Week 15 in the National Football League starts tonight with the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville. 7:20 on Rogers SportsNet.
This is a big week for a number of NFL teams. If the San Diego Chargers beat Cincinnati, they clinch a playoff berth. If they win and Denver loses to Oakland, the Chargers lock up a first round bye. With a win over San Diego, the Bengals lock up the AFC North title. Green Bay clinches a playoff berth with a win at Pittsburgh and a loss by either the Giants who play Washington or Dallas who plays New Orleans. And Arizona is NFC West champion with a win at Detroit and a 49ers loss to Philly.
Meanwhile, with just three weeks to go, only three teams have clinched playoff berths: Minnesota and New Orleans in the NFC and Indianapolis in the AFC. However, if the playoffs started today here’s how it would look:
In the AFC, Indy and San Diego would have the first-round byes while Jacksonville would play at Cincinnati and Denver would play at New England. In the NFC, New Orleans and Minnesota would have the byes while Dallas would play at Philly and Green Bay would play at Arizona. Wouldn’t be a bad thing if the standings didn’t change.
Meanwhile, I love Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. That’s because Caldwell made it pretty clear yesterday that he’s going after a 16-0 season.
Caldwell said that if his players are healthy they will play. In other words, if Reggie Wayne, Peyton Manning, Austin Collie, any of them, can start the game they will play to win and they’ll do it from now until the end of the season. This team is trying to go 16-0 and good for them.
Those who think resting star players for the playoffs is a good idea have not been paying attention. It just doesn’t work. And, historically, coaching scared is a lot worse for a team that coaching recklessly.
As Herman Edwards always said: “You play to win the game.” You don’t play to rest your quarterback. And what the hell, in the NFL of 2010, the officials make sure that today’s quarterback is wearing a skirt, anyway.
Let’s take a closer look at Week 15.
Indianapolis Colts 13-0 at Jacksonville Jaguars 7-6 (+6.5)
These Colts-Jaguars games are always close, 13 of the past 15 meetings have been decided by eight points or less. However, despite the tightness of those games, Indianapolis has prevailed 11 times.
Dr. Sports: Colts to win and cover.
The Coach: Colts to win and cover.
Dallas Cowboys 8-5 at New Orleans Saints 13-0 (-6.5)
The Saints barely escaped against the Redskins and Falcons, but that was on the road. They are so much better at home. As hosts, they’ve beaten every opponent this year by eight or more points. The Superdome will be rocking and will be as loud as ever Saturday night. The choking Cowboys, who have shown no sense of urgency after Snowmo returned from his unwarranted post-Thanksgiving trip to Vegas, won’t know what hit them.
Dr. Sports: Saints to win and cover.
The Coach: Saints to win and cover.
Chicago Bears 5-8 at Baltimore Ravens 7-6 (-9.5)
Chicago hasn’t covered since Nov. 1. That trend will continue, especially after the huge emotional loss to the Packers after leading at half time.
Dr. Sports: Ravens to win and cover.
The Coach: Ravens to win and cover.
New England Patriots 8-5 at Buffalo Bills 5-8 (+6.5)
Tom Brady might have a broken finger. His ribs could be cracked. And if that wasn’t enough, he now has an unhappy receiver.
Dr. Sports: Patriots to win, but not cover.
The Coach: Patriots to win and cover.
Arizona Cardinals 8-5 at Detroit Lions 2-11 (+10.5)
Arizona has shown that they slack off in December if they don’t need to win. Even after a loss to the 49ers, this game is pretty meaningless for the Cardinals.
Dr. Sports: Cardinals to win but not cover.
The Coach: Cardinals to win and cover.
Cleveland Browns 2-11 at Kansas City Chiefs 3-10 (-1.5)
The Browns are coming off a win over the defending Super Bowl champs, teams in that type of scenario usually don’t perform well. However, the Chiefs absolutely stink and should not be favoured. The Browns, meanwhile, have played a lot better since their bye and have covered four consecutive games.
Dr. Sports: Browns to win.
The Coach: Browns to win.
Atlanta Falcons 6-7 at New York Jets 7-6 (-5.5)
The Jets are riding a three-game winning streak, and they didn’t even have the services of QB Mark Sanchez (knee) for last week’s win over Tampa Bay. Sanchez is expected to practice this week and could be back for this game.
