NFL gameday preview: Ravens at Lions, Patriots at Dolphins highlight week 15


Matt Stafford had a rough afternoon in the snow against the Eagles a week ago, but this Sunday weather will not be a factor when Detroit hosts Baltimore in a game pivotal for each team’s playoff fate. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)
December 13, 2013
TV Games
Ravens (7-6) at Lions (7-6)

Time (TV): 8:40 p.m. Monday. (ESPN).

Line: Detroit by 6.

Notable: A leopard can’t change its spots, and while these Lions would love a spot in the playoffs, they just can’t seem to shake the ineptitude that is the franchise’s eternal blemish. With the NFC North there for the taking, Detroit has lost three of its past four. Two of those losses came to teams (Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay) with a combined record of 9-17, and its most recent defeat involved blowing a 14-0 lead to the Eagles. How pervasive has the sense of been-there, choked-away-that gotten in Detroit? Wide receiver Nate Burleson told a local radio station that, while he was doing charity work this week, a homeless man told him, “Man, you guys are sorry. Same old Lions.” There may have been half a foot of snow at the game in Philly, but that is cold. This week’s opponent, the Ravens, are also reverting to franchise form, but in their case, it’s the form of a team that finds ways to regularly win games and make the playoffs.

Fantasy hot seat: To paraphrase (well, mangle) Mae West, Joe Flacco didn’t have a gun in his pocket, but whenever he had time in the pocket, boy, was he happy to see Dennis Pitta. The latter made his long-awaited return to the Ravens’ lineup and was immediately targeted 11 times, including once for a touchdown. Fantasy owners have made the playoffs with other TEs, but many are now plugging Pitta into their lineups.

Packers (6-6-1) at Cowboys (7-6)

Time (TV): 4:25 p.m. (Fox).

Line: Dallas by 7.

Notable: It is unclear whether Aaron Rodgers and his much-scrutinized collarbone will get on the field, but it may not matter if Rodgers plays, Matt Flynn plays or Brett Favre plays while wearing Wrangler jeans, because this Cowboys defense doesn’t look like it can stop anybody. Dallas has allowed five opponents to rack up at least 490 yards and 30 points; no other defense has more than two such efforts.

Fantasy hot seat: Apart from a one-yard touchdown plunge, it has been two straight poor fantasy outings by Eddie Lacy. Fortunately, the Dallas defense (have I mentioned yet how terrible it is?) promises to welcome Lacy with open arm tackles. With question marks aplenty at its quarterback position, Green Bay should want to lean on the run.

Jets (6-7) at Panthers (9-4)

Time (TV): 4:05 p.m. (CBS).

Line: Carolina by 11.

Notable: New York kept its postseason hopes on life support after beating Oakland at home, in the process justifying its decision not to pull the plug on Geno Smith’s season. But now Gang Green hits the road, where it is 1-5 so far, and really, anything better than abysmal would be an improvement for Smith, whose passer ratings over the Jets’ past three away games have been 4.1, 0.7 and 3.8.

Fantasy hot seat: Cam Newton’s six carries for 48 yards last week were the difference between a lousy fantasy performance (given his 160 yards passing for a single touchdown) and a serviceable one. But Cam, bubeleh, we’re looking for a little more than ‘serviceable’ this time of year. Fortunately, the Jets’ leaky pass defense is here to help with that.

Bengals (9-4) at Steelers (5-8)

Time (TV): 8:30 p.m. (NBC).

Line: Cincinnati by 2.

Notable: Cincinnati is well in front in the race for the AFC North title, but it now has some reasons to be concerned about its back end on defense. Terence Newman’s MCL sprain means that the Bengals will be without both of their first-string cornerbacks (Leon Hall was already out for the season) for at least this game. That gives 2012 first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick a chance to shine — or get shown up.

Fantasy hot seat: Those who invested in Le’Veon Bell, and then waited four weeks for him to actually play, have to be happy with his average of 21.2 touches per game. However, they might be a little touchy about the fact that Bell has scored just five touchdowns in the 10 games that he’s played, and only one in his past four contests.

Other games
Eagles (8-5) at Vikings (3-9-1)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Philadelphia by 4.5.

Notable: Well, we found out what it takes to cause Nick Foles to finally throw an interception: a blizzard. Of course, that’s apparently also what it takes for LeSean McCoy to set an Eagles record for rushing yards. Inclement weather hasn’t prevented Philly from becoming the league’s hottest team (five straight wins), but even that won’t be an issue in Minnesota’s dome.

Fantasy hot seat: Just pencil the Vikings’ starting running back here. Adrian Peterson wants to play, but an injured foot might not let him. So Peterson’s backup, Toby Gerhart, could get the nod, except that he has hamstring issues. Might wanna start stretching, third-stringer Matt Asiata.

Seahawks (11-2) at Giants (5-8)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Seattle by 7.

Notable: It could be very fitting that Seattle’s last road game of the regular season is at MetLife Stadium. If the Seahawks win and the 49ers lose, Seattle takes the division. Add in a Saints loss, and the ’Hawks stay at home throughout the NFC playoffs. And if they win out, well, I don’t have to tell you where the Super Bowl will be played, do I?

