Oakland Raiders vs Cincinnati Bengals

The dog days of December are upon us.

Oakland Raiders AT Cincinnati Bengals
Sun, Dec 16, 2018 NFL GameTrax – Regular Season – Week 15
Paul Brown Stadium – Cincinnati, Ohio

In a stark contrast to the glory years of 2011-2015, Bengals fans are once again becoming re-accustomed to the team sitting at home with the arrival of a new calendar year. Reasons (excuses?) abound as everyone is staring the third straight non-winning season in the face.

Cincinnati’s future beyond the next three weeks is cloudy. Marvin Lewis is technically under contract for another year if the team chooses to bring him back, while their “franchise quarterback” has seen his season cut short with a familiar injury for the second time in four years.

The Bengals are in an abysmal 1-7 stretch since starting the season 4-1, and “Do your job” just isn’t cutting it. Throw in the All-Star receiver having a season-ending injury twice in three seasons to the whole mess and the haters are coming out of the woodwork.

But, wait…what’s that?

Believe it or not, Cincinnati still has a very faint playoff pulse in Week 15. They need to win out and receive immense help in order to sneak into the race with what would be a blasé 8-8 record, but there’s a very narrow postseason path, nonetheless.

Hey—half of a percent of a chance is still “alive”, right?

Before they look to avenge themselves in rematches against Cleveland and Pittsburgh to push away the mortician, the Bengals host the reeling Raiders on Sunday. It’s a blast from the past of sorts, as 16-year head coach Marvin Lewis hosts Jon Gruden in the first year of his Oakland reunion at Paul Brown Stadium.

Cincinnati has had recent success against Oakland, going 3-1 in the last four matchups. The last two victories have been particularly lopsided, with the point differential favoring the Bengals to the tune of plus-44.

However, because of a lethal combination of injuries and underachievement, this game will be a veritable match of “Guess Who?”. Gruden traded away two of his best players this season in Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, while A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and Vontaze Burfict will all be sidelined with various injuries.

Most nationally-recognized talking heads would readily point to Gruden’s Raiders as the bigger overall disappointment, but the Bengals shouldn’t be far behind in the category. Cincinnati went from massive spring underdogs, to en vogue picks in the early fall, to the eventual and predictable laughing stock we’ve seen since mid-October.

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The parallels don’t stop at the old school coaches and lack of recent success, though. The Raiders and Bengals hold the dubious distinction of being two of the most dysfunctional franchises in the NFL. Between the two teams, it’s been 44 combined years since either have won a playoff game (28 for Cincinnati, 16 for Oakland/Los Angeles).

Oakland has also become “Buffalo West” in their gathering of former Bengals coaches and players. Reggie Nelson, Leon Hall, Mike Nugent and Brandon LaFell (all on Injured Reserve) comprised a chunk of the roster, while Paul Guenther is their defensive coordinator.

And, in making the Cincinnati/Oakland/Buffalo love triangle complete, AJ McCarron was dealt from the Bills to the Raiders during the preseason.

They’re also franchises being known for having meddlesome owners who are extremely nepotistic, hard-headed and can’t seem to get out of their own way. It’s not a coincidence that they haven’t had any level of recent success. (Side note: does anyone ever think about how Carson Palmer forced his way out of one dysfunctional franchise, only to be tossed around to two others?)

In the summer of 2017, Derek Carr signed a deal that gave him the richest contract in NFL history at the time. Since that ink dried, Carr has thrown 40 touchdowns along with 21 interceptions, and has compiled a 9-19 record. Because of the sizable contract and his slight regression since his outstanding 2016 campaign, some are wondering if he’s “Gruden’s guy” in the long-term.

Meanwhile, Dalton’s future might be a little cloudy in 2019 as well. Most signs from the uber-conservative Bengals franchise point to keeping him, but with the aforementioned injuries, the losing seasons, a possible head coaching change and a team-friendly “out” in the form of zero dead money in 2019 and 2020, No. 14’s days could be numbered in The Queen City.

