visit the postseason at 5-7-1. A win for the Bengals would more than thwart the Steelers’ progress when the two teams come head-to-head in Week 15.
In the Bengals’ camp, tight end Tyler Eifert has been quite productive with 12 catches, 141 yards and four touchdowns in his last three games. Plus, there is a chance that the Bengals get A.J. Green back this week.
The Bengals’ record during the Andy Dalton era against Pittsburgh is not fabulous. But, perhaps the Bengals, playing under less pressure and knowing this game means everything to rival Steelers, will show up here.
5. Anquan Boldin outscores Odell Beckham Jr.
Boldin ranks 46th in receptions with 55 for the season. But the veteran makes the most of his catches, having scored seven touchdowns. For this, he is tied for the fifth-most receiving touchdowns in the league. Remarkably, he is scoring on 12.7 percent of his receptions.
This Sunday takes the first place Detroit Lions Lions out to MetLife to face OBJ and the New York Giants. Beckham has scored nine times on the season and has 79 receptions. He has also failed to score a touchdown in over half his games this season.
Beckham could be challenged, considering it was just two games ago the Lions’ defense held all of the New Orleans Saints receivers scoreless. Meanwhile, the Giants’ secondary should be focusing its best effort on bottling up Golden Tate. This could leave Matthew Stafford hunting for his favorite red-zone target in that of Boldin.
We envision Boldin scoring at least once while Beckham posts a goose egg.
6. Chargers and Raiders tally eight passing touchdowns
This AFC West showdown should not be boring by any means. The Raiders are coming to San Diego and will be looking to avenge last week’s loss by taking out the hapless Chargers. All at the same time, Philip Rivers and Co. will be aiming to save a little face after losing three of their past four.
Both the Raiders and Chargers pass defenses stink and rank within the bottom eight. They have also given up a total of 39 passing touchdowns. And since the Chargers will be missing running back Melvin Gordon, Rivers should be hitting up his receivers and his trusty veteran tight end, Antonio Gates, plenty this game.
Quarterback Derek Carr is certainly no slouch in the passing department and also has an excellent selection of wideouts to throw to. Therefore, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the two quarterbacks throw a combined eight touchdowns here.
7. Atlanta’s running backs top 250 yards, combine for four scores
Both Atlanta Falcons running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman must be salivating at their Week 15 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) December 15, 2016
San Francisco is heading east in the attempt to scrounge up their second win of the season. Unfortunately for the 49ers, Freeman and Coleman are going to have a field day making life difficult for San Francisco’s defense.
To date, the 49ers’ defense has given up an average of 170.8 rushing yards per game and 19 scores. Running backs are cutting through it like a hot knife through butter at a pace of 4.9 yards per carry.
Freeman’s average of 4.3 yards per attempt should improve this week. As for Coleman, he is a red-zone viper and has seven rushing touchdowns on just 87 carries. Freeman has also scored seven times on the ground.
Boldly, we are predicting Freeman tallies upwards of 200 combined yards while Coleman adds 60. If so, this duo is bound to end up in the end zone four times.
8. Tom Brady sets the record straight
Brady and the New England Patriots head to Mile High to take on the Denver Broncos in Week 15.
For whatever the reason, Brady’s record in Denver is anything but stellar. The future Hall-of-Fame quarterback has not won on the road against Denver since December of 2011. As a whole, the Patriots have lost their last three games in Denver. This includes last year’s November game when Brock Osweiler was quarterbacking as well as the AFC Championship game this past January.
In Week 15, Brady should overcome his poor record in Denver and post a win. This could be tough considering Brady is without Rob Gronkowski and has a banged-up receiving group. But, good, old running back LeGarrette will be Brady’s ace-in-the-hole when he helps his quarterback achieve a victory.
Denver’s defense is tough, but is extremely vulnerable to the run. Look for Blount to put up two scores en route to helpin the Patriots overcome previous struggles in Denver and inch closer to the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
9. Jameis Winston handily outplays Dak Prescott
Once again, the Dallas Cowboys will be featured in Sunday Night Football when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If quarterback Dak Prescott thought things were rough last week, he needs to buckle up again. The young quarterback will be up against a stout Buccaneers defense that has given up only two touchdowns in its last three games.
Buccaneers pass defense past three games (Wilson, Rivers, Brees): 51.8 comp %, 2 TD, 7 INT, 48.8 rating pic.twitter.com/ZZYqw8EtwD
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) December 15, 2016
As we can see, the Bucs’ defense is making some of the NFL’s most-seasoned quarterbacks look like Blake Bortles. There should be cause for Dallas fans to worry about how their rookie will fare under these conditions.
Meanwhile, Dallas’ defense has allowed five passing touchdowns in the same stretch. Winston could easily obtain the upper hand when it comes to scoring. Worse is the Cowboys could dust off and pull quarterback Tony Romo out of their back pocket. This would certainly toss a wrench into things, depending on how the game is progressing.
After all, the Cowboys have already clinched a playoff spot.
In the end, Dallas fans who paid the big bucks to watch this game live, might not be too thrilled with Sunday’s outcome.
10. The Carolina Panthers don’t give in to Josh Norman
Last year’s NFC champion Carolina Panthers look nothing like the haggard group they are today. At 5-8, they currently boast the worst record in the NFC South.
For starters, quarterback Cam Newton is completing a mere 53.5 percent of his passes. He is also on course for only 24 total touchdowns compared to last season’s 45.
Regarding Norman, we can bet the now Washington cornerback can’t wait to mix it up and wreak havoc on the team that let him walk out the door last summer. The ultimate outcome here would be for Norman to snag an interception from Newton, who has thrown nine so far.
Norman is running a little dry in that stat, and could certainly stand to improve considering he managed four interceptions last year.
But don’t count on Newton caving in this game. Since Super Cam was drafted, he has a 3-0 record against Washington which includes one road game. He also did not throw an interception in any of those three contests against Washington.
Both teams are in desperation mode. But we see Newton having a clean game, leaving Norman literally empty-handed in a Carolina rode win.