SATURDAY FOOTBALL IS BACK, and that can only mean one thing: playoff football is just around the corner. December football means snow flurries, smashmouth offense, mean defense, and a return to running the football. The way the game was meant to be played. This is when the Derrick Henrys of the world make their living, and playoff implications and motivations hang over every game like a frozen breath of exhaled air.
As everyone scrambles for playoff positioning, this feels like a week for upsets. We’re picking 12 underdogs below and only 4 favorites. Will Week 15 be one for the dogs? Let’s run through our Week 15 NFL Power Rankings and then hope to improve on our spiraling downward picks and get back on track as we careen recklessly toward the holiday season and the playoffs…
WEEK 15 POWER RANKINGS
TIER IX — THE TREVOR TANK
32. New York Jets 0–13 (Previous rank: 32)
31. Jacksonville Jaguars 1–12 (31)
30. Cincinnati Bengals 2–10–1 (30)
The Jets have scored a single field goal in two of the last three games now and nearly won the game in between before purposely losing in the final seconds. Now they’re 17.5-point underdogs. Just get this season over with already.
TIER VIII — NOTHING TO SEE HERE
29. Dallas Cowboys 4–9 (28)
28. Carolina Panthers 4–9 (25)
27. Atlanta Falcons 4–9 (22)
26. Los Angeles Chargers 4–9 (29)
25. Houston Texans 4–9 (21)
The Chargers and Texans are the early picks for 2021 sleepers. Both teams should be so much better than they are, in part because they have two of the best young quarterbacks in football. What will either team look like with a new coach next season? And can either of them end the 2020 season with aplomb and carry over some momentum into the new year?
TIER VII — TECHNICALLY STILL ALIVE
24. Denver Broncos 5–8 (27)
23. Philadelphia Eagles 4–8–1 (26)
22. Detroit Lions 5–8 (23)
21. New York Giants 5–8 (18)
Well okay then, Jalen Hurts. The Eagles looked like a totally different team with Hurts. He wasn’t excellent, but more importantly, he wasn’t bad and didn’t make the many mistakes Carson Wentz was piling up each week. Philly is only 1.5 games back in the division, and Hurts has three games to prove he should keep the job now. Was that a one game mirage or is this the future?
TIER VI — YOU’RE GONNA NEED SOME HELP NOW
20. New England Patriots 6–7 (14)
19. San Francisco 49ers 5–8 (20)
18. Chicago Bears 6–7 (24)
17. Las Vegas Raiders 7–6 (17)
Whoops. Every time we start to think maybe the Patriots are actually sort of good this year, they drop a complete clunker like the 24–3 Thursday night loss to the Rams you already forgot watching. New England is simply a bad team with good coaching, and the fact that they’re playing near .500 ball anyway should remind you just how much of a competitive advantage it is to have Bill Belichick on your side.
TIER V — HANGING BY A MOMENT HERE WITH YOU
16. Minnesota Vikings 6–7 (15)
15. Washington Football Team 6–7 (19)
14. Arizona Cardinals 7–6 (16)
13. Miami Dolphins 8–5 (12)
Just when we had decided the NFC East was the worst division of all time, New York and Washington both went on four-game winning streaks and made themselves look respectable. Washington is only a game from .500 and actually has some long shot scenarios to make the playoffs as a wildcard now, if that tells you how far they’ve come. Up next: choosing a new team name.
TIER IV — HOPING TO GET HOT AT THE RIGHT TIME
12. Seattle Seahawks 9–4 (9)
11. Tennessee Titans 9–4 (10)
10. Indianapolis Colts 9–4 (11)
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8–5 (8)
8. Baltimore Ravens 8–5 (11)
The Colts are one of the most overlooked probably definitely good teams in recent memory. Early on, Indy was doing it with defense, but the offense has come on lately. The Colts hung 44 on the Raiders in Vegas in their biggest output of the season and now rank top five in PPG. Is Indianapolis actually good? It feels like we still don’t know and might not until the playoffs, but they could still get to the 2-seed with a huge trip to Pittsburgh next week looming large.
TIER III — THE BROWNS HAVE EARNED OUR RESPECT
7. Pittsburgh Steelers 11–2 (3)
6. Cleveland Browns 9–4 (6)
5. New Orleans Saints 10–3 (2)
4. Los Angeles Rams 9–4 (7)
When I made the initial Power Rankings late on Monday night, I slipped the Browns in at #6, one spot ahead of the sliding Steelers, with those two just ahead of the Ravens in another tier down. It was one of those “Felt cute now, might delete later” moments, but I’m sticking with it. Baker Mayfield looks as good as he’s ever looked, and remember, that’s without Odell Beckham Jr. The Browns have a top 10 offense, but do they have a playoff defense? Cleveland will be a tough playoff out, but if they can’t keep Myles Garrett on the field and play a little D, we’ll only get to see them for one game.
TIER II — NOBODY CIRCLES THE WAGONS
3. Green Bay Packers 10–3 (4)
2. Buffalo Bills 10–3 (5)
Somebody wake up Chris Berman: the Buffalo Bills rank #2 in a Power Rankings for the first time since Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas ruled the 90s. I knew keeping that Bills blanket all these years would eventually pay off. Josh Allen continues to get the job done, picking apart excellent 49ers and Steelers pass defenses in back to back weeks, and it’s time we believe in Buffalo. Remember when the Bills made and lost in four straight Super Bowls? They’ve won a single playoff game since, in 1995, and last hosted a playoff game in 1996. It’s time, Buffalo. Let’s do this.
