NFL Week 15 Preview
Titans @ Steelers
This game has major playoff implications and I expect Heinz Field to have a playoff atmosphere. The Titans were able to get back on track last week by shutting out Trevor Lawrence and putting an end to the Urban Meyer era. While the Steelers did not beat the Vikings last week, they did show signs of life. The Steelers nearly mounted a 28 point comeback on Thursday Night Football. The Steelers have dropped two close ones to the Vikings and Chargers, but they did upset the Ravens. With Derrick Henry still on the sidelines, the Steelers have a shot to come up with a huge upset over a playoff team. Offensively, Mike Tomlin and Matt Canada need to keep their feet on the gas. The Titans have the second-best run defense in the NFL, so it may be hard for Najee Harris to get going. What the Steelers should do is isolate Harris in passing situations and let him make plays as a receiver. Harris is one of the best dual threats in the NFL and is the biggest mismatch on the Steelers' offense. As for the TItans' defense, Jeffrey Simmons is one of the best-run stuffers in the NFL. He disrupts gameplans and has been the best defensive tackle in the NFL this season. In the secondary, Kevin Byard does a great job at reading the quarterbacks' eyes. While Big Ben has only thrown 7 interceptions this season, the return of Bud Dupree will cause him to rush the ball out and add to that total. This will be a defensive showdown; whichever quarterback makes fewer mistakes will win this football game. The Titans' defense is playing at another level right now, and I believe that Dupree will get his revenge on his former team.
What to Watch For: Does Ben Roethlisberger or Ryan Tannehill step up?
Player of the Game: Bud Dupree OLB Titans
Final Score: Titans 20 Steelers 17
Panthers @ Bills
The Bills have their backs against the wall right now and have to win out if they want a chance of claiming the top seed in the AFC East. This is a must-win for Sean McDermott and it is fitting that it comes against his former team, the Carolina Panthers. I was not a fan of them firing Joe Brady; it feels like he was the scapegoat for the Panthers' problems. The biggest issue for Carolina comes at their quarterback position. Them choosing to trade for Sam Darnold instead of drafting Justin Fields or Mac Jones has come back to bite them in the ass. While I believe David Tepper is a great owner and he is building a winning culture in Carolina, it might be time to move on from Matt Rhule. The Panthers would benefit from having a coach with an offensive background. Eric Bieniemy and Byron Leftwich are both great candidates and would bring the best out of Christian McCaffrey. With that being said, the Panthers are playing without Christian McCaffrey in this game. While Carolina's defense has been surprisingly one of the best in the league, I don't believe they have enough pieces to keep up with the Bills' offense or slow down Josh Allen. This is a must-win for the Bills, and I believe they get back on track in this game.
What to Watch For: Stephon Gilmore vs Stefon Diggs
Player of the Game: Josh Allen QB Bills
Final Score: Panthers 24 Bills 33
Texans @ Jaguars
In the past few years, we have seen teams rally around their interim head coach. Even this year, we saw the Raiders rally around Rich Bisaccia after Jon Gruden got fired. Having Darrell Bevell as head coach and Urban Meyer out of the building should be a breath of fresh air for the Jaguars. James Robinson can finally be fed properly without having to worry about Carlos Hyde taking his carries and Trevor Lawrence will be able to play his game. He can play free and he can let that thing rip. Every year, Marvin Jones has a few breakout games; I believe this could be one of those games. WIth Justin Reid sidelined due to injury, Lawrence will be able to air the ball out. While Davis Mills has put together a few nice games since returning to the starting lineup, I believe the Jaguars will rally around Darrell Bevell. Bevell has been waiting for his moment as head coach for a long time now. Whether or not this was the way he saw his opportunity come, I believe he takes advantage of this shot. The Jaguars are starving for a victory, and I believe Trevor Lawrence snags his third victory as an NFL quarterback.
What to Watch For: What does the Jaguars' energy look and feel like without Meyer?
