James Scully went a solid 3-2 ATS last weekend to bring his season long record up to 31-34 ATS. He returns to bring you his best Week 15 NFL free picks during a decisive weekend that will be sure to clarify the playoff picture!
*ATS (Against the Spread) / SU (Straight Up)
* PK indicates pick
*home team in caps
Cleveland Browns +3 vs Denver Broncos (Saturday 8:20 p.m. ET)
Two teams going different directions and I like Cleveland (+3) to win straight up. With wins in three of the last four games (3-1 ATS as well), Browns enter on the upswing offensively and haven’t been eliminated from the final wildcard spot. We’re watching Baker Mayfield evolve into a top QB, with 893 yards passing and five TDs over the past three weeks. Ever since Hue Jackson was fired (Freddie Kitchens new offensive coordinator), Mayfield’s QB rating has gone from 27th (78.9) to fourth-best in the NFL (114.4).
The offensive line is playing better, allowing only one sack over the last four games, and quality RBs Chubb and Johnson are being utilized effectively as receivers. And don’t sleep on the Browns defense, which continues to rise in the defensive efficiency ratings (DVOA) under coordinator Gregg Williams and is now ranked the 10th best overall unit in the league. Cleveland’s improving in all areas presently.
Denver peaked during a recent three-game win streak but not the same team anymore. They’ve been ravaged by injuries in recent weeks and won’t be close to full-strength on Saturday. WR Emmanuel Sanders and top defensive back Chris Harris Jr. have been the biggest losses for the banged-up Broncos. WR Courtland Sutton left last week’s game after hurting his quadriceps and will try to play this week. CB Yiadom left last week’s game with a shoulder issue and the LB ranks have been thinned by injury as well.
Broncos have lost three of the last four home games and were lucky to get the lone win, with Pittsburgh dominating them offensively (outgained Denver 527-308) but losing after shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly. Case Keenum really stunk last week as the lowly 49ers outgained favored Denver 389-274 in an absolutely putrid performance and I have no faith in this struggling offense.
Denver 1-4-1 ATS in last six games when favored by at least a FG and bettors should avoid this sinking ship. I’m taking Cleveland!
Week 15 NFL Free Picks – Bet Cleveland +3 over New England!
Oakland Raiders +3 vs Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
Cincinnati (-3) pretty good in meaningless late-season games, finishing the last two seasons on a 2-0 ATS run after being eliminated from the playoffs. The 2018 season fell apart after opening 4-1 ATS, but Bengals appear to be trending in the proper direction again following a solid showing at L.A. Chargers in which they easily covered. I’m expecting a strong offensive performance against an opponent they’ve dominated at home (5-0 ATS).
The defense bottomed out nearing the midpoint of the schedule, necessitating the firing of first-year coordinator Teryl Austin, and Marvin Lewis (a former defensive coordinator) has finally returned a measure of respectability to the equation as the Bengals outgained the playoff-bound Chargers (295-288), recording a pair of sacks as they held Philip Rivers mostly in check and surrendered only 85 rushing yards.
Jeff Driskel represents an upgrade over the inept Andy Dalton and Bengals have a significant edge at running back, with Joe Mixon gaining 111 rushing yards last week and poised to deliver a big showing against the 31st-ranked run defense (Raiders allowing 144.5 rushing yards per game).
Oakland in hangover mode after a surprising win over Pittsburgh. Raiders followed their last two wins with double-digit drubbings on the road (Oakland has failed to cover six straight after a SU win) and this is the dreaded early time slot for West Coast teams. Cincinnati will prove too much for this rival in the final home game of the season, lay the points with the Bengals!
Week 15 NFL Free Picks – Bet Cincinnati -3 over Oakland!
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +7.5 vs Baltimore Ravens (Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
Teams like Chicago, Dallas and Baltimore (-7.5) are Super Bowl contenders because they’re so damn good defensively. The Ravens (7-6 SU) must continue to win to make the postseason and I fully expect them to take advantage against a Bucs teams in disarray behind an idiot QB.
Baltimore’s season turned around when Lamar Jackson replaced an injured Joe Flacco four games ago. An impotent run game underwent a remarkable transformation as the Ravens suddenly became the league’s best rushing team, piling up 910 rushing yards (227.5 yards per game) behind the exciting rookie. And Jackson showed more versatility than ever at Kansas City last week, throwing for 147 yards and a pair of TDs.
Tampa led New Orleans 14-3 before halftime last week when center Ryan Jensen got flagged for a personal foul penalty. Mindless Jameis Winston went over to Jensen on the bench to berate and embarrass his protector. You can imagine what happened next – Jensen let the juvenile nitwit have an earful while being held back – and this ridiculous situation killed the offense as the Bucs stopped moving the ball and were outscored 25-0 over the next two quarters.
I’m not going out on a limb by saying Tampa Bay has had enough of Winston’s lunacy and there’s no chance he’ll back with the team next year. And it’s unrealistic to expect the offense to show up with an optimal performance in this difficult environment. Can’t expect much of a defensive effort either from the 30th-ranked unit based on efficiency rankings (DVOA). Teams gash Tampa’s run defense (allowing 4.8 yards per carry) and that’s big trouble this weekend.
John Harbaugh has elected to stick with Jackson even though Flacco has been cleared to return this Sunday and the rookie is set to exploit a weak defense. Baltimore’s defense is good enough to hold a discombobulated opponent in check and this game should be over by halftime. Look for a big win by Baltimore!
Week 15 NFL Free Picks – Bet Baltimore -7.5 over Tampa Bay!
New England Patriots -2 vs Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET)
I expect Pittsburgh (+2) to bounce back against a Patriots team lacking the same swagger of past years.
Both teams exit tough road losses but Steelers desperate to save their season after dropping three consecutive games. Those losses really stung because they could’ve easily won all three games and Pittsburgh has suddenly fallen into a vulnerable position in the AFC North race. New England has the AFC East locked up and will remain in a viable position for a first-round bye regardless of what happens Sunday.
Ben Roethlisberger enjoying one of his best seasons statistically, averaging 325.1 passing yards per game with outstanding weapons, and should appreciate going up against a New England secondary that can’t stop good quarterbacks (Pats 23rd ranked vs the pass). RB James Connor could be back from an ankle injury and Steelers feature the fourth-highest scoring offense (28.2 points per). Pitt’s biggest issue in recent weeks has been self-inflicted mistakes (turnovers & penalties) that they can clean up.
New England (3-4 SU in away games) trying to avoid a losing road record for the first time since 2009 when they lost in first round of playoffs to Baltimore. Tom Brady still bringing it statistically but Patriots not the defensive presence we’ve grown been accustomed to, surrendering 189 rushing yards to Miami last week. When was the last time a Bill Belichick defense rated so low this late in the season (21st by defensive efficiency ratings)? Patriots pushed around as well in a recent road loss to Tennessee and New England trying to run the ball more to keep their aging defense off the field.
Pittsburgh will score early and often as Big Ben lights up a soft defense and Steelers have been strong against the run, with the sixth ranked rushing defense (allowing only 96 yards per game). Brady has been uneasy at times in the pocket behind a shaky offensive line and that’s a potential huge edge for Pittsburgh, who leads all teams with 45 sacks and will be highly-motivated to get after their 41-year-old nemesis. Steelers always a dangerous home dog and I think we’ll see their best on Sunday. Pittsburgh is the pick!
Week 15 NFL Free Picks – Bet Pittsburgh +2 over New England!
Miami Dolphins +7 vs Minnesota Vikings (Sunday 1 p.m. ET)
Miami (+7) playing their best football presently, gaining a huge boost of confidence with last week’s miracle win over New England, and poised to challenge a reeling Minnesota who has lost three of the last four games. I love getting the points in this scenario and won’t be surprised to see Miami pull off an upset.
At 7-6 SU, Dolphins can earn the final wildcard berth if they can find a way to win on the road. They’ve lost five straight away from home but I am encouraged by the last road tilt, a tough 27-24 setback in which they outplayed Indianapolis most of the way but lost late due to conservative play-calling. That kind of loss might negatively affect other teams, but Miami displayed enormous resiliency to narrowly win the last two home games. They return to the road this week with a renewed sense of purpose and an opportunistic defense (+8 turnover margin) is getting healthier.
Ryan Tannehill displayed a ton of moxie last week and Miami put up 189 rushing yards last week behind the dynamic 1-2 punch of Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake; look for more big plays from the improving Dolphins offense on Sunday.
Minnesota has been held under 300 yards in four of the last five games and after firing the offensive coordinator on Tuesday, they’ll be more than willing to grind out a close win with a simplified game plan relying heavily on the run and short passes. A proud defense took it on the chin last week giving up 214 rushing yards to Seattle. When laying a TD or more home, Vikings are 2-4-2 ATS in the last eight games and there’s no reason to believe this game will be anything but close.
Miami has struggled to stop the run (29th ranked allowing 4.8 yards per carry) but it’s easy to appreciate how they stepped up last week, holding New England to 77 yards on 30 carries (2.6-yard average). And they’re now facing one of the worst rushing teams. Minnesota’s offensive line has gone into the toilet and as a result, the run game has declined to 30th in the league (only 85.4 rushing yards per game) and they’ve surrendered multiple sacks in four straight games since the bye. Vikings 1-7 ATS in last eight games against a team with a winning record.
About a month ago, this game looked like an easy win for Minnesota but the landscape has changed drastically of late. I expect Miami to carry the momentum of last week’s big win forward, take the points!
Week 15 NFL Free Picks – Bet Miami +7 over Minnesota!
James Scully is a professional handicapper who hails from the great state of Ohio. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesScully.