Pick-6 for NFL Week 15

Written by Sam Pearce

Time for the NFL Week 15 picks! Make sure to listen to the podcast with KAM and Sam this week to get caught up on everything you need to know about the NFL Playoff picture. Week 14 was the best week of the NFL season, but can Week 15 be even better? It's quite possible. It starts up with a great Saturday night game that should decide the AFC West. The Chiefs finally got back on track last week and now they host the red-hot Chargers. Plan your Saturday nights accordingly. In the early games on Sunday, the Panthers host the Packers in a critical game for both teams. With Aaron Rodgers making his return, we'll find out just how much of a threat Green Bay can be down the stretch. Although I predict Cam Newton will have plenty to say about this game as well. Get your Red Zone channels ready for the late afternoon games. The Patriots and the Steelers meet up in Pittsburgh in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship game, and quite possibly a preview for this year's. Plus, LA goes to Seattle where the Rams and the Seahawks will essentially decide the NFC West winner. And if that's not enough, Dallas goes to Oakland for Sunday night football. That's as much of a regular season playoff game as any taking place this weekend. Here are the picks, previews, and commentary from the rest of the team at The Football Pod:


Can Cam Newton run the Panthers past the Packers and into the NFC Playoffs?
Photo Courtesy: Carolina Panthers/panthers.com




***These are Wednesday morning lines for Week 15. If you pick later in the week and need help with adjusted lines just find me on twitter, and I'll help you out. That's what friends are for!***


Denver (-2.5) @ Indianapolis:

By my count, there are only two games this weekend that have absolutely zero impact on the race for the Playoffs.  One is the Arizona-Washington game on Sunday and the other is this one on Thursday night.  But since this is the only game on Thursday, we'll pick it anyway.  And who knows, maybe you're watching Frank Gore or the Broncos defense for your fantasy football playoffs.  Denver was especially good on defense last week, limiting the lowly Jets to 100 yards of offense for the entire game.  It was a shutout win for Denver, and the kind of dominating effort on defense that Broncos fans hoped to see more of this year.  Instead, it was their first win in nine games.  It "improves" Denver's record to 4-9, one game better than Indy's 3-9.  These teams are both really, really bad.  On average, they both give up about a touchdown per game more than they score.  Denver is the better defense though.  The Broncos still have the third best rushing defense in the league, allowing less than 90 yards per game (YPG).  Indy isn't nearly as good at stopping the run; the Colts are ranked 23rd in the NFL.  Not only may the Colts struggle to get it going on the ground, but they may not have Gore at full strength.  He didn't practice early in the week and it sounds like he was a little banged up following his heavy workload in Buffalo last week.  In a game of bad teams, I'll take the better defense.  Broncos to cover:

Sam's Play: Broncos
KAM's Play: Broncos
Kevin's Play: Colts
Payton's Play: Broncos
Rick's Play: Colts
Greg's Play: Broncos
Jeremy's Play: Broncos


Chicago (+5.5) @ Detroit:

This is the first of two Saturday games this week.  At 7-6, Detroit is actually only a game back in the NFC Wildcard race.  But it's unlikely that nine wins will get anyone into the NFC Playoffs this year.  The conference is just too competitive.  So along with Dallas and Green Bay, Detroit is in "run the table" mode if the Lions want to make the Playoffs.  They should be able to keep it going and beat Chicago, but the Bears actually looked pretty good last week.  Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was particularly impressive, having just thrown for 271 yards and a touchdown, his best game of the season.  He may keep it going this week, as the Lions have a pretty awful pass defense and generally struggle to pull away from teams, even bad teams.  Chicago does have a good pass defense, top ten in the league.  So the matchup to keep an eye on is the Bears top ten passing defense against the Lions top five passing offense.  Detroit is getting 268 YPG through the air.  And they rank 7th in the league in the yards per attempt (YPA) stat at 7.4.  Chicago may keep this close most of the day, but Detroit is good enough to win this game by a touchdown.  Lions to cover:

