Week 15 NFL game picks: Chargers edge Chiefs on Thursday Night Football; Packers nip Ravens

Gregg Rosenthal went 12-2 straight up and against the spread on his Week 14 NFL picks, bringing his season totals to 119-88-1 and 113-93-1, respectively. How will he fare in Week 15? His picks are below.

The lines below provided by Caesars are current as of 1 p.m. ET on Thursday, Dec. 16 unless otherwise noted below.

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THURSDAY, DEC. 16

  • WHERE: SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, Calif.)
  • WHEN: 8:20 p.m. ET | FOX, NFL Network, Amazon
  • SPREAD: Chargers +3 | O/U: 53.5

I started the week liking the Chargers in an upset, then learned Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Rashawn Slater tested positive for COVID-19. Watching OTs Trey Pipkens and Storm Norton try to protect Justin Herbert against this ferocious Chiefs pass rush didn’t sound like fun, so then the plan was to take the Bolts to cover but thread the needle with a Chiefs win. Then the Chiefs’ best pass rusher, Chris Jones, was added to the reserve/COVID-19 list, as was athletic linebacker Willie Gay, and the line moved from 4 to 3. That’s a tiny needle to thread. This is how they get you.

Brandon Staley’s defense has quietly improved over the last month, with the issues against the run becoming less of a problem. Availability could still determine the pick here. Derwin James, Austin Ekeler and Asante Samuel Jr. are all game-time decisions. If they play, I’m back to leaning Chargers because — gasp! — I trust their quarterback more. 

SATURDAY, DEC. 18

  • WHERE: FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)
  • WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET | NFL Network
  • SPREAD: Browns +1.5 | O/U: 38.5

The Browns placed double-digit players on the reserve/COVID-19 list in the last two days, including Baker Mayfield, and coach Kevin Stefanski has tested positive, too. It’s not just the amount of players that stands out, but the quality of their contributions. I counted eight starters, including two of their best offensive linemen, two of their leading receivers and two of their starters in the secondary. The Raiders are in a free fall, the Browns should still apply pressure to Derek Carr, and I don’t think the change to Case Keenum at quarterback is a downgrade. It’s not like this should be a blowout.

Still, I was leaning toward the Raiders covering in this game when the line started at 5.5 before the COVID-19 news because the Browns’ offense is so sluggish. I’ll now take the Raiders to win outright, understanding no one knows anything.

  • WHERE: Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
  • WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET | NFL Network
  • SPREAD: Patriots +2 | O/U: 45.5

In a battle between one of the league’s hottest defenses (New England) and hottest offenses (Indianapolis), I’d typically lean offense. The Patriots’ defensive front can be moved in the running game and the Colts can match power with power. Indianapolis’ defense, however, is often too willing to give up the short stuff in hopes of avoiding a big play. Mac Jones is happy to take what’s given, and I still trust Bill Belichick more in a close game where situational football rules. These are two of the top four teams in turnover margin, so it probably will come down to which side makes the bigger mistake. I trust Jones a bit more than Carson Wentz on that front.

SUNDAY, DEC. 19

  • WHERE: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | FOX
  • SPREAD: Cowboys -10.5 | O/U: 44.5

I’ve watched enough of Dak Prescott since his calf injury to have real concerns about his future. I’ve watched enough of this Cowboys defense now at full strength and this Giants offense under Mike Glennon to know it won’t matter this week.

  • WHERE: TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Fla.)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | CBS
  • SPREAD: Texans +4.5 | O/U: 39.5

I feel far less confident about this pick following Urban Meyer’s dismissal. The relief of getting rid of a tyrannical boss may not make the Jaguars world beaters, but it could give them a lift. Going into this week, I trusted a David Culley-coached Davis Mills more than a Meyer-coached Trevor Lawrence. Still, the Texans’ defense has shown signs of life in the second half of the season (13th in DVOA) and the unit features 11 sentient beings each down, which is all that is required lately to stop this Jacksonville offense.

  • .WHERE: Heinz Field (Pittsburgh)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | CBS
  • SPREAD: Titans -1 | O/U: 43

I’m not confident picking a winner in this game, but I’d be stunned if either team tops 25 points. Tennessee’s defense can flummox Pittsburgh’s offensive line and make the Steelers one-dimensional by stopping the run. The Titans’ offense is held together with super glue at the moment, yet this is a squad that’s been greater than the sum of its parts all year.

  • WHERE: Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | CBS
  • SPREAD: Dolphins -9.5 | O/U: 41

Zach Wilson is nearly unplayable right now, and it doesn’t help that Elijah Moore is on injured reserve. The rookie QB avoided the blitz-happy Dolphins last time around, with Robert Saleh giving veteran Joe Flacco the start. New York lost that game by seven at home. These Jets have covered the spread once in their last six. When they lose, it’s rarely competitive.

  • WHERE: Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | FOX
  • SPREAD: Eagles -9.5 | O/U: 44

Washington’s glass slipper started to chip away against Dallas because the Football Team’s strengths are no longer a strength. COVID-19 has ravaged their trademark defensive line. Injuries are decimating their skill positions. The offensive line has overachieved all year, but injuries and a lack of talent will show up against a good defensive front. While the Eagles don’t quite have the Cowboys’ depth there, they are close enough.

