Sports

AFC Playoff Race Heats Up With Massive Matchups

Look, at this level, each week within the NFL is huge. Nonetheless, if you happen to’re a workforce within the AFC playoff image, this in all probability is a huge week for you.

Week 15 is right here, and with it comes the return of Saturday night time video games. Beginning with Thursday night time in Los Angeles, the place the Chargers host the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs, the primary three video games of the week function AFC groups in or close to the playoff hunt, with a primetime matchup between the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts serving because the finale.

In fact, that simply units the desk for Sunday, the place a workforce just like the Miami Dolphins has a golden alternative to maintain tempo, whereas the Buffalo Payments hope to get again on observe versus the Carolina Panthers. The Tennessee Titans journey to Pittsburgh to face a determined Steelers workforce. The Baltimore Ravens get an enormous check when the Inexperienced Bay Packers come to city, and one of the vital vital video games to the AFC playoff race goes down in Denver, the place the Broncos host the Cincinnati Bengals.

Chaos could possibly be on the menu this weekend. NESN.com’s Mike Cole and Ricky Doyle are throughout it with their weekly against-the-spread picks, as they make their predictions on not solely these video games however each NFL contest this week.

First, right here’s how they fared final week.

Now, listed below are their Week 15 picks, with traces from DraftKings Sportsbook.

THURSDAY, DEC. 16

(-3) Kansas Metropolis Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers, 8:20 p.m.
Mike: Chiefs.
LA could be with out Austin Ekeler and beginning sort out Rashawn Slater is on the COVID listing. Each of these issues, for various causes, would possibly have an effect on the Chargers’ means to maintain Justin Herbert upright. I’d anticipate a recreation plan just like what KC threw at Jordan Love and the Packers whereas discovering a strategy to cowl a comparatively low-scoring recreation.
Ricky: Chiefs. Is Kansas Metropolis’s offense actually again? Perhaps not — but. However how the Chiefs are profitable video games — grinding it out, with their protection stepping up — might make KC much more harmful come playoff time. And this week, you may guess Andy Reid’s workforce has revenge on its thoughts after shedding to the Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 3.

SATURDAY, DEC. 18

Las Vegas Raiders at (-3) Cleveland Browns, 4:30 p.m.
Mike: Raiders.
The COVID factor is simply an excessive amount of to disregard for Cleveland, particularly contemplating how a lot of successful the offensive line will take. The Browns’ offense already sputtered for a whole half final week, and that was with a comparatively full workforce. This could possibly be a battle to attain.
Ricky: Raiders. The Browns confirmed within the playoffs final season what they might accomplish within the face of COVID adversity, handily beating the Steelers within the wild-card spherical as head coach Kevin Stefanski and others watched from dwelling. This feels totally different, although. Too many blows to key areas of the roster.

New England Patriots at (-2.5) Indianapolis Colts, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Patriots.
Few groups, if any, have benefited from penalties on offense and fumble luck like Indy has this season. The Patriots sometimes don’t make these errors, committing the fourth-fewest defensive penalties and seventh-fewest fumbles. New England will play a basically sound recreation, placing strain on Carson Wentz to make performs, which could possibly be tough.
Ricky: Colts. Appears like a bizarre sandwich spot for the Patriots — coming off that fluky Monday night time win over the Payments earlier than their bye, on the highway, on Saturday night time, in opposition to a non-divisional opponent, with some padding within the AFC East standings forward of one other essential recreation in opposition to Buffalo in Week 16. Indianapolis’ recipe for victory: Soar out early (third in first-half factors per recreation), keep dedicated to the run (first in rush EPA, third in explosive run price), maintain drives (fourth in internet time of possession per drive) and drive Mac Jones to throw.

SUNDAY, DEC. 19

(-13.5) Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m.
Mike: Cardinals. If Arizona — off a disappointing Monday night time loss — doesn’t throttle the Lions, there could be some trigger for concern within the desert.
Ricky: Lions. Holding my breath and taking the factors. The Cardinals simply misplaced on Monday night time, now are with out DeAndre Hopkins and have stiffer matchups with the Colts (Christmas Day) and Cowboys looming in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively.

