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Any Given Sunday: Week 15 Preview

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Hello everyone, Josh here with your weekly NFL preview. Unfortunately, I'm working on a very tight schedule this week so I was not able to cover all of the games. I excluded a few that have no bearing on the playoff race whatsoever, but I'm sure you won't get too upset about not seeing any mention of the Browns and Chiefs. Feel free to discuss and berate these picks in the comments section below.

Saturday 8:20 PM EST

Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints

The Cowboys are a good team, but they are not good enough to beat the Saints in the Superdome. In the midst of yet another late season collapse, I just don't see how they will be able to get this win on the road. Dallas has been able to move the ball with ease between the twenties, but they have not been very efficient inside the redzone. Going up against a high scoring team like the Saints, I don't think they will be able to score enough touchdowns to keep up.

After a scary injury last week that resulted in him being carted off the field, linebacker DeMarcus Ware is expected to try and play Sunday. He is one of the games' top pass rushers and it is a blessing that he is able to return to the field so quickly, but Ware does not play offense and his presence will not be enough to get the Cowboys a win. I expect this match up to result in another disappointing loss for Dallas.

Prediction: New Orleans Saints

Sunday 1:00 PM EST

New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills

The Bills' secondary has played very well for most of the year, but that won't be enough to get them a win against the Patriots. Jairus Byrd is having one of the best seasons ever as a rookie safety. He currently leads the league with nine interceptions, and he could hit double digits this week. Tom Brady has been in the holiday spirit as of late, throwing an interception in six of his last seven games.

Buffalo's offense has been too inconsistent to think they can outscore New England, even at home, so if they are going to win they are going to win ugly. They will have their hands full trying to contain an angry Randy Moss, who came under fire last week for his allegedly lackluster effort. However, after further review the experts agree that Moss did not "shut it down," as he was accused of doing. At least the Bills will have the weather working in their favor.

Prediction: New England Patriots

San Francisco 49ers @ Philadelphia Eagles

The 49ers kept their playoff hopes alive with a convincing victory over the Cardinals last week. To have any chance of making the postseason, they must win the rest of their games. This is their toughest match up left on the schedule, and it is a difficult one indeed. The Eagles have some of the fastest wide receivers in the league, and that has allowed them to create lots of explosive plays in the passing game. San Francisco's corners tend to do better against bigger more physical receivers than smaller quicker ones, so that will be a key matchup in this game.

Left tackle Joe Staley will be returning from his knee injury and will get the start. Backup Barry Sims has been solid in Staley's absence, but there is no denying that his return will give the 49ers offensive line a boost.

Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles

Houston Texans @ St. Louis Rams

Houston has been up and down all year, but I like their chances to run up the score against the Rams. The Texans have one of the league's best passing offense and they should have no problem putting up points against St. Louis. Quarterback Matt Schaub is fourth in the league with 3,814 passing yards while the Rams rank 28th in pass defense DVOA.

St. Louis has struggled everywhere they have played this season, but their difficulties have been especially troubling at home where they have not won a game all year (0-6). Despite the disappointment, Rams fans do have some things to look forward to next year. Steven Jackson is still one of the top backs in the NFL, and leads the NFC with 1,279 rushing yards. Rookie linebacker James Laurinaitis has also excelled, racking up 104 tackles from his middle linebacker position.

Prediction: Houston Texans

Miami Dolphins @ Tennessee Titans

This game features two of the league's most dynamic rushing offenses. The Titans' running game has flourished with Vince Young at the helm, and Chris Johnson continues to flirt with 2,000 yards rushing. Meanwhile the Dolphins have successfully made the conversion from a Wildcat based attack to a more traditional power running game. Ricky Williams has run well in the absence of Ronnie Brown, averaging 104 yards in his four starts. The continued development of Chad Henne has also been a nice surprise for the Dolphins. Miami will need both Williams and Henne to play well if they want to stay in the playoff hunt with a win against the Titans.

Defensively, linebacker Joey Porter has rebounded from his slow start. In his last four games he has racked up 5.5 sacks, but he will need to play well against the run as well. These teams have shown outstanding mental and physical toughness, and this should be a great game to watch if you have the opportunity.

Prediction: Tennessee Titans

Atlanta Falcons @ New York Jets

There is no doubt that Atlanta has missed Matt Ryan and Michael Turner during this stretch run. The injuries those players suffered may have cost them a chance at the franchises' first ever consecutive winning seasons. The Falcons may get Turner back for this game, but he is not expected to be 100% and Matt Ryan is still out. Still, Chris Redman is a capable backup and the Jets will have to play smart football if they want to beat Atlanta.

The Jets are expecting Mark Sanchez to return to the starting lineup. Whoever is playing quarterback for New York, it's all about their defense and the running game. If Sanchez can limit his mental errors while under center, the Jets should be in a position to continue their winning ways.

