NFL Week 15 Predictions: The Playoff Push

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That’s more like it.

When I needed to respond and make a change, I did. Normally, when I spark change, it doesn’t work as well as this did, but I will gladly take eleven wins. Eleven wins with how the league is so balanced and unpredictable? Definitely not going to complain. 

The great thing about this time of the NFL season is that every team that is fighting for a playoff berth is doing everything they can to make it to the postseason. That means more emotional games, more superstar performances, and perhaps most notably, more technically sound football action. 

With the bye weeks gone, there is no more rest. We are in the playoff push portion of the NFL slate.

I couldn’t be happier.

More games mean more opportunities for me to pick more winners, and that’s what I plan to do.

I hope you all enjoy the Week 15 installment of this article. The format will be almost identical to last week’s, including analysis over great matchups and players that I believe will rise to the occasion in a few of the crucial games.

Last Week’s (Week 14) Pick Record: 11-3

My Overall 2021-22 Pick Record: 129-79

Note: All betting information comes from BetMGM (https://sports.in.betmgm.com/en/sports/football-11)

My Must-Watch Week 15 Matchups

Kansas City Chiefs (9-4) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)

Time/Channel: 12/16/21 @ 8:20 PM on FOX

Spread: Kansas City (-3)

People are quick to talk about QB Patrick Mahomes’ fall to Earth after three years of coasting through the most intense competition football has to offer. It’s fair, but I don’t believe enough attention has been shined on the inconsistencies of the Kansas City pass-catchers. WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce, two of the league’s brightest stars, have struggled with drops and miscommunication with Mahomes all season long. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen either of these two blow the top off of opposing defenses, but I believe they both get heavily involved this week and drive the Chiefs to an entertaining win over their most threatening divisional rival. 

My Prediction: Kansas City defeats Los Angeles, 31-27

New England Patriots (9-4) vs. Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

Time/Channel: 12/18/21 @ 8:15 PM on NFL Network

Spread: Indianapolis (-2.5)

The Week 14 bye week probably felt really good for Indianapolis RB Jonathan Taylor, who was carrying the team on his back through the first thirteen games. However, it gave the entire Colts roster a chance to get healthy before facing AFC-leader New England, who is also coming off their bye week. Both of these teams will be ready to play, but Taylor has proven he can dictate the game script, no matter who’s waiting for him in the box. In a low-scoring affair, Taylor carries the offensive load again, while head coach Frank Reich and Indy’s underrated defense help keep QB Mac Jones and the conservative Patriots offense at bay. 

My Prediction: Indianapolis defeats New England, 23-17

Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) vs. Denver Broncos (7-6)

Date/Time/Channel: 12/19/21 @ 4:05 PM on CBS

Spread: Denver (-1.5)

I am fortunate enough to say that I will be in attendance for this game on Sunday and I am intrigued. Both of these teams are in the thick of the AFC wild-card race and need any wins that come their way. QB Joe Burrow is more than capable of leading the Bengals to a win in this one, but he looked vulnerable early against a good San Francisco defense last week. Denver, who sports an even tougher secondary, will test Burrow again. Going across the country for a playoff-like matchup is a tough task, and Denver’s defensive experience will force Burrow into mistakes, allowing Denver to win and move straight into the AFC playoff picture.

My Prediction: Denver defeats Cincinnati, 23-20

Green Bay Packers (10-3) vs. Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

Date/Time/Channel: 12/19/21 @ 4:25 PM on FOX

Spread: Green Bay (-4.5)

This one should be a fantastic matchup, but only if QB Lamar Jackson can shake off an ankle sprain he suffered in Week 14’s loss to Cleveland. Even without the injury, the Ravens offense has looked anemic in recent weeks, with Jackson unable to truly get on the same page with either of his star weapons (WR Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and TE Mark Andrews). Jackson will need his best performance of the season to pull out a victory. Unfortunately, I don’t think it matters how good Jackson plays – the loss of All-Pro CB Marlon Humphrey will prove to be detrimental this week, as MVP candidate QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Davante Adams tear through a depleted Baltimore secondary.

My Prediction: Green Bay defeats Baltimore, 31-26

New Orleans Saints (6-7) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)

Time/Channel: 12/19/21 @ 8:20 PM on NBC

Spread: Tampa Bay (-10.5)

Now, with all of Tampa’s struggles against Sean Payton’s Saints since QB Tom Brady’s arrival, it surprised me to see the line open at nearly eleven points. However, I do think the Buccaneers do win by just that- eleven points. I think New Orleans has some juice (in the form of defensive pressure and RB Alvin Kamara) to make this game interesting. Despite all of New Orleans’ efforts, the way Brady has been playing at home as of late is too much to bet against, especially with the recent performances of WR Chris Godwin and TE Rob Gronkowski helping his cause. 