TIER I — ANY CONTENDERS TO THE THRONE?
1. Kansas City Chiefs 12–1 (1)
While everyone else scraps for leftovers, the Chiefs continue to carve up the NFL Christmas ham every week. Even with Patrick Mahomes having his worst game of the season and literally increasing his season interception total by 150%, the Chiefs basically coasted against a very good Dolphins team. Exactly who is supposed to beat these Chiefs, and how many breaks are they going to need to catch? Would you take the Chiefs or the field at this point?
Let’s run through some quick picks for the week…
Buffalo -5.5 at Denver
Carolina +8.5 at Green Bay
Saturday football is back! Only in December. I covered both of these games in full over at The Action Network. Josh Allen should pick apart a Denver secondary missing their top five corners, and Carolina’s offense is good enough to stay in the game or back door cover against the Packers.
Your Guide To Betting Saturday's NFL Doubleheader
Week 15 features the first of two NFL Saturdays to close out the season. Our staff is here to walk you through…
UHH… THAT’S A LOT OF POINTS
Detroit +11 at Tennessee
Other than the end of the Matt Patricia era, the Lions aren’t typically a team that gets blown out. Their terrible defense will have its hands full against the Titans, but look for a backdoor cover late.
Jacksonville +13 at Baltimore
The Jaguars defense is bad, especially against the pass, but Baltimore is not a team that hurts you in the air, especially with their receivers ailing. The Jags have covered this line 8 times, so hopefully Minshew keeps it close after an emotional Ravens win on Monday.
New York Jets +17.5 at Los Angeles Rams
Am I still smarting from putting real American dollars on the Jets against Seattle last week only to see them lose 40–3? Yes. Yes I am. The Rams might only need to score 20 to cover this line, but a theme is a theme and the theme is picking the massive underdog to cover so close your eyes and hope.
Cincinnati +14 vs Pittsburgh (Monday)
The Bengals have scored 10 or fewer points in four of their last five and are starting something named Ryan Finley at quarterback against the league’s #1 defense. Remind me again why we are doing this underdogs theme? Ugh. It’s a busy sports week ahead with bowl games, NFL, and the NBA season starting. Make family plans Monday night, cuz you do not want to be watching this one.
HUGE DIVISIONAL BATTLES
Minnesota -3 vs Chicago
The way I see it, this is a win-win scenario for Vikings fans. Either Minnesota sweeps the Bears and keeps its playoff hopes alive, or Mitch Trubisky has a late game winning streak and pushes to keep his job for one more season against all odds.
Miami -1 vs New England
This is a serious danger spot for the Dolphins with the playoff hopes on the brink and a bad matchup with a rough run defense against Cam Newton, but Miami has won 5 of their last 7 at home against New England even when they weren’t any good, so trust the history here.
Houston +7.5 at Indianapolis
The Texans very nearly beat the Colts a few weeks ago, were it not for a late fumble, and 13 straight regular season games between these teams have been within single digits, all but one within one score. Count on Houston to keep things close and maybe even threaten an upset again.
IT’S A TRAP!!!
Washington +7 vs Seattle
Washington is the perfect matchup antidote for Seattle with an elite pass rush and pass defense against the one thing Seattle is great at. Dwayne Haskins might be an improvement over Alex Smith at this point anyway, and he has a great connection with Terry McLaurin. Washington hasn’t lost by this much since the first week of the season. Watch out for the upset.
Atlanta +6.5 vs Tampa Bay
The Falcons have won 6 of their last 7 against Tampa. The Bucs need to be careful here. Atlanta has quietly been pretty solid since their nightmare opening month and now ranks above average on defense. Can Matt Ryan find enough offense without Julio Jones to keep up?
New York Giants +6.5 vs Cleveland (Sunday night)
This is an emotional letdown spot for the Browns after throwing everything they had at the Ravens at home on Monday night and coming up short anyway. The Giants need this to keep their playoff homes alive, and it’s a chance for a Freddie Kitchens and Colt McCoy revenge game too.
THE GAME OF THE WEEK
New Orleans +4 vs Kansas City
Drew Brees is back, and this is the game of the weekend and a potential Super Bowl preview. The Saints have the defense to keep the Chiefs at least somewhat in check, and Sean Payton lives for these big games and loves to draw up trick plays in spots like this. The key matchup may be the Saints rushing attack, which ranks second in the league, against a terrible Chiefs run defense. The Saints can win this by looking a lot more like the Ravens, playing tough defense, running the ball, and keeping Mahomes on the sidelines. If they go pass happy with a rusty Brees instead, that script is not in their favor.
WEEK 15 BEST BETS
San Francisco -2.5 at Dallas
Remember the glory days of the 90s when this was the game of the year every season? These teams had Super Bowl aspirations before the season but are barely hanging onto faint playoff hopes now. Neither team is good at much, but San Francisco’s defense should be enough.
Philadelphia +7.5 at Arizona
Will Jalen Hurts be as effective with a week of film on him? Arizona’s defense can be beaten, but so can Philly’s, and DeAndre Hopkins could shred this secondary. The Cards aren’t playing great ball but need this one badly to keep the final playoff spot. Look for a close game late.
LA Chargers +3.5 at Las Vegas (Thursday)
Well, 1–0 for best bets so far is a nice start, no matter how hard Anthony Lynn tried otherwise. Considering we’ve gone 1–2 on best bets a few weeks in a row, congratulations to the Cardinals and Cowboys. Enjoy the games! ■