Week 15 predictions: Dolphins drop Patriots; Lions rebound

The Week 15 picks are in, with a dash of hope that this week will match the excitement of a wintry Week 14.

While snow makes any game fun, the drama surrounding Robert Griffin III certainly makes Redskins-Falcons worth keeping tabs on, to say the least. Bears-Browns is interesting, given how Chicago played versus Dallas, and given the fact the Bears are in position to possibly steal the NFC North two weeks after everyone thought they were out of it. On the subject of the Browns ...

Yeah, J.J., that was a heckuva tough call in that situation. Any time a defender commits a penalty to lose a game -- whether it's a controversial call or not -- he's going to feel horrible. We feel horrible when offenses aren't forced to earn points.

I'm with Rhino on this deal. The Oilers' unis might have been the best the NFL had to offer, too. The Titans -- and especially the Texans -- can't hold a candle to that oil derrick on the side of the helmet. Hopefully you watched "Houston '93: A Football Life." If not, check out this piece on Houston '79 and how that team changed the course of NFL history.

As for the course of this piece, it's time for the picks, including Houston's chances at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday. Per the usual, feel free to share your thoughts ... @Harrison_NFL is the place.

Now, let's get to it.

Elliot Harrison went 14-2 on his predictions for Week 14, giving him a record of 129-79 so far this season. How will he fare in Week 15? His picks are below, with home teams listed second. To make your own predictions on this week's games, click here.

Mike Shanahan: "Does anyone have any questions on the game?"

 *Yes, Mike, we do. How did the blowout loss to the Chiefs further affect your opinion on Robert Griffin III and your future?* 

Sorry, we digress.

Expecting a bounce-back effort from the Redskins behind Kirk Cousins, though they'll still fall on the road, where they've been terrible. Matt Ryan will take advantage of a porous Washington secondary that's allowing opposing quarterbacks to post a 101.2 passer rating. It might seem like the Falcons' offense is awful, but that's not really the case; the unit still ranks in the top half of the league and generally plays better at home. One thing that's killing Washington: field position. The Redskins' opponents begin their drives, on average, at the 32.1 yard line -- that's the biggest head start in the league. To put it another way, Washington ranks last in opponent field position. You get the point. Are you confused? #WASvsATL

I originally had the Browns winning on the strength of being at home, then switched to the Bears, who desperately need this one. Before I change my mind again, let me have your take (@Harrison_NFL).

I trust Chicago's passing game more than Cleveland's -- though the Browns' secondary is superior -- because you never know what you're going to get with the Brandon Weeden-Jason Campbell combo. Campbell was great last week against the Patriots (391 yards, three touchdowns) and effective against the Chiefs in Week 8 (293 yards, two scores), but not so much in Week 11, when he threw three picks and was sacked four times in the Jungle. (Does anyone call Paul Brown Stadium that anymore?) Look for Jay Cutler to attack with Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett, circumventing Joe Haden altogether. We should say the decision to go with Cutler is a bit surprising, given backup Josh McCown's performance Monday against the Cowboys -- and the fact that his passer rating of 109.8 ranks third in the NFL. #CHIvsCLE

Interim Texans coach Wade Phillips recently talked about being up to his rear in alligators. Well, what was it that Jimmy Johnson said? "You swim forward and punch that alligator in the mouth!" OK, maybe it didn't quite go like that. Problem is, if you're the Texans, with what -- or whom -- are you going to do your punching? Matt Schaub, who seems to enjoy punching himself in the gut? How about Case Keenum, whose confidence hopefully wasn't shot when he was benched for Schaub? Ben Tate, who was mysteriously not on the field in several situations in the second half last week, has to take this one over. We think Andrew Luck is going to face a lot of pressure -- and take off in response. That doesn't bode well for Houston. In the nine prior games after losses over his brief NFL career, Luck has six rushing touchdowns. #HOUvsIND

It's Odd-Score Sunday ... and we're making an odd prediction. There will be three safeties in the NFL this weekend, and Jacksonville will get one early in what should be a closely fought contest. Here's why this one will be tight: The Bills have a lot more talent than you think and, despite their poor play recently, can use their backs to run on the Jaguars -- provided EJ Manuel protects the football. The key for Jacksonville is Chad Henne, who must use his legs to escape the top pass rush in the NFL in the terms of sacks (Buffalo has a league-leading 44). The veteran QB scampered quite a bit in the emotional win last week over Houston. His mobility was the difference on a handful of plays and, frankly, it caught us by surprise. #CHIII #BUFvsJAX

It's so easy to pick the Patriots over the Dolphins, but we're saying, "Not this time." When these AFC East foes last met, the Fins blew a 17-3 halftime lead. But that was in New England, with Rob Gronkowski playing and Miami still missing its mettle. Well, the mettle is there now. These guys are playing as a team, which might sound like a cliché, but we don't care. The Dolphins have won three of their last four under tricky circumstances. Ryan Tannehill isn't taking sacks like he had been earlier in the season (one in Week 13 and two last week), and the running game has posted 306 yards over the past two games. Give the offensive line a lot of credit for improving its play. The linebackers had better do the same, because Tom Brady has carved up opponents by throwing to his running backs. Shane Vereen is a difference-maker for the Pats through the air. #NEvsMIA

Jared Allen gets a safety while Blair Walsh hits from 55 and 58 yards out -- and the Vikings still fall. There was so much promise after Minnesota enjoyed two consecutive weeks of not losing, including a close victory over Chicago in Week 13. Then came Baltimore. Ugh. Now Adrian Peterson is hurt. Frankly, we don't feel the Vikes have the horses to keep up with the Eagles. We're thinking LeSean McCoy, who just went off for 217 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the snow, has another monster game -- but more of the "75 yards rushing, 70 yards receiving" variety. Nick Foles will take some shots at the Minnesota secondary, which hasn't played as poorly as advertised but can still relinquish big plays. ( Alshon Jeffery is on record as being a fan.) Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson keeps this game close with another kick return to the house. Mark it down. #PHIvsMIN

In keeping with Weird-Score Sunday, we present to you the above final from Seattle at Big Blue. This one might be closer than you expect, what with the Seahawks coming off an emotional win over New Orleans and a dogfight in the Bay Area. Now they're flying a team charter across the country in what figures to be bad weather. Let's hope the plane's better than this one. I think Seattle receiver Doug Baldwin will take on the role of Willie "Mays" Hayes by making a big play on the Giants' safeties in the center of the field. Jermaine Kearse has completed some very difficult catches for the Seahawks, as well. As for the Giants, they should pound Andre Brown 25 to 30 times to make Seattle's pass rush sloowwww down. Play some Parcells football and hope for the best. #SEAvsNYG

San Francisco keeps it going down in Tampa Bay this weekend, bottling up Bobby Rainey and the running game (the Niners' defense can play Eric Reid down in the box) and moving to 10-4. The Bucs can't afford another 9-of-25 performance from starter Mike Glennon. As for San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick can afford to play better, though he'll be facing a decent secondary that forced EJ Manuel to turn it over in Week 14. Kaepernick still misses some of the throws that the typical above-average NFL quarterback will make. He's received much credit for giving up just eight interceptions -- but bear in mind that he's 20th in the NFL in pass attempts. Kaepernick can still take off and run as well, obviously, yet the big huge lift in that department last Sunday came from some Frank Gore gains. The Bucs' front can be formidable against the rush -- so guess who's going to have to be a pinpoint passer? This should be a tight, relatively low-scoring contest. #SFvsTB

We could go with a score of 20-6 here, but we're thinking this is going to be a Charlie Hough Special -- a knuckleball of a game. You know Carolina will be fired up to take care of business at home after getting embarrassed in New Orleans. The Jets need to get off to a fast start to get Geno Smith going. Considering the Panthers have allowed all of 21 points in the first quarter of games all year, that will be a tough task. Smith won't be able to lean on his running game, either, as Carolina stops ground attacks better than any team in the NFL. Of course, the Jets' defense is right behind the Panthers in that category. This will be a slugfest. #NYJvsCAR

Kansas City has been a pretty solid road team this year, losing only in Denver thus far. The Chiefs also are fresh off one of their best performances of the season. It's not hard to see why they're 10-3, given that they don't give up the ball; Kansas City leads the league with a plus-15 turnover differential. The Raiders, meanwhile, are at minus-3. The Chiefs also have the best starting field position in the NFL, which takes some of the load off Alex Smith. Speaking of, that's precisely what the Raiders need to do for Matt McGloin: Take a load off, so that the Kansas City pass rush doesn't eat him alive. Oakland has been maddeningly inconsistent; we're not expecting the good Raiders to show up and steal this game. #KCvsOAK

Aaron Rodgers makes his triumphant return to the stadium in which he earned Super Bowl MVP honors ... but stays on the sideline. That day against the Steelers, Rodgers had easy pickins, throwing for 304 yards and three touchdowns. Of course, these Cowboys -- who have what is far and away the worst defense in the league -- make that 2010 Pittsburgh unit look like the Steel Curtain II. Dallas' safeties can't cover, the defensive line is comprised of injured guys and dudes hired straight out of Shakey's Pizza and the linebackers are always out of position -- and oh yeah, the safeties can't cover. Can Rodgers' on-again, off-again backup make the most of his opportunities against that unit? If Matt Flynn plays well, this could be Green Bay's game. But don't get us wrong: Tony Romo, who has been outstanding, can keep Dallas in it, as long as the line picks up blitzes and Terrance Williams fights for the ball when it counts. Romo also will have the advantage of facing the NFL's 25th-ranked run defense with a healthy and confident DeMarco Murray. And there's your difference in this all-important contest. #GBvsDAL

On the surface, this sure seems like a game in which the Rams could surprise a few folks -- though perhaps not the Saints. Remember back in 2011, when Drew Brees and Co. last fell to St. Louis? This defense has always made the New Orleans quarterback seem pedestrian. In fact, since joining the Saints, Brees has thrown as many interceptions as he has touchdown passes versus the Rams. His one start against them when he was with the Chargers was even worse. Thus, to neutralize the St. Louis pass rush -- which can get going at home -- Brees should look for Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas through the air. Thomas' 64 catches trail only Matt Forte and Danny Woodhead (65 apiece) among running backs. Frankly, New Orleans can afford to be patient, as the Rams' offense has looked punch drunk. Start the Saints' backs on your fantasy team if you need a flex. #NOvsSTL

The Cardinals are trying to hang on in the NFC wild-card race. The key here is that Arizona, which currently trails San Francisco and Carolina, hosts the 49ers in the regular-season finale and has already beaten the Panthers. Now, as far as this game is concerned, know that the Cardinals' defense has allowed the most targets, catches, yards and touchdowns to opposing tight ends this season -- and it's not even close. Hello, Delanie Walker, who has scored a touchdown for the Titans in three straight home games. We'd like to see Andre Ellington's touches increase; the Arizona rookie has 12.3 touches per game over his past four, with anywhere from 11 to 13 in each of them. That's consistency. Considering Ellington leads the NFL -- including quarterbacks -- in yards per carry at 5.8, he needs to get more run. He's gained 10-plus yards on 21.4 percent of his rushing attempts, tops in the league. #AZvsTEN

This will be a really great matchup, although it would've been more exciting if Pittsburgh had beaten the Dolphins on Sunday to stay in the AFC wild-card race. If you're looking for something like "Anderson v. Bradshaw" here, forget it. Consider this: The Bengals have not posted 300 passing yards in 23 straight meetings with their division rivals. The Steelers haven't fared much better, as they've gone 15 straight games in the series with 280 passing yards or less. Now, Cincinnati hasn't been able to rush for a touchdown at Heinz Field since 2007, topping 90 yards on the ground there just once in that same time span. Given the fact that Ben Roethlisberger has thrown multiple touchdown passes against Cincy just once since 2008, it's clear we're looking at a close, defensive struggle here. The Bengals, who have only given up one 400-yard offensive game all year, allow the fewest plays of 10-plus yards in the league. So I don't see Big Ben street-balling his way to victory. #CINvsPIT

Interesting ballgame we've got in Detroit on Monday night. It could go either way, as was true of the Bengals' trip to Ford Field in October. In that game, tight end Tyler Eifert scored a touchdown for Cincinnati -- the only TD by a TE that the Lions have allowed this season. Now, a lot of fans and league observers felt getting Dennis Pitta back would be big for Baltimore -- and he caught six balls for 48 yards and a touchdown in his season debut Sunday versus Minnesota. But the thought here is that the Ravens have to get the ground game -- which has been absolutely awful -- going. Detroit has received much credit for dominant play up front, but numbers can be deceiving. That defensive line hasn't gotten nearly enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and while the Lions have been solid versus the run, LeSean McCoy tore them up last week. Still, Baltimore is averaging less than 3 yards per carry, so that's not likely to be a huge concern here. The home team wins Monday night. #BALvsDET


Can't wait for this AFC West showdown in Denver, the last Thursday broadcast on NFL Network and NFL.com/Live of 2013. We've had a good time this season. Be sure to check out NFL.com/Live at game time, as we show "Thursday Night Football" from the All-22 Coaches Film view and three other angles. That should provide unique insight as to how Peyton Manning is seeing the field. Speaking of, last time out, the Chargers "held" the Broncos' offense to a mere 28 points -- and Manning to a paltry passer rating of 135.2. Yikes. Expect San Diego to full-out attack with backs Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, both of whom are playing very well. I expect 200 scrimmage yards from those two and a huge game from Keenan Allen -- two touchdowns and more than 100 yards. By the way, among all running backs, Woodhead has the most receiving yards (534) and touchdown catches (six) and is tied with Matt Forte for the lead in receptions (65). That signing has gone slightly better than the Robert Meachem deal. #SDvsDEN

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.

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