Week 15 NFL Locks of the Week
Last week’s slate of games might have been the best of the season. The 94-point showdown between the 49ers and Saints was everything bettors could have wanted, with the OVER being locked in before halftime. Fortunately, I was on the right side of this duel, as the 49ers won outright by a score of 48-46 and took hold on the one-seed in the NFC.
The Chiefs took advantage of New England’s age and scarcity of weapons for a 23-16 victory, easily covering the +3 spread. The Patriots did have a chance to tie it late, but Kansas City was able to make a last second defensive stop to win. Belichick and company were apparently already “on to Cincinnati” as they had scouts at the Bengals game filming signals. Oh, I’m sorry. They were “filming for a TV show.” Right, Bill. You are quite the Spielberg.
My lone loss last week was a surprising one, as the struggling Los Angeles Rams blew out a red-hot Seattle Seahawks team. The Seahawks fell behind early and could never recover, falling 28-12 to their division rival. With the 49ers win, the Seahawks are losing the race for the NFC West crown, while the Rams are holding on for dear life to take that 6th and final spot in the NFC playoff picture.
In this week’s addition, I chose games with similar weight to them as last week. All of the contests I have selected have major playoff implications, either for seeding purposes or plainly teams trying to get into the dance. It’s only fair to include such games with large-scale real-world ramifications in my article, as my 55% record prediction is within sight as we enter the home stretch of the regular season.
Here are my football locks of the week (Odds courtesy of footballocks.com)
Last Week: 2-1
Houston +3 at Tennessee
With both teams at 8-5 entering Week 15 and fighting for the AFC South crown, I am picking the Houston Texans to win the first of their two matchups with the Tennessee Titans. The Titans have been resurgent, going 5-1 after benching Marcus Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill, but I think they come up short in this contest.
Tannehill has looked like a true franchise quarterback this season, completing 73% of his passes for 2,000 yards and a 15:5 TD:INT ratio in only seven games. However, I am not buying the production. Tannehill has thrown for under 200 yards in three of his seven starts, meaning most of his passing production has come from his other four performances. 31 of Tannehill’s 203 pass attempts have gone for twenty or more yards, meaning a lot of his passing yardage is coming off of the deep ball. That 15% rate is the highest among QBs.
His downfield passing statistics are a prime candidate for regression, and I believe he could struggle against a Houston team that can pressure the opposing QB (they are currently 11th best in terms of sacks) and not allow time for many deep shots.
Derrick Henry is another phenomenal weapon for the Titans, as he currently leads the league in rushing TDs and is second in terms of rushing yards per game. He is a high volume, downhill runner that can bulldoze any defender. Houston is middle of the pack in terms of rushing yards allowed per game, but they have only given up 7 rushing touchdowns this year, tied for 4th best in the NFL. The Texans may not be able to stop this Titan offense, but they can certainly contain it.
My main reasoning for picking the Texans in this matchup is Deshaun Watson, who has the 7th most passing yards in the league and 5th most passing touchdowns. Despite his struggles against an underrated Denver defense, he is still one of the best young QBs in the league and can take advantage of a Titans defense that is 8th worst against the pass. With Will Fuller likely back in the lineup, he will have a full complement of vertical weapons at his disposal.
I do not see the Texan run game even becoming a factor in this matchup, as this game is prime for a shootout like we saw in New Orleans last week. The over/under for this game is 50, which is the highest total on the week. Despite how well Tannehill has been playing of late, I prefer to take the better QB/WR duo in a high scoring matchup. That title belongs to Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins.
Another reason I like the Texans to cover is the psychological factor. After an embarrassing defeat at home to the Denver Broncos, I believe the Texans are more motivated to right the ship as the division comes down to the wire. The Titans are playing with house money, since nobody expected them to be this good. This will ultimately be Tennessee’s downfall, as a motivated Deshaun Watson and company will come into Nashville and put on an offensive clinic. Take the Texans to cover and upset the red-hot Titans.
Texans 34 Titans 31
New England -9.5 at Cincinnati
You didn’t think I would pick against the Patriots two weeks in a row, did you? This matchup is a prime get-right game for the Patriots, as they cannot drop another game in fear of losing a first-round bye to Kansas City. Even though Cincinnati has played well of late, limiting Baker Mayfield to under 200 yards and forcing two turnovers, they will not stop New England.
