2017 NFL Week 15
Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts
As the season begins to wind to a close, Thursday Night Football brings us a very interesting matchup between two teams who couldn’t be any further apart. One has a stellar, Super Bowl-caliber defense but can’t find their own way on offense. The other has the golden child at quarterback and an offense that can score from anywhere on the field, but a defense that would struggle against many college teams. Which will prevail on TNF?
Keys to the Game
If the Broncos are ever going to have a good game on offense, it’s going to be this one. The Colts D is about as soft as they come. The Denver defense, as good as it is, is going to give up a few points in this one, so the offense is going to need to come through with a few of their own. Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will need to make some plays down the field to open up some running lanes. Running the ball is going to be the key to keeping Andrew Luck off the field and letting the Broncos’ defense catch their breath.
Protect Andrew Luck and score as much as possible. Even against this weak Denver offense, I don’t have any faith in the Colts’ defense to get the job done, so it will be up to the offense to take care of this. They need to keep the Denver defense on the field and wear them down with a consistent, balanced offense en route to scoring 5 or 6 times. That’s obviously not going to be any picnic against this defense, but if they can pull it off, there’s no way Denver will be able to keep up.
New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
I like to think of this game where the majority of the country roots for both teams to lose and ultimately, no one walks away happy. Two of the most hated/feared/envied teams in the NFL go head to head on Sunday in Week 15 in what should be one of the best matchups of the 2017 season. We’ve got just 3 weeks remaining in the regular season and playoff seeding is on the line. The stage doesn’t get set much better than this for two of the league’s juggernauts.
Keys to the Game
The best defense is going to be a good offense for the Pats as they come into Heinz Field. Keeping Big Ben, Bell and Brown on the Pittsburgh sideline will be the easiest way for New England to come away with a tough road win here. Tom Brady will need to be on his game (is he ever off his game?) in the passing department as a ball control offense will be New England’s best friend. That’s because the Pats don’t’ have the best of running games in order to chew up the clock. Trying to outlast the Steelers will be much more effective than simply trying to outscore them.
The Steelers will come into this game with a very similar game plan. The best way to beat Tom Brady is by keeping him off the field. The difference here is that Pittsburgh has the best running back in the league while New England probably doesn’t have a back on their roster that would start for any other team. Pittsburgh would do well to feed Le’Veon Bell early and often and in a variety of ways to keep the New England defense off balance. Bell is so versatile that he alone can swing the outcome of this game and the Steelers need to capitalize on that.
Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders
Is Week 15 bringing us some good football or what? This is a dandy of a matchup as the Cowboys head to the west coast to take on the Oakland Raiders. You’ve got to love this one as it pits a pair of Super Bowl contenders against one another right at the end of the regular season. Everyone knows exactly what’s on the line here and we get to see it all go down in primetime on Sunday Night Football.
Keys to the Game
The plan will be simple for Dallas but maybe not so simple to execute. They’re going to want to run the ball all night long with Zeke Elliott in order to protect Dak Prescott from a ferocious Raiders pass rush. Running the ball will also keep Oakland’s Carr to Cooper connection on the sideline, which bodes well for Dallas’ defense. Limiting Khalil Mack’s effectiveness as a rusher will be the key focus for the Cowboys’ offense because Mack can take over a game all by himself.
Getting out to an early lead should be the first thing on Oakland’s agenda. The goal here is to force Dallas into passing situations. The first reason is to get the ball out of Zeke Elliott’s hands as he’s the most dangerous player on that talented offense. Second, forcing Dallas into predictable passing situations lets Khalil Mack and company rush the quarterback without hesitation — and that’s every quarterback’s worst nightmare. It doesn’t matter who’s taking the snaps, no one wants to deal with Mack when he’s cut loose. That’s a recipe for success for the Raiders.
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
We close out Week 15 with another fun matchup as two of the NFL’s best wide receivers square off at Raymond James Stadium. Mike Evans and Julio Jones will take turns trying to take over this game with leaping catches and one-handed snags between defenders. These guys have truly become superstars on the outside and their quarterbacks only need to get the ball close for these two to go up and haul in another spectacular catch. It’s going to be fun to watch them trade big plays in this divisional matchup.
Keys to the Game
Atlanta’s best bet down in Tampa will be to run up the score. As good as the Winston-Evans connection is, I don’t see them being able to keep up with the high-flying Falcons’ offense. Especially when Vic Beasley is bearing down on Jameis play after play. Obviously, you’re taking a chance by putting the ball in Tampa’s best player’s hands every play by forcing them to pass, but the Falcons shouldn’t’ have any trouble outscoring them. Not to mention, Atlanta’s defense should be able to hold their own and force a few stops to open up a big lead.
Tampa would benefit from being able to run the ball in this matchup with Atlanta. Their defense is coming along but won’t be able to contend with the league’s most potent offense, especially when you’re talking about trying to defend the best receiver in the league. Julio Jones is just about uncoverable. Therefore, the best strategy is to keep him on the sidelines, the only place he can’t hurt you. If the Bucs can get their running game going, it will open up more room down the field for Mike Evans to work on “mossing” Falcons defensive backs and coming down with a victory.