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Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens

2023 NFL Game Picks: Week 15

Last week: 129-79

Season: 9-6


LAC (5-8) @ LV (5-8)

Thursday, December 14 | 8:15 PM ET | Prime Video


Both teams have almost zero chance of making the postseason with a win tonight, but viewing Chargers-Raiders as a de facto elimination game increases the appeal—and last Thursday night’s matchup showed that two backup quarterbacks can give us a compelling game. That said, I never understood and still don’t understand Las Vegas going away from Jimmy Garoppolo if their goal was to be competitive following the firing of Josh McDaniels, and Aidan O’Connell needs to find a way to get Davante Adams the ball consistently, especially with Josh Jacobs (quad) likely out tonight. Either way, the Raiders will almost certainly be drafting a signal-caller in 2024, and it’s interesting that Heisman winner Jayden Daniels mentioned Antonio Pierce in his acceptance speech on Saturday night; for a reunion to happen, I would assume the Raiders need to win at least a game or two over the final four weeks to have Pierce get strong consideration as the permanent head coach.


Winner: Las Vegas Raiders


MIN (7-6) @ CIN (7-6)

Saturday, December 16 | 1:00 PM ET | NFL Network


This year’s Saturday triple-header features all teams with a winning record competing for playoff spots, and Vikings-Bengals is another matchup that will have two backup quarterbacks under center. Of course, Jake Browning isn’t playing like a backup in place of Joe Burrow (wrist), as he’s completed 79.3% of his passes while throwing for 285.3 yards per game in three starts (2-1 record), and his four years of starting experience at Washington has been a definite help. Minnesota is hoping for a similar spark from Nick Mullens with Joshua Dobbs now benched, and Cincinnati can be attacked with chunk plays both through the air (second-most yards per attempt allowed) and on the ground (third-most yards per attempt allowed). Overall, I trust the way Browning has played, and being at home gives the Bengals an edge if they don’t allow Justin Jefferson to go crazy while sharing the field with former LSU running mate Ja’Marr Chase.


Winner: Cincinnati Bengals


PIT (7-6) @ IND (7-6)

Saturday, December 16 | 4:30 PM ET | NFL Network


The Steelers dropping games to the Cardinals and Patriots over the past two weeks made for a brutal five-day stretch when it seemed they could have positioned themselves very comfortably for a playoff spot, but now they’ll need to fight their way back into contention with back-to-back Saturday evening games. While I agree with Mike Tomlin about George Pickens needing to keep his emotions in check, the second-year wideout is understandably frustrated with 38.1 receiving yards per game over the past seven weeks after beginning the year with 100+ yards in three of his first six outings, and he’s a difference-making talent that should be featured. In general, the Steelers should try to play through Najee Harris and Pickens as much as they can, and Mason Rudolph might get a chance to see what he can do if the offense starts slow this weekend. The key will be the defense playing better, though, and rookie wide receiver Josh Downs is someone to keep an eye on with Michael Pittman Jr. set to draw coverage from Joey Porter Jr.


Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


DEN (7-6) @ DET (9-4)

Saturday, December 16 | 8:15 PM ET | NFL Network


Last week, I mentioned the game plan for Denver is to wear out opponents with Javonte Williams to set up deep shots for Courtland Sutton—and that’s exactly what happened in the win over the Chargers as a 46-yard touchdown to the big-bodied wideout ended up being a third-quarter dagger. Detroit will be a tougher opponent to do that against with a very stout run defense, but the Broncos can win up front, and the play-action passes could be even more dangerous if tight end Greg Dulcich (hamstring) returns on Saturday night. I also think Denver should counter with the screen game, which could keep a struggling pass rush on their heels and give Russell Wilson more time to scan the field. Defensively, the Broncos will try to remain chaotic to force Jared Goff into mistakes, but the Lions need to feed David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs versus a unit allowing the most yards per carry (5.1) and rushing yards per game (144.0) in the league, and establishing the run will make things easier on Goff.


Winner: Detroit Lions


ATL (6-7) @ CAR (1-12)

Sunday, December 17 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


There have been stretches of Bijan Robinson, Drake London, and Kyle Pitts being featured by Atlanta, but they simply haven’t been able to get them all going simultaneously for full games; the latest example was last week’s disappointing loss to the Bucs, as Pitts didn’t record another reception until the final 30 seconds after catching a 36-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. I still like the playoff odds for the Falcons, but they cannot afford to slip up this week in Carolina, and the defense needs to come ready to stop a heavy dose of the running game with Bryce Young struggling (13-of-36 for 137 yards in the 28-6 loss to New Orleans). The weather is another factor to consider with rain in the forecast, and the Panthers have played well defensively despite little help from the offense—so Desmond Ridder and the ball-carriers need to avoid fumbles after putting it on the ground four times last week, including a costly safety on a strip sack that resulted in a safety.


