Like we do every week on SB Nation Pittsburgh, here's a tour through various NFL odds and lines.(Odds courtesy of Odds Shark, SB Nation's official odds partner.) As you'll see, there are a ton of games with significant playoff implications.
The Marquee Matchups
Pittsburgh (-13) vs. Carolina
Kansas City (-4.5) vs. Tennessee
St. Louis (-2) vs. San Francisco
Indianapolis (-2.5) at Oakland (+115)
San Diego (-7) at Cincinnati
Tampa Bay (-6) vs. Seattle
New York Giants (+3) at Green Bay (+100)
Atlanta (-2) vs. New Orleans
No need to break down every last one, but here are a few thoughts that come to mind when looking at those NFL Week 15 lines.
- Let's start with the Steelers and Panthers, who kick off this week's action Thursday night at Heinz Field. The Panthers have no business hanging with the Steelers. They're too thin in the talent department on both sides of the ball, and they're starting a rookie quarterback who Dick LeBeau should be able to confuse. That said, without Troy Polamalu, who knows if the Steelers defense will be able to dominate like it has for most of this regular season? Against the Jets last Sunday, the Steelers were good, but far from great, defensively. I sure hope I'm wrong, but something tells me the Panthers keep this one closer than 13 points.
- Who will win the sad-sack NFC West? Do any of those teams stand an iota of a chance to win an opening-round game against (most likely) the Saints? As ridiculous as it sounds because of how amazingly badly they've been playing, I'd have to say the Seahawks might have the best shot at tripping up the Saints. Why? Only because the rainy weather in Seattle could lead to a fluky, turnover-filled day for Drew Brees. The Rams are a more complete team with a better quarterback than the Seahawks, but Brees & Co. are sure hard to slow down in a dome. We'll see how the lot of sorry teams perform this weekend. If I had to bet on one, it would be the Rams (-2) over San Francisco. The Rams are 9-5 against the spread, while the 49ers are an unimpressive 2-5 ATS on the road.
- Can the New York Giants possibly recover from their epic late-game implosion last Sunday against the Eagles? The Giants have always been fairly resilient under Tom Coughlin, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them put the loss behind them. But wow, who knows - last week's collapse was truly of epic proportions.
Lock of the Week:
- Baltimore (-3) over Cleveland. I'm not exactly why folks are so high on the Cleveland Browns. Yes, they've been a nice little story this year, played relatively consistently each week, and proven they can play toe-to-toe with the league's better teams. Still, the Browns are just 5-8-1 against the spread this year. And in case anyone wasn't paying attention last weekend, they lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, who were previously riding a 10-game losing streak. Baltimore will follow up its impressive performance against the Saints last week with a convincing win.
- Outstanding Week 15 matchup between the Saints and Falcons. For a moment, I wondered if both teams would give everything they had for this one knowing they might face each other in a few weeks. Then I read that Roddy White ripped the Saints and the city of New Orleans on Twitter recently. Case closed. You can count on an emotionally-charged, hard-fought game.
Sleeper Pick of the Week
- Tennessee over Kansas City straight up. If Rusty Smith were under center for the Titans, no way would I lean this way. But with the veteran Kerry Collins playing, the Titans have a chance to keep KC's defense off balance enough for Chris Johnson to potentially be a big factor. If the TItans can slow down Jamaal Charles and the Chiefs running game, I think they'll play spoiler over the Chiefs. You know Jeff Fisher is going to be working like crazy to notch two big upsets over playoff contenders this next two weeks (KC, Indy). His job, after all, could be in jeopardy following the TItans' mid-season meltdown.