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Home Sport N.F.L. Week 16 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread

N.F.L. Week 16 Predictions: Our Picks Against the Spread

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The N.F.L. playoff picture should come into sharp focus this weekend, with several division titles and wild-card spots likely to be decided. There will be games on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and while a few of them are irrelevant, most can have an impact on the standings.

Here is a look at N.F.L. Week 16, with all picks made against the spread.

Last week’s record: 8-6-2

Overall record: 110-107-7

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Colts -1.5 | Total: 44.5

The Colts (10-4) have seemed better than the Steelers (11-3) for much of this season — and the team’s records are getting closer to reflecting that.

Indianapolis has won five of its last six games, getting contributions from newcomers (the rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, quarterback Philip Rivers, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner) and mainstays (linebacker Darius Leonard, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton). A tiebreaker has the Colts trailing Tennessee in the A.F.C. South, but there is no question Indianapolis did a fine job of rebuilding its team in the last off-season.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is falling apart. There was a sense during the team’s 11-0 start that the Steelers (11-3) were being overrated, but no one expected three straight losses. Before this year, only nine teams had opened with an 11-0 record in the 16-game era, and just one of those — the 2009 New Orleans Saints — lost three of its final five games. That Pittsburgh matched that ignominious feat with two games remaining is humiliating, but the Steelers can take solace in the fact that the Saints won the Super Bowl that season.

Being a favorite on the road in Pittsburgh this late in the season is unusual territory for the Colts, but based on what we have seen in recent weeks, it seems justifiable. Pick: Colts -1.5

ImageGreen Bay's Davante Adams has a career high in touchdowns (14) and a chance to set a personal best in receiving yards despite missing two games.
Green Bay’s Davante Adams has a career high in touchdowns (14) and a chance to set a personal best in receiving yards despite missing two games.Credit…Benny Sieu/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers, 8:20 p.m., NBC

Line: Packers -3.5 | Total: 56

Only three teams are averaging more than 30 points a game, and two of them face off here. Oddsmakers are expecting it to be the highest-scoring game of the week, and while 56 is a respectable number, you have to wonder how much higher that would be if the forecast in Green Bay didn’t call for temperatures in the 20s and a chance of snow.

The Titans (10-4) have been on a roll, with Derrick Henry running roughshod over all comers and Ryan Tannehill making opponents pay for stacking the box by stretching the field with the passing game. That recipe has led to five straight games in which Tennessee had at least 420 yards of total offense and 30 points.

The Packers (11-3) have been enjoying an M.V.P.-level season from Aaron Rodgers and a career year from wide receiver Davante Adams, leading to Green Bay’s being held to fewer than 30 points just three times. And while Aaron Jones has fewer rushing touchdowns than he did last season, he is on track to surpass last year’s rushing total while averaging 5.4 yards a carry.

Both teams have a great deal of motivation to win, with Tennessee trying to fight off Indianapolis for the A.F.C. South title and Green Bay on the verge of securing the N.F.C.’s first-round bye. But the Packers’ experience in poor weather could be what decides this one. Pick: Packers -3.5

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Seahawks -1.5 | Total: 47.5

You have to assume the Rams (9-5) squandered their chance at an N.F.C. West title with last week’s abject failure against the Jets. Los Angeles could have come into this game with the same record as the Seahawks (10-4). Instead, Seattle can clinch the division with a win at home. The Rams are still overwhelmingly likely to make the playoffs — a win for them or a loss by Chicago will be enough to get them there — but it is hard to be enthusiastic about a team that allows itself to be beaten by the Jets, who had a talent deficiency at every position. Pick: Seahawks -1.5

Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Chiefs -10.5 | Total: 54

There is little at stake in this game. The Falcons (4-10) have been eliminated from playoff contention, and while the Chiefs (13-1) can clinch the A.F.C.’s lone first-round bye with a win, they would still have a 98 percent chance of the top seed even if they lost both of their remaining games, according to The Upshot.

With stakes that low, there is no reason to rush the return of running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Kansas City should be considering resting other key players as well. That could open the door for Atlanta to cover, but the Chiefs should still win. Pick: Falcons +10.5

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Justin Jefferson, right, and Adam Thielen, center, are frequent dance partners in the end zone, but Minnesota’s defense tends to let the team down.Credit…Brace Hemmelgarn/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints, 4:30 p.m., Fox, NFL Network and Prime Video

Line: Saints -7.5 | Total: 51.5

Even with consecutive losses, the Saints (10-4) can secure their fourth consecutive division title simply by beating the Vikings (6-8) or having Tampa Bay lose.

Will Minnesota put up much resistance? Probably not enough to matter. The Vikings have an incredibly talented offense, with Dalvin Cook, Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen putting on a show even in losses. But Minnesota’s defense is still so young and inconsistent that the team typically gives up just enough points to lose.

Drew Brees looked rusty last week, and wide receiver Michael Thomas is out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury. So while a New Orleans win is likely, this game could be close. Pick: Vikings +7.5

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Rather than throwing within 10 yards of Miami’s Xavien Howard, opponents should consider punting the ball away. The net result would be preferable.Credit…Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Miami Dolphins at Las Vegas Raiders, 8:15 p.m., NFL Network

Line: Dolphins -3 | Total: 47.5

At this point it is ridiculous that opposing quarterbacks are challenging Xavien Howard of the Dolphins (9-5). He is the top-rated coverage cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus, but teams have thrown in his direction often enough that he is leading the N.F.L. with nine interceptions and has produced a takeaway in 10 of Miami’s 14 games.

If the Raiders (7-7) want to win this game, they should give Howard the old Darrelle Revis “island” treatment. But it shouldn’t matter much if Derek Carr (injured groin) or Marcus Mariota starts at quarterback for Las Vegas, as the Dolphins are a better team and have more motivation to win thanks to their dogfight with Baltimore for the A.F.C.’s last wild-card spot. Pick: Dolphins -3

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions, 1 p.m., NFL Network

Line: Buccaneers -9.5 | Total: 54

When Matthew Stafford inevitably makes a run at Drew Brees’s record for career passing yards, stretches like the final three weeks of this season will be a big reason. Stafford sustained a rib injury in Week 14; it was serious enough that he struggled to walk. He surprised everyone by starting in Week 15, and threw for 252 yards in a loss to Tennessee. Detroit is eliminated from playoff contention, and Stafford’s ribs are still extremely sore, but the team’s interim coach, Darrell Bevell, said there were no plans to shut down the veteran quarterback: “To be honest with you, I don’t think he’ll let that happen.”

So what should people expect from this game? Between hard hits from the fierce pass rush of the Buccaneers (9-5), Stafford will probably throw for 250 to 300 yards and the Lions (5-9) will lose anyway. Because a win or a tie will put Tampa Bay in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, that series of events will be acceptable to the Buccaneers. Covering the spread will be harder, though, with running back Ronald Jones out after a positive test for the coronavirus. Pick: Lions +9.5

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals, 4:30 p.m., Prime Video

Line: Cardinals -5 | Total: 49

Both teams should feel at home since the 49ers (5-9) have relocated to Arizona as a result of coronavirus regulations in California. That’s the most interesting subplot of a game between San Francisco’s injury-riddled team and the Cardinals (8-6), an up-and-coming squad that can clinch its first playoff berth since 2015 by winning Saturday and having Chicago lose to or tie Jacksonville. With Nick Mullens requiring elbow surgery, San Francisco will start C.J. Beathard at quarterback. Quarterback record is an overrated statistic, but Beathard has lived up to his last name with a career mark of 1-9. Pick: Cardinals -5

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Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown have had fun beating up on lesser teams in the last few weeks. That trend could continue.Credit…Rob Carr/Getty Images

Giants at Baltimore Ravens, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Ravens -11 | Total: 45

The Giants (5-9) are clinging to a shred of a chance at winning the N.F.C. East, but they are running into the Ravens (9-5) at the wrong time. Baltimore is through its tough patch and appears to have its offensive issues worked out — at least against the league’s lesser teams — and that takes this game from potentially interesting to a comical mismatch.

The Ravens need to keep winning if they want to overtake Miami for the A.F.C.’s last playoff spot, and a home game against a team that is coming apart at the seams is an excellent opportunity for them to flex their muscles. Pick: Ravens -11

Carolina Panthers at Washington Football Team, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Footballers -2.5 | Total: 44.5

The late-night escapades of Dwayne Haskins resulted in the young quarterback being fined, but he wasn’t suspended. That leaves the Footballers (6-8) with a decent enough option should Alex Smith be unable to return from a calf injury. Smith is the team’s best option, and gives Washington its best chance of making the playoffs, but his health casts doubt on this game against the Panthers (4-10) that wouldn’t be there if he were 100 percent.

The combination of a Washington win and a loss by the Giants would secure the N.F.C. East title for the Footballers, and having that decided this week would be welcome for a team that is trying to get healthy. Pick: Footballers -2.5

Cleveland Browns at Jets, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Browns -9.5 | Total: 47

The Jets (1-13) had no motivation to beat the Rams last week beyond avoiding a winless season, but that was enough to power them to the most surprising result of the year. The victory, however, splashed cold water on their future. Combined with tiebreaker scenarios, the win meant the Jets were no longer in line for the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft.

Now they will host the Browns (10-4), who are significantly better than them in every facet of the game. Cleveland can clinch its first playoff berth since 2002 by winning and having Baltimore, Miami or Indianapolis lose. Pick: Browns -9.5

Chicago Bears at Jacksonville Jaguars, 1 p.m., CBS

Line: Bears -7.5 | Total: 47

Despite a recent surge, the Bears (7-7) are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. While a win over the Jaguars (1-13) is certainly attainable — if Jacksonville loses out, it will have the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft — Chicago’s only real shot at the playoffs is to have Arizona fall apart. It’s still nice to see the Bears right the ship, even if it leads to nothing, as the team’s defense deserved much better than it got from its offense during a six-game losing streak. The Bears should win, but there are too many variables to assume they will cover. Pick: Jaguars +7.5

Image

The Eagles have been doing a lot of celebrating since Jalen Hurts took over at quarterback.Credit…Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m., Fox

Line: Eagles -2.5 | Total: 49.5

The ridiculous nature of the N.F.C. East means that neither of these teams has been officially eliminated. But the Eagles (4-9-1) have only a 10 percent chance of capturing the N.F.L.’s worst division, according to The Upshot, and the Cowboys (5-9) have a 6 percent chance. The game is worth watching to see Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts continue to grow into his role as a starting quarterback, and Dallas’s skill players are good enough to make Andy Dalton serviceable on a good day. Pick: Eagles -2.5

Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m., CBS

Line: Chargers -3 | Total: 48.5

Come for the meeting of promising young A.F.C. West quarterbacks. Stay if it is your local broadcast and you don’t have access to out-of-market games. The Broncos (5-9) and the Chargers (5-9) have been eliminated from playoff contention, but these will be teams to watch for next season. Pick: Chargers -3

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans, 1 p.m., Fox

Line: Texans -8 | Total: 46

The Bengals (3-10-1) are fresh off an upset of Pittsburgh, and thanks to Deshaun Watson, the Texans (4-10) can often do an impression of a competent team. There isn’t a lot of motivation to go around, which makes a hefty point spread a bit curious. Pick: Bengals +8

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In his first season with the Bills, Stefon Diggs has career highs in receptions and receiving yards.Credit…Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots, 8:15 p.m., ESPN and ABC

Line: Bills -7 | Total: 46

How you feel about this game probably comes down to how petty you believe the Bills (11-3) are. After years of abuse at the hands of the Patriots (6-8), Buffalo has clinched its first A.F.C. East title since 1995. The team has a 1 percent shot at overtaking Kansas City for a first-round bye, so there’s little reason for the Bills to go all out. But Coach Bill Belichick will be standing on the opposite sideline, and watching him squirm might be reason enough for Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and the rest of Buffalo’s stars to try to put on a show in Foxborough, Mass.

A season-ending injury to New England’s best defender, Stephon Gilmore, complicates things further and pushes a full touchdown spread into reasonable territory. Pick: Bills -7

A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Colts -1.5, for example, means that Indianapolis must beat Pittsburgh by at least 2 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.

All times are Eastern.

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