Week 15 is here and who’d have thought we’d be talking about flexing a Browns game INTO Sunday Night Football! Week 15 also sees a Saturday Night Double Header to enjoy too. There are plenty of games to get our teeth into so scroll to your heart’s content or use the game picker below to choose your poison.
Let’s get to it!
Saturday, 9.30pm – Buffalo Bills @ Denver Broncos
In a rare outing of Saturday football, the Buffalo Bills travel to the Mile High City this weekend to face off against the Denver Broncos. Buffalo comes into this Week 15 match-up riding high from their victory against the league-leading Pittsburgh Steelers to move to 10-3. They have won six of their last seven and will want to carry that momentum into this game in Colorado. Denver, on the other hand, have had a much more topsy-turvy season. Sitting at 5-8, they will be hoping that Drew Lock can find more of the December form that saw him take over last season and go 4-1 through the last month of the year.
The confidence in Buffalo is sky high right now and it is easy to see why after last week’s shutdown of the Steelers. Josh Allen is the favourite for the League MVP of anyone not named Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers and for good reason. While his performance against Pittsburgh wasn’t his best of the season (238 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT, 77.5 rating), he is having a breakout year. He has 28 TDs this season (T-6th in NFL) with nine interceptions and has a rating of 103.3 (7th in NFL).
The ability to rely on a WR1 is proving to be crucial for Josh Allen and the Bills, and the trade for Stefon Diggs in the off-season has got to go down as one of, if not the best roster move in the league. Diggs leads the lead in receptions (100) and is third in receiving yards (1,167). Last week, he had another monster game against one of the best pass defences in the league, putting up another 130 yards from 10 receptions and a TD. All of this puts the Buffalo offence third in the league for yards per game.
However, they come into Denver against a pass defence on the rise. The Broncos defence kept Teddy Bridgewater scoreless against them last week. What was also impressive about their shutdown of Matt Rhule’s passing offence is that Bridgewater has the second highest completion percentage in the league (70.7%) and even with his accuracy, Denver shut down that Carolina pass offence in the red zone. The truth is, the Broncos have played the pass defence quietly very well all year, holding opposing QBs to an average rating of 89.9 (10th in NFL) and only 220.7 YPG. Justin Simmons is one of the highlights of the Broncos secondary, having one of the best years of his career and putting himself in the conversation as one of the best safeties in the league.
On the other side of the ball, Denver has left a lot to be desired so far this season. Drew Lock has probably caused more questions than answers. Lock is Denver’s 8th starting QB since Peyton Manning in 2015 and with a completion percentage of only 57.3% with 2,198 yards from 10 games, can he really be the answer in Denver? He has as many TDs as INTs (13) but could the Week 14 performance against Carolina be a sign of the tide turning? Lock had 280 yards, 4 TDs, 149.5 rating and his first rating above 100 this season. Broncos fans will also be enamoured by the performance of rookie WR KJ Hamler, who had 86 yards and 2 TDs from just two receptions. Lock needs to be looking to his young wideout more often!
Just as the Bills will face a strong defence in this game, Denver will come up against a Buffalo defensive unit that is on the rise. They had a dominant performance against league veteran Ben Roethlisberger last week, holding him to only 5.1 yards per attempt and a 65.9 rating. They also picked him off twice giving them a total of 12 INTs on the season (T-9th in NFL). With big injuries to the likes of CBs EJ Gaines and Cam Lewis early on in the season, the Buffalo pass defence is finally starting to head in the right direction, averaging 243.9 YPG.
Both teams are relatively middle of the road when it comes to their respective ground games. Denver is averaging 111.2 rushing YPG while Buffalo is a little lower on 102.5 rushing YPG. Meanwhile Buffalo has 10 rushing TDs for the year and Denver has nine, so expect the running game to be relatively even in this one.
Writer’s Pick – Ste Tough (@SteTough)
Many will anticipate this game to be a cake-walk for Buffalo and it’s difficult to disagree. However, I think Denver will definitely put up a fight and if that defence can make some plays and force some turnovers (however difficult that may be in reality) this one could be closer than most think. That said, I don’t see anything other than an eventual Buffalo victory here. Denver might not win another game all season; meanwhile if Buffalo can secure the win, they will clinch their first AFC East title since 1995. Hold on to your tables folks…
Buffalo 28 – 13 Denver
Sunday 1.15am – Carolina Panthers @ Green Bay Packers
The Carolina Panthers travel to Lambeau in December with the future in their minds, going up against a Packers team with the Fatboy Slim approach: right here, right now.
The possible MVP, Aaron Rodgers, and the more likely Coach of the Year, Matt LaFleur, look to continue their home straight sprint to the #1 seed, aided by New Orleans’ shock loss to the Eagles last week.
While we’ve seen more dominant years with the Packers at home than the one we have seen in 2020, you’d be surprised if Rodgers and the Pack can’t come away with the victory.
Rodgers has faced the Panthers six times previously and averages just short of 300 passing yards, 2.5 TDs and 0.9 INTs per game; more of the same please if you are Aaron Rodgers and a Cheesehead fan. He does have a 3-3 record against the Panthers, but two of those wins were at home (66%).
Rodgers’ twinkle in his eye guy Davante Adams could feasibly pass 100 receptions this week, which is mind-boggling considering he has missed two games and change this season. He extended his TD streak to eight with his score against Detroit.
The run game has been a little bit more muddling as Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams continue to evenly split the backfield rushing attempts (47-32 split in favour of Jones over the last three weeks). The fact that they are splitting reps is a possible reason why the unit has not performed as well statistically, being just above the league averages in yards per attempt and touchdowns.
Aaron Rodgers more than makes up for it with his passing though, being one of the trailblazers through the air in 2020. He leads the league in passing TDs and is second in passing yards, and has the fewest interceptions this season – the main reason why he is in the conversation for MVP.
He goes up against a Carolina pass defence that lies 23rd in the league in terms of yards given up per game and made Drew Lock look like John Elway in Week 14.
For the Carolina offence, Christian McCaffrey is not expected to play again this week after nursing multiple injuries this season, most recently a shoulder injury. I would be surprised if they don’t just shelve him for the season and bring him back in 2021. Even without McCaffrey, this Panthers team has been able to put up points, with the acquisition of Robby Anderson from the Jets an inspired one (Adam Gase, eh?). He paces the Carolina WR in targets (114), receptions (83) and yardage (996) yet many people will still overlook him or not give him just credit for the season he has quietly put together.
The same can be said for Teddy Bridgewater and you get the feeling that with the Panthers’ likely draft position being inside the top 10 next year (currently #6 overall), he could be playing for his role in 2021.
He is second to Drew Brees in terms of completion percentage (70.7%) but doesn’t trouble many other leaderboards when it comes to passing metrics. The good thing for Teddy though is that his style works in this offence. Matt Rhule’s playcalling and approach to games uses a short field, with opportunities to get players in space and create YAC.
A special mention must go to Mike Davis, who has performed admirably in McCaffrey’s absence. The former 49er, Seahawks and Bear has at the very least attracted some suitors should he hit free agency next year. 926 scrimmage yards and seven TDs is a great effort in the nine games where he was the starter/focal point in the ground game.
Writer’s Pick: Tim Monk(@Tim_MonkF10Y)
It is hard to make a case for Carolina to win in Wisconsin on Saturday. December in Lambeau is not an easy place to go. While the Panthers have outperformed expectations this season and are already ahead of the curve under Matt Rhule, you have to feel the Packers’ need to win this game will see them home when push comes to shove. That being said, the Packers at home this season haven’t been the Packers we have been accustomed to, with close games against the Jags and a loss against the Vikings.
The Packers are 8.5-point favourites, which says to me that they want you to take them. I probably take the Packers minus the points. There are no weather concerns but I still feel the 51.5-point line is a bit too high for me to want to take the overs.
Packers 31 – 17 Panthers
Sunday 6pm – Seattle Seahawks @ Washington Football Team
The flavour of the past few weeks, the Washington Football Team have sole possession of the NFC East, challenging even a .500 record. Who’d have thought an NFC East team could be capable of such things?
Washington have limited their last four opponents to under 20 points in the current winning streak, something that we discussed on Monday’s pod along with the possible ripple effect over the next year or two.
Now they welcome a Seattle side, after their recent
bye, sorry, win against the Jets, playing catch-up to the Rams in the West.
The Football Team could match up quite well here against Seattle and it may come down to how much Russell Wilson can get outside the pocket, extend plays and make something happen. Wilson is the second-most sacked QB (40) behind Carson Wentz and Washington are in the top 5 in terms of sacks.
If Wilson can get the offence running =- the return of Chris Carson last week helped – then the third ranked scoring offence could have some luck against the sixth-stingiest scoring defence.
On the other side, we all winced when we saw Alex Smith’s laceration coming through his sock in the game against the Cardinals, with Dwayne Haskins coming in and managing the game enough to get the W. It remains to be seen whether Smith is able to return; he didn’t participate in Thursday’s practice. But even Haskins could have joy against this 32nd ranked pass defence (yards).
Talking of injuries, rookie running back Antonio Gibson has also not seen the practice field this week with a toe injury so JD McKissic and Peyton Barber are likely to evenly split backfield duties once more.
The star power in this game is the young wide receiver talent on display. For Washington, Terry McLaurin has a 1,000 yard season for the first time in his career. He has had no fewer than six targets in any game this season but will want to improve on his two receptions in each of the last two games.
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For Seattle, the DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett combo will be in full force, but depth players Freddie Swain and David Moore both found paydirt in Week 14, showing you that it’s just not the top two WRs in this team that can celebrate in the end zone. They are both listed as questionable on Thursday’s injury report. DK Metcalf has taken the no.1 spot and Tyler Lockett has had a quiet few weeks and has only posted two 100+ yard receiving games. His last was the monster 200-yard receiving performance against the Cardinals in Week 7.
This is an intriguing match-up for both teams in a game they need to win to stay in the hunt for play-off football. A loss for either team could be terminal to their chances and a lot will depend on the players that miss the game, especially for Washington.
It’s been a traditionally low-scoring game in their recent match-ups and if Alex Smith doesn’t go, expect more of the same.
Writer’s Pick: Tim Monk (@Tim_MonkF10Y)
This game depends on Alex Smith for me. If he doesn’t play, I don’t see how the Washington defence can win them the game. Dwayne Haskins is too limited and isn’t conducive to helping Washington win football games. If Smith does take the field, I think there is a case to be made for the momentum of this team, against a travelling Seattle side crossing the whole width of the United States.
If you are betting, the current line is 5 points in favour of Seattle. If Smith is confirmed, you may see that number come down slightly so be quick on the 5. The total points line of 44.5 seems quite high, especially if Haskins takes the field. I don’t envisage any quick-scoring drives and every yard will be earned,
Sunday 9.25pm – Kansas City Chiefs @ New Orleans Saints
The last Sunday evening TV game I previewed was the Chiefs’ Week 12 trip to Tampa Bay. That Patrick Mahomes versus Tom Brady showdown was a test to see if the young prince could steal the crown from the old king.
Three weeks on and the same scenario could have played out in the Big Easy, with Mahomes (4,208 yards, 33 TD, 5 INTs) possibly facing Drew Brees. The good news on the Bayou is that Brees’ return from fractured ribs and a punctured lung is on the horizon, but expect to see Taysom Hill this week. So, it’s not quite the same… but still, it’s Week 14’s marquee match-up between two of the league’s best teams, with both safely in the play-offs already.
For the 10-3 New Orleans Saints, last Sunday’s unexpected 24-21 reverse to the Eagles proved particularly costly. Not only did it punch a hole into their nine-game winning run, but it also dropped them behind Green Bay in the hunt for the top NFC seed and that all-important Wild Card bye, by virtue of the Packers’ win against them back in September. That said, the Saints could clinch the NFC South for the fourth consecutive time this weekend.
The erratic Taysom Hill sustained his first loss as a starting QB last week, and now has nine TDs (four passing, five on the ground), two interceptions and five fumbles to his name. The Saints D, which just doesn’t allow opponents to have 100-yard games, conceded two to rookie QB Jalen Hurts and RB Miles Sanders. Philly were also the first team in five weeks to put more than 20 points on the Saints, which is another worrying development at a crucial point in the season. Hill eventually got things going with two passing touchdowns but this week, he’ll be up against Tyrann Mathieu (5 INTs) and the rest of the KC pass defence.
Maybe Saints HC Sean Payton will lean on Alvin Kamara to get the ground game going instead, or ask Hill to do a bit of scrambling himself. Kamara is the team’s top rusher (723 yard, 10 TDs) and receiver (699 yards, 4 TDs), yet hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game all season. Kansas aren’t that great against the run and they are the league’s worst in red zone defence, so it maybe it’s a chink in their armour that the Saints can exploit?
The most recent win for the 12-1 Chiefs, 33-27 against Miami, saw them overcome an early 10-point deficit before racking up the next 30. In their first trip to Hard Rock Stadium since winning Super Bowl LIV back in February, the Mahomes-to-Tyreek Hill connection was clicking. The Cheetah ran in a TD and sealed the game with a fourth-down catch in the end zone. He would’ve had another too, if it weren’t for the miraculous one-handed interception from Xavien Howard (check it out in our Week 14 Takeaways).
As well as Hill (1,158 yards, 4th in the league), Mahomes – who is almost 500 passing yards ahead of any other QB at the mo – also has Travis Kelce to aim at. Kelce is not only the league’s top tight end, he’s the top receiver too with 1,250 yards in receptions. And just when you think Andy Reid’s crew can’t hurt you any other way, up pops Mecole Hardman, the special teams track star, to burn past you on a punt return (like last week’s 67-yarder). They’re only middle of the pack on rushing offence, with Clyde Edwards-Hillaire and Le’Veon Bell showing flashes, and they’re below average (20th) in red zone offence… but that only means they don’t need to get that close to inflict pain: they have the most 20+yard TDs in the league.
The win against the Dolphins, combined with the Steelers’ second loss in as many weeks, puts KC firmly in charge of the AFC with three games to go. Their own eight-game winning streak is now twice as long as any in the league (Washington are next best with four) and they already have the AFC West sewn up for a fifth consecutive time.
Writer’s Pick – Sean Tyler (@SeanTylerUK)
Kansas City rank first on passing offence and the Saints’ defence ranks second overall (second against the run, fourth against the pass) so this one could be billed as ‘the unstoppable force against the immovable object’. And although their rivals will have something to say on the matter, it could also be a dress rehearsal for the season finale in Tampa Bay.
But for now, there’s the nagging feeling that whatever you do, you just can’t stop KC, and Mahomes in particular. He threw three INTs against Miami and was sacked three times (including one for a ridiculous 30 yards) yet ended up with 393 yards, 2 TDs, 11 yards per attempt and, most importantly, the W. There’s not a power ranking in the land that doesn’t have the Chiefs as No.1 right now, and that’s not without foundation: they’ve won 22 of their last 23, Mahomes has had six straight 300-yard games and Tyreek Hill leads the league with 15 TDs. Need I go on?
As impressed as I am with the Saints maintaining their form without Brees, Kansas City just seem superior – not just to New Orleans, but to everyone. So, if I’m going to plant my flag on any Hill, I’d rather go with Tyreek than Taysom.
Chiefs 31 – 27 Saints
Monday 1.20am – Cleveland Browns @ New York Giants
If you needed any more proof of how unusual the year 2020 has been, this preview should have been the Dallas Cowboys against the San Francisco 49ers. Instead, thanks to flexible scheduling, we have the Cleveland Browns visiting the New York Giants for Sunday Night Football.
Both sides have their eyes firmly fixed on meaningful January football with the Giants just one game back on the Football Team (and owning tiebreakers) and the Browns currently slated as the number 5 seed in the AFC Wild Card race. Depending on results earlier in the weekend, the Browns could all but clinch their first playoff berth since 2002 with a win and the Giants could be back on top of the NFC East.
