Crunchtime Matchups: Week 15

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 11: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Dak Prescott #4 of the Dallas Cowboys in action against the New York Giants on December 11, 2016 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defeated the Cowboys 10-7. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

For the Week 15 edition of Crunchtime Matchups, I’m taking a look at crucial playoff deciding matchups featuring two teams in the playoff hunt.

Crunchtime Matchups: Week 15

This week, we’ve got 5 matchups, so let’s get started.

Tennessee Titans (7-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)

Kansas City has met expectations this season and has climbed to the number two seed in the AFC. What people didn’t expect was Tennessee making it this far. Behind a strong running game and the impressive play of Marcus Mariota, the team is still in playoff contention at week 15.

Now, Tennessee faces their toughest test of the season at Arrowhead. The Chiefs defensive line is one of the best in the league, and Justin Houston will be hungry to sack Mariota. On the Chiefs’ side of the ball, look for Alex Smith to be a key factor. In his last two games, Smith had great first halves and terrible second halves. Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce should be huge as well.

I think Mike Mularkey will try way too hard to win this one and cost the Titans the win. I mean, a road game in Kansas City isn’t easy either way, but Mularkey has held the offense back with drive halting trick plays and a lack of balance on play calling. Kansas City should have an easy win.

Detroit Lions (9-4) at New York Giants (9-4)

Will Detroit’s cardiac streak continue in Jersey? Maybe, but they’ll face an improving defense. The Lions have convinced themselves to ball out in the fourth quarter, and for the most part, it’s worked (somehow).

The Giants have upgraded the run game, receiving corps and defense to help clinch their first winning season since 2012, though there is much yet to do. Eli Manning has been up and down, but Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Paul Perkins have been huge pluses this season. Even safety Landon Collins has had massive improvement over the previous season.

The trouble with the Giants hasn’t been the play calls, but rather who’s getting the calls. Rashad Jennings, Larry Donnell, and Will Tye are strangling this team from its potential. In addition, key drops in crucial situations have hurt the team’s consistency.

That’s why Detroit has to get hot early. Theo Riddick might return to play, which will be vital for the Lions. The Giants face a similar issue, and need to do likewise to be in this game. Matthew Stafford is considered an MVP candidate, and a strong game on the road with an injured finger will help his case.

A battle of inconsistent teams means one winner will be less shaky, and New York should hang on to this one.

Indianapolis Colts (6-7) at Minnesota Vikings (7-6)

We’ve got two talented quarterbacks being strangled by their offensive lines in this playoff-hope-on-life-support showdown. Andrew Luck is having a terrific season, but a poor supporting cast (again) and bad coaching are keeping Indianapolis from running away with the AFC South. Coming in relief for Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford started the season off extremely consistent, but with the added pressure behind the Vikings offensive line he’s rarely been able to make big plays (not his fault). The Vikings started 5-0 and have tripped to 7-6.

The Colts game plan is simply hope Luck has a great game. It’s not like other teams where the quarterback obviously needs to be good, but has a supporting cast to help him if he makes mistakes. Bradford’s receivers are better, but the offensive line is actually worse.

So this will be a battle of “Who gets the ball off without getting hit?” The Vikings offensive line had a strong game last week against the Jaguars, but this says more about the Jaguars than it does the Vikings. The Colts defensive line isn’t as bad, but it’s not good either.

But the big story is Adrian Peterson‘s return to the field. The future Hall of Fame back struggled to start his first two games, and he’ll likely be rusty for this one. Frankly, I think he’s in his declining stage, as he’s not at the quality we’re used to seeing. But if there’s anytime where he can prove he still has some tricks up his sleeve, now is the time.

With Stefon Diggs and unsung hero Adam Thielen getting involved, Minnesota should take care of this one.

New England Patriots (11-2) at Denver Broncos (8-5)

These two teams meet yet again, but this time there’s no Peyton Manning or Brock Osweiler. This time, Denver is in critical need of a victory. The defense has been great, but the offense has struggled with consistency, whether it be Trevor Siemian, the receivers, the run game, or the offensive line.

The Patriots have had a typical season where the passing game balls out and Rob Gronkowski gets hurt. This time, he’s out for the season, which is a massive blow, yet at the same time they’re still the best team in the AFC. The signings of Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan should hold the fort for now. Bennett is one of the best tight ends in the league and obviously Tom Brady is one of the game’s elite passers.

Denver has been the thorn in New England’s side for some time, winning two AFC titles against them in the last three years. And with Gronk out, New England’s hopes to win are slipping. LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis need to be involved early on, and Julian Edelman must find his tough again after a rough game against the Ravens.

After a shocking loss to the Titans, Denver should win it, but I have New England winning on the road. I think NE’s game plan will elevate the team to victory over a struggling offense.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (11-2)

Where did this come from? Tampa Bay wasn’t expected to be close to making the playoffs, yet here we are. Jameis Winston is arguably the most inconsistent passer in the league, but Mike Evans and Doug Martin have been high quality, and the defense has help up its own in the last five games.

The Cowboys are coming off a tough loss against the Giants, the only opponent to beat them this season, but they still sit high up top the NFC at 11-2. Dak Prescott has had a good rookie season, but has struggled with his consistency in areas Tony Romo is advanced in, and people are calling for #9 to start as a result. Ezekiel Elliott is an MVP candidate and Rookie of the Year frontrunner, helping advance the run game to its full potential.

Tampa Bay’s passing game is far from the most efficient, but it can work, and against the Cowboys defense, should give a close game. Prescott needs to improve his footwork and accuracy if the Cowboys want to win this one, and it doesn’t need to be mentioned that Elliott should be involved early as well.

Dez Bryant has made a huge impact outside of the box score with his presence alone. Because he’s often covered, other receivers like Cole Beasley are getting targeted instead. Perhaps it’s the Romo factor, but that explains why people in fantasy want their money back. He should be involved in this one, though.

Dallas wins this one. Tampa Bay’s defense has to hold the fort, and against the best offensive line in the league, I don’t think they can.

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