NFL Week 15 Preview: the Survival Battles

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NFL 2015 regular season is nearing to the end, but there are still plenty of unanswered questions as only a few teams have lost their playoff hopes already. Carolina Panthers is the best team right now – they have won 17 consecutive regular season matches (together with the last four games of 2014 season) and only five teams in the NFL history managed to do that. Other teams are battling for playoff spots, and many divisional champions haven't been decided yet.

During the Thursday Night Football match, St. Louis Rams beat Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home 31-23. The Rams’ quarterback Case Keenum played one the best matches of his pro career with a close to perfect passer rating of 158.0. Both teams are at 6-8 now and most likely will lose even theoretical chances to make it to the postseason after this Sunday.

More action to follow this weekend:

Denver Broncos (10-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)

Last week Steelers won on the road against the AFC North leaders Cincinnati Bengals, which was a crucial victory. The Pittsburgh team still has a chance to win the division as the Bengals are two victories ahead but lost the QB Andy Dalton and may encounter problems in the remaining games. But to stay competitive in the AFC North, the Steelers first must win their games and it will be not a walk in a park this Sunday against the Broncos.

The Steelers are solid on the offence and the QB Ben Roethlisberger is playing well. He must avoid the turnovers because after his comeback in Week 8, the Steelers have only lost two matches, and during both of them, Big Ben threw multiple interceptions.

The Pittsburgh team may also rely on their star wideout Antonio Brown and the veteran running back DeAngelo Williams, who is a better replacement to the injured Le'Veon Bell than anyone expected. But the key to victory may be the defense. The Steelers’ defense forced 24 turnovers this season, and they won all five matches where their opponents had 3+ turnovers.

The Broncos unexpectedly lost last week’s home match against the divisional rivals Oakland Raiders and consequentially lost the top spot in the AFC conference. Everyone knows that the Broncos have one of the best defenses in the league, but if they want to win on Sunday, the offensive line must step up as the QB Brock Osweiler was sacked 17 times in the last five matches. Also, Osweiler should make quicker decisions and release the ball as soon as possible.

Prediction and pick: TonyBet is expecting the Steelers’ victory by 6 points. We agree that the home team is a favorite here, but with the given handicap, the Broncos are more attractive to bet on as their defense should prevent their opponents from scoring that much.

Arizona Cardinals (11-2) @ Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

Even with a negative 6-7 record, the Eagles’ playoff hopes are anything but dead as they are sharing the 1st place in NFC East with Washington Redskins and New York Giants. This divisional title will most likely stay up for grabs till the last seconds of the regular season.

Chip Kelley's Eagles lately have shown some sparks and were playing solid football. They have won the last two matches including a road victory against the reigning champions New England Patriots, but this Sunday they will be challenged by the solid Arizona Cardinals team.

Carolina Panthers are at the top of NFC with a perfect 13-0 record, but the Cardinals are confidently in the 2nd place with the 11-2 record and two victories separating them from the others. Two more victories would clench a bye in the first round of the postseason, and the home advantage in the conference semifinals, so the Cardinals will do anything they can to extend their seven game winning streak.

Many experts are saying that the Cardinals have the best offense in the league, led by the QB Carson Palmer who has exceeded 300 passing yards in nine matches this season. However, for the last three games Palmer hasn't thrown an interception.

He has plenty of weapons on the offense – the veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has been reliable the whole season, but if he is covered Palmer can go to other wideouts - Michael Floyd and Jon Brown - as the Cardinals are the only team in the league with three wide receivers who have 5+ touchdowns each. The running Back David Johnson has stepped up lately with two consecutive 90+ yards games.

Prediction and pick: TonyBet is predicting the Cardinals’ victory by 3 points. It seems like a pretty safe bet. Both teams have enough motivation, and the Cardinals are just better in this battle of birds. We would consider betting on the Arizona team, even with a bigger disadvantage.

Green Bay Packers (9-4) @ Oakland Raiders (6-7)

Green Bay Packers are currently in the 3rd spot of the NFC conference. They still have hopes of reaching the 2nd place and the bye in the first round of the playoffs, as they are two wins behind Arizona Cardinals who are in the 2nd spot at the moment and they will face each other next week.

Still, if the Packers want to improve their position, they must win all the matches and hope that the Cardinals will lose one more time. The Green Bay team was on the downswing in the middle of the season when they lost four out of five consecutive games, but lately they have rebounded and now are on a two game winning streak.

The Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers was intercepted only five times this season which is the fewest among the NFL starting QBs. His statistics are not as impressive as many expected them to be prior to the season, but he is cherishing the ball and threw 28 TDs already (tied for the 4rth in the league). The running back Eddie Lacy couldn't find his game during the first half of the season, but lately he has emerged as the one of main Packers’ offensive weapons. He has rushed for 100+ yards in three of four last matches.

The Packers are clear favorites against the Raiders, but last week the Broncos also were the favorites. The Raiders managed to shut down Denver attack in the 2nd part of the match and to emerge victorious. It was mostly a defensive victory, as the Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack sacked the Broncos’ QB Brock Osweiler five times and is leading league with 14 sacks.

