Week 15 presents us with some interesting contests as the playoff races heat up, but the matchups that we originally thought would be enticing when the schedule was first released are not the ones that highlight the week.
The Green Bay-Dallas game was supposed to be a big event, but the absence of Aaron Rodgers takes away some sizzle. The Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants were supposed to play a big game, as well, but New York has collapsed, turning that game into a likely clunker. Washington-Atlanta is a matchup of 2012 division champions — if you can believe that — but both squads are 3-10.
That being said, there are still some great games on the schedule. We’ve highlighted the best of the week.
Top Three Must-See Games of the Week:
1. New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
The best game of Week 15 is the AFC’s most important game of the weekend. Last week’s win over Cleveland amplified a basic reality about the Patriots: New England finds a way to get to the finish line — no matter how ugly or harrowing the journey. The Patriots simply win. They are the San Antonio Spurs and St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL in that sense.
The Patriots are playing without tight end Rob Gronkowski this weekend, but New England stayed afloat in the first several games of this season without him. Brady worked with new receivers and integrated them into the flow and structure of the team’s offense. New England, under Bill Belichick, is so good at making use of various spare parts and enabling them to fit into the larger puzzle and scheme the Patriots use. This team finds solutions, and that’s why it is still the right choice in this game.
As for the Dolphins, head coach Joe Philbin has kept this team together after the Jonathan Martin–Richie Incognito controversy. The collapse that many pundits predicted has not come to pass. The Patriots are 2.5-point favorites at Bovada.
2. New York Jets at Carolina Panthers
While this game is likely to be a blowout in favor of the Panthers, there’s a chance that the Jets could create some surprises. It’s an important game in both conferences, as the Jets are trying to catch both the Baltimore Ravens and the Miami Dolphins for the AFC’s sixth and final playoff spot while the Panthers are trying to catch and then overtake the New Orleans Saints for the NFC South title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The result of this game will ripple through the rest of the league, and for that reason alone, it’s interesting.
3. Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
This is a game in which the Bengals have a chance to stay in the hunt for the AFC’s second seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. Cincinnati just needs to make up one more game on New England — a team it defeated earlier this season — to move up to the second spot in the AFC. This game is vital to the Bengals’ hopes for that prize.
As for the Steelers, they need wins in the worst way if they have any hope of making the playoffs. However, the schedule suggests it just might happen. If they can find a way to win this week, Week 16’s challenge might be a manageable trip to Lambeau Field to face the Rodgers-less Packers, and Week 17 is a home visit from the Cleveland Browns.
The Biggest Underdog with a Reasonable Chance to Win is the… Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are a 2-point underdog at home and facing a Buffalo Bills squad that got pummeled by Tampa Bay last week. Buffalo has to make another long commute to the state of Florida to play the surging Jaguars. The Jags have won four of five and have a better record than Buffalo. This situation definitely sets up well for another Jacksonville win.
The Best Suicide Pool Pick of the Week is the… Seattle Seahawks
We’ve yet to use the Seattle Seahawks, so now seems like a fitting time. They are a 7-point favorite in New York, and while the time zone/early start might be a factor, expect the Seahawks to leave MetLife Stadium with a win at the end of the day. The Giants are just too undisciplined and too mistake-prone to expect them to beat an elite team like Seattle right now.
Teams Used: Indianapolis Colts, Philadelphia Eagles, New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins, St. Louis Rams, Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens