We don’t always do picks here at DraftAmerica, but when we do, well, we try to get them right. This year has been a 50/50 proposition, so here’s hoping Week 16 will tip the scales in our favor in what’s been a very predictable 2015 season. And yet, with that said, picking against the spread is still exponentially more difficult than picking winners. So here goes (minus the Thursday night game):
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets look to upend the Patriots and keep their playoff hopes alive.
SEASON RECORD VS. SPREAD: 31-31-4
Washington at Philadelphia (-3)
The prevailing feeling is that the Giants – yes, the Giants – are the best team in the NFC East, so somehow, someway, they will find a way to get to the top. For that to happen, the one-win-on-the-road Redskins need to keep up their end of the bargain while the Jekyll-and-Hyde Eagles have to muster up one last positive effort to keep their own hope alive. Pick: Eagles.
Carolina (-7) at Atlanta
This is it for the Panthers’ perfect season – we think. It should have ended last week in New York, because a team that blows a 28-point lead doesn’t really deserve to win. A rotten second half for the Falcons finds a crescendo and, in the spirit of all that is good for the New England Patriots, the 2007 Pats remain the only 16-0 team in NFL history. Pick: Falcons.
Chicago at Tampa Bay (-3)
The Bears are bad, but the Bucs are coming apart at the seams late in the season. Still, because we often find that going with the opposite of our natural instincts works best when picks spreads, here’s (sort of) feeling confident that this one is personal for Lovie Smith. Pick: Buccaneers.
Cleveland at Kansas City (-10.5)
The Chiefs continue to make history, reeling off win after win following a 1-5 start. The Browns have been history for a while, but 10.5 is a big number for a Chiefs team whose other shoe could drop at any moment. An upset isn’t likely, but Johnny Football is fighting for a chance to be in the league next year, so KC could be in for another tougher-than-expected home match against an inferior foe. Pick: Browns.
Dallas at Buffalo (-6.5)
When they’re not playing the Patriots, the 2015 Bills have actually looked alright. When playing virtually anybody, the Cowboys haven’t. Their last visit to Orchard Park resulted in an improbable comeback win on a Monday night in 2007, but this dreadful bunch will have no such luck. Rex Ryan’s group gets a win to keep hope alive… for a .500 season, that is. Pick: Bills.
Houston (-5) at Tennessee
The Titans basically can’t win at home, even though in their last game at LP Field they snapped an 11-game skid against Jacksonville. Houston is beat up at quarterback, but it may not matter for them to ultimately win the putrid AFC South. There isn’t a ton of margin for error, but there is enough if Tennessee does pull the upset. It may not seem probable, but a close game should be in the cards. Pick: Titans.
Indianapolis at Miami (-2.5)
These are actually two bad football teams, yet it’s hard to believe the undisciplined, unmotivated, disorganized Dolphins are favored, even at home. Yes, the Colts have simply run out of steam with their 40-year-old quarterback, losing the last three games by a combined 107-36 score. Still, you’ve got to admire Matt Hasselbeck’s heart to play through pain at his age. Speaking of heart, the Dolphins have zero. Pick: Colts.
New England (-3.5) at New York Jets
This is a different Jets team than the Patriots played in late October, with New York hanging tough in a 30-23 loss. Gang Green’s playoff odds are slim, given that they need to beat the 12-2 Patriots, win at Buffalo, AND have Pittsburgh lose at either hapless Baltimore or Cleveland. But the Jets have always shown the ability to amp it up for the Patriots, so why not give them the nod with a 3.5-point spread (let’s figure that half-point might come in handy). Pick: Jets.
Pittsburgh (-10.5) at Baltimore
The Ravens have shockingly turned into a joke, and the Steelers have not shockingly pushed themselves right back to the top of the same-old, same-old AFC. Baltimore’s nightmare homestand ends in the same ugly fashion it began against Seattle and Kansas City – with a blowout loss. Pick: Steelers.
San Francisco at Detroit (-10)
This one has the feel of a potential runaway, given how bad the 49ers are in general and especially on the road. It’s so hard to give away 10 points with the Lions, but remember what we said above about going against our instincts? Maybe the Lions have one more angry effort in them now that all the pressure is off. Pick: Lions.
Jacksonville at New Orleans (-3)
Sentimentally, the Jaguars would be the pick, considering they are still alive in the AFC South. But Drew Brees has to have something left in the tank, doesn’t he? The Saints won’t steamroll the Jags by any means on a short week after losing at home to the Lions, but it’s hard to imagine Jacksonville pulling the upset after a mini-surge had them thinking playoffs. Pick: Saints.
Green Bay at Arizona (-5)
Every week, it seems that a team that could possibly take down the usual suspects (i.e. New England, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Green Bay) loses a hugely important player. This week, the Cardinals bit the bullet with safety Tyrann Mathieu. Arizona’s challenge to improve what is already a franchise-record 12 wins is a big one, with Green Bay and then Seattle coming to town. The Packers are red-hot since their ludicrous, almost-scripted comeback in Detroit to open December, so if nothing else, this game will be tight throughout. Pick: Packers.
St. Louis at Seattle (-13)
Yeah, we get it, the Seahawks are looking like the Seahawks. But one team even the dominant Seahawks of 2012-present have struggled with is the Rams. St. Louis may be playing elsewhere next year, and it is assured of its 12th consecutive non-winning season. But the Rams are 3-4 against the Hawks since Russell Wilson entered the league, including a Week 1 OT win this season. It’s hard to imagine Seattle running away with this one against a pesky nemesis, especially after a string of blowout victories. Pick: Rams.
New York Giants at Minnesota (-6)
Okay, so we made the claim that the Giants are the best in the East. Picking this game ahead of Saturday’s Skins-Eagles tilt is tricky, because if Big Blue is eliminated, it could fall flat on its face, especially given the absence of Odell Beckham, Jr. But if New York comes into this game with its division hopes alive, it could carry some momentum from its incredible almost-comeback last week against unbeaten Carolina. The Vikings are not in the playoffs yet, but they have margin for error. Pick: Giants.
Cincinnati at Denver (-3.5)
Let’s revisit our point about teams that could finally overtake the usual suspects suffering big-time injuries. The Bengals will have to make do with A.J. McCarron the rest of the way, while no one on earth seems to know if Peyton Manning will ever return to the huddle in Denver. So it’s McCarron against Brock Osweiler in this key game with each team potentially in line to clinch division titles. In what’s been a season that feels like a conspiracy theory to get the Patriots and Steelers into an inevitable AFC Championship Game showdown, a Broncos win would help that more than a Bengals win. Denver can clinch home field advantage for New England (if it hasn’t already done so itself by beating the Jets) and keep Pittsburgh’s division hopes alive by knocking Cincinnati down a peg. Sounds plausible to us. Pick: Broncos.
UPSET OF THE WEEK CANDIDATES
1. FALCONS over Panthers. This would hardly be shocking, given that Carolina has nearly squandered its perfect season twice in three weeks against sub-.500 New Orleans and the Giants. Atlanta is alive for the playoffs, barely, and is overdue for a division win (it is 0-4 against the NFC South). Besides, the Panthers are in good shape for the No. 1 seed even if they lose as they finish at home with Tampa Bay while Arizona has to host Green Bay and Seattle.
2. RAMS over Seahawks. Laugh now, but no one in Seattle was laughing in Week 1 when the Nick Foles-led Rams put up 34 points on the Seahawks. Granted, Seattle was without super-safety Kam Chancellor, but the Rams’ ferocious front four and Case Keenum’s recent solid play give reason for hope.
3. GIANTS over Vikings. As mentioned above, this may well depend on whether the Giants are still alive in the NFC East when this game kicks off. But even with OBJ out of the lineup, Big Blue has a way of mustering up one last-ditch effort when all hope seems lost. If they do, that will keep up the trend of it happening every four years, just as last week’s 38-35 loss continued another extremely eerie trend. In 2007, the Giants lost at home to the 15-0 Patriots, 38-35, then won the Super Bowl (over the Pats). In 2011, the Giants lost at home to the 11-0 Packers, 38-35, then went on to beat the Packers en route to a Super Bowl win. Each of those deflating losses was followed the next week by a road win. Just saying…
4. JETS over Patriots. This one seems unlikely, but still possible. The Jets are the one team that has shown any kind of guts against the Patriots over the years, and perhaps New England is due for a division loss. The Patriots are not as healthy as they were when they beat the Jets in late October, and Gang Green is on a roll with a legitimate shot at the playoffs. If nothing else, you figure this one will be close.