Spread picks for NFL Week 15
As Week 15 approaches, we come off a nice week, generating a 7-6-1 record against the spread. This pushes our mark to 96-89-5 (51.9 percent) overall on the season. We’re more bullish on favorites than we normally are, and there are seven games where our spread is 2 points different than Vegas’. We are 53-43-2 (55.2 percent) on such games this year. For those still alive in their survivor league, Atlanta’s 82.9 percent chance to win at home against San Francisco seems like the obvious play.
For my picks of Thursday Night Football games, as well as win probabilities for Sunday games, follow me on Twitter at @EricEager82.
[Editor’s note: Analyst Eric Eager utilizes Pro Football Focus’ NFL Premium Stats in his predictive model. For more on Premium Stats, click here.]
Dolphins (-2.5) at Jets
Prediction: Dolphins win by 2
This one is tricky. The Jets have looked mostly awful the last two weeks, save for a vigorous comeback in the fourth quarter of their win in Santa Clara. While Bryce Petty graded positively in that game, it was mostly the running of Bilal Powell (29 carries for 145 yards, 98 after contact, and seven missed tackles forced) that moved the needle for New York. Things won’t be as easy this week, as Miami has a positive PFF run-defense grade (while San Francisco has the second-worst mark in the league). Saturday marks the first start since 2011 for backup quarterback Matt Moore, though, raising questions as to whether the Dolphins can cover this spread on the road against such a Jets club. Moore played okay in his 14 snaps last week, and the Jets’ passing defense (with the third-worst pass-coverage grade in the league) is awful, so look for the Dolphins to pull through and win this one.
Lions at Giants (-4.5)
Prediction: Giants win by 4
The Giants put together a defensive performance for the ages against a Dallas club on an 11-game winning streak a week ago. They face a similarly-hot team this week against Detroit; the Lions are fresh off another come-from-behind win (which was their eighth in the last nine weeks) at home against the Bears. Matthew Stafford’s injured finger is a legitimate concern, as he represents a huge advantage for Detroit, with his counterpart for the Giants, Eli Manning, having arguably his worst season in the PFF era, earning just the 30th-best grade (45.7) at the position. If the quarterback position ends up being a wash, look for whomever wins the battle between Odell Beckham Jr. (83.2) and Darius Slay (87.6) to determine the outcome of this one.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 16, 2016
Eagles at Ravens (-6)
Prediction: Ravens win by 4 The Eagles have lost eight of their past 10 games, and three of their last four by more than 10 points. Last week, they fought hard against a Washington team with a lot to play for, eventually losing on a late touchdown. Their secondary has been a big issue of late, with Nolan Carroll (45.8) and Leodis McKelvin (68.7) failing to take advantage of the brilliant play of Fletcher Cox (86.8) and Brandon Graham (90.8) up front. The Ravens’ O-line (11th-best pass-blocking efficiency in the league) has been good enough at protecting Joe Flacco this season. If that continues this week, he should have plenty of open windows to find his stable of receivers downfield. With the Ravens’ No. 1 run-stopping defense holding down an Eagles’ rushing attack, possibly without Darren Sproles (concussion), look for the Eagles to have a difficult time scoring enough points to win this likely low-scoring affair.
Packers (-6) at Bears
Prediction: Packers win by 5 Aaron Rodgers has steered the ship in the right direction of late, grading as our No. 1 quarterback since Week 7. That didn’t translate into wins for Green Bay until they got their secondary healthy, but since Quinten Rollins (three straight positively-graded games) and Damarious Randall have returned from injury, the Packers haven’t lost a game. If Clay Matthews (one QB hit and two hurries in just 24 snaps a week ago) can return to his regular form off of his injured shoulder, the Packers’ defense should be able to sufficiently hold a Bears’ offense that has received surprisingly-good play from QB Matt Barkley (81.3) during his three starts. The possible return of Alshon Jeffery (76.3) from suspension this week should help the Bears’ offense keep this one close, however.