Winner: Atlanta Falcons


CHI (5-8) @ CLE (8-5)

Sunday, December 17 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


Chicago has playoffs on their mind with three wins over the past four games, and their only loss over that span was a collapse in the fourth quarter of the first matchup versus Detroit. It’ll be interesting to see what the Bears do at quarterback in the offseason, but Justin Fields can make it a very difficult decision by keeping up his strong play—which has included running like he did last season with 42 carries for 221 yards and one touchdown in three games since his return to the lineup. However, the question will be whether Chicago is confident enough in the development as a passer to give Fields a nine-figure contract, and Sunday could go a long way towards answering that question facing a top-ranked Cleveland defense. At home, I like the Browns to create enough pressure and Joe Flacco to make enough throws, but they’ll need to careful versus Jaylon Johnson and a defense that has totaled nine interceptions in their last three games.


Winner: Cleveland Browns


TB (6-7) @ GB (6-7)

Sunday, December 17 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Buccaneers-Packers is a huge game in a tightening race for the final two wild card spots in the NFC, and as stated for Justin Fields, both starting quarterbacks will have a lot to prove over the final four weeks. Jordan Love has seemed to turn the corner since upsetting the Lions on Thanksgiving, and the highs have been impressive enough that Monday night could be chalked up as an off game for him—so the first-year starter just needs to avoid it snowballing into another shaky performance. For Tampa Bay, former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield is hoping to extend his term into 2024, but making the playoffs might be necessary for that to happen, and last December’s matchup at Lambeau Field didn’t go well with a 24-12 loss for the Rams in below-20-degree temperatures. The forecast is much more comfortable this year (around 40 degrees), but Green Bay’s defensive front can create pressure, and Mayfield probably won’t be as willing to run as Tommy DeVito was when he rushed ten times for 71 yards in Week 14.


Winner: Green Bay Packers


NYJ (5-8) @ MIA (9-4)

Sunday, December 17 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


The playoffs would have been a longshot and they very well could have still lost both games, but the Jets going away from Zach Wilson was arguably a season-ending decision, as the Black Friday game was very winnable (despite a 34-13 final score) based on how the defense played, and Wilson would have been the best option under center for the 13-8 loss to Atlanta. On the other hand, losing his job and the world finding out that he wasn’t to blame probably allowed Wilson to play more freely last week, and it was perhaps the closest he’s looked to the guy we saw at BYU with a few calculated risks that paid off in the win over Houston. Miami will be focused after the Monday night collapse with games against the Cowboys, Ravens, and Bills to end the year, but injuries have hit both sides of the ball, and I don’t think Wilson will absorb seven sacks like Tim Boyle did in the first meeting. Still, the Dolphins should run the ball successfully with Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane (if healthy with a toe injury) to get back on track this weekend.


Winner: Miami Dolphins


NYG (5-8) @ NO (6-7)

Sunday, December 17 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


The Saints find themselves in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC South, and Derek Carr has received a lot of criticism because of the high expectations placed on the team for 2023. To be fair, the situation isn’t what Carr thought it would be with the offensive line taking a step back from recent years, and he’s still played efficient football and bounced back from various injuries. This week, we should see a heavy dose of Alvin Kamara versus a New York defense that he’s rushed for 120+ yards against in both career matchups, and Carr himself was able to rip apart Wink Martindale’s Baltimore defense a couple of seasons ago with 435 yards in a 33-27 victory. On the other side of the ball, New Orleans has the aggressiveness and playmakers to cool off Tommy DeVito, but they’ll need to stop Saquon Barkley with the run defense falling off and the Giants having the playoffs well within reach following a three-game winning streak.


Winner: New Orleans Saints


HOU (7-6) @ TEN (5-8)

Sunday, December 17 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


The Texans will likely be without star rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud this week, but Davis Mills is one of the league’s best backups, and Sunday will be an opportunity for offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik to show how much credit he deserves for how well Houston has performed in 2023. Unfortunately, the task will be more difficult if Nico Collins (calf) can’t go with Tank Dell (leg) done for the year, so Noah Brown, Robert Woods, and John Metchie III need to step up, and Tennessee’s clear weakness will be their No. 3 cornerback with Kristian Fulton (hamstring) placed on injured reserve. The thing holding me back from feeling good about picking the Texans is how much Derrick Henry dominates them, as the monster back has four games with 200+ yards in the past five meetings, and on Monday night, we finally saw Will Levis get in on the action as a runner, too; but I get the feeling that DeMeco Ryans won’t stand for another such performance, and Mills can steer the offense well enough to win.


Winner: Houston Texans


KC (8-5) @ NE (3-10)

Sunday, December 17 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


I know a report this week said otherwise, but the tides have seemed to turn regarding end of the Bill Belichick era being a foregone conclusion, and the defense—despite major injuries—has remained a top-ten unit under the greatest coach in NFL history. The run defense in particular is quietly allowing a league-best 3.2 yards per attempt, which shows everyone is still playing hard for Belichick (and the players themselves have stated that’s the case). The stakes this week include a rubber match versus Patrick Mahomes (2-2 record, including playoffs) while trying to push the Chiefs further down the AFC standings, and Travis Kelce has notably been contained versus Belichick with 70 yards or fewer in each of the past six meetings. Also, the Patriots showed they have the formula to win in December with Ezekiel Elliott being featured last Thursday night, and the veteran runner has a great mindset to pull off the upset. Anger from Mahomes after last week’s loss might lead to an explosion, but the frustration boiling over has largely been due to offensive struggles, and there isn’t much reason to believe things will suddenly be corrected on Sunday.