Sam's Play: Lions
KAM's Play: Bears
Kevin's Play: Bears
Payton's Play: Lions
Rick's Play: Lions
Greg's Play: Lions
Jeremy's Play: Bears


Los Angeles @ Kansas City (pickem):

Keenan Allen has been electric for the Chargers. He'll look to keep it going Saturday night at Arrowhead.
Photo Courtesy: Los Angeles Chargers/chargers.com


Los Angeles got off to an awful 0-4 start this year.  Kansas City was the league's best team in early October; the Chiefs were 5-0.  That included a nice win over the Chargers in LA.  So no one saw this coming... The two of them getting back together with identical 7-6 records in Week 15 with the AFC West title on the line.  But that's where we are, and it makes for a great Saturday night warmup before NFL Sunday.  There are two interesting streaks coming into this game.  The visiting Chargers have won their last four games, and they've generally been winning big.  They've outscored opponents by nearly 20 points per game (PPG) over that stretch.  But the host Chiefs have won the last seven in a row in this rivalry.  So something's gotta give.  Earlier this season the Chiefs dominated this game in LA.  But this isn't the same Chiefs team.  Yes, they beat Oakland last week to sort of get back on track, but it's hard to have a lot of confidence in them right now.  They've been especially bad on defense.  This team gave up 38 points to the Jets a couple weeks ago.  Now they'll have their hands full with Philip Rivers.  If you had to pick a quarterback from the Class of 2004 for the rest of this season and the post-season, would you choose Rivers?  He's obviously higher on anyone's list than Eli, but how does he compare to Big Ben?  Pretty favorably, actually.  Rivers is well on his way to another 4,000 yard season, with 23 touchdowns and only 7 interception so far.  More importantly, he's been really efficient, averaging over 7.8 YPA.  In the last three games he's been lights-out.  He has 1,100 yards, 6 touchdowns, and zero picks.  And he's averaging 10.25 YPA, a crazy number.  Think about that - in his last three games he averages a first down every time he drops back to pass?!  Big Ben is having another good season as well.  He's thrown 24 touchdowns, so one more than Rivers, but he's thrown six more picks and he averages less YPA.  And while Keenan Allen has been tremendous, he's not exactly Antonio Brown.  Nor does Rivers have Pittsburgh's organizational advantages.  As the quarterbacks of '04 age and deteriorate (Eli), or hint at retirement (Big Ben), Rivers looks the most capable of playing another five years at a relatively high level.  I'll take him to it get done on Saturday night too.  Chargers to cover:     

Sam's Play: Chargers
KAM's Play: Chargers
Kevin's Play: Chiefs
Payton's Play: Chiefs
Rick's Play: Chiefs
Greg's Play: Chargers
Jeremy's Play: Chiefs


Miami (+1) @ Buffalo: 

Can the Bills make enough plays in the Western New York weather again this weekend to keep their Playoff hopes alive?
Photo Courtesy: Buffalo Bills/buffalobills.com


Normally a meeting of the 6-7 Dolphins and the 7-6 Bills wouldn't be so exciting.  But thanks to the relative weakness in the AFC this year, both teams are very much alive in the Wildcard race.  And both are coming off big wins last week, especially Miami, fresh off an upset victory over New England on Monday night.  You may be seeing this line anywhere between pickem and a field goal, depending on whether or not Bills starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor will be back in the lineup.  But if he's anywhere close to healthy, he has to play right?  The Bills made their ill-fated decision to start his backup a few weeks ago and had their absolute worst showing of the season.  They brought Taylor back the next week and beat the Chiefs at Arrowhead.  It was during the Chiefs slide, yes, but winning that game kept them alive in the AFC Playoff race.  Taylor has limitations and that's obvious any time the Bills play someone like the Patriots.  But he's still their best choice.  By far.  And if you're Taylor, and you don't know where you'll be playing next year, wouldn't you relish the chance for an audition?  I love that this game's at home for the Bills.  In Miami, I'd probably be picking the other way.  But in Buffalo, I love the home field advantage this week.  Bills to win and keep their postseason hopes alive for at least one more week:

Sam's Play: Bills
KAM's Play: Bills
Kevin's Play: Dolphins
Payton's Play: Dolphins
Rick's Play: Bills
Greg's Play: Dolphins
Jeremy's Play: Bills


Philadelphia (-8) @ New York:

Can the Eagles still soar without Carson Wentz?
Photo Courtesy: Drew Hallowell, Philadelphia Eagles/philadelphiaeagles.com


If Philly is a more than a touchdown favorite at Giants Stadium without MVP candidate Carson Wentz, how ugly would this be if Wentz was still playing?  Or if the game was in Philadelphia?  And how bad have things gotten for Eli Manning and the Giants?  Being a huge  underdog at home to a division rival is embarrassing.  But the Giants have been embarrassing themselves for the better part of six years now, so that's no surprise.  It's been especially bad in this series.  Not only have the Eagles covered the spread in 14 of the last 19 games played between these two, but Philly has won seven of the last eight, straight-up.  So can it be any different this weekend, despite Philly playing without Wentz?  It's unlikely.  The Giants are really bad on offense.  It starts with their awful quarterback play.  Yes, Eli's been a bad quarterback for about five years now.  In his defense, he's got a terrible line, no run game, and the Giants are without Odell Beckham, their only consistent play maker.  They were 0-4 with Beckham, so it's not like they were headed to the Playoffs anyway, but the offense looks like a bad college team without him.  The Giants defense isn't as bad as the offense, but it's hardly any good.  They give up over 400 YPG for the season.  That being said, Philly will probably play this a little conservative with a backup quarterback.  Look for the Eagles to try and establish some balance on offense early.  They'll use their effective stable of running backs to try and win the time of possession and set up the passing game for backup Nick Foles.  Foles looked good in the fourth quarter last week after he replaced the injured Wentz, and he has plenty of NFL starting experience.  Don't be surprised if he looks good on Sunday for the full game.  The Giants will keep this close for a little while, just like they with the Cowboys last week, but it's hard to have any faith in the 31st ranked scoring offense in the league.  That's right, the Giants are one spot above dead last at scoring points, edging out Cleveland by a mere tenth of a point.  Going into this game, the Giants give up almost ten PPG more than they typically score.  Philly has the best scoring offense in the league.  Eagles to cover, even if Foles needs four quarters to do it:

Sam's Play: Eagles 
KAM's Play: Giants 
Kevin's Play: Giants 
Payton's Play: Giants 
Rick's Play: Eagles 
Greg's Play: Eagles 
Jeremy's Play: Giants 


Green Bay (+5.5) @ Carolina: 

***Editor's note:  Kimberly Ann Maley was on the edge of her seat last Sunday, but a couple key touchdowns passes from Brett Hundley to Davante Adams put all Packers fans at ease.  But now it gets much tougher for Green Bay, as the Packers head to Carolina. Is Green Bay getting Aaron Rodgers back just in time for a Playoff run?  Read on for KAM's preview and ATS pick for Packers/Panthers!***

Davante Adams has a knack for making game-winning touchdown catches in 2017.  He'll need to be at his best to beat the Panthers.
Photo Courtesy:  Evan Siegle, Green Bay Packers/packers.com


He's back!!!  Number 12 is expected to return this week for the Packers-Panthers game, which is essentially an in-season playoff game for both teams.  We talked about Patriots-Steelers as the biggest game of the NFL season on the podcast this week.  But now it's not even the biggest game of the day.  Nope, the most important game of Week 15 takes place in Charlotte, North Carolina.  All eyes will be on the NFL's most must-see player, Aaron Rodgers.  The fact that he takes on another MVP quarterback, Cam Newton, makes this game that much more enticing.  Rodgers hasn't played since Green Bay's Week 6 loss at Minnesota.  That was the infamous day that he left in the first quarter with the fractured collarbone.  The Packers quickly went from 4-1 NFC favorites (they had already secured wins over Dallas and Seattle) to 5-6 also-rans.  But give Brett Hundley and the rest of this team a lot of credit.  They had two must-win games the past two weeks and they found themselves in overtime battles both times.  They played their best when it mattered most and now this resilient bunch heads to Carolina with Playoff hopes intact and the league's best player back under center.  In the words of a very wise man, "so you're telling me there's a chance!?"      

But that chance depends on the version of Rodgers that we get following his surgery.  Let's hope history is on our side here.  Packers fans, you all remember...

  • 2016:  Yes, it was just last year that Aaron told us Green Bay needed to run the table and they did, all the way to the NFC Championship game.  With largely the same roster that's in place now.  But I'd argue the run game is much better than a year ago, as is the secondary.  Two things that the Packers will need on Sunday.


  • 2014:  When Aaron told us all to R-E-L-A-X.  We did, we watched, and we were in awe, as he led the Packers to the NFC Championship Game that year as well.  


  • 2013:  Aaron missed seven games due to a very similar injury (although no surgery was required then) and he came back just in time to connect with Randall Cobb, beat Chicago and win the NFC North.  That one was especially nice since it was in Chicago.  At Solider.  In front of the Bears fans.  Just when they thought they were about to establish themselves as the new kings of the North.  
Unfortunately, there are no Chicagos left on the schedule this year.  For Green Bay to put together another improbable Playoff run, it will have to continue with a win over a very good Carolina team.  If you weren't sold on the Panthers after their loss in New Orleans a couple weeks ago, look at how they bounced back to beat the Vikings last week.  Carolina outgained Minnesota on the ground by a crazy 216-100 margin.  They also won the turnover battle, 3-1.  These stats spell out the Panthers keys to success:  Run the ball, defend the run, control the clock, and force turnovers.  Carolina has outperformed six of their last seven opponents in the run game.  So while the Panthers don't have an elite offense, they're consistently solid.  And Newton has a knack for making big plays when the Panthers need them most.  Carolina wouldn't be 9-4 if they weren't doing all of these things well on a regular basis.  Carolina will look to do all of this again on Sunday afternoon, especially running the ball.  Green Bay has struggled to defend the run, and it will be a huge challenge this week since Newton is very much part of Carolina's rushing attack.  The Packers defensive line and linebackers will need to have their best outing of the season.  Way back in Week 1 you may recall that they did pretty well containing Russell Wilson of Seattle.  They'll need that type of effort, but even better, against Carolina.  If Green Bay's front seven can play with discipline, stay home, contain Newton, and take away the big plays, they've got a chance.  The secondary will have to step up as well.  With the linebackers focused on Newton, and also the short passing game underneath, the Packers corners will need to excel with little help.  We've seen these young defensive backs make strides this year.  They'll need to take another stride on Sunday.  
Much has been made this week over whether or not Rodgers is coming back too soon, and if Green Bay even has a realistic shot at the Playoffs anyway.  So let's quickly dismiss the doubters.  First, regarding his health, Rodgers has been medically cleared to play.  He's the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers.  Leader of the NFL franchise that has the very best lineage of quarterbacks in the history of the NFL.  Go look it up - you won't find a better trio than Starr, Favre, Rodgers...  What do they all have in common?  They're leaders.  They're football players.  They're iron men.  They play.  And this game IS a playoff game for Green Bay.  If Aaron Rodgers can get on the field and play, no one's going to stop him.  
Yes, Atlanta and Carolina are up on Green Bay right now in the NFC Wildcard chase.  But a win on Sunday gives the Packers a tiebreaker over the Panthers that could come into play.  (Similar to the head-to-head tiebreakers that the Packers already possess over the Seahawks and the Cowboys...)  The NFC South teams and the NFC West teams all play each other quite a bit in the last few weeks.  They can't all win out.  And if Green Bay can win on Sunday then the Packers get to finish with two division opponents that they know well.  Opponents that Rodgers has beaten many times before.  That want nothing to do with Number 12 as they make their own Playoff pushes.  So while it's hard for Green Bay fans to simply "RELAX," we'll do our best and root for the Packers.  And we certainly know what we're asking Santa for this year.  Packers to cover, and win outright on Sunday
Sam's Play: Packers
KAM's Play: Packers 
Kevin's Play: Packers 
Payton's Play: Panthers 
Rick's Play: Packers
Greg's Play: Panthers 
Jeremy's Play: Packers 


New York Jets (+17) @ New Orleans:

***Editor's note:  Hopefully you weren't stuck watching the New York Jets like Greg Armstrong was last week. New York no-showed and dropped Greg to 11-2 ATS this year picking Jets games. Still an astounding number. But that won't comfort Jets fans that are disappointed in how terrible the teams looks in road games. In between sports talk radio segments and his work for TurnOnTheJets.com, we caught up with Greg to get his take on another road trip, this week's Jets-Saints week.***

I'll keep this short and sweet for everyone:  New York is going to get blown out.  Last week in Denver, the Jets came out lazy, unmotivated, and uninspired.  There's no reason to argue that we won't see the same lackluster effort in New Orleans.  The Jets are 1-5 on the road this season, and they've had this awful look in the two most recent games away from home.

Bryce Petty is starting at quarterback since Josh McCown has a broken hand and he's done for the season.  Petty looked atrocious in limited action in relief of McCown last week.  He completed only two passes, and the rest of his attempts looked awful.  He makes no one else on offense better, so the Jets will really struggle to move the ball against one of the league's better defenses this year. 

The Jets secondary was torched by Demaryious Thomas last week, who had Trevor Siemian throwing him the ball.  Now they go up against Drew Brees and a Saints offense that has had no problem putting up points at home.  In addition to Brees, the Saints have a lot of weapons, and a lot of balance on offense this year.  The Jets, meanwhile, are struggling to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  The table is set for a blowout win for New Orleans.

I like the Saints to cover this gigantic 17 point spread.  It pains me to say that since I can't remember seeing a spread this high against the Jets.  If the team gives a similar effort, or lack thereof, to what we saw in Denver, then Todd Bowles may as well pack his bags because he's as good as gone.

Sam's Play: Saints
KAM's Play: Jets
Kevin's Play: Saints
Payton's Play: Saints
Rick's Play: Jets
Greg's Play: Saints 
Jeremy's Play: Jets


Los Angeles (+1) @ Seattle: 

Will Todd Gurley have space to run against the Seattle defense?
Photo Courtesy: Los Angeles Rams/therams.com


The New England-Pittsburgh game is going to be all the talk this week, but don't sleep on this one.  Get your RedZone channels ready for the late afternoon time slot on Sunday, because you don't want to miss this game that will almost certainly decide the NFC West.  LA and Seattle are both coming off tough losses last week, so each team needs this win badly.  With Atlanta, Carolina, Dallas, and Green Bay all surging, there's no guarantee that the West will get two Playoff teams.  Winning the division may be the only path.  This is especially true for Seattle at 8-5.  The Seahawks do, however, have a win over in LA from earlier this season to their advantage.  If the Seahawks can win at home on Sunday, that will even the two teams' records, and Seattle will have the season sweep tiebreaker.  That's a huge advantage in a divisional race, and that's why this game means so much.

