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AFC North Week 15 Predictions

AFC North Week 15 Predictions
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Welcome to the AFC North predictions page!

Each week, one of our AFC North feature writers will list their picks for that week and be forced to explain why they voted as they did. Keep in mind that these picks are for entertainment purposes only, and in no way should be used to influence gambling or illegal activity, unless you’re smart enough to recognize that we know more than you because we publish things.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, December 14, 1:00pm, CBS

Not quite David v. Goliath II, this game features the very young and roster-deficient Jaguars, who just lost leading rusher Denard Robinson for the season, against the possibly playoff-bound Ravens, who are in an excellent position to win out the remainder of their schedule.  Of course, it’s never that easy with the Ravens, who have been embroiled in continuous controversy since the end of last season.

What to watch: 

Blake Bortles.  The beleaguered Jaguars rookie quarterback has endured a trying first season, but has shown enough grit and decision-making prowess to warrant his draft position.  The fact that the little talent on his roster has been eroding due to injuries certainly can’t be blamed on him, and most pundits agree that he’s still a viable ballplayer and solid draft choice at the position.  NFL fans should pay attention to this kid, as he’ll only get better going forward.

Justin Forsett.  The former Jaguar running back is enjoying a career year in Baltimore and would like nothing more than to add to his already impressive rushing totals against his old squad.  Forsett has proven to be a durable three-down back who gutted out last weeks’ win in Miami despite a lingering knee injury.  He’s expected to be at full strength this week, as is his offensive line.  The combination of the two will enable the Ravens to control the clock and subsequently, the Jaguars.

Bottom line:  The Jaguars simply don’t have the firepower to compete with the Ravens, especially in Baltimore.  Ravens 31-14

 

Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns
Sunday, December 14, 1:00pm, FOX

With both teams fighting for their playoff lives, Cincinnati travels to Cleveland in an attempt to avenge their 24-3 drubbing by the Browns in Cincinnati earlier this season.  While the winner isn’t guaranteed a playoff spot, the percentages would be drastically improved, as the Browns would be sporting their first .500-or-better record since 2007, while  the Bengals would solidify their first place hold on the AFC North.

What to watch:

Bengals’ run defense.  The Browns ran liberally against the Bengals in their last meeting, amassing timely third downs and extending drives.  The Bengals, having shelved linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the season, seemed to have realized that help isn’t forthcoming and are beginning to make do with their existing personnel, particularly inside linebacker Vincent Rey, who totaled 15 tackles last week in a losing effort against Pittsburgh.  Expect the Bengals to stack against the run and force the Browns to pass.

Who else?  Johnny Manziel.   The oft-discussed rookie quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner finally gets a chance to showcase his talents, and better yet, he gets to do so in a critical divisional matchup.  As mentioned above, the Bengals will most likely attempt to shut down the Browns’ rushing attack and force the rookie to beat them through the air.  The Browns will most likely employ a mix of high-percentage pass plays, including a lot of rollouts, which were a staple of Manziel’s college offenses and one area where he’s demonstrated success.

Bottom line:  The hostile environment and the pressure of a playoff race will prove too much for the Bengals.  Browns 27-24

 

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Atlanta Falcons
Sunday, December 14, 1:00pm, CBS

Amazingly, the underwhelming Falcons still have a real chance to claim the NFC South, while the Steelers, courtesy of last weeks’ fourth quarter demolition of the Bengals, are looking to overtake the same Bengals for the AFC North lead.  This appears to be a mismatch, but the Steelers still retain a maddening tendency to play poorly against inferior competition; a troubling trend they hope to break in Atlanta.

What to watch:

Julio Jones.  It’s unknown if the NFL’s receiving yardage leader will play against the Steelers, but if he does, the focus of the Steelers’ secondary will be almost solely on him.  Jones nearly kept the Falcons in their game last week in Green Bay with 259 yards and a touchdown, and given the state of the Pittsburgh defensive backfield, he could be poised to deliver a similar day if healthy.  If Jones is active, Pittsburgh will most likely play in a nickel base defense the majority of the day.

Le’Veon Bell.  One of the NFL’s premier dual threats, Bell has proven to be capable of carrying the Pittsburgh offense at times, particularly if the passing game stalls.  Bell is currently on pace for over 2,200 combined yards from scrimmage, and has become the catalyst for an already prolific Steelers offense.  His presence in the passing game will force the suspect Falcons’ defense to keep a wide front, which will expose more rushing lanes for the ever-patient Bell.

Bottom line:  The Steelers should win convincingly, as they’re just too loaded offensively for the Falcons to contend with.  Steelers 34-28

 

Author’s picks:

Author Game Score
Ravenous128 Jaguars @ Ravens Ravens 31-14
Bengals @ Browns Browns 27-24
Steelers @ Falcons Steelers 34-28
peatwo Jaguars @ Ravens Ravens 34-20
Bengals @ Browns Browns 24-21
Steelers @ Falcons Falcons 37-34
DOOOMMEEEEDD Jaguars @ Ravens Ravens 27-13
Bengals @ Browns Browns 24-17
Steelers @ Falcons Steelers 27-23

 

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