There are positive signs on the Raiders offense as well. The QB Derek Carr is solid almost every week and he threw multiple touchdowns in seven of last eight matches. He has reliable receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, and lately WR Seth Roberts also emerged with three TDs in the last three matches.

Prediction and pick: TonyBet is expecting the Packers to win by 3-4 points. Yes, the Packers are clear favorites, but they will have to prove it. If they do win though, there is a big chance that they will dominate the game so the handicap may be even bigger for the Raiders.

Houston Texans (6-7) @ Indianapolis Colts (6-7)

This is the battle of the AFC South. Even with the negative 6-7 record these teams are currently sharing the 1st place in the weakest division of the AFC conference. Both teams are on a two game losing streak, but this Sunday someone will finally emerge as the AFC South leader.

These teams have already met each other in the Week 5 match in Houston. Then it was the Colts who emerged with a on the road victory 27-20 and the veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck was the one who led his team to the victory.

The Colts are still without their starting QB Andrew Luck who has been battling injuries for the bigger part of the season and Matt Hasselbeck was beaten badly last week in the loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the 2nd quarter he has suffered a hard hit and had to miss a few snaps, but came back to the game. However, after the rib injury in the 4th quarter he was ruled out from the game. It is hard to say if the veteran has recovered enough to play his best game.

The Texans couldn't withstand New England Patriots last week and scored only six points.

Team’s star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was limited to only 52 receiving yards. He will have to improve his performance this week if the Texans want to win. The Colts are unstable and the Texans are solid on the defensive side of the ball, so we can expect an intriguing match.

Other week 15 matches:

New York Jets (8-5) @ Dallas Cowboys (4-9) - This match will take place on Saturday. The Jets won three matches in a row and currently they are in the running for the wild card spot in the AFC playoffs. The Cowboys, even with the 4-9 record, theoretically still have some chances to win their NFC East division, but it’s going to take nothing short of a miracle to do that. The Jets must win in the Lone Star State.

Carolina Panthers (13-0) @ New York Giants (6-7) – The Panthers are the only perfect team this season and they will do everything they can to stay perfect this week, but the match on the road against the Giants will be one of the toughest challenges. The Giants need a victory to stay competitive in the NFC East. Still, the Panthers are the favorites - they are just too good.

Buffalo Bills (6-7) @ Washington Redskins (6-7) - The Bills have slim hopes of reaching the postseason as they already lost a division and they are two victories behind in the fight for the wild card spot. Despite the same 6-7 record, the Redskins are anything but done yet, as they are currently sharing the 1st place in the NFC East together with the Giants and the Eagles. High motivation can be a factor in this match while the Bills have a more talented roster.

Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) @ Baltimore Ravens (4-9) – The Chiefs are very likely to become the 2nd team in the NFL history to reach the playoffs after a 1-5 start of the season. The Ravens are bad, and the Chiefs have been playing solid football lately. One more victory for the visiting team.

Atlanta Falcons (6-7) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (5-8) - After the 5-0 start no one could have expected the Falcons to lose seven out of the eight next matches but that's a fact now. The QB Matt Ryan is playing disappointing football and the team just can't find the ways to the victory. The Jaguars are unstable, but they have shown their character last week when they demolished Indianapolis Colts at home 51-16. This match is hard to predict, but we would bet on the home team.

Chicago Bears (5-8) @ Minnesota Vikings (8-5) – A NFC North standout between old rivals. The Vikings are fighting for the division champion title and they are in the pace to make playoffs anyway, but they shouldn't expect an easy walk against the Bears who were upsetting several favorites in the second part of the season.

Tennessee Titans (3-10) @ New England Patriots (11-2) - Titans must be happy with the play of the rookie QB Marcus Mariota overall but the team must improve in many components of the game if they want to become a contenders in the NFL. Defending Super Bowl champions Patriots will show no mercy at home.

Cleveland Browns (3-10) @ Seattle Seahawks (8-5) - After the shaky start of the season the Seahawks have found their game lately. The QB Russell Wilson is playing better than ever - he has thrown 16 TDs with no interceptions in the last four games. Seattle is on the playoff pace right now and trust me - no one will want to face them in the 1st round of the postseason. And the Browns are just bad, even with the Johnny Manziel under the center.

Miami Dolphins (5-8) @ San Diego Chargers (3-10) - Last week, the Dolphins have been officially eliminated from the playoff race. The Chargers dropped even earlier. In theory, the Dolphins are a better team, but at the moment the Chargers are a favorite at home.

Cincinnati Bengals (10-3) @ San Francisco 49ers (4-9) – The Bengals are in trouble. They were mentioned among the Super Bowl contenders during the entire season, but last week the QB Andy Dalton suffered an injury (fractured the thumb of his throwing arm) and will miss at least few weeks. It is good for the Bengals that they are facing one of the NFL outsiders, the 49ers, this week. They must win even without Dalton.

Detroit Lions (4-9) @ New Orleans Saints (5-8) - Week 15 will be closed by the Monday Night Football match where the Saints will host the Lions. Both teams are struggling this season. The Saints will be favorites at home.

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