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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

2014 NFL Week 15 Predictions: Battle For The Division

Thursday, Dec. 11


Arizona Cardinals (10-3) @ St. Louis Rams (6-7), 8:25 p.m.

The Cardinals showed that they can put up enough points to win, but this week they will go up against a defense that has not allowed a score since Week 12. Drew Stanton had another not-going-to-win-you-games performance, so the Cardinals will have to find a way to run the ball. The Rams' run defense looks good on the stat sheet, but they have not faced a starting-quality back since Ryan Mathews, who ran 105 and a score on them. The Cardinals will be without Andre Ellington, though, so they will see if Kerwynn Williams, who ran for 100 yards against the Chiefs, is the real deal.

Shaun Hill and the Rams' offense has looked good, but they have faced some porous defenses in the past few weeks. They will be put up to the test against the Cardinals, who have held eight of their last nine opponents to under 21 points. The Cardinals are among the league's best in stuffing the run, so the Rams will have to turn to Shaun Hill and their shaky receiving corps. Antonio Cromartie, though, is dealing with an injury, so the Rams' offense should be able to produce through the air.

St. Louis Rams Win, 16-13


Sunday, Dec. 14


Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5) @ Atlanta Falcons (5-8), 1:00 p.m.

Ben Roethlisberger has been a bit inconsistent, but going up against the last-ranked pass defense, he should fare well. Le'Veon Bell should have a good game too, as the Falcons have allowed a league-high 17 rushing touchdowns.

The Falcons have a very explosive offense, but their lead receiver, Julio Jones, is dealing with an injury. If the Falcons are without Jones, their offense will struggle, as there is no one that can step in his place and carry the offense. The Steelers' defense has had a lot of trouble limiting big plays, though, so the Falcons' offense may find a way to put up points.

Pittsburgh Steelers Win, 37-24


Washington Redskins (3-10) @ New York Giants (4-9), 1:00 p.m.

The Redskins' offense played its worse last week, failing to score once against the Rams. They will face a less-talented defense in New York, one much worse against the run, so Alfred Morris should be able to rebound. The quarterback play, though, is still a question mark, even if Colt McCoy is to return.

The Giants' offense rebounded big time against the Titans, putting up 36 points, which is second only to their 45-point performance against the Redskins in Week 4. The Giants may not be able to get much going with the running game, as it has been inconsistent all year, but they should be able to move the ball through the air against a defense that has allowed a quarterback rating of 109.2.

New York Giants Win, 33-20


Miami Dolphins (7-6) @ New England Patriots (10-3), 1:00 p.m.

The Dolphins have proven to be one of the league's more inconsistent team, but after two down performances, this team should trend upwards. The problem, though, is that they will be up against a very good team. The Patriots' defense has been the best in the league at containing big plays on the ground, but they have been prone to allowing those through the air. If the Dolphins' offense is to put up points, their receivers must step up and make plays down the field.

The Patriots' line has allowed just 18 sacks on the year, but they may have their hands full with a defensive front that prides themselves around rushing the passer. However, if they do manage to hold their own, look for the Patriots' offense to produce at high rates, as the Dolphins' secondary is not capable of sustaining coverages when the pass rush struggles.

New England Patriots Win, 31-23


Oakland Raiders (2-11) @ Kansas City Chiefs (7-6), 1:00 p.m.

After winning their second game in three weeks, the Raiders will look to beat the team that they won their first game against. Derek Carr had an outstanding performance last week, posting career-highs in completion percentage, yards per attempt, and passer rating, but Latavius Murray had a bit of an iffy game. The Chiefs' defense showed up last week, so do not expect Carr to have a similar performance.

The Chiefs' offense struggled to move the ball, abandoning the run game and leaning on Alex Smith for production. That did not work, as the Chiefs constantly found themselves in third-and-long situations. The Raiders' defense showed what potential that they had, holding the 49ers to just 13 points and picking off Colin Kaepernick twice, but they allowed the Rams to put up 52 points just one week prior to that.

Kansas City Chiefs Win, 30-20


Houston Texans (7-6) @ Indianapolis Colts (9-4), 1:00 p.m.

