NFL Week 15: Overcoming The Odds – 3 games to watch

Richard Graves

Richard Graves

Presenter, Writer and Broadcaster

Denver Broncos @ Detroit Lions (Broncos +4) SNF

On the face of it, Detroit at home, given the season they’ve had and only 1 game back from the best record in football would seem the obvious pick but rarely is the NFL so simple and that’s the case with this matchup.

The Lions seem to have been setting the pace in the NFC North since their kick off night win over the Chiefs but recently some cracks have been developing. Sunday’s loss in Chicago was their 2nd in 3 games (both to NFC North rivals) and honestly, it should have been 3 defeats in 4. Remember, they were trailing the Bears by double digits at home with less than 6 minutes to play but somehow turned it around.

In their last 5 games the Lions have given up at least 26 points in each outing – and look who they’ve played…. Chicago (twice), the Chargers, Saints and Packers – all ranking outside of the top 14 scoring offenses. While their own offense ranks in the top 7 in all major categories, they’ve been careless with the ball of late, committing 9 turnovers in their last 4 games.

Contrast that with the Broncos. A team which was the object of derision through September, when they gave up 70 points to Miami. Well, the tide has truly turned. They’ve won 6 of their last 7. They’ve beaten the Chiefs and Buffalo in that run and at 7-6, they now sit just 1 game outside the AFC West lead.

Their defense, which ranks in the bottom 10 in all major categories, except takeaways (4th with 22), is much better than those statistics would suggest and is the backbone of this team but it’s also being complimented by an offense which doesn’t give the ball away and the connection between Russell Wilson and receiver, Courtland Sutton is to be feared. Sutton now has 10 receiving touchdowns this season.

Denver hasn’t given up more than 22 points in their last 7 and while they’ve only once scored more than 24 in that stretch, it’s proving to be a winning formula. That lone defeat was by 3 points in Houston. There’s no getting around it, you trust this team more than the Lions right now. Even when Detroit raced into a 21-0 lead a couple of weeks ago in New Orleans, they allowed the Saints to come back, before securing the win. You can’t do that against this Broncos team and for Denver to be 4 point underdogs seems to be a gross oversight.

PICK: Denver Broncs +4

 

Dallas Cowboys @ Buffalo Bills (Cowboys +1.5)

This is a huge game with implications for teams other than just the two involved in this matchup.

The Bills return home after rising to the challenge in a must win game against the Chiefs last weekend. Despite that, they still find themselves on the outside, looking in when it comes to the playoffs. No fewer than 6 teams share their 7-6 record but due to tiebreakers all 5 are in front of them. From here on in, if Buffalo are to make the post season, you sense they have to win out and then still rely on a little help.

Dallas are the hottest team in football right now. At 10-2, they’re tied for the best record in the NFL. They have the number 1 ranked scoring offense. Over their last 5 games, their averaging over 40 points per game! And Dak Prescott is playing at a level he’s never played at since entering the NFL. Since week 8, he’s thrown 22 touchdown passes to only 2 interceptions. Brock Purdy’s the next closest QB to him with 14 passing TDs. And their defense is getting the job done as well. Giving up around 18 points per game but ranked 3rd overall, 5th defending the pass and 5th with 21 takeaways. Their run defense has also improved but Jonathan Hankins could be a notable loss if he can’t go with a sprained ankle.

CeeDee Lamb has established himself as a true number 1 receiver this season and 2nd year tight end, Jake Ferguson is emerging as a growing receiving threat in this offense alongside Brandon Cooks.

For the Bills, QB Josh Allen has also elevated his play of late, but he still has an issue looking after the ball. He only has 2 games all year without throwing an interception – he’s thrown a total of 14 this season! Against an opportunistic defense, such as Dallas, that makes for uneasy reading. However, the Bills do have a run game this year and there’s clearly been a greater emphasis on getting the ball into the hands of their running backs – be it on the ground or through the air – since Joe Brady took over as offensive coordinator in week 11.

However, their defense has struggled to stop opponents when it matters most this season and that is perhaps reflected in the fact all 6 defeats have been by just 1 score. The loss of key defenders LB Matt Milano and DB Tre White have been significant. This will likely be a tight game and Buffalo go into it as the slenderest of favourites by virtue of having home field advantage. That’s may not be enough when facing the league’s form team.

PICK: Dallas Cowboys +1.5

 

Baltimore Ravens @ Jacksonville Jaguars (Ravens -3.5) SNF

No team has a better record in the AFC than the Baltimore Ravens, but they head to Jacksonville with a point to prove. The Jaguars are coming off two straight defeats but still hold a 1 game lead at the top of the AFC South. And it was this matchup 12 months ago, at this venue, where they upset the Ravens and made the rest of the NFL sit up and take notice.

It’s an intriguing matchup. The strength of the Baltimore offense is running the ball. They’re the best in the NFL, averaging 157 yard per game. However, the strength of the Jags’ defense is stopping the run. They only give up 92 yards per game – that’s 4th best in the NFL. In contrast only the Washington Commanders are worse than Jacksonville at defending the pass. But that’s also where the Ravens have had a few issues offensively. Lamar Jackson is a much improved passer but there are still some erratic throws. As a team, the Ravens are 19th in passing offense and as one Ravens fan recently told me… you just have to live with it, because Lamar is as likely to throw a bad pass as he is to run for a 50 yard TD.

Well, that may create some highlight reel moments, but he needs to be more consistent if Baltimore are to win another Super Bowl. Although, against a hobbled Trevor Lawrence, the Ravens may not be as reliant on their QB this weekend.

Lawrence played well, despite dealing with a high ankle sprain last weekend but that wasn’t enough to help the Jags win in Cleveland and against a stingy Ravens defense, his restricted mobility could be an issue here. Baltimore have the 2nd best scoring defense in the NFL (16.8 ppg) and it’s 4th best against the pass. Jacksonville doesn’t have it’s deep threat receiver, Christian Kirk – he’s out for several weeks, which likely paces a greater responsibility on Calvin Ridley and Evan Engram. Jacksonville’s problem is they’ve given up over 31 points in each of their last 2 games to a back up QB (Jake Browning) and a veteran QB who’s literally only just been signed to the team (Joe Flacco). It’s a big ask to expect this unit to now clamp down on Lamar Jackson, Zay Flowers, and Odell Beckham while an injury depleted offense puts points on the board against the 2nd ranked defense.

9 of Baltimore’s 10 wins this season have come by 6 points or more and that’s a trend which likely continues here.

PICK: Baltimore Ravens -3.5

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