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Tori Richman/Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2022 NFL Game Picks: Week 15

Last week: 7-6

Season: 126-80-2


SF (9-4) @ SEA (7-6)

Thursday, December 15 | 8:15 PM ET | Prime Video


The 49ers will clinch the NFC West with a win tonight over Seattle, but they have much bigger aspirations this season despite losing Jimmy Garoppolo (foot)—and the No. 2 seed is well within reach if Minnesota slips up. Brock Purdy is dealing with an oblique/rib injury on a short week, but he’s proven to be a “gamer” since taking over at quarterback, and the offense being able to run through a healthy Christian McCaffrey makes them dangerous with or without Deebo Samuel (ankle/knee). The first matchup between these teams was a comfortable 27-7 victory for San Francisco in Week 2 with Garoppolo stepping in for Trey Lance (ankle), but look for the Seahawks to have much more balance after they ran just ten times combined with Rashaad Penny and Ken Walker III; the latter practicing fully this week should provide some confidence about Seattle being able to have success running the ball to take the pressure off Geno Smith and allowing him to be more conservatively opportunistic like he was earlier this year. Still, the Niners are rolling right now, and homefield advantage hasn’t been a huge factor for Seattle this season (3-3 record).


Winner: San Francisco 49ers


IND (4-8-1) @ MIN (10-3)

Saturday, December 17 | 1:00 PM ET | NFL Network


I’m very interested to see how the Colts will respond to their 54-19 loss to the Cowboys in Week 13, and interim head coach Jeff Saturday—who I’m assuming wants to keep the job—needs to get Indy playing like they did for the first 15 quarters of his tenure before the wheels completely fell off in primetime. Even with playoffs being almost impossible, the motivation should be clear for the team with a chance to play spoiler over the next three games (@ MIN, v LAC, @ NYG), and hopefully they feed Jonathan Taylor. Looking ahead to the offseason, there will be a franchise-altering quarterback decision to make for the Colts, and I’d have significant concerns about general manager Chris Ballard being the guy to pull the trigger if they take a rookie in a class with no real consensus opinion in terms of the order behind Alabama’s Bryce Young. This week, I think Saturday will make it close, but the Vikings are 9-0 in one-score games, and Justin Jefferson might not be stopped.


Winner: Minnesota Vikings


BAL (9-4) @ CLE (5-8)

Saturday, December 17 | 4:30 PM ET | NFL Network


There is no sugar-coating how bad Deshaun Watson has been for an offense that Jacoby Brissett ran very efficiently when he was the starter, and now every game is a must-win if Cleveland wants to somehow sneak into the playoffs. As stated time and time again, playing through Nick Chubb needs to be the priority on offense, and the Browns at least gave him a couple of opportunities in the passing game late last week; but they are now 4-0 when Chubb gets 20+ carries, and 1-8 when he doesn’t hit that 20-carry mark—with the lone win being over Houston two weeks ago. Last year, the difference in a 24-22 Cleveland victory when Tyler Huntley took over for Lamar Jackson in the first quarter was two lost fumbles for the former undrafted quarterback, but he played very well in general by completing 27-of-38 passes for 270 yards and one touchdown (plus six carries for 45 yards). So, I’d argue the quarterback advantage goes to Baltimore, and they’ve allowed 14 or fewer points in four-of-five games since acquiring Roquan Smith… but I’m (perhaps foolishly) counting on Chubb to be featured as the season hangs in the balance.


Winner: Cleveland Browns


MIA (8-5) @ BUF (10-3)

Saturday, December 17 | 8:15 PM ET | NFL Network


The Dolphins had heated benches last week in Los Angeles, so I have my doubts about them suddenly being able to flip the switch in terms of mental toughness for a snowy night game in Buffalo. Tua Tagovailoa has downplayed the weather being a factor by saying the snow hasn’t impacted him in the past—but there is a difference between throwing with snow on the ground and throwing with snow falling (and wind blowing) as 70,000+ fans make their presence felt. On the other side, some have complained about Buffalo not building a dome for their next stadium because they want to see a high-flying offense every week, but there is a problem if the wintry conditions aren’t an advantage for the Bills against a southern team, and Josh Allen will have a whatever-it-takes approach to move the offense. As long as that doesn’t result in “hero-ball” mistakes, Buffalo has a chance to crush Miami with the No. 1 seed in the AFC firmly in their control.


Winner: Buffalo Bills


ATL (5-8) @ NO (4-9)

Sunday, December 18 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


Desmond Ridder is someone I really liked coming out of Cincinnati, and I’m sure the Falcons will try to make things as easy as possible on him in his first career start with plenty of quick-strike throws and by getting him on the move some. However, dealing with pressure was a weakness for the rookie in college, and New Orleans—with a noisy home crowd behind them—will undoubtedly bring blitzes to make him uncomfortable, so the Falcons will hope that the bye week has Ridder more prepared for whatever is thrown at him. In the opener, the Saints overcame a 26-10 deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Atlanta, 27-26, but Taysom Hill and Alvin Kamara need to combine for more than the 17 touches they had in that game to sweep the season series and keep their slim NFC South hopes alive.


Winner: New Orleans Saints


PIT (5-8) @ CAR (5-8)

Sunday, December 18 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


The roadmap for Sam Darnold—who is still just 25—to reach his NFL potential is playing out perfectly, as he’s been able to build confidence with zero turnovers while operating a run-heavy offense in two starts (2-0 record). A similar strategy can likely be implemented this week for a possible slugfest versus Pittsburgh, and continuing to win might eventually result in Darnold showing more of the “special” plays that we saw at USC. For the Steelers, Kenny Pickett (concussion) potentially being out opens the door for Mason Rudolph to see late-season action again with him and Mitchell Trubisky (three interceptions against Baltimore) splitting practice reps this week, and Rudolph has been very solid whenever given the opportunity to play. No matter which of the three starts on Sunday, I’m betting on Mike Tomlin’s squad again, and protecting the ball will be a point of emphasis after turnovers doomed them in Week 14.


Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


PHI (12-1) @ CHI (3-10)

Sunday, December 18 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


Jordan Mailata’s comments about Micah Parsons downplaying the MVP candidacy of Jalen Hurts give me confidence that there will be no looking ahead to the Christmas Eve showdown in Dallas:



Winner: Philadelphia Eagles


KC (10-3) @ HOU (1-11-1)

Sunday, December 18 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Patrick Mahomes uncharacteristically throwing three interceptions last week allowed Denver to nearly pull off a comeback win, and it also was a major knock on his MVP candidacy. That said, the Texans—even with improved pass defense and great effort against Dallas in Week 14—provide a prime get-right opportunity for Mahomes, and whenever they return, Mecole Hardman (abdomen) and Kadarius Toney (hamstring) are crucial pieces to incorporate into the attack ahead of the playoffs. I’d expect Houston to try doubling Travis Kelce over the middle like they did CeeDee Lamb last week, but the way Mahomes is able to buy time might make that too big of a challenge with Kelce always finding open space on those second-chance plays. Kansas City has some things to figure out on the backend, but the combination of Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel is unlikely to keep up with Andy Reid’s offense.


Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


DAL (10-3) @ JAX (5-8)

Sunday, December 18 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


Despite the aforementioned comments made by Micah Parsons about next week’s opponent, I’m fairly certain the NFL Defensive Player of the Year favorite doesn’t look ahead when he gets on the field—as he has a one-track mind of attacking the football. The bigger concern for the Cowboys right now is their cornerback group behind Trevon Diggs with Jourdan Lewis (foot) and Anthony Brown (Achilles) both done for the season, but adding former Clemson standout Trayvon Mullen (recently released by Arizona) should pay dividends down the stretch; for this week, a red-hot Trevor Lawrence can attack Kelvin Joseph and DaRon Bland while avoiding Diggs, though, and Jacksonville is very much alive in the AFC South. Fortunately for the Cowboys, they are well-equipped to win a shootout if needed, and adding T.Y. Hilton as a field-stretcher should open up space for CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup.


Winner: Dallas Cowboys


DET (6-7) @ NYJ (7-6)

Sunday, December 18 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Giants-Commanders might be difficult to top on Sunday Night Football, but Lions-Jets is arguably the matchup of the week, and it’s essentially a playoff game between two emerging teams from opposite conferences. D.J. Chark and rookie Jameson Williams both caught a deep touchdown last week as Jared Goff continued his outstanding play under center, but New York being stingy on the perimeter with Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed should make Sunday more of an Amon-Ra St. Brown game. On the injury front, the Jets not having Quinnen Williams (calf) would help keep interior pressure from affecting Goff, and D’Andre Swift not being listed on the injury report to begin the week is an excellent sign for him making an impact. Detroit’s improved play on defense and the problems No. 2 overall pick Aidan Hutchinson can create has me leaning towards them to stay hot with Mike White banged up for New York.


Winner: Detroit Lions


ARI (4-9) @ DEN (3-10)

Sunday, December 18 | 4:05 PM ET | FOX


I continue to be impressed by Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury based on what they’ve shown on Hard Knocks, but Arizona seems to be built similarly to the 2012 “Dream Team” in Philadelphia with general manager Steve Keim—now on a health-related leave of absence—having acquired big-name talent that doesn’t really fit together as winning roster. At the same time, it’s notable that players seem to respect Kingsbury and have his back, so I wouldn’t be so sure that he deserves to be fired; if a new regime does end up coming in, Kyler Murray (knee) possibly looking at a lost season in 2023 would be considered by some of the top coaching candidates, and the Cardinals only have five draft picks as things currently stand. Denver also sits at the bottom of their division, and I would think everything is on the table with the new ownership not having hired general manager George Paton or head coach Nathaniel Hackett. I’ll say again that UCLA head coach Chip Kelly would be my hire if I were the Broncos, as his offense would almost certainly be a boost for Wilson—and they need high-level quarterback play to compete with Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in the AFC West.


