NFL Week 15 Spread Locks
Playoff football arrived early this year.
The NFL is now a better place. After five seasons filled with mediocrity the Rams have finally fired Jeff Fisher. The only reason this news comes as a shock is because the team had just given Fisher a two-year extension two weeks ago. I guess that’s what happens when your team responds to your extension with 26–10 in New England (where Fisher could not find his challenge flag) and a 42–14 lambasting at home at the hand of the Julio Jones-less Falcons. Fisher leaves behind one of the worst legacies of any coach in NFL history. He put together eight seasons at or below .500 and leaves with the most losses in league history. Despite the years of ineptitude Fisher managed to hang around. Whether he was a great guy to grab a beer with, no better options on the open market, or just a really nice guy is unknown, but whatever the case is the Rams seemed to like him enough to keep him for two seasons too long.
When the team decided it was ditching St. Louis for Los Angeles the team had the perfect chance to cut bait and start fresh. Instead they kept Fisher and GM Les Snead (who should also be packing his bags) who mortgaged the team’s immediate future for Jared Goff who clearly looks to be the odd man out of the rookie quarterback class. Fisher only compounded this mistake by starting Case Keenum who might have trouble starting in the CFL let alone the NFL. We can only hope this is the last we see of Fisher as a head coach because there is no rational reason a team can give to hire him. So with that being said goodbye Jeff Fisher we will miss making fun of you, but we sure are happy you’re gone.
What will the NFL look like without Fisher? Let’s take a look! Home teams are in CAPS.
Rams (+15) over SEAHAWKS
Freed from the patheticness that is Jeff Fisher the Rams finally have something to smile about. That smile will quickly be wiped off their face once they hop on that plane for Seattle. Last week’s 42–14 drubbing at the hands of an Atlanta Falcons team that was playing without Julio Jones was rock bottom. Matt Ryan did what he wanted when he wanted and the Falcons defense baptised Jared Goff three or four times. Todd Gurley referred to the offense as “middle- school” which is the correct way to describe an offense when your quarterback gets sacked by a defender’s pinkie. If Vic Beasley’s pinkie was strong enough to sack Goff I am almost afraid what to expect from a pissed off Seahawks defense on Thursday.
Why are the Seahawks pissed off? Because they too got embarrassed last Sunday. Russell Wilson threw a career-high five interceptions in the blowout defeat. When Wilson wasn’t making bad throws his receivers were dropping them. His final two interceptions should be credited to his receiver, but even then he would have three crucial ones. The last two road games have proven that the Seahawks’ only chance at winning is when they are at home. The offense is simply not the same on the road and the defense is still adjusting to life after Earl Thomas. They could very well blow the Rams back to LA, but the Seahawks have lost three straight to these guys going back to last season which is why 14 points is too much to swallow.
Prediction: Rams 13, Seahawks 27
JETS (+2.5) over Dolphins
My deepest fear as a Jets fan is Bryce Petty spearheading a late season surge to finish 6–10 or 7–9, leaving the top five of the draft in the process. Once the playoffs were no longer a possibility it should have been time to tank. Instead Todd Bowles–who was not officially safe until last Sunday’s win–was playing to win. Their comeback in San Francisco last week left some fans nauseous, but from a football team standpoint it was huge. Tanking is fine, but getting blown out by jobbers like the 49ers is inexcusable. Petty and the young guys realized this and turned it on in the second half outscoring the Niners 20–0 after halftime to win 23–17 in OT. Bilal Powell yet again showed he is worth a bigger role and rookie receiver Robbie Anderson continues to show he can be part of this team moving forward.
The Dolphins are in a playoff hunt for now, but with no Ryan Tannehill for the near future their season might also be over. Tannehill sprained his ACL and MCL last week against the Cardinals and the loss almost cost the Dolphins the game. They escaped with a 26–23 OT win, but is Matt Moore ready to lead a playoff push? Running back Jay Ajayi will be heavily relied on moving forward with a backup QB running the show. Adam Gase is a great offensive mind and his prowess will be put to the test. His team does not have a strong enough defense to rely on so Moore will have to make plays even if Ajayi is running well. The Jets can expect a lot of Jarvis Landry screens and some trick plays Saturday night, but should be daring Moore to beat them deep. These two rarely disappoint when they get together and Saturday night should be no different.
