Sports | December 17, 2021 10:13 am

Expert NFL Picks for Week 15 Including Patriots-Colts, Titans-Steelers and Packers-Ravens

Kevin Rogers of VegasInsider, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights

Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots stops Jordan Wilkins of the Indianapolis Colts
Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots stops Jordan Wilkins of the Indianapolis Colts.
Christopher Evans/Digital First Media/Boston Herald via Getty

This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.

For this edition of Best Bets, Kevin Rogers, a veteran handicapper for VegasInsider.com, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on five Week 15 games, including a number of tilts that could be affected by positive COVID-19 tests and last-minute calls about injured players.

You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.

Las Vegas Raiders (-1, O/U 37) at Cleveland Browns


A compelling matchup because … it may not even be played thanks to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Browns camp. If this Saturday game does take place, the Browns may be forced to star third-string quarterback Nick Mullens against Vegas as both starter Baker Mayfield and backup Case Keenum tested positive for COVID-19 and were placed in the league’s health and safety protocols. The Browns are fighting for their playoff lives, as are the Raiders, but Cleveland is missing players across the board and will be in rough shape. Running back Nick Chubb figures to be a huge part of the game plan no matter what against a leaky Las Vegas defense.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Raiders (6-7 SU, 5-8 against the spread) just got demolished by the Chiefs 48-9, failing to cover as 9-point road dogs. The Browns (7-6 SU, 5-8 ATS) are 3-2 over their last five games and just beat the Ravens 24-22, although Cleveland failed to cover as 3-point home favorites. We’ve seen massive line movement due to a cluster of COVID cases on the Browns, flipping the Raiders to a 1-point road favorite. I am going to buy-low on Cleveland and tease the Browns up from +1 to +7.  

Gable’s Guess: The Browns were 6.5-point favorites earlier, but that’s come down and flipped. The Browns came away with a win in Week 14 but failed to put away the Ravens and didn’t score any points in the second half. Mayfield said they got conservative and that allowed Baltimore back in the game. They’ve been outscored 170 to 103 in the second half this season. In the fourth quarter, they’ve been outscored 105 to 52. Whatever adjustments they are making at halftime just are not working. Las Vegas is in a tailspin. While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, they don’t look like anything close to a playoff team. The only sign of life this team has had recently was on Thanksgiving. The Browns have everything to play for here, but they’re going to be down quite a few players. Given the COVID-19 cases here, I’d stay away if possible.

Rogers’s Recommendation: The Browns haven’t won consecutive games since early October, but the Raiders have dropped five of their past six and are coming off a 39-point road loss at Kansas City. Much depends on who is available for Cleveland, but if Mayfield is out and some other key players are sidelined, the Raiders are the side here, even as a favorite. Best Bet: Las Vegas -1.

Our Pick: This game is a mess, just like Cleveland’s QB play all season. Still, we’ll take the Browns with the point.

New England Patriots (+2.5, O/U 45.5) at Indianapolis Colts


A compelling matchup because … to help the team he ended his career with gain an edge over the one with whom he broke into the NFL, former kicker Adam Vinatieri will bang the anvil at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night before the Colts host the Patriots in a game that has huge playoff implications. Both teams have been better on the road this season, as the Colts are just 3-4 playing in Indianapolis, while the Patriots are an unblemished 6-0 playing as the visitors. Based on the current standings, this game could also be a playoff preview.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Patriots (9-4 SU, 9-4 ATS) just took down the Bills 14-10, winning outright as 3-point road dogs. The Colts (7-6 SU, 8-5 ATS) are 6-2 over their last eight games and just waxed the Texans 31-10, easily covering as 10-point road favorites. This line opened at roughly a pick’em. The public is happy to grab the points with the streaking Patriots, yet we’ve seen this line flip to Colts -2.5. While I don’t love going against sharp action, I love the Patriots in an inflated teaser (+2.5 to +8.5), which goes through multiple key numbers.

Gable’s Guess: Taking on the Colts, this will be the stiffest test of New England’s defense for quite some time. The defense and special teams have been outstanding for New England and they’re allowing an NFL-best 15.4 points per game. They are No. 3 in total defense at 310 yards allowed per game and during their seven-game winning streak, they’ve allowed just over 10 points per game while causing at least one turnover. Now they’re facing the best running back in football in Jonathan Taylor. Indy’s first in rushing average at 5.1 yards per game and will also get their center Ryan Kelly back. Their entire starting offensive line will be back together. On defense, I’m sure the Colts will really look to focus on the New England rushing attack and make Mac Jones execute some throws downfield. As long as it stays under 3, I’m going to lay the points with the Colts.

Rogers’s Recommendation: This seemed like just another game on the schedule when the season started, but there are plenty of stakes inside the AFC for the winner. The Pats seek their eighth straight win atop the AFC, while Indianapolis is in the mix for a Wild Card spot. The Pats are on a 7-0 SU/ATS run. However, Indianapolis is playing its best football as well after a slow start. Seeing this line flip in favor of the Colts, this is a spot to fade New England. Best Bet: Indianapolis -2.5.

Our Pick: The Patriots have been covering, and winning, for two months now. Take the points.

Tennessee Titans (-1.5, O/U 43) at Pittsburgh Steelers


A compelling matchup because … finally starting to get healthy and still expecting star running back Derrick Henry to return from injury at some point this season, the Titans can clinch their division with a win over Pittsburgh coupled with Indy losing to New England. The Steelers are still mathematically alive for the playoffs, but are the worst team in their division and have played like a team with a much worse record than 6-6-1 for large stretches of the year. Pittsburgh has had extra time to get ready for the Titans after playing last Thursday, but it may not matter much.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Titans (9-4 SU, 8-5 ATS) snapped a two-game losing skid with a 20-0 win over the Jags last week, easily covering as 8.5-point home favorites. The Steelers (6-6-1 SU, 5-8 ATS) are just 1-3 over their last four games and just fell to Minnesota 36-28, failing to cover as 3.5-point road dogs. This line opened with the Titans listed as a 2.5-point road favorite. Respected money has grabbed the points with the home dog Steelers, dropping the line. Pittsburgh has a rest advantage and conference dogs +7 or less are 65-34 ATS (66%). Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin is 43-22 ATS (66%) in his career as an underdog. I’ll bet the Steelers on the money line.

Gable’s Guess: Tennessee is currently the No. 2 seed in the AFC, but their offense is still struggling a bit without Henry. Ryan Tannehill is a decent quarterback, but he’s not going to get you to the promised land by himself. Their defense will be the key here against Pittsburgh’s offense. Najee Harris finally found some room to run for the Steelers last week. They just can’t dig themselves into a big hole again and expect to get out against Tennessee’s defense. For Pittsburgh, three of their last four games have gone over as they’re starting to find themselves in these shootout-style games. Tennessee’s offense isn’t great, but everyone seems to be able to score on the Pittsburgh defense lately. I just think things are going to start to turn here a little bit for the Steelers defensively without key players on offense for Tennessee. I’m going to look to take the under here.

Rogers’s Recommendation: The AFC North is wide open coming down the stretch as Pittsburgh is still alive at 6-6-1. The Steelers likely need to win out, but it’s not impossible, as Pittsburgh plays Baltimore and Cleveland coming up. Pittsburgh dug themselves a huge hole in last Thursday’s loss at Minnesota, but the Steelers rallied back and had a shot to tie the game late. The Titans shut out the hapless Jaguars last week to snap a slide, but Tennessee is listed as a road favorite for only the third time this season (1-1 SU/ATS). The Steelers have won twice as a home underdog this season and this is a good opportunity to grab another win in that role. Best Bet: Pittsburgh +1.5.

Our Pick: We have no confidence the Steelers will come to play from week to week. Lay the points with the visitors.

Seattle Seahawks (+5.5, O/U 45.5) at Los Angeles Rams


A compelling matchup because … technically not dead in the playoff hunt in the NFC, the Seahawks will likely have to win out to have any shot at returning to the postseason in what could be Russell Wilson’s final season in Seattle. The Rams may be missing some key players due to COVID-19, but they are also far deeper than the Seahawks and have been the better team for the entirety of this season. Seattle has played its best ball against NFC West foes and has a 2-2 record in divisional games despite being three games below .500 on the season. The Seahawks also have COVID-19 issues.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Seahawks (5-8 SU, 7-6 ATS) just waxed the Texans 33-13, easily covering as 9.5-point road favorites. The Rams (9-4 SU, 6-7 ATS) have won two straight and are coming off an upset win over the Cardinals 30-23, winning outright as 3-point road dogs. This line opened with Los Angeles listed as a 7-point home favorite. We’ve seen the line fall to 5.5 due to injuries and COVID-19 concerns for the Rams, who are also on a short week. Road dogs +7 or less are 59-25 ATS (70%) this season. Wilson is 25-12 ATS (68%) in his career as a dog. I’ll grab divisional dog Seattle and tease the Seahawks up from +5.5 to +11.5., which goes through the key numbers of 7 and 10. 