Even with Cincinnati’s very slim playoff chances being alive (notice how nobody in the building is talking about that, by the way?), this game will for sure be about jockeying for draft position come April. Both of these teams are projected to pick in the top-10, based on how things have gone and where they are headed, so this game holds importance to both squads in a non-traditional sense.

We could spend an inordinate amount of time talking about matchups, the X’s and O’s of this Sunday, and the like. However, much like the teams themselves, we’re looking beyond those facets.

Both teams are also looking ahead to see what they have on the roster for the future, as struggling football teams do towards the end of a lost season. For Cincinnati, this will take the stubborn Lewis to take a break from being a roster curmudgeon and allow some promising guys to get more time.

John Ross is looking like Cris Carter in the early days of his career, while the team is also trying to find out if Jeff Driskel has long-term viability as an NFL backup quarterback. Cincinnati also knows what they have in Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd and other young standouts.

But, there are the cases of guys like Josh Malone, Cody Core and Malik Jefferson. What about Christian Westerman? He played very well last week, but might be plopped back on the bench with Cordy Glenn getting back to limited practice work this week.

For the Raiders, they definitely have their eyes on the draft, but also need to see if there’s anyone they already have under contract who can fill the shoes of Cooper and/or Mack. At wide receiver, no player has has eclipsed more than 500 yards, while defensive tackle Maurice Hurst leads the team with four sacks.

For reference, Mack has 10 sacks and six forced fumbles for the Bears, while Cooper has 642 yards and six touchdowns in six games with the Cowboys.

This Sunday will come down to who makes the least amount of mistakes (AKA who sucks less), as well as in which young players will step up with a potential 2019 job on the line. It’s more “let’s get this over with” than it is “let’s get it on!”.

Raiders 16, Bengals 20

Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears

The Green Bay Packers (5-7-1), led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, meet the Chicago Bears (9-4), led by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, in a Week 14 NFL football game on Sunday, December 16, 2018 (12/16/18) at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.

Here are the playoff scenarios for Week 15.

Here are our picks and predictions for Week 15.

Here’s what you need to know:

Who: Packers vs. Bears

What: NFL, Week 15

When: Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018

Where: Soldier Field

Time: 1 p.m. Eastern

TV: Fox

Livestream: Fox Sports Go

Line: Bears -5.5 (Over/under: 45.5)

Packers notes: QB AARON RODGERS has 1,043 pass yards (260.8 per game) with 10 TDs vs. 0 INTs for 111.7 rating in his past 4 vs. Chi. In 20 career meetings, has 45 pass TDs vs. 9 INTs for 108.3 rating. Has 27 TD passes vs. 0 INTs for 114 rating in his past 11 vs. division. His 27 consec. TD passes without INT vs. division is 3rd-longest streak since 2002 (DREW BREES, 28 vs. NFC North from 2009-14 & Rodgers, 28 vs. NFC North from 2013-15). Has not thrown an INT in 368 pass attempts, longest streak in NFL history. * RB AARON JONES had 106 scrimmage yards (78 rush, 28 rec.) & rush TD last week. Aims for his 6th in row with rush TD. In his past 4 on road, has 367 scrimmage yards (91.8 per game) & 4 TDs (3 rush, 1 rec.). Since Week 10, ranks tied for 2nd in NFL with 6 rush TDs. * WR DAVANTE ADAMS had 7 catches for 81 yards & TD in Week 14. Ties for NFL lead with 12 TD catches this season. Aims for his 4th in row vs. Chi. & his 6th in row vs. division with TD catch. In 6 road games in 2018, has 42 catches for 600 yards (100 per game) & 4 TDs. WR RANDALL COBB had rec. TD last week. Had 9 catches for 142 yards & TD in Week 1 meeting. * LB BLAKE MARTINEZ led team with 12 tackles in Week 14. Is 1 of 2 in NFL (DARIUS LEONARD) with 110+ tackles (118) & 4+ sacks (4) this season. CB BASHAUD BREELAND had 22-yard INT-TD last week, his 2nd-career INT-TD. Has INT in 2 of his past 3. Had 2 INTs in his last game vs. Chi. (12/24/16 with Was.).

