1. Carolina Panthers (13-0)
Week 15 opponent: @ New York Giants, Sunday 1 pm ET (XM channel 227, SiriusXM channel SXM 227, Internet channel 820)
On November 30th of 2014, the Carolina Panthers lost to the Vikings 30-13 in a not particularly close game; since that Week 13 defeat last season, the Panthers have reeled off 17 wins in a row and are three victories away from going undefeated in the 2015 regular season. In their latest win, a thorough beatdown of the rival Falcons, Cam Newton further cemented his MVP qualifications by throwing for 265 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions, all on a mere 21 attempts. On the other side of the ball, Josh Norman further cemented his DPOY qualifications and, well, just look at this tweet:
Wow. Josh Norman has held DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, TY Hilton, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones to combined 9 rec/89 yards (@nflnetwork research).
— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) December 16, 2015
The rest of Carolina’s crew forced four turnovers and held Atlanta to a total of 230 net yards of offense, in other words, 35 fewer yards than Cam accounted for on his own. Up next for the rumbling Panthers: the New York Giants.
2. Arizona Cardinals (11-2)
Week 15 opponent: @ Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday 7:30 pm ET (XM channel 88, SiriusXM Internet, 800 Internet channel 88)
Survival seems to be an ongoing theme with the Thursday night games and the Cardinals survived a late scare against the Vikings, so we can chalk up the defensive lapses to that. This week the Red Birds travel east to face the suddenly-relevant-again Philadelphia Eagles in the Sunday nighter. If Arizona’s always explosive offense seems to be sputtering in Philly, it’s safe to presume that Bruce Arians’ brain simply needs to be rebooted after crashing following all the ways he could scheme against the Eagles’ very generous defense.
3. Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
Week 15 opponent: vs. Cleveland Browns, Sunday 4:05 pm ET (XM 230, SiriusXM 230, Internet 826)
A week after easily dispatching of the Ravens in Baltimore, the Seahawks face the Browns back home in Seattle as mere 14-point favorites. While typically a very large spread for an NFL game, 14, if anything, seems too low for this game. Seattle has morphed into a fire-breathing and unstoppable offensive juggernaut as of late and the Browns, save for last week’s beatdown of the 49ers, are “Browns-ing things” up as only they know how. While the broken ankle Thomas Rawls suffered last week will slow down Seattle’s running game. Seattle’s biggest improvements have come thanks to a tweaked offensive line that is playing much better than earlier in the year. This line has afforded Russell Wilson more time in the pocket and Seattle’s running backs a little more space. Whomever Pete Carroll puts out there (Bryce Brown, me, you) they should have a field day rushing against a Browns defense that’s giving up a whopping 4.5 yards per carry.
4. Green Bay Packers (9-4)
Week 15 opponent: @ Oakland Raiders, Sunday 4:05 pm ET (XM 232, SiriusXM 232, Internet 822)
Green Bay rode the human street sweeper, Eddie Lacy, to a convincing-in-the-boxscore win against the Cowboys. But don’t let the 28-7 final fool you, Green Bay’s offense looked pedestrian at points and the true test of whether or not the Packers’ offense is “back” will be against Oakland’s surprisingly stout defense that wiped out Denver’s offense in Mile-High. In either case, a win at Oakland and the Packers will be assured of a playoff berth, with the divisional title still in play.
5. Minnesota Vikings (8-5)
Week 15 opponent: vs Chicago Bears, Sunday 1 pm ET (XM 226, SiriusXM 226, Internet 817)
After back-to-back defeats at the hands of the bruising Seahawks and Cardinals, the Vikings still can clinch a playoff berth of their own this week with a win and any number of permutations involving losses or ties by Atlanta, Tampa, Washington, New York or Seattle. Minnesota will likely need to win out and hope for a Seattle loss to avoid the #6 seed which would mean playing at Lambeau in the wild-card round instead of traveling to the winner of the NFC East’s pillow fight.
6. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)
Week 15 opponent: vs Arizona Cardinals, Sunday 7:30 pm ET (XM 231, SiriusXM 231, Internet 88)
A week after hanging on to beat the Bills at home in the “LeSean Bowl” and two weeks removed from stunning the Patriots in Foxboro, the Eagles host the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona can clinch the division with a win and the Eagles defense cannot stop Carson Palmer and crew for four quarters. Equally as important is the fact that Philly’s offense will find the sledding mighty tough against Arizona. Considering that this is the NFC East, even a Philly loss won’t matter as divisional frontrunner Washington likely will find a way to lose against Buffalo, while the Giants and Cowboys will either spontaneously combust or fall into a blackhole.
Fantasy Spotlight: Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints
2015 Stats: 337-497, 3,794 yards, 25 TDs, 11 INTs
In what should be a points smorgasbord for the fantasy ranks, the game has a total that’s at 50.5 or 51 depending on where you look, all skill players for both teams could pay dividends for your fantasy playoffs. Still, Brees has had a bounce back season and he should continue to light up the scoreboard against Detroit’s shaky secondary.
1. New England Patriots (11-2)
Week 15 opponent: vs Tennessee Titans, Sunday 1 pm ET (XM 225, SIriusXM 225, Internet 818)
In a weekend where seemingly nobody wanted to claim the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Patriots “stormtroopered” their way to a road dismantling of the Texans and are king of the hill for now. Hate all you want, but despite the mounting personnel losses, New England has kept its foot on the gas and is actually getting healthier (Hi, Gronk; Hi, Julian Edelman) on offense—yes, even when accounting for LeGarrette Blount’s season-ending hip injury.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5)
Week 15 opponent: vs Denver Broncos, Sunday 4:25 pm ET (XM 227, SiriusXM 227, Internet 824)
A week after taking down the Bengals in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh hosts the Broncos in what is shaping up to be one of the more intriguing “immovable object vs. irresistible force” games of recent seasons. Everyone knows how great Pittsburgh’s offense is (they’ve scored 30 or more in each of their last five games); and everyone knows about how great Denver’s defense has been all season long. But it may surprise you to know that Pittsburgh’s a top-ten scoring defense. Yes, even after facing New England, the Bengals (twice), Arizona and Seattle, Pittsburgh’s still allowing an even 20 points per game. That defense and Denver’s complete inability to run the ball could be enough for the Steelers to win the day.
3. (tie) Kansas City Chiefs (8-5)
Week 15 opponent: @ Baltimore Ravens, Sunday 1 pm ET (XM 228, SiriusXM 228, Internet 802)
Winners of seven in a row, the Chiefs now venture to Baltimore to face a Ravens team that practically rolled over for the Seahawks last week. KC still has the tiebreaker over the Steelers and with Buffalo and Houston losing last week, are in great shape to make the playoffs. Helping their position even further is the fact that the Chiefs close out with home games against Cleveland and Oakland following this tilt with the Ravens.
3. (tie) Denver Broncos (10-3)
Week 15 opponent: @ Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday 4:25 pm ET (XM 229, SiriusXM 227, Internet 824)
Thanks to five sacks from Khalil Mack, and the rest of Oakland’s defense bringing the pain, the Broncos had a bad day at the office on Sunday. Now, before their very important game against the Bengals next Monday night, Denver travels east to the Steel City in a very unforgiving environment against an explosive Steelers offense. As mentioned above, I think Denver’s lack of offense will be a liability against Pittsburgh and I think the Steelers win a close one. That being said, I cannot wait to see what Denver does to contain both Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (10-3)
Week 15 opponent: @ San Francisco 49ers, Sunday 4:25 pm ET (XM 226, SiriusXM 226, Internet 806)
At first all seemed lost with news of Andy Dalton’s broken thumb sucking the air out of the entirety of southwest Ohio, then AJ McCarron showed that he understood the concept of getting AJ Green the ball and the Bengals hung tough against the Steelers. While it’s still too early to say where McCarron (or Dalton if he indeed returns this season) will take the Bengals in the postseason, one thing is clear and ESPN’s Bill Barnwell made it clear: Don’t bury the Bengals just yet.
5. New York Jets (8-5)
Week 15 opponent: @ Dallas Cowboys, Saturday 8:25 pm ET (XM 225, SiriusXM 225, Internet 821)
Their record isn’t quite good enough, because let’s face it: Ron Rivera and Bruce Arians are the favorites, but Todd Bowles deserves some consideration for Coach of the Year honors. Bowles has in rapid fashion turned around an underachieving and very talented Jets squad, while also affording Ryan Fitzpatrick the confidence or juju or dark magic necessary to be an above-average NFL quarterback. New York does not have the personnel to make a deep playoff run (probably), but they will cause fits for whomever faces them in the playoffs. Of course, with as tight and messy as the AFC playoff race is right now, the Jets can’t worry about such plaudits and need to focus on beating the Cowboys in Dallas on Saturday, yes, SATURDAY, night
Fantasy Spotlight: Denard Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
2015 Stats: 42 rushes, 196 yards, 4.6 ypc., 1 TD
With TJ Yeldon’s injury last week, Denard Robinson took care of business on his own, collecting 87 yards from scrimmage and one touchdown in the victory over the Colts. This week, the Jaguars face the Atlanta Falcons and Shoelace should be plugged in as an RB2 for those gamers in their playoff matches.