Winner: Arizona Cardinals


NE (7-6) @ LV (5-8)

Sunday, December 18 | 4:05 PM ET | FOX


Las Vegas losing last Thursday night was absolutely crushing to their playoff hopes, and playing one-on-one coverage when the Rams had no timeouts had to be sickening for fans of the Silver and Black. Josh McDaniels will now take on his mentor in Bill Belichick for the second time, and he actually got the better of the all-time great head coach with Denver back in 2009 by winning in overtime, 20-17. Chris Simms—a backup with the Broncos at the time—recently detailed the strategy from McDaniels to get an edge, but you better believe that Belichick is eager to get another shot at beating his long-time offensive coordinator. Defensively, the Patriots will have a tougher time doubling Davante Adams with Hunter Renfrow (oblique) and Darren Waller (hamstring) back, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them make stopping Josh Jacobs the focus considering how instrumental he’s been to the Raiders’ success (27+ touches in each of the past five games). On offense, Mac Jones still didn’t look happy on Monday night, but maybe Damien Harris (thigh) will provide a spark, and I’m going with the master to inch his team closer to the postseason.


Winner: New England Patriots


TEN (7-6) @ LAC (7-6)

Sunday, December 18 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


This game features strength versus weakness on both sides of the ball, as the Titans might not be able to stop Justin Herbert with their smaller cornerbacks being tasked with covering Mike Williams, and Derrick Henry should be able to feast on a porous run defense for the Chargers (5.4 yards per carry allowed). Normally, I would give a significant advantage to the team with the better head coach (Mike Vrabel), but Brandon Staley deserves a ton of credit for the game plan he put together against Miami last Sunday night, and it’ll be interesting to see if he decides to stack the box—something the Chargers don’t like to do—versus King Henry. That combined with similar physicality in coverage to knock rookie Treylon Burks off his route (in turn, lowering the likelihood of Ryan Tannehill hitting him in stride for a chunk gain) is the best way to slow down the Tennessee offense. Either way, LA should be able to score as many points as necessary to win at home as the Titans see the Jaguars hanging in the rearview mirror.


Winner: Los Angeles Chargers


CIN (9-4) @ TB (6-7)

Sunday, December 18 | 4:25 PM ET | CBS


By not giving up on the Buccaneers to make a run this season, it feels like we might be waiting for something that won’t happen—but I’m not about to start betting against Tom Brady. There is reason to believe in the offense this weekend, though, as Cincinnati could be without top pass rusher Trey Hendrickson (wrist) and slot cornerback Mike Hilton (knee), so Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Julio Jones are in position to put up numbers versus a secondary that might start rookie Cam Taylor-Britt (who I love, but has work to do in coverage), Eli Apple, and Jalen Davis at cornerback. If that’s the case and Brady is able to catch fire, Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase would be the best chance for the Bengals to keep up with injuries also impacting them on offense; assuming Tee Higgins (hamstring) and Tyler Boyd (finger) are out, I’d simply double team Chase on every play and make someone else win. A victory for Tampa Bay to get to 7-7 would be a needed momentum-builder to not only create separation in the division, but also prove to themselves that they can knock off top opponents in January.


Winner: Tampa Bay Buccaneers


NYG (7-5-1) @ WAS (7-5-1)

Sunday, December 18 | 8:20 PM ET | NBC


A meaningful late-season Sunday Night Football matchup between the Giants and Commanders has me reminiscing on the days where it seemed like the NFC East was featured on SNF every other week, and I’m optimistic about another close battle like they had in Week 13 (except not a tie). Saquon Barkley practicing fully to begin the week should mean he has no limitations, so this is a spot where New York could give him a monster workload—which hasn’t been the case since Week 10 when he handled it 36 times, but New York is notably 6-0 when Saquon has seen 24+ touches. Washington should also play through their starting running back (6-1-1 record since Brian Robinson Jr. took over as the starter), but the Giants are very vulnerable in coverage as well, and the trio of Terry McLaurin (8/105/1), Jahan Dotson (4/54/1), and Curtis Samuel (86 total yards) all made big-time contributions in the previous meeting. Overall, I’m going with the Giants to feature their best player and improve to 8-5-1.


Winner: New York Giants


LAR (4-9) @ GB (5-8)

Monday, December 19 | 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ESPN2


Baker Mayfield leading a comeback win over Las Vegas in Week 14—after just two days with the Rams—was awesome, and now Los Angeles suddenly looks like a dangerous opponent as Green Bay hopes to keep their playoff hopes alive on Monday night. Aaron Rodgers being closer to himself with a couple of weeks to heal both his thumb and ribs should have him ready to throw in the frigid cold, and don’t overlook the impact of Romeo Doubs returning to pair with Christian Watson at wide receiver; I’m assuming Allen Lazard will still start and play the majority of snaps, but the Watson-Doubs duo can become one of the NFL’s best based on what they’ve shown this season, and we have yet to see the rookies featured simultaneously. For the Rams, I’d like to see fifth-rounder Kyren Williams get extended opportunities over the final four games, but Cam Akers has regained the trust of Sean McVay—even after a late fumble against the Raiders. Maybe the balanced attack would keep Rodgers off the field, but Green Bay’s offense being at full strength can give them a shot to run the table and see what happens.


Winner: Green Bay Packers