Prediction: Dolphins 24, Jets 23
Packers (-6.5) over BEARS
Remember when everyone was freaking out over Aaron Rodgers and the Packers? Yeah, they’re fine again. Every season we have the same worries about the Packers and A-Rod and every season A-Rod makes every critic look foolish. Last week’s demolition of the Seahawks has people in Green Bay talking playoffs again. Rodgers has been on a tear of late, carrying his team down the stretch as he does almost every season. His good play has been contagious as the defense has awoken from their slumber and improved from putrid to average. The defense still cannot be trusted, but the Bears are not the offense that will expose them.
Matt Barkley has been a pleasant surprise for Chicago. He’s certainly better to watch than a checked out Jay Cutler at this point. Last week he put together a serviceable stat line–212 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT–considering his best weapon is running back Jordan Howard. This week he gets Alshon Jeffery back who missed the past four games with a suspension. Head coach John Fox is already a fan of Barkley so if he can put together another nice performance with a healthy supporting cast he might be looking at a serious future in Chicago. All that being said Rodgers should continue his collision course for Detroit in Week 17 when the Packers could be playing for the division crown after all.
Prediction: Packers 28, Bears 17
TEXANS (-6) over Jaguars
With Jeff Fisher gone Gus Bradley is the new worst coach in the league. Bradley has been impressively bad as a head coach putting together a record of 14–47 with the Jaguars. That could be his fault or it can be the fault of his franchise quarterback–and I use the term quarterback loosely–Blake Bortles. This was supposed to be the season Bortles figured it out and the Jaguars pushed for a playoff spot. Instead the defense figured it out, but Bortles continues to toil in mediocrity. Last week was a winnable game against the Vikings, but the offense couldn’t do anything in the fourth quarter in which the Vikings outscored them 13–0 to win. At 2–11 they are back at home in the top five of the draft and should be looking to add a quarterback in the offseason.
You know who else should be looking for a new quarterback already? The Houston Texans. The road win in Indianapolis did not impress me and damn sure didn’t change my opinion on Brock Osweiler. The Colts lost that game more than the Texans won it. Osweiler put up feeble numbers yet again (147 yards and 1 INT) and has yet to eclipse 300 yards this season. If the Texans make the playoffs feel free to take a loan out for $100,000 and bet the house against this wimp. This week will be nothing out of the ordinary. Osweiler will throw 30 times for 150 yards, Lamar Miller will score, C.J. Fiedorowicz will continue to receive the lion’s share of check down targets and Bortles will do something stupid to give the Texans the win. Don’t watch this game if you’re a fan of good football or aspiring quarterback.
Prediction: Jaguars 20, Texans 27
BILLS (-10) over Browns
Is there a rock bottom for the Browns? Every time it looks like it can’t get any worse it does. Robert Griffin III’s return did not provide a spark for the winless Browns. The Bengals cruised from start to finish much like every other opponent. To make matters worse the team’s only asset, Terrelle Pryor, was embarrassed on the field (1 reception for 3 yards) and in the locker room by the Bengals. The only bright spot last week was running back Isaiah Crowell who has put together a solid season. Up next for the winless Browns is a trip to Buffalo against a Bills team that might have packed it in last week.
To say Le’Veon Bell dominated the Bills last week would be an understatement. He adopted them. He outgained and outscored the Bills by himself in what has to be the best performance of the season by any one player. Rex Ryan’s bunch will not have to worry about Crowell or anyone on the Browns doing that this week. Instead look for some retribution. LeSean McCoy was held in check last week only rushing for 27 yards, but if there is one thing the Browns defense is really bad at it’s stopping the run. McCoy will run amuck as the Bills desperately try to stay alive in the Wild Card race.
Prediction: Browns 13, Bills 28
RAVENS (-5.5) over Eagles
The single best quality about the Ravens this season is that they are never completely out of a game. Even the Patriots couldn’t put them away early and they’re the Patriots. The defense has been one of the best units in football and Justin Tucker is easily the best kicker in football. Their one Achilles heel is the offense. Joe Flacco’s unit continues to make strides, but it is obvious that offensive explosions will be a rare occurrence for this team. Coming off their best performance they came back down to earth and played their typical middle of the road game. They certainly have a playoff roster, but will have to win two of the last or three or win out to reach their goal. With the Steelers next week this game is as must win as it gets.
Unlike the Ravens, the Eagles are done. They have nothing to play for other than developing Carson Wentz. Last week’s loss to the Redskins amplified everything that is wrong with them. Their receiving core is among the worst in the league. The running game is inconsistent and the defense is very good at generating turnovers, but are prone to big plays. They do not have their draft pick so tanking is out of the question, but they do not seem to have the necessary parts to win on the road late in the season. Barring a Wentz explosion the Ravens defense should submit the Eagles offense and gear up for a war in Pittsburgh in Week 16.
Prediction: Eagles 16, Ravens 24
Titans (+5.5) over CHIEFS
I’ll keep it a buck with you, I have no idea how this game will play out. However I do believe this game will be tight. The Titans are the best team in the AFC South. It’s a shame that their 1–3 division record may be their undoing because they have been so good outside of it. In addition to last week’s win versus the Broncos they have beaten the Lions, Dolphins and the Packers, all playoff contenders. Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray have captained the eighth best offense in the league by displaying a knack for finding the chains. They rarely overpower their opponent, but rather hang around long enough to win. The Chiefs fell victim to the Buccaneers–who have been the NFC version of the Titans–four weeks ago.
What has changed since then for the Chiefs? For starters Tyreek Hill has ascended from vertical threat to a gamebreaker. He’s brought everything to the table we thought De’Anthony Thomas would. He’s a threat running, returning kicks, and obviously receiving. When Jamaal Charles was lost for the season Spencer Ware was thought to be the new centerpiece. That held true early, but since Week 8 Hill has emerged as the future star. He was the difference maker against the Raiders, essentially winning the game by himself with a two touchdown second quarter that ended up being enough to secure a win. If the Titans have one weak spot it is their secondary so expect Hill to continue his tear.
Prediction: Titans 24, Chiefs 27
Lions (+4.5) over GIANTS
Fun fact about the Giants, they are the Cowboys’ kryptonite. They own a perfect 2–0 record over the NFC’s best team after gutting out a 10–7 win at home on Sunday night. The win was spearheaded by the defense, particularly the secondary. Corner Janoris Jenkins had a superb game holding Dez Bryant to one catch and a fumble on that one catch. If the defense can continue to dominate other opponents not named the Cowboys we could be gearing up for another one of those playoff Giants runs. What is holding the Giants back ironically enough is Eli Manning. If it weren’t for Odell Beckham I’m not sure Eli doesn’t get booed out of New York this season. Assuming they make the playoffs head coach Ben McAdoo should have one form of attack–get Odell the ball as much as possible.
A team the Giants could run into down the road in January are the Lions. No one saw this playoff push coming once Calvin Johnson retired, but that’s why Bill Simmons’ friend Dave Cirilli created the Ewing Theory. Life after Megatron has been good to Matthew Stafford who has put together a MVP season and has the Lions on the doorstep of the playoffs. Unfortunately he injured a finger on his throwing hand in last week’s game, and the effects of throwing a football outside are still not known. At 9–4 the Lions should be able to afford a loss, but the Packers are hot on their ass and already beat them once. Regardless of what Stafford can get out of his throwing hand the Lions defense has been quietly good lately and can certainly slow down a middling Giants offense to keep them in striking distance.
Prediction: Lions 23, Giants 26
VIKINGS (-4.5) over Colts
Andrew Luck was so close. Even with a bad defense and offensive line Luck was managing to carry his team to another improbably division crown. Then everything came crashing down. Luck was not very good last week, throwing two bad interceptions that ended up being the difference in the game. Owning an 0–2 record against Brock Osweiler is already embarrassing enough, but not winning the division because of that is unbearable. Heading into Minnesota the Colts’ only hope is Luck redeeming himself.
The Vikings defense will look to shut Luck down before he gets started. Xavier Rhodes has been the best corner in football this season and will likely be tasked with covering T.Y. Hilton. The run defense will be tasked with slowing down Frank Gore which should be a much tougher task. On offense is where the Vikings must play well. The Colts defense is not good, that is no surprise. What is a surprise is how bad the Vikings offense looks at times. Their offensive line either takes plays off or never went over pass blocking in training camp. Sam Bradford’s decline in the second half can be directly tied to the line play, but if he is given time against the Colts he should be able to get the job done.
Prediction: Colts 24, Vikings 30
Steelers (-3) over BENGALS
If you missed Le’Veon Bell’s annihilation of the Bills last week I feel bad for you. Bell flashed the patience of Curtis Martin and the nose for the end zone that made LaDainian Tomlinson a star. Bell is cut from the same cloth as those running back greats and in case you forgot, he’s still the best running back in football. Last week’s performance showed just that as he outgained the Bills by himself, totalling 236 rushing yards, three touchdowns, and 62 receiving yards on four catches. Ben Roethlisberger was off in the snowy conditions, throwing three interceptions. This week they head to the familiar confines of Paul Brown Stadium.
The Bengals and Steelers have waged many wars in this stadium and Sunday will be no different. Don’t tell the Bengals they have no chance at the playoffs because they don’t give a shit. They have won two straight and would love to spoil the Steelers’ playoff chances. A.J. Green could return from a nasty hamstring injury, putting the offense back at full strength and the defense will already be hyped up to face Antonio Brown, Bell and Big Ben again. Much like their games before this expect a lot of bone crushing hits, phenomenal plays and a great game. In the end the Steelers offense should be too much to handle as they get ready for another war against the Ravens next week.
Prediction: Steelers 31, Bengals 24
CARDINALS (-2.5) over Saints
Talk about a pair of disappointing teams. Many had the Cardinals as their Super Bowl let alone a playoff team. The Saints were expected to make some noise in the NFC. Instead both are done with three weeks left to play. In the case of the Saints they dug themselves a sizable hole to start the season and have ran out of gas. Drew Brees has either been unstoppable or unwatchable. The last two weeks he has been the latter, throwing zero touchdowns and six interceptions in losses. He’s always been the straw that stirs the drink in New Orleans so stopping him typically results in stopping the Saints.
In the Cardinals’ case the quarterback can also be the blame. What made the Cardinals so good last season was their vertical passing game. At any given moment last year Carson Palmer would rear back and bomb it to John Brown, Michael Floyd or Larry Fitzgerald for a big touchdown. This season Palmer has fallen off a cliff from his MVP-caliber 2015 and the result has been a disappointing season. The good news is that seems to be the only major issue with the Cardinals and could be a quick fix depending on who they call (Tony Romo?) or draft. For now heavy doses of David Johnson should be enough to squeak out a win.
Prediction: Saints 20, Cardinals 23
FALCONS (-13.5) over 49ers
Julio Jones who? That’s what Falcons fans must have (jokingly) said after watching their squad massacre the Rams in LA. Julio Jones missed the game with turf toe, but you would not have known that if you saw the 42–14 final score. Matt Ryan replaced Julio the same way Matthew Stafford has replaced Calvin Johnson all season–by spreading the wealth. Ryan threw three touchdowns to three different receivers, Tevin Coleman rushed for another, and the defense added two more. Speaking of that defense, how about Vic Beasley? After being considered a bust last season the second year pass rusher continued his stellar sophomore campaign with a three sack performance in LA. Up next they get an even easier opponent in the 49ers.
How the 49ers blew a 17–3 lead to the Jets at home last week is anyone’s guess. My guess is they are tanking hard and Chip Kelly wants the highest possible pick. There is no other reason how Carlos Hyde has 150 rushing yards at the half, but finished the game 193 yards. If there is any conceivable way to lose a football game the Niners will find it and exploit it. If Hyde can have another stellar start the Niners have a chance of covering, but chances are the Falcons will put too many points for Colin Kaepernick and the offense to comprehend.
Prediction: 49ers 14, Falcons 38
Raiders (-3) over CHARGERS
I’m not hopping off the Raiders bandwagon just yet. Derek Carr may have looked bad last Thursday night, but it would be foolish to overreact. It was frigid in Kansas City and his first game playing with that fractured pinky. Instead let’s highlight the positive. Latavius Murray and Jalen Richard are the one-two punch the offense needs at running back. Murray is the perfect punisher and Richard the ideal scat back that can hide behind his big offensive line until he finds a crease. Amari Cooper could be doing a little more, but Michael Crabtree is always ready to carry the load if needed. The defense still has Khalil Mack and until that changes they should always instill a hint of fear in the opposing quarterback’s heart.
Philip Rivers will not be scared. In fact Rivers looks like the type that enjoys getting his ass kicked just so he can pop more shit when he finally beats you. When he met the Raiders in Oakland earlier this year he had his way, throwing for 359 yards, four touchdowns, but also threw two interceptions. The Chargers would go on to collapse late in that one giving the Raiders a huge division win. Heading into this matchup Rivers will see a different defense. Mack is now in full gear, terrorizing any lineman foolish enough to get in his way and with Melvin Gordon possibly out Rivers does not have much of a safety valve. The Chargers will fight as they always do, but all signs point to a sweep at the hands of their hated rivals.