Player of the Game: James Robinson RB Jaguars
Final Score: Texans 17 Jaguars 24
Cowboys @ Giants
While the Cowboys are still winning games, their offense has fallen into a slump. The Cowboys will win their division because it is the NFC East, but the playoffs are all about momentum. Offensively, the Cowboys don't have any momentum, and if they can't string together a few good offensive performances, this team will be one and done in the playoffs. While Tony Pollard's game status is uncertain, the Cowboys need to run the football. Ezekiel Elliott hasn't run the ball for over 100 yards since week five and has 6 straight games with less than 60 rushing yards. Thankfully for Zeke, the last time he did have over 100 yards was against this Giants defense. Whether it is Mike Glennon or Jake Fromm throwing the ball for the Giants, I expect the Cowboys to come away with some turnovers. Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs are both candidates for Defensive Player of the Year. This defense is going to cause Freddie Kitchens' offense problems. This game will also cause John Mara to reevaluate the Giants' coaching staff. The Giants don't have a shot in this game, but what is important for the Cowboys is HOW they win.
What to Watch For: Can the Cowboys' offense pull it together?
Player of the Game: Ezekiel Elliott RB Cowboys
Final Score: Cowboys 37 Giants 13
Cardinals @ Lions
This is the most lob-sided game of the weekend. The Cardinals are a team that is fighting for home-field advantage while the Lions are fighting for the number one pick. The football gods gave the Cardinals a perfect rebound game after an astonishing loss on Monday Night Football. With Deandre Hopkins out for the remainder of the regular season, which of the Cardinals' receivers will step up? Is it AJ Green, Christian Kirk, or Rondale Moore? All three receivers have had elite games this season, but it is time for one of them to become a true number one. In this game, I expect Kliff Kingsbury to continue feeding James Conner. Conner has quietly been one of the best running backs in the NFL this season and helped carry the Cardinals' offense when Kyler Murray was not playing. If the Lions somehow win this game, it would be the upset of the year. As much as I would love to see the Lions shake up the playoff picture, I don't see it happening. The Cardinals are a team that will most likely be going deep into the playoffs this year. I expect Arizona to take care of business.
What to Watch For: Which receiver steps up for the Cardinals in D-Hop's absence?
Player of the Game: James Conner RB Cardinals
Final Score: Cardinals 34 Lions 16
Jets @ Dolphins
Tua Tagovailoa is arguably the hottest quarterback in football right now and has been doing what everybody expected him to do coming out of college. He has been accurate and efficient in a similar manner to Drew Brees in his final years as a pro. While he may not be throwing the ball 50+ yards downfield, he has been deliberate when choosing to take his shots. With Jaylen Waddle out because of COVID-19, Tagovailoa will need to find a new number one weapon. Against the Jets, I can see that guy being Mike Gesicki. While Gesicki hasn't had over 55 yards since week 7, the Jets have the eighth-worst defense in terms of stopping tight ends this season. Coming off of a bye week, Gesicki is destined for a breakout game. On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins are without one of their best defenders, Jevon Holland. The Dolphins' defense has been extremely impressive throughout their five-game win streak, and I can see Xavien Howard and Byron Jones giving Zach Wilson problems. Wilson has struggled mightily as a rookie but has shown some promise in recent weeks. While I don't have enough confidence to pick the Jets in this game if Joe Douglas can surround him with more weapons I can see him being a really good quarterback in the NFL. I expect Tagovailoa to continue being a consistent quarterback. I believe he will attack the Jets with lots of shallow crossers and quick seam routes to attack New York's cover-three defense.
What to Watch For: Can Zach Wilson make enough plays to pull off the upset?
Player of the Game: Mike Gesicki TE Dolphins
Final Score: Jets 20 Dolphins 21
Bengals @ Broncos
The Broncos have quietly crept up into playoff contention this season, but I expect the Bengals to bring them back down to earth. While Cincinnati did not beat the 49ers last week, Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase showed that they could be threats in the playoffs. One match-up I can't wait to watch is Chase against fellow rookie Patrick Surtain II. Both players have been the best at their position among all of their fellow rookies this season. While I do expect Chase to get into the end zone, I also see Surtain winning his fair share of battles. Burrow and Chase have been lighting up defenses all season long, but I could see Surtain and Justin Simmons causing Cincy some problems. Offensively for the Broncos, Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams have been as good as advertised. The 49ers weren't able to have much of a run game against Logan Wilson and the Bengals' defense, but the Broncos will need to run the ball if they want to win this game. While I can see the Broncos' secondary giving Burrow problems, I'm confident that he will be able to rally his troops and help the Bengals beat the Broncos in a must-win for Cincinnati.
What to Watch For: Can the Broncos get their run game going?
Player of the Game: Ja'Marr Chase WR Bengals
Final Score: Bengals 22 Broncos 20
Falcons @ 49ers
The Falcons offense ranks 29th in the NFL and the defense ranks 30th. More importantly, the Falcons' run defense ranks 29th in the NFL. That means Kyle Shanahan will be able to have his way against his former team. While Elijah Mitchell won't be playing due to a concussion, Deebo Samuel will shred this defense apart as a running back. The 49ers have been using a new concept to get Samuel the ball in space this season. They line him up in the backfield next to Jimmy Garoppolo and hand him the ball behind Garoppolo. This allows the 49ers' blockers to get to their spots and lets Samuel find his hole as soon as he gets the ball. While Samuel has been one of the best weapons in the NFL all season long, it has been the George Kittle show as of late. Kittle has been getting more opportunities as a receiver and it seems like when Kittle does well so do the 49ers. I'm curious to see if the Falcons can scheme up a way to limit Kittle while also stopping the run game. I don't think the Falcons have enough pieces on defense to scheme that up, nor do I think they have the firepower on offense to keep up with the 49ers. I expect San Francisco to win this game by using lots of Deebo Samuel on the ground and by blitzing Matt Ryan heavily.
What to Watch For: How do the Falcons stop Deebo Samuel and George Kittle?
Player of the Game: Deebo Samuel PLAYMAKER 49ers
Final Score: Falcons 17 49ers 31
Packers @ Ravens
It is a real shame that we won't get to see Lamar Jackson take on Aaron Rodgers in a game with ginormous playoff implications. This game is huge for Greg Roman who has struggled to call plays recently. Brian Flores devised a perfect game plan to limit Lamar Jackson a few weeks ago, and teams have been copying the recipe since then. Roman has failed to adapt to the cover 0 look with off-man coverage. He has been trying to call different types of switch/mesh plays, but since teams are playing the Ravens' receivers soft, they can banjo them. That means instead of being designated to a certain receiver the defensive backs take whichever receiver goes inside or outside. With Jaire Alexander returning to the lineup, the Packers have the personnel to run this type of defense. While Tyler Huntley is an easy player to root for, I have a hard time believing he will be able to upset arguably the best player in the NFL (Aaron Rodgers). With Marlon Humphrey on IR for Baltimore, the Ravens don't have a defensive back who will be able to keep up with Davante Adams. This matchup is extremely favorable for the Packers and until Greg Roman shows he is able to adjust to the defenses' new approach, I am going to have a hard time picking the Ravens.
What to Watch For: Can Greg Roman adjust from the cover 0 soft coverage?
Player of the Game: Darnell Savage S Packers
Final Score: Packers 30 Ravens 23
Raiders @ Browns
This game is filled with backups from head-to-toe, but no backup has as much pressure as Nick Mullens. Mullens is an extremely intellectual quarterback, but we have only seen him playing in Kyle Shanahan's offense. In his preseason tenure with the Eagles, Mullens looked like a JV quarterback who had to fill in for the d-1 varsity quarterback. He looked like a dear in headlights; it looked like the game was moving too fast for him. Now is his time to show everybody that the preseason game was a fluke. With Kevin Stefanski at home due to COVID-19, Special Teams Coordinator, Mike Prefeir, will fill in as head coach, while Offensive Coordinator, Alex Van Pelt, will be calling plays. That puts Mullens' back against the wall, even more, but thankfully he has Nick Chubb to lean on. The easiest way to describe Chubb is by looking at a commercial for Chevy. He's tough, reliable, and can go fast. Chubb is in for a huge game against the Raiders' 25th ranked run defense. While I do believe the Browns will be able to run the ball on the Raiders' defense, I don't see them having much success through the air. Even though Maxx Crosby only has sacks in two games this season, he puts a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. His sack numbers may not be very high, but his pressure rate is. According to ESPN, Crosby is seventh in pass rush win rate and third in run-stop win rate in the NFL. Those are all-pro numbers, and I could even see him outperforming his all-pro opponent, Myles Garrett. The Raiders tend to play down with their opponents. While the Browns have a very good, playoff-caliber roster, COVID-19 has impacted them more than any other team. I expect this to be a low-scoring game, but I see Derek Carr elevating his team over the COVID-riddled Browns.
