The only Week 15 game where both teams have a winning record is Denver (10-3) at Pittsburgh (8-5). Things are not set in stone with three games left, but this is the 25th game this season between teams who currently have a winning record. The home team is 16-8 (.667), and these two teams were actually involved in half of the losses thanks to splitting their season series (all road wins) with the Chiefs and Bengals.
That is not to say this week lacks games that should be competitive. There are just a lot of sub-.500 teams this season, but since they are close to being equal in quality, some games should be decent. I think Detroit at New Orleans could be a fun shootout on Monday night, for example. As for the battle for the AFC South between Houston and Indy where the Texans are 0-13 all time, it’s a shame these offenses are reduced to starting an ailing Matt Hasselbeck and a third-string T.J. Yates.
Broncos at Steelers: Best matchup of the season?
This game lost a little bit of its luster with Denver’s loss last week to Oakland, dropping them to the No. 3 seed for the time being, but it’s still a huge game that both teams really need to win if they want to reach their goals this season.
What better matchup could we see this season than the Pittsburgh offense against the Denver defense? This is arguably the best against the best with both units close to having full health. Obviously the Steelers don’t have Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey or Kelvin Beachum, but Ben Roethlisberger is good to go with his cast of receivers, including a now confident (and competent) Markus Wheaton. The Broncos eased DeMarcus Ware back into action last week, and still have Von Miller to rush Ben and the cornerbacks to try covering these wideouts. Denver does have some safety injuries (T.J. Ward, Omar Bolden), so that could be a problem against the AFC’s best vertical passing game. But this is pretty close to getting these units at their best in Week 15. Definitely better health than what the Patriots and Broncos had in their meeting a few weeks ago.
Typically, we see the defense win in these matchups, but that’s usually in a playoff atmosphere where you already expect defense to get more leeway with the whistles and aggressive play. I really like the Steelers at home, and I don’t think they have to score 30 points to win, which is something they’ve done in five straight games for the first time in team history. The Broncos, no matter which quarterback is starting this year, just do not score many points (28th in points per drive). The Steelers can probably put up 24 points and feel great in this one, and I think this offense is more than capable of doing so right now with the variety of ways it can attack a defense. Martavis Bryant can score from anywhere on the field. Antonio Brown can usually get his in any given week. Heath Miller still brings a reliable pair of hands on the short passes as Ben’s security blanket. DeAngelo Williams has been very good in all phases of the game this season. They struggle a little in the red zone, but this offense can move the ball with the best of them, and you can argue Roethlisberger’s protection has been better than ever. They are basically running the Bruce Arians offense this season with all the vertical routes, which is a bit of a departure from Todd Haley’s more dink-and-dunk approach to the last three seasons. I still expect Roethlisberger to test this defense on the big plays with the safety injuries, and to try making them pay for their aggressive play with some play-action shots.
If the Steelers play a smart game offensively and avoid the turnovers, I really don’t see how Denver’s offense scores enough points to win. They will have to rely on short fields here, and a return score. The Pittsburgh defense certainly gives up a lot of plays and it’s not hard to throw for 300 yards on them, but the turnovers have been coming again this season after a historic drought. Thanks, regression to the mean. Brock Osweiler is a sack machine with his indecisiveness and lack of experience, which are a bad recipe behind an offensive line that clearly stinks. I could see big days for the likes of Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and James Harrison. The Steelers are no slouches against the run either, and Denver’s running game has been very hit or miss all season. Demaryius Thomas has killed the Steelers on some huge plays in past meetings, but he won’t get the kind of defensive looks afforded to Tim Tebow in that playoff game, and I can’t even picture him turning a bubble screen into 10 yards these days, let alone a long touchdown. He has to catch the ball first, and that has been a problem. I could see Emmanuel Sanders wanting to have a huge game against his former team, but his talents are being wasted a bit in an offense that has been so unsuccessful at throwing deep this season. While Peyton Manning kept overthrowing Sanders for much of the year, Osweiler barely even tries throwing the ball over 15 yards. When he does, it’s almost always an incompletion outside of that one drive against the Patriots where he hit two bombs on the way to a go-ahead touchdown. You can tell which people are paying attention to the games and which are watching highlights when they talk about Osweiler’s arm and the deep ball. He’s not helping them in this area at all. He’s gone 22 drives without a touchdown drive. The Broncos need to get Manning back, but a healthy Manning in 2015 may just be a pipe dream at this point.
Final score: Steelers 24, Broncos 16
It Doesn’t Take a Giant to Knock Off an Undefeated — Just the Giants
If you’re a Giants fan, you can celebrate some of the best wins in NFL history, and these were usually done against true giants in seasons where New York was really about average at best. No one really expected any of this to happen.
1934: The 8-5 Giants with their middling statistics beat the dominant 13-0 Bears by a 30-13 final in the 1934 NFL Championship Game.
1998: The 5-8 Giants with Kent Graham at quarterback shocked the 13-0 Broncos, eventual winners of back-to-back Super Bowls by a 20-16 final in Week 15.
2007: The underdog Giants used the greatest drive in NFL history to down the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, holding them to just 14 points in a 17-14 win.
2011: The Giants were outscored by 6 points in the regular season, but played Green Bay very tough in Week 13. In the NFC Divisional Round, the Giants stunned the Packers again in Lambeau with a 37-20 win. Green Bay was 13-0 at one point and 15-1 going into that game.
Maybe this history is what has a lot of people surprisingly on the Giants’ side this week as they host 13-0 Carolina. Maybe it’s the fact that this middling Giants squad has let five games slip away in the fourth quarter this year, including what should have been a win over the superior Patriots.
Count me in on the upset talk.
First, Carolina is just not as good as your usual 13-0 team. Pretty much every advanced statistical metric does not have Carolina as the best team in the NFC, let alone the NFL this year. They certainly don’t compare to the teams I mentioned above, and I really don’t see them as better than the 2005 Colts or 2009 Saints, both of which lost after 13-0 starts themselves.
For all the talk about how soft the 1972 Dolphins’ schedule was — and it sure was — has anyone really looked at Carolina’s schedule? I mean, really look at this thing.
I made a tweet in September about the Falcons’ schedule, which obviously has most of the same games as Carolina, back when Atlanta was a bit more impressive than the Panthers to start the season.
People love to bring this up on Sundays as Atlanta keeps losing even though I said I’m not predicting 16-0, but they’re missing the point. I picked out the right schedule, but wrong team for 16-0. You know how we make all those jokes about this year’s AFC South and NFC East? Well that’s half of Carolina’s schedule. This schedule is the main reason the Panthers have a very good shot at 16-0, and this Giants team is really the last big obstacle in their way assuming they go all out with starters in the final weeks.
Carolina’s 2015 schedule has been an unbelievable combination of bad teams and drawing decent teams at the perfect moment. I can think of at least 30 teams from this century that could have went 16-0 against this schedule. Just take a look.
Week 1 at JAX (W 20-9): lousy team that started 1-5. Offense and Blake Bortles only started picking things up after Week 8 bye. Panthers relied on big 4Q to clinch win.
Week 2 vs. HOU (W 24-17): made a panic move to start Ryan Mallett. This team trailed 42-0 and 41-0 in road games early this season. Got better starting in Week 8. Panthers needed a red-zone stop to beat them.
Week 3 vs. NO (W 27-22): Drew Brees has missed one game due to injury in his career. It was this one. Luke McCown went 31-of-38 with 3 drops and Carolina still needed a Josh Norman INT in end zone to hold onto 5-point win.
Week 4 at TB (W 37-23): Jameis Winston was turnover prone early in season & TB has a bad defense. Buccaneers started playing better in Week 8, but still a young .500 team at best. First game of the season where Carolina didn’t need 4QC stop.
Week 6 at SEA (W 27-23): Seattle came in at 2-3 with 3 blown 4Q leads, something they’ve done 5 times this year. Carolina needed 9-point 4QC for win. This is the worst Seattle team since 2011, but they have just started playing some great football over the last four games. I would pick Seattle to win a playoff game in Carolina right now.
Week 7 vs. PHI (W 27-16): Sloppy game on SNF against a disappointing Philadelphia team. Defense was playing much better than offense at the time. Now? You never know what to expect from them.
Week 8 vs. IND (W 29-26 OT): Andrew Luck made some of the worst plays of his career, yet nearly pulled off a 17-point 4QC in Carolina in regulation. Panthers needed to become first team in NFL history to win after trailing in OT. Like Seattle, this is the worst Colts team since 2011.