Fantasy hot seat: Who are you, and what have you done with Victor Cruz? This impostor in a Giants uniform is far from the big-play machine we’re used to seeing. This Cruz hasn’t scored a TD since Week 4, and his longest play since then went for a mere 30 yards.

Patriots (10-3) at Dolphins (7-6)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: New England by 2.5.

Notable: Hey, it’s the only other game this week (apart from Ravens-Lions) featuring two teams with winning records! Miami needs all the wins it can get, because while it has the same record as Baltimore, with whom it is tied for the final AFC playoff spot, it has a loss to the Ravens. The Pats have a big loss, too — Rob Gronkowski.

Fantasy hot seat: We saw how Tom Brady fared without Gronk, and it was kind of ugly (as ugly as things get for the Pretty Boy, anyway). During Weeks 1 through 6, before Gronk made his all-too-brief return, the Pats QB averaged 246.7 yards and 1.3 touchdowns through the air.

49ers (9-4) at Bucs (4-9)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: San Francisco by 5.5.

Notable: San Francisco scored a huge victory last week over Seattle, but now it must travel across the country to play an early game against a team that has won four of its past five. In other words, the Niners need to focus on the task at hand. Or just hope for an Arizona loss, which would be almost as helpful to their cause.

Fantasy hot seat: In his handful of starts for the Bucs, Bobby Rainey has established a not-so-mysterious pattern: do well against poor defenses and poorly against good defenses. Unfortunately for Rainey and his owners, he gets another good D this week.

Bears (7-6) at Browns (4-9)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Chicago by 1.

Notable: If you play for the Bears, you might get popped (on, say, a pass over the middle). Or you might get pooped (after going into overtime against the Vikings). But apparently, you won’t get Pipped. At least that seems to be the case for Jay Cutler, who has been outplayed by his backup, Josh McCown, but is getting his job back, anyway.

Fantasy hot seat: Josh Gordon’s seat is hot only because he sat in it. In fact, anything Gordon touches becomes hot; that’s just how lava-like he is. This kid — he’s only 22 — just set an NFL record for most yards receiving (774) over any four-game span. Uh oh, now that record is hot!

Texans (2-11) at Colts (8-5)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Indianapolis by 5.5.

Notable: In the wake of Gary Kubiak’s dismissal, Houston will have an interim head coach, albeit one with a lot of experience. Wade Phillips has been head coach of three teams, but this will also be his third stint as an interim coach, so he has all sorts of experience at that. For what it’s worth, Phillips is 79-57 as a full-timer, 3-4 as the interim guy.

Fantasy hot seat: After a string of blah outings, Andrew Luck finally went off last week, just in time for the fantasy playoffs. But Luck’s four-score day, his first multiple-TD game since Week 9, was the product of a huge deficit against Cincinnati. Will he need to do much today?

Bills (4-9) at Jaguars (4-9)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Buffalo by 2.

Notable: Buffalo spent the week as the favorite in this matchup, which seemed odd, considering that not only do both teams have the same record and the Bills will be the visitor, but also that Jacksonville has been much hotter of late. While the Bills have lost five of their past six, the Jags have won four of their past five.

Fantasy hot seat: Is anyone starting C.J. Spiller? That would mean that he or she had actually survived the first-round fantasy pick’s disaster of a campaign to even make it this far. So I guess you just go with whatever’s been working. It does appear to be a good matchup.

Chiefs (10-3) at Raiders (4-9)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Kansas City by 4.5.

Notable: Last week, the Chiefs looked so strong that the coach of the opposing squad decided to let his QB take the rest of the year off rather than let him face teams that scary again. This week, K.C. gets a foe that is in the midst of its 11th consecutive losing season, but has played teams close recently, and might at least put up a fight.

Fantasy hot seat: Rashad Jennings is back, and folks who picked up Marcel Reece couldn’t be less happy about it. Jennings has played fairly well; however, in his absence, Reece went off against the Jets’ tough run defense, but Reece likely will have a return to the bench to show for it.

Cardinals (8-5) at Titans (5-8)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Arizona by 2.5.

Notable: There are a lot of older people in the Phoenix area, so Carson Palmer and John Abraham could fit right in, except that most of those other graybeards aren’t excelling in the NFL. Palmer (33) has a 106.8 rating in past six games, while Abraham (35) has 11 sacks on the season and was just named the NFC defensive player of the week.

Fantasy hot seat: Reportedly, the Titans will release Chris Johnson in the offseason, but in the meantime, they have little choice but to play him. Hey, sounds a lot like Johnson’s fantasy owners! Many of them can only hope Johnson does something — anything — against the stingy Cards.

Saints (10-3) at Rams (5-8)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: New Orleans by 5.5.

Notable: New Orleans has plenty of reasons to feel good about itself, but it’ll feel even better if it can play a road game as well as it does at home. In the Superdome, the Saints are 7-0 and average 32.9 points per game. Elsewhere, the team is 3-3 and averaging 18.8 points. For its part, St. Louis is hoping exciting, but injured, rookie Tavon Austin feels better.

Fantasy hot seat: The Saints are a popular streaming option on defense this week. The unit has the second-most sacks in the league (43) and a date with Kellen Clemens. What New Orleans doesn’t have are many interceptions (10) or any defensive TDs at all, so this would be a great time to get pick-six No. 1.

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