Prediction: New York Jets

Arizona Cardinals @ Detroit Lions

After being embarrassed on national television on Monday night, I expect the Cardinals to come out with a vengeance. Kurt Warner should have no problem getting back on track against the Lions hapless pass defense, especially inside a dome. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is expected to play on Sunday despite suffering a knee injury against San Francisco last week.

For the Lions, this game is all about pride. They came out completely flat against the Baltimore in Week 14, and it resulted in a 45 point loss. Detroit does not have the talent to compete with Arizona, so if they want to have any chance at all of pulling off the upset they will need to show more heart than they did last week.

Prediction: Arizona Cardinals

Sunday 4:00-4:15 PM EST

Oakland Raiders @ Denver Broncos

The Broncos control their own destiny, but they cannot afford to slip-up against the rival Raiders. Oakland had been playing better with Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback, but they lost him to injury last week against the Redskins. Rather than start JaMarcus Russell, Coach Tom Cable has decided to go with Charlie Frye at quarterback. That should tell you a lot about Cables feelings towards Russell. When Charlie Frye is getting the start over your number one pick, something has gone awry.

Prediction: Denver Broncos

Cincinnati Bengals @ San Diego Chargers

The Bengals family suffered a terrible loss with the passing of Chris Henry this week, and it's hard to imagine how they are going to react when they take the field on Sunday. Obviously there will be a lot of emotion on Cincinnati's sideline, but it's difficult to gauge whether that will work for or against them. Given their smash mouth style of play, I anticipate them coming out and playing angry physical football.

On defense they have the corners to match up with San Diego's explosive receivers. Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall have both played well this year and they will have a big role in shutting down the Charger's dynamic offense. San Diego has won eight games in a row now, and has shown no signs of slowing down.

Prediction: San Diego Chargers

Chicago Bears @ Baltimore Ravens

Running back Ray Rice has done everything for the Ravens this year. He is second in the league in yards from scrimmage per game, trailing only Chris Johnson. He is coming off his best rushing performance of the year, and as Baltimore's most dynamic offensive player it is important that they feed him the ball against the Bears 24th ranked rush defense.  Defensively it will be up to Ray Lewis to prove he still has the mobility to stop Chicago's power running and short passing attack.

For the Bears, the disappointment is palpable and it's increasing with every loss. Their defense has been average at best, and their franchise quarterback has looked more like Rex Grossman than Peyton Manning. Jay Cutler is leading the league with 22 interceptions, but he needs some help from his offensive line. Chicago's pass protection has been suspect, and Cutler could be under duress for much of this game. Currently the Bears are stuck in Chicago due to the weather; if and when they do make it to Baltimore they may regret even making the trip.

Prediction: Baltimore Ravens

Green Bay @ Pittsburgh Steelers

This would be a really fun matchup if it featured Troy Polamalu in Pittsburgh's defensive secondary. Unfortunately, with the Steelers' playoff aspirations dashed by five consecutive losses, it seems unlikely that we will see Polamalu on the field again this season. This game features two of the league's most sacked quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers leads the NFL with 47 sacks, and Ben Roethlisberger is not far behind with 38. While you can expect to see a lot of negative yardage from both teams, the Packers should be able to dial up some big plays against Pittsburgh's secondary. The Steelers rank a respectable 14th in pass defense DVOA, but that is due in large part to their excellent pass rush. When they don't get pressure on the quarterback their defensive backfield has been repeatedly exposed.

Prediction: Green Bay Packers

Sunday 8:20 PM EST

Minnesota Vikings @ Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are a physical football team, much like the Cincinnati team the Vikings dominated last week. Unfortunately for Carolina, they are not as good as the Bengals and the Vikings still have something to play for this week. At 11-2, Minnesota still has an outside shot at home field advantage throughout the playoffs, so I'm expecting their best effort this week. The Panther's will have a hard time running against the Williams Wall in the middle of that Viking's defensive line, and if they cannot move the ball successfully on the ground I don't like their chances of upsetting Minnesota.

One thing working in the Panther's favor is their pass defense. They currently rank 6th in pass defense DVOA, and completely shutout Randy Moss last week. A timely interception against Brett Favre would greatly improve their chances in this game. Carolina's players will need to show some support for their coach by playing well, or John Fox could be out of a job at the end of this season.

Prediction: Carolina Panthers

Monday 8:30 PM EST

New York Giants @ Washington Redskins

The Giants suffered a tough loss at the hands of Philadelphia last week, and now they head to Washington to face another division opponent. The main culprit for their decline has been poor play from their secondary. New York has allowed 18 touchdown passes in the last nine games, and that just isn't good enough for them to have success. Second year wide-out Devin Thomas has played well as of late and he could have a big game against the Giants porous pass defense.

For New York, they need Justin Tuck to get pressure on Jason Campbell if they are going to slow down Washington's passing attack. Tuck has recorded six sacks in his last five games against the Redskins, but if that trend does not continue I expect Campbell to post a quarterback rating of over 100 for the third consecutive game.

Prediction: Washington Redskins