  • WHERE: Ford Field (Detroit)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | FOX
  • SPREAD: Cardinals -13 | O/U: 47.5

With a perfect 7-0 record outside of State Farm Stadium this season, the Cardinals have gone on the road and beaten the Titans, Jaguars, Rams, Browns, 49ers, Seahawks and Bears by an average of 16 points per game. They covered the spread every time. Past performance doesn’t necessarily indicate future results and all that noise, but I’m not rolling with the depleted Lions to interrupt this trend.

  • WHERE: Highmark Stadium (Orchard Park, N.Y.)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | FOX
  • SPREAD: Bills -10.5 | O/U: 44.5

On paper, a Carolina run game led by Cam Newton (four rushing TDs in four games) should test Buffalo’s biggest weakness. In reality, Matt Rhule wants to ground and pound without having acquired or coached up a competent offensive line. The Panthers’ defense couldn’t get off the field against Washington, Miami and Atlanta, giving up 66 first downs during the current three-game losing streak. Phil Snow’s unit won’t be able to stall the Bills, either, assuming Josh Allen starts.

  • WHERE: Empower Field at Mile High (Denver)
  • WHEN: 4:05 p.m. ET | CBS
  • SPREAD: Broncos -2.5 | O/U: 44

These teams are not exactly what you think. The Broncos are 4-2 in their last six and the Bengals are 2-4. They are mirror teams in other ways, with Denver now 12th in offensive efficiency on the season, per Football Outsiders, and 21st on the defensive side. The Bengals, meanwhile, rank 21st in offense 12th in defense. In a matchup this close, I tend to favor coaching. Vic Fangio has solved some of his defensive problems since midseason, and the Broncos, as healthy as they’ve been in a while, are maxing out their ability. I love Joe Burrow and this Bengals attack, yet that offensive ranking is a cold reminder they’ve been less than the sum of their parts.

  • WHERE: Levi’s Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
  • WHEN: 4:05 p.m. ET | CBS
  • SPREAD: 49ers -9.5 | O/U: 46.5

Look at most metrics, including a -108 point differential, and the Falcons profile as a 3-10 team. But here they are in mid-December, tied for the NFC’s last playoff spot. The 49ers are the opposite, a balanced squad that profiles closer to an 8-5 or 9-4 squad if not for some bad luck. This is the time of year when the good teams separate, and San Francisco has won four of five. The Niners are too good and too physical on both sides for this Falcons team.

  • WHERE: SoFi Stadium (Inglewood, Calif.)
  • WHEN: 4:25 p.m. ET | FOX
  • SPREAD: Rams -4.5 | O/U: 45.5

There is a craven thing we are doing as sports analysts lately, evaluating how significant the players are who hit COVID protocols in a given week. The Rams placed nine on their list Tuesday, including Odell Beckham Jr. and two of their top three safeties. They matter. Then again, the Los Angeles might get some key starters back who missed Monday night’s win over Arizona, including Jalen Ramsey. Russell Wilson looks like himself again, but I don’t trust this Seahawks defense against the Rams at anything close to full health. This score could change based on availability, so check back Sunday.

  • WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore)
  • WHEN: 4:25 p.m. ET | FOX
  • SPREAD: Ravens +5.5 | O/U: 43.5

Rolling with the Packers every week has been a recent boon to my ATS record above. The market has finally caught up to the team’s complete excellence, just as the floor dropped out of the Ravens. As recently as a month ago, Baltimore would have been favored by at least a field goal in this game. I like the Ravens to cover and possibly win this home game if Lamar Jackson plays. I have seen too many faulty Baltimore teams play their best just when all hope looks lost, often late in the season. The matchups on the outside are problematic for this Ravens secondary, but if Lamar plays, I think Joe and Troy are going to have a fun one.

  • WHERE: Raymond James Stadium (Tampa, Fla.)
  • WHEN: 8:20 p.m. ET | NBC
  • SPREAD: Saints +11 | O/U: 46.5

This pick tortured me throughout the week, trying to decide if the Bucs could cover this big a spread against their arch nemesis. Tom Brady is 0-3 vs. the Saints in the regular season as a member of the Bucs — and even his playoff triumph was more about Tampa Bay’s defense. New Orleans is close to broken offensively and a run-first approach rarely works against Todd Bowles, yet I still have some strange faith in this Saints secondary, which is the healthiest part of the team. If New Orleans’ injury report on offense doesn’t improve during the week, I could add a field goal to Tampa’s tally.

MONDAY, DEC. 20

  • WHERE: Soldier Field (Chicago)
  • WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET | ESPN
  • SPREAD: Vikings -4.5 | O/U: 44

Give Justin Fields the 2018 Bears defense, and this Chicago team would be spicy. But Khalil Mack’s season-ending injury last month has resulted in Chicago’s defense, so thin in the secondary, being ranked 26th in defensive efficiency, according to DVOA and EPA/play. The Vikings are coming off extra rest with a lot more firepower and will save their fans’ heartbreak for a later week when it hurts more.

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