Let’s first take a look at the home team, the Joe Judge-led New York Giants. A defeat in Week 14 to the Cardinals brought a halt to an impressive four-game winning streak. After starting the season 1-7, the past few weeks have galvanised a fanbase dreaming of another surge to an unexpected play-off assault as they did in 2011. Divisional wins against Washington and Philadelphia proceeded wins against the Bengals and then, most impressively, the Seahawks over the month-long streak. The turnaround in fortunes has been in no small part down to the stellar play of the defensive side of the ball.
Led by energetic middle linebacker Blake Martinez, the men in blue have been a tough nut for oppositions to crack. In fact the 26 points that the Cardinals scored on Sunday were the most allowed by the unit since back in early October. The defensive line is a strong group up front with Leonard Williams being the star of the show, registering 8.5 sacks alongside 11.5 tackles for a loss. Jabrill Peppers has been good on the back end as well as being effective in the running game, while James Bradberry has been their best corner.
Offensively, the Giants have been far less impressive. The combination of Daniel Jones and Colt McCoy at the quarterback position have produced only nine touchdowns over the season along with 10 interceptions. The health of Daniel Jones was a talking point last week and the decision to play him backfired as without his regular mobility, he really struggled outside of one drive to get a tune out of the offence. A similar decision looms this week and there has even been talk of rotating the quarterbacks throughout the game with regularity, which would be a unconventional approach.
In the skill positions, Wayne Gallman has been the beneficiary of the Saquon Barkley injury, leading the team with six rushing scores along with 561 yards at a 4.6 YPC clip. Darius Slayton and Evan Engram lead the team in targets but no receiving option has really separated themselves from the pack. At least the Giants are healthy at the position with all of Slayton, Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate available after all battling various different injuries throughout the course of the campaign.
The Browns were involved in a thriller on Monday night and despite defeat, should remain full of optimism for this one. The league’s third-best rushing attack added another four scores to their total on Monday, bringing their season’s tally to 16 rushing touchdowns. Nick Chubb continues to play at an All-Pro level and is on pace to comfortably crack 1,000 yards, needing just 119 to eclipse that figure in back-to-back years.
His running mate Kareem Hunt is also closing in on the landmark but he needs a further 228 to reach four digits. Baker Mayfield has thrown with more authority in recent weeks and looks far more like the 2018 version of himself as he acclimatises to the Kevin Stefanski system. Unsurprisingly, Jarvis Landry leads the team in both targets and receptions by some considerable margin.
With that said, the ball has been sprayed all around the yard with eight different players recording multiple touchdowns on the season, along with a big man touchdown to offensive lineman Kendall Lahm thrown in for good measure. Look for more Rashard Higgins and Donovan Peoples-Jones to show up when the Browns go to the air. The offensive line is top-two rated in both run and pass protection, which is obviously a massive positive for the unit.
Defensively, the Browns are hurting in the back end of their defence. All four players who would be presumed starters missed the Monday night game and back-up safety Andrew Sendejo is now also dealing with a concussion. Hopefully, they should at least get Denzel Ward back this week after he has missed the past three games with a leg injury.
The linebacker group has lots of young talent, but only Sione Takitaki has really shown any sign of development, particularly in the run game. Malcom Smith has been a nice veteran addition but it’s a group the Browns will look to overhaul in the summer. The bright spark is up front on the defensive line. All of these previews focus in on the brilliance of Myles Garrett who continues to disrupt games so for a change of pace let’s look at his running mate on the opposite end of the line.
Olivier Vernon returns to New York for the first time since being a chip in the Odell Beckham Jr trade and he has been playing the best football of his Browns career in recent weeks. He has seven sacks of his own this season and his forced many more QB hurries in what has been a quietly impressive streak of play. Sheldon Richardson, Larry Ogunjobi and Adrian Clayborn complete the rotation for a unit that will look to contain Daniel Jones in the pocket after being gassed by Lamar Jackson on Monday night.
