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Banks' Week 15 NFL Picks

I’ve always loved when the NFL takes over Saturdays in mid-December, the week after the Army-Navy game represents the last regular-season action of the college football schedule. When I was growing up, the NFL played a Saturday double-header on the final two weekends of the season, and both matchups were day games, so you could kill your whole afternoon on the couch or catch bits of each game while you were running around doing your Christmas shopping in some mall or department store. The sight of seeing the same game splashed simultaneously on 37 different color TV screens in the electronics section of Sears or JCPenney always blew your mind when you were a kid.

Though in my memory it seems like the Jets or Giants were always playing at home on a freezing cold Saturday afternoon, I distinctly recall watching the 1972 Dolphins wrap up their 14-0 perfect regular season by shutting out the Colts 16-0 in Miami’s Orange Bowl on a Saturday. Another Saturday memory that lingers: Terry Bradshaw’s last start in the NFL in Week 15 of 1983 at the Jets, in a 34-7 Steelers rout that doubled as the final NFL game in windy old Shea Stadium’s history. New York would move to New Jersey and start sharing Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands in 1984.

More recently, the last game in Texas Stadium’s life span came on a Saturday night in 2008, when Baltimore went into Irving, Tex., and ruined the Cowboys’ lavish farewell party, 33-24, in Week 16. But it was Dallas that had a little bit of Saturday night fun in Week 15 of 2009, when the Cowboys stormed into New Orleans and became the first team to beat the 13-0 and eventual Super Bowl champion Saints that season, the first of New Orleans’ three straight losses to end the regular season.

Thankfully Saturday NFL football is back, and wouldn't you know it, the Jets are playing at home again.

Last week: 10-6 (.625); Season: 129–77 (.626)

Thursday Night

Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) at Kansas City (11-2)

We get the game of the week, right off the bat in the final Thursday nighter of the season. Everyone rightly noted that the Chiefs took a huge step toward securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC by escaping at home against Baltimore in overtime last Sunday. But first they have to win the AFC West, or otherwise they’re staring at the sobering prospect of entering the playoffs as the No. 5 seed. Both teams have injuries to some key playmakers on offense, and I’m dubious about how much Tyreek Hill can do if he plays on his sore heel. This is a huge statement game for the Chargers, who have lost nine in a row to Kansas City and needs to get over that hurdle in order to be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender. Even with a loss the Chiefs would still hold the tie-breaking edge over Los Angeles for the division lead with two games remaining, but Andy Reid’s resourceful team will again find a way to win late and clinch its third consecutive AFC West title.

Winner: Kansas City

Saturday

Houston (9-4) at New York Jets (4-9)

The nine-game winning streak is over for the Texans, but they’re still comfortably in command in the AFC South. Houston’s defense will confound Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and deliver the franchise’s first double-digit win season since 2012, and only its third overall.

Winner: Houston

Cleveland (5-7-1) at Denver (6-7)

The Browns are playing well enough under interim head coach Gregg Williams that it wouldn’t register as a shock to see Baker Mayfield outplay Case Keenum and produce the upset. But Cleveland is just 1-5 on the road and Denver should be able to regroup after a bad loss at San Francisco and use the home-field advantage to scratch its way back to .500.

Winner: Denver

Sunday

Arizona (3-10) at Atlanta (4-9)

So all five first-round rookie quarterbacks who were drafted in April are now starting, and of the group, I have less of a feel for the Cardinals’ Josh Rosen than any of them. I still think he’ll be a quality NFL passer, but it’s hard to fairly judge his first season given the unsightly mess this season has been in Arizona.

Winner: Atlanta

Detroit (5-8) at Buffalo (4-9)

One of several Going Nowhere Bowls on the Week 15 schedule, the Lions and Bills have both won two in a row only once each this season. That trend will hold, because Detroit knocked off Arizona on the road last week, meaning Matt Patricia’s club is due a loss this week in Buffalo.

Winner: Buffalo

Green Bay (5-7-1) at Chicago (9-4)

Chicago’s defense looked great against the Rams last Sunday night and everyone is singing its praises. But then again, Vic Fangio’s guys gave up 30 points to the Giants the week before, so let’s temper the comparisons to the 1985 Bears for now. The Packers are playing looser in the post-Mike McCarthy era and Aaron Rodgers loves to beat him some Bears, but not this time, No. 12. This time, unlike in Week 1 in Lambeau Field, Chicago will finish the deal.