Gable’s Guess: LA got a huge win against Arizona without some key starters, including Jalen Ramsey and Tyler Higbee. Matthew Stafford had a tremendous game and Cooper Kupp needs to be included in the MVP conversation, even though no one will [include him]. He had another 13 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals. On Seattle’s side, they haven’t given up on the season. Rashaad Penny had 137 rushing yards with two huge touchdown runs of 32 and 47 yards last week. If Penny can stay healthy, he should remain the top back for Seattle. Wilson is slowly starting to get back into form but continues to miss some throws he normally makes. Did he come back from that injury too soon? Probably. But we’ve started to see some improvement with him. So when this was at seven, I was going to take the points for Seattle. The Rams haven’t really vanquished my opinion of them with one big win. I’m going to take the points with Seattle for the time being.

Rogers’s Recommendation: Teams coming off Monday night wins this season are 12-0-1 heading into Week 15. (The Patriots were off last week.) However, L.A. is in a tough spot after dealing with COVID issues following its victory at Arizona on Monday. Seattle is playing with momentum after winning the last two games against San Francisco and Houston, and they’ll also be trying to avenge a 26-17 home loss to the Rams earlier this season. The Seahawks are likely missing the playoffs, but they have two very winnable games against the Bears and Lions which could get them back to the .500 mark if they can beat the Rams. Best Bet: Seattle +5.5.

Our Pick: If the Seahawks are going to make it a game, they’ll need to score. We’ll side with the over.

Green Bay Packers (-5.5, O/U 43.5) at Baltimore Ravens


A compelling matchup because … though the status of Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson is in doubt, it sounds as if he’ll return from an ankle injury on Sunday in Baltimore. Of course, he did sit out a game earlier this season with an illness, so the Ravens may take a cautious approach with their quarterback. All three of Green Bay’s losses this season have been on the road, while the Ravens are 5-1 on their home turf in Baltimore. The Ravens are in a bit of a tailspin but do seem like the sort of hard-nosed team that could give Green Bay trouble.

Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Packers (10-3 SU, 11-2 ATS) just swept aside the Bears 45-30, covering as 12-point home favorites. The Ravens (8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS) have lost two straight and just fell to the Browns 24-22, although Baltimore covered as 3-point road dogs. This line has been all over the place with both Aaron Rodgers and Jackson dealing with injuries. The public is pounding Green Bay and the line has settled at Packers -5.5  on the road. The Ravens are super contrarian and also a desperate team in a classic buy-low spot. Jackson is 8-1 ATS in his career as a dog. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh is 38-28 ATS (58%) as a dog. I’ll grab the Ravens +5.5.

Gable’s Guess: We really don’t know the severity of Jackson’s ankle. Filling in for him on Sunday, Tyler Huntley did a noble job after he came in and almost pulled off a tremendous comeback. He threw for 270 yards and ran for 45 more. But make no mistake, there’s definitely a drop-off between him and Jackson. They’ve lost three of their last five games and are now really struggling for a playoff spot. I don’t know if Rodgers has an endorsement deal with Right Guard, but he should, because he covers up a lot of what stinks with this Packers team. Holes in the offensive line? No problem for Rodgers. Horrible special teams and a placekicker with the yips?  Just have Rodgers throw more touchdowns. He really should be the MVP at this point because they’re sitting in the No. 1 seed position due to him. There are a lot of glaring issues with this Packers team, but no one seems to have an answer for Rodgers. So, I’m going to continue to lay the points with the Packers.

Rogers’s Recommendation: Jackson is day-to-day and hasn’t been sharp recently as he has thrown three touchdown passes and been intercepted six times in the past four games. The Packers put up another dominating offensive effort in a 45-30 triumph over the Bears last week, marking their 11th cover in 13 games. Regardless of Jackson’s status, the Packers are pretty unstoppable right now and Baltimore’s offense has hit a wall over the last month. Best Bet: Green Bay -5.5.

Our Pick: The Packers have a habit of losing weird games and Baltimore needs a win. We’ll take the Ravens with the points.

Last Week: 2-3; Season: 31-36-1

Editor’s note: Betting lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors such as COVID-19. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.