NFL WEEK 15: As we head down the home stretch of the season the playoff picture is beginning to clear up, and the San Francisco 49ers kicked off this Week 15 by punching their ticket to the postseason with a 21-13 win over division rival Seattle on Thursday night. The Niners certainly have the defense and running game to make a Super Bowl run, but can they survive the playoff gauntlet with rookie QB Brock Purdy under center?
Four other teams can clinch playoff berths with a victory this week, those being the Chiefs, Bills, Cowboys, and Vikings. And with each conference now set to have three Wild Card berths, better than half the league still has realistic hopes of playing deep into January.
In other news, I’ve been playing around quite a bit with the ChatGPT AI chatbot recently, and it occurred to me that the bot could probably do a pretty fair job of writing these articles (it really is an amazing piece of technology, definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already). Can the AI point you in the right direction, though? Would the AI have hit all four bets last week, yet another clean sweep in what has been a very profitable season? That’s what we provide, baby: the human touch. The real thing. In our darkest hour, when machines have taken over Terminator-style and humanity is on the run, we’ll keep the torch burning one winning football bet at a time.
The solemn duty continues this week, and we have three Saturday games on tap, one of which smells of opportunity. Here’s what I’m thinking:
Indianapolis Colts @ Minnesota Vikings (MIN -4, 47.5) *Saturday
Recommendation: Indianapolis +4 at 1.91
By now I think it’s begun to dawn on anyone paying attention that the Vikings, despite their 10-3 record, are utter frauds. They had a miracle run of one-score wins early in the season but now reality is beginning to catch up, and their last two losses have come by 48 combined points. The offense is good, sure, but it’s not good enough to continue propping up a defense that simply cannot stop anybody. The Vikes are dead last in the NFL in both total yards allowed and pass yards allowed, and opposing QBs are averaging 8.0 yards per attempt– not per completion, but per attempt— against this Minnesota D. That, of course, is the worst mark in the league.
The Colts, for all their flaws, are still playing hard for interim coach Jeff Saturday, and Saturday showed his commitment to competing and trying to win when he announced this week that veteran QB Matt Ryan would remain the starter. Ryan has a quality receiving corps at his disposal and should have a big day against the sieve-like Vikings secondary, while his counterpart, Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, will be facing one of the top passing defenses in the league. With veteran corner Stephon Gilmore leading the way, the Colts rank third in the NFL against the pass and have allowed just two receivers to reach the 100-yard mark all season. This will be a tough one for the Vikings– they’ll be lucky to escape with a win. Take the points.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Carolina Panthers (CAR -3, 38)
Recommendation: Carolina -3 at 1.92
After parting ways with head coach Matt Rhule, star running back Christian McCaffrey and quarterback Baker Mayfield, many thought the Panthers would start tanking their way to a top pick in the draft. Instead, they’ve improbably turned things around, winning 3 of 4 behind a punishing rushing attack and a defense that is tough up front and much improved in the secondary. The Pittsburgh defense gave up 215 rushing yards to Baltimore (sans Lamar Jackson) in a loss last week, and Carolina’s tandem of D’Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard have combined to average over 150 rush yards per game since McCaffrey’s departure. These ain’t the same old Steelers– a loss this week would clinch the first losing season of the Mike Tomlin era– and I have serious doubts about their ability slow down the Panthers rushing attack and force QB Sam Darnold to beat them. Speaking of QBs, we’re still not quite sure who will be under center for the Steelers this week with Kenny Pickett in concussion protocol, but all signs point to Mason Rudolph. That means it should be yet another long day for an offense that has topped 20 points just twice all season. Carolina is the play here.
Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints (NO -4, 43.5)
Recommendation: New Orleans -4 at 1.89
Both of these teams are essentially out of playoff contention, but only one has seemingly shifted from “win now” mode to a “develop for the future” mentality. Atlanta’s benching of veteran QB Marcus Mariota for rookie Desmond Ridder, which head coach Arthur Smith announced a few days ago, reeks of an ownership-driven decision that is likely to have negative on-field consequences in the short term. And perhaps that’s by design, if you believe, as many do, that Falcons ownership is set on drafting a quarterback in the first round this coming April. Their draft position is likely to improve over the next four weeks.
Ridder will be making his first NFL start against a Saints defense that features multiple Pro Bowlers and has allowed 20 points or fewer in each of the team’s last four games. The Saints may be 1-3 in that stretch, but it hasn’t been the defense’s fault, and I expect we’ll see evidence of that again on Sunday. The New Orleans offense has been stuck in neutral, but the perfect cure may be a Falcons defense that struggles mightily against the run, surrendering 130 yards per game on the ground and better than 4.4 yards per attempt. Look for Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill to get things rolling on the ground and for the Saints defense to force the rookie QB into a couple turnovers in what should be a feel-good win for the home team.
Los Angeles Rams @ Green Bay Packers (GB -7, 39.5) *Monday
Recommendation: Green Bay -7 at 1.95
A dismal season for the defending Super Bowl champion Rams took an unexpected turn last week when Baker Mayfield, who had been acquired off waivers just 48 hours prior to kickoff, came in for an ineffective Jon Wolford and led the offense on two touchdown drives, including an 8-play, 98-yard march with under 2 minutes remaining that delivered the Rams a 17-16 victory over the Vegas Raiders. It was a brief moment in the sun for the much-maligned Mayfield, but I have a feeling that darkness will return this week, on what is expected to be a frigid Monday night at Lambeau Field.
Difficult weather generally favors the team with the better running game, and in this matchup that is undoubtedly the Packers, who have a tandem in Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon that is as good as any 1-2 punch in the league. They’ll be facing an L.A. defense that might be missing star DT Aaron Donald once again, and last week the Raiders were able to take advantage of Donald’s absence to the tune of 165 rushing yards, much of it between the tackles. The Rams had better be ready for a heavy dose of Jones and Dillon– I don’t expect Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball much in this game, but I do expect him to be much more effective than his counterpart Mayfield, and we would be remiss not to mention Rodgers’ tremendous record in sub-freezing temps (28-6 in his career with the kickoff temperature is below freezing), and his streak of eight consecutive Monday Night Football wins. This is a tough spot for a Rams team that is in the midst of a disappointing season and hadn’t been showing much fight prior to last week’s last-minute drive. I expect the Packers to roll.