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ProCanes NFL Week Fifteen Preview: Colbert Punishes, Campbell’s UM donation, Playoff Push

Playoff implications highlight what should be an entertaining week 15 for a group of former Miami Hurricanes football stars.

San Francisco 49ers v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The days are winding down for you to get that perfect Christmas gift for your loved ones. The weeks of 16 full games on the NFL schedule are becoming scarce as well, with three weeks remaining before the postseason. To offset any anxiety over the pending conclusion of the regular season, the schedule makers have extended football nights from Sunday, Monday, Thursday, to now a Saturday matinee. Please check out Silas Tsang’s NFL Recap on Tuesday to stay up-to-date with the happenings from those games, as well as the ones that will be previewed today. With that, we kickoff SOTU’s week 15 preview.

Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars 1PM EDT

Jacksonville Jaguars v Arizona Cardinals
Leader of the unsung heroes along Jacksonville’s offensive line, C Brandon Linder becomes looks to push around the Texans this afternoon.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It’s hard to remember back in the preseason and the early portion of the regular season when people were critical of Jaguars’ QB Blake Bortles’ sporadic play behind center. While the concern has not diminished, the Jaguars remain in the cockpit in the AFC South division after dispatching the Seahawks 30–24. That may be due in part to who plays center—none other than ProCane Brandon Linder, who, since returning from injury, has reinforced the offensive line, helping Jacksonville rack up 156 rushing yards and kept Bortles upright, not allowing a single sack against Seattle last week. It’s unfortunate that the Linder got involved in a tussle with Seahawks’ DL Michael Bennett to close the game, but it should not distract from the fact that the four-year veteran produced a solid game.

Jacksonville got to elusive Seahawks’ QB Russell Wilson with two sacks and intercepted him three times on the day, showcasing why they are one of the most fearsome defensive units in the league. DL Calais Campbell had a quiet week, picking up a single tackle against the Jaguars. Campbell could see a return to the mean in terms of his production throughout this season when the Jags take on a Texans’ offense that could start QB TJ Yates as Tom Savage enrolled in the league’s concussion protocol. Houston center Greg Mancz is coming off a game in which he was exploited by Niners’ DL DeForest Buckner for 60 minutes. Houston is tied for fourth in the NFL in most sacks given up this season with 41. Campbell currently sits at 12.5 sacks on the season, just a sack-and-a-half behind league leader Chandler Jones of the Cardinals for the league lead.

San Francisco 49ers v Houston Texans
Down but not out, RB Lamar Miller lays on the turf a week ago, yet should be back to from this week against the Jaguars.
Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

If you’re Texans’ RB Lamar Miller and you’re catching a glimpse of Campbell in his three-point stance, you already know it’s going to be a tough day at work. Miller is getting some relief since third-string quarterback TJ Yates does have familiarity with the offense, having quarterbacked the Texans to the playoffs in the 2011 season. The season has to be frustrating to Miller and the rest of Houston’s offense. Miller is enduring a career-low yards-per-carry rate of 3.6 this season, behind a makeshift offensive line and a system that has changed its identity multiple times to accommodate injuries to star players such as QB DeShaun Watson. Miller has become more of an impact player in the passing game, catching 33 passes for 316 receiving yards and a career-high three touchdowns this season. When not going down the field to WR DeAndre Hopkins, the Texans would be best to utilize the hands of Miller out of the backfield against a Jaguars’ defense which has allowed only one 100-yard rusher (in week five against Rams RB Todd Gurley). The Texans dropped their season opener to the Jags, with Miller gaining 65 rushing yards on 17 carries in 29–7 loss.

If the Jags can continue to string wins together, along with some help from the Patriots, there is a scenario where Jacksonville becomes the number one seed in the AFC playoff picture. What a time to be alive, huh?

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns 1PM EDT

At this point, being in the thick of it with the game on the line has become second nature for the Browns, right? They have been in close games for much of the season, yet have failed to put a positive integer in the win column. At 0-13, Cleveland sadly is on the hunt to becoming the second NFL team to go winless on the season, sharing the dubious honor with the 2008 Detroit Lions.

This week might be the young Browns’ best shot at getting that elusive payoff spot. The Ravens are coming off a loss to their chief rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in a game that saw QB Ben Roethlisberger pass for 500 yards and run over 100 plays on offense, yet Baltimore only lost by a single field goal. There is bound to be a hangover after such an all-out game. The Browns lost pretty handily against Baltimore in week two by a score of 24–10.

It was in that first go-around that rookie TE David Njoku scored his first NFL TD, sumo-spiking the ball emphatically after the 23-yard reception in the endzone. Since WR Josh Gordon has returned from a long absence, the Browns’ offense has taken their game to another level, drawing plenty of coverage and the better man-coverage defenders to his side of the field. That has allowed other options in the passing game to work in the open field. After receiving two targets for one reception against the Packers a week ago, Njoku should be more featured in the offense against a susceptible Raven defense.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns
Cruising into the end zone to put the Browns ahead, RB Duke Johnson hopes to cross to continue his scoring ways against the Ravens.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

In what has become a trend for Johnson this season, he had more success in the passing game, catching three passes for 59 receiving yards than he did rushing on just four carries for 21 yards in his first meeting against Baltimore earlier in the season. The Ravens are the league’s 13th ranked run-defense, allowing an average of 108 yards on the ground per game, meaning Johnson may want to motion out more this week than running between the tackles. The Browns’ could be the indirect benefactor of Josh Gordon’s coverage that should put him in an advantageous matchup against Baltimore’s linebacker. Considering how vulnerable the Ravens’ pass defense looked with CB Jimmy Smith out for the season, Cleveland could thrive upon the secondary woes of the Purple and Black.

The Ravens are hanging onto the sixth seed and final wildcard spot in the AFC. Cleveland looks to be the Grinch on Sunday, ruining the holidays and the season for Baltimore.

Los Angeles Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks 4:05PM EDT

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams
TE Jimmy Graham snags a ball down from earlier in 2017 against a Rams defender. After being shutout from the stat sheet last week, No.88 should return to form this week.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Another week, another high profile contest for the Seahawks. However, if you’re like us, you’re wondering just what in the world happened to TE Jimmy Graham a week ago against the Jaguars. The Seahawks’ tight end had front row tickets to the disaster that was the end of his four game touchdown streak. Graham got just two targets and did not record a single stat. Credit has to go the Jaguars’ defense that have been frustrating offenses for most of the season. However, no time to worry about last week, as Seattle is now on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff hunt. In a big NFC West showdown, both the Rams and Seahawks will look to pick themselves up from close losses in week 14 and correct course. A win puts Seattle back in contention for the wildcard, and also gives them the sweep against the Rams, which would be be huge in any tie-break scenario.

Making his mark in their week five tilt, Graham hauled in six receptions for 37 receiving yards and a touchdown to help lift Seattle to a 16–10 victory over the Rams. Seattle may need a similar performance to keep their postseason hopes shining. The Rams’ secondary is dealing with a couple of injuries as CB Trumaine Johnson (concussion) and CB Kayvon Webster (Achilles) went down with injuries last week. If QB Russell Wilson is able to avoid the pass rush of Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams’ defensive front, it could be a good afternoon for Graham and the rest of Seattle’s receivers.

Tennessee Titans vs. San Francisco 49ers 4:25PM EDT

Niners safety Adrian Colbert is quickly shooting up to the top of the rankings when it comes to top safeties in the NFL. While he has built a reputation quickly for delivering mouthguard-popping hits to those who enter his vicinity, Colbert has been just as adept in pass defense. Pro Football Focus grades the rookie safety as an 80.3, which qualifies as excellent. Colbert is considered the 33rd best player at his position this early into his career. The Titans ranks 21st in the league in total offense, averaging 315 yards-per-game. It will be the ultimate battle of heavy-hitters when factoring in the strong running of RB Derrick Henry. DeMarco Murray is dealing with a leg injury and could be a non-factor in the Titan run game. Regardless of that news, this should be an excellent test for Colbert and a young defensive unit that has impressed in recent weeks. This could be the most under-the-radar game of this weekend in terms of entertainment.

New England Patriots vs. Pittsburgh Steelers 4:25PM EDT

In a game that will ultimately decide who gets home field advantage throughout the playoffs in the AFC, this game is worthy of being in primetime… but will be played out in the afternoon, which means you can likely watch Home Alone or Christmas Vacation after this one. As mentioned earlier, the Steelers did whatever they wanted on offense against the Ravens, yet came out with a 39–38 victory over their rivals. If everything goes the way people are predicting, this could set up to be a preview of the AFC Championship game.

New England Patriots v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Patriots’ WR Phillip Dorsett has seen more snaps on offense in the absence of WR Chris Hogan, but he has primarily played in a reserve role, with most of the targets going to WR Brandin Cooks and TE Rob Gronkowski. RB Dion Lewis is getting more of a feature role coming out of the backfield, so the Patriots should look to spread Pittsburgh’s defense as far as possible to take advantage of some mismatches in the middle of the field.

Steelers’ CB Joe Haden is questionable with a broken fibula, so Artie Burns continues to be the top corner option for the Steelers. This will be an interesting cover assignment for the the second-year pro as he goes toe-to-toe with the speedy Cooks, who has been leaving defenders in his dust most of the season. Burns, who will have the height advantage over Cooks and most other Pats’ receivers standing at six-feet, will be in the difficult spot of trying to get the jam on New England's receivers within the five-yard area of the line of scrimmage. Burns has done very well in coverage, and should be able to hold up today, especially with safety Mike Mitchell returning for the secondary.

Most of the pressure this week will be on the front-seven on the Steelers. Still dealing with the injury to LB Ryan Shazier, expect Pats QB Tom Brady to go directly at the middle of the field, to see if Pittsburgh’s linebacker corp is up to the challenge. That puts pressure on ProCanes linebackers Anthony Chickillo and Sean Spence to both flush brady off his perch in the pocket and defending the middle of the field when the time calls for it. Pittsburgh does play at home, and that home field should be a factor in a game where home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is at stake.

ProCanes Fantasy Player of the Week

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens
Extending into the end zone, Duke Johnson could help extend your fantasy season as a flex option this week.
Photo by Rob Carr /Getty Images

We took a hiatus on the ProCanes FPW last week. With the exception of Duke Johnson, it appears so did the players. If you’re still playing at this point of the season, you’ve made it to the playoffs and are sniffing that fantasy championship bowl, belt, cup, jellybeans, or who knows whatever trophy or loot. After disappearing a week ago, you can ride with Jimmy Graham to reappear this week. He continues to be a red zone fiend and should have an excellent shot at a touchdown this afternoon.

Quick Outs

THE PROCANES TOUCHDOWN STREAK CURRENTLY STANDS AT FOUR WEEKS! Let’s see if they can get that nickel!

  • Jaguars’ WR Allen Hurns thinks he will be back before the end of the regular season.
  • Despite going down last weekend with an injury, Houston RB Lamar Miller is not listed on today’s Injury Report and should be a full go against the Jaguars this afternoon.
  • Buffalo Bills’ RT Seantrel Henderson missed last week with a back injury. He is questionable against the Dolphins this week.
  • DL Calais Campbell made multiple appearance on a few podcasts and radio shows this week. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate explains why the Jags may be the best team he’s ever been a part of.
  • Campbell also explained his motivation in donating a scholarship to his alma mater
  • Check out this neat stat regarding veteran Colts RB Frank Gore and another former ProCane brethren.

IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!