The NFL continued its tradition of playing the bulk of its games on Saturday in seasons in which Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, so we the public have a slightly shorter turnaround between the full slates of Weeks 15 and 16. I dropped last night’s game, but still have a very strong record for 2016 and don’t intend to let Eli Manning’s three-interception TNF performance deter me. Without further ado, my most confident selections of this here Week 16:
This week: 0-1
2016 season: 26-15-3
Atlanta (-3) at Carolina
After the Falcons torched his Carolina defense for 571 total yards in early October, Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott joked that he wanted to jump out of the plane on the way back to Charlotte. Thankfully, McDermott kept his wits about him, but has the Panthers’ defense improved enough since Week 4, especially considering Luke Kuechly is out? The bad news is that Julio Jones is back, he of the 300-yard receiving game in that 48-33 Week 4 win. Atlanta needs this one, as they enter Week 16 just one game up in the NFC South on Tampa Bay. Carolina is on a short week and, though still technically mathematically alive, it may have used up too much steam in upending the Redskins on Monday night. Pick: Falcons.
San Diego (-4.5) at Cleveland
Had I jumped on this one a few days ago, I’d be looking at a 6.5-point spread. But apparently the betting public is trending with the 0-14 Browns, and I may just join the party. Obviously, this is the Browns’ last chance to win a football game with their annual Week 17 meeting with Pittsburgh ensuing. The Chargers have mastered the art of blowing fourth-quarter leads, and while they are the more talented team, the cold weather and desperation of the hapless Browns has to make this a close game. It just has to… Pick: Browns.
Arizona at Seattle (-8)
Tie game, anyone? The last time these teams met, it was a 6-6 duel in late October punctuated by two pathetic kicking efforts resulting in short missed field goals in overtime. The Seahawks are NFC West champs and in search of a first-round bye, but this is the Cardinals’ Super Bowl in an otherwise-extremely-disappointing 2016 season. Here’s thinking Arizona makes Seattle work hard in its last competitive game of the regular season (the Hawks finish with the 49ers). Pick: Cardinals.
Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-5.5)
Hello, Steelers Week. This is what Baltimore needs, after two lackluster efforts against the Patriots and Eagles in which it was lucky to come away with even just the one victory. The Ravens, who seemed to lack intensity last week against Philly, have won four straight and seven of eight against the Steelers, including a 21-14 victory in Week 9 this year. The Steelers are red-hot, winners of five straight, and can wrap up the AFC North with a win. The Ravens still control their own destiny if they can win out, but can they slow the dynamic trio of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown? History tells us that both teams will give it their absolute all, and that this will come down to the wire. The Steelers look like the more complete team, especially given their recent defensive success, but the game figures to be close either way. Pick: Ravens.
Denver at Kansas City (-3.5)
The dangerous 3.5-point spread emerges, but alas, I was able to grit through it last week with the Giants, so I’m feeling a bit lucky with the number. The Broncos’ offense has completely disappeared behind a porous offensive line that is getting Trevor Siemian thrown around like a rag doll. Kansas City felt it let one slip away last week, and needs this one to keep its AFC West title hopes alive as Oakland could potentially clinch with a win Saturday and Chiefs loss Sunday. It took a full five quarters last month for the Chiefs to escape Denver with a win, and though it could be a tad bit tougher if Justin Houston sits out, the Broncos look like they are ready to fade into obscurity after a 4-0 start. Pick: Chiefs.