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Week 15 NFL picks straight up: Chiefs hold off Chargers; Packers sweep Bears | NFL

Any other season, any other week, the Patriots visiting the Steelers — with both in first place and with playoff seeding on the line — would be the one game to rule above all others. Not this week, though.

The game of Week 15 takes place three days earlier, on Thursday night in Kansas City. If we’re lucky, we’ll need that long to recover from the potential drama.

The Chargers-Chiefs game at Arrowhead will be worth all the hype, and it will mean the world to the winner. Yes, those other two teams are always lurking and almost certainly will in the playoffs, but telling either of them that they have to go through either Kansas City or … well, OK, Carson, but still … carries a lot of weight.

Once again, it stinks that they have to play this on a short week. But on the bright side, they got a game that’s worthy of a prime-time audience, and that’s been no guarantee this season.

Week 15 NFL picks against the spread

Week 15 NFL picks, predictions

(All times ET)

Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-2)

Thursday, 8:20 p.m., Fox/NFLN/Amazon Prime

It takes a lot to overshadow what the Chargers have done this season, and since their 0-5 start last season — what Philip Rivers has done at age 37, what Antonio Gates has done when pressed back into service, what the offense has done without Melvin Gordon recently, what the defense did for half the season without Joey Bosa, what Anthony Lynn just keeps on doing under the radar. But the Chiefs have overshadowed it, and Patrick Mahomes is almost the sole reason. If he can drive them to a season sweep, clinch the division an all but guarantee home field, he will have done it over one audacious opponent.

Prediction: Chiefs, 29-24

Houston Texans (9-4) at New York Jets (4-9)

Saturday, 4:30 p.m., NFLN​

It’s that time of year when the NFL eats up a fourth day of the week, jumping into the college void. It was far more likely that the Texans would come in off a win and the Jets off a loss, instead of vice versa. That shouldn’t slow the Texans, though; they could cause serious nightmares for Sam Darnold, even if he lasts through the entire game. Give the Jets credit for refusing to lie down for the final stretch. It probably won’t help them this week.

Prediction: Texans, 23-13

Cleveland Browns (5-7-1) at Denver Broncos (6-7)

Saturday, 8:20 p.m., NFLN​

The Browns are now sniffing around at a playoff berth, and they have another contender in front of them, one that’s got to be slapping itself for losing to the horrible 49ers last week. The Broncos are capable of doing to Baker Mayfield and the offense what the Texans did to them two weeks ago. One of their biggest problems this season is that they don’t do that enough.

Prediction: Broncos, 20-16

Green Bay Packers (5-7-1) at Chicago Bears (9-4)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

Aaron Rodgers could slow the Bears’ roll just off of muscle memory. If the Packers’ defense shows up at all, Green Bay could do some spoiling, or at least some delaying of the inevitable in the NFC North. Of course, the Bears’ defense is in the shutdown business, and Rodgers operating alone isn’t too big for them. Or so they thought. … No, seriously. They’d better watch out.

Prediction: Packers, 27-24

MORE: Updated NFL playoff picture

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-8) at Baltimore Ravens (7-6)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

The quarterback dilemma continues in Baltimore, but the Ravens get to see the flip side of their supposedly unpleasant choice. Lamar Jackson or Joe Flacco is far preferable to Jameis Winston trying to secure his spot as the Bucs’ franchise quarterback. Winston absolutely has to finish strong, while the Ravens are almost out of games they can afford to lose.

Prediction: Ravens, 30-21

Miami Dolphins (7-6) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6-1)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

The Dolphins are blessed by the football gods after that multi-lateral miracle last week against the Patriots. The Vikings are cursed by … who knows, anymore? Expectations? Money pressure ($84 million worth)? Bad fit, bad luck, bad officiating; all of it has conspired to fling the Vikings into the running for biggest disappointment of the year. The Dolphins’ defense should consider this a golden opportunity to keep a beaten offense down.

Prediction: Dolphins, 24-17

Dallas Cowboys (8-5) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

The Colts are out of time for regrets over lost chances (shut out by the Jaguars? Come on), and they can’t afford to lose anymore. The Cowboys can put their foot on the throats of their division and make themselves a classic “don’t want to play them” team in the postseason. The defenses, again, are in the spotlight, with both teams’ units getting better as the season has gone on.