Carolina Panthers at (-10.5) Buffalo Payments, 1 p.m.
Mike: Payments. It’s changing into extra obvious by the week that Buffalo may not be the hardest workforce within the NFL. That being stated: What can Carolina do to push the Payments round? May very well be (one other) lengthy day for Cam Newton, who had a 74.5 passer score and accomplished simply 57% of his passes versus the Payments final season.
Ricky: Payments. Get-right spot for Buffalo. Certain, Josh Allen’s foot harm is regarding. However so, too, is Carolina’s offense, which turns the ball over an excessive amount of and lacks explosiveness with out Christian McCaffrey. The Payments’ protection will buckle down at dwelling.

(-10.5) Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants, 1 p.m.
Mike: Cowboys.
It’s a sq. play and Dallas is in a tricky spot taking part in back-to-back divisional highway video games, however it seems the Giants are achieved with this season. If the Cowboys get out to an early lead, New York doesn’t have the offensive chops to get again into the sport like Washington did final week.
Ricky: Giants. Dallas could be essentially the most gifted workforce within the NFL, with ample playmakers on offense and protection. However Dak Prescott is sputtering a bit, and aren’t the Cowboys at all times prone to a letdown simply when everybody begins to purchase in? May occur once more this week, in Dallas’ third straight highway recreation.

(-1) Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m.
Mike: Titans. This seems like a lure, however no matter. The Steelers’ run protection has been as dangerous as we’ve seen in perhaps a era, and whereas Tennessee doesn’t have Derrick Henry, it’s a few weeks faraway from working for 270 in opposition to the Patriots. I just like the Titans as a dark-horse Tremendous Bowl contender, so I’ve to imagine they win this.
Ricky: Steelers. Pittsburgh admittedly seems to be damaged, constantly shedding within the trenches (on either side) and failing to register the massive takeaway totals which were an indicator of its protection lately. However did a win over the Jaguars repair all that ails the Titans? Simply can’t shake the thought of snagging some extent at dwelling with the Steelers, who mainly are in must-win mode from right here on out.

New York Jets at (-8.5) Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m.
Mike: Dolphins.
The Jets don’t generate a ton of strain, they usually’re not particularly nice at tackling, so it’s arduous to see them doing a lot to decelerate Miami’s offense. Additionally, I’m sick of selecting the Jets and shedding.
Ricky: Jets. No concept who the Dolphins are going to have available at running back. The Jets, in the meantime, might welcome again their finest RB, Michael Carter, offering a much-needed offensive increase.

Washington Soccer Workforce at (-7) Philadelphia Eagles, 1 p.m.
Mike: Soccer Workforce.
Each groups have harm points, particularly Washington, which has huge COVID issues, however Ron Rivera has coached up a aggressive workforce all season regardless of its limitations. WFT is without doubt one of the NFL’s slower offenses and ranks sixth in time of possession, so I feel they might grind this recreation down even additional to maintain it throughout the quantity.
Ricky: Eagles. Accidents and scheduling are catching as much as Washington. This marks the third straight recreation that WFT’s opponent could have a relaxation benefit, with the Eagles coming off a well-timed bye. Maybe extra importantly, Philadelphia ranks first in rush success price. And that ought to create favorable down-and-distance conditions. The Eagles’ offense ranks fourth in third-down conversion price, whereas WFT’s protection ranks thirty first.

Houston Texans at (-4) Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m.
Mike: Jaguars
. I made Houston my upset decide on “The Unfold” podcast, however I’m doing a 180 after the Jaguars canned City Meyer. Firing the pinnacle coach in the course of the week isn’t often conducive to success, however I’m fully shopping for into the brand new coach spark cliché, particularly contemplating how loathed Meyer should have been in that locker room.
Ricky: Texans. I’m additionally shopping for into the teaching narrative and imagine Jacksonville will win. I simply don’t just like the quantity. Appears like a field-goal recreation between two actually dangerous groups.