Colts at Vikings (-4)
Prediction: Vikings win by 6 Despite having a quarterback grading as a top-two player at his position to this point, the Colts are not a good football team. They rank 27th in pass blocking, 19th in run blocking, last in run defense, last in pass-rushing, and last in pass defense, per PFF’s grading. Be all of those as they may, the Vikings are the type of team that is capable of losing to a down club, even at home. With T.J. Clemmings (27.7) still grading out as the worst tackle in the league, it will be up to Trent Cole (71.9) to have a game from his youth to disrupt the Vikings’ passing attack that can be good at times, with Sam Bradford boasting the second-best adjusted completion percentage (81.2) in the league, to go along with the second-best adjusted completion percentage (59.5) on balls thrown more than 20 yards downfield. This is a bit of an enigma, but look for the Vikings’ mediocre-at-best offense to have an easier time exploiting the Colts’ defense at home than the Colts’ above-average offense will at gaining ground against the Vikings’ upper-tier defense.
Browns at Bills (-10)
Prediction: Bills win by 7 Every week seems like “the last time the Browns could win a game,” and every week, they come out the loser. With the Bills at 6-7 and firmly out of the playoff picture, this could be a game where the Browns keep it close enough to pull through at the end. From a pure talent perspective, this is hard to see. For example, Stephon Gilmore (71.9) and Ronald Darby (75.5)—after rebounding from early-season slumps—should be able to neutralize the lone strength on Cleveland’s offense—wide receiver Terrelle Pryor (80.2). On defense, while Danny Shelton (83.1) has had a nice season for the Browns, and Jamie Collins (81.3) has been a solid mid-season addition, the Browns still surrender the fourth-most yards per carry (4.6) in the league, while the Bills are gaining 5.4 yards per carry on the season. Look for the Bills to win this one, but the number here is a bit high for my liking.
Titans at Chiefs (-5.5)
Prediction: Chiefs win by 6 The Chiefs remain one of the league’s most-impressive teams, while the Titans the most surprising, making this a sneaky-good Week 15 matchup at Arrowhead. Two matchups stand out to me. First, the Titans’ rushing offense is one of the league’s best, with the second-highest run-blocking grade (behind only Dallas) in the league, complemented by a running back (DeMarco Murray) that has broken 40 tackles and gained 609 yards after contact this season (second and seventh-best in the league to this point. respectively). The Chiefs have a solid reputation on defense, but are giving up the eight-most yards per carry in the league (4.3) and just lost Hall-of-Fame-worthy inside linebacker Derrick Johnson to injury last Thursday, presenting a solid opening for the Titans’ ground attack. Second, the Titans have surrendered two touchdowns in the return game, where the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill is our highest-graded player so far this season, and five defensive touchdowns—the same number the Chiefs have scored on that side of the ball so far. The Chiefs have won games in this unconventional way in the past, and have an opening to do so this week as well.
Jaguars at Texans (-6)
Prediction: Texans win by 5 The Texans took a big step towards their second-straight AFC South crown and their fourth in the last six years by beating Indianapolis on the road a week ago. Showing up to the stadium on Sunday might be the next big step in this process, as the Jaguars appear set on helping others achieve their goals this season. Although Blake Bortles (51.2 grade) had a turnover-free game against the Vikings a week ago, the likelihood of another this weekend against a Texans’ team sixth in the league in pass-coverage grades, and boasting edge players Whitney Mercilus (86.4) and Jadeveon Clowney (83.9), will be small at best. The only way the Jaguars keep this close is if their underrated pass defense (surrendering just 6.6 yards per attempt) can finally create turnovers (they have just three interceptions this season) and give their struggling offense the field position necessary to put up points in this one.
Steelers (-3) at Bengals
Prediction: Steelers win by 1 The Steelers are now in sole possession of first place in the AFC North, and face the defending division champ this week on the road. It appears as though WR A.J. Green (88.1) may suit up this week, while QB Andy Dalton has earned the 11th-highest-grade among QBs this season. While the Steelers’ secondary has played well this season (they own a top-10 pass-coverage grade), Green’s return in conjunction with the play of tight end Tyler Eifert (the second-highest-graded receiving tight end while Green was out) should be enough for the Bengals to keep up with the Steelers and at least cover the spread at home.