Winner: New England Patriots


SF (10-3) @ ARI (3-10)

Sunday, December 17 | 4:05 PM ET | CBS


The first matchup this season between the 49ers and Cardinals was a 35-16 win, and MVP candidates Brock Purdy (completing 20-of-21 passes for 283 yards and one touchdown) and Christian McCaffrey (177 total yards and four total touchdowns) were both outstanding. At one point, though, Arizona was able to make it a 21-16 game in the third quarter, and now they’ll have Kyler Murray under center and an extra week to prepare for the rematch to possibly spoil San Francisco’s bid for the No. 1 seed. I’m just not sure there is enough talent on the roster for the Cardinals to win, as Purdy has the Niners operating like a machine on offense, and Nick Bosa has been dominant on the other side of the ball with 6.5 sacks in five games since the team acquired former college teammate Chase Young—and the team has gone 5-0 while allowing 13.0 points per game since the start of November.


Winner: San Francisco 49ers


WAS (4-9) @ LAR (6-7)

Sunday, December 17 | 4:05 PM ET | CBS


The Commanders have been ripped apart in back-to-back games with 45 points allowed to both the Cowboys and Dolphins prior to the bye, and playing spoiler might not be in the cards with Ron Rivera basically making it known that he knows he’s gone after the season. If Washington enters into a full-blown rebuild—which would be understandable with no A-level building blocks on the roster—they need to start hitting on draft picks, and it’ll be important to keep morale high with a “competitive rebuild” like Detroit has done and Arizona seems to be attempting. For the Rams, their philosophy seems to be the opposite of building through the draft because of the high-profile trades made over the years, but they have enough hits every April, and Sean McVay coaching the team is obviously a boost. Based on the Commanders’ vulnerability on the backend, I wouldn’t want to face Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, or Puka Nacua in fantasy football this week.


Winner: Los Angeles Rams


DAL (10-3) @ BUF (7-6)

Sunday, December 17 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX


CBS broadcaster Tony Romo (who won’t be on the call this week) has been mocked for his praise of Josh Allen over the past couple of years, but the explanation is simple in that Romo knows Buffalo has an all-world quarterback—and he’s 100% right in saying no one will want the Bills to make the playoffs because of how dangerous they will be. In addition to the play of Allen, it was also very encouraging for Buffalo to have Von Miller show some flashes of coming alive in the win over Kansas City, and the team is clearly backing head coach Sean McDermott despite the hit piece put out on him ahead of Week 14. The opponent this week will be a massive challenge with Dak Prescott playing like a top-flight signal-caller, but Rasul Douglas has arguably been a season-saving acquisition, and McDermott’s defense can limit the big plays to CeeDee Lamb and others as the only team in the league to not allow a reception of 40+ yards; the weather and homefield advantage gives the edge to Buffalo.


Winner: Buffalo Bills


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

Sunday, December 17 | 8:20 PM ET | NBC


The defense has let him down a couple of times, but Lamar Jackson loves playing in his home state of Florida—throwing for 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions in seven career games, and he could put up a crooked number on Sunday night based on how poorly Jacksonville has played over the past couple of weeks. The root of the issue is Josh Allen needing more help from his fellow pass rushers with 50% of the team’s 27 sacks on the season (sixth fewest in the league), and the failure to generate pressure has exposed some holes on the backend that Odell Beckham Jr. and company should be able to exploit in primetime. When these teams met last season, the Ravens settling for field goals allowed Trevor Lawrence to hit a game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion in the final seconds, but Baltimore is better equipped to finish off drives this year, and the numbers back that up with the sixth-best touchdown percentage in the red zone (after having the third-worst percentage in 2022). Because of the flaws for the Jags on defense, I like Jackson and the Ravens to take another step to earning the top seed in the AFC.


Winner: Baltimore Ravens


PHI (10-3) @ SEA (6-7)

Monday, December 18 | 8:15 PM ET | ESPN/ABC/ESPN2


From domination by DK Metcalf (who Howie Roseman infamously passed on) to Carson Wentz getting injured in the playoff loss to Russell Wilson rumors from previous offseasons, it feels like Eagles-Seahawks have played more often than they have—but their last matchup actually came over three years ago. And not that it matters, but Philadelphia hasn’t beaten Seattle since 2008 when Donovan McNabb faced Seneca Wallace, so this trip out west won’t be easy. Offensively, the Eagles are too good for things not to get figured out, and Jalen Hurts will do what it takes to get the group going ahead of the games really mattering next month. But on defense, Philly might have held onto the veterans for a year too long, and the Georgia youth movement is held back by linebacker Nakobe Dean not being in the lineup to tie everything together. Considering the struggles containing Metcalf, Seattle’s dominance on Monday night (29-12 record, which is the best in NFL history), and being the more desperate team, I think Pete Carroll’s squad will get a needed win in the playoff race.


Winner: Seattle Seahawks