Atlanta Falcons at (-9.5) San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Falcons.
Right here’s one thing that actually caught my eye: Per Motion Community, the 49ers beneath Kyle Shanahan are 12-22-1 against the spread at dwelling. And as dwelling favorites, they’re 4-15-1. Technically, that has nothing to do with the precise soccer recreation, however it’s sufficient for me to blindly fade San Fran right here.
Ricky: 49ers. Attention-grabbing observe (by way of FiveThirtyEight) concerning Atlanta, one of the vital tough groups within the NFL to determine: The Falcons’ six wins have come in opposition to six groups with a collective profitable proportion of simply 0.333 — by a mean margin of 4.8 factors. Their common margin of defeat, in seven losses, has been 19.6 factors. Niners roll.

Cincinnati Bengals at (-1.5) Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Broncos.
The bottom recreation is large for Denver, with the Broncos going 6-1 after they get at the very least 28 mixed carries for Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon. Cincinnati’s superior run protection numbers are wonderful, however the Bengals are twenty first in missed sort out proportion, so don’t be shocked if the Broncos can management the tempo of this recreation.
Ricky: Bengals. Don’t love this decide. Turnovers have been an issue for Cincinnati, and now Joe Burrow is taking part in by means of a finger harm that’s taking somewhat zip off his fastball. However I just like the Bengals, with their total expertise stage, way more as a scrappy highway underdog than I do after they’re laying factors. And Cincy needs to be on excessive alert in Denver after a Week 14 loss doomed by sloppy play (two muffed punts) and a scarcity of self-discipline (dangerous taunting penalty on Vonn Bell).

(-5) Inexperienced Bay Packers at Baltimore Ravens, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Packers.
I’m simply guessing Lamar Jackson doesn’t play, and if that’s the case, how can Baltimore preserve tempo? The Ravens’ cross protection has been dangerous all season and positively isn’t getting higher after shedding Marlon Humphrey. So, who stops Davante Adams? The one concern is particular groups, the place this can be a mismatch of epic proportions in favor of Baltimore.
Ricky: Ravens. Let’s get bizarre and settle for the handful of factors at dwelling, considering perhaps the Packers get caught looking forward to their Christmas Day recreation in opposition to the Browns and their ensuing Sunday night time showdown with the Vikings. In any case, it’s not just like the oddsmakers haven’t factored in Jackson’s harm, and backup Tyler Huntley at the very least gives an analogous talent set on the QB place.

Seattle Seahawks at (-4.5) Los Angeles Rams, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Rams. LA has a COVID mess on its fingers proper now, however assuming the Rams’ outbreak doesn’t worsen, they nonetheless have the expertise to cowl this comparatively brief line.
Ricky: Rams. Not placing an excessive amount of inventory into Seattle’s two-game profitable streak. That is the second of back-to-back highway video games for the Seahawks, they usually let the Texans dangle round for a lot of Week 14 earlier than pulling away late. The Rams, in the meantime, are coming off a signature victory in Arizona.

New Orleans Saints at (-10) Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 8:20 p.m.
Mike: Saints. Tampa Bay’s run protection is sweet however not nice prefer it was a yr in the past, which could possibly be the important thing for the Saints to maintain this shut. They’ve been a thorn within the Bucs’ facet the final two seasons.
Ricky: Saints. New Orleans (fifth) truly ranks forward of Tampa Bay (seventh) in defensive DVOA, with the personnel to cease each the run and the cross. That is too many factors, because the Saints — who’re getting more healthy, thoughts you — presumably will look to bleed some clock offensively.

MONDAY, DEC. 20

(-3.5) Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears, 8:15 p.m.
Mike: Bears.
This recreation opened at -4 and has been guess all the way down to the three and a hook, presumably as a result of everyone seems to be betting on Chicago for a similar cause: Minnesota simply performs shut video games. Seven of the Vikings’ video games have been determined by 4 factors or fewer.
Ricky: Bears. Minnesota performs to its stage of competitors, for higher or worse, and Chicago’s offense regarded nearly as good because it has all season final week in Inexperienced Bay. Justin Fields’ ceiling makes the Bears stay ‘canine at Soldier Subject, the place the Vikings have struggled lately. Minnesota is 2-7 ATS in its final 9 video games as the favourite.

Thumbnail picture by way of Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports activities Photographs

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