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Thursday, 15 December 2016

NFL Week 15 Picks 2016 (December 15-19)

We are now just three weeks from the end of the regular season in the NFL and it looks like the Play Off battle is going to go down to the wire, particularly for the Wild Card spots. The competition looks to be of a high enough standard that it might need ten wins to earn a Wild Card spot in both Conferences, although the picture will begin to clear up a little more in Week 15 with some big games on tap.

The two games that particularly leap off the page are the Detroit Lions visiting the New York Giants and the Tennessee Titans visiting the Kansas City Chiefs. All four of those teams are very much in the mix for the Play Off places in the NFC/AFC respectively, but none of them could afford a loss which might cost them the opportunity to continue playing football into the second week of January.

Plenty of other teams have to avoid difficult Divisional battles this week including the Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers and the Oakland Raiders with all three of those teams being on the road.

Week 15 looks like it could be another really good one.

One of the big news stories of the week was the firing of Jeff Fisher by the Los Angeles Rams despite the contract extension he was given last week. I couldn't believe the Rams were not going to make a change when they announced that extension as they have already begun to lose fan interest behind a mediocre team, but finally it looks like Stan Kroenke has made the right decision.

Fisher has stunk up the NFL for the last few seasons with losing record after losing record and I have no idea what has kept him in his job. I've never seen a Head Coach to cover the Vegas spreads more than winning games as much as Fisher has done over the years and he must have been loved by the sharps with the inflated spreads his poor team would get.

Even that has fallen apart in recent games and I would be really surprised if Fisher gets another shot as an NFL Head Coach.

But where do the Rams turn to? Talk about Jim Harbaugh looks to have been shot down, but Jon Gruden may be tempted out of the ESPN booth. Gruden would be my choice, but there are a few other names being considered and I am looking forward to seeing where the Rams go next.

The picks had a slightly poorer week last week than they have in recent weeks, but I keep feeling like I am taking one step forward and one step backwards. I would love to put a big week in the books this week to get this season in a really good position, but at least I have been avoiding the really bad week that can send me into a hole.

Thursday Night Football has not been much fun for me in recent weeks, but I am looking to get a winner on the board early in Week 15.

Los Angeles Rams @ Seattle Seahawks Pick: It was a terrible effort from both the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams in Week 14, but a return home should see a much better performance from the Seahawks. It is hard to know what to expect from the Rams simply because they are on a short week in which they have fired the Head Coach and given the job to Special Teams Coach John Fassel who admitted he was surprised to have been picked as the Interim Head Coach.

No matter what Fassel does, he is not in contention for the permanent Head Coaching role and I am not sure what kind of game plan he could have put together. It doesn't help that the Rams have one of the worst Offenses in the NFL despite Todd Gurley at Running Back and they have not seen a lot of positives from Jared Goff since he took over as the Quarter Back for the team.

Now they play the Legion of Boom who have got to be super irritated with the effort last week in the loss to the Green Bay Packers, even if Seattle's problems came from the turnovers thrown by Russell Wilson. Gurley is not expected to get a lot of room so it will be up to Goff to throw into the Seattle Secondary to try and move the chains, although I expect the Rams to use a lot of gimmicks to keep the Offense on the field.

It might be a chance for the recently non-existent Seattle pass rush to get going as the Rams Offensive Line has had a few problems protecting a Quarter Back who holds the ball for a little too long. Goff hasn't been helped by Wide Receiver drops, but he is in for a real challenge here and Los Angeles might struggle to tempt a big name Head Coach if they get to see film of this one.

On the other side of the ball, Thomas Rawls should be able to have a really big game against the Rams Defensive Line which has given up big numbers on the ground. Russell Wilson can make some plays with his legs too, but I also expect the Quarter Back will be keen to show Week 14 was an exception to his usual levels as he lights up the Rams Secondary which has also been struggling.

Seattle's Offensive Line issues could be a real concern moving into the Play Offs and the Rams Defensive Line can penetrate into the backfield. However I think Wilson is moving well enough to make some plays on the run and the Seahawks have a real chance to embarrass the Los Angeles Rams who beat them earlier in the season.

In fact the Rams have won four of their last five against Seattle and have won three in a row in the series, so the Seahawks should be really motivated to win this one. It is a big number, but I am not sure the Rams are going to be able to score enough points to stay with a team who have scored at least 26 points in each of their last four home games.

I can see the Seahawks using a couple of big turnovers to pull away from the Los Angeles Rams in this one and I just can't see Goff and the Offense to stay with them through their mistakes. The Rams are 7-2 against the spread in the last nine in this Divisional rivalry, but I think the Seahawks score thirty plus points and cover.

Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets Pick: The win over the Arizona Cardinals might be a pivotal one for the Miami Dolphins who are hoping to get back into the Play Offs for the first time since the 2008 season. It came at a cost though with starting Quarter Back Ryan Tannehill going down for the rest of the season, but the Miami Dolphins have made Matt Moore one of the better paid back up Quarter Backs in recent seasons.

The Offensive game plan should be one that works to Moore's advantage with the Dolphins looking to establish the run where they can and have their Quarter Back avoid making any big mistakes from third and manageable. Injuries to the Offensive Line has made running the ball more difficult in recent games, and that includes against the San Francisco 49ers who have been terrible at stopping the run.

It does raise some questions as to whether Jay Ajayi can move the chains effectively against the New York Jets Defensive Line which allowed Carlos Hyde to trample them in Week 14. The Jets have allowed 5.4 yards per carry and 159 yards per game on the ground in their last three games, but there is no guarantee Miami can take full advantage with some key players on that Offensive Line either banged up or out for the season.

So can Moore move the chains through the air when necessary? He should have a chance to do that because the Jets have not got a lot of pressure up front meaning Moore should have some chances to throw the ball effectively. The New York Jets Secondary is not as strong as in recent seasons and Moore has some big Receivers in DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry who can make plays for him.

The Offense should have some success, but the Defensive unit have to pick up their play if the Miami Dolphins are going to make it into the Play Offs. The Defensive Line has had some real problems stopping the run in recent games, although Matt Forte is absent for the Jets and Bilal Powell has had some big moments but has also been inconsistent. Like the Dolphins, there is room for the Jets to make some plays on the ground, but whether they have the consistency to do that is open to question.

Also like the Dolphins, the Jets will be hoping their Quarter Back Bryce Petty can move the chains when necessary as they also try to work out whether he can be the starting Quarter Back going forward. Petty was dropped a number of times by the San Francisco 49ers last week and this Miami Defensive Line can pressure the Quarter Back when in obvious passing situations so I think Petty will be under some pressure. He has also thrown some bad balls which have led to Interceptions and this Dolphins Secondary have helped turn things in their favour with turnovers at critical times.

However I do think Petty will have some success too against this Secondary and that should keep this one interesting.

Despite what people feel about Ryan Tannehill, his loss is a blow for the Dolphins even if Matt Moore is one of the better back up Quarter Backs in the NFL. I think Tannehill's absence will be crucial later in the season, but Moore can help win a game like this one against a Jets team that haven't been playing as hard as their fans would like. I do think Bryce Petty has a couple of really good drives, but a turnover or two will help Miami keep in front and I will back the Dolphins to win on the road.

The road team is also 13-6-1 against the spread in the last twenty games between these Divisional rivals and I will back the Dolphins to cover.

Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears Pick: It is going to be very, very cold and windy in Chicago on Sunday in Week 15 as the Bears try to knock off the Green Bay Packers and also remain in front of their great rivals in the historical head to head. A win for the Packers will mean they are tied in wins and losses in history for the first time since 1933!

This is going to be a big test for the Packers who need to win out and hope that is enough to overhaul the Detroit Lions at the top of the NFC North. The Packers have to believe it is possible considering the schedules of the two teams, but they can't overlook the Chicago Bears despite the record with the way they have been playing in recent games.

Matt Barkley has proved to be a more effective replacement for Jay Cutler at Quarter Back than I think most would have imagined and the Bears have been competitive in their recent games. Alshon Jefferey is back from suspension which will give Barkley a big target, but the conditions are going to make it tough to throw the ball so you have to believe there will be a huge amount of handing the ball off to Jordan Howard.

It should be noted that Howard was comfortable in snowy conditions in the win over the San Francisco 49ers and the Running Back has proven he can play at this level in place of Jeremy Langford. Recent games have seen the Green Bay Defensive Line have a few issues when it comes to slowing the run, and I do think Howard can have a solid outing which will control the clock and keep Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Offense off the field.

Green Bay are likely going to need Rodgers to negotiate the conditions a lot more than Chicago need Barkley to do the same. That is because the Bears have been able to run the ball in recent games, something that has been an arduous task for the Green Bay Packers for much of the season and even before Eddie Lacy went down with an injury. The Bears haven't been particularly stout up front, but the Packers have not run the ball well which will mean Rodgers having to make some big plays in the wind.

That is going to be far from easy against this Defensive unit who have gotten plenty of pressure up front and improved play from the Secondary in recent games. Rodgers is dealing with calf and hamstring issues which means he will need the Offensive Line at their best, but Chicago can force him to get rid of the ball quicker than he would like and this will stall drives.

It could also lead to some critical turnovers and the Bears look the right side to back in this one with the points they are being given. Jordan Howard should be able to run the ball effectively which will keep Barkley and the Bears in a decent position and I think the Bears Defensive unit have played well enough to be very good in the conditions and keep this close.

Field Goal kicking is going to be difficult too so I am looking for a close game that sees the Chicago Bears stay within the points.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans Pick: There is a lot of talk about Gus Bradley and whether his time as Head Coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars is coming to a close at the end of this season. This was a team that was expected to take some big strides forward, but the Jaguars are the only team out of contention in the awful AFC South and Bradley has been criticised for the manner in which his team have been playing.

At least they are going up against a Divisional rival this week which should get the juices going for the road team. The Houston Texans have managed to stay in the lead of the AFC South, but this is a big three games for Bill O'Brien who put his stock in Brock Osweiler at Quarter Back who may just be the first worst starting Quarter Back in the NFL.

This is going to be a big test for Osweiler if the Jacksonville Defensive Line can prevent Lamar Miller from taking control of the game. They have been stout up front which should mean Miller is contained for the most part and that will shift the pressure on Osweiler who has not been comfortable throwing the ball.

The Jacksonville Defensive Line is one of the better aspects of this unit and they can get pressure on Osweiler if he is in third and long. Look for the Quarter Back to set up screen plays and short crossing routes to try and keep the chains moving, but the Texans are very happy to try and win the field battle and use their own Defensive unit to force the Jaguars into the mistakes which have blighted them Offensively all season.

It may be possible for Jacksonville to lean on TJ Yeldon at Running Back to at least keep the Offense in third and manageable situations. Yeldon doesn't have big numbers, but the Texans have given up 4.4 yards per carry up front in their most recent games which suggests the Running Back can make some big plays on the ground.

There is little doubt the Jaguars need to keep the Offense in third and manageable on the ground because Blake Bortles has made far too many mistakes at Quarter Back during the course of the season. His mistakes have cost the Jaguars on more than one occasion this season and Bortles will face some pressure from the Texans up front, while this is a solid Secondary that don't make huge mistakes.

Houston showed they can turn the ball over when teams try to pass against them and they can hurt Bortles a couple of times which allows the team to pull away as they look to win the AFC South. Those mistakes are a big reason I like the Texans in this game and they have been better at home where they are 4-1-1 against the spread this season.

I don't particularly like Brock Osweiler as a Quarter Back, but he can manage the game for long enough for the Defensive unit to force a couple of mistakes from Blake Bortles and win this game and cover.

Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs Pick: A win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 14 means the Kansas City Chiefs are in prime position to win the AFC West and perhaps even challenge for the Number 1 Seed in the AFC. Every week you do look at the Chiefs and wonder how they can keep winning playing the way they are, but every week the Chiefs manage to add a win to their record as they are set for another Play Off appearance.

The Kansas City Chiefs meet the Denver Broncos next, but they can't overlook or underestimate a Tennessee Titans team who are desperate to win the AFC South. The Titans are only behind the Houston Texans on the tie-breaker, but they control their own destiny if they can win out.

That means heading to Arrowhead Stadium and winning this big game in Week 15 which is so important to both teams. If this game had been played earlier in the season, the Titans would have felt very confident they could run the ball effectively against the Chiefs Defensive Line, but recent games have seen an improvement from the Chiefs in stopping the run.

Some of that has to do with who they have played though and this will be a big test for the Chiefs Defensive Line against a Titans Offensive Line which has ploughed some big holes for DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Murray has had a really big season and the Titans have established the run for much of the season, while Marcos Mariota is more than capable of moving the chains with his own legs from the Quarter Back position.

Keeping the team in third and manageable spots have proven to be the key for the Tennessee Titans and Mariota is playing with plenty of confidence from Quarter Back. He has been given time by the Offensive Line, while the play-action works really well for them too, and Mariota could have some steady numbers against the Kansas City Secondary. The importance of not turning the ball over won't be lost on the Titans and Mariota, especially knowing how much this Chiefs Defensive unit love to do that.

On the other side of the ball the Titans Defensive Line has been very good at the line of scrimmage and have plugged the holes to prevent teams being able to run the ball against them. Without Jamaal Charles, Kansas City have had difficulties establishing the run and the Titans will feel they can force Alex Smith to make time consuming drives through the air with his short passes.

There can be some pressure generated up front, but Smith should have a solid time making his passes against a Secondary that has struggled. Tyreek Hill has proven to be an effective playmaker down the field with his speed hard to contain so Smith does have a legitimate threat down the field that he will take shots to, but generally the Quarter Back is happy to make short passes and look to have long drives ending in points.

It is the Special Teams that have really helped the Chiefs win games they perhaps should not be and I think that will need to be a key factor for them over the next few weeks if they are going to make the Super Bowl. That could be important for them in this game, but it feels like the Titans will have their successes too which makes the points being given to them look very attractive. It will be a cold day, but the Titans can run the ball effectively and I will back the underdog to keep this one close.