When the teams met in LA earlier this season, the Rams easily outgained the Seahawks.  They moved the ball pretty well that day, but had five turnovers and that kept Seattle in the game.  Still, the Rams had a chance to win late but barely missed on a Jared Goff throw to the end zone that was just off the tips of receiver Cooper Kupp's fingertips.  Vegas expects this game to be close again and that's why we've got the single point spread.  But this time expect Seattle to be a little better on offense.  They were excellent at home against Philly two weeks ago and put up over 400 yards of total offense in their loss at Jacksonville last week.  LA gave up over 500 yards of total offense in their loss last week.  With Seattle's defense pretty banged up and missing some of the play-makers that helped them force so many turnovers the first time around, LA should be able to move the ball and score too.  [You may want to consider the over here if you can get it around 47.  A 27-24 final sounds pretty realistic.]  Russell Wilson threw a couple bad interceptions last week when he was pressured and contained early by the Jaguars.  He'll play better at home, as the Seahawks almost always do.  But are the Rams ready for this spot?  Can they go to Seattle, handle the 12th Man, beat the Seahawks, and establish themselves as the new top dogs in the West?  For them, I like the fact that this game is sort of lost in the mix on Sunday.  There's the Rodgers return in the early game, the Patriots-Steelers #1 seed battle gong on at the same time that the Rams play, and then a big Cowboys game at night.  I like the lack of spotlight here for the young team, as opposed to having to play this in prime time in Seattle.  We saw how that impacted Philly just two weeks ago.  So the Rams will keep this close all afternoon, and it should be entertaining since neither defense is great right now, but I'm not ready to bet against Seattle at home.  Seahawks to win this one, and stick around the NFC Playoff scene for at least another season:

Sam's Play: Seahawks
KAM's Play: Rams
Kevin's Play: Seahawks
Payton's Play: Seahawks
Rick's Play: Rams
Greg's Play: Seahawks
Jeremy's Play: Rams


Tennessee (+1) @ San Francisco: 

Doesn't it seem like these are two teams with mismatched narratives when you consider their records? Tennessee is 8-5 and only a game out of the AFC South lead. And the Titans would be in an AFC Wildcard game if the Playoffs started today. The 49ers, meanwhile, are 3-10. So how could they possibly be favored here? But it totally makes sense. San Francisco has seemingly found their quarterback of the future in Jimmy Garoppolo. He came into a game against Seattle a few weeks ago and threw a meaningless touchdown late, but it turns out it wasn't so meaningless. It was a sign of things to come as the 49ers have won two straight. Which is a big deal when you've only won three all year. So with a good young GM, coach, and quarterback, plus a nice draft situation in 2018, the 49ers have momentum for the first time in a long time. Conversely, Tennessee has none. They may be the worst 8-5 team in recent memory. Prior to last week, the Titans had at least done a good job beating the bad teams, even if they were generally overwhelmed by the good teams. But then they lost to a very mediocre Cardinals team in an unwatchable game. The Titans managed all of seven points in the loss. With huge games on the schedule yet against the Rams and the Jags, this is a must-win game for Tennessee. I expect it to be ugly, but I like Tennessee to play better than last week. San Francisco is dependent on turnovers and field position. Marcus Mariota hasn't been great this year, but I think he can at least eliminate the turnovers that cost Tennessee last week. The Titans should be able to run the ball, settle into their game plan, and win a close one. Titans to cover:

Sam's Play: Titans
KAM's Play: Titans
Kevin's Play: 49ers
Payton's Play: Titans
Rick's Play: 49ers
Greg's Play: 49ers
Jeremy's Play: 49ers


New England (-3) @ Pittsburgh: 

Antonio Brown has had a monster season. But can he have a good enough performance to beat the Patriots?
Photo Courtesy:  Pittsburgh Steelers/steelers.com


The game of the day, and perhaps the game of the season, takes place in Pittsburgh on Sunday in the late afternoon time slot. Does the Patriots loss on Monday Night Football make this game even bigger? I say yes, for sure. If New England loses in Pittsburgh, the Patriots absolutely say goodbye to the one seed in the AFC. Neither team has a very difficult schedule over the last two weeks, so Pittsburgh will basically wrap up home field with a win. I know - Jacksonville can win Sunday and still have a chance - but that scenario is highly unlikely. It'll come down to New England and Pittsburgh, so this game couldn't come at a better time. Recall that last year the Steelers had to go play the AFC title game at Foxboro. Pittsburgh was overwhelmed and never really competed that day. Doesn't it seem like the Steelers NEED to be at home to have any chance against the Patriots in the Playoffs? I think so, and that's why I expect their best effort on Sunday.

