A look at Week 15 as the NFL enters the final three weeks of the regular season.
Game of the Week
New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos
This rematch of the 2015 AFC Championship looks a lot different from the year before. The game is in Denver, but the two teams are in very different spots than last January.
Denver was last year’s top seed and had a future Hall of Famer under center in Peyton Manning. Now, seventh-round pick Trevor Siemian is leading an 8-5 team that needs a win to keep their spot in the playoff picture. Denver has the toughest schedule left, having to face the Patriots (11-2), Chiefs (10-3) and Raiders (10-3) to end the season. The Broncos will likely have to win two of their last three to get in, and a win against their biggest rival, a team they have beaten twice since last season, would be a momentous boost.
New England is looking to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. A win in Denver gets them one step closer to that goal, and Denver is not the same team they were last year. They have experienced injuries on both sides of the ball, and their rushing attack is not the same with C.J. Anderson out. The Patriot offense is in that point of the season where they begin to click like no other offense in the league. Tom Brady is coming off of a 400-yard performance on Monday Night Football and he is throwing passes to players who would not see much action elsewhere.
Denver is going to need to win a game against a team who is, in my opinion, the Super Bowl favorite. However, Denver always competes against New England. I don’t think they will win this particular game, but Denver should make it an interesting game as always.
New England 28, Denver 23
Upset of the Week
Tampa Bay Buccaneers over Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys are coming off their worst game of the season and the Buccaneers are on a five-game win streak. Dallas is still a favorite in this game, but Tampa’s desperation and strong play as of late will lift them on Sunday night.
Tampa’s last loss came on Nov. 3 and since then they have not allowed more than 21 points in a game. Two of these wins came against Seattle and Kansas City, two Super Bowl contenders. Tampa is definitely not a team to overlook. They are capable of beating strong teams and if they were to win this week, they have two games left against the cellar dwellers of their own division. Tampa’s playoff chances are very realistic, but this game is very important to win if they want a legitimate shot at the playoffs.
Dallas is already in the playoffs, but they have yet to win the division. A win and a New York Giants loss would clinch the division for Dallas. Dallas will come back with a vengeance, but can Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott crack the Tampa defense? I do not believe they will because Tampa has been able to stop offenses better than Dallas in their win streak. They held New Orleans to 11 points last week, and Dallas will need more than that to win this week.
Tampa Bay has been questioned by its ability to play in prime time games. Jameis Winston has seen stages bigger than Sunday Night Football in college, and he will be able to translate to the NFL and the Bucs will get their sixth straight win Sunday night.
Tampa Bay 23, Dallas 20
Fantasy Start of the Week
Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill
Hill started the season as strictly a return specialist, but he has since worked his way up the depth chart and is now Alex Smith’s favorite target. He has six receiving touchdowns on top of two return touchdowns and a rushing touchdown. He’s a jack of all trades and now he plays Tennessee, one of the worst secondaries in the league. Hill was an unknown just a few weeks ago, but after his incredible Sunday Night Football game in Denver a few weeks ago, he is on the map and he is making a strong case for AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year as well as the wide receiver starting spot on your fantasy team.
Fantasy Sit of the Week
Eagles RB Ryan Mathews
Mathews is part of an Eagles backfield that is slowly deteriorating. Rookie Wendell Smallwood is on injured reserve and Darren Sproles suffered a concussion last week, so Mathews will be used very much in their game against Baltimore. However, the Ravens are one of the best run defenses in the league and they are in a must-win situation. The Eagles are here to play spoiler, but a road game in Baltimore against a talented Ravens squad will be tough to beat. Mathews has only clinched 100 yards once this year and there are so many options that are better than him at this stage of the playoff season.
Fantasy Pick-up of the Week
Cardinals WR J.J. Nelson
Nelson has three touchdowns in the last two weeks and with Michael Floyd’s release, Nelson is likely spotting up to be Arizona’s WR2 down the stretch of the season behind Larry Fitzgerald. Nelson is not necessarily someone I would start this week, but given how he does against New Orleans on Sunday, he may be worth a spot in your championship.
Lock of the Week
Atlanta Falcons over San Francisco 49ers
Atlanta is the only team this season to average over 400 yards per game and over 30 points per game on offense. Meanwhile, San Francisco is the only team this season to average 400 yards and 30 points allowed per game on defense.
This is really a no-brainer. San Francisco has been dreadful this season and are on a twelve-game losing streak. They played a struggling Jets team last week, and gave up a multiple-score lead. That will probably be the closest they will get to a win for the rest of the year. This team has given no hope to others in their abilities to win a game this season and should begin focusing on how to turn the ship around.
Atlanta could not have asked for a better game on the schedule. They are in the playoff picture but are tied with Tampa Bay for first place. They have the tiebreaker over the Bucs but getting as many wins as possible will help Atlanta, and being able to sit Julio Jones for another week could be helpful in the long run.
Atlanta 37, San Francisco 14
Buzzer’s Best Bet
Jim Buzinski’s picks of the week
Jaguars plus 6 at Texans
The Texans are 5-1 at home, while the Jags have lost their last four road games. Houston is gunning for a playoff spot while Jacksonville is playing out the streak.
Last week: 0-1. Season: 6-7-1
Hot Player of the Week
Raiders P Marquette King
He’s transforming the punter position in the NFL and I couldn’t ask for a more handsome guy to do it!
Jeremy Brener is a student at the University of Central Florida who writes a weekly NFL column for Outsports. He can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and followed on Twitter.