Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah: NFL Week 15 Preview – Bettor’s Guide
ATLANTA — December is a time of miracles. Jews celebrate Hanukkah, where oil meant for one day miraculously lasted for eight days. The other Hanukkah miracle involved surviving and defeating a much larger army. The Jews throughout their history have survived with military miracles that on paper looked impossible. For Christians, there is the Christmas miracle involving Jesus and the immaculate conception.
For leatherheads, December and January bring the improbable, the unexplainable, and the shocking. Football miracles do happen.
1972, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Oakland Raiders on a play that will forever be known as the Immaculate Reception.
1974, it was the Raiders who stunned the Miami Dolphins with the Sea of Hands catch.
1975, the Dallas Cowboys shocked the Minnesota Vikings when Roger Staubach completed a touchdown bomb to Drew Pearson with seconds remaining.
Staubach said that when he threw the ball, he closed his eyes and said a Hail Mary. The name for such touchdown bombs would forever bear this moniker.
1999, the Buffalo Bills kicked a field goal with 16 seconds remaining to take the lead over the Tennessee Titans.
Then came the kickoff, where a play known as Home Run Throwback resulted in a Tennessee touchdown with three seconds remaining. The Bills insisted that the play was illegal due to a forward pass, but officials deemed it a lateral. The touchdown stood, and the Music City Miracle is in the history books.
2017, the New Orleans Saints were clinging to a one-point lead over the Vikings. From their own 39, Minnesota had enough time for one play to get into a very long field goal range.
Yet when Kirk Cousins completed the pass to Stefan Diggs, he did not go out of bounds. Diggs bounced off the defender, maintained his balance, and raced for a 61-yard touchdown. Vikings Announcer Paul Allen deliriously lost his football mind as he tried to describe the Minneapolis Miracle.
“There are no flags on the field! We are on to Philadelphia and we’re bringing the purple rain!”
2018, The Dolphins trailed by five points against the New England Patriots.
From deep in their own territory, their only hope was to complete the hook and laterals that almost never works. This time it took only two laterals as Kenyan Drake weaved his way through and around the Patriots for the last 52 yards. Rob Gronkowski was the safety valve, but he stumbled and Drake raced past him for an improbable one-point Dolphins victory with no time on the clock.
2020, the Raiders were 13 seconds away from losing to the winless New York Jets.
From the Jets 46, Derek Carr went back to pass and say eight men rushing at him rather than three or four. The offensive line blocked all eight rushers. Carr stepped up in the pocket, avoided the pressure, and threw a perfect bomb to Henry Ruggs III. With five seconds left, the Raiders pulled out the win.
This is December and January. This is football. This is the season of miracles.
Every game is a potential miracle.
With that, here is the NFL 2020 Week 15 Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point, spreads provided by DraftKings and all times Eastern.
Thursday, December 17, 2020, 8:20 p.m
Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders (-3.5) —
The Raiders at 7-6 are clinging to playoff life while the Chargers are out. The only reason the Raiders have a winning record is that the Chargers dropped the winning touchdown pass in their previous matchup. The Raiders fired defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and elevated Rod Marinelli. Yet a ton of players on the Raiders defense is out injured including Jonathan Abram. Justin Herbert is for real, but Derek Carr will carry the team as he has for years. Raiders win but fail to cover.
Saturday, December 19, 2020, 4:30 p.m
Buffalo Bills (-6.5) at Denver Broncos —
The 10-3 Bills are coming off of an emotional win against Pittsburgh. The Broncos are eliminated. Josh Allen is playing well, but Denver’s defense has shown a ton of heart despite being decimated with injuries. A garbage touchdown to defeat the spread is plausible. Bills win but fail to cover.
Saturday, December 19, 2020, 8:00 p.m
Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers (-8.5) —
The 10-3 Packers have the inside track on the top spot in the NFC. The Panthers are just playing out the string. Aaron Rodgers is as focused as ever. This is a mismatch. Packers cover.
Sunday, December 20, 2020, 1:00 p.m
San Francisco 49ers (-1.5) at Dallas Cowboys —
These teams have played instant classics, but this will not be one of them. Neither team is going to the playoffs. Nick Mullens is playing better than Andy Dalton. The Cowboys have no defense. 49ers cover.
