NFL Survivor Pool Picks and Advice: Week 15
by Matt Severance - 12/11/2013
In my opinion, the opening round of the NCAA Tournament is the most exciting thing in sports. And by opening round I mean the first Thursday and Friday of the Big Dance when there are multiple games going at once and often big upsets and fantastic finishes. I'm not talking about what the NCAA now calls the opening round, that silly First Four in Dayton.
The NFL, as great as it is, is not really known for excitement like March Madness. That all changed on Sunday with the 1 p.m. games. There were three almost simultaneous finishes that were shocking. The craziest was Baltimore and Minnesota almost playing Xbox Madden football, with the teams totaling five touchdowns in the final 125 seconds. There's never been anything like that. The Ravens avoided a huge upset. New England has been the king of the comeback this season, and the Pats were at it again. They were down 26-14 with 2:30 left yet won thanks to an onside kick (and iffy penalty) to avoid a huge upset against Cleveland. The Pats were my top recommendation last week, although I had used them.
I also had Pittsburgh pretty high up on the list in Week 14, and they nearly had one of the biggest miracle wins in team history -- probably only behind the Immaculate Reception. On the final play against Miami, the Steelers, down 34-28, were trying laterals all over the field, including a few linemen getting their hands on the ball. It eventually got to receiver Antonio Brown, and somehow he got down the sideline and past the defense to the end zone. One problem: He stepped out, by about a toenail, at the Miami 12. That reminded me of a game between the Saints and Jaguars in Jacksonville on Dec. 21, 2003. New Orleans did a bunch of laterals to pull within 20-19 on the final play only to have kicker John Carney miss the extra point. That was right out of the movie "North Dallas Forty."
My top unused pick last week was Arizona at home against St. Louis, and the Cardinals had no problems at all. By this point, we are down to the mediocre teams. I did pick all home teams last week, and it largely paid off: only Washington and Pittsburgh lost. I'll take 14-2 all day. So far my top picks this year have been New England, Baltimore, Seattle, New Orleans, Atlanta, Denver, Green Bay, San Francisco, Dallas, the NY Giants, Cincinnati, Detroit (oops!), Carolina and Arizona. These go in descending order of confidence.
Kansas City at Oakland: I'm only putting this first because I somehow haven't used the Chiefs yet and definitely won't in the final two weeks. The Raiders have pulled a few home upsets, but they appear in disarray now, which probably costs Dennis Allen his job. I'd say the Raiders should try and lose to get a better draft pick, but they'd probably just blow it and take JaMarcus Russell again.
Denver vs. San Diego (Thursday): Will this be closer than people think? Probably, because the Bolts are playing desperation football. And Chargers head coach Mike McCoy certainly knows the Denver offense better than anyone. But it's the Broncos' home finale, and I can't see them losing there this year. Notice I said “this year”. In January to Baltimore again in the playoffs? That I could see.
Carolina vs. NY Jets: This could be a trap game as Carolina was rolling and now has to play a lousy Jets team. The Cats might be flat after losing a huge game Sunday night in New Orleans, but they will pull this out and make Geno Smith look lousy again.
Dallas vs. Green Bay: This is ONLY if Aaron Rodgers doesn't play for the Packers, and it doesn't seem like he will again. The Cowboys defense is terrible, but that offense usually lights it up at home. I can't see Matt Flynn matching Tony Romo score for score.
Indianapolis vs. Houston: I'm definitely worried about the Colts. They haven't been the same since coming out of their bye week without the injured Reggie Wayne. They have alternated wins and losses since and could have easily lost two of those wins. Houston might play inspired with Gary Kubiak gone -- or keep lying down and get that top 2014 pick.
Philadelphia at Minnesota: Thankfully, Adrian Peterson didn't suffer another serious injury -- I need him to play in Week 17 in the Metrodome finale so the Vikings can upset the Lions -- but Peterson won't play this week, meaning he likely lost the rushing title to Philly's LeSean McCoy. If Peterson were healthy, I might have taken the Vikings here.
New Orleans at St. Louis: If the Rams played outdoors, I'd be very scared for New Orleans here. As far as I know, this hasn't been moved to Busch Stadium.
San Francisco at Tampa Bay: Home finale for Bucs and long travel and early start for Niners. Screams trap game, but San Francisco seems to have it clicking right now and it has no margin for error in the wild-card race with the Cardinals right on the Niners' tail (and likely to win Sunday).
Jacksonville vs. Buffalo: Break up the Jaguars! Do you realize they have the longest current winning streak in the AFC and aren't officially out of the playoff race yet? Looking at the schedule, they could actually finish 7-9, which should earn Gus Bradley some Coach of the Year votes.
Atlanta vs. Washington: The Skins are an absolute mess, and the players aren't listening to Mike Shanahan, who is a dead-man walking. He's starting Kirk Cousins, just begging Dan Snyder to fire him so Shanahan can get paid $7 million next season to do nothing or perhaps pursue the open Texans job. I'll take Matt Ryan over Cousins, even though I have a feeling the Washington players much prefer him over RGIII.
Cleveland vs. Chicago: Never thought I'd say this, but I don't like the Bears if Jay Cutler returns, which it appears he will, but I would lean Chicago if Josh McCown plays again. Just imagine the s**tstorm in Chicago if Cutler plays lousy after how good McCown has been and the Bears lose. I don't see how the team can then bring Cutler back in 2014. This game is worth watching just to see the Browns' Josh Gordon and Bears' Alshon Jeffery, the future of the NFL at wide receiver.
Arizona at Tennessee: The Cardinals on the road are a bit concerning considering their only away wins are in Tampa and Jacksonville. Nashville isn't in Florida. This is a matter of one team with something to play against another playing out the string and with a lame-duck coach.
Detroit vs. Baltimore (Monday): If the Lions win here, they should take the NFC North because they finish at home against the Giants and at Minnesota. Detroit has been a turnover machine in losing three of four, but the team rarely gets to play on MNF, and I expect the good Lions to show up.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh: If the Steelers had won on that miracle last week, I'd like them here. Now the playoffs are gone. The Bengals looked like the AFC's second-best team last week in dominating Indy. They will know by Sunday night if the Pats lost and they can take over the No. 2 seed in the conference.
Miami vs. New England: The Pats have been playing with fire, winning their past three games despite trailing by double-digits in each. They had no right beating the Browns last week. I think there's a Rob Gronkowski hangover. The Fins also need this much more and could find themselves the wild-card leader by Monday night.
NY Giants vs. Seattle: Yep, this is my upset special even though I'd imagine the Seahawks are playing at MetLife Stadium again in February. The Giants are eliminated from the playoffs, so I expect a loose team with plenty of trick plays. It's a long trip for Seattle and an early start following back-to-back huge games.
The last word: Doubt I've ever made it to Week 15 before not using a 10-win team, so it's nice to have the Chiefs in my back pocket even though they are on the road. If you have used K.C., I'd say Indy would be next (also haven't used the Colts).
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