2016 NFL Picks: Week 15
Last Week: 4-4
- Detroit Lions +4.5 at New York Giants
- Pittsburgh Steelers -3.5 at Cincinnati Bengals
- Jacksonville Jaguars +6 at Houston Texans
- Buffalo Bills -10.5 vs. Cleveland Browns
- Minnesota Vikings -4 vs. Indianapolis Colts
- Baltimore Ravens -6 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
- Kansas City Chiefs -5.5 vs. Tennessee Titans
- Arizona Cardinals -2.5 vs. New Orleans Saints
- New England Patriots -3.5 at Denver Broncos
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers +7 at Dallas Cowboys
- Carolina Panthers +6 at Washington Redskins
A 4-4 finish last week brings us to 13-13-1 over the last three weeks. I'd say "we're not f***ing going .500 again this week", but continuing last week's joke about an impending contract from the Rams isn't as funny after they fired the source material. Instead, I'll blame the top-6 offenses of the Cowboys, Raiders, and Saints, who combined for 31 points in their losses.
I don't know exactly what came over me while reviewing the lines this week. Was it frustration from idling at three games under .500 since Week 11? The lack of any spreads really jumping out at me? Or perhaps a sense of panic at the prospect of relying on Week 17 picks, when the best teams are resting starters? Whatever it was, I've put away my spreadsheets, and we have eleven picks to cover. I'll try to keep these brief!
Detroit Lions +4.5 at New York Giants
Let's start with a battle of 9-4 teams no one believes in. In the away uniforms, you have the Detroit Lions, a team that once allowed Case Keenum to complete 19 consecutive passes (never forget) and has a point differential of +27. Hosting them are the New York Giants, the only 9-win team with a worse point differential (+11) and the only team to beat the 11-2 Dallas Cowboys this season. Adding to the complexity is an dark horse (and nonsensical) MVP candidate Matthew Stafford's injured throwing hand, which could negatively impact his ball speed or ball control. It's hard to picture the Lions failing to disappoint their fans, but it will be much more impactful in Week 17 against the Packers. If Odell Beckham Jr. doesn't single-handedly ruin this pick like he did last week against Dallas and back in Week 9, this showcase of inconsistency ends 17-14 and the Lions cover whether they win or lose.
Pittsburgh Steelers -3.5 at Cincinnati Bengals
This line is low enough to make me very suspicious, but I'm taking the road favorite Steelers anyway. These teams met in Week 2 when A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard were healthy, Le'Veon Bell was suspended, and a Week 1 win over the Jets seemed impressive; now, Green and Bernard are hurt, Bell is coming off of a virtuoso performance, and the Jets are starting Bryce Petty in NFL games. The Steelers won the first meeting by 8, so 3.5 seems easy. For our more statistically-inclined readers, I offer our secret handshake and Pittsburgh's superior DVOA in offense, defense, special teams, and line play as supporting evidence.
Jacksonville Jaguars +6 at Houston Texans
This game will not be on my television this weekend. Even if the accursed regional coverage rules make it the only NFL action available, Kat's early Christmas present of Final Fantasy XV provides greater entertainment even if I just put it on in the background. Brock Osweiler and Blake Bortles are both capable of shanking their teams' hopes at any moment, but the sneaky angle in this game is Jacksonville is slightly better in both offensive and special teams DVOA while only barely trailing on defense. I'm not saying the Bortortle will bring the Jaguars their third win of the year, but as a team they should stay within six of Brock.
Buffalo Bills -10.5 vs. Cleveland Browns
Rumors of Rex Ryan's demise are (understandably) circulating while similar (less understandable) questions surround Tyrod Taylor's future. I guess when your offense ranks 10th in DVOA and your defense ranks 22nd, you blame your quarterback? Anyway, these rumblings had me eyeing the Browns +10.5 until I reviewed their schedule. In addition to being 0-13, they've only played four games decided by less than 11 points. The've lost by at least 13 in each of their last five games. Despite Joe Thomas's best efforts, I think that streak will stretch to six games this week. Such is life when you're bad at passing the ball (27th), stopping the run (32nd), stopping the pass (31st), and special teams (28th).
Minnesota Vikings -4 vs. Indianapolis Colts
As an Andrew Luck fantasy owner in the first round of the league's playoffs, this is a really unfortunate matchup. As someone who enjoys watching Andrew Luck play, it represents a real chance of prematurely ending his season. The Colts have struggled to keep Luck upright, and Minnesota comes into this game ranked 2nd in adjusted sack rate. I have no reason to believe the Colts will suddenly avoid mismatches like leaving Tight End Dwayne Allen on an island against Jadeveon Clowney this deep into the season. Minnesota's defensive line has a chance to truly dominate this game, and the Colts' defense isn't intimidating anyone.
Baltimore Ravens -6 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Ravens and the Eagles are quite similar through thirteen games this season. Both have top five defenses (Philadelphia 5th, Baltimore 2nd) and top six special teams (Philadelphia 3rd, Baltimore 6th) by DVOA, and both have been starting rookie quarterbacks since Week 1. Wait, Joe Flacco is 31 years old and worth $22.5 million dollars on the Ravens' salary cap this year? Ouch. While Flacco hasn't been worth his contract this season (or any season of it, for that matter), he'll provide enough offense to get the Ravens a solid win at home this week.
Kansas City Chiefs -5.5 vs. Tennessee Titans
Tennessee defied the odds to become entertaining this season, but Kansas City is becoming downright scary. It's possible Justin Houston, Dee Ford, and Tamba Hali will all suit up for the Chiefs this week, and Alex Smith is suddenly capable of throwing the ball downfield. They also have a large advantage in special teams, where Dave Toub's unit ranks 2nd in DVOA compared to the Titans' 23rd. In Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs defense should stymie the Titans and combine with the special teams to make enough big plays to win comfortably.
Arizona Cardinals -2.5 vs. New Orleans Saints
I wish I'd thought about this a couple of weeks ago, but it's possible the 37-year old Drew Brees is wearing down over the course of his 16th season. True or not, the Saints have struggled to produce points lately, scoring 13 points against the Lions' 31st-ranked defense and 11 points against the Buccaneers' 10th-ranked defense. This week, they face a Cardinals team ranked 3rd in defensive DVOA. It has been a very disappointing season for Arizona, but I think they'll put together one or two good games to finish the year.
New England Patriots -3.5 at Denver Broncos
This line is about three points too low, and I think it's because Brock Osweiler beat the Patriots in Denver last year. This Broncos defense just isn't the same, though. They're still the best in the business against the pass, but they rank a lowly 25th against the run. Tom Brady has demonstrated an ability to put up points against any defense, which leaves the outcome of this game in the hands of Trevor Siemian. Without any help from Denver's 28th-ranked run game, I don't think he'll get them to 17 points, which means a tough home loss for the Broncos.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +7 at Dallas Cowboys
I am almost positive the simulated score above will be very, very wrong. Despite the Cowboys' dominance this year, they haven't blown many teams out, and in recent weeks they've struggled against good defenses. Tampa Bay has been steadily improving over the course of the season and enter this contest on a five-game win streak. With Jameis Winston's turnover bug mitigated by the Cowboys' struggles to create turnovers (tied for 23rd), I think this game will remain close enough for a garbage-time, backdoor cover courtesy of Mike Evans.
Carolina Panthers +6 at Washington Redskins
The Panthers have lost some truly excruciating games this year, with five of their eight losses coming by three points or fewer. The Redskins, meanwhile, would only have covered a six point spread in three of their seven wins, and one of those doesn't count because it was against the Browns. Both teams have a legitimate path to win this game, so I'll take the six points.