Seattle Seahawks (-4) at Washington Indians —
The 9-4 Seahawks are tied atop the NFC West. The 6-7 Non-Redskins have won four straight to lead the NFC Least. Alex Smith has a ton of heart, but Russell Wilson is at the top of his game. The Seahawks have better receivers. Washington has the better defense, making for a close game. The Seahawks win but fail to cover.
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (-3.5) —
Both teams are 6-7. The Bears finally snapped their six-game losing streak while the Vikings lost after winning five of their previous six. Kirk Cousins is better than Mitchell Trubisky, and the Vikings have better receivers and Dalvin Cook at running back. Trubisky has had some fourth-quarter heroics, but Chicago is a team in free fall. Vikings win but fail to cover.
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins (-2.5) —
The 6-7 Patriots have had 19 straight winning seasons, 17 straight playoff seasons, 11 straight AFC East championships, and 17 straight years winning or tied atop the AFC East. A loss here ends all of that. The 8-5 Dolphins have an outside shot at the AFC East. During the Patriots dynasty, they frequently struggled at Miami against some terrible Dolphins teams. Now that the Dolphins are good, expect them to finally finish off their tormentors. The Dolphins have a better defense. Dolphins cover.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens (-13) —
The 8-6 Ravens survived a 45-42 thriller at Cleveland. The Jaguars are 1-12. Lamar Jackson is back, making for a blowout. Jacksonville has been competitive in some of their losses, but Baltimore is in desperation mode to make the playoffs. Ravens cover.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-4) at Atlanta Falcons —
The 8-5 Buccaneers are still alive in the playoff picture. The Falcons are not. The Falcons have improved since Raheem Morris took over. The Buccaneers are an up and down team. Four years ago, Tom Brady led a Super Bowl comeback for the ages over Matt Ryan. This is the week Ryan gets a tiny measure of revenge. Upset special, Falcons win outright.
Detroit Lions at Tennessee Titans (-10.5) —
The 9-4 Titans have the inside track in the AFC South. The Lions are playing out the string. The Titans win with hard running by Derrick Henry and with defense. Matthew Stafford could easily throw a garbage touchdown to defeat this high spread. Titans cover.
Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts (-7) —
The 8-5 Colts have a good defense. Philip Rivers is still slinging it effectively. The Texans do not go down easy, but they do go down. Deshaun Watson does not have the weapons to win a shootout. Colts win but fail to cover.
Sunday, December 20, 2020, 4:00 p.m
Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals (-5.5) —
The 4-8 Eagles got a spark when Jalen Hurts replaced Carson Wentz. The 7-6 Cardinals snapped a three game losing streak to get back in the win column. Both teams are still alive, but only because the Eagles play in the NFC Least. Cardinals win but fail to cover.
New York Jets at Los Angeles Rams (-16.5) —
The 9-4 Rams are tied atop the NFC West. The Jets are three games from 0-16. While this could be the blowout everyone expects, the Rams might get bored at halftime. A garbage touchdown or a surprise early lead if the Rams come out flat would be enough to defeat this monster spread. Jets cover.
Kansas City Chiefs (-4) at New Orleans Saints —
This is why we watch football. The 12-1 Chiefs lead the AFC. The 10-3 Saints had their none game winning streak snapped last week to fall into a tie for the top spot in the NFC. The Saints do not have the tie-breaker. The Saints finally get pinball wizard Drew Brees back. Patrick Mahomes had three interceptions last week, but do not expect that two games in a row. Both teams have playmakers on offense. The Saints have the edge on defense. If Brees truly is healthy, expect him to come out firing. Upset special, Saints win outright.
Sunday, December 20, 2020, 8:00 p.m
Cleveland Browns (-3.5) at New York Giants —
The 9-4 Browns lost a 45-42 heart-breaker at home against Baltimore, while the Giants at 5-8 are only one game back in the NFC Least. The Browns have an outside shot at the AFC North title. Baker Mayfield is playing well. Daniel Jones is not. The Browns with Nick Chubb can run the ball. The Giants cannot. Browns cover.
Monday, December 21, 2020, 8:00 p.m
Pittsburgh Steelers (-12.5) at Cincinnati Bengals —
The Steelers started 11-0 but then lost two straight to fall one game back in the AFC. The Bengals are awful. If ever a team could right the ship, this is the week for Pittsburgh to do it. The Steelers will make it look easy in a game where a close win will be seen as a loss. Steelers cover.