Indianapolis Colts @ Minnesota Vikings Pick: This is an absolute 'must win' game for both the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings with both teams chasing leaders in their Division. The Wild Card spots are beginning to move out of reach for the losing team and you have to think the team that loses will be out of contention for the post-season.

It is probably a little more important for the Minnesota Vikings in a much stronger Division than the one the Indianapolis Colts play in. The home team look like they might be getting a much needed reinforcement in Week 15 now that Adrian Peterson is back in practice and declaring himself ready to go and help a Minnesota team that have forgotten about a 5-0 start as they head into Week 15 at 7-6.

Peterson's return would perhaps spark a rushing game that has struggled without him this season even if the Vikings have shown some life in that regard of late. The Vikings should be able to find some room on the ground against this Indianapolis Defensive Line which has allowed 4.4 yards per carry over their last three games having had issues to stop the run all season.

That is important for the Vikings who have seen some inconsistent play from Sam Bradford at Quarter Back over their last eight games which has seen Minnesota drop six. There have been some improvements in the Secondary from the Indianapolis Colts in recent games, but Bradford could have a solid game if the Vikings are running the ball effectively too.

Running the ball has been an issue for Indianapolis this season as well as it has for Minnesota, but they too may feel they can have some joy against a Vikings Defensive Line which has perhaps worn down over the course of the season. Veteran Frank Gore has shown he still has some zip in his legs to break a big play or two and getting the run game established will aid Andrew Luck who has been playing behind a porous Offensive Line.

Minnesota are more than capable of getting the pressure on Luck if in third and long, but running the ball eases that rush and also means the Quarter Back can make some throws out of the play-action. The Vikings Secondary has played well, but they are going to be missing Harrison Smith for this one and Indianapolis have players like TY Hilton who can make big plays down the field where the Safety Smith would usually be able to make plays.

I do think both teams will have more joy moving the chains in this one than you may initially imagine with the Offenses both having some difficulties in recent games. The likely return of Adrian Peterson has meant the spread has inflated towards the Vikings, but I do think Andrew Luck can help the Colts move the chains and stay with their hosts. The weather plays no part inside the dome and a fast track should mean the Colts can make some big plays and I will back the underdog with the points to at least keep this one competitive.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Dallas Cowboys Pick: I picked the New York Giants to cover against the Dallas Cowboys last week because I thought it would be a close game in which the Giants match up well with them. That was my feeling and it worked out that way, but I was not anticipating a Quarter Back controversy to develop, but the Dallas Cowboys are always news in the United States.

Dak Prescott remains in charge of the Offense, but he will need to bounce back to keep the pressure of Tony Romo breathing down his neck at the position. There have been some signs of Prescott hitting a rookie wall, but I do think the performance against the Giants was an exception rather than the rule. He will be tested to the full by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who have improved on the Defensive side of the ball which has put them in contention to make the Play Offs.

The Buccaneers will get plenty of pressure up front on the Cowboys Offensive Line which has just hit some difficulties in pass protection of late. That pressure has led to Quarter Backs making mistakes when throwing into the Secondary where the Buccaneers have created plenty of turnovers and Prescott has to be aware of the challenge in front of him.

However the Buccaneers Defensive Line has had a few problems containing the run and I fully expect Dallas to try and ram the ball down their throat as long as this game is close. Ezekiel Elliot and the Dallas Offensive Line can keep the team in third and manageable which will make things easier for Prescott and I do think the Cowboys will have some success against them.

The question then shifts to the Tampa Bay Offense and whether they can stay with the Cowboys who should be able to score a few points in this one. The Buccaneers haven't been able to run the ball that effectively in recent games which could be a problem for them this week as the Cowboys Defensive Line have been producing solid outings in limiting what teams can do on the ground.

It will mean Jameis Winston is under pressure to make plays against a Secondary which has given up big plays, but one that can get the stops when they really need them. Winston has some big targets like Mike Evans and Cameron Brate who can be virtually impossible to stop, and it will be important for the Quarter Back to avoid any big mistakes to give Dallas extra possessions.

I do think the Buccaneers can make enough plays in the passing game to stay with the Cowboys even if I don't think they win this game. The Tampa Bay Defense has played well enough to at least make a couple of big stops against Dallas and I think Winston will throw the ball effectively to get within the number. Sunday looks like being a day for the underdog for me and I am going to take what looks a lot of points to give a confident Tampa Bay team who can easily score a backdoor Touchdown to cover with this many points given to them.

MY PICKS: Seattle Seahawks - 16 Points @ 1.95 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Miami Dolphins - 2.5 Points @ 1.86 Boyle Sports (2 Units)
Chicago Bears + 5.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Houston Texans - 4 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Tennessee Titans + 6 Points @ 1.95 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Indianapolis Colts + 5 Points @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers + 7 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (2 Units)

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