Bet On It: NFL Week 15 predictions
Maurice Jones-Drew leads the NFL in rushing. (Cliff Welch/Icon SMI)
Last Week: 3-5; Season: 48-61-3
Fear not, NFL fans: After this week just one more crummy Thursday night matchup awaits on this season's schedule. Of course, it's a Week 16, uh, "showdown" between AFC top seed Houston and currently-winless Indianapolis, so the midweek slate might not go out with a bang.
This week's Jacksonville-Atlanta matchup may not be the sexiest start to an NFL week, either. But with the Falcons fighting for a playoff spot, at least it carries some level of importance.
There's also a Saturday night affair on the Week 15 calendar -- Dallas at Tampa Bay -- a nice prep for next weekend, when the NFL moves all but one Sunday game to Saturday to sidestep Christmas day.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Week 15 will be a big one as the playoff race heats up. Here's what you can expect to see:
• Maurice Jones-Drew and Michael Turner will combine for 250 or more total yards
We already took a look this week at how Jones-Drew is thriving, in spite of Blaine Gabbert's struggles in Jacksonville. Atlanta brings the fifth-ranked rush defense into Thursday night's game, but MJD has shown he can run against anyone -- he put up 105 yards vs. Baltimore (No. 2 rush D) and has averaged 81 yards in two games vs. Houston (No. 4 rush D).
Turner, meanwhile, could see a lot of action if this game goes according to plan -- i.e. if Atlanta jumps out to an early lead and puts it in cruise control. Thursday night's game may not be pretty, but the two running backs featured could put up big numbers.
• Tony Romo will throw at least three touchdown passes
Dallas' postseason hopes are teetering a bit after last week's loss to the Giants, but a Saturday night trip to Tampa Bay might provide a boost. If nothing else, the Cowboys' offense should find plenty of room against a terrible Buccaneers defense. Tampa Bay coughed up 41 points to the Jags last week and ranks in the bottom six in both yards rushing and yards passing allowed. Look for Romo to take advantage, especially with DeMarco Murray sidelined.
• Rex Grossman will be sacked at least four times
As far as matchups go, New York's D-line against Washington's depleted offensive line looks like it's advantage: Giants. The Redskins will be without starting left tackle Trent Williams for the rest of the season due to a suspension, and they lost right tackle Jammal Brown to a groin injury during warm-ups last week.
And you do not want to be on your backup OTs when facing Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul. Washington's line held up well against the Patriots in Week 14, allowing just two sacks. Double that number (and maybe then some) in Week 15.
• Kyle Orton will throw at least two TDs ... and at least two interceptions
Orton has a start against Green Bay under his belt already this year -- he was Denver's QB for a 49-23 loss at Lambeau in Week 4. Orton did throw for 273 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in that game. Green Bay's defense continues to be susceptible to passing attacks, but also remains one of the league's most opportune groups. Orton will have to air it out plenty, a strategy that will bring mixed results.
• Ndamukong Suh will pick up at least one 15-yard penalty
Suh wasn't exactly open and apologetic when he met with the media Wednesday upon his return to practice. And while we won't know for sure what kind of impact his suspension had on his playing style, Suh returning to the field against Oakland sets the table for some fireworks. The Lions and Raiders are the two most-penalized teams in the league. Add in the refs keeping an eye out for Suh, and the Lions' DT overeager to show that he's back, and you've got a powder keg ready to blow.
• Tim Tebow will throw (yes, throw) for 250-plus yards
Don't look now, but Tebow has averaged 219 yards through the air over the past two weeks. He gets the benefit Sunday of going up against a New England defense that is absolutely horrid -- last in the league -- against the pass.
You can better believe Bill Belichick and his staff will come up with some way to limit Tebow on the ground and fluster him when he drops back, but that doesn't mean the Patriots will be able to cover anyone downfield. Tom Brady putting up some points early would just force Tebow to air it out more.
You don't normally expect a high-scoring affair when Baltimore's involved, but Philip Rivers has found a bit of a groove and has his full complement of receivers to work with. However, on the other side of the ball, San Diego has had trouble getting to opposing quarterbacks. That means Joe Flacco should have some time to settle in the pocket and let his receivers get downfield. Smith has become Baltimore's best deep threat.
• Alex Smith will commit at least two turnovers
One of the biggest improvements in Smith's game has been his ability to take care of the ball this season -- he has just seven turnovers on the year. But he had a miserable game at Baltimore three weeks ago and seemed unsteady in an upset loss to Arizona last Sunday. With or without James Harrison, the Steelers should be able to limit what Frank Gore and the 49ers' ground game can do, meaning Smith may have to pass San Francisco to points. Going up against Pittsburgh's creative blitz packages, Smith will have his hands full.