My Prediction: Tampa Bay defeats New Orleans, 35-24

My Week 15 Quick Picks:

Cleveland (-3) defeats Las Vegas, 24-18

Dallas (-10.5) defeats New York, 28-19

Jacksonville (-3.5) defeats Houston, 24-21

Tennessee (-2) defeats Pittsburgh, 24-20

Miami (-8.5) defeats New York, 27-13

WFT defeats Philadelphia (-4.5), 19-16

Arizona (-13.5) defeats Detroit, 38-17

Buffalo (-10.5) defeats Carolina, 31-17

San Francisco (-9.5) defeats Atlanta, 28-20

Los Angeles (-4.5) defeats Seattle, 27-24

Chicago defeats Minnesota (-3.5), 23-21

My Week 15 “Must-Start” Players

Justin Herbert (QB – Los Angeles Chargers)

Week 15 Opponent: Kansas City Chiefs

Average Fantasy PPG (PPR): 22.7 (3rd entering W15)

I don’t expect Los Angeles to win this hotly-contested game, but if they do, it will be because of Herbert. This man has proven week after week that he can do the heavy lifting for the entire Chargers’ attack. While he was able to exploit New York in Week 14, Kansas City’s much-improved defense will provide a much greater challenge this week. However, the return of Keenan Allen to a group featuring Austin Ekeler and Mike Williams should only help Herbert establish an early rhythm, putting pressure on Mahomes to match him on every drive. 

James Connor (RB – Arizona Cardinals)

Week 15 Opponent: Detroit Lions

Average Fantasy PPG (PPR): 17.0 (6th entering W15)

Arizona may have lost their second-round battle with the Rams, but Connor again proved his worth to the franchise. Being a touchdown machine all season long, he was able to plunge in two more against the Aaron Donald-led Rams front. A much easier matchup with the 28th-ranked Detroit run defense is up next. Despite Chase Edmonds continuing to heal from his high-ankle sprain, I don’t see why Connor can’t continue his scoring ways in this matchup that will likely favor his skillset. 

Javonte Williams (RB – Denver Broncos)

Week 15 Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals

Average Fantasy PPG (PPR): 13.1 (15th entering W15)

Williams is making his case as the best rookie running back of this class. While fellow back Najee Harris has been paramount for Pittsburgh’s offensive plans, the combination of Williams’ explosion with timeshare opportunities (30 broken tackles (1st in NFL) on 155 rushes (16th in the NFL) has been joyful to watch. Williams, paired with Melvin Gordon, looks to be the primary offensive producer down the stretch for Denver, which will provide around twenty touches each week. Over the last three weeks, Williams is averaging 20.6 touches, generating 23.7 PPR fantasy points per game. Start him against Cincinnati, where the game-flow should allow him to get the ball plenty.

Justin Jefferson (WR – Minnesota Vikings)

Week 15 Opponent: Chicago Bears

Average Fantasy PPG (PPR): 20.2 (2nd entering W15)

Jefferson’s iconic “Griddy” dance may be imitated by other star receivers, but believe me when I say this. There is only one Justin Jefferson. With Adam Theilen’s two-week absence, Jefferson has proven he is more than capable of handling a generational-WR1 workload (18 receptions on 29 targets, 261 yards, 2 TDs) while facing several double teams. Facing a Chicago defense that just let a banged-up Davante Adams destroy them to the tune of 10-121-2, I have a feeling Jefferson will produce similar numbers, even if Theilen is in the playing cards or not. 

George Kittle (TE – San Francisco 49ers)

Week 15 Opponent: Atlanta Falcons

Average Fantasy PPG (PPR): 16.8 (3rd entering W15)

So much for calling Travis Kelce the undeniable best tight end in football all season. Over the last two weeks, Kittle has given us a friendly reminder of just how good he is. In Weeks 13-14, Kittle amassed 22 catches on 27 targets for 332 yards and 3 TDs. Imagine being a defensive coordinator facing George. I don’t know how you stop him, considering he has the incredible blocking ability as well. Now that Jimmy Garoppolo has rediscovered his favorite target, if he’s active, you have to start him. A minor knee injury is something to monitor approaching Sunday, but again, I don’t know if there are any options better than him at the tight end position right now.

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Gavin Smith

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