Shapiro's Week 15 NFL picks: Browns in flat spot against Giants
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, so it is no surprise, with three weeks left in the regular season, that Kansas City and Green Bay sit atop the conference standings.
The Chiefs have lost just once and hold a one-game lead in the AFC, behind the play of MVP frontrunner Patrick Mahomes, while the Packers and Aaron Rodgers are 10-3 and hold the tiebreaker over the Saints in the NFC.
How much fun would a Super Bowl I rematch be?
I had a solid Week 14. The Buccaneers overcame a slow start and got help from Minnesota kicker Dan Bailey, while the Cardinals defense stifled Daniel Jones in an easy Under hit. Unfortunately, my infatuation with the banged-up 49ers cost me a perfect Sunday.
On to Week 15, and I'm hoping for a big Sunday from the underdogs.
Cleveland Browns vs. New York Giants
The Browns have not made the playoffs since 2002, but with three games left, they have a clear path to a postseason berth, even after a last-second loss to Baltimore on Monday night.
There is a lot to like about Cleveland’s roster and how the Browns have played in 2020, but they are in a tough spot in Week 15, off of two emotional games.
Their upset victory in Tennessee marked one of their biggest wins in years and was followed by a roller-coaster loss to Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. Now they must travel to New York on short rest to take on the Giants.
If there was ever a letdown spot this is it.
The Giants are a desperate team coming off of a poor performance. They hold the tiebreaker against the Washington Football Team, but after their Week 14 loss to Arizona, the Giants sit a game behind Washington in the NFC East standings.
Head coach Joe Judge and his staff have done an outstanding job in his first season in New York. The Giants need more talent to get where they want to be, but they have improved immensely under the new regime. Expect a bounce-back performance at home, in a game they must have.
The Browns are definitely a better team than the Giants, but I do not see Cleveland being at its best in this spot, even though the Browns are in the playoff mix.
The New York defense will keep the Giants in it from start to finish.
Give me the points.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Sun, December 20 2020, 6:00 PM
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Coming off of their bye week, I expected a monster performance from the Buccaneers last Sunday at home against the Vikings, but once again, Bruce Arians' team underwhelmed.
They were able to win and cover, but they were fortunate, after yet another slow start. Tampa’s inability to take advantage of plus matchups on the outside was concerning and the poor kicking from Bailey was extremely fortunate.
The Bucs are likely to make the playoffs and have a winnable game in Week 15, but they need to play much better if they want to be a factor in the postseason.
The Falcons were out of the playoff picture early, but they have played hard and have been competitive since Raheem Morris took over for Dan Quinn after five straight losses to start the 2020 season.
Atlanta’s defense lacks playmakers and is still far from elite, but it has played much better since the coaching change.
The Falcons have won four of eight under Morris and battled twice with New Orleans, even though they came up short on the scoreboard.
I expect the “Dirty Birds” to once again be competitive Sunday, against a team they have defeated in six of their last 10 meetings.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals
Sun, December 20 2020, 9:05 PM
This year has not gone as planned for Philadelphia — to say the least.
The Eagles offensive line has been banged up since day one, their franchise quarterback has taken a massive step backward, and their defense has been average, at best.
With the season all but lost, head coach Doug Pederson turned to second-round draft pick Jalen Hurts for a Week 14 matchup against New Orleans. Hurts delivered, with a 24-21 upset win that gave the Eagles new life with three games to play.
They need to win out and get help, but they head cross-country to Arizona feeling good about themselves for the first time in months.
Arizona looked like a legitimate NFC West contender through the early part of the season, and the Cardinals are alive for a playoff berth in quarterback Kyler Murray’s second season, but they have lost three of their last four.
They showed grit in a road victory against the Giants on Sunday but still are not a team I want to lay nearly a touchdown with right now. The Cardinals are just 2-3 straight up as a favorite of 3.5-9.5 points this season and will face a team that rallied around its new quarterback a week ago.
Arizona should be able to get out with a victory, but I do not expect it to be easy.