Youmans: My five best bets for NFL Week 15

December 17, 2022 08:04 PM
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At the risk of jinxing him, Jacksonville quarterback Trevor Lawrence is starting to live up to the hype. Once called a can’t-miss prospect, Lawrence whiffed as a rookie bust and was not much better in the first two months of his second season.

At the end of October, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2021 draft was careening in the direction of a lost cause. Lawrence was so bad, he was outplayed by Russell Wilson in a loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 8, at which point the Jaguars were laughingstocks at 2-6.

It’s not exactly a turnaround that could inspire a movie script someday, but Jacksonville (5-8) has won three of its past five games, mostly because Lawrence looks like a different player. Since the beginning of November, he leads the NFL in completion percentage (71.8) while passing for 1,362 yards and 10 touchdowns with no interceptions. In fact, he has thrown 181 consecutive passes without a pick.

If Lawrence continues to trend in a positive direction, the Jaguars will be live dogs Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys and their mistake-prone quarterback, Dak Prescott.

How lame was Lawrence’s rookie year? He passed for 12 touchdowns with 17 interceptions and went 3-14 in 17 starts. In golf terms, he deserves a mulligan due to unplayable conditions — in other words, Urban Meyer was his coach to start his pro career.

It took some time, but Lawrence is finally developing under new coach Doug Pederson. Lawrence has 20 touchdown passes and six interceptions this season.

Two weeks removed from a 40-14 loss at Detroit, the Jaguars are not legit yet, but they have an opportunity to make a statement against the Cowboys (10-3) and their suddenly struggling leader. Prescott has thrown nine interceptions in eight games, and he threw two a week ago when Dallas, a 17-point favorite, was lucky to rally for a 27-23 victory over Houston, the league’s worst team.

This seems to be a good time to bet on Lawrence and the right spot to bet against the Cowboys, who could be looking ahead to their Christmas Eve date with the Eagles.

Pick: Jaguars +4

Four more plays for Week 15:

BILLS (-7) over Dolphins: When these teams met in Miami in September, the Bills dominated the Dolphins 497-212 in total yards and yet lost a strange game, 21-19. Josh Allen passed for 400 yards, and Tua Tagovailoa passed for 186. It’s payback time in Buffalo. Last week, in perfect conditions in Los Angeles, Tagovailoa completed three of his first 17 passes. This will be his third consecutive road game, against a better defense in far worse conditions, and all of that should be bad news for the Dolphins.

BEARS (+9) over Eagles: Philadelphia is in a classic sandwich spot -- a non-division road game in the middle of two NFC East road games. The Eagles (12-1) blew out the Giants last week and have an eye on their trip to Dallas next week. Chicago has lost six in a row but is off a bye, so the situational advantage for the home dog is obvious. The Bears’ strength is their rushing offense led by quarterback Justin Fields, and the Eagles’ only weakness is their run defense. If there’s a time to fade Philadelphia, this should be it. Chicago is 2-4 at home with the losses by an average of 4.5 points.

BUCCANEERS (+3.5) over Bengals: It’s getting tougher to make a convincing case for Tampa Bay, which has not topped 22 points in any of its past nine games. Still, I’ll try this again with Tom Brady as a home dog. The betting public is all over Cincinnati and, while it’s easy to see why, it’s rarely as easy as it seems in the NFL. The Buccaneers are good enough defensively to give Brady a shot in this spot.

RAIDERS (-1) over Patriots: With tight end Darren Waller and slot receiver Hunter Renfrow set to return, the Las Vegas offense is finally at full strength. The Raiders have an advantage with Josh Jacobs (1,402 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns) and Davante Adams (82 receptions, 1,247 yards, 12 touchdowns) being the top two playmakers in this matchup. In a win at Arizona on Monday, the New England offense put 20 points on the board against one of the league’s worst defenses. The Patriots’ recent performances have been far from impressive.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 35-30-5

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