- With their first-year signal-callers picking up momentum, the Browns and Bills are two of this weekend's best bets.
Wagering on rookie quarterbacks can feel precarious, but Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen have stepped their game up big time over the past few weeks. Here are your best bets for Week 15.
Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos (-3)
Sat. 12/15, 8:20 p.m. ET
Pick: Browns +3
Since firing Hue Jackson, the Browns have gone 3-2 both straight up and against the spread. Their only losses in that span were in games against the Chiefs and Texans, two of the best teams the AFC has to offer. Meanwhile, the Broncos were scorching hot heading into what seemed like an easy win over the 49ers in San Francisco last week. However, Denver ended up losing that game, and the team’s offense looked miserable in the process. Case Keenum was just 24 for 42 for 186 yards, and the Broncos rushed for only 103 yards on 27 carries. That’s a bad sign heading into this meeting with Cleveland, as the Browns have been clicking on offense as of late. Over the last four weeks, Baker Mayfield has thrown for nine touchdowns and only three picks. The team is averaging 29.7 points per game in its three wins in that span, and the Broncos defense is definitely vulnerable over the top. Denver has allowed 261.0 passing yards per game, and that was before the team lost star corner Chris Harris Jr. to injury. Overall, this looks like a game the Browns can win. At the very least, they should be able to keep it extremely close. — Zachary Cohen
Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons (-8.5)
Sun. 12/16, 1:00 p.m.
Pick: Falcons -8.5
The fact that Atlanta is nearly a 10-point favorite here despite having lost five straight games gives you an idea of the extremely low esteem in which oddsmakers hold Arizona. If you've taken the time to watch a Cardinals game this season (besides a baffling win over Green Bay), you'll likely share their assessment. Arizona is averaging a league-low 4.4 yards per play and hasn't seemed to improve in recent weeks, posting that same 4.4 YPP number over its last three games. Against a mediocre Detroit defense last week, rookie quarterback Josh Rosen and the Cards mustered only a field goal in a 17-3 defeat. It was their seventh double-digit defeat this season, and Rosen is dead last among NFL quarterbacks in yards per attempt (6.08).
The Falcons are in a bit of a tailspin right now, but this team is still clearly a cut above the listless Cardinals. Atlanta is eighth in the league in total offense (5.9 yards per play), and Matt Ryan has thrown for over 250 yards in all but one game this season. Despite losing to Green Bay last week, there were some signs of life from Atlanta, including the third-best game of the year for their rushing attack and four sacks of Aaron Rodgers by from an active pass rush. Atlanta is 7-0 against the spread in games versus the NFC West since the beginning of the 2016 season. The Falcons figure to extend that streak against a Cardinals team that hasn't played a game in the Eastern time zone all season—this one will kick off at 11:00 a.m. Glendale time. — Sam Chase
Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts (-3)
Sun. 12/16, 1:00 p.m.
Pick: Cowboys +3
Giving the Colts three points at home indicates that Vegas believes these teams are an even match. But while both teams’ midseason surges into playoff contention have been impressive, the Cowboys’ run augurs better than the Colts’ rise. Indianapolis has won six of its last seven games, but just two of those games were against teams with a winning record. And its one loss in that stretch was so concerning—6-0, at Jacksonville—that it can’t be ignored.
Andrew Luck’s renaissance rightly merits attention, but so does Dak Prescott’s play since the arrival of Amari Cooper. With a veritable receiving threat alongside him, Ezekiel Elliott hasn’t been asked to carry his team’s offense—yet after rushing for more than 100 yards in just three of Dallas’s first eight games, he’s eclipsed the century mark in four of its last five. At the same time, the Cowboys’ defense, which hasn’t surrendered more than 24 points in a game all season, has thrived. Just ask Drew Brees, whose explosive Saints were held to just 10 points in Big D, by a great D.
If you truly believe these teams are equal, why not take the points? But you probably won’t need them, as the Cowboys will show their superiority on the road and continue their searing streak of strong play. — Ed McGrogan
Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills (-2.5)
Sun. 12/16, 1:00 p.m.
Pick: Bills -2.5
Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has received plenty of media attention over the last month for his ability to pick up yards with his legs, but Jackson only has the second-most rushing yards by a rookie QB over the past three weeks. First in that category is none other than Buffalo's Josh Allen, who has amassed 335 yards on the ground over in that stretch. Allen's discovery of his own running ability has opened things up for him through the air, as well, as his 437 passing yards over the past couple weeks is the most he's had in a two-game stretch all season. After a historically bad start to the year, the Bills offense is averaging 5.8 yards per play over its last three games, the 11th-best mark in the league.
The Bills are now a complete team, with their defense quietly having been of the league's stiffest over the course of season. And with Detroit next on the schedule, the Buffalo D has a fun weekend ahead of it. The Lions are 27th in total offense over their last three games (287 YPG), and hit a new low with only 10 offensive points and 201 total yards in a 17-3 victory over three-win Arizona last weekend. After their 27-23 loss to the Jets this past Sunday, Buffalo is in a strong spot to win and cover against Detroit: Over the last 10 seasons, teams averaging between 14 and 18 points per game and coming off a game in which at least 50 total points were scored are 32-9 against the spread when playing a steam allowing between 23 and 27 points per game. This one opened as a pick 'em, so make sure to grab the Bills before they're favored by a full three points. — Scott Gramling