Week 15 of the NFL season is “show-me” time. With plenty of playoff lives on the line, we can expect a phenomenal slate of games. Don’t forget either, that Aaron Rodgers returns to Green Bay with the hopes of leading the Packers to their eighth straight playoff appearance.
Here are our five bold predictions for Week 15.
Aaron Rodgers returns with a vengeance on Carolina’s defense
Rodgers was brilliant before the injury, amassing 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions. And he’s already proven that few, if any, are more deft at returning from a serious injury. No NFC playoff contender has a tougher three-game schedule than the Packers though, whose opponents are a combined 26-13. It starts this week with a Carolina team that ranks fifth in total defense and seventh in passing defense. Maybe most importantly, the Panthers blitz 43.1 percent of the time, more than any other team in the league.
Rodgers is motivated and has the added benefit of Davante Adams’ emergence, along with a strong ground game from rookie Jamaal Williams. Expect a rusty No. 12 to carve Carolina’s secondary up, while leaning on the play-action threat. Williams has totaled 352 rushing yards, 193 receiving yards and five total touchdowns over the past five games.
2. Jared Goff still can’t figure out Seattle’s defense, despite Seahawks’ high profile injuries
Seattle has Goff’s number, which few teams can say about the former No. 1 overall pick. We will excuse his putrid rookie numbers versus the Seahawks, and point to his Week 3 performance. He finished with 288 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions – though he probably should have had a game-winning touchdown to Cooper Kupp. But the incessant pressure and slew of knockdowns bothered him as well, and defensive coordinators know that the way to slow him down is pressure. While the Rams are the only team in the league to deploy the same starting offensive line every game this season, we can also expect the Seahawks’ vaunted defense to once again come after Goff. All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner and Pro Bowler K.J. Wright are unlikely to play, and that certainly hurts, but their absence won’t be enough to offset his struggles against the 12th man.
3. Russell Wilson re-inserts himself into the MVP conversation
The 8-5 Seahawks are desperate for a win, and it’s Wilson – above all else – who will deliver the goods. Following a rare three-interception performance on the road against feisty Jacksonville (we told you so) Wilson returns home to face the NFL’s 11th-ranked passing defense. Look for Seattle to establish the run early, but also to roll out No. 3 and get him going early with downfield strikes to Paul Richardson and Doug Baldwin. With Carson Wentz lost for the season, Wilson’s 350 yards of offense and three touchdowns will reinvigorate his MVP hopes.
4. Tom Brady takes his anger out on Pittsburgh
In his previous games against the Steelers, Brady has totaled 22 touchdowns, zero interceptions and six wins. Think about it in the following terms: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tom Brady – Don’t make them angry. Brady – who is enduring a three-game stretch of completing just 42 percent of his passes when pressured – also comes off his worst game of the year, a lackluster two-interception dud against Miami. (He had completed 70 percent of his passes during the first 10 games, per ESPN Stats & Info.) Don’t forget that four of his six picks have come since appearing on the Week 12 injury report with an Achilles. New England however, is known to expose Pittsburgh, and I could care less that this game is on the road. Brady and the Pats want the AFC’s top seed and the horrific injury to Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Shazier significantly limits what the Steelers can do defensively.
Also, look for Brandin Cooks (one catch for 38 yards versus the Dolphins) to have a big game. Cooks is too good a player to be shut down again, especially with a Steelers secondary that is reeling right now. With the focus heavy on Rob Gronkowski, expect Brady to feed his top wide receiver, both vertically and in the underneath game. Cooks will go over 100 yards with a score as Brady looks to get right following last week’s debacle in South Florida.
5. Miami Dolphins upset the Buffalo Bills
Miami played its most complete game of the season in its not so shocking upset of New England last week. The Dolphins now ride that momentum to Orchard Park for a crucial upset over AFC East rival Buffalo. Featuring one of the most athletic and stout defensive lines in the league, Miami won’t allow Tyrod Taylor the opportunity to get outside the pocket. Additionally, LeSean McCoy – who comes off a monster 156-yard, one game-winning touchdown rushing performance last week – will be greeted by a heavy dose of resistance in the form of Ndamukong Suh. As we know, if you can contain “Shady,” than you contain the Bills offense. Surely it’s far easier said than done, but the Dolphins – hungry for a wild-card berth – will get it done.
A previous edition of this article incorrectly stated that Tom Brady is enduring a three-game stretch of completing just 42 percent of his passes, compared to completing 70 percent of his passes during the first 10 games. It has been corrected to state that those passes are only while under pressure.
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at Jordan.Schultz@Oath.com.