With just two weeks left in the season, we’re mostly aware of who will make the playoffs (Vikings still have to clinch, last AFC wildcard spot still up for grabs), but yet, we have no idea of what the ultimate playoff picture will look like. Therefore, this is a pivotal week for several teams, while for non-contenders, this is a time for them to get a look at younger players. That should make these slate of games very unpredictable, which is great for entertainment’s sake- the three Saturday games should be fantastic. So, who will solidify their playoff position, and who will crumble? Let’s predict every game that’ll take place in Week 16.
Saturday Game #1: Texans (9-5) at Buccaneers (7-7)
Spread Pick: TB (+3)
Over/Under Pick: Under/PUSH
Score Prediction: Texans 26 Bucs 24
Starting off the Saturday games, the Texans will look to clinch the AFC South title as they travel to Tampa Bay to take on the Bucs; this should be a very close, high-scoring affair. Houston made a statement last week winning in Tennesee, but can they win two straight on the road against a Bucs team that has won four straight? The public certainly believes so, as Houston is taking in 80% of the bets as three-point road favorites, per Action Network. I’m not as confident, as Tampa Bay has made great strides on defense, and even without receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, have a very high-powered offense. Still, if this does indeed become a shootout that comes down to the wire, how can you not trust Deshaun Watson over Jameis Winston? After all, the Bucs have played great, but they haven’t played a winning team during that winning streak, nor have they played an above-average defense. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s secondary is still young and mistake-prone, so matching up against arguably the best receiving corps in the league could be troublesome for them. This is a game that could definitely could either way, but Houston has so much motivation to win and is much healthier with a better quarterback, so they’re the much more logical pick.
Saturday Game #2: Bills (10-4) at Patriots (11-3)
Spread Pick: NE (-6.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (37.5)
Score Prediction: Bills 16 Pats 24
Is someone in the division finally ready to dethrone the Patriots? It’s still unlikely they’d win the AFC East even with a win, as New England would have to lose to the Dolphins, but still, can you imagine the type of statement the Bills would make if they can go into Foxborough and beat the Patriots? The media has definitely bought in, as Buffalo is generating a lot of hype after clinching a playoff spot with a primetime win against the Steelers last week, but yet, I’m not. In that win in Pittsburgh, the Bills showed that they definitely don’t trust Josh Allen to throw the ball, but what will Bill Belichick do? Well, he’ll force Allen to stay in the pocket, which could get ugly for Buffalo against two elite cornerbacks (Stephon Gillmore and JC Jackson). Now, I’m not very confident in the Patriots lackluster offense against a very strong Bills defense, but at the very least I can trust them to not turn the ball over, which I can’t do with Allen and Buffalo’s offense. That’ll allow New England to win within the margins (special teams, turnovers, coaching); let’s also not forget how strong of a home-field advantage they have. There will be a time soon where the Bills are ready to win in New England, but the time is certainly not now, as Allen and the offense are still clearly holding them back. As a result, I expect the Patriots to partially silence the critics with a pretty conclusive victory to clinch the AFC East once again.
Saturday Game #3: Rams (8-6) at 49ers (11-3)
Spread Pick: SF (-6.5)/PUSH
Over/Under Pick: Under (44.5)
Score Prediction: Rams 13 49ers 20
At the beginning of the season, I was looking at this Rams-49ers matchup as a game that would decide the NFC West. That’s no longer the case, as Los Angeles is essentially out of the playoff mix after falling to 8-6 following a devastating loss in Dallas, but still, this is a huge game for San Francisco- they are vying for the #1 seed. Speaking of tough losses, that what the 49ers had to endure last week, as they were shocked by the Falcons on a game-winning Julio Jones touchdown in what was a massive upset. Therefore, both teams will be looking to bounce back this week, though then again, only one has hope, and that’s the better team- the 49ers. Their pass rush isn’t as dominant as it has been, but their secondary will be much better as they get back cornerbacks Richard Sherman and K’waun Williams, and Los Angeles’ passing attack lacks consistency at any level; Jared Goff has been very volatile, the offensive line is still weak, and the unit as a whole isn’t in sync properly. Plus, the Rams defense has quietly had issues against quality offenses, particularly against the run, which isn’t ideal against a Kyle Shanahan-schemed offense. I expect this to be a somewhat close, low-scoring battle between two divisional foes, but in the end, the 49ers should win to remain in position to earn the #1 seed.
Jaguars (5-9) at Falcons (5-9)
Spread Pick: ATL (-7.5)
Over/Under Pick: Under/PUSH (47.5)
Score Prediction: Jags 13 Falcons 34
The Jaguars and Falcons are the perfect examples of the two ways struggling teams with a head coach can respond: they can fight for their head coach, like Atlanta has, or they can simply give up, which is what Jacksonville had done for most of the season. Plus, the Jaguars also are in the middle of a lot of controversy with several of their players recently filing grievances against the organization, which forced them to fire team president Tom Coughlin- they’re a mess right now. Now, their defense, which has been miserable and is allowing the highest amount of explosive passes in recent weeks, per Sharp Football Stats, will line up against an always-dynamic Falcons offense that held their own against the vaunted 49ers defense; this is an absolute mismatch in Atlanta’s favor, which is why it’s no surprise they hold the massive early-down success rate advantage (Sharp Football Stats). It also helps the Falcons that they’ve had a much better pass rush in recent weeks, and luckily for them, Jacksonville’s offensive line can be described as suspect as best. There’s always the possibility that Atlanta has a letdown game after their huge win San Francisco, but how can you trust the Jaguars to be competitive at all? I’ll take the Falcons to win this game by at least three scores.
Ravens (12-2) at Browns (6-8)
Spread Pick: BAL (-10)
Over/Under Pick: Over (49.5)
Score Prediction: Ravens 41 Browns 10
Back in Week 4, the Browns absolutely blew out the Ravens in Baltimore, defeating them by a score of 40-25. Since then, Baltimore has won ten straight games and has emerged as the best team in the NFL, while Cleveland can’t get out of their own way, and is as dysfunctional as an organization can get. In other words, the Ravens should roll through the Browns on their way to clinching the #1 seed. It’s widely known that Baker Mayfield has struggled against pressure this season, and unfortunately for him, he’ll face a defense that’ll bring a lot of different blitz variations at him, while the cornerback duo of Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters should limit their receiving talent. Additionally, the Browns can’t stop the run to save their life, and now, they’ll face one of the most prolific rushing offenses in NFL history. Oh, and did we mention the massive coaching advantage for Baltimore: the analytic-friendly John Harbaugh vs Freddie Kitchens? There’s no way to sugarcoat this; the Ravens should absolutely demolish the Browns in this game, and if this game was ever in doubt for them at all, I’d be shocked.
Panthers (5-9) at Colts (6-8)
Spread Pick: IND (-6.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (47)
Score Prediction: Panthers 17 Colts 38
For the first half of the season, the Panthers and Colts appeared to be true wildcard contenders, despite the fact that neither went into the season with the starting quarterback they expected to have. However, as both defenses have regressed, it’s been a struggle for either team to win many games, since they’re definitely hampered by their quarterback play. Therefore, this game essentially means nothing for either team, but for Carolina, this will be a time for evaluation for them- third-round rookie Will Grier will make his first start under center. He comes with plenty of red flags after having drastic issues with the preseason, and with the way the Panthers offense has played, I don’t expect them to have much success against the Colts; Indianapolis’ athletic linebackers are a good fit against dual-threat Christian McCaffrey out of the backfield. Plus, although Jacoby Brissett has struggled, the Colts at least have the advantage of facing by far the league’s worst rushing defense, so behind their elite offensive line, they should be able to have as efficient of a rushing attack as one can have. Despite both teams having clear similarities, this is another game that has the makings of a blowout, as I expect Indianapolis to respond after their embarrassing loss in primetime to the Saints, and take advantage of a Panthers team that’s clearly given up.
Bengals (1-13) at Dolphins (3-10)
Spread Pick: CIN (-2)
Over/Under Pick: Under (45)
Score Prediction: Bengals 23 Dolphins 17
Brace yourselves Bengals fans! With a loss, they can clinch the #1 pick in next year’s NFL draft, which means the chance to draft LSU quarterback Joe Burrow. There’s no way they can screw this up by beating the 3-win Dolphins, right? Well, in my opinion, that’s exactly what they’ll do. They may have only one win, but Cincinnati is a much more talented team than Miami, who has exceeded expectations and is starting to anticipated regression. Despite last week’s blip against the Patriots, the Bengals offense has functioned well under Andy Dalton, and they’ll likely be able to maintain that success against a poor Dolphin defense; this has the makings of a huge game for running back Joe Mixon, which at least can help fantasy owners in the championships. On the other side of the ball, Ryan Fitzpatrick is actually having one of the best seasons of his career, but still, he’s playing behind a terrible offensive line, and for all their flaws, the Bengals have a very strong defensive line that should be able to generate enough pressure to disrupt him. This is pretty much a coin flip between arguably the two worst teams in the NFL, but yet, I’m pretty confident that Cincinnati will win this game, even though they shouldn’t.