Bears notes: QB MITCHELL TRUBISKY has 996 pass yards (249 per game) with 6 TDs vs. 2 INTs for 98.5 rating & rush TD in his past 4 at home vs. NFC North. Had rush TD in last meeting. Has 6.7 yards per rush avg. this season, 2nd-highest in NFL (min. 50 atts.). * RB JORDAN HOWARD rushed for 101 yards last week. Had 107 scrimmage yards (82 rush, 25 rec.) in Week 1 meeting. In 8 career home games vs. division, has 799 scrimmage yards (99.9 per game) & 3 rush TDs. RB TARIK COHEN has TD in 2 of his past 3 vs. NFC North. In his past 6 at home, has 550 scrimmage yards (91.7 per game) & 4 TDs (3 rec., 1 rush). * WR ALLEN ROBINSON has 172 rec. yards (86 per game) & 2 TDs in his past 2 at home vs. division. Aims for his 3rd in row with 5+ catches. T BRADLEY SOWELL had 2-yard TD catch last week, his 1st-career TD. * BEARS defense had 4 INTs & 3 sacks last week. Ranks 1st in NFL in turnover differential (+13) & INTs (25) & 3rd in scoring defense (19 points allowed per game). LB KHALIL MACK had sack & FF last week. Aims for his 3rd in row with sack. Had 27-yard INT-TD, sack, FF & FR in last meeting. Aims for his 3rd in row vs. GB with sack. Ties for 1st in NFL with 6 FFs this season. DT AKIEM HICKS had sack & FF in last meeting. Aims for his 3rd in row at home & 3rd in row overall with sack. CB KYLE FULLER had INT in Week 14. Ties for NFL lead with career-high 7 INTs in 2018. — NFL Communications

Detroit Lions vs Buffalo Bills

Detroit Lions AT Buffalo Bills
Sun, Dec 16, 2018 NFL GameTrax – Regular Season – Week 15
New Era Field – Orchard Park, New York

The Bills and Lions in December. It doesn’t get much better than this.

What does this mean for Brady Quinn’s broadcast career that he did Detroit and Arizona last week and now gets the Lions and the Bills?

What does it mean for us that we’re still going to watch?

But as always, there are reasons. Some of them good ones.

Here are five things to watch Sunday at Buffalo (1 p.m., FOX, WJR 760):

  1. King of the Cassel?
    The smart money is on Matthew Stafford starting his 126th straight regular-season game for the Lions.

But if his back is getting worse — and there are indications that it might be — the Lions could choose to sit down the franchise quarterback in favor of Matt Cassel, who has thrown six passes this season, all in the opener against the New York Jets.

This year could be the swan song for the 36-year-old, whose one appearance so far this season would be a career low.

  1. Rookies ready?
    The trends and injury report suggest safety Tracy Walker and offensive lineman Tyrell Crosby will get a heavy workload in Buffalo.

Walker’s advanced stats say he’s been an elite safety this year, although his snap count is too low to take much away from that. Maybe now there’s enough film on him now for play-callers like Buffalo’s Brian Daboll to expose the third-round pick.

More: Lions’ rookie lineman Crosby expected to get first start Sunday

More: Rookie safety Walker making Lions gamble look good

The same could be true for Crosby, who will have to deal with defensive ends Trent Murphy and Shaq Lawson, a name bandied about by Lions’ fans before the 2016 NFL Draft, although Detroit took offensive tackle Taylor Decker at No. 16 and Lawson went 19.

  1. Wrench Allen’s plans
    Buffalo rookie quarterback Josh Allen has had tremendous success running the ball, but not so much through the air.

The Lions’ defense has allowed 4.8 yards on the ground per game to quarterbacks this season, the best in the league.

With the Bills pass-catching threats pretty non-threatening after the release of Kelvin Benjamin last week, something has to give in the Allen’s legs vs. Lions’ spies matchup.

  1. Which is the real McCoy?
    After two straight 1,100-yard seasons in Buffalo, LeSean McCoy’s career appears to be on its last legs.