Prediction: Raiders 35, Chargers 31
Patriots (-3) over BRONCOS
If you ask any Patriots fan about this game they will say pick the Broncos. Mile High is one of the few places Tom Brady stinks at. He lost at Denver twice last season, both to bad quarterbacks (Brock Osweiler and the shell of Peyton Manning). He will again face an inferior counterpart in Trevor Siemian, but will have to put up with Von Miller and the Broncos defense. Brady was able to will his team past the Ravens defense on Monday night, using every possible player to score 30 points. Moving forward the players Brady will rely on are Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Malcolm Mitchell, and Dion Lewis/James White. Not one star player of mention after Bennett (Julian Edelman has been bad lately), but Bill Belichick made his legend by amplifying the talents of average players (i.e. Troy Brown).
Gary Kubiak wishes he had that effect. The only thing holding the Broncos back from being elite is the quarterback and running back position. Peyton Manning has yet to be properly replaced and it has become more obvious by the week that Siemian is a placeholder for something better. At running back Devontae Booker has not been able to duplicate what C.J. Anderson has been able to do. That can be blamed on the offensive line or Booker himself, but whatever the case, the Broncos cannot score. Even if the defense holds Brady I’m not completely confident that Siemian can make enough plays to get the win.
Prediction: Patriots 24, Broncos 20
Buccaneers (+7) over COWBOYS
It only took two bad games from Dak Prescott to fire up the Tony Romo talk. Much like Derek Carr and the Raiders, let’s not overreact. Was Prescott bad the last two games? Yes. Were those two games against good defenses? Yes. That does not mean it is ready to go back to Romo just yet. Until now it has been smoothing sailing for Dak and the Cowboys. If there was anything to be worried about it’s that the formula to beat the NFC’s new power is known–pressure the quarterback. Ezekiel Elliott will get his but if you have Dak under constant pressure it means nothing. Zeke had a strong outing against the Giants, but the Giants were able to shut down Dak and Dez Bryant.
The Buccaneers would be wise to follow the same exact game plan. Winners of five straight they have played themselves into the thick of the playoff race, currently holding the second Wild Card spot. Jameis Winston’s evolution from reckless gunslinger to reliable leader has been the catalyst for this run. With Doug Martin and Charles Sims healthy and fresh for a stretch run, plus an ascending Mike Evans, the Buccaneers are sitting pretty. Against the Cowboys defense the Bucs will have to be balanced to succeed. Martin will have to establish the run and Winston will have to pick his spots. The Cowboys will be looking to bounce back in a big way, the Bucs need to make sure they are ready to answer that punch.
Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Cowboys 27
Panthers (+4.5) over REDSKINS
Week 15 and still no sign of the Cam Newton we saw last season. The dominant force we saw lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl last season has been replaced by a mope dressed as Django. Did the Broncos crush his spirit? Is he fed up with the refs not protecting him the same way they protect the other star quarterbacks? Either could be the right answer. Still, at 5–8 the Panthers are not technically dead. Until the Falcons and Bucs win one more game 8–8 can still win the division. By the time the Panthers kick off they will know that answer, but it should not affect how they play. The last primetime game they were on they got shellacked in Seattle. It would be hard to believe the Panthers getting embarrassed twice especially against Josh Norman who will undoubtedly talk a whole bunch of shit if the Redskins wipe the floor with his former team. Cam should come out as motivated as ever and use Monday night as a message to the rest of the league that he is still not to be messed with.
Kirk Cousins knows a thing or two about sending messages. His gamble of not signing an extension before the season has continuously flip-flopped from incredibly stupid to genius. Right now he looks like a genius, leading the Redskins in another playoff push. The last time he was at home he was dismantling the Packers’ secondary and Robert “Fat Rob” Kelley was enjoying his coming out party. After an iffy road trip where they went 1–2 this turns into a must win game to keep up in the Wild Card race. The Panthers’ secondary much like the Packers are not very good. If Jordan Reed can return to form after suffering an AC Joint separation on Thanksgiving, Cousins could have a field day. If Reed is still a non-factor this could turn into a tug-of-war game similar to the one the Redskins found themselves in last week in Philadelphia.
Prediction: Panthers 21, Redskins 24
Last Week: 8–8