NFL Survivor and Confidence Pool Picks and Advice: Week 15
My motto in Survivor and Confidence Pools this time of year is to back teams that still have something to play for and fade those who already are making offseason tee times. However, there are times a "trap" game for a playoff contender trumps fading a team playing out the string.
That was the case last week as Pittsburgh was stunned in Oakland. I wrote this in listing the Steelers as my No. 15 choice last week: "Pittsburgh is set up for a letdown game on a trip across the country and won't have James Conner, but the Steelers won't lose this because they simply can't afford to." You could see that coming in a way, off a crushing home loss to the Chargers, a long flight to California and ahead of a mega-showdown against the Patriots in Week 15. Didn't help that Mike Tomlin decided to hold a banged-up Ben Roethlisberger out for most of the second half when he clearly was fine to play. Also didn't help the Steelers were basically playing on mud in the ridiculous Oakland Coliseum as kicker Chris Boswell slipped during a field-goal attempt to tie at the end.
The winner in my primary Confidence Pool did so despite having the Steelers at No. 16. That's very rare. Pittsburgh surely was gone in most Survivor Pools by Week 14.
We almost saw the Los Angeles Chargers (my No. 16 team last week but with same warning as the Steelers) suffer the same fate as they squeaked by a visiting Cincinnati Bengals squad that tuned out Coach Marvin Lewis weeks ago. New England also was caught in a bit of a trap game in losing in Miami, although that took a miracle, and Tom Brady simply never plays well in south Florida. New Orleans was caught flat-footed for a half in Tampa Bay, trailing 14-3 before outscoring the sorry Bucs 25-0 in the second half.
So what's the lesson here? Home teams (although Bengals were on road), even those going through the motions, can still be very dangerous this time of year. Travel matters, as does if a game is sandwiched between two important ones for the heavy favorite.
Here are my Week 15 Survivor Picks in order of how I would also do my Confidence Pool selections (with occasional exceptions noted when necessary). The team listed first is my choice.
16. Baltimore vs. Tampa Bay: Some worry about a letdown effort from Baltimore after playing so well last week in Kansas City in a tough loss, and I'd probably take the Bucs on the first-half spread. However, the playoff-hopeful Ravens can't afford to lose at home to a bad, warm-weather team playing in the cold.
15. Jacksonville vs. Washington: One of the most meaningless games of the week, although technically Washington is still in the wild-card hunt. I'm not sure what the worst starting QB matchup this decade has been, but Cody Kessler vs. Josh Johnson is on the short list. Jags win 2-0.
14. Minnesota vs. Miami: This spread feels too big, especially after how the Vikings looked on Monday night in Seattle, but perhaps the firing of offensive coordinator John DeFilippo (thank God the Bears didn't hire that guy as head coach!) on Tuesday will right the Vikings' ship on that side of the ball.
13. LA Rams vs. Philadelphia: Another one where the spread seems too large as the Eagles are facing a must-win and the Rams necessarily aren't. This will be close, but Rams won't lose back in the L.A. warmth after sucking in the cold of Chicago.
12. Cincinnati vs. Oakland: Jon Gruden probably made his guys run extra sprints for last week's win! It benefits Gruden for the Raiders to now lose out to potentially get the No. 1 overall pick. Those players won't give a hoot this week with a 10 a.m. Pacific start and in the cold.
11. Seattle at San Francisco: A bit dangerous with the Seahawks on a short week and off a physical win over Minnesota, but they just pummeled the 49ers a couple of weeks ago.
10. Kansas City vs. LA Chargers (Thursday): At full strength, the Bolts are good enough to win here, but they aren't a great cold-weather team, will be missing Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler (yes, Justin Jackson!! Fantasy playoffs!) and have lost nine straight in this series.
9. Atlanta vs. Arizona: The Falcons quit weeks ago, but they are so superior offensively to Arizona that they won't lose this at home.
8. Denver vs. Cleveland (Saturday): The Browns are going to be AFC North contenders next year, and this game worries me a bit, but the Broncos have one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL, it's a short week and they must win out to have any playoff shot.
7. Houston at NY Jets (Saturday): Might be a good thing in the long run that Houston's nine-game winning streak ended last week. Got that out of their system and the Texans will not overlook the Jets now. Houston still playing for the AFC's No. 2 seed.
6. Indianapolis vs. Dallas: Two teams rolling, with Dallas having won five straight and the Colts five of six. Indy, though, has to have this while a loss actually wouldn't hurt the Cowboys all that much and the players surely know that.
5. Chicago vs. Green Bay: The Bears could be forgiven for being a bit flat this week against any other opponent off that historically good defensive performance vs. the Rams. But with the chance to eliminate the hated Packers and clinch the division? Chicago wins by field goal.
4. Buffalo vs. Detroit: The Lions don't like playing in the cold and lost a ton of guys to injuries in last week's win in Arizona (thank you from a fantasy perspective for that defensive performance!).
3. NY Giants vs. Tennessee: Big Blue is ruining its draft status but showing it could be pretty good next year with the right quarterback surrounded by Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr.
2. New England at Pittsburgh: Likely no Conner again for Steelers (Jaylen Samuels!) and Ben Roethlisberger has injured ribs. The Patriots just seem to own Pittsburgh.
1. Carolina vs. New Orleans (Monday): This is my "risk" pick of the week. Carolina is done if it loses a sixth straight game, while the Saints still likely are no worse than the No. 2 seed with a defeat.
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