The Patriots offense is still abysmal. I am not going to argue that they are any better than they were last week when I wrote about them. However, the matchup is what intrigues me. The Bengals are allowing the 2nd most yards per game and 10th most points per game. Their main area of struggle is the rushing game, where they are allowing 157 rush yards per game and over one rushing TD per game.
New England notoriously has been awful in terms of offensive rushing production this year, but they have been desperately trying to get it going. Despite being 23rd in rush yards per game, they have the 10th most rush attempts per game. Every New England game seems to start with a commitment to running Sony Michel, until they realize it won’t work and they have to move on to new strategies to win the game. Against the Bengals, Michel can be successful, and the Patriots will stick with him.
On the defensive side, the Patriots are still one of the best in the league. I won’t beat a dead horse. They are terrific in almost every aspect on the defensive side of the ball and held Patrick Mahomes to only 23 points and 283 passing yards last week. They will certainly take advantage of Andy Dalton’s offensive line, who boasts the fifth worst rushing production and has given up 44 sacks to the QB this year (7th worst in the NFL). The Bengals will be lucky to score any points this week.
This is a must-win game for the Patriots, and it is one they should dominate given they are facing a one-win team devoid of talent. The Patriots are angry and will take out their frustrations on a hapless Cincinnati squad. Plus, they already filmed all of the signals, so there are no surprises! I kid of course, but nonetheless, they are the most detail-oriented and prepared team in football.
Swallow the points and take New England to cover on the road. This game may be over by halftime, but I can assure you the Patriots will step on the gas until the clock strikes zero. Belichick will get his revenge on Ohio not matter which sports franchise it is. Cavaliers? Indians? Reds? No matter.
Patriots 30 Bengals 7
Buffalo +2 at Pittsburgh
In a battle between two teams vying for wild card spots, I am going to take the Bills to cover in this matchup. This game will essentially determine the 5th seed in the AFC playoff picture, as the Bills all but lock up that spot with a victory. A loss by Pittsburgh could knock them out of the picture, as the Titans and Texans currently have an identical record to Pittsburgh.
This is a difficult matchup for the Buffalo offense, as the quarterback position for the Bills has been very hit or miss. Josh Allen has been more consistent of late, only throwing one interception in his past eight games and averaging approximately two total touchdowns per game in that stretch. However, he has struggled mightily with his deep ball accuracy and avoiding pressure. He was sacked six times last week and fumbled twice.
Nonetheless, Josh Allen is still miles ahead of the Steelers’ quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges. Hodges has benefitted from positive game scripts and a strong running game, as he averages only 20 pass attempts per game. His highest yardage total in any given game this year has been 212, and that came versus the disappointing Cleveland defense. Most of his yardage has come on long completions down the field, which the Bills are excellent at defending.
The only way offensive production derives in Pittsburgh is through the running game, which has been mediocre at best this season. They are ranked 24th in terms of rushing yards per game and 26th in yards per carry. Granted, James Conner has been in and out of the lineup for most of the year, and he is expected to play Sunday night. Nonetheless, his injury history may suggest he may not be able to go at full capacity.
This game essentially comes down to which offense I trust versus a terrific defense, because both Buffalo and Pittsburgh boast top units in the NFL. The Bills are 3rd against the pass, 2nd in points allowed, and 2nd in passing plays over 40 yards allowed. The Steelers are 1st in sacks, 2nd in interceptions, and 2nd in pass breakups. Both defenses are playing beyond expectations, which dictates that the team who makes the least number of mistakes should win.
I am going to trust the more talented quarterback as the tiebreaker in this matchup, even though he has to play on the road behind a less than stellar offensive line. I think Josh Allen will be able to hit on a few of the deep balls he missed last week and utilize his rushing ability to escape pressure. Given the Ravens blitzed Josh Allen on 67% of his drop backs last week, I think the Bills QB will be able to study the tape and learn how to beat it the blitz in preparation for Sunday Night.
Take the Bills to cover in a game which I fully expect to be one of the lowest scoring games of the week. It will be a defensive and field position battle, but I think the Bills barely edge out the Steelers in this one. It’s a toss of the coin as to who wins, but in a low scoring game, I will take the team getting the points.
Bills 13 Steelers 10