Arian Foster should start off great, as the Colts have a below average run defense. Foster, though, will likely not get the ball much later in the game. The offense as whole will struggle, as without Andre Johnson, the Colts' will be able to focus on the run game and force Ryan Fitzpatrick to air it out.

The Colts' offense had some trouble early on, but they came back in the second half, as they always have. After a bit of a shaky outing, look for Dan Herron to see even less playing time, as the Texans' run defense has stepped up in recent weeks. The Colts will likely spread the Texans out, allowing them to exploit the Texans' struggling secondary.

Indianapolis Colts Win, 38-23


Cincinnati Bengals (8-4-1) @ Cleveland Browns (7-6), 1:00 p.m.

The Bengals' offensive production, in terms of points, has often fluctuated, as neither Andy Dalton nor the team's running backs have been particularly reliable. Dalton's passer rating has gone up and down by 40 points or so in every three-week period while Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard have failed to have a game where both were productive. The Browns' defense has been noticeably week against the run, though, so look for one of the backs to shine this week, while the Bengals will likely keep Dalton behind closed curtains.

Johnny Manziel will be starting against the Bengals, but look for Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell to receive most of the spotlight. The Bengals' defense has born torn up through the ground, while their secondary has done a solid job of containing opposing teams' passing attacks. Each back has topped 15 carries just once since the bye week, but look for them to both top 15 in this game.

Cincinnati Bengals Win, 31-27


Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) @ Baltimore Ravens (8-5), 1:00 p.m.

The Jaguars have stepped up a few times and kept games close, but most of that has been due to their defensive efforts. Their offense, on the other hand, has not played very well. Blake Bortles is still in the midst of a very rough rookie year while Denard Robinson's carries have dropped every game since his breakout performance in Week 7. The Ravens have one of the league's more stout run defenses, so that pattern for Robinson may continue. However, the Ravens have a very shaky secondary, so Bortles and his receivers match up favorably.

With a productive passing game and an explosive running game, the Ravens have one of the more complete offenses in the league. The Jaguars' defense has been torched through the air, but they are one of the best at rushing the passer. The Ravens will likely hand it off to Justin Forsett often to throw the Jaguars' defense off.

Baltimore Ravens Win, 33-21


Green Bay Packers (9-3) @ Buffalo Bills (7-6), 1:00 p.m.

After being held under 30 points twice in a row, the Packers' offense rebounded, scoring 43 in what looked to possibly end in a shootout. The Bills, meanwhile, held the Broncos to just 24 points, having allowed a team to score more than 30 just once this season. The Packers' line has done a decent job in pass protection, but they will certainly struggle against the Bills' front, who leads the league with 48 sacks. The Packers will want to run the ball with Eddie Lacy to use a more balanced attack, but the Bills have held opposing backs to just 3.9 yards per carry.

Fred Jackson has received more than 12 carries just once this year, despite C.J. Spiller's departure in Week 7. Look for the Bills to give the eighth-year back a heavy workload this week, as the Packers are giving up 4.4 yards per carry to opposing teams, while their pass defense has improved a ton over the year.

Green Bay Packers Win, 29-20


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-11) @ Carolina Panthers (4-8-1), 1:00 p.m.

The Buccaneers' offense has been one of the least productive in the league, scoring more than 17 points just three times all year, and just once since Week 5. The Panthers' defense has been torched by some of the more explosive offenses, but they held both the Falcons and the Saints to under 20 points, while a lot of the Vikings' points came off of special teams. The Panthers, though, still have a very suspect secondary, so guys like Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson should fare well.

The Buccaneers' defense had a nice showing in Week 13, holding the Bengals to just 14 points despite the offense's failure. They failed to build up momentum, though, as the Lions were able to put up 34 on them last week. Going up against a Panthers' offense that broke out last week, they will certainly have their hands full.

Carolina Panthers Win, 24-16


New York Jets (2-11) @ Tennessee Titans (2-11), 4:05 p.m.

The Jets are ranked 30th in scoring, but the Titans have allowed an average of 41 points in their last three games. They really have not fared too well against the run or the pass, so even an offense as stale as the Jets' should be able to produce against them.

