Somehow, there are still 24 teams mathematically alive for playoff spots in the NFL, but I would say that looking at the schedule Week 15 is probably the last week you can count on several teams giving maximum effort. And I mean that both at the top and the bottom of the NFL food chain.
At the top, I could see the Houston Texans giving Matt Schaub some limited minutes should they clinch the AFC’s No. 1 seed on Sunday. After being embarrassed on Monday night in New England, the Texans probably aren’t exactly thinking ahead right now. But if they win and the Patriots and Broncos both lose, which is very possible, then Houston has nothing more to play for. Ditto for the Falcons in the NFC as they clinch the No. 1 overall seed with a win and either a Packers loss or 49ers loss. And all those results are very possible.
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When looking at bottom-feeders, be careful not to pick against teams starting rookies who are trying to earn starting jobs next year. I fell into that trap last week when picking the Buccaneers at home against the skidding Eagles. But Philly’s Nick Foles had one of the best days ever for a rookie QB and threw the winning touchdown pass on the final play. Some veteran confident in his job isn’t going to care as much. My top choice was actually Seattle, and the Seahawks laid a beatdown for the ages on the Arizona Cardinals – now that’s a team that no longer cares and wants its coach fired. Even Larry Fitzgerald’s pops said the team quit.
On to Week 15, with presumed favorites listed first.
Houston vs. Indianapolis: The Texans are going to be you-know-whatting fire after being totally embarrassed last week in New England. I don’t care that it’s a short week and that Andrew Luck is great. Houston will win this game. But, of course, it is off your board by now.
New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay: The Bucs’ playoff hopes ended thanks to Foles last week. I do believe the Saints play like a vindicated, “*@#$&#*#* Roger Goodell!” bunch this week in the wake of the player punishments being overturned by Paul Tagliabue.
Seattle at Buffalo: I absolutely think this would normally be a trap game for the surging Seahawks. But it’s in Toronto, not Buffalo. The Bills won last year there (opposing Redskins were awful then) but stunk the previous three at Rogers Centre.
Cincinnati at Philadelphia (Thursday): You have Foles suddenly brimming with confidence for Philly – Michael Vick might as well start looking for a new city. And the Bengals might not have had enough time to get over blowing last week’s game at home to Dallas. Then there’s the whole home team in the quick turnaround game thing. It’s the final Thursday game of the year, by the way.
Atlanta vs. NY Giants: I am guessing the Falcons would love to help ensure the Giants don’t make the playoffs after what New York did to Atlanta in last year’s postseason. But I think Atlanta is starting to fade.
St. Louis vs. Minnesota: Adrian Peterson is gunning for Eric Dickerson’s rushing record, which would be just an amazing feat considering what Peterson is coming back from. Don’t look now, but the Rams have won three in a row and are at .500. This one is just too close to call. I am predicting it’s the lowest-scoring game of the week.
Green Bay at Chicago: Trying to think of a reason the Bears can win this game and it eludes me. If they miss the playoffs, Lovie Smith’s time should be up in the Windy City – he wouldn’t be out of work long. Mike Tice, on the other hand, should become a cabbage farmer or something. You say he has no cabbage farming experience? Well, he had no experience calling an NFL offense, either, and it shows. But I’m not bitter or anything.
Washington at Cleveland: Look at the Browns! Maybe they are becoming interesting enough for Nick Saban to leave Alabama after all. Even if Robert Griffin III plays, I wouldn’t touch this game.
Denver at Baltimore: Wow, rare to see the Ravens a home underdog, where they have been dominant for a few seasons. I presume that John Harbaugh knew what he was doing when he fired OC Cam Cameron this week and replaced him with QBs coach Jim Caldwell, who has never called plays before (was Tice not available?). Maybe that spurs Joe Flacco and the Ravens end Denver’s long winning streak. Or maybe not.
San Diego vs. Carolina: Now that’s the Cam Newton we all were expecting. He might be saving Ron Rivera’s job. Would you really risk your survivor pool in Week 15 on a Norv Turner-coached team? Don’t worry, Chargers fans, this is his second-to-last home game.
Pittsburgh at Dallas: Ah, one of the best rivalries we usually only see in a Super Bowl. I’m a tad shocked the Steelers are slight favorites here. Both clubs are desperate so steer clear.
New England vs. San Francisco: Obviously should be an incredible game between the AFC and NFC favorites. Is this the week Alex Smith finally gets back on the field?
Miami vs. Jacksonville: I guess you could use the Dolphins this week if you are desperate, but they and Ryan Tannehill are regressing. Former Fins starting QB Chad Henne, now Jacksonville’s guy, would love to get a little vengeance here.
Detroit at Arizona: The NFL’s top passing attack against the worst quarterback situation I can remember on any team in several years. But it would be typical Lions to lose this game since they have nothing to play for at this point.
Kansas City at Oakland: Can you believe the Raiders traded for Carson Palmer? What a terrible trade that turned out to be. Maybe they can dump him on the Chiefs for some BBQ. I looked on the CBS national coverage map for this game and I think it’s only being shown in some rodeo bar in Topeka and nowhere else. The announcing team: Urkel and Bobcat Goldthwait.
NY Jets at Tennessee (Monday): Yes, God help us, the Jets have playoff life. But I will never, repeat never, risk my survivor pool on Mark Sanchez.
I didn’t provide many options under the “good,” and no doubt all three I did have been taken. So if those aren’t available, my best remaining choices would be the Dolphins or Lions.
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