Week 9 vs. GB (W 37-29): Again, the Panthers nearly blew a 23-pt 4Q lead, but Aaron Rodgers threw an interception in the red zone at the end. The Packers started 6-0, but lost four of five after the bye week and were clearly in a funk. Normally, beating SEA/IND/GB would mean something, but this is also the worst GB team since 2008.
Week 10 at TEN (W 27-10): Titans are just a lousy 3-10 team with an especially bad defense. Carolina took care of business.
Week 11 vs. WAS (W 44-16): Washington has been spanked on the road by superior teams several times this season. Another game where Carolina, which started playing better in recent weeks, dominated an inferior opponent.
Week 12 at DAL (W 33-14): This became a lost season for Tony Romo, who suffered another collarbone injury. This is the worst Dallas team since maybe 2004.
Week 13 at NO (W 41-38): The Saints (5-8) are in the running for the worst passing defense in NFL history. At least Brees was back this time, and the Panthers needed a late 4QC/GWD and another final-drive stop to get the win.
Week 14 vs. ATL (W 38-0): The Falcons basically took their ball and went home after an embarrassing loss in NO in Week 6. Once 5-0, Atlanta has not won since Week 7’s 10-7 barnburner over Zach Mettenberger and the Titans. When you need a 4QC to sweep the 2015 NFC East, we should have known better than to accept that 5-0 as legit. And guess who the Panthers get in Week 16?
Now does 13-0 make sense? I’ll freely admit that Cam Newton has played at an MVP level since Week 9. There has been a colossal difference in how he played in Weeks 1-8 vs. Weeks 9-14, but not changing is the fact that this schedule is Charmin soft. I think some of those old Carolina teams with Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith and Julius Peppers could have went 13-0 against this schedule.
So here come the Giants, who are certainly an average team themselves, but I still like them in this matchup.
The best way to beat the Giants is to throw all over them. They don’t rush the passer, yet they still have 25 takeaways, second in the league. Carolina is not a prolific passing team. They struggle to move the ball that way some times, whether it’s Newton overthrows or Ted Ginn drops. Greg Olsen is a little banged up this week, but he’s still probable. Jonathan Stewart is out, so you have some lesser players in the backfield. The Giants are middle of the pack at stopping the run, but they’re not likely to get killed in that area by this backfield.
The Giants have a passing game that can be prolific and spread the field with multiple weapons, including the hottest one in the game (Odell Beckham Jr.). I doubt Josh Norman completely shuts him down. Eli Manning just had a virtuoso performance on Monday night, and we’ve seen him get hot for a month stretch at a time (every four years it seems). He can score the points necessary to win this one. The teams that gave Carolina the most trouble had the passing game to do it. It’s not like the Giants are going to try winning with Rashad Jennings averaging 3.5 YPC and Andre Williams not scoring touchdowns.
New York’s two worst performances this season were on the road against division rivals (WAS, PHI). They were still in every other game this year. I expect them to be in this one with the chance to seal the win in the last minutes again.
Final score: Giants 28, Panthers 24
If the Giants fall short again, maybe they’ll just get another crack in January. We’ve seen this movie before.
2015 Week 15 Predictions
Of course I got the Tampa Bay game wrong on Thursday night. I’m 3-11 at picking Buccaneer games this season. Hey, maybe I’ll pick them to lose to the 15-0 Panthers in two weeks…
Winners in bold:
- Jets at Cowboys
- Falcons at Jaguars
- Panthers at Giants
- Titans at Patriots
- Bears at Vikings
- Texans at Colts
- Bills at Redskins
- Chiefs at Ravens
- Packers at Raiders
- Broncos at Steelers
- Browns at Seahawks
- Dolphins at Chargers
- Bengals at 49ers
- Cardinals at Eagles
- Lions at Saints
- Week 1: 10-6
- Week 2: 6-10
- Week 3: 14-2
- Week 4: 11-4
- Week 5: 9-5
- Week 6: 8-6
- Week 7: 10-4
- Week 8: 10-4
- Week 9: 8-5
- Week 10: 4-10
- Week 11: 9-5
- Week 12: 8-8
- Week 13: 11-5
- Week 14: 10-6
- Season: 128-80 (.615)