With Zach Mettenberger out for the year, the Titans will be forced to turn to their former first-round pick, Jake Locker. Locker has thrown three picks to just one touchdown in relief of Mettenberger in the past two weeks. The Jets possess a stout run defense, so Bishop Sankey and Shonn Greene are unlikely to make much of an impact.

New York Jets Win, 20-9


Denver Broncos (10-3) @ San Diego Chargers (8-5), 4:05 p.m.

The Broncos' offense has been through a bit of a rough patch, averaging just 20 points in three of the last four games. The Chargers' defense, though, is not on the caliber of the Rams, Chiefs, and Bills. Look for the Broncos' offense to rebound.

Without a reliable playmaker on offense, the Chargers have not been able to consistently stay in games against some of the more productive teams. The Broncos are allowing just 3.5 yards per run and 6.2 per pass, which are good for second and first, respectively. Ryan Mathews cannot be relied on for production, so the Chargers will have to turn to Philip Rivers to keep the chains moving.

Denver Broncos Win, 31-23


Minnesota Vikings (6-7) @ Detroit Lions (9-4), 4:25 p.m.

Nine weeks removed from their three-point performance against the Lions back in October, the Vikings will look to prove that they can keep up with the high-caliber teams. Their running game took a hit, with Jerick McKinnon out for the rest of the season, so if the Vikings' offense is to produce against the Lions, they must spread them out, like what the Patriots did in Week 12.

The Lions' offense looked to be hitting rock bottom, scoring a combined 15 points against the Cardinals and the Patriots, but they rebounded, putting 34 points in each of the next two weeks. The Vikings' defense has struggled against the run, so look for Reggie Bush and Joique Bell to get the ball early and often. That will open way for Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, who match up very favorably against a Viking secondary that has had trouble holding their own.

Detroit Lions Win, 27-20


San Francisco 49ers (7-6) @ Seattle Seahawks (9-4), 4:25 p.m.

The 49ers have one of the least productive offenses and will be up against one of the best defenses. The Seahawks ranked third in run defense and first in pass, allowing just 275 yards per game. They should not have too much trouble containing the 49ers' ground game, while Colin Kaepernick may stop himself before the defense needs to.

The 49ers' defense has been very potent, but they have taken a bit of a step back. The Seahawks' offense, on the other hand, seems to be trending upwards, with Russell Wilson receiving plenty of praise for his most recent game. Look for the Seahawks' offense to have a more successful game than the one they had in their previous match-up.

Seattle Seahawks Win, 23-17


Dallas Cowboys (9-4) @ Philadelphia Eagles (9-4), 8:30 p.m.

The Cowboys' offense rebounded big time, putting up 41 points in Week 14 after being held to just 10 against the Eagles. The Eagles' defense meanwhile, looked a bit shaky, struggling to contain Russell Wilson in what would end up to be a 24-14 loss. The run defense still played well, holding Marshawn Lynch to just 86 yards off of 23 carries, though, so do not look for DeMarco Murray to make the type of impact he made in Chicago. Tony Romo will have to lead the offense if they are to succeed in Philadelphia.

The Eagles' offense failed to get anything going against the Seahawks, but the Cowboys' defense is down another level or two. LeSean McCoy should be able to top 100 yards again, while Mark Sanchez will not face extreme pressure or tough man-to-man coverages. In the end, this will likely play out to be a shootout.

Philadelphia Eagles Win, 38-35


Monday, Dec. 15


New Orleans Saints (5-8) @ Chicago Bears (5-8), 8:30 p.m.

The Saints are coming off of their worst offensive effort in 2014, but they will be given a fair chance to rebound against the Bears. The Bears' defense has been very porous in weeks previous, allowing the Lions to put up 34 points and the Cowboys to score 41. The Saints' offense matches up favorably, as the Bears are allowing an average of 4.3 yards per carry and have allowed a league-high 30 passing touchdowns.

The Bears' offense has some of the most talented players in the league, but they have not been too productive this year. Now with Brandon Marshall out, the offense will struggle more. However, the Saints have allowed an average of 32 points in the last five games, so they may find themselves in contention for a win this week. The Saints' secondary has been burnt repeatedly while much of their front seven has yet to make a name for themselves.

New Orleans Saints Win, 34-30


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