Writer’s Pick – Shaun Blundell
I can’t look anywhere other than the men in brown for this one. The question has been asked for weeks now, “Are the Browns legitimate?” and we got a definitive answer on Monday night. Against a better defence, Baker Mayfield went to work and the ground game was as effective as ever. They still control their own destiny and will have pencilled the Giants and next week against the Jets as games to add Ws to the schedule and secure a playoff berth. The Giants are in that awkward position of needing to win now, because of the situation, but also looking to develop for the future. The decision at quarterback will probably be telling as to which way Joe Judge is more likely leading and if Washington secure a win earlier on Sunday, it will seem like a long shot to retake the divisional lead before season end. Sunday night, under the lights, is a perfect opportunity for the Browns to shine and start to strike some genuine fear into any potential January opponent that they are more than capable of hanging with anyone. Browns by 10+
Tuesday, 1.15am – Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals
Well, this is not exactly the dream clash that NFL schedule makers were hoping for at the business end of the season. Plans for a competitive Bengals team went out of the window on 22 November when QB rookie sensation, and number one overall draft pick, Joe Burrow tore most of the ligaments in his knee.
As it stands ,there is an 8.5-game gap between the 11-2 Steelers and the 2-10-1 Bengals. One team has already secured a play-off spot and the other has the dishonour of likely finishing 30th this season.
All signs point to this being a whitewash as the Steelers steamroll the lowly Bengals; however, Pittsburgh have rather quickly and publicly fallen from grace, losing their last two and looking pretty average in the process.
Having outlasted all 31 other teams to be the only unbeaten team heading into Week 13, the Steelers are in some legitimate danger of losing the opportunity to secure that ultra-valuable number one seed, and home field advantage. The losses have been a combination of injuries, COVID-19 designations and some poor offensive play by a group of wideouts that appear to have been feasting on all-butter croissants in the pre-game warm-ups.
Big Ben Roethlisberger was part of the MVP conversation after 12 weeks, but one suspects those whispers are about as loud as a gnat’s fart now. The big man has had a solid, but not quite spectacular season (don’t expect any rushing heroics), and is projected to eclipse 4,000 yards and 35 touchdowns by the end of the regular season.
Easily the biggest disappointment for the six-time Super Bowl winners has been the running game. James Connor may have had three 100+ yards rushing games, but all were under 110 yards. Connor has scored just five touchdowns and when injured, the Pittsburgh running game was non-existent. Injuries have blighted the Steelers, and the loss of second-year LB Devin Bush is really starting to show.
For the Bengals, there were plenty of those singing the praises of rookie QB Joe Burrow, but before his injury he had only managed two wins, a tie and six losses. Burrow could have had well over 4,000 yards in the air if he had been kept upright, but the 32 sacks in 10 games were certainly hard early lessons to learn.
None of the top 5 Bengals’ ball carriers have managed to crack four yards a carry, and taking away Burrow’s three rushing scores, they have only managed six scores on the ground. About the only positives remaining active on the Cincy offensive side of the ball are WRs Tyler Boyd and rookie Tee Higgins. The starting combo have 136 snags for over 1,600 yards and nine TDs between them.
In his three starts, third-string QB Brandon Allen has been vanilla to say the least; about the only positive is the fact that he has only thrown two interceptions during this period. Allen is not fully fit, and if he is a no-go, then Ryan Finley will get the start. Cincy will try and pass the ball, as the run game is poor, which will have Minkah Fitzpatrick sharpening his cutlery and putting on his best bib.
The Steelers need the win to prove they are not fraudsters. The Bengals need all of Santa’s reindeer, elves and any other goblins, ewoks, oompa-loompas and Disney princesses on their side to have a chance of victory.
It is the season for giving, so let’s see if the slippy-fingered Pittsburgh wideouts provide a few poundshop gifts?
Writer’s Pick – Lawrence Vos (@NFLFanInEngland)
Having just witnessed one of, if not the greatest game ever played on MNF, as the Ravens and Browns served up an absolute present to everyone, there is a fear that this game will be about as joyous to participate in as a tea party with the Grinch. Neither team has won for three weeks, and both are coming in as cold as an Iceland frozen prawn ring, meaning this will not be a game that fills fans with a warm hearty glow in their souls. (This writer will watch the highlights on Tuesday morning even though he is on holiday.)
There is an indication that the Bengals can make this contest a lot more competitive than the 31-10 road blowout, but it will not change the outcome.
Pittsburgh 30 – 17 Cincinnati
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