Many teams enter NFL Week 15 peaking at the right time. Still, some of those teams are vulnerable to be picked off.
Can the Jets give the Dolphins fits? Are the Patriots vulnerable in their AFC Championship Game rematch against Denver? Who is more vulnerable when the NFC’s best team (the Cowboys) host its hottest team (the Bucs)?
Which five hot teams are most likely to go cold in NFL Week 15?
While Miami has an absolute stinker against the Baltimore Ravens mixed into its recent run, the Dolphins have won seven of eight games. Making it eight of nine against a bad New York Jets team may seem like a given, right?
The recent history of this rivalry says otherwise.
On December 1, 2013, Miami notched a convincing 23-3 victory over New York. Since then, the two teams have played six times. The Jets hold a 4-2 record over the Dolphins in those games. More telling is that while all four of New York’s wins were by 13 points or more, Miami’s two victories were by three and four points.
In addition to the recent history, we have to consider how banged up the Dolphins are.
The injury to quarterback Ryan Tannehill isn’t as bad as originally thought (read more about that here), but he certainly won’t be playing on Saturday.
We also have to consider the play of the Jets.
179 total yds.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 12, 2016
Granted, New York is long out of any playoff race and it’s far too early to consider Bryce Petty the next Joe Namath. But, even though it came against a poor San Francisco 49ers team, Petty showed a lot in Week 14’s come from behind victory. He wasn’t a perfect quarterback by any means. But the Jets played hard for him, even when he was struggling. With Ryan Fitzpatrick under center in the previous week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, that was not the case.
Logically speaking, this game tilts towards Miami and the Dolphins could well win. But anyone assuming that Saturday’s game will be a cakewalk should think again.
Kansas City Chiefs
Entering Week 15, an argument could be made that the Chiefs are the NFL’s best, most complete team. Still, Kansas City will host the Tennessee Titans as a vulnerable team. The Chiefs aren’t vulnerable because of their shortcomings, either.
No, they’re vulnerable because the opponent is a pretty darn good team.
First of all, Tennessee is a hot team in its own right. Following a 1-3 start to the year, the Titans have bounced back and now boast a 7-6 record. They have also won each of their last two games.
Tennessee’s Week 14 win over the Denver Broncos was not a huge surprise. After all, Denver has struggled to score points. While the Titans’ offense isn’t record setting, it ranks 11th in the league at nearly 25 points per game. But that’s not how Tennessee won. That was the surprising part.
The Broncos are sixth in the NFL in scoring defense (18.6), while the Titans are 20th (23.5). Entering Week 14, conventional wisdom would have had a 13-10 final favoring the champs. It just didn’t work that way. Tennessee controlled the game from the opening kickoff. So, the Titans can win a high scoring game, but they also showed some toughness in a low scoring slugfest against a team that thrives in those games.
On top of all of that, while Tennessee has lost six games, only one has been by more than eight points. The Titans don’t win all of their games, but they are in all of them. That makes any opponent vulnerable, including the Chiefs.
Detroit enters a showdown with the New York Giants at 9-4 and on a five-game winning streak. But despite that, the Lions are vulnerable every time they take the field. This week is no different.
Detroit has trailed in the fourth quarter in all but one of their games this year. Additionally, with only one exception, every game the Lions have played (losses included) has been decided by seven points or less. So, we have to ask ourselves a question. Do we trust the one 28-13 win over the New Orleans Saints, or Detroit’s other 12 games?
Majority rules here.
New York also offers a particularly tough test for Detroit.
The Giants have the NFL’s seventh-best scoring defense, at 18.8 points per game. In an 8-1 stretch over its last nine games, New York has allowed only 17 points per contest.
On top of that, Matthew Stafford will enter this game with an injured finger, which you can read about here. Think about how much that impacted Derek Carr in the Oakland Raiders Thursday night loss to the Chiefs. Sure, he made a few throws, but was clearly not himself. That’s at least a possibility for Stafford.
Nothing here is to suggest that the Lions can’t win this game. But it will be a challenge.
New England Patriots
It’s fairly clear that the 2016 Broncos team is not as good as 2015’s version. Still, this is a proud team. While the defense may not be as sharp as the championship version was, it’s kept Denver in nearly all of its games. The Broncos have five losses by a combined 31 points.
But the quarterback matchup is Tom Brady vs. Trevor Siemian. Can we even calculate what an edge that is for the Patriots?
In New England, the edge is huge. The same would be rue in nearly any neutral site.
In Denver, though, Brady’s track record leaves a lot to be desired.
While Tom Brady hasn't struggled in many places, Denver hasn't been too hospitable pic.twitter.com/bbDA1F8BUc
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) December 13, 2016
Only two of those losses came with Peyton Manning as the opposing quarterback. The Pats have had a huge edge under center nearly every time they’ve gone to The Mile High City. More often than not, the trip has been a bad one.
Also, this game frankly means a lot more to Denver. New England is all but assured of a top-two seed in the AFC. The Patriots will only lose the top spot this week if they and the Chiefs lose while the Raiders win.
The Broncos are barely in the playoffs heading into Week 15. Realistically, they need to go 2-1 to have a chance at the postseason. With a game in Kansas City in Week 16 and home against the Raiders in Week 17, 2-1 will be tough to accomplish with a loss to the Pats.
If nothing else, expect this game to be a grind decided in the final minutes — or even seconds.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
One week after surviving an ugly game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys’ offense put out a dud effort in a 10-7 loss to the Giants in Week 14. Given that the Buccaneers are riding a five-game winning streak, Dallas is ripe for the picking in another prime-time game, right?
It’s not that simple.
The Cowboys still have the NFL’s best offensive line. Behind that line, rookie superstar Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for 1,392 yards.
ZEKE with the go-ahead TD!!!
Only 9 seconds remain.
— NFL (@NFL) November 14, 2016
The league’s second-leading rusher (DeMarco Murray) is 257 yards behind that mark.
The Buccaneers’ run defense, meanwhile, has struggled. Tampa’s defense ranks 21st in rushing yards per game and 24th in yards per carry.
This game is going to feature a lot of Elliott. That’s a problem that the Bucs will have to overcome. Given how good Elliott is and how poor the Tampa run defense is, the Bucs enter Week 15 in an unquestionably vulnerable position.