But a Steelers win is a lot easier said than done. The Patriots are favored for several reasons, not least among them, Tom Brady. Brady has a career record of 7-2 against Pittsburgh. And while you can point out that Brady's teams had several advantages in those matchups over the years, Brady was the important piece. In those nine games, Brady has thrown 24 touchdowns, to only 3 picks. His career passer rating against Pittsburgh - 114.2 - is better than what he's done against any other team in the conference. And this week he gets a motivated Rob Gronkowski back. Gronkowski is just one of many weapons that Brady and Bill Belichick have at their disposal. Pittsburgh is going to have a hell of a time slowing down New England without linebacker Ryan Shazier. If you watched the Steelers win over the Ravens last Sunday night, you know that they miss Shazier very much in the middle of their defense. Pittsburgh held on, but not until after they gave up 38 points to Baltimore. It seems unlikely that Pittsburgh can simply outscore New England. When the Steelers have the ball, expect the Patriots to do everything they can to take Antonio Brown out of the game. It will involved double coverage whenever possible, and certainly a number of different defensive looks. In a game where the Steelers will need to score enough to keep pace, Ben Roethlisberger will need to find other targets early and often. This includes LeVeon Bell out of the backfield. That may be Pittsburgh's best chance - can they get the ball to Bell in the short passing game and allow him to make plays and move the chains? I think they'll have their fair share of success on offense. But ultimately, I don't think they'll be good enough on defense. Patriots to cover and win this game in the fourth quarter:

Sam's Play: Patriots
KAM's Play: Steelers
Kevin's Play: Patriots
Payton's Play: Patriots
Rick's Play: Patriots
Greg's Play: Patriots
Jeremy's Play: Steelers


Dallas (-3) @ Oakland: 

***Editor's Note: Rick York is feeling the holiday spirit after watching the Cowboys rebound to to beat up on a pair of division rivals the last two weeks. Now Dallas heads to Oakland for yet another must-win game on Sunday night. Here's Rick's preview and pick ATS.*** 

The Dallas Cowboys are suddenly very alive in the NFC Wildcard race and now they head to Oakland for the latest in a series of playoff games that just happen to be taking place in the regular season. Last week was a big step in the right direction, as we saw break-out performances from both the offense and the defense in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys were in a tight game in New Jersey, but separated from the Giants on both sides of the ball. It was only the Giants, but it was good see both units play well in crunch time.

The Raiders aren't as bad as the Giants, but they've had a tough year. Don't think for a second though that they'll be a pushover at home on Sunday Night Football. They have plenty of weapons, especially in their passing game, that could be used to attack the Cowboys sometimes-terrible secondary. Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Michael Crabtree are capable of exploding if they get the right matchups, and that could open things up for Marshawn Lynch too. The Dallas will defense will need to play like they did in the recent wins over the Giants, the Redskins, and the Chiefs.

The defense is capable of having those types of performances if they aren't on the field too much. Ezekiel Elliott's backups have played pretty well the last couple weeks, and Dallas needs one more solid outing from them on Sunday. Elliott is back the following week, but it won't matter if Dak Prescott, Alfred Morris, and the rest of the offense can't perform here. The re-emergence of the running game in recent weeks has correlated to better games for Prescott. Prescott has done a nice job getting the ball to Dez Bryant more. It would be nice if Bryant could keep his hands on all of them, but keeping him involved has led to some big plays, and that should continue on Sunday night. One major concern is Dan Bailey. The normally reliable kicker missed three field goals last week. Bailey has one of the NFL's all-time best percentages for field goals made. He'll have to be better. If injuries from earlier in the season are still lingering and preventing him from performing up to his potential, Dallas may need to make a decision on whether or not he should be their kicker for these next few games.

