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Week 15 predictions: Our picks against the spread

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson sprained an ankle last week, but is expected to play.

By Emmanuel Morgan

As the holidays approach, the expanded regular season reaches to grab a chunk of Saturday in addition to the normal Thursday-Sunday-Monday-night rotation.

That schedule is expected to proceed without interruption even as the NFL, like the rest of the country, contends with a surge in COVID-19 cases. On Monday, 37 players tested positive, the league’s highest single-day total since the pandemic reached the United States. While the outbreaks haven’t yet caused the postponement of games, the potential absences of high-impact players could alter the results of matchups with playoff implications for the teams involved.

The COVID-19-depleted Cleveland Browns need to win Saturday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders to keep their postseason hopes alive, while the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots should provide an old-school, ground-based game that night.

And the potential Aaron Rodgers vs. Lamar Jackson showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday should show what both teams have left in the tank before playoff runs.

Below is a look at NFL Week 15, with all picks made against the spread. All times are Eastern.

Last week’s record: 8-6


Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns

4:30 p.m., NFL Network

Line: Browns -3 | Total: 40.5

The Browns (7-6) placed eight players on the COVID-19 list Tuesday, including two of their best offensive weapons, receiver Jarvis Landry and tight end Austin Hooper, followed by positive tests from quarterback Baker Mayfield and head coach Kevin Stefanski on Wednesday. It is nearly impossible to forecast who will be available as the team deals with an outbreak, but Cleveland should still beat the Raiders (6-7), which has lost five of their past six games.

The Browns’ postseason chances hinge on this one — Cleveland’s playoff odds increase to 56% with a win, according to the Upshot playoff predictor — while Las Vegas is playing its most embarrassing football of the year, plagued by offensive sloppiness, turnovers and defensive inefficiencies. Pick: Browns -3

New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts

8:15 p.m. NFL Network

Line: Colts -2.5 | Total: 45.5

This game should be good, and, to be honest, the close spread is somewhat of a surprise. The Colts (7-6) are ascending thanks to Jonathan Taylor, the league’s leading rusher. The Patriots (9-4), though, hold the AFC’s top seed thanks to efficient, risk-averse play by rookie quarterback Mac Jones, a strong running game and a stout defense.

New England is mediocre against the run, allowing an average of 136 yards over the Past three games, but against the Colts, coach Bill Belichick needs only to focus his game plan to combat Taylor (hint: Make Carson Wentz win it.) Opposing defenses have yet to stop the Patriots’ offense, and until someone offers a blueprint, it’s safer to bet with the Patriots. Pick: Patriots +2.5


Green Bay Packers at Baltimore Ravens

4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Packers -4.5 | Total: 43.5

Having vaulted into the NFC’s top seed this week, the Packers (10-3) can put some distance between themselves and the Buccaneers and Cardinals, who are also 10-3, with a win against the Ravens (8-5), who have been one of the most injured teams in the league this season.

Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson sprained an ankle last week, but coach John Harbaugh expects him to play. Baltimore is missing its top two cornerbacks, Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey, so it needs Jackson to control the clock and cut down his turnovers to keep the ball away from Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense. That predicament seems nearly impossible since Jackson is also the team’s most reliable rusher. Green Bay can definitely exploit the Ravens’ absences better than other teams have. Pick: Packers -4.5

Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers

1 p.m., CBS

Line: Titans -1.5 | Total: 41.5

The spread on this one should probably be larger. Yes, the Titans (9-4) are without running back Derrick Henry (foot) and receiver A.J. Brown (chest), but they have shown that they can still move the ball well on offense — as long as they don’t commit turnovers.

The Steelers (6-6-1), conversely, are inept at stopping the run — they’ve allowed an average of 182 rushing yards over the past three games — and the offensive line must want Ben Roethlisberger to retire even before the season ends. He has taken eight sacks over the past three games. Those issues, along with Chase Claypool’s drama over celebrating a first down last week, have the Steelers sprinting toward a rebuild. This game should add another loss to Pittsburgh’s record. Pick: Titans -1.5

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Buccaneers -10.5 | Total: 46.5

Alvin Kamara’s return last week against the Jets lifted the Saints (6-7), who desperately needed their best offensive weapon after he missed four games with a knee injury. But Kamara will likely find little room to run against the Buccaneers (10-3), who allow the third-fewest rushing yards per game (91.2), have won four straight games and are hitting their stride heading into the final leg of the regular season.

Leonard Fournette has rushed for 100 yards in two of the past three games and asserted himself as a strong complement to the Tom Brady-led passing attack. Richard Sherman has also returned for the first time since October and recorded an interception last week. Pick: Buccaneers -10.5

Washington Football Team vs. Philadelphia Eagles

1 p.m., Fox

Line: Eagles -5 | Total: 44.5

Washington’s (6-7) loss to Dallas last week essentially locked up the NFC East for the Cowboys, and now the Footballers and Eagles (6-7) can scrap for a potential wild-card spot. Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke (knee) is expected to play, but Terry McLaurin (concussion), the team’s leading receiver and best offensive player, potentially could not. That would be a brutal blow, with Washington also contending with a COVID-19 outbreak. The Eagles had an extra week of rest after a bye and should outpace Washington. Pick: Eagles -5

Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams

4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Rams -4 | Total: 45

The Rams (9-4) added nine players, including wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., to the COVID-19 list Tuesday after already placing five on the list Monday. With the team in enhanced mitigation protocols, most work is being done remotely, potentially hampering the team’s momentum coming off a big Monday night win against the Cardinals.

The Seahawks (5-8), have reported only one positive coronavirus test this season and have won their past two games, including a game in which they allowed more than 300 passing yards to the lowly Texans. Doing so against a Sean McVay offense won’t produce the same result, though. Even with the coronavirus disruptions, the Rams should win. Pick: Rams -4


Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills

1 p.m., Fox

Line: Bills -10.5 | Total: 43.5

A slow start doomed them against the Buccaneers last week, but the Bills (7-6) could spot the Panthers (5-8) a touchdown and Carolina would likely still lose this one. No matter their quarterback — P.J. Walker and Cam Newton have shared snaps since Sam Darnold went down with an injury — the Panthers’ offense has underwhelmed, averaging only 19.8 points per game. Newton has completed only 58.7% of his passes since returning as the starter (yuck).

Josh Allen sprained his left foot and is listed as day-to-day, but even if he doesn’t play Sunday, the Bills’ offense is more trustworthy, especially at home in near-freezing temperatures. Pick: Bills -10.5

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins

1 p.m., CBS

Line: Dolphins -8.5 | Total: 42.5

Don’t count the Dolphins (6-7) out of the hunt in the wild AFC. Their postseason chances are teetering at 8%, according to the playoff predictor, but if they win out and other teams collapse, there’s still a possibility. A resurgence of the Dolphins’ aggressive, blitz-happy defense and efficient play from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has Miami on a five-game win streak.

The Jets (3-10) have not been as successful without their top two receivers, Elijah Moore (quad) and Corey Davis (core), giving quarterback Zach Wilson few options in the passing game. Three of Miami’s running backs and safety Jevon Holland were placed on the COVID-19 list, but the Dolphins are still a safer bet to cover. Pick: Dolphins -8.5

Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions

1 p.m., Fox

Line: Cardinals -13.5 | Total: 47.5

Inaccurate passes, turnovers, poor clock management. That sounds like a description for a Lions (1-11-1) game, but those aspects defined how the Cardinals (10-3) lost to the Rams in Week 14.

Arizona is still on top of the NFC West, but slid to the No. 3 seed in the conference. The team will reportedly rest DeAndre Hopkins (knee) for the rest of the regular season before a playoff push. But quarterback Kyler Murray and the Cardinals should still bounce back Sunday because the Lions rank second-to-last in the league in sacks (20), and worked remotely this week while dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. Even at 100%, Detroit would’ve been an underdog, but those challenges should make this a rout. Pick: Cardinals -13.5

Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants

1 p.m., Fox

Line: Cowboys -10.5 | Total: 44.5

In a shocking reversal, the Cowboys’ (9-4) offense is now underwhelming while their defense is excelling. Dak Prescott has thrown eight touchdowns and six interceptions in the past six games, a trend that even owner Jerry Jones said is “fair” to characterize as a slump. Offensive lineman Tyron Smith is out with an ankle injury and running back Ezekiel Elliot is still playing through a knee injury.

Still, Dallas should easily beat the Giants, who will likely be without quarterback Daniel Jones (neck) for a third consecutive game. That should excite Micah Parsons, the versatile linebacker who could add more sacks (he’s got 12) to his Defensive Rookie of the Year application. Pick: Cowboys -10.5

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars

1 p.m., CBS

Line: Jaguars -3.5 | 39.5

Both the Jaguars (2-11) and the Texans (2-11) are jostling for draft positioning at this point, and players on those teams who are on expiring contracts are just hoping to put out good tape for potential suitors this offseason. On paper, they may seem evenly matched: Davis Mills, the Texans’ rookie quarterback, snatched back the starting job by merely not being Tyrod Taylor and the Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence is tied for the league lead in interceptions (14).

But Houston is poised for an “upset” given the disarray in Jacksonville, where first-year NFL coach Urban Meyer was fired early Thursday. The Jaguars’ players will be there, technically speaking, but don’t expect them to show up. Pick: Texans +3.5

Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos

4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Broncos -1.5 | Total: 43.5

At this point, we know the Broncos (7-6) are unbearably average and will beat up on bad teams and lose to good ones. The Bengals (7-6) have shown some up-and-down spurts, too, but have displayed more flashes of talent from their young stars as they continue to grow. Cincinnati pushed the 49ers to overtime last week and nearly won, and that momentum should carry over. The Broncos have not put back-to-back wins together since the start of November, and they are due for another potential loss this week. Pick: Bengals +1.5

Atlanta Falcons at San Francisco 49ers

4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: 49ers -9.5 | Total: 46

The formula is out on beating the Falcons (6-7): Cover Kyle Pitts, contain Cordarrelle Patterson, and when Matt Ryan hangs onto the ball trying to find an option, sack him.

Limiting Patterson is hard, though, as the Falcons continue to force feed their breakout playmaker with so many touches that he’s tied for the sixth-most touchdowns from scrimmage. The 49ers (7-6) have their own version of Patterson — Deebo Samuel — and he’s better. Samuel is tied for fifth in touchdowns from scrimmage (11) and is fifth in total yardage (1,268). He should have fun against Atlanta’s meager defense. Pick: 49ers -9.5


Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears

8:15 p.m., ESPN

Line: Vikings -4 | Total: 44

The Bears (4-9) no longer deserve prime time games, yet here we are. The offense is horrible, scoring only 17.8 points per game. Justin Fields’ development has been, well, what you’d expect from a rookie in a bad situation. He’s shown strong glimpses, as in the first-half scoring outburst against the Packers last week, but is completing less than 60% of his passes.

The Vikings’ offense is on an upswing in a roller coaster season. Dalvin Cook rushed for more than 200 yards last week and Justin Jefferson has caught at least one touchdown in three of the past four weeks. Minnesota (6-7) has struggled with one-score games and allowed inferior opponents to stay competitive, but this should be a good statement game before a playoff push. Pick: Vikings -4

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