NFL Betting Predictions: Week 15 Opening Line Report and Picks
Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy in a record-setting season at Oklahoma in 2017, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft and had a fine rookie year, finishing second for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year behind a first-round running back (the Giants' Saquon Barkley).
Texas A&M transfer Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy in a record-setting season at Oklahoma in 2018, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and is having a fine rookie year, likely finishing second for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year behind a first-round running back (the Raiders' Josh Jacobs).
Mayfield and Murray, who are friends, face off for the first time this week as Cleveland visits Arizona in a game that really doesn't matter much otherwise. The Browns have very slim playoff hopes, and even winning out to get to 9-7 might not be enough for the AFC's second Wild-Card spot. The Cardinals are on a six-game losing streak and did the Browns no favors in that Wild-Card chase by losing 23-17 at home to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
But here's my question: If starting a franchise today, would you pick Mayfield or Murray? Mayfield is definitely more brash and nationally well-known, but he has significantly regressed this season in missing many more throws then he did as a rookie. Part of that could be first-year Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens is in over his head considering the guy was never even an NFL coordinator in his career until midway through the 2018 season. (Maybe the Browns should try to hire Lincoln Riley this offseason to replace Kitchens?) Mayfield has some of the best skill-position weapons in the NFL in tailbacks Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt along with receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. (he has been a bust this year, though).
While Mayfield has a reputation as a bit of a jerk, Murray's rep is sterling. He's considered a quiet, hard-working guy who leads by example. He's also a lot more mobile than Mayfield is. Murray doesn't yet have anywhere near the offensive weapons as his disposal that Mayfield does. Murray might be too small to avoid getting beaten to a pulp in the NFL, and that's not an issue for Mayfield, who is about 3 inches taller and 15 pounds heavier. Then again, Murray could become a better passing version of Lamar Jackson, and the Jackson types could be where the NFL is headed. I would probably lean Murray - doesn't hurt that he's nearly two years younger than Mayfield.
The Browns are 2-point favorites , and I'd take them before that potentially climbs to -3. Here are some other Week 15 early lines that caught my eye. We won't touch on the Thursday night game (Jets at Ravens) or Monday's (Colts at Saints) because we will be previewing them individually here at Doc's. Picks are ATS.
Bears at Packers (-4.5, 41): Chicago is on extra rest after playing likely its best game of the season last Thursday in beating the visiting Cowboys 31-24. Been a rough year at times for Mitchell Trubisky, and he had a terrible interception in that one but was otherwise terrific in throwing for three scores and running for one. Still a long shot for the team to make the playoffs and a loss here would all but end any hopes. Green Bay maintained its one-game lead over Minnesota atop the NFC North with a 20-15 home win over Washington on Sunday. Aaron Jones had a season-high 134 yards on just 16 carries to go with a touchdown and six catches for 58 yards. The Packers and Bears opened the season in the Kickoff Game on a Thursday night at Soldier Field and Green Bay was a 10-3 upset winner in an ugly offensive game. The teams combined for just 467 yards and each team had 10 penalties. Wasn't entertaining to watch at all. The lone touchdown was an Aaron Rodgers 8-yard TD pass to Jimmy Graham in the second quarter. Oddly, the teams played Week 1 and Week 15 last year, too, although the locations were switched. The home side won each. Pick: Packers.
Texans at Titans (-3, 48.5): Huge game in the AFC South with the teams tied for first at 8-5 and closing the regular season in Houston. The Texans clearly were caught in a trap game on Sunday off a big win over New England as they inexplicably lost at home to the Broncos 38-24. It was 31-3 at the half. The Broncos scored more than 24 points overall for the first time since Oct. 19, 2018. Deshaun Watson (28-for-50, 292 yards, one TD, two picks), was outplayed by rookie Drew Lock (22-for-37, 309 yards, one TD). Watson did add two rushing scores. The Titans won their fourth in a row Sunday, 42-21 in Oakland. Ryan Tannehill's career resurgence continued with 391 yards passing and three scores. The Titans are second in the NFL in scoring with Tannehill at quarterback at 31.4 points per game. AJ Brown caught five for 153 and two scores, including a 91-yarder. Derrick Henry rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns. Pick: Titans.
Bills at Steelers (-1.5, 37): This game was flexed into the prime-time window, replacing Vikings-Chargers - that was dumped to 4:05 p.m. ET because the Bolts stink this year. This has easily the lowest total of the week. The Sunday night game started in 2006 and Buffalo has played in it just once: In November 2007 when the Bills were slaughtered at home by the Patriots. Every other team in the league has played more on Sunday night. The Bills also were the only team in the NFL not scheduled for a single prime-time game in 2019. Shame this isn't in Buffalo as that would be a madhouse. Very possible if not likely that these are the two AFC Wild-Card teams. Pittsburgh improved to 3-0 when rookie QB Devlin "Duck" Hodges starts with a 23-17 win in Arizona on Sunday. Top RB James Conner and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster both sat again due to injury. Buffalo's three-game winning streak ended in a 24-17 home loss to Baltimore. The Steelers have won the past six in the series but it's the first meeting since 2016. Pick: Steelers.
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