Defensively, the Cowboys need to eliminate stupid penalties. If you've been watching Dallas over the past decade, it won't surprise you that the Cowboys are usually one of the most penalized teams in the league. The defense, particularly, has had these problems, even going all the way back to the Wade Philips and Tuna-coached teams. This year, the Cowboys are unsurprisingly the most penalized team in the NFL with 75 flags in 13 games. This drives me insane.

That being said, I like Dallas to cover the three point spread and I don't think it'll be that close. I think this could have been a trap game at home, but I think the team will be more focused on the road. I like the offense to get up early and lead throughout, which will benefit the defense. I'm starting to get a tiny bit of optimism about the 2017 Cowboys chances. Zeke is back next week for a tough, but beatable Seattle team. Then Dallas gets Wentz-less Philly in Week 17. Can Cowboys fans expect playoff-themed presents under the tree this year instead usual lump of coal? Maybe! It starts with a win on Sunday night. Cowboys to cover:

Sam's Play: Raiders
KAM's Play: Cowboys
Kevin's Play: Cowboys
Payton's Play: Cowboys
Rick's Play: Cowboys
Greg's Play: Cowboys
Jeremy's Play: Raiders


Atlanta (-6) @ Tampa Bay: 

Atlanta was last seen in another nationally-televised prime time game against a divisional opponent, and the Falcons came through with a huge home win over New Orleans. Now they head to Tampa for what should be an easy win, but the Falcons haven't made anything look easy this year. Still, thanks to their win in New Orleans last week, now they control their own destiny in the NFC South. If they win out, they repeat as division champs. That would be an accomplishment for this team after the way they lost the Super Bowl, lost their offensive coordinator, and got off to shaky start this year. We're about to find out if the Falcons had a one-and-done run in 2016, or if they're capable of competing in the NFC for the long-term. Matt Ryan was the MVP last year but has struggled this season. A Monday Night game against Tampa should be the perfect spot for Ryan and the Falcons get a dominant win and remind us that they're here to stay. Tampa is not just sputtering this year, but the Bucs generally get worse as seasons progress. The Bucs are 3-14, straight-up, in their last 17 games in December. Atlanta should be thinking about a strong finish and the Playoffs. Tampa is the perfect doormat. Falcons to cover:

Sam's Play: Falcons
KAM's Play: Bucs
Kevin's Play: Bucs
Payton's Play: Falcons
Rick's Play: Falcons
Greg's Play: Falcons
Jeremy's Play: Falcons



Last Week Win Loss Push
Sam 4 7
Kevin 5
Payton 6
Rick 3


Season Win Loss Push
Sam 71 54 4
KAM 62 63 4
Kevin 55 70 4
Payton 66 59 4
Rick 59 66 4
Greg 67 58 4
Jeremy 52 73 4



Did you like our NFL picks this week?  Hate the picks?  Want to play along and teach us how to pick?  Let our experts know what you think: 


Sam finally had a decent season in 2016 and hit a 55% success rate on his NFL picks. So your best bet is to fade his picks this year. It won't hurt his feelings.
The voice of thefootballpod.com, KAM's so good that she's been known to pick both NFL and college games. She'll share her picks as long as you don't trash talk her Packers.
Need power picks and the power sweep, both? Then look no further than Kevin's picks. This Western Pennsylvania football product knows the game as well as anyone.
She's not only the best bartender in town, but #PaytonsPicks set the pace in 2016, to the tune of a 56% success rate! Catch her if you can. Or just wisely follow her picks.
He's our resident Cowboys expert, so you'll hear from Rick a lot this year. As for his picks, #RicksLocks are as money as Dallas playing as the one seed in the NFC Playoffs.
Founder of theredbeat.com, and a contributor at turnonthejets.com, Greg is the newest member of the team. He's the biggest Jets fan we know (and willing to admit it...)
After making the rounds on the podcast circuit for years, we finally have our Kansas City Chiefs expert weighing in, writing columns, and picking games. So pay attention!




Looking for our college football picks this week?  No problem.  Just click here!


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