It's big money season. While you and I are likely to see our bank account fall apart in the spirit of the holidays, this is the time of year that players need to make an impression to earn their keep. While some teams have their mind focused on earning a berth in the post-season, others evaluate and re-evaluate their roster to find weaknesses and strengths heading into the off-season. With that in mind here are some of the key matchups for ProCanes in week 15.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs Houston Texans (1pm)
In spite of Brock Osweiler the Houston Texans are managing to hang around a mediocre division as they're currently tied with the Tennessee Titans for the AFC South division lead. Those two will square off in an crucial week 17 matchup that could potentially determine the division.
Before then, Lamar Miller will look to keep rolling. Coming off of 21 carries that produced 107 rushing yards with a TD in a productive afternoon against Indy’s defense last weekend. Miller, Miami’s 14th most productive rusher, needs 90 yards to surpass his personal best 1,099 rushing yards in a single season as he currently sits at 1,010 on the season.
There is not much to be happy about if you're a Jags fan since the offense has been abysmal. While Bortles has been getting decked for most of the season, none of that is the fault of center Brandon Linder, who Pro Football Focus ranked 16th on their list of top 25 offensive linemen after being flagged just twice and allowing only 12 QB pressures on 500+ snaps before week 14. Allen Hurns is dealing with a hamstring issue that has caused him to miss the previous two games, and it's doubtful that he will suit up in week 15, further adding to the misery and regression from his stellar 2015 season.
Los Angeles Rams vs Seattle Seahawks (8:25pm Thurs)
Week 15 starts Thursday as the L.A. Rams travel to the home of ‘the 12th man’ to take on a battered Seattle team who were punked and outplayed in week earlier in Green Bay. Jimmy Graham is having his best season since being traded from the Bayou to the Northwest. His single reception a week ago tied for his lowest total since week 1. As Devin mentioned in his recap a couple weeks ago, for a player that can be considered the second best, especially now that Gronk is on injured reserve, to have a game with 4 targets for 1 catch and 16 yards, that absolutely won’t cut it. Graham is currently tied with Walter 'Sweetness' Payton at 140th on the all-time career receptions list (492). With 3 receptions Graham will tie Micheal Jordan's BFF, Ahmad Rashad, at 138th on that list (495). If one of those receptions goes for a TD he will move into a tie with former Dolphins’ receiver Mark Duper (59) on the all-time receiving touchdowns list.
Fortunately for the Seahawks the Rams are a tire fire dressed up in flammable Santa costume soaked in gasoline. Monday seen head coach Jeff Fisher get the boot on short turnaround for TNF. The expectation is for Graham and Seattle to buck the sluggish trend that is football on a Thursday night, taking their frustration from week 14 on a division rival as they return light back to The Force.
Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears (1pm)
If you told me that someone in the Packers organization believed heading into the season that they would be relying on Ladarius Gunter and would receive a decent contribution from him, you're just playing yourself. Yet here we are in week 15 with Gunter having played every single game, and been a reason why a secondary that lost fellow ProCane Sam Shields week 1 has been able to right the ship with an eye towards a potential wildcard berth, and with some help perhaps a division title. His first half of 2016 was nightmarish, yet he's stuck with it and has come into his own against opponents' No. 2 wide receivers.
While the Bears have been nothing to cheer about they did give the Lions a battle for an entire game. GB forced two picks in the last meeting between these AFC North rivals. The trend should continue.
Indianapolis Colts vs Minnesota Vikings (1pm)
December has been quite the mix of achievements for RB Frank Gore. The former Canes freshman All-American rushed his way past Tony Dorsett for sole possession of 8th for all-time career rushing yards . 429 yards are all that separates Gore (12,830) and 7th held by Eric Dickerson (13,259). Given that Gore has only surpassed 100 yards rushing once this season, unless he makes it to wildcard weekend and beyond, he would need another year to reach that next benchmark. A more reasonable goal within reach would surpassing fellow Canes alum Clinton Portis to tie both men at 23rd on the all-time rushing TDs list with 75 touchdowns. While the Vikings have crumbled in the second half of the season, they're one of four teams that are tied for 3rd in the NFL when it comes to allowing rushing TDs (6). With the Colts barely visible in the playoff landscape, Gore finding the endzone would be in the best interests of both team and further cementing Gore’s legacy.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cincinnati Bengals (1pm)
We mentioned the second half turnaround for Ladarius Gunter, well it's tempting to copy and paste those comments for Artie Burns. Burns was picked on regularly as he got time on the field. This is nothing new, you pick on the rookie until they prove themselves. With his 3rd pick on the season Burns leads all Steelers defenders in that category. Unlike Gunter, Burns has found himself lined up against opposing teams No.1 wideouts such as Odell Beckham, and Sammy Watkins. Let's just say that you can't have the surname Burns, play DB and not give up a big play here and there as a rookie without your name getting punned into oblivion. However, Artie has managed to provide a bright spot in the secondary when called upon. With Pittsburgh needing to win down the stretch to win the AFC North, Burns is going to need to repeat this performance as they trudge forward to the playoffs, as well as the potential return of AJ Green.
Matchup of the Week
Greg Olsen vs Jordan Reed
Neither guy will be on the field at the same time, but both are key contributors to their respective offense. Since a certain school has been ducking THE U, this is the closest matchup to the collegiate version that we’ll get for a while.
Fantasy U Player of the Week
Miller was bothered by both ankle and rib injuries, limiting his carries a couple weeks ago. Last week he didn't show up on the injury report. So if you're one of the lucky one to still have meaningful games on dock this weekend trust that Houston's offensive line will be consistent for another week against an atrocious Jags defense.
Note* This week Devin Hester Sr was cut by the Baltimore Ravens. There are talks that he could land somewhere before the regular season concludes. If this is indeed his final run he leaves as the best punt returner in NFL history with 14 touchdowns. Darren Sproles is the closest active player with 7. Add in his 6 Kick returns, Hester stands tall above names like Sanders(19), Woodson(17), and Barber(14) with his 20 combined returns. Perhaps Canton shall call somewhere down the line.
ProCanes have scored in 4 consecutive weeks. Here’s to seeing that continue for a 5th straight week.