Saints at Cardinals (-2.5)
Prediction: Cardinals win by 5 These are two teams we’ve overvalued for weeks, banking on the strong play historically of Drew Brees (87.3) and Carson Palmer (74.0) to pull through against opponents with plenty to play for on both sides. This largely hasn’t worked out, with both teams going 1-3 the last four weeks, and the aforementioned signal callers earning just the 17th and 13th-highest grades at their position during that time. If that continues, we’ll have to look elsewhere for advantages, and, while the Saints’ defense has improved in recent weeks, the Cardinals still boast the third-highest-graded defense in the league, and may be getting Tyrann Mathieu (75.6) back in time to face a New Orleans receiving trio that’s one of the league’s best. Look for this strength to pull the Cardinals through in Glendale.
49ers at Falcons (-13.5)
Prediction: Falcons win by 13 In the past, this might have been a game where I could see the Falcons disappointing fans with a clunker. This Atlanta team seems different to me. Even with Julio Jones (91.9) hobbled for much of the season, the Falcons have figured out a way to move the ball offensively, even against decent defenses. The 49ers’ defense currently ranks 30th in our NFL Power Rankings and has recorded the worst yards per carry allowed (4.9) through 14 weeks. Look for RB Devonta Freeman (ninth in breakaway percentage) and Tevin Coleman (first in yards per route run) to have a big day and carry the Falcons in the Georgia Dome.
Patriots (-3) at Broncos
Prediction: Patriots win by 3 This number is low due to the history the Patriots have playing the Broncos in Denver. Prior outcomes aside, the Broncos’ road to the playoffs is a difficult one, and their offense has had difficulty scoring all season as they break in a pair of new quarterbacks. This difficulty should continue Sunday afternoon, as CB Malcolm Butler (87.9), S Devin McCourty (87.6), and the Patriots’ pass defense should be able to hold down the WR duo of Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, who, despite grading well and recording a yards per route run mark over 2, have a quarterback in Trevor Siemian who is just the 28th-highest-graded in the league. The Patriots’ offense put up 28 points against a very good Baltimore defense on Monday night, and it stands to reason that they can be similarly productive against Denver’s outstanding unit in this one.
Raiders (-3) at Chargers
Prediction: Raiders win by 2
The Raiders are a tie-breaker away from having a lead in their division through 14 weeks, and head to San Diego fresh off of one of the worst offensive performances of the season last Thursday in Kansas City. There’s enough talent on the San Diego defense to stop the suddenly-mortal Oakland offense, as CB Casey Hayward has been the best free-agent value to this point in the season, while DE Joey Bosa has been one of the best rookies. If Philip Rivers (leading the league with 17 interceptions) can avoid the turnovers that have turned winnable games into losses, look for the Chargers to be a very competitive spoiler this week at home.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) December 14, 2016
Buccaneers at Cowboys (-7)
Prediction: Cowboys win by 8
While I think we’ve mostly accurately assessed the Cowboys’ value this season, we’ve undervalued the Bucs as they’ve made their ascension to the upper ranks of the NFC. This is not the week where we turn our opinion around, as the Cowboys’ strength (their running game) plays to Tampa’s weakness too perfectly. The Buccaneers have the 30th-highest-graded run defense in the league to this point, surrendering 4.3 yards per carry. With a secondary that also has some shaky pieces (a starting nickel that contains rookie Vernon Hargreaves (61.7) and Javien Elliott (62.7), look for the Cowboys to be able to keep the Bucs on their toes and outpace a team that’s scored over 20 points only twice on their five-game winning streak.
Panthers at Washington (-6.5)
Prediction: Washington by 4
Washington has much more to play for than Carolina. However, they’ve played a lot of close games to this point (10 of their last 12 games have been within one score). As we’ve said in the past, the Panthers’ disappointing year has largely been due to their inability in these games, making a close loss a likely outcome here in Landover. Washington’s receiving quartet of players with season grades above 74.3 should have a big day against a Panthers’ secondary that has released another starter within the last week. A similar thing can be said of Carolina on the ground against Washington’s 22nd-highest-graded run defense, where Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart should help the Panthers move the ball enough to attain the aforementioned cover.
[Editor’s note: To see how PFF Analyst Eric Eager fares versus other spread pick experts, check out the latest rankings on NFL Pickwatch.]