OPINION: 'Up the Gut' with Shaun Morash: NFL Week 15

Joe Burrow
Photo credit Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Cold Open

So the Dolphins' feel-good story is now on the ropes a bit. Teams figuring out what good teams do well, come wintertime, is nothing new. And the schedule makers did the Dolphins no favors in scheduling them back-to-back matchups on the West Coast against playoff-caliber opponents, just to send them out to Buffalo on a short week for a mammoth Week 15 game this Saturday. Throw in the fact that there could be a foot of snow, and Miami will really be tested.

This is easily one of the toughest three-game road trips a team can see in this league. Even with this stretch, the Dolphins don't have to lose all three games -- actually, losing to the Bills should send panic to fans. The Dolphins' offense has sort of been figured out, and if Tua Tagovailoa can't throw seeds to Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, they simply can't beat the elite. If Tagovailoa wants the swagger and to throw shade at naysayers when the going gets good, the time to end the slide is now. It's never a good sign when you make people believe in the Chargers again.

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Ten-Yard Gain

No. 1: Tom Brady looks old. Despite a few series of magic, like he had against the Saints, he's as much to blame for the Bucs' issues as anyone. And above anything else, the biggest disgrace is just how boring this team is. Yet they're continuing to be force-fed to fans in primetime TV windows -- like on Sunday against the 49ers. That game was unwatchable.

No. 2: Deebo Samuel's injury may not be the worst case scenario, but 49ers legend Jerry Rice believes it could've been avoided. Rice is old-school, and likely only views Samuel as a true wide receiver, and not the skill weapon he actually is. Running Samuel up the middle helps the Niners free up so many other things, and keep their offense unpredictable. This is why he's such a valuable dual-threat star.

No. 3: The Giants' free-fall can be directly linked to the ATV accident that star safety Xavier McKinney suffered on their bye week. Combine that with corner Adoree' Jackson spraining an MCL just two weeks later, and New York is 1-3-1 since the bye. They were humiliated by the Eagles this past weekend and had no answers in the secondary. Injuries might be crippling the Giants more than any other team.

No. 4: Kyler Murray's season-ending ACL injury is gut-wrenching for both his pro career and the Cardinals. After everything that occurred with his contract extension talks and putting in the extra work, he'll essentially be a non-factor for most of the 2023 season.

No. 5: The Cowboys' trust meter has plummeted. How can they jump out to an early lead on the Texans and then nearly collapse? Their cornerback injury situation was dire, but it was still the lowly Texans. Jerry Jones' big solution? Adding veteran wideout T.Y. Hilton to the offense. Yeah, good luck.

Kyler Murray
Photo credit Norm Hall / Stringer / Getty Images

No. 6: Props to Dan Campbell and the Lions, as they're continuing to charge toward respectability and maybe even a surprise playoff berth. In each of the last four seasons, a 5-7 unit has reached the playoffs. The Lions are the best possibility for that in 2022.

No. 7: The Seahawks feel broken, and they're lucky they played the depleted Rams just a week ago. With a 7-6 record and matchups against the Chiefs and Jets still to come, you can make the case that Seattle's in the most trouble of the remaining playoff contenders.

No. 8: Steve Wilks is showing that failed first-time head coaches can succeed in their second opportunities. The Panthers, albeit in a lousy division, are only a game back of the Bucs for first place, following their mammoth win out west against Seattle. It would've been easy for the Panthers to give up on the year, following the departure of Christian McCaffrey. But now, with Sam Darnold of all quarterbacks, Carolina is quietly humming.

No. 9: The Bengals keep showing they can win in any style they have to play. It wasn't a pretty win against Cleveland on Sunday, but the defense swarmed Deshaun Watson and they did enough in both the running and passing games to secure a double-digit win. It was a game that could've been a letdown loss, since the Bengals beat the Chiefs in Week 13.

No. 10: The Raiders lost to Jeff Saturday in his first game as the Colts' coach and lost to Baker Mayfield -- who had 48 hours of preparation with the Rams. It's unfathomable that Josh McDaniels could have this team drop those two games, let alone four total games where they had double-digit halftime leads.

Derek Carr
Photo credit Ronald Martinez / Staff / Getty Images

Five Games to Chew On

Bengals at Bucs: In an ironic twist, the Bucs have become linear with the Patriots. Two boring franchises, still lurking in the playoff picture, and still in primetime games that most of the country gets. The Bucs are here again as the prime late-window game. But can Tom Brady keep pace with a Bengals team that continues to show they can win in several ways?

Titans at Chargers: The Titans are reeling. The firing of general manager Jon Robinson was perhaps more telling for this year than we thought. Now, they visit L.A. to face a Chargers team that can't be trusted, week-to-week. The Jaguars now control their own destiny for the AFC South title, and the Titans can't afford any more hiccups. This truly could be a game where the winner looks back on how they made the playoffs, and the loser looks back on how they didn't.

Lions at Jets: This is oddly -- and probably -- the biggest Lions-Jets game ever. Two teams that rarely play, but have everything on the line, in regard to playoff hopes. Detroit can't afford to lose another game, and New York, after two straight losses, will officially be in free-fall mode with a loss. The tastiest game of the early Sunday window.

Giants at Commanders: Back in August, nobody expected these division rivals to be flexed into a Sunday night matchup in mid-December. Two weeks ago, they tied in the Meadowlands -- in fact, it was the last game Washington played. The winner of this rematch will nearly be a lock for the NFC playoffs.

Dolphins at Bills: Saturday night could bring a snow game in Orchard Park. Back in September, these division rivals played the best game of the month, down in Miami. Now the Dolphins have fallen back to reality during this brutal road trip. Can they get some magic back and sweep the Bills, which are now fighting for home-field advantage in the AFC?

Giants-Commanders
Photo credit Jamie Squire / Staff / Getty Images

My Picks
I was burned to a 1-2 record, thanks to the Chiefs' spread collapse on Sunday. So, overall, I'm 21-21 this season. For this week:

Dolphins (+7.5) at Bills: It'll be cold, there's likely going to be snow, and this is a short week for the Dolphins off back-to-back bouts on the west coast. All of these factors will make many jump on Buffalo, and understandably so. But this spread is too high for me. The number is too big. And for a Dolphins team that's too talented to wilt now when the going gets tough, I expect a Saturday night classic, and a closer number. Give me Miami with the points.

Jets (+1) vs. Lions: The Lions' recent hot surge included a win against the Giants in the Meadowlands, just a month ago. They gashed New York on the ground. However, this is the best defense Detroit has seen since their surge began. What goes up, must come down. And what goes down, must rise up. The Jets have been competitive in back-to-back losses, and this feels like a spot where their defense gets the swagger back and makes Jared Goff look like Jared Goff again. The Lions are the lovechild of every fan right now, and public money is likely coming their way. Time to zag while everyone zigs.

Bengals (-3.5) at Bucs: If you're betting the Bucs, it means you think that, despite all the concrete evidence against them magically awakening, they're bound to against one of the top-five teams this Sunday. C'mon. The Bengals are humming and playing their best ball at the most important time. Tampa's defense should have no answer for Joe Burrow to Ja'Marr Chase and others. Tom Brady will get hit a bunch in this game. Cincy should roll by at least 10.

Football Food of the Week

Stuffed Pork Loin with Redskin Mashed Potatoes. This will take a lot of time and preparation, so I hope you have that a week before the holidays. Get a pork loin and butterfly cut it in half. Then, pre-cook spinach with fresh garlic and olive oil in a pan, and place it inside the butterflied pork loin. Also add roasted red peppers and fresh mozzarella cheese. Not pre shredded -- take the time to either shred the fresh stuff or place slices evenly along the roast. Close over the other butterflied half and use a cooking string to tie the stuffed pork together. Season it with thyme, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

Place the pork loin in a pan, and include one can of broth to keep moisture. Then, roast the pork at 325-degree temperature until it reaches an internal temp of 145. Baste periodically throughout. The perfect complement to the pork loin is a good mashed potato. Take the appropriate mega poundage of redskin potatoes and peel half of them, while keeping the skin on the other half. Dice up, toss in boiling water. When soft, take a touch of sour cream, a touch of half and half, a pinch of salt, and mash to a texture of your choice.

Unfortunately, due to complaints about the simplicity of my previous foods, this one can't be served with toothpicks. So make sure you have the good silverware out when eating.

​​Thanks for reading as always, and enjoy Week 15. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MrazCBS.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports