NFL Week 15 predictions: Bet big on Panthers improving to 14-0, Steelers beating Broncos

Here are our NFL Nation reporters' predictions for Week 15:


New York Jets: Everything points to the Jets -- better players, better matchups and more motivation. The only way they can lose is if they get careless with the football, and that’s not likely to happen against an opponent that has only eight takeaways. The Jets’ confidence is at a season-high, and they realize they’re playing with very little margin for error in terms of the playoffs. Ryan Fitzpatrick & Co. should roll up some big numbers. Jets 31, Cowboys 13. -- Rich Cimini

Dallas Cowboys: A year ago, the Cowboys had no chance against Todd Bowles’ Arizona defense with their backup quarterback playing, gaining a season-low 266 yards in a 28-17 loss. Now the Jets’ coach, Bowles has a defense that might be the best the Cowboys have seen all year. New York is No. 1 against the run, No. 5 overall and giving up just 19.7 points per game. The Cowboys will be starting their backup, Matt Cassel, who is 1-5 as the starter and coming off his worst game. The calls for Kellen Moore to be the quarterback have grown louder in the past week. The best thing the Cowboys do is run the ball, and they have not done it consistently well this season. The best thing the Jets do is stop the run. The Cowboys’ passing game has been woeful, and points come out of the passing game. Jets 17, Cowboys 13. -- Todd Archer


Chicago Bears: Go figure. With the playoffs a pipe dream, the Bears show up motivated to play on Sunday. Minnesota is beatable. Remember, the Vikings had to score 10 points in the final 1:49 of play to beat Chicago in Week 8. They got lucky. The teams are evenly matched. The only reason to side with Minnesota on Sunday is because Mike Zimmer’s squad is desperate for a victory. After dropping two in a row, the Vikings now trail Green Bay by one game in the NFC North. A third straight loss would be disastrous. Minnesota finds a way to win, but the Bears make the Vikings earn it. Vikings 23, Bears 21. -- Jeff Dickerson

Minnesota Vikings: In the Vikings’ first meeting with the Bears, they started to find their identity, with Adrian Peterson running behind multiple tight end sets. Against Chicago's 26th-ranked run defense on Sunday, in a game the Vikings badly need, Peterson will be primed for a big day. Minnesota might still not be completely healthy on defense after a week in which Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen, Harrison Smith and Linval Joseph missed at least some practice time. But if the Vikings can build a game plan around Peterson, they should be able to complete a season sweep of the Bears and move within inches of their first playoff berth since 2012. Vikings 20, Bears 16. -- Ben Goessling


Atlanta Falcons: The key to the Falcons ending their six-game losing streak will be stopping Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who has thrown for eight touchdowns in the past two games. The Falcons rank 18th in pass defense, allowing 243 yards per game. But they have allowed only 17 passing TDs, tied for eighth-best in the league. It’s time to stop the skid. Falcons 24, Jaguars 21. -- ESPN.com

Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars’ offense has been rolling the past three weeks, scoring 115 points. Bortles has thrown 10 touchdown passes (one-third of his season total of 30) and just one interception over that span. He should be able to continue to put up big numbers against Atlanta. The Falcons are last in the NFL in sacks (15) and are allowing 243.2 passing yards per game. They are also among the worst teams in the league in third-down defense (29th) and red zone defense (28th). The Jaguars have scored touchdowns on their past 10 trips into the red zone. Even without RB T.J. Yeldon (knee), Jacksonville should be able to move the ball and score plenty of points. Jaguars 30, Falcons 17. -- Mike DiRocco


Houston Texans: If the Lions can win in Green Bay, the Texans can win in Indianapolis. They’ve never done it before, but there’s no better time than now, with the Colts coming off two blowout losses and set to trot out an injured Matt Hasselbeck. Yes, Hasselbeck tore apart the Texans in their first meeting in October, but Houston's defense pressured him only once in that game. The pass rush has improved, especially with Jadeveon Clowney, who has three sacks in his past two games. Texans 24, Colts 13. -- Tania Ganguli

Indianapolis Colts: Don’t pay attention to the Texans being winless (0-13) in Indianapolis. Circumstances are way different this year. Colts starting quarterback Andrew Luck (kidney/abdomen) has already been ruled out. His backup, Hasselbeck, isn’t certain he’ll play because of a rib injury. That leaves journeyman quarterback Charlie Whitehurst responsible for leading the Colts in their attempt to move into sole possession of first place in the AFC South. Whitehurst or Texans do-everything defensive star J.J. Watt? This is an easy decision. Watt and the Texans -- even with backup T.J. Yates starting at quarterback -- finally get their first victory over the Colts in Indianapolis. Texans 17, Colts 13. -- Mike Wells


Carolina Panthers: The Giants rank last in the NFL in total defense and net yards passing per game. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has thrown 13 touchdown passes to one interception over the past four games and has an average passer rating of 119.6 during that span. There’s no reason to think this will end based on how well Newton has played in the months of December and January in the past. The win streak continues. Panthers 31, Giants 16. -- David Newton

New York Giants: This may be a good time to catch the Panthers. Yes, they’re 13-0, but they’re coming off a drubbing of a division rival, they’ve already locked up a bye, and they’re going to be without their top running back and possibly their tight end. The Giants have more to play for than the Panthers, and getting to 16-0 is obviously no easy task. The odds are on Carolina slipping up at some point, and there’s a little bit of history that says it could be in the swamps of Jersey. But in the end, for me, this is about a Giants defense that can’t stop anybody when it has to, and a quarterback in Newton who has many ways to beat even a good defense. I think this rings like the Patriots game from a few weeks back, where the Giants play better than a lot of people expect them to play but can’t finish it off in the end. Panthers 31, Giants 28. -- Dan Graziano


Tennessee Titans: The Patriots haven’t lost back-to-back home games since 2008, and their last game at Gillette Stadium was a loss to the Eagles. New England will manage to minimize Delanie Walker, contain Marcus Mariota and find plenty of people to pick on in the Titans’ secondary en route to a blowout. Patriots 45, Titans 14. -- Paul Kuharsky

New England Patriots: After tight end Rob Gronkowski had a limited workload in Sunday’s win over the Texans (42 of 69 snaps), he could be back to his standard every-down role as he has been a full participant in practice. When Gronkowski is on the field, the Patriots are tough to beat -- especially at home. The Titans have given up 116 points in the fourth quarter this season, showing they don’t finish strong, while the Patriots have scored 117 points in the fourth. Hard to see Tennessee outlasting New England in this one. Patriots 33, Titans 13. -- Mike Reiss


Buffalo Bills: The Bills stay alive in the playoff race if they win this game, but despite Buffalo sharing a 6-7 record with Washington, the two teams appear headed in opposite directions. The Redskins are making a late push for the NFC East title, while there was a feeling of deflation in the Bills' locker room this week after their loss to the Eagles. Playing their fifth road game in the past six weeks, the Bills might not have several starters on offense (Charles Clay, Seantrel Henderson) and defense (Mario Williams, Nigel Bradham, Bacarri Rambo) because of injury. It's a tough spot. Redskins 21, Bills 14. -- Mike Rodak

Washington Redskins: The Redskins are 0-5 this season after a win, but they conquered one obstacle last week (winning on the road) and hope to post consecutive wins for the first time since Oct. 19-27 last season. The Bills’ defense has a reputation for being excellent, but they rank 17th or below in eight key statistical categories (and 15th in points allowed). The danger for Washington is stopping quarterback Tyrod Taylor and receiver Sammy Watkins on the deep ball. That could be an issue, but the Redskins will find a way to survive. Redskins 20, Bills 19. -- John Keim


Kansas City Chiefs: Expect a feast for the Kansas City defense, which preyed on Pittsburgh’s Landry Jones the only time this season it has faced a backup quarterback. The Ravens will use a backup Sunday, whether it’s Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen, and they’ve been prone to throwing interceptions. Baltimore throws an interception on 3.2 percent of its passes, one of the highest rates in the league. The Chiefs, led by rookie Marcus Peters, have 18 interceptions, second-most in the NFL. Turnovers will carry the Chiefs to a victory. Chiefs 27, Ravens 16. -- Adam Teicher

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens haven't decided between Clausen or Schaub, but does it really matter? Baltimore has scored a league-worst three offensive touchdowns in three games without Joe Flacco. The Chiefs have allowed an NFL-low eight touchdowns in their past five games. Chiefs 20, Ravens 12. -- Jamison Hensley


Cleveland Browns: What looks ugly should be ugly. Seattle's defense is overwhelming, and Russell Wilson is playing better than anyone in the league. The Browns' defense played well against the 49ers, but Seattle isn't San Francisco. Seahawks 31, Browns 6. -- Pat McManamon

Seattle Seahawks: In the past four games, Wilson has completed 75.4 percent of his passes, averaged 9.92 yards per attempt and thrown 16 touchdowns without an interception. That’s bad news for a Cleveland team that has lost six of its past seven and given up 30-plus points in five of those games. Seattle’s running back situation is in flux, but that is unlikely to matter in this one. The Seahawks are favored by more than two touchdowns and should win big. Seahawks 30, Browns 10. -- Sheil Kapadia


Green Bay Packers: The Packers have been a solid road team (4-2) in part because they’ve taken care of the ball. They’re plus-3 in turnover differential on the road, ninth-best in the NFL. Green Bay is plus-7 in all games, the fourth-best differential in the league. The Packers have also steadied themselves after their three-game losing streak, and with a playoff berth within reach, there is reason to think coach Mike McCarthy has his team playing better down the stretch. Packers 24, Raiders 22. -- Rob Demovsky

