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*Team listed in BOLD is my pick to win the game
Seattle (vs. Cleveland) – The Seahawks are arguably the hottest team in the NFL and they are playing well on both sides of the ball. Seattle started the season 2-4 but has won six out of their last seven and are riding a four-game winning streak. The offense is rolling and they have outscored their opponents 206-110 over the last seven games and their success can be pinned on quarterback Russell Wilson. He has played exceptionally well during this winning streak completing 89 of his 118 passes (75%) and has thrown 16 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. His favorite target over the last five games has been Doug Baldwin who has averaged 103 yards per game with a total of nine touchdowns. But it’s not all roses for the Seahawks because they will need to find a new starting running back to replace Thomas Rawls who suffered a broken ankle on Sunday. They have signed Bryce Brown and Christine Michael and it appears as though they will share the duties with Fred Jackson for now. The Browns have the huge challenge of going into Seattle and beating this red hot Seahawks team. The Browns are coming off a nice win against the 49ers in Week 14, but Seattle is a much bigger monster than San Francisco both offensively and defensively. Johnny Manziel started the game last week and he spread the ball around to Brian Hartline, Gary Barnidge and Travis Benjamin, completing 17 passes for 232 yards and one touchdown to those three players. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson carved apart the 49ers defense for 223 rushing yards and two touchdowns, averaging 6.75 yards per rush. Do not expect that type of production this week from those two running backs, or even from their receivers this week against a Seahawks’ defense that has allowed opponents to gain 306 yards or less of total offense in five of their last seven games. In fact, in three of those games they have allowed 125, 142 and 220 total yards. Because the Seahawks are playing so well, they should continue to dominate inferior teams like the Browns and should inch closer to locking up a playoff spot.
New England (vs. Tennessee) – The New England Patriots bounced back from their two-game losing streak by beating the Houston Texans 27-6 in Week 14 and doing so by making the Texans’ two best players non-factors in the game. The Patriots’ offensive line is beaten up, but they managed to contain J.J. Watt by double and triple teaming him for most of the game. On defense, they wouldn’t allow DeAndre Hopkins to beat them and they held him to just three catches for 52 yards. The Patriots also welcomed back Rob Gronkowski and he made his presence known, catching four balls for 87 yards including a one-yard touchdown. The Patriots will host the Titans this week and they should control this game from start to finish. The Titans were manhandled by the Jets in their 30-8 loss last Sunday. Marcus Mariota was under pressure all game and was sacked five times. You can expect that the Patriots will dial up the same type of pressure against Mariota. Antonio Andrews won’t be able to get much going on the ground to start the game, but I expect that the Titans will eventually abandon the run once they are trailing by 2+ scores. On the offensive side of the football, Tom Brady shouldn’t have any trouble spreading the ball around to James White, Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. Julian Edelman started practicing with the team last week, so they are hopeful that he can make his return this week adding some much-needed weaponry for Brady. LeGarrette Blount is done for the season but it is expected that Brandon Bolden will be the early-down back. The chances that you haven’t used the Patriots yet this season are probably very slim, but in the event they are still available to you, this is a great week to finally take them.
Arizona (@ Philadelphia) – The Cardinals are another team that continues to roll as they are coming off their 7th straight victory with their win against the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday Night. Granted, the Vikings gave them a scare, but veteran Dwight Freeney saved the day by stripping Teddy Bridgewater with five seconds left in the game which secured the win for the Cards. Carson Palmer threw for 302 yards with 107 yards accounting for two touchdown plays to John Brown and Michael Floyd. David Johnson ran the ball well again in his 2nd career start and has now run for 191 yards in both starts while averaging 4.66 yards per carry. The Cardinals’ offense should continue to play well this week against the Philadelphia Eagles that rank 28th in the NFL in total defense. The Eagles are susceptible to big plays so I expect Palmer to connect with one of his three receivers for a long touchdown in this game. Defensively for Arizona, good offensive teams have been able to put up points against them, but Philadelphia isn’t a very good offensive team. Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews are going to have a lot of trouble finding open holes and I expect Sam Bradford to make a few mistakes throughout the game as he will try to keep pace with the Cardinals’ offense which will lead to Bradford forcing balls into coverage, resulting in turnovers. The Eagles have won two games in a row including an impressive win on the road in New England. But the Eagles’ defense is facing a better offense this week than they did against a shorthanded Patriots team or Bills team they played just last week. They will be overwhelmed by the amount of playmakers the Cardinals have on offense plus I expect the Cardinals’ defense to shut the Eagles’ offense down for the majority of the game.
Kansas City (@ Baltimore) – The Chiefs were without the services of Justin Houston in Week 13 but they still played well and held the Chargers to just 3 points in their win against San Diego. The Chiefs forced San Diego to punt four times, held them to two field goal attempts and kept them out of the end zone on a first and goal from the 1 yard line. The Chiefs have to travel to Baltimore this weekend and take on another inept offense for a second straight week. The Ravens are plagued by injuries and were forced to start Jimmy Clausen against the Seahawks on Sunday. Clausen wasn’t awful, but if he’s forced to start again this week, I’d expect a similar type of production from him again. The Ravens will most likely have issues running the football again this week as the Chiefs have only allowed opponents to rush for 100 or more yards twice over the last nine games. As for the Chiefs, I expected them to generate a lot more offense this week than they did against the Chargers last week. Kansas City only scored 10 points against the Chargers which was the lowest amount of points they have scored all season. I was very shocked about this because they had scored a minimum of 29 points in each of their last four games. Alex Smith also threw his first interception since Week 3 and hadn’t thrown one in his last 312 passes. I believe Smith will protect the football this week against a Ravens team that has just four interceptions on the season. I have the expectation that the Kansas City offense turns things around this week and that their defense shuts down Baltimore’s offense thus making them a decent play in Survivor Pools this week.
Carolina (@ NY Giants) – Cam Newton is really starting to cement himself as the league MVP after another fantastic performance in Week 14 against the Falcons. In that game, Cam completed 15 of his 21 passes for 265 and three touchdowns. What was even more impressive than Carolina’s quarterback was their defense. Carolina’s defense held the Falcons to 230 yards, forced four turnovers (2 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries) and made sure that Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones didn’t beat them. Josh Norman covered Jones in the game and he was held to seven catches for 88 yards with most of his production coming once the game was out of reach. I’m expecting Norman to cover Odell Beckham in Week 15, and although I don’t think he will completely shut him down in this game, he will make Beckham earn every single catch he makes. The Giants got a much-needed win against the Dolphins on Monday night and Eli Manning played very well in that game, completing 27 of his 31 passes and 4 touchdown throws. Manning avoided getting sacked in that game, but he was hit five times and eight of his passes were deflected. The Giants’ offensive line is going to have their hands full against the Panthers and their pass rush. The Panthers will make their presence known and will make sure to hit Eli throughout the game, hoping to get into his head and get him flustered. The only thing that makes me nervous about this game is that the Panthers have already clinched a bye in the playoffs, which means they could rest their starters at any point. I don’t think Ron Rivera will do that this week, but keep in mind that possibility. As long as the Panthers’ starters play the entire game, or at least for the majority of the game, I believe that the Panthers will keep their undefeated season intact for at least one more week.
Green Bay (@ Oakland) – Can we finally start to trust the Packers and their offense? The Packers already made a fool out me this season, but I think they are starting to figure things out. Behind the play calling of head coach Mike McCarthy, they finally showed that they can beat teams on the ground and in the air. The Packers faced a tough Cowboys’ defense and were led by Eddie Lacy and James Starks. Lacy was benched a week ago for violating curfew, but if you discount that game, Lacy has played really well since Week 11 accumulating 329 rushing yards and averaging 5.2 yards per carry. If opposing teams have to start respecting the Packers’ run game, which I believe the Raiders will be doing, that will open up the passing game for Rodgers which is why I think the Packers are going to light up the Raiders’ defense this weekend. The other key to this game will be how well the Packers’ defense plays. They’ve done a nice job over their last five games allowing an average of 15.6 points to opponents. But the Packers may be without Sam Shields if he doesn’t pass concussion protocol this week. If he doesn’t go, that will be a major blow to their defense, but that will be good news for Amari Cooper who was held without a catch against the Broncos last week. Cooper has struggled as of late and has not been able to make plays on some catchable passes. Derek Carr struggled out of the gate against the Broncos and had just 7 passing yards at the half, but really turned it around in the second half and threw for 128 yards and two touchdowns in the second half to help lead the Raiders to a shocking win on the road in Denver. For the Raiders to have a shot in this game, they will need Latavius Murray to run the ball against a weak Packers’ run defense. In the end, the Packers’ offense should torch the Raiders on the ground and in the air leaving it up to the Raiders trying to play catch-up and keep pace with the Packers. As long as the Packers’ defense continues to play well and if they can figure out a way to shut down Oakland’s offense the Packers should pull out the win this week on the road in Oakland.
NY Jets (vs. Dallas) – Although the Green Bay Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday, the Cowboys’ defense kept them in the game for the first 50 minutes of the game and gave the Cowboys’ offense a chance to win the game. But due to the fact that the defense was out on the field for just under 38 minutes of the game they eventually became exhausted and allowed James Starks and Eddie Lacy put the nail in the coffin. It was the offense that was a huge letdown. Other than a couple big runs by Darren McFadden and Robert Turbin, the Cowboys’ offense couldn’t move the chains and were forced to settle for punting the ball seven times while turning the ball over on downs twice. You should expect that the Cowboys’ offense will struggle again on Saturday night against the Jets’ stout defense. The Jets have the #1 ranked run defense in the league and has allowed just two rushing touchdowns on the season. Although the Cowboys have a great offensive line that does a nice job creating running lanes for McFadden, I believe that won’t be the case this week and the Jets will stuff the run. That means that Matt Cassel will need to beat the Jets with his arm, which isn’t very promising. The Jets’ offense has played well this season and Ryan Fitzpatrick has really developed good chemistry with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. As long as the Jets’ defense forces the Cowboys offense to 3 and outs and if their offense can sustain drives, much like what the Packers did in Week 14, the Jets should eventually wear down the Cowboys’ defense and pull out the win at home at MetLife Stadium.
Jacksonville (vs. Atlanta) – The Jaguars pulled within one game of the Colts and Texans in the AFC South after they defeated the Colts 51-16 in Week 14. The game remained close for the first 30 minutes and Indianapolis had a 13-9 halftime lead. But Blake Bortles and the Jaguars’ offense took over in the second half and outscored the Colts 42-3. The Jaguars have another favorable matchup this week against the Falcons’ defense that allows an average of 243 passing yards per game and 7.2 yards per pass. The Falcons don’t have much of a pass rush, so you should expect that Bortles will have a lot of time to let plays develop so that his receivers like Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and tight end Julius Thomas can get open and make plays. Atlanta has done a decent job against the run this year, but if T.J. Yeldon can suit up this week after leaving last week’s game with a sprained knee, he should be able to run for 80 yards and a touchdown. If Yeldon can’t go, Denard Robinson should carry the ball about 20 times in this game and should be able to run the ball well. For the Jaguars to pull out the win, they’ll need to get timely stops on defense, which isn’t something they’ve done consistently this year. They will have their hands full with Devonta Freeman, but they have held their opponents to under 100 rushing yards in four of the last six games. Julio Jones will be the primary playmaker on offense for Atlanta, but look for the Jags to double team him at times in order to force Matt Ryan to throw it elsewhere. Both teams are fighting for their playoff lives and both have an uphill battle to secure a playoff spot, but I believe that the Falcons’ free fall will continue for another week, extending their losing streak to seven games.
Cincinnati (@ San Francisco) – The Bengals suffered a huge blow when Andy Dalton left last week’s game against the Steelers with a broken thumb on his throwing hand. Initial reports were that Dalton would be lost for the rest of the season, but now it’s being reported there is a chance he could return this season and play in the playoffs. Either way, that’s not what we’re worried about here. What we care about is whether or not he’s playing this week against the 49ers, which he isn’t. That means second year quarterback A.J. McCarron will make his first career start on the road in San Francisco. McCarron played better than expected last week when he came in to replace Dalton. He threw for 280 yards and completed 69% of his passes, but he also threw a pick-6. The 49ers are going to attempt to put pressure on McCarron and try to force him to make rookie-type mistakes, but the Bengals’ offensive line has done a very good job protecting Dalton all year (23 sacks allowed) and should continue to do so this week for McCarron. As for the Niners, their offensive line was completely dominated by the Browns last week which led to Blaine Gabbert getting sacked a total of 9 times. I don’t expect the line having much success against the Bengals’ defense that has recorded 34 sacks on the season. The best chance for the 49ers to win this game will be on the ground with Shaun Draughn. The issue is that Draughn hasn’t carried the ball more than 16 times in any single game this season, which means I don’t expect him to be a workhorse. I believe A.J. McCarron will play well enough to beat the 49ers on the road, but he is the wild card and is the reason why I’m listing them as a risky play this week.
Tampa Bay (@ St. Louis) – The Buccaneers and Rams face off on Thursday night and both teams are just playing for respectability at this point. The Bucs are two games out of the playoffs, but with only three games left in the season, it’s very unlikely that they’ll be able to find their way into the postseason. The Bucs had chances to stay in the playoff hunt, but they let what should have been winnable games slip away. Case in point, last week against the Saints. They couldn’t get anything going in the passing game against one of the worst pass defenses in the league. What is frustrating is that Mike Evans was held to just three catches on the day. It didn’t help that Vincent Jackson was injured during the game, but they still needed to find a way to get Evans the ball. What was a bit perplexing was that they abandoned the run even though the Saints had problems stopping Doug Martin. But for some reason, they only allowed Doug Martin to carry the ball 11 times even though he ran for 81 yards. I think that the Bucs will need to commit and stick to the running game in order for them to win this week. The Rams will need to do the same with Todd Gurley who finally broke out of his slump against the Lions rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries. However, Tampa has a much better run defense than Detroit and only allows 3.4 rushing yards per attempt. They should load the box and force Case Keenum to beat them through the air, which I don’t believe is very likely to happen.
Minnesota (vs. Chicago) – The Minnesota Vikings came very close to pulling off an upset win on the road in Arizona in Week 14, but their hopes of sending the game to overtime were crushed when Teddy Bridgewater was sacked and fumbled the football with five seconds left in the game. Despite that fumble, Bridgewater played arguably his best game of the season and it came against a very good defensive team. What was impressive was that Bridgewater completed passes to 11 different players. The Bears’ defense ranks 2nd in the NFL in passing yards per game but ranks 30th in rushing yards per attempt, allowing 4.7 yards per rush. That leads me to believe that Adrian Peterson will be fed the football early and often in this game. If A.P. is able to rip off a couple long runs, it should eventually open up the passing game for Minnesota. Like Minnesota, Chicago will also have to focus on establishing the run with both Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford. The Vikings have allowed an average of 121.5 rushing yards per game over their last seven games. In fact, these two teams faced off in Week 7 and Forte and Langford combined for 87 yards but only averaged 3.95 yards per rush. If they don’t improve the running game this time against the Vikings, I think the Bears will fall victim to Minnesota for the second time this season.
Pittsburgh (vs. Denver) – The Steelers remained in the playoff hunt with their win over the Bengals in Week 14 and remain tied with the Chiefs and Jets with an 8-5 record. Although the Steelers are on the outside of the playoffs looking in due to tiebreakers, I think the Steelers actually have their eyes still set on the AFC North Division now that Andy Dalton is injured and could be out for the remainder of the regular season. It won’t be easy for Pittsburgh to make the playoffs, let alone win the division because they have some very tough games coming up, including this week against the Broncos. Pittsburgh is arguably the best offensive team in football, but the Broncos, who rank 1st in total defense, will make sure that Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t pick apart and pass all over their defense. As for Denver, they will look to rebound from their shocking loss to the Raiders last Sunday. The defense shut down the Raiders’ offense throughout the first half, but this loss falls on the shoulders of the Broncos’ offense. Between dropped passes and not being able to run the ball, the Broncos were unable to find the end zone and had to settle for four field goals in the first half while putting up a goose egg in the second half. The Broncos were without C.J. Anderson last week and it is uncertain if he’ll be able to return this week against Pittsburgh. If Anderson doesn’t play, I’d move Pittsburgh up a spot or two. But due to the fact that Denver’s defense should keep this game close and within striking distance, I’d recommend avoiding this game this week.