What to Watch For: How do the Browns play to Nick Mullens' strength?
Player of the Game: Maxx Crosby DE Raiders
Final Score: Raiders 17 Browns 10
Vikings @ Bears
It feels like forever since we last saw the Bears play a football game. Justin Fields has had a disappointing rookie season, but I don't accredit his success (or lack thereof) to him. Matt Nagy has done a horrendous job calling plays for Fields and hasn't utilized his athleticism. I suspect this will be Nagy's final season as head coach for the Bears; Chicago should look to hire someone who will play to Fields' strengths. As for this game, in particular, the Bears will need to run the football. They should mimic what the 49ers did against the Vikings a month ago. David Montgomery is quietly having an amazing season and Fields has been struggling. The Vikings have the 27th ranked run defense which means that Montgomery should be fed the ball at least 20 times in this game. The Vikings should look to run the ball as well, they have a top-five running back in the NFL, and the Bears have the 23rd ranked run defense. Whichever team runs the ball better in this game will win. While I love Montgomery and think he is a really good back, I trust the Vikings' play-callers more and have a hard time betting against Dalvin Cook.
What to Watch For: Will Matt Nagy let David Montgomery cook?
Player of the Game: Dalvin Cook RB Vikings
Final Score: Vikings 20 Bears 17
Football Team (WFT) @ Eagles
In a game plagued by the virus that has kept us all inside the past 20 months, we will be watching Jalen Hurts go head-to-head with Garrett Gilbert. Gilbert has played for his fair share of NFL teams, but this is a big-time opportunity for him. After winning MVP of the AAF, Gilbert has only made one start in the NFL but has proven to be a strong backup in the big leagues. While Gilbert has been an impactful backup in the NFL, he has an opportunity against a six-win Eagles team to prove that he can be a starter. One player that Gilbert should be wary of is Darius Slay. Slay is having an all-pro caliber season and is making interceptions a habit. While Terry McLaurin is still an elite playmaker and 50/50 ball receiver, Gilbert should look the other way when he is lined up against Slay. The key for Washington's offense is to target Steven Nelson or whichever corner is opposite of Slay. Gilbert also should focus on getting the ball out fast to prevent Josh Sweat and Javon Hargrave from getting busy. While I do believe Gilbert will play better than expected, the Eagles' defensive line will still give him problems. Offensively for Philadelphia, Jalen Hurts' athleticism will cause problems for Washington's front-seven. His ability to extend plays and escape pressure from Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat will give the Eagles' offensive an advantage. I expect this game to be close in the beginning, but Philadelphia to pull away late. Hurts' legs will be too much for the WFT to handle and while he may not score a touchdown on the ground, he'll extend plays long enough for his receivers to get open. This could be a huge win to insert the Eagles back into the playoff race.
What to Watch For: How does Garrett Gilbert respond to pressure?
Player of the Game: Javon Hargrave DT Eagles
Final Score: WFT 21 Eagles 31
Seahawks @ Rams
Here we have another game full of stars out due to COVID-19. Both teams have been hit heavily by the virus, the Rams are without Tyler Higbee, Jordan Fuller, and Rob Havenstein while the Seahawks are without Tyler Lockett, Alex Collins, DJ Reed, and Kerry Hyder. The Rams dodged a bullet with this game being postponed; it allowed Jalen Ramsey, Von Miller, Odell Beckham Jr., and Darrell Henderson to be activated off the COVID-19 list. The Seahawks are going to have to feed DK Metcalf, who hasn't scored a touchdown in over five weeks. Russell Wilson hasn't played like Russell Wilson all season long, but he'll need to step up to defeat this nine-win Rams team. Rashaad Penny is a player to watch; he had the best game of his career last Sunday and I could see Pete Carroll feeding the hot hand. With DJ Reed out, I expect Sean McVay to dial up a lot of pass plays for Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. It seems as if Beckham's career has been "revived" since being implanted in the Rams' offense. Kupp is having the best season of his career and the Seahawks don't have the personnel to stop both of these receivers. Matthew Stafford is going to have a big game and the Rams are going to get one step closer to claiming the NFC West.
What to Watch For: Can Rashaad Penny put together back-to-back career games?
Player of the Game: Cooper Kupp WR Rams
Final Score: Seahawks 22 Rams 31