Dr. Sports: Jets to win and cover.
The Coach: Jets to win and cover.
San Francisco 49ers 6-7 at Philadelphia Eagles 9-4 (-8.5)
If Philly is expecting an easy game here, they’re mistaken. The 49ers are playing well and have tons of momentum off their victory over Arizona. However, the Iggles are at home.
Dr. Sports: Eagles to win but not cover.
The Coach: Eagles to win and cover.
Green Bay Packers 9-4 at Pittsburgh Steelers 6-7 (-1.5)
The Packers are red-hot while the Steelers have major problems in all phases. Pittsburgh offensive line is porous; without Troy Polamalu, their secondary is a shadow of its former self; and the kickoff coverage surrenders huge returns every week. But they’re still defending Super Bowl champions.
Dr. Sports: Packers to win.
The Coach: Steelers to win and cover.
Houston Texans at St. Louis Rams 1-12 (+9.5)
The Texans are a pretty easy team to figure out. When the pressure’s on, they choke, and when they play crappy teams, they win and cover. There definitely won’t be any sort of pressure here in an empty Edward Jones Dome. With the Rams hobbled with injuries on offense and defence, this should be a Houston blowout.
Dr. Sports: Texans to win and cover.
The Coach: Texans to win but not cover.
Miami Dolphins 7-6 at Tennessee Titans 6-7 (-2.5)
Without using the Wildcat formation for the past two games, Dolphins Ricky Williams rushed for his fourth 100-yard game in the last five. The Titans could be without QB Vince Young, who is listed as day-to-day with a hamstring injury. If Young is not able to play, Kerry Collins will start (expect Young to play). The Titans could continue to lean on RB Chris Johnson, but might have to throw more often since the Dolphins’ defence has been solid against the run.
Dr. Sports: Dolphins to win.
The Coach: Titans to win and cover.
Oakland Raiders 3-10 at Denver Broncos 9-4 (-12.5)
The Broncos are obviously the better team, but this just seems like a lot of points. Outside of a blowout over Kansas City, Denver has scored 16, 26, 3, 17, 10 and 7 points since their bye. How can the Broncos cover 13 points if they may not even score 13 points?
Dr. Sports: Denver to win, but not cover.
The Coach: Denver to win, but not cover.
Cincinnati Bengals 8-5 at San Diego Chargers 10-3 (-6.5)
Chargers are red hot and the Bengals are still crying in their beer after getting thumped by the Vikes. Now with the death of teammate Chris Henry in that accident in North Carolina, we don’t really know where the Bengals heads will be. The second straight road game doesn’t help the Ohio Tigers either.
Dr. Sports: Chargers to win and cover.
The Coach: Chargers to win and cover.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2-11 at Seattle Seahawks 5-8 (-6.5)
Matt Hasselbeck finished with 247 yards and one touchdown against the Texans last week, but due to subpar protection, he was hit nine times, three of them sacks. Don’t expect the Bucs to get to him once.
Dr. Sports: Seahawks to win and cover.
The Coach: Seahawks to win and cover.
Minnesota Vikings 11-2 at Carolina Panthers 5-8 (+7.5)
The Vikings secured themselves a spot in the playoffs last week with a win over the Bengals, and this week, they can clinch the NFC North and potentially a first-round bye if they beat the Panthers. Adrian Peterson ran for 97 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns against a solid Bengals defence last week. He’ll try to improve upon that against a Panthers defence that is No. 26 in the NFL against the run.
Dr. Sports: Vikings to win and cover.
The Coach: Vikings to win and cover.
New York Giants 7-6 at Washington Redskins 4-9 (+2.5)
This is a huge game for the Redskins. It’s Monday night, so they’ll feed off the crowd’s emotion just like the 49ers did last week. Washington obviously can’t make the playoffs, but beating the Giants here and the Cowboys next week is what the players are focusing on. Defeating their divisional rivals will really build momentum for next year. Of course, the Giants MUST win, too. Should be a great game.
Dr. Sports: Redskins to win.
The Coach: Giants to win and cover.
The Doc is 139-69 overall and 110-98 against the spread. The Coach is 131-77 straight up and 108-100 against the spread