Nov 20, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (25) runs the ball during the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Week 15 Prop Picks: Backup RBs on blast

With just four weeks remaining in the regular season, all 32 teams have had their byes and a full slate of games is on the docket through Week 18.

There are plenty of options on the board if you’re shopping for player props.

Here are three we like on Sunday.

–Clyde Edwards-Helaire under 45.5 rushing yards (-115 at FanDuel)
The emergence of Isiah Pacheco relegated Edwards-Helaire to a backup role in the Chiefs’ running back pecking order. However, Edwards-Helaire did get a chance to start in Week 14 against the Bills, as Pacheco was inactive due to a shoulder injury.

Edwards-Helaire wasn’t exactly convincing, rushing for 39 yards on 11 carries. His 3.5 yards per carry matched his season mark, perhaps suggesting that this is as good as it will get with the backup running back.

Edwards-Helaire couldn’t get much going against a Bills team that ranks 18th in the FTN Network’s Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) metric.

Next up for the Chiefs is a Patriots defense that sits atop the league using the same metric.

Given how the Chiefs run their offense, ranking 26th with a run play rate of 38.7%, I question whether there are enough carries for Edwards-Helaire to go over this prop.

–Ezekiel Elliott under 19.5 rushing attempts (-114 at FanDuel)
Elliott is coming off a season-high 22 carries, he ran for just 3.1 yards per carry. He was more effective out of the backfield, with 72 receiving yards on seven receptions.

I’ll expect him to regress to the mean against a Chiefs team that will be in a foul mood following their 20-17 home loss to the Bills.

Questions continue to linger about Kansas City’s wide receiver group, which has been underperforming despite having an MVP-caliber quarterback in Patrick Mahomes.

Kansas City can get right against this Patriots pass defense that ranks 24th in Nfelo’s expected points added (EPA) metric.

Part of Elliott’s increase in usage in Week 14 might have more to do with how the game played out, given that New England jumped out to a 21-7 lead in the second quarter and held on for a 21-18 victory.

The Patriots are likely to be chasing the game against the Chiefs, making them less likely to prioritize a rushing attack with Elliott staying under his attempts prop.

–Mitch Trubisky over 4.5 rushing attempts (+114 at DraftKings)
At 7-6, the Steelers are currently the sixth seed in the AFC. Seating could change quickly given that four teams with identical records remain in the hunt for one of the three wild-card spots.

Pittsburgh is currently on a two-game losing streak and won’t have starting quarterback Kenny Pickett due to a high ankle injury. The Steelers will turn to backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky when they desperately need a win to snap a two-game losing streak.

Thus, it’s imperative that the Steelers put together a strategy that suits Trubisky’s skillset. That game plan should include rolling Trubisky out of the pocket and calling some designed run plays for the quarterback.

His lone start this season was last week, and he carried the ball eight times. He’s had two other games where he didn’t start but took roughly half of the quarterback snaps and finished with three carries in each contest.

If Trubisky can play the entire game, I expect him to use his legs and go over this rushing prop. Note that this Colts defense can be vulnerable against the run, ranking 26th in both EPA and DVOA.

–Field Level Media

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Nick Mullens (12) runs with the ball against the Tennessee Titans during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Week 15 NFL Capsules (Saturday games)

–Saturday games

Minnesota Vikings (7-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-6): Nick Mullens starts for the 18th time in his career and first with the Vikings, who turn to a fourth QB this season in the thick of a playoff chase in the NFC. Neither team can afford a loss with a logjam of teams with mediocre records surrounding them in the standings. Benched was Josh Dobbs after a punchless offense survived to win 3-0 at Las Vegas in Week 14. Mullens has a stout defense working behind him and All-Pro WR Justin Jefferson (chest) plans to play in a reunion of sorts with former LSU teammate Ja’Marr Chase. Chase had no issues connecting with backup Jake Browning. Browning produced 34 points in each of the past two games and is on a record pace for completion percentage — 75.5 in three starts — while rookie Chase Brown has emerged as a legitimate wingman to Joe Mixon in a more productive backfield.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) at Indianapolis Colts (7-6): A wildcard intersection might become a postseason off-ramp for the loser of this game depending on how dominoes fall Sunday. The Colts lost for the first time since the end of October last week at Cincinnati and cracks are starting to appear in the run defense. Indianapolis has been hit for at least 125 rushing yards in six of the past seven games. Pittsburgh, what with a backup quarterback and milquetoast offense, is primed to deploy a ground-and-pound approach using a conservative running game to back the Steelers’ stout defense. Indianapolis won’t have top back Jonathan Taylor (thumb) again, but the combination of Gardner Minshew and WR Michael Pittman Jr. has been filthy. Pittman has at least eight receptions in six consecutive games.

Denver Broncos (7-6) at Detroit Lions (9-4): Sean Payton brought the Broncos back from the brink of self-combustion by lending a stronger voice to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Denver has a string of eight consecutive games holding opponents to 22 or fewer points with 18 takeaways in the past seven games and 15 sacks in the past three. Lions coach Dan Campbell sees the dashboard warning lights, but believes the easy fix to most of what ails Detroit is the turnover battle. The return of safety CJ Gardner-Johnson should spark the secondary, but more consistent play from QB Jared Goff has been the focus for Campbell and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson. Goff threw two picks and was sacked four times in the Lions’ loss at Chicago last week.

–Sunday and Monday games will be added Friday afternoon following the release of injury reports.

–Field Level Media

Dec 10, 2023; Baltimore, Maryland, USA;  Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) passses against the Baltimore Ravens during the second half at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jessica Rapfogel-USA TODAY Sports

Rams continue playoff chase, welcome Commanders

Much was made of two missed blocks in the back Sunday when the Baltimore Ravens walked off the Los Angeles Rams in overtime with a 76-yard punt-return touchdown by Tylan Wallace.

Whether it was to avoid a big fine from the NFL or because the film told him something fans and pundits might have overlooked, Rams coach Sean McVay took that conversation in a different direction ahead of this Sunday’s visit from the Washington Commanders.

“There was a lot of opportunities to be able to make the play on that given punt return that wasn’t just exclusive to the block in the back,” McVay said. “We had six missed tackles on that play. I could sit here and be upset about it, but it is wasted energy.”

And the Rams (6-7) certainly can’t afford to waste anything else, whether it’s energy or games, if they want to claim an NFC wild-card spot. They sit behind Green Bay for the final playoff berth, thanks to the Packers’ 20-3 win against them last month.

The good news is that the Rams have a schedule conducive to making a playoff push. Their next three games — Washington, New Orleans, New York Giants — are all against losing teams. Only a season-ending trip to San Francisco could be described as daunting, and the 49ers might be resting players that day, depending on their playoff positioning.

The Rams’ offense is certainly playing at a postseason level, scoring 104 points in the last three games. They had 410 yards and 31 points last week in Baltimore as Matthew Stafford threw for 294 yards and three scores while Kyren Williams rushed for 114 yards on 25 carries.

Both could enjoy big days this week against a Washington defense that has been a major disappointment. The Commanders (4-9) fired coordinator Jack Del Rio after a 45-10 Thanksgiving Day loss in Dallas but gave up another 45 two weeks ago in a 30-point home loss to Miami.

They are allowing a league-worst 30.4 points per game and gave up at least 30 points eight times in the first 13 games of the season. A closing schedule that also includes San Francisco and Dallas isn’t likely to puff up the defense’s stats in a positive direction.

Washington coach Ron Rivera, whose job status appears to be in jeopardy even if the team finishes strongly, is stressing the need for his squad to live up to its job title as professionals.

“Come to work, put in an honest day’s hard work and then get ready for the next day, and then we’ll play on Sunday,” he said. “And that’s going to be the whole point, guys. This is about coming in and being the professional.”

Second-year quarterback Sam Howell has shown real potential at times, throwing for 3,466 yards and 18 touchdowns, but he also has 16 turnovers, 14 of them interceptions. Terry McLaurin could threaten his career-best 87 receptions with a strong finish.

Washington boasts a 24-12-1 series record in regular-season matchups, although the Rams took the last meeting three years ago, 30-10.

–Field Level Media

Dec 11, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) is congratulated by fullback Kyle Juszczyk (44) after scoring a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third quarter at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Week 15: Chiefs, Vikings, 49ers can clinch divisions

Five teams can punch their ticket to the NFL postseason this week, including three that can clinch their division title — the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and San Francisco 49ers.

All the Chiefs, Vikings and Niners have to do is win to emerge as division champions. The 49ers (9-4) could be the first to do it, with a Thursday night game at NFC West rival Seattle. However, that’s the only scenario for them to clinch.

The Vikings (10-3), who host Indianapolis on Saturday, could win the NFC North even if they lose. A loss or tie by Detroit vs. the New York Jets would also suffice.

Ditto for the Chiefs (10-3), who play at Houston on Sunday. KC can still clinch the AFC West in the event of a loss, if the Los Angeles Chargers lose or both teams tie in Week 15.

The Buffalo Bills (10-3) can clinch a playoff berth with a win over visiting Miami on Saturday night. The Bills also get in if they tie the Dolphins and the Los Angeles Chargers lose.

Finally, the Dallas Cowboys (10-3) can also cement their spot in the postseason with a win at Jacksonville on Sunday. They can get in on four other scenarios as well if they fail to beat the Jaguars.

Just one team – Philadelphia – has clinched a spot in the postseason entering Week 15. The NFC East, however, remains up for grabs.

–Field Level Media

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) sits on the ground after an injury during the first half of an NFL football game at FirstEnergy Stadium, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Cleveland, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]Browns 3

Bengals up next, Ravens lean toward running Lamar Jackson vs. Packers

As Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson recovers from a sprained right ankle, the team still stands perched atop the AFC North, leading the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals by one game.

Would the Ravens entertain the possibility of resting Jackson for Sunday’s visit from the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers as a date with the Bengals looms the following week?

“I would say it factors in zero percent because we’re trying to win this game,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “You want to try to get every win you can.”

Whether the Ravens (8-5) attempt to do so without Jackson while attempting to avoid a three-game losing streak appeared doubtful. Harbaugh said Wednesday that Jackson was day-to-day after injuring himself on the first play of the second quarter in a Week 14 loss in Cleveland.

Tyler Huntley, who started when Baltimore defeated the Chicago Bears 16-13 on Nov. 21 and nearly helped the Ravens recover from a 21-point deficit last week, took the starter’s reps to start the week.

“He’s shown he can be a starter in this league,” Ravens linebacker Justin Houston said. “I believe in him. That kid is special.”

The Ravens on Wednesday also signed Josh Johnson off the New York Jets’ practice squad as a possible backup.

Baltimore has committed 31 penalties over the past four games and allowed 47 sacks through 13 games, most in the NFL. Seeking their 14th consecutive victory against an NFC opponent, the Ravens figure to have a tinier margin for error if Jackson is unable to play.

“No matter who they have out there, you can count on them being tough, physical,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said.

Green Bay (10-3) has won three of four after defeating the visiting Chicago Bears 45-30 in Week 14 behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ 341 yards and four passing touchdowns.

“Simply put, one of the best to ever play the game,” Harbaugh said.

Davante Adams had 10 receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown, and has eclipsed 100 yards receiving in three straight games.

The Packers can clinch the division title with a win or tie or a Minnesota Vikings loss or tie against the Bears on Monday night. Green Bay can clinch a playoff berth under numerous scenarios, with three requiring a New Orleans loss or tie to Tampa Bay on Sunday night.

Green Bay already has secured the franchise’s 10th season with double-digit victories since 2009, a mark that trails only New England (11) over that span. To earn their 11th win of the season and keep pace in the race for the NFC’s top seed, the Packers know they must shore up their special teams, which allowed 259 yards in kick and punt returns to the Bears, including a 97-yard punt return touchdown from Jakeem Grant.

“(Baltimore’s) special teams is No. 1 in the National Football League, so it’s gonna be a great challenge for us,” LaFleur said.

The Packers boast a 4-2 edge in the all-time series against the Ravens, and are 1-1 in Baltimore. While Green Bay prevailed 19-17 when the teams last met in Baltimore, in 2013, four of the six meetings were decided by at least 13 points.

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) passes against the Houston Texans  in the second half at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Virus-thinned Rams draw desperate Seahawks

The Los Angeles Rams could really use a bye.

Instead, faced with a short week and a COVID-19 outbreak, the Rams prepared virtually for Sunday’s game with Seattle in Inglewood, Calif.

The Rams (9-4) won 30-23 at Arizona on Monday night to pull within a game of the NFC West-leading Cardinals. Los Angeles notched the victory with five players in the NFL’s virus protocol, including All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, running back Darrell Henderson Jr. and tight end Tyler Higbee.

By Wednesday afternoon, the Rams had 16 players in the protocol and had been forced to close their practice facility in Thousand Oaks, Calif. The new additions included wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and safety Jordan Fuller, the team’s leading tackler, although Higbee returned due to a “false positive.”

“I am very surprised, because you feel like you’re behind it when everybody is vaccinated and you’re moving in the right direction,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Without a doubt, we have never experienced anything of this magnitude as it relates to COVID. This is definitely something that’s been eye-opening.”

The Rams had four players ruled out just hours before Monday’s game, forcing them to rework their plan on the fly.

“There’s no time to say, ‘We’re going to scrap this and adjust,’” McVay said. “At least if you have an idea of who’s going to be available and who’s not, you can plan accordingly throughout the course of the week. What they did (Monday) gives me confidence.”

Quarterback Matthew Stafford and league-leading receiver Cooper Kupp have avoided the protocol, and running back Sony Michel has given the ground game a boost. Defensively, the Rams still have lineman Aaron Donald, who had three sacks Monday, and linebacker Von Miller, acquired from Denver at the trade deadline.

The Rams said all 16 players on the list are vaccinated, meaning they have the chance to return for Sunday’s game with two negative tests.

The Seahawks (5-8) have won two in a row, including a 33-13 victory Sunday at Houston as Rashaad Penny rushed for a career-high 137 yards and two touchdowns.

Unlike the Rams, the Seahawks are one of only four NFL teams without a player in the protocol.

“We are holding on right now,” Carroll said of Seattle’s COVID-19 situation.

Of course, he could’ve also been talking about his team’s playoff chances. Seattle could still get to 9-8 in the new 17-game regular season, but there’s a lot of road between Week 15 and the finish line.

“Here we go, we are in the last month of the season, and we’ve got a shot to make it through,” Carroll said.

Along with Russell Wilson getting back on track after midseason finger surgery – he was hurt when hitting the middle finger of his throwing hand against the Rams’ Donald in a 26-17 loss on Oct. 7 in Seattle – the Seahawks’ much-maligned defense has gone eight straight games allowing opponents 23 points or fewer.

“We just got to keep our heads down and keep playing,” Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “We can’t look up and see who we have next or anything like that. You’ve just got to keep getting better each week and see what happens.”

The Seahawks have had several players sit out practice this week, including wide receivers DK Metcalf (foot/back), Freddie Swain (ankle) and Dee Eskridge (foot), offensive linemen Gabe Jackson (knee) and Brandon Shell (shoulder), linebacker Carlos Dunlap II (quadriceps) and safety Quandre Diggs (knee).

–Field Level Media

Nov 29, 2020; Jacksonville, Florida, USA;  Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) throws a pass against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the second quarter at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Week 15 Browns-Giants tilt moved to Sunday night

The Cleveland Browns’ Week 15 road game against the New York Giants has been moved to Sunday night.

The game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., will air at 8:20 p.m. on NBC.

The Browns (9-3) have won four straight and are in second place in the AFC North. The Giants (5-7) also have a four-game winning streak and currently lead the NFC East by a tiebreaker over Washington.

Previously slated for the Sunday night slot, the Dallas Cowboys (3-9) will now host the San Francisco 49ers (5-7) at 1 p.m. ET on CBS. Both teams are in last place in their respective divisions.

–Field Level Media