Prediction: Colts, 27-23

Detroit Lions (5-8) at Buffalo Bills (4-9)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

Based purely on perception, it seemed last week that the Bills were having a better season than the Jets; it doesn’t anymore, after the Jets’ win equaled their records. Surprisingly (not really), Josh Allen’s increased use of his legs rather than his arm is being applauded around the league while it’s being lamented in other places (hey there, Lamar Jackson). If the Lions were relatively healthy, particularly on defense, they could make Allen’s day miserable. They may not be, though.

Prediction: Bills, 16-13

MORE: Playoff clinching scenarios for Week 15

Arizona Cardinals (3-10) at Atlanta Falcons (4-9)

Sunday, 1 p.m., Fox

The Falcons all of the sudden are siding into No. 1 pick territory, and losing at home to the Cardinals would nudge them even closer. Whether tanking is now appealing to a team with a recent MVP and a flock of players coming back from injuries next season remains to be seen. The Cardinals’ season appears to be reduced to saying farewell and thank you to Larry Fitzgerald, just in case.

Prediction: Cardinals, 24-14

Oakland Raiders (3-10) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-8)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Jon Gruden’s tearing down of the Raiders organization he inherited continues, as Reggie McKenzie gets pushed onto the gangplank. The team that won 12 games and looked like a Super Bowl contender two seasons ago before Derek Carr broke his ankle is just a rumor now. The Bengals actually showed a pulse last week against the Chargers, remarkable considering what they weren’t able to accomplish for nearly two months while Andy Dalton and A.J. Green were healthy.

Prediction: Bengals, 20-13

Tennessee Titans (7-6) at New York Giants (5-8)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

This week, the Giants face a team that isn’t stumbling through the end of the season in a daze, like the team it walloped last week. They likely can’t get away with missing Odell Beckham Jr. this week. A showdown between Derrick Henry, who just had another Jaguars tackle bounce off of him, and Saquon Barkley would be a lot of fun. Marcus Mariota taking advantage of a depleted Giants defense would be better for the Titans’ playoff hopes.

Prediction: Titans, 23-14

Washington Redskins (6-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

The Vikings’ Monday night fade managed to elevated two sinking teams back into the NFC playoff race, so, welcome back, Washington and Carolina. The Jaguars have had extra time to watch themselves get stiff-armed right into the offseason; it’s hard to see how it will help, though, since with extremely rare exceptions their defense has been a shadow of its former self all season. Washington, though, has no weapons to speak of to exploit that. Last but not least: Josh Johnson vs. Cody Kessler. How did this not get flexed to Sunday night?

Prediction: Jaguars, 24-19

Seattle Seahawks (8-5) at San Francisco 49ers (3-10)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m., Fox

The Seahawks probably should have pulled on ski masks and escaped CenturyLink Field in an unmarked van after that theft Monday night against the Vikings. The way Russell Wilson played with the exception of one dazzling fourth-quarter run, that win was a gift, from the awful Vikings offense and from the refs who decided not to flag Bobby Wagner for leveraging on that blocked field goal. Here’s another gift: They play the 49ers, whose face-saving win over the Broncos last week was a good sign that they’re just overwhelmed, not quitters.

Prediction: Seahawks, 30-16

New England Patriots (9-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5-1)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS

Two traditional powers that managed to out-think themselves the week before … except that one, the Steelers, are starting to make it a habit. The Patriots really do have to win out to earn a bye and avoid going on the road as long as possible. The Steelers just need to win after three straight losses and four straight awful performances. They also had better play some semblance of defense; as leaky as the Patriots have been surprisingly often, the Steelers can’t be counted on at all to stop anyone when they have to.

Prediction: Patriots 27-25

MORE: Updated NFL power rankings

Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) at Los Angeles Rams (11-2)

Sunday, 8:20 p.m., NBC

The Eagles gave up 576 yards to the Cowboys last week, an atrocious figure unless you factor in that they forced three turnovers, kept them without a touchdown until the fourth quarter, gave up just 23 points in regulation and lost on a deflected pass. There are worse formulas to try against a team like the Rams, who took a beating in Chicago and turned the ball over a bunch. It could work, but … it won’t.

Prediction: Rams, 28-24

New Orleans Saints (11-2) at Carolina Panthers (6-7)

Monday, 8:15 p.m., ESPN

In five weeks, the Panthers have gone from “don’t sleep on them in the playoffs” to “don’t renew that lease just yet, Coach Rivera.” Cam Newton has gone from just four interceptions during their 6-2 start to eight (with a shoulder clearly hindering him) during their five-game losing skid. Can they climb back into contention? Not playing the Saints twice in the final three games, they can’t.

Prediction: Saints, 44-23

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