We’ve hit the penultimate week of the 2020 NFL season, a miracle given all that this dreadful year has thrown at us. As I seek a late-season surge to finish over .500 (I’m right at the break-even point after Week 15), the AFC seeks clarity to a very crowded playoff race. The Chiefs getting “homefield advantage” (a very loose term in 2020) is a mere formality, but everything after that is muddled. The AFC wild card and AFC South races are up for grabs. Potentially the most dangerous challenger to KC’s crown, the Ravens, are sitting just outside the playoff picture at the moment.
Without further ado, here are some Week 16 picks:
Last week: 2-2-1
Season: 15-15-1 (.500)
Miami (-3.5) at Las Vegas
The Dolphins own the final wild card spot at the moment, but could be up against a healthy Derek Carr and a Raiders team desperate to keep its own fading hopes alive. With some extra rest following a Thursday night loss to the Bolts, the Raiders need to get their defense together in a hurry. The Dolphins don’t figure to win this game in anything other than close fashion, so give me the points here. Pick: Raiders.
Chicago (-7.5) at Jacksonville
The Jaguars may have lost by 26 points last week, but in many ways they were the biggest winners in all of football thanks to the Jets’ upset win of the Rams. But now, just when it looks obvious that the Jaguars should pack it in, is the time to be very careful if you’re the Bears. Jacksonville has lost 13 straight after an opening day win and is on pace to become just the second team in history to lose out after winning its opener (the 2001 Panthers also did it). If Jets punter Braden Mann taught us anything, the players really don’t give a hoot about Trevor Lawrence when they’re out on the field competing. And even though this looks like a prime roll-over spot for the Jags, all the pressure is on the suddenly-resurgent Bears. And because 2020 is so unpredictable, give me the home team to play tough throughout, even if they can’t pull the upset. Pick: Jaguars.
Cincinnati at Houston (buying to -7 at -130)
The Bengals won a lot of hearts Monday night with their upset of the free-falling Steelers, but can they sustain that momentum and intensity on a short week against a Houston team that may be overdue for one half-decent performance before year’s end? The Texans have been a huge disappointment (yet again) this year, but for some reason I could see them winning handily against a Bengals team that just played its Super Bowl last week. Pick: Texans.
Indianapolis (-1.5) at Pittsburgh
Just a few weeks ago it would have seemed unfathomable for the Steelers to be home underdogs, even against a contending Colts team. But here we are, with Pittsburgh having dropped three straight after an 11-0 start and the Colts in position to win the AFC South. Given recent history, the Colts would be the pick here. But again, this is 2020, and we should expect the unexpected. I still have a very hard time seeing Pittsburgh lose four straight, even though three straight (including losing to the Bengals) is shocking enough. Perhaps just when it looks most obvious is when it isn’t obvious at all. Pick: Steelers.
Carolina at Washington (-1.5)
Personally, as much as I love the Alex Smith and Ron Rivera stories in 2020, I’d love nothing more for Christmas than to see the NFC Least winner finish with no more than 6 wins (even if it’s the 6-9-1 Eagles). The WFT can put an end to that with a win over the slumping Panthers, Rivera’s old squad. Carolina has dropped nine of 11 after a 2-1 start, and Washington has bolted into first place after a 2-7 start. With a win and a Giants loss, the NFC Least could be wrapped up heading into Week 17 for the artists formerly known as the Redskins, and a chance to rest Smith a little more. I see Washington seizing this opportunity and killing the 6-win dream. Pick: Washington.
Tennessee at Green Bay (buying to -3 at -125)
The Titans, at times, have looked like a juggernaut capable of repeating their magical run of 2019. Derrick Henry is the best running back in the game, and Ryan Tannehill looks more and more like a franchise quarterback every week. And yet, something about this team just feels a little off compared to last year. The Titans won’t be sneaking up on anyone, and the Packers are the ones who appear to be gelling into 2019 form. The NFC’s lone bye is within grasp with a win, and if there’s one thing the Pack have done this year, it’s rise to the occasion in prime-time, as Green Bay is 5-0 under the lights this season. A win gives the Packers a chance for an extra week of rest, essentially, and I like them to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. Pick: Packers.
Buffalo (-7) at New England
It’s all over. For the first time in a dozen years and just the second time in 18 years, the Patriots will not be a part of the postseason party. The Bills are AFC East champions for the first time since 1995, seven years before the league realigned. Buffalo is playing lights out right now, and the Patriots have seen, well, the lights turn out for them. And yet, this game feels like a prime letdown spot for a Bills team perhaps basking too much in their playoff euphoria. The teams’ first meeting may well have been a turning point for Buffalo, considering it never, ever beats New England this century. But after three straight subpar games with two losses in that stretch, a Cam Newton fumble at the end seemed to ease a lot of pressure off the Bills, as they have lost just once since that Week 8 matchup. Still, I can’t see the Pats rolling over, and New England has still scored a few wins against solid teams this year (Miami, Las Vegas, Baltimore) and could at least keep this one interesting. Pick: Patriots.