NFL Week 15 Preview: The Return of Rodgers, Carson’s Collapse & Pats v. Pitt

Week 15 is here and now is when the games get interesting. First, we’ve got a few key items to cover before diving into the matchups. We’ll start with the bad news first…

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It was on this dive that Wentz propelled his team to the best record in football, a win over the Rams, and likely an early exit in the playoffs. Image Credit: AOL.com

Yes, the unthinkable happened. One of the NFL’s biggest and brightest stars became a victim of his own athletic success and ability. Wentz, a very mobile and athletic quarterback was able to scamper into the end zone against a good Rams defense, but in doing so forced himself between two approaching defenders, squeezing the lower half of his body into a tough hit at the goal line. Wentz scored the go ahead touchdown, placing the Eagles at the top of the NFL, and simultaneously dooming them to finish out their season without their star play caller. After tearing his ACL on the play pictured above, Philly will be forced to place their playoff hopes in the large, but bumbling hands of Nick Foles.

On the other side of the equation is a team like Green Bay, who after squeaking out two close wins against Tampa Bay and Cleveland in overtime, celebrate the return of the all pro all world QB, Aaron Rodgers.

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He’s Baaaaaaaaccckk! Image Credit: Business Insider

That’s right. #12 is back under center for the Pack and the timing couldn’t be better playoff hopeful Green Bay. The Packers have a tough stretch to end the season, with a less than 1% to make the playoffs, but you have to like their long shot odds a bit better with two time MVP, Aaron Rodgers back. Green Bay will head into Carolina to take on the Panthers, in what is sure to be must see TV between Rodgers and Cam Newton.

And if the fall and return of two star QBs isn’t enough, we’ve got a matchup for the top of the AFC between two QBs who have won multiple super bowls and thrown for over 50,000 yards each – the first time in the history of the NFL such a matchup has occurred in the regular season. That’s right, New England heads into Pittsburgh in what is sure to be a heavyweight slugfest for the ages. Beyond the astounding numbers these two teams boast and titles they hold, this game carries implications for the 2017-2018 playoffs as well. The winner likely holding home field advantage through the playoffs and the loser potentially heading on the road for a potential AFC Championship rematch in January.

We went 8 and 8 last week or 8 for 16 depending on your counting preference, but we’re off to a better start already after Thursday and Saturday and looking to build on that strong start Sunday.

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Sunday, December 17th, 2017

Early Games

Houston Texans @ Jacksonville Jaguars

This would be a very exciting game were it not for the absence of Whitney Mercilus and J.J. Watt from the Houston defense. We’d be talking about the two best defenses in the NFL today going head to head in what would be certain to be a defensive battle for the ages. Instead we have a dominant Jaguars D hosting a sputtering Houston offense destined for yet another season of pathetic mediocrity.

Jacksonville boasts one the NFL’s best defenses, second best in terms of total yards allowed per game (291), and they’ll be facing an offensive once explosive with DeShaun Watson, now all but out of gas with Tom Savage under center. Watson’s play was such an “X” factor for Houston, and his work so impressive that even as pitiful as Savage has been, the Texans still rank 13th in terms of total yards on offense. Be clear, that ranking was higher and is still as high as it is because of the phenomenal, light the football world on fire play of DeShaun Watson. Savage has done nothing but tank that nearly elite level offense from the first half of the season. That makes this pick easy. Calias Campbell, Telvin Smith, Jalen Ramsey, and the entire Jags D feasts on the Texans offense and makes life easy for their offense. Jags dominate and cover (-11).

Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns

Oh good lord! Seriously?! Both of you! Baltimore, you first….Cleveland, we’ll come back to you in a minute. Joe freakin’ Flacco! What in the good Lord’s name are you doing?! And the entire Ravens defense. You had one job! You can’t stop the Steelers for one freaking game winning drive?! You deserved to lose that game for that very reason. You simply can’t do that. The game is 60 minutes fellas, not 59. Finish. The. Drill.

Cleveland. Every week I think you can’t possibly get more “Cleveland” than you did the week prior, and then you go and do something like you did in week 14….”AND TOTALLY REDEEM YOURSELF!” Only you didn’t, you just continue to put performances like you did last week on tape for the entire world to wonder why we even bother with you. TSO picked you! We believed! We bought into the hype!

Josh Gordon was back, Crowell was running well, Kizer even looked halfway decent, and you get up and get a lead! It’s finally happening!!! Only you let Green Bay tie it and push it to overtime….and then fell apart as only the Browns can do and somehow gave up a blown coverage on DeVante Adams, the Packers most talented receiver. It would be mind boggling were it any other franchise. But it’s the Browns.

