NFL Week 15 Predictions: So We Meet Again

This week’s schedule has 11 divisional games we already saw this season. Setting aside Week 17’s, this is only the fourth time since 2002 a week had at least 11 divisional games:

  • Week 14, 2003 – 12
  • Week 13, 2005 – 12
  • Week 2, 2006 – 11
  • Week 15, 2014 – 11

I did a study on divisional rematches (2002-2013) that went up yesterday. You can’t reliably use a first matchup to predict the second. The game’s too complex for that to work.

For some teams this week is almost a last stand for relevance in 2014. Lose and you might as well look ahead to next year.

Texans at Colts

As has been the case since 2012, this matchup features each team’s best player going head-to-head. As long as the Colts don’t let J.J. Watt live in the backfield, they’ll win the game like they always win at home against Houston. Why? The Texans never have the quarterback to match points with Luck, regardless of how great Watt might be. I’m going to paste something I sent in an e-mail yesterday about the topic of Watt and the MVP, which I touched on last week.

I think Watt can make the case that he’s the best at his position by a wider margin than any other player at their position, including the quarterbacks. If we look at stats like Win Probability Added (WPA) or Expected Points Added (EPA) from Advanced Football Analytics, then Watt crushes his competition. Watt is 137 percent above the runner-up in WPA this year and 133 percent higher in EPA, while Aaron Rodgers ranks ahead of No. 2 Peyton Manning by 25 percent in WPA and 48 percent in EPA. However, the problem with these metrics for defenders is the same as the problem with evaluating defensive ends in general: we only focus on the positives. With quarterbacks, we’re still penalizing them for sacks, turnovers and incompletions which make scoring difficult. With Watt, he’s not docked for failing to generate more pressure or sacks or creating more turnovers. We don’t criticize him for getting blocked out of dozens of plays per game. Despite Watt’s monster season, Houston is a 7-6 team with a perfectly mediocre defense, ranked 15th in DVOA at Football Outsiders. Every quarterback the Texans have beat this season was either a rookie or has since been benched (RGIII, Manuel, Hoyer). Meanwhile, Rodgers and Manning are leading 10-win teams with the top two offenses in DVOA. That’s the mark of quarterback value shining through whereas one defender can only do so much for his team, even if he’s the best defender in the league.

Luck will do enough to continue this streak of 20-point games and the Colts will clinch the AFC South.

20

49ers at Seahawks

The wheels are coming off in San Francisco and now the 49ers head to the house of horrors known as Seattle. The 49ers are averaging 11 PPG in Seattle under Colin Kaepernick. They scored 3 points at home on Thanksgiving. This would be a huge upset that I just don’t see happening. Seahawks keep rolling.

Steelers at Falcons

I almost want to say I’ll eat my keyboard if both teams don’t score 28+ points, but there’s a reason I really don’t gamble on NFL games. This one looks destined for a ton of points, but you just never know. Julio Jones’ health can be a big deciding factor in what kind of track meet we get, because if he’s fine, then the Steelers are toast in the secondary again. The best quarterbacks the Steelers have played this year are Drew Brees and Andrew Luck and they really didn’t pass the test in either of those games. That’s why Ben Roethlisberger has to play great and I think he should be at that level against this Atlanta defense with its lack of a pass rush. Le’Veon Bell will also have a shot for a fourth 200-yard game. Maybe I’m thinking too much of the 34-34 tie (2002) or the 41-38 overtime game in 2006 between these teams, but I smell a game-winning drive again in this one and each quarterback will hope he has the ball last. Also a rare meeting between two QBs who actively have at least 25 GWDs.

Packers at Bills

Do you believe in deja vu? In Week 15 of the 2011 season, a hot Green Bay team (13-0) with Aaron Rodgers rolled into Kansas City and surprisingly lost its first game of the season. The Chiefs played shutdown pass defense and Kyle Orton was very efficient at quarterback in a 19-14 win. A lot of the ingredients are present again three years later with this game in Buffalo. The Packers have not been as sharp on the road this year and Buffalo’s pass defense can be stingy at times. More importantly the front four is good at getting pressure, which is the crucial element to slowing down Rodgers. You really don’t want to blitz him. His offensive line has been playing much better lately though and I still expect the Packers to win, but there’s potential here for an upset. It’s Buffalo’s last real shot to keep this season alive.

Broncos at Chargers

Ever since the schedule came out in April I had the Broncos pegged as a 13-3 team with losses at Seattle, at New England and at San Diego. The St. Louis game was a shock to say the least. But here we are this week and I’m a little shaken in confidence with San Diego, but I can’t forget Manning’s Law. Bad stuff usually happens when he plays the Chargers, and of course this team should be playing with the utmost urgency at 8-5. This won’t be an easy game even if the Broncos have already handled the Chargers once this year. I’m not sure where the offensive game plan is for this one, but the new reliance on running has taken something away from the crispness of the passing game. I expect Manning will throw for over 200 yards and a few touchdowns this week, but I also count on John Pagano’s bunch to come up with a takeaway and challenge this game to the final possession. Even if Denver’s up 21 points they still usually make the final score a one-possession game. Still, I think Denver gets the win with the chance to clinch the AFC West on the line.

NFL Week 15 Predictions

I bought into the Rams on TNF and paid for it with another impotent offensive showing against Arizona’s ridiculous defense. Not even Ryan Lindley could throw that game away.

Winners in bold:

  • Bengals at Browns
  • Jaguars at Ravens
  • Dolphins at Patriots
  • Raiders at Chiefs
  • Redskins at Giants
  • Buccaneers at Panthers
  • Steelers at Falcons
  • Packers at Bills
  • Texans at Colts
  • Broncos at Chargers
  • Jets at Titans
  • 49ers at Seahawks
  • Vikings at Lions
  • Cowboys at Eagles
  • Saints at Bears

I initially went Falcons, but finding out Sunday morning that Julio Jones is likely out, I’m going with Pittsburgh. I know, this usually backfires, but I think in a close, high-scoring game that will cut into Atlanta’s ability to score. The Steelers have the better offense to begin with. The gap’s bigger now.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Week 10: 10-3
  • Week 11: 8-6
  • Week 12: 12-3
  • Week 13: 9-7
  • Week 14: 11-5
  • Total: 137-70-1
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