Itching to watch an underdog try to overcome the odds or triumph against adversity? Simply looking to pass the time reading another NFL.com article while stuck in your cube? Nick Shook offers a bead on four us-against-the-world scenarios to track entering Week 15 of the 2022 NFL season. The order below is determined by confidence rankings, from No. 1 (most confident) to No. 4 (least confident).
It's getting late, folks, and some teams are reacting accordingly.
Just take a look at Detroit, winners of five of their last six games. The Lions ended up on the wrong side of my underdog picks last week, then, by virtue of a win over the Vikings, slapped a dunce cap on me.
The Browns did the same to me, although in opposite fashion, falling flat in a must-win game against a Bengals team they had dominated for most of the last three years. Speaking of falling flat, are the Jets really going to drop completely out of the playoff race in the final month of the regular season? What about the Dolphins? Do the Chargers have a chance to salvage their campaign? Did the 49ers just score again?
With the urgency level quickly climbing toward 11, it's finally time to figure out who are the true contenders in the 2022 season. Spoiler alert: I like the Lions' chances.
Here are the four underdogs I believe have the best chance of scoring upsets in Week 15.
The lines below provided by DraftKings were current as of 2:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Dec. 14 unless otherwise noted below.
- WHERE: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
- WHEN: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday | CBS
- SPREAD: Lions +1
I'm so happy I was wrong about the Lions last week. The title of NFL's hottest team belongs to the club in Detroit.
If not for one close loss to Buffalo on Thanksgiving, the Lions would be riding a six-game winning streak. They just made quite the entrance into the playoff picture, smashing through the cinderblock wall known as Minnesota to join the hunt. And I don't see any reason why Detroit won't continue this run of success.
New York is, in a word, reeling. The Jets have won just once in the last month, when they turned to Mike White (in place of former No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson) to get the job done against a banged-up Bears team. Since then, they've played entertaining but ultimately losing football, falling to Minnesota and Buffalo in consecutive weeks. I hate to play the opponent-comparison game when analyzing upcoming matchups, because football just isn't that simple. But the Lions' better showings against the Vikings and Bills suggest Detroit should win.
We haven't even begun to discuss why the Lions are succeeding. They turned around a terrible defense, and quarterback Jared Goff is playing the best football of his career -- to the extent that the narrative regarding Detroit's future is beginning to include Goff as a centerpiece. Rookie receiver Jameson Williams made his NFL debut last weekend, and his first career reception went for a touchdown. That's how good things are for Detroit right now. With the Jets sliding to last place in the rugged AFC East, this is a terrible time for Robert Saleh's squad to run into the Lions. (I truly can't believe I just wrote that.)
Let's keep the Honolulu Blue train rolling. Detroit is going to win another one this weekend and move to .500 with three games left, an outcome no one can truly say they ever saw coming.
- WHERE: Highmark Stadium (Orchard Park, N.Y.)
- WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET on Saturday | NFL Network
- SPREAD: Dolphins +7
The first meeting between these two teams was a doozy. How, then, can the Bills be a touchdown favorite?
Well, the Dolphins have hit some serious speed bumps in the past two weeks. Tua Tagovailoa has displayed accuracy issues, while Mike McDaniel's offense has cooled, following four straight games of 30-plus points with a pair of 17-point efforts. That total made sense against San Francisco's top-ranked defense in Week 13, but there's little reason to fall short of 20 points against the Chargers' bottom-third defense.
So, what's the issue in Miami? Well, injuries to tackles Terron Armstead and Austin Jackson (the latter is now on injured reserve) didn't help. Nor did the (undoubtedly related) disappearance of a running game that was just starting to look strong enough to potentially turn the Dolphins into a Super Bowl contender. But despite all of this negativity, there's something about a rivalry rematch that makes me think recent results are going to land by the wayside.
Back in Week 3, Miami so frustrated the Bills that offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey went viral for slamming the table in the coaches' booth repeatedly at the end of the game. Buffalo will be seeking revenge, no doubt, but the Dolphins also should have just enough desperation to even things out.
I don't necessarily guarantee Miami will win this game, but I certainly expect things to be close. And if the Dolphins are truly contenders, they'll find a way to get the job done, sending a much-needed statement to the rest of the AFC. If not, well, I'll be wrong, which certainly wouldn't be the first time that's happened in this space this season.
- WHERE: FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)
- WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET on Saturday | NFL Network
- SPREAD: Ravens +3
I picked the Browns as an underdog last week because of their recent run of dominance over the Bengals. They failed me. I won't make the same mistake twice.
Having said that, this game could get strange. Because of injuries to both Lamar Jackson and backup Tyler Huntley, Baltimore might be forced to roll with third-stringer Anthony Brown at quarterback. The Oregon product's performance in relief of Huntley against the Steelers last week wasn't exactly encouraging (3 of 5 passes for 16 yards). The Ravens won, though, relying on an inspired showing from running back J.K. Dobbins in his return from injury. And if Cleveland has proven anything this season defensively, it's that it struggles against most rushing attacks.
The Browns also can't seem to get out of their own way. Last week, penalties essentially gifted the Bengals their first touchdown, and Cleveland's odd play-calling decisions in key moments (e.g., substituting Jacoby Brissett for Deshaun Watson and heaving a bomb that fell incomplete on fourth-and-1) cost the team much-needed points. Against Baltimore, that simply won't work, even if the Ravens have to proceed with Brown.
This one isn't that complicated. No, I'm not supremely confident in the Ravens right now, at least not offensively. They were struggling to score before they lost Jackson and Huntley. But I'm even less confident in the Browns, whose Week 14 loss all but extinguished their very slight playoff chances, leaving only Watson's acclimation process as the main reason to watch them in the final month of the season. I'm not convinced they'll be able to protect their turf against a division rival -- especially not one embroiled in a battle for the AFC North.
- WHERE: TIAA Bank Field (Jacksonville, Fla.)
- WHEN: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday | FOX
- SPREAD: Jaguars +4
The Jaguars had plenty of reasons to go to Nashville and lay down last week, starting with the fact they were steamrolled by the Lions the week prior and continuing with the two quick Tennessee touchdowns that put Jacksonville in an early 14-7 hole. Instead, the Jags fought back with a vengeance, blasting the AFC South-leading Titans with a second-half flurry that restored my confidence in the Jaguars, at least for a week.
That same confidence makes me think they might have a shot in this game.
Look, Dallas is clearly an excellent team. But the Cowboys got caught sleeping against Houston in Week 14, and it nearly cost them against the worst team in the NFL. I'd expect Dallas to be more attentive this week, especially facing a Jaguars squad that has proven it can light up the scoreboard on the right day -- just ask Baltimore.
The Jaguars' recent success has everything to do with Trevor Lawrence, who posted a perfect 10:0 TD-to-INT ratio in Weeks 9-14. It's no surprise that Jacksonville won three of five in that span. Dallas' fifth-ranked defense presents a tough test, especially through the air, where the Cowboys stand as the NFL's No. 2 unit. Jacksonville ranks 10th in passing offense. On paper, Dallas wins this battle of strengths.
But this has been an off-kilter season, reaching peak oddness on Sunday night, when Tyreek Hill scored the strangest touchdown we might ever see. Houston nearly upset Dallas in Week 14 behind Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel, with the help of three takeaways. Lawrence and the Jaguars are better than that duo, and the Jags have home-field advantage. So let's keep it weird and give them the nod here!
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