So in a matchup between the franchise formerly known as the Browns and the present day Cleveland Browns, we’ll take the team with the best defense. That’s the Ravens in this case, even if they did collapse in epic fashion last Monday night. Baltimore wins, but the Browns keep it close with the points as they continue to put the building blocks together for a return to prominence (+7).

Green Bay Packers @ Carolina Panthers

Yes! Your matchup of the week comes with the return of Aaron Rodgers. Will Cam Newton return to MVP form or will Rodgers best yet another foe on his march to yet another improbably playoff bid? Can the Pack come back or Carolina inch one win closer to solidifying their place in the 2017-2018 playoffs, all but eliminating Green Bay? So many storylines so little time!

Green Bay pulled off two improbable wins behind a shaky Brett Hundley. Fortunately for the Pack their schedule afforded them two of the more favorable matchups, and the timing of Aaron’s return could not be better. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Rodgers does return, and even though they just pulled off an impressive win against the Vikings, Green Bay presents a much more difficult matchup offensively. Cam has been good but not great this season, but he’ll need to display some of his 2015 MVP form to keep pace with the Packers offense. Expect Christian McCafferey to struggle with Clay Matthews bottling him up, which means Greg Olsen and Devin Funchess will need step up for Cam.

The Packers will be putting the ball back in the air more, after leaning heavily on the run in the past few weeks. With a newfound run game behind rookie Jamaal Williams, and Jordy Nelson and DeVante Adams very much back in play as threats down field, the Panthers D will be tested. Carolina was fortunate to escape with a win when the Falcons came to town thanks to a rare Julio Jones drop. We don’t see the Panthers getting that lucky again. Rodgers is a game changer and shifts this to the Pack’s favor. Green Bay win and we’ll take the points (+2.5).

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We know one guy that is happy to see #12 back and he’ll be all systems go on Sunday. Image Credit: USA Today – For The Win

Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills

A win or go home game for these two AFC East teams. In what may appears to be a bleh game, there are numerous playoff implications. With a win the Dolphins very much vault themselves right back into playoff consideration, and the Bills create an uphill battle. With a Bills win they could find themselves in the lead position for the last wild card spot. An unthinkable scenario considering how poorly they’ve played of late, but true just the same.

Miami pulled off the upset that TSO predicted last Monday night, and quite frankly they looked even better than we anticipated. Kenyan Drake is a beast and get used to hearing about him a lot from us here at TSO. Jay Cutler looked good, but we’ve been down that decepticon road before. Jay may have another good game in store though as the Bills secondary that looked impressive to begin the season has come crashing back to earth. The Bills and Dolphins both rank in the bottom ten in terms of total defense, which means points should be scored.

The offenses are a different story though. Miami is just better than average in the NFL, while Buffalo unsurprisingly finds themselves in the lower half of the league in terms of total offense. Tyrod Taylor will start which gives the Bills the best chance to win, and assuming Kelvin Benjamin plays we may get our first real taste of what this offense was meant to look like after week 8 and the trade deadline. That said, the Dolphins D has looked better of late and Dolphins have not only the momentum, but the talent to win this road battle. Miami wins and we’ll take the points (+3.5).

Cincinnati Bengals @ Minnesota Vikings

Ugh. For the sake of time we’ll keep this short. The Bengals did what they do best last week and bungled an easy win at home against the Bears. With that loss Cincy essentially eliminated themselves from playoff contention. Minnesota on the other hand lost a tough contest on the road against a good Panthers team. The Vikings return home after a road stretch looking to defend their turf and solidify their spot as division leaders. Case Keenum did show his weaknesses and short comings as a quarterback. If the Minnesota doesn’t turn to Tedy Bridgewater they won’t stand of chance of making any noise in the post season. Even so, they get a depleted and beleaguered Bengals squad this week.

We can’t begin to tell you what is up with the Bengals other than leadership. Marvin Lewis returned the Bengals to prominence, but it may be time to turn the page to a new regime to take that next championship step. The pieces are there and credit to Lewis for coaching them up and helping assemble a formidable squad, but something is missing. The Vikings win against a beaten up Bengals squad, and Minnesota’s D makes the going tough for Cincy’s offense. Vikes cover (-10.5).

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How much longer until Bridgewater takes the ball cap off and puts the helmet on? Image Credit: TwinCities.com

Arizona Cardinals @ Washington Redskins

There’s always one. The “who cares” game this week goes to the Cards @ Redskins. Because seriously, who cares? Neither team has a shot at the playoffs and neither team is going anywhere fast. Sure Washington was a nice dark horse to surprise some people and make a run in the NFC, but that has all but fallen flat. We believe Kirk Cousins should be paid, but as he continues to post mediocre records as Washington’s lead play caller we can’t help but realize maybe he is just average.