And just like he hasn’t helped your fantasy team as an injury fill-in over the years, Chris Ivory hasn’t been much help either, as Bills running backs have rushed for a league-low three rushing touchdowns — although wide receivers and quarterbacks have a league-high eight rushing TDs.

But “Shady” McCoy’s career high and only time he’s eclipsed 200 yards came against the Lions in 2013 when he rushed for 217 yards in a 34-20 win for Philadelphia.

He’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.

More: Wojo: Playoff odds puny, but Lions’ tank isn’t quite empty

More: Detroit News predictions: Lions vs. Bills

  1. Scoreboard watching
    Everything went right last week for the Lions in their last-ditch effort for a playoff berth.

In addition to Detroit winning out these last three games, hopeful Lions’ fans should be rooting this week for: Tennessee over the New York Giants, Baltimore over Tampa Bay, Chicago over Green Bay, Jacksonville over Washington, New Orleans over Carolina, the Los Angeles Rams over Philadelphia, and most importantly, Miami over Minnesota.

Keep hope alive?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Baltimore Ravens

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Baltimore Ravens – 12/16/18 NFL Pick, Odds, and Prediction

Tampa Bay Buccaneers AT Baltimore Ravens
Sun, Dec 16, 2018 NFL GameTrax – Regular Season – Week 15
M&T Bank Stadium – Baltimore, Maryland

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (7-6)

NFL Football: Sunday, December 16, 2018 at 1:00 pm (M&T Bank Stadium)
The Line: Baltimore Ravens -6 — Over/Under: 47.5 See the Latest Odds
TV: FOX
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Baltimore Ravens will meet up in Week 15 NFL action on Sunday.

The Bucs enter this one at 5-8 on the season. Following two consecutive wins over the 49ers 27-9 and the Panthers 24-17, Tampa Bay lost their last outing 28-14 at the hands of New Orleans.

In the Saints game, Tampa QB Jameis Winston put up 213 yards with two TDs and one pick, while also leading the rush with 47 yards on five carries. Tops in receiving for Tampa was Mike Evans with 86 yards on four grabs.

Over on the Ravens’ side, they’re 7-6 this season. Following wins over the Bengals, Raiders and Falcons, Baltimore was tripped up by the Chiefs in their last outing, falling 27-24 there.

In the Chiefs game, Ravens QB Lamar Jackson threw for 147 yards and two TDs, while Gus Edwards led the rush on 67 yards. Willie Snead hauled in five catches for 61 yards to lead the baltimore receivers.

The Bucs are 3-7-1 ATS in their last 11 overall and 1-3-1 ATS in their last five road games. Tampa is 1-4-1 ATS in their last six following an ATS loss and 1-5-1 ATS in their last seven following a straight-up loss.

Meanwhile, Baltimore is 6-2 ATS in the last eight in December and 2-5 ATS in their last seven in Week 15. The under is 6-2 in the Ravens’ last eight versus a team with a losing record and the over is 8-3 in the last 11 in December.

Take the wins over a bad 49ers team and a struggling Panthers team with a grain of salt; Tampa is still in a rough spot as far as being competitive, and if they’re going to keep things close here they’ll really have to push.

Baltimore gets props for a quartet of pretty good showings in their last four, and with a revitalized squad they’ve got a real shot at playoff glory. I’m going to stick with the Ravens to keep it going here and cover, but the number may be very close since the line is so thick.

Arizona Cardinals vs Atlanta Falcons

On the surface, there isn’t a whole lot to like about Sunday’s game between the Cardinals (3-10 and the Falcons (4-9) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. On paper, it’s actually a whole lot of ugly.

But if you like intrigue and drama, you might want to tune in and catch the game within the game. It’s the one element that might really be able to capture your full attention.

It’s the one-on-one matchup between Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson and Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. They are two of the very best at their respective positions and it’s the continuation of a personal rivalry that began when they each were collegiate standouts – Peterson at LSU and Jones at Alabama.

“I put him on notice on Tuesday – ‘Let’s go. Best versus best,’ ” Peterson said, referencing a post he shared on social media. “These are the type of matchups I live and thrive for. I’m sure he’s the same way. This is why you play the game of football. This is why Hall of Famers are Hall of Famers. This is why greats are greats.

“It’s because they look forward to these types of matchups. And I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to make sure I’m on top of my game.”

Both players have been dynamite throughout their careers and specifically, this season, even though their teams haven’t played up to par. Peterson has only allowed 25 total receptions, the second-fewest by a cornerback in 2018. Jones leads the NFL with 1,429 receiving yards – becoming the first player in league history to record 1,400 or more in five consecutive seasons. And he ranks fourth this year with 94 receptions.

Jones missed almost all of practice in the days leading up to this game because of a sore foot, a calf strain and an illness. But he’s fully expected to play according to Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who said, “Julio and Pat, that’ll provide for some really good ball.”

“I know he hasn’t practiced … but I know he’s going to bring his ‘A’ game because he’s arguably the best receiver in the league this year,” Peterson said. “And having five consecutive seasons of 1,400 yards, he don’t need much practice at this point, right?”

Katherine Fitzgerald and Bob McManaman discuss injuries to David Johnson, Chad Williams, Budda Baker. Arizona Republic

Peterson hasn’t allowed a single wide receiver to finish with 80 or more receiving yards in a game since Jones mostly beat up on him for 10 receptions and 189 yards with a touchdown during a 29-18 Falcons’ win back in 2014 season. That game still haunts Peterson.

“The worst game I ever played,” he said. “We came into the locker room and I told the guys, ‘I let you down.’ Because if he didn’t have that big game, if he didn’t go off the way he went off, I believe the game would have been much more manageable for us to win.

“From that point on, I was like, ‘Man, something has got to change.’ I told myself, ‘That can’t happen again.’ ”

Peterson got the better of Jones in the other two matchups that sandwiched that game. He held Jones to a very pedestrian three catches for 33 yards and no touchdowns in 2012 and held him to four receptions for 35 yards and no touchdowns in 2016.

“They’ve been going at it for a while,” Cardinals safety Antoine Bethea said. “Two of the best players at their position in the league, so it’s definitely going to be a dog fight and it’s going to be fun to be out there while it’s happening.”

Not that Bethea will be able to see the competition play out on every single snap, but he’ll watch when he can.

“I’m not going to be able to watch too much, but I know what’s going to be happening,” he said. “Again, it’s two great players going at it. Eventually, I will get the chance to look at it, even if it’s just watching film.”

Even though they haven’t played against each other a ton, Peterson and Jones essentially came into the league joined at the hip. Peterson was drafted fifth overall, Jones sixth. And since then, they’ve each crafted wonderful careers for themselves, earning multiple Pro Bowl selections (seven for Peterson, five for Jones) and first-team All Pro status (three times for Peterson, twice for Jones).

“I think it’s going to be a great matchup,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said. “You’re talking about two of the best at their position. Who knows? Those two guys could be future Hall of Famers. It’s going to be a great contest. I know Patrick is excited about – I don’t want to call it a challenge – but the opportunity to be able to cover Julio.”

The game itself might not amount to much, but everybody wants to see Peterson vs. Jones.

“Neither one of us has any playoff implications,” Peterson said. “I wouldn’t even say (the game’s) about pride, but what you want to be remembered for, at the end of the day.”

Even Jones at less than 100 percent could make it a long day for Peterson, according to Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

“It’s out of this world,” Fitzgerald said, when asked what his respect level is for Jones. “To do what he’s done, have five straight 1,400-yard seasons, nobody’s ever done that. He’s a mutant, man. There’s nobody like him in the game. To be that fast, that explosive, that abrupt in terms of changing direction in his route running, is unbelievable.

“He’s done a great job of bringing (rookie Calvin) Ridley along and I think Mohamed Sanu is one of the best interior guys. I mean those three guys together, they make the best combination of receivers in the National Football League.”

But which player is going to get the better of the other when it comes down to Peterson vs. Jones?

“Oh, P2, no doubt,” Bethea said, laughing. “Just ask him.”