Biggest Games of the NFL's Week 15: Playoff Implications and Betting Picks
My betting picks and summaries of the playoff implications in Week 15.
Week 15 starts off with three big games on Saturday, all of which have playoff implications: the Minnesota Vikings (7-6) at the Cincinnati Bengals (7-6), the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) at the Indianapolis Colts (7-6), and the Denver Broncos (7-6) at Detroit Lions (9-4). The Bengals, Steelers, Colts, and Broncos are all tied with the Texans, and the Bills at 7-6, and they, along with the 8-5 Browns, are all fighting for just three wild card spots.
The Steelers -@- Colts game has the most immediate implications. Whichever team loses is most likely to fall out of the playoff picture.
Game of the Week
Steelers at Colts: One of them falls out of the playoff picture
Playoff Implications: Winner takes one step closer to the playoffs. Loser falls behind a bunch of other contenders.
The Steelers are currently the No. 6 seed, and the Colts are the No. 7 seed. It is still possible for the losing team to remain in the playoff picture at the end of the week, but only if all of the following happen: the Texans lose to the Titans, the Broncos lose to the Lions, the Bengals lose to the Vikings, and the Bills lose to the Cowboys. That is to say, it’s not going to happen. The Bengals are favorites, and the Broncos and Texans are only slight underdogs. There is a low probability that all of them will lose in the same weekend.
Game Summary: Both teams have won more games than they have had any right to win. The Steelers were outgained many weeks but still won. The Colts won close games over the Ravens and Titans (twice) but haven’t played many Super Bowl-contending teams. The difference is that the Steelers have one truly great component: their defense is clutch. T.J. Watt and his friends can win games by dominating in key situations and forcing turnovers.
QB Situation: The Steelers have ruled out Kenny Pickett with an ankle injury. Pickett was just starting to play well after the firing of Matt Canada. He had two straight games in which he completed 70% of his pass attempts before he had to leave the Week 13 loss to the Cardinals early. Mitch Trubisky, whose play inspired “Mason Rudolph” chants from the home crowd in last week’s loss to the Patriots, is a big downgrade for the Steelers and probably gives the Colts an advantage at quarterback.
Line Changes: The line started with the Colts a 2.5-point favorite at the beginning of the week, but now it’s down to -1.5. If you subtract -1.5 from the Colts’ score, will it be higher than the Steelers’ score?
Mitch’s Picks: Colts over Steelers outright, Colts (-1.5) over Steelers against the spread, game total over 42.5
Vikings at Bengals: With the Vikings and Lions both playing on the same day, their two games affect the race for the NFC North division title, and for the Bengals, this game affects the AFC wild card race. If the Vikings lose and the Lions win, then the Lions can clinch the NFC North with a win over the Vikings next week. If the Bengals win, they jump into the No. 6 seed immediately after the game, but they won’t stay there if the Broncos win, too.
Mitch’s Pick: Bengals over Vikings outright, Vikings (-3) over Bengals against the spread
Broncos at Lions: If the Broncos win and the Texans lose to the Titans, the Broncos take the No. 7 seed in the AFC playoffs. The Broncos have won five of the last six, but their last win was over the Chargers, who just lost 21-63 on Thursday Night Football, so that wasn’t exactly a meaningful win. Still, the Sean Payton and Russell Wilson have figured out the offense, and the Lions are getting diced up, and Jared Goff is reverting to his interception-prone self. They’re the underdogs, but I have the Broncos winning outright.
Mitch’s Pick: Broncos over Lions outright, Broncos (+4.5) over Lions ats
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Texans at Titans: C.J. Stroud has finally had some rookie struggles, but last week’s 6-30 loss to the Jets shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The Jets are usually tough for even the best quarterbacks. The Texans have still won four of the last six. The Titans have still lost six of the last nine and beat the declining Dolphins offense by one with Tyreek Hill missing most of the second half.
Mitch’s Pick: Texans over Titans outright, and Texans (+3) over Titans
Result: The Texans remain in the playoff picture this week, but next week’s Browns at Texans game will be tough for them—and a great opportunity for the Broncos or Bengals/Steelers (who play each other next week) to jump back in.
Cowboys at Bills: All three of the Cowboys’ losses have happened on the road. Now they play the Bills in a game that could have cold rain. Dak Prescott is considerably worse playing outdoors vs in a dome. The Bills’ offense has been playing better since they fired OC Ken Dorsey.
Somehow, Vegas agrees with me that the Bills should be the favorite. In addition to the reasoning I laid out above, they may also be factoring in the fact that the Bills lost many close games that could have been won with the flip of a coin. It’s tough, picking a game like this that is a 2-point spread (moved from -2.5), but with the usage of two-point conversions and field goals at the right times, it is more likely to end as a one-point game than a three-point game, so…
Mitch’s Pick: Bills over Cowboys outright, Cowboys (+2) over Bills