We love Kirk Cousins the man and it takes a strong individual to go through what he went through with RGIII and Snyder, but still. “You are what your record says you are.” Cousins’s numbers are there, but the record isn’t quite matching up, at least not yet. It’d be nice to say remain patient, but Cousins isn’t getting any younger and the window for drastic improvement is quickly closing. All of that being said about Cousins, he is still miles ahead of half of the quarterbacks in the NFL and top end QBs don’t grow on trees. The Cardinals have a good defense, and may present problems for the Redskins. The truth is we don’t know what we don’t know. We’re taking the home team in this one because they look like the better team and don’t seem to be quite the mess that Arizona is at the moment. Redskins win and cover (-4.5).

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Cousins is expected to be a big free agent in 2018 and the biggest question is will he stay or will he go? Image Credit: USA Today – For The Win

Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants

The distraught Eagles head into New York to take on a Giants team with nothing to play for, but nothing to lose! Philly has lost its star quarterback and is going to have to go back to an old, but familiar signal caller in Nick Foles. Lucky for Foles he draws the defeated Giants squad that has all but given up on 2017. This is the perfect game for Philadelphia. Win or lose they have booked their ticket to the dance, now they have time to test their new QB out and see what, if any, weaknesses rear their ugly heads before the games truly matter again.

The Giants are in a non-enviable position. Beaten, injured, and exhausted, they have to attempt to spoil a top team’s season with no real incentive. Win, and all they have done is upset a team that just lost its starting QB and is finding its legs. Lose, and they lose to a team that just lost its star, starting quarterback. Basically the Giants can’t win. What makes it worse is that they aren’t even close to good enough to knock the Eagles off. This could get ugly, and fast. Between Ajayi, Blount, Jeffrey, and Agholor, the Eagles have talent all over the field, and the Giants have injured defenders and replacements that have little time and experience to combat such a cohesive unit. Eagles win and somehow cover on the back of the much more talented team (-7.5).

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Foles has big shoes to fill in Wentz’s absence, but he should find early success against a division foe in week 15. Image Credit: Philadelphia Eagles

New York Jets @ New Orleans Saints

Hah! How short can we keep this? We nailed the call of the Saints losing the Falcons on Thursday night, but we can nail this one as well. Alvin Kamara did sustain a concussion, which may have changed the outcome of their TNF game, but they should have him back. The Saints are still looking to seal a trip to the playoffs and a possible division title. The Jets are playing for nothing but pride, and in enemy territory no less.

The Saints D proved its mettle against Atlanta, and will prove more than formidable against a weak Jets offense. Robby Anderson may get deep for one nice catch or two, but that’s about the extend of New York’s offensive attack. The Jets may even give Brees and co. a tough time in the early going, but the Saints experience and superior talent all over the field will prove too much for a poor Jets unit. Saints dominate, but not cover the ridiculous spread so we’ll take the Jets with the points (+15.5).

Afternoon Games

Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks

An NFC West battle for the top of the division kicks off our afternoon games. Headlined by two teams that lost heartbreakers in week 14, only one of these division foes will find any retribution. The Rams were out dueled by Carson Wentz, while the Hawks were shut down by Jacksonville’s D. In this matchup however, the Hawks boast the better defense, ranking just outside the top ten, while the Rams find themselves in the middle of the pack.

This matchup will be interesting. The Rams actually boast the better passing defense, statistically and especially without Richard Sherman for Seattle. The Hawks have a tough run stopping D headlined by Michael Bennett, Bobby Wagner, and Sheldon Richardson. Todd Gurley will find the going tough Sunday. Jared Goff should have an easier time and look for Cooper Kupp and Sammy Watkins to have big days in Seattle. Russell Wilson may do most of the running as passing as he has accounted for nearly all of Seattle’s offense both through the air and on the ground. As Wilson’s MVP caliber season continues Seattle will need yet another other worldly performance from him to get a crucial win at home.

Mike Davis has emerged as Seattle’s best back, and combined with Wilson’s ability to fool a defense with the run-pass option, should find holes in the gaps against Los Angeles. With at least a semblance of a run game, it will be tough for the Rams to keep up. Goff is emerging as a competent quarterback, but he still has a ways to go before being considered elite, or even able to keep up with the likes of Wentz and Wilson. Hawks win behind the support of a raucous 12th man (Seattle covers -2.5).

Tennessee Titans @ San Francisco 49ers

The once AFC South leading Tennessee Titans put on a monstrosity of a performance against a poor Cardinals team in week 14. That leaves us shaking our heads heading into the home stretch. The Titans merely need to win out to get in, with one of their last three games coming against what should be a very beatable 49ers team. The Niners have certainly gotten signs of life with the injection of Jimmy Garoppolo. Marquise Goodwin will present matchup problems for the Titans, who will likely need to use their speedster Adoree Jackson to attempt to tame Goodwin’s Olympic level wheels.

Marcus Mariota. What the heck?! What is going on?! We have no clue. Something isn’t quite right. Mariota still has the skills, smarts, and ability to be elite in this league, but something is off this year. A game against the Niners may be just what the doctor ordered. Where Tennessee finds themselves in the top ten in terms of total defense, the Niners find themselves in the bottom ten. That’s a recipe for a difficult game for Garoppolo and a bounce back for Mariota. Even on the road we are sticking with our guns when it comes to this Titans teams and Mariota. Sometimes you don’t have the answers, but have to trust the process. Look for Mariota to continue to build a rapport with rookie Corey Davis. The Titans will pound the rock with the best one two punch in the NFL once they get ahead. Titans get a crucial road win and we’ll take the points (+1.5).

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Murray and Henry give Tennessee a fighter’s chance in most every game. Image Credit: Tennessee Titans

New England Patriots @ Pittsburgh Steelers

The game we’ve all been waiting for! We stated this before, but it’s worth repeating: This game features two quarterbacks who have thrown for over 50,000 yards and won multiple Super Bowls each. Tom Brady heads into Big Ben’s stomping grounds to attempt to knock off the seemingly unstoppable Steelers. Pittsburgh seems to steal victory from the jaws of the defeat week after week. They’ll need to get up early in this one though as giving Brady any semblance of hope usually spells disaster.

What’s the recipe for success? The Steelers are arguably the most elite team in every facet of the game on offense. With Ben throwing much better of late, and the weapons at his disposal, you truly have to pick your poison and hope someone makes a mental mistake or rare blunder. Double AB? Okay, enjoy Le’Veon on a linebacker or under sized corner. Remember those guys JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant? They are matchup problems all their own. The offensive advantage lies with Pittsburgh in this one.

What does New England have going for it? Mainly the absence of all-pro linebacker Ryan Shazier. Without Shazier Pittsburgh has a huge hole in the middle of its defense. Look for Brady and Belichick to utilize Rex Burkhead and James White to exploit that. Not sure Dion Lewis will find much room to run against Pittsburgh’s front, but the other backs should find some wiggle room. Brandin Cooks will need to showcase his wheels as he’s going to draw Joe Haden as Haden is expected to return to action for Pittsburgh. Haden’s return is timely indeed as Cooks would’ve likely burned any other Steelers corner. The Patriots still have major problems on D with absence of Dont’a Hightower, and Stephon Gillmore will have his hands full with AB. The Steelers simply have too many advantages in this matchup. Pittsburgh wins and we’ll gladly take the points – which seems absurd (+3).

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Haden’s return will be a welcome one to Steeler nation. Image Credit: Behind The Steel Curtain

Sunday Night Football

Dallas Cowboys @ Oakland Raiders

America’s team versus America’s bad boys! A battle in the Bay with tons of playoff implications. The Cowboys head to Oakland to keep their hopes alive for a wild card spot, and the Raiders fight to remain in the hunt in the AFC West. Dallas, once reeling, now rolling again, will look to dominate the line of scrimmage and move the Raiders off the ball early. Oakland, a team who did much the same last season will hope to find some offense in a must win.

Dallas has seemingly found its form and is opening large holes in opposing defenses again. With only one week remaining in Ezekiel Elliott’s absence, the ‘Boys will add to the excitement if they hold on and win a third straight game. Dallas has the offense to light up Oakland’s poor secondary. Look for Dez Bryant to have a big game and the ‘Boys to will their way to a hard fought win against a good Raiders squad (‘Boys cover -3).

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Monday Night Football

Atlanta Falcons @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Another division battle for the Dirty Birds takes center stage. Being the defending NFC champ is both a blessing and a curse. Atlanta gets to showcasr yet again their superior speed and talent, but they also face their opponent’s best effort as top dawgs from 2016. Jameis Winston would love to be a damper on ATL’s post season hopes. He’ll target Mike Evans early and often to do so.

The Falcon’s chances lie with how well Matt Ryan performs. Three interceptions won’t get the job done. Last time these two met Julio Jones went off. He should find continued success against the Bucs below average secondary. If Atlanta’s D builds on their good work in New Orleans, it will be another long day for Tampa, but if the Falcons come out flat and play down to their opponent the Bucs will keep it interesting. As much fun as a close game is to watch, another must win for the Dirty Birds dictates the Falcons getting up early and running the beaten Bucs D into the ground. Falcons win and cover, setting the stage for an epic rematch with the Saints in week 16 (-6).

Thank you for reading, liking, loving, sharing and all of that other goodness! We hope you’ve enjoyed it and keep an eye out for our week 16 Christmas preview next week!

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