Steelers (8-6) at Jets (5-9)
Spread Pick: PIT (-3.5)/PUSH
Over/Under Pick: Under (37)
Score Prediction: Steelers 10 Jets 6
Can the Steelers run the table for the #6 seed in the AFC? That’s what they’ll try to do in New York this Sunday, as they’ll take on the 5-9 Jets in the Le’Veon Bell revenge game. This feels like a prime trap game for Pittsburgh, as they’re coming off of a close loss in primetime, and may overlook the Jets. Then again, that would go against everything they’ve accomplished this season- they know with their ineffective offense, that there are no easy wins for them. Said offense makes me reluctant to pick them this week, as after a decent start to the season, Devlin Hodges has more turnover worthy plays than big-time throws, per Pro Football Focus. Still, their defense has been consistently elite, and it’s hard to see their vaunted pass rush not causing havoc against one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. If that’s the case, Sam Darnold could be in major trouble, as he has just a 56.4 passer rating under pressure (Pro Football Focus); this figures to be a very tough matchup for the Jets offense. This game should be extremely close and low-scoring – I’m not sure an offensive touchdown will actually be scored – but Pittsburgh is very comfortable in that scenario, and should come away with an ugly, but critical road victory.
Saints (11-3) at Titans (8-6)
Spread Pick: TEN (+2.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (50)
Score Prediction: Saints 21 Titans 37
In a battle between two teams in the South, the Saints will travel to Tennesee to take on the Titans; New Orleans will be looking to build momentum off of their Monday Night Football victory over the Colts, while Tennesee will try to bounce back and remain in the playoff hunt after falling short against the Texans last week. The latter option is what’ll happen here, as not only are the Titans at home for the second week straight, but they match up well with the Saints. Tennesee’s offense right now is extremely explosive, as Ryan Tannehill has been playing at an MVP level, while receivers AJ Brown and Corey Davis, and tight end Jonnu Smith have been fantastic options for him; running back Derrick Henry is also thriving behind a strong offensive line. Well, New Orleans’ defense is particularly vulnerable to big plays through the air, and as they deal with injuries, they don’t have the personnel necessary to slow down the Titans. Meanwhile, Tennesee’s defense has had some minor issues defending passes down the field, but Drew Brees and the Saints offense mostly attacks the intermediate levels of defenses, and their defensive line should thrive against an offensive line without guard Larry Warford. The Titans need to win this game to keep their playoff hopes alive, and I expect them to come out firing and set the tone early for an important to accomplish that objective.
Giants (3-11) at Redskins (3-11)
Spread Pick: WSH (+1)
Over/Under Pick: Under (41.5)
Score Prediction: Giants 17 Redskins 20
It’s the first Daniel Jones-Dwayne Haskins matchup! Haskins did make his debut when the Giants and Redskins faced off in New York in Week 4, but this will be his first time starting against the team who passed on him in favor of Jones. “Danny Dimes” came out victorious in that first matchup between these two teams, and will make his return from an ankle injury in this game, but will that be the case in this matchup? Honestly, it’s impossible to know – these teams are 3-11 for a reason – but nevertheless, I’ll side with the home team. Dwayne Haskins and the Redskins offense has looked much better recently, and facing a putrid pass defense, I expect him to connect with Terry McLaurin down the field multiple times, while also remaining efficient. Obviously, he’s a little too conservative right now, but compared to Jones, who is as turnover-prone as it gets, that may actually work in his favor; since these two teams are evenly-matched, turnovers could be the defining factor in this game. I’m not confident in this pick at all, but it’s pretty astonishing that the Redskins are actually a home-underdog in this game; they should at least a two to three-point favorite.
Lions (3-10-1) at Broncos (5-9)
Spread Pick: DEN (-7)/PUSH
Over/Under Pick: Over (38)
Score Prediction: Lions 17 Broncos 24
Can Drew Lock solidify himself as the Broncos’ starting quarterback moving forward? It’s been a mixed bag so far for the second-round rookie, as he’s flashed the arm talent that made him so intriguing coming out of Missouri, but at the same time, his decision-making has been irrational, for the most part. Luckily for him, he’ll have a prime opportunity to showcase his abilities- the Lions haven’t been able to defend the pass all season long. To that end, Detroit also can’t stop the run, which also helps Lock, as he should benefit from a strong ground attack. In other words, the Broncos should be able to move the ball with consistency. That’s great news regarding their chances of winning this game, as their strong defense should certainly hold their defense against a middling Lions offense. Obviously, this isn’t a very exciting matchup, but those interested, Denver certainly should win this game.
Raiders (6-8) at Chargers (5-9)
Spread Pick: LAC (-7.5)
Over/Under Pick: Over/PUSH (45.5)
Score Prediction: Raiders 19 Chargers 27
When the Raiders and Chargers faced off in Oakland on Thursday Night Football in Week 10, it appeared to be a significant matchup between two potential playoff contenders. Alas, both of these AFC West teams have regressed significantly, albeit for completely different reasons; Oakland doesn’t have the talent while Los Angeles just can’t win a one-score game. Based on that analysis, it’s clear who the better team is, and in a game in which neither team has much to play for, that’s essentially why I picked the Chargers. Then again, it also helps that Los Angeles is the much more efficient team on early downs, have the passing attack necessary to exploit a very poor Raiders pass defense, and also are actually the healthier team; Oakland will be without right tackle Trent Brown and running back Josh Jacobs, who will be missed considering his elusiveness was the reason the Raiders had so much success running the ball efficiently. It’s hard to trust either team, but one thing’s for certain: I’ll have faith in a talented Chargers team over the Raiders, who probably are depleted after losing their final game in Oakland.
Cowboys (7-7) at Eagles (7-7)
Spread Pick: DAL (-2)
Over/Under Pick: Over (46)
Score Prediction: Cowboys 31 Eagles 21
It may not have the buzz that a game of this magnitude would usually have, and for good reason considering that neither team has a winning record, but when the Cowboys and Eagles renew their historic rivalry on Sunday, they’ll be playing for the NFC East title (Dallas clinches with a win, Philadelphia would just need to win against the Giants the following week if they win). In essence, this should be an even matchup against they have the same record, but let’s be real, the talent gap between these two teams is extraordinary. The Eagles are absolutely depleted on offense, so although Dallas’ defense has disappointed this season, they simply don’t have the upside offensive upside to realistically score more than 20 points. That’s extremely worrisome for them; their secondary has been awful despite facing below-average passing attacks, and now, they’ll face a Dallas passing attack that is extremely prolific; Dak Prescott’s shoulder injury does complicate things. There’s definitely a coaching mismatch present in this game in favor of Philadelphia, but in the end, how can you not take the much more talented and healthier team? Cowboys win convincingly and clinch the NFC East.\
Cardinals (4-9-1) at Seahawks (11-3)
Spread Pick: ARI (+8)
Over/Under Pick: Over (51.5)
Score Prediction: Cardinals 27 Seahawks 30
Can the Cardinals play spoiler to a different NFC West rival? They came close to beating the 49ers twice, and now, they will go to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. Considering that Seattle will be without several of their defensive starters, that’s entirely possible, especially if Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, led by Kyler Murray, can build off their tremendous performance from last week. Therefore, they feel like a lock to cover the spread as a eight-point underdog, but still, I don’t think they’ll end up winning this game. Even if they’re fully healthy, Arizona’s defense, particularly against the pass, is putrid; they’ll provide little resistance to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense, and I’m not sure Murray can keep up in a shootout in his first-ever start in Seattle. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if the Cardinals win this game outright, though I’m going to act on the conservative side and take the Seahawks to persevere at home.
SNF: Chiefs (10-4) at Bears (7-7)
Spread Pick: CHI (+6)
Over/Under Pick: Over (44)
Score Prediction: Chiefs 31 Bears 26
In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Bears and Chiefs each drafted quarterbacks. Can you guess which won was drafted before the other? That’s right, Chicago passed on Patrick Mahomes to take Mitchell Trubisky with the second-overall pick. To his credit, Trubisky has played better recently, but he’ll be no match in a close, high-scoring game to Mahomes, which this will probably turn into. After being the league’s most vaunted unit last season, the Bears defense has been closer to average this season, and now, they’ll face a Kansas City offense that is hitting their stride as they get back to full health. I’m getting vibes of a potential upset here in a hostile environment, especially with the public betting on the Chiefs at an absurd 88% clip (per Action Network), but similar to the Cardinals-Seahawks game, I’ll choose the safe option and take the better team with the far superior quarterback.
MNF: Packers (11-3) at Vikings (10-4)
Spread Pick: MIN (-5)
Over/Under Pick: Over (47)
Score Prediction: Packers 17 Vikings 31
With a road game against the Lions slated for next week, the Packers remain likely to win the NFC North regardless of what happens in this game, but still, when they travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings on Monday Night Football, it’ll be a playoff atmosphere. Will Aaron Rodgers deliver in the clutch? He’ll probably play fine, but he hasn’t been the same in recent weeks, as this isn’t an offense built to be counted on to consistently move the ball down the field. Meanwhile, their defense also possesses fatal flaws- they struggle to defend the middle of the field and are terrible versus play-action. Well, the Vikings just happen to run play-action as much as any other team, and although they’ll be without Dalvin Cook, running back Mike Boone is a quality backup that should have success against a well-below average run defense. And to cap it off, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is excellent at making in-game adjustments with his defense, while Matt LeFleur has been unable to do the same with his offense in Green Bay. The Packers may win this division, but Minnesota appears to be the best team in this division, and they’ll prove that with a big victory in primetime.