Miami (@ San Diego) – The Chargers came very close to pulling off the upset of the week on Sunday against the Chiefs despite the fact that Phillip Rivers was battling the flu. But the fact remains that the Chargers are unable to run the ball which makes them pretty easy to defend. Rivers was able to complete passes for 20+ yards on multiple occasions against Kansas City and they will look to do the same against the Dolphins’ secondary that allowed Odell Beckham to burn them a few times, including an 84 yard touchdown catch. One positive thing for Miami is that the Chargers don’t have an offensive weapon nearly as good as Beckham. Miami is going to win this game on the offensive side of the ball and as long as they commit to running the football they should come out of this game victorious. Lamar Miller was very successful running the football against the Giants in the first half and finished the game with 12 rushes for 89 yards and two touchdowns. But for some reason, the Dolphins only handed the ball to him one time in the second half which helped contribute to their loss. Yes, I believe Ryan Tannehill will be able to pass on the Chargers’ secondary and Jarvis Landry could be in line for a big game, but Miami will need to trust their running game, and if they do so, they should be able to beat the Chargers on the road this weekend.
Houston (@ Indianapolis) – The Patriots did an excellent job game planning against J.J. Watt by not allowing him to get to Tom Brady so I’m sure the Colts have probably taken notes and will attempt to do the same by doubling Watt in the game. Jadeveon Clowney finally put together a solid game with seven tackles and two sacks which is a good sign because the Texans will need Clowney to step up in this game especially if Watt has trouble beating double and possibly triple teams. The Colts will most likely stick Vontae Davis on DeAndre Hopkins and he will do his best against Hopkins, but I expect Hopkins to get the best of Davis a few times during this game. I believe the key for the Texans will be how well Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes run the ball. The Colts have allowed at least 132 rushing yards seven times this season, so Polk and Grimes need to be given lots of carries throughout this game. For the Colts, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was knocked out the game last week but he is expected to start on Sunday. T.Y. Hilton had his second best game of the season racking up 132 receiving yards on just four catches. I believe he will revert back to having a mediocre game since the Texans only allow 217 passing yards per game, ranking 3rd in the NFL. I feel that Houston will go into Indy and steal this game, but I don’t believe either team can be trusted right now which is why I believe that you should avoid both teams this week.
New Orleans (vs. Detroit) – Drew Brees helped lead the New Orleans Saints to a 24-17 win against the Bucs in Week 14, which also snapped their four-game losing streak. Brees should eclipse 300 passing yards again this week with the help of Brandin Cooks. I’m expecting a decent amount of scoring from both teams because I also believe that the Lions should also be able to move the ball against the Saints’ secondary. This could possibly result in Calvin Johnson finally going for over 100 receiving yards for just the second time this season. But the ‘X’ factor in this game could be Joique Bell. If Detroit can commit to the run and give the rock to Bell 12-15 times, he could possibly approach 100 yards and could also help Detroit with keeping the ball out of Brees’ hands. Unfortunately, I’m not confident that the Lions will do that and will only let him carry the ball less than 10 times again this week which is why I think the Saints will ultimately win this game.
Washington (vs. Buffalo) – Buffalo and Washington are both sitting at 6-7 and are fighting for the playoffs, although Buffalo is all but eliminated while Washington is hoping to win the NFC East. Neither team has played well consistently, which is alarming. One week both teams look like playoff-caliber teams, then the next they play very poorly. You never know what you’re going to get from either team on any given week. As for this game, Washington will not be able to run the ball against the Bills, but that should be expected of Matt Jones and Alfred Morris at this point in the season. On the other hand, the Bills have had problems defending the pass so Kirk Cousins should be able to get the ball in the hands of DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed. Keep in mind, Washington is 5-2 at home whereas the Bills are 3-4 on the road which has me leaning towards Washington this week. But then again, Washington has exchanged wins and losses in each of the last eight games so since they beat the Bears last week, does that mean they are in line for a loss?
Week 15 Survivor Pool Rankings:
1. Seattle Seahawks
2. New England Patriots
3. Arizona Cardinals
4. Kansas City Chiefs
5. Carolina Panthers
6. Green Bay Packers
7. New York Jets
8. Jacksonville Jaguars
9. Cincinnati Bengals
10. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
11. Minnesota Vikings
12. Pittsburgh Steelers
13. Miami Dolphins
14. Houston Texans
15. New Orleans Saints
16. Washington Redskins