Winner: Chicago

Oakland (3-10) at Cincinnati (5-8)

I say Reggie McKenzie is the lucky one. Getting out of Oakland is all the rage these days, and the just-fired Raiders general manager leaves with his good reputation intact. It’s all on Jon Gruden now in Oakland, and good luck with that. The Bengals will do just enough on offense to snap their ugly five-game losing streak.

Winner: Cincinnati

Dallas (8-5) at Indianapolis (7-6)

As well as the Cowboys are clicking, I’m not picking against Andrew Luck and the Colts at home. Dallas can afford to see its five-game winning streak ended and still win the NFC East in the coming two weeks. Indianapolis is fighting for its wild-card life and has to have this game after slipping up two weeks ago and laying an egg in Jacksonville.

Winner: Indianapolis

Tennessee (7-6) at New York Giants (5-8)

Tough game to predict, but the Giants are on the upswing while the Titans still are capable of wild, week-to-week swings of momentum. This is Tennessee’s final road game of the season and if the Titans win it, they have a real shot of running the table and making the playoffs. But I keep coming back to Tennessee’s 2-5 road record, and that sends me in the Giants’ direction.

Winner: New York

Miami (7-6) at Minnesota (6-6-1)

While the Vikings gasp for air and cling tenuously to the NFC’s No. 6 seed, the Dolphins own the No. 8 seed in the AFC race and are still riding the high of last week’s miracle finish against New England. The Vikings had a miracle of their own in last year’s playoffs against the Saints, but if you think about it, nothing much has gone right for them since. Minnesota fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo this week, and I expect the Vikings to prioritize the run against Miami. But in the end, it’ll come down to Kirk Cousins needing to make big throws to win the game, and this time he’ll come through.

Winner: Minnesota

Tampa Bay (5-8) at Baltimore (7-6)

If the Ravens bring the same intensity and execution to this game that almost got the job done last week in Kansas City, Baltimore should win comfortably and perhaps even find itself in first place in the AFC North by day’s end. But the Lamar Jackson ankle injury throws a little intrigue into the equation, and it could necessitate Joe Flacco’s return to the field at some point. The Bucs would love to play spoiler, but they don’t have enough on defense to shut down the Ravens’ potent running game.

Winner: Baltimore

Washington (6-7) at Jacksonville (4-9)

In Week 15’s worst game, it’s Josh Johnson and Cody Kessler at quarterback and if you decide to devote three hours of your life to this meaningless matchup, seek immediate medical attention and maybe even counseling.

Winner: Jacksonville

Seattle (8-5) at San Francisco (3-10)

The Seahawks could give this game away and very likely still make the playoffs, that’s how big Monday night’s conquest of Minnesota was in the grand scheme of things. But the Seahawks just manhandled the visiting 49ers two weeks ago in Seattle, and while this game will be much closer in Santa Clara, the venue won’t alter the outcome.

Winner: Seattle

New England (9-4) at Pittsburgh (7-5-1)

By the time the Steelers take the field before a restless and frustrated home crowd at Heinz Field, they should know if Baltimore won or lost at home against the Bucs and whether a victory is necessary to remain in first place in the AFC North. Pittsburgh is an embarrassing 3-11 against the Patriots in the Belichick-Brady era, and only 2-6 at home. New England will be motivated by the gut punch of last week’s unfathomable loss to Miami, and that figures to be bad news for a floundering Pittsburgh team that has again lost its way in 2018.

Winner: New England

Philadelphia (6-7) at Los Angeles Rams (11-2)

With the news Carson Wentz is experiencing back issues and likely won’t play against the Rams, it’s looking like a lost season all around for the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles. Wentz clearly hasn’t been completely right this season coming off the torn ACL/LCL he suffered a year ago in a win over the Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum, and now there may not be anything left for him to play for in 2018. After two sloppy offensive showings in a row, the Rams need a confidence-boosting performance against Philadelphia’s injury-depleted defense. Nick Foles gets the start for the Eagles, but he won’t have his Super Bowl magic this time.

Winner: Los Angeles

Monday Night

New Orleans (11-2) at Carolina (6-7)

The Saints snapped out of their offensive funk in the second half at Tampa Bay last week, and with a win in Charlotte they may not have to leave the Superdome again until it’s time to pack off to Atlanta for the Super Bowl. The Panthers are capable of defending their home turf, but we just haven’t seen any sign for a while now of the Carolina team that started 6-2 and looked capable of making some noise in January. Cam Newton hasn’t been enough of a difference maker for Ron Rivera’s team in the season’s second half, and the Saints are going to reach 12 wins for the first time since 2011.

Winner: New Orleans

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