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NFL Week 15 projections

Bengals (7-6) at Rams (2-11)

1 p.m.

Bengals by 9, 39½

'Tis the season for firing coaches, and you have to believe the Rams' Steve Spagnuolo, above, is in the crosshairs. To be fair, it's not all his fault. His quarterback has been hurt, and he doesn't have many reliable receivers. Still, 2-11 is 2-11 — especially in a weak division (at least the Bucs are in a tough one). The Bengals have slipped up but are still thinking playoffs. Can't see them falling; not with their defensive and offensive balance.

Bengals 26, Rams 14

Lions (8-5) at Raiders (7-6)

4 p.m.

Lions by 1, 47½

Has Ndamukong Suh, above left, learned his lesson from a two-game suspension? Have the Lions figured out personal fouls don't help? Will the Lions make the playoffs? Check back after this game. It will go a ways toward answering that last question, at least. We say QB Matthew Stafford finds a way to make some big plays. Meanwhile, Oakland's offense will be less able to exploit Detroit's defense without injured RB Darren McFadden.

Lions 24, Raiders 21

Browns (4-9) at Cardinals (6-7)

4:15 p.m.

Cardinals by 6½, 37½

You might need to read this twice to grasp it: The Cardinals are alive in the playoff hunt. Yes, you read that right. If they can snatch this very winnable game, they get back to .500 with games against the Bengals and Seahawks remaining. QB Kevin Kolb will remain out because of a concussion, ESPN.com reported. But John Skelton, above, played well in Kolb's place, leading Arizona to a win over the 49ers last week after Kolb got hurt.

Cardinals 23, Browns 17

Patriots (10-3) at Broncos (8-5)

4:15 p.m., Ch. 10

Patriots by 7½, 46

The Broncos have won six straight, and QB Tim Tebow, above, is a great story. But the way this game threatens to play out could negate Tebow's strengths. He's at his best when his defense keeps the game close and he can perform fourth-quarter magic. But what if QB Tom Brady is lights-out? And what if the Patriots build a big lead? Can Tebow overcome that? We have our doubts, though admittedly, doubting Tebow hasn't proved smart.

Patriots 29, Broncos 14

Jets (8-5) at Eagles (5-8)

4:15 p.m.

Eagles by 3, 44

Who knows what to expect here? It's tough to tell when you don't know which Eagles team will show up. Conventional wisdom says the Jets have more at stake and don't mess this up. Besides, they've got the Giants next week in a game that would be huge even if it didn't affect both teams' playoff hopes. QB Michael Vick, above, returned last week to keep the Eagles' faint playoff hopes alive. But he needs to protect his previously broken ribs.

Jets 27, Eagles 24

Steelers (10-3) at 49ers (10-3)

8:30 Monday, ESPN

Off

The biggest question for this game remains unanswered: Will Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) play? Thing is, even if Roethlisberger does, he probably won't be himself, given the severity of the sprain. Look for rookie Aldon Smith (10½ sacks), above, to take advantage of the reduced mobility and make a forceful introduction to the veteran. Roethlisberger without his wheels just isn't the same player, and the Niners will seize on this.

49ers 23, Steelers 20

Ravens (10-3) at Chargers (6-7)

8:20 p.m., Ch. 8

Ravens by 2½, 44½

The Chargers are very good at disappointments, and that's the feeling that might result from making this pick. But shaky San Diego still has one of the league's elite quarterbacks in Philip Rivers, above left. He has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions in his past three games, but he faces an angry Baltimore defense. Rivers doesn't have to dominate the Ravens. He just has to make a few big plays. We think he can.

Chargers 24, Ravens 21

Dolphins (4-9) at Bills (5-8)

1 p.m., Ch. 10

Off

The career of Matt Moore, above, had been a disappointment until the past six weeks. The Dolphins quarterback, questionable with a concussion, flamed out in Carolina last season, and he was never intended to start for Miami. The question now is if he has a future with the Dolphins. Has he done enough to warrant consideration after going 4-2 in his past six starts? That's a question for the next coach now that Tony Sparano is gone.

Dolphins 24, Bills 20

Panthers (4-9) at Texans (10-3)

1 p.m.

Texans by 6, 45

Pop quiz: If the playoffs started today, who would be the AFC's top seed? Not the Patriots, Ravens or Steelers. It's the Texans, led by — of all people — rookie QB T.J. Yates, above. To be fair, Yates hasn't set the world on fire. But you don't need to when you have the kind of running game he does in Arian Foster and Ben Tate. QB Cam Newton faces a tough matchup against a Houston defense that remains ranked No. 1 in the league.

Texans 24, Panthers 17

Titans (7-6) at Colts (0-13)

1 p.m.

Titans by 6½, 41

Who among us honestly believed we'd be broaching the subject of the Colts going 0-16 — Peyton Manning or not? This never seemed like a consideration three months ago, but here's Indy on the verge of moving to 0-14. Can it avoid this infamous fate with Dan Orlovsky, above, under center? And how likely are the Colts to win a game when they're 29th in scoring and last in points allowed? As for today, expect a big day from Titans RB Chris Johnson.

Titans 27, Colts 17

Packers (13-0) at Chiefs (5-8)

1 p.m., Ch. 13

Packers by 13½, 46

The Packers have won 19 straight dating to last season. You can count on one hand the games in which it felt as if they might lose, and they seem unfazed by the pressure associated with chasing perfection. Chiefs QB Kyle Orton gets his second start of the season against the Packers. With Denver in Week 4, he went 22-of-32 for 273 yards, three TDs and three interceptions. CB Charles Woodson, above, returned one for a score.

Packers 38, Chiefs 17

Redskins (4-9) at Giants (7-6)

1 p.m.

Giants by 6½, 46

Want to know, arguably, the biggest reason the Redskins are 4-9? Look at their eye-popping minus-14 turnover margin, worst in the NFL. That's why a defense that holds its own can't get any traction. Giants fan should be sweating their defense, which has given up 49, 38 and 34 points in consecutive games. But each came against high-octane offenses. Today, we think Eli Manning, above, does enough to beat fellow QB Rex Grossman.

Giants 28, Redskins 17

Saints (10-3) at Vikings (2-11)

1 p.m.

Saints by 7, 51½

The Saints are one of the hottest teams no one's talking about. You don't want to play these guys. They've won six of seven and five straight. New Orleans still has a shot at one of the NFC's first-round playoff byes, so don't expect any letup. Keep an eye on TE Jimmy Graham, above. He's going up against a weak Minnesota secondary that has given up some big days to other tight ends. Oh, and Drew Brees is his quarterback.

Saints 33, Vikings 20

Seahawks (6-7) at Bears (7-6)

1 p.m.

Bears by 3½, 35½

The Bears are fading fast, and it's obvious why. Their offense has been a myth since the loss of QB Jay Cutler and RB Matt Forte to injuries. In the past three games, the Bears have averaged 11 points. QB Caleb Hanie, above, clearly isn't going to put this team on his back, but the defense can. The Seahawks aren't out of the playoff picture and are playing well. Bears LB Brian Urlacher needs to ensure that RB Marshawn Lynch doesn't go off.

Bears 21, Seahawks 20

NFL Week 15 projections 12/17/11 [Last modified: Saturday, December 17, 2011 7:31pm]
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