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders' defense has been playing better in the past month or so. It was stellar against Denver last week. The Packers will surely beware of Khalil Mack, who has nine sacks in the past three games. Still, Aaron Rodgers will get it done against the Raiders, who are just 2-4 at home and haven’t beaten Green Bay in 31 years. Packers 27, Raiders 23. -- Bill Williamson


Denver Broncos: It’s difficult to believe the Broncos, who lost to the Raiders after giving up only 126 yards of total offense, can match the Steelers' offense. Pittsburgh has gained at least 459 yards in four of the past five games and has topped 500 yards in three of those games. Denver has averaged 22.1 points in its seven road games this season, including four defensive touchdowns. So the Broncos are good enough to get the win. It’s just difficult to believe, with the injuries to the offensive line and how things looked on offense against the Raiders, that the offense can do enough to outscore Pittsburgh. Steelers 27, Broncos 17. -- Jeff Legwold

Pittsburgh Steelers: Pittsburgh’s streak of five straight games with at least 30 points will end. Denver’s defense will slow the passing game’s torrid pace. But it won’t be enough. The Steelers have found a rhythm that is hard to break. They are good against the run, especially at home, which will put pressure on Brock Osweiler to make plays in the passing game. Osweiler’s 17 sacks in five games will be welcome news to the Steelers, who rank fifth in the league with 38 sacks. Steelers 21, Broncos 17. -- Jeremy Fowler


Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins are just 1-4 against AFC opponents on the road this season, and the long trip from Miami to San Diego on a short week presents more challenges after a recent loss to the Giants on Monday Night Football. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers hasn't thrown a touchdown pass in two games. But the Dolphins' defense has allowed five passing touchdowns over the same span. This is the game Rivers figures it out and breaks out of his slump. Chargers 21, Dolphins 20. -- James Walker

San Diego Chargers: The Dolphins have defeated the Chargers the past two times, including a 37-0 shellacking in Miami last year. San Diego has lost eight of its past nine games. Rivers has little help on offense, and the Chargers have been held to a field goal in three of their past four games. However, the Chargers could find inspiration in playing perhaps the final game at Qualcomm Stadium. Dolphins 20, Chargers 17. -- Eric Williams


Cincinnati Bengals: For the Bengals, this game comes down to AJ McCarron. How well McCarron is able to manage the offense and work with the players around him will determine whether or not the second-year quarterback wins his first career start. If he does win, it will be the first time since 1987 that a former Alabama quarterback has won an NFL game that he has started. Along with helping ease McCarron into the starting mix, coach Marvin Lewis’ charge this week has been for everyone else on the 53-man roster -- offense, defense, special teams -- to raise their individual level of play. On the heels of a loss to the Steelers that still has some Bengals a little bitter, this is as good a time as any to get back on track and earn the seemingly inevitable postseason berth. Bengals 24, 49ers 13. -- Coley Harvey

San Francisco 49ers: I know, I know, the “big-headed” 49ers were handled last week by the woebegone Browns and Johnny Manziel, but that simply means the Niners had a reality check, right? And the Bengals, who always seem to fade in December, are now without their quarterback, as Andy Dalton broke his passing thumb on Sunday. McCarron? Call me crazy, but the Niners' defense is a different beast at home. 49ers 14, Bengals 13. -- Paul Gutierrez


Arizona Cardinals: There are a few reasons why the Cardinals will win Sunday night in Philadelphia. First, the NFC West title is on the line, as could be a first-round bye. Second, Arizona’s defense is used to the Eagles’ pace, having faced them in each of the past two seasons. Third, the Cardinals’ run defense is the fifth-best in the NFL, and if it can slow the Eagles’ run game, the rest of the offense won’t have a chance to get started. Cardinals 27, Eagles 17. -- Josh Weinfuss

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles are rolling after wins over New England and Buffalo. The Cardinals have won seven in a row and may be the best all-around team the Eagles have played this season. It will be an achievement to be in the game. Cardinals 33, Eagles 24. -- Phil Sheridan


Detroit Lions: The Lions haven’t won in New Orleans in almost 10 years (the last time was a 13-12 win on Dec. 24, 2005) and considering the way both teams are playing, there’s little reason to believe Detroit is going to reverse its three-game losing streak in New Orleans. The Saints do have the worst defense in the league, though, and that should lead to a big game from Matthew Stafford. It will be a high-scoring game, but don’t plan on the Lions pulling one out on Monday night. New Orleans 35, Detroit 28. -- Michael Rothstein

New Orleans Saints: There is a good chance both the Saints and Lions will be eliminated from playoff contention by the time this game kicks off (New Orleans is out if both Seattle and Minnesota win Sunday). So there won’t exactly be a playoff atmosphere on Monday night. But it’s still a prime-time game in the Superdome, which bodes well for the Saints. They have won 16 of their past 17 prime-time home games, including the playoffs. They are 2-0 in home night games this year. In order for that streak to continue, New Orleans' shaky secondary will have to hold up against Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Saints 27, Lions 23. -- Mike Triplett