You sit on a throne of Week 16 picks
The best way to spread Christmas cheer is picking games for all to hear.
Due to the holidays, we will only publish twice this week, but as a peace offering, we are posting our weekly picks a little earlier. Enjoy the holidays and stay safe!
Welcome back, football. Can you believe it’s been an entire DAY since we last had an NFL game on TV? We hope you persevered through that difficult 24 hours.
As enjoyable as a five-day NFL week sounds in theory, in reality it was anything but. As the omicron variant makes its way through the league, and everywhere else, plans have been thrown into disarray. That meant that in Week 15, we saw a large number of players land on the Covid list, several unexpected results, and four mostly unwatchable games on Monday and Tuesday. In Week 16, that means … we don’t really know, except that more players are still being added or removed to the Covid list by the day.
As such, it’s likely that there will be more upsets this week. The lines have already bounced around a lot and will continue to do so until kickoff again. For now, though, here are the odds for all 16 games, as of Thursday afternoon via DraftKings (the favored team is in bold):
49ers at Titans (+3)
Browns at Packers (-7.5)
Colts at Cardinals (-1)
Giants at Eagles (-10)
Rams at Vikings (+3)
Bills at Patriots (-2.5)
Bucs at Panthers (+10)
Jaguars at Jets (PK)
Lions at Falcons (-6)
Chargers at Texans (+10)
Ravens at Bengals (-3)
Bears at Seahawks (-6.5)
Broncos at Raiders (+1)
Steelers at Chiefs (-8.5)
Washington at Cowboys (-10.5)
Dolphins at Saints (+1.5)
Unless there is any last-minute rescheduling, the Week 16 slate consists of contests on Thursday, Saturday (Christmas Day), Sunday, and Monday. And hopefully this week, the quality of the games won’t leave us Bah Humbug-ing like Scrooge.
We’ll do our best to predict how select matchups will unfold, but if you’d like our opinion on any that we don’t write about, leave us a comment at The Post Route and we’ll be happy to play Santa.
Last week, I roped in my (almost) 12-year-old cousin, Hudson, to help with picks. Some of his upsets didn’t pan out, but his beloved Bengals won, which was the most important part. I’ll let him enjoy his Christmas vacation now, so you’re stuck with just Christian and me again.
You should feel most confident in these picks
After last week — which included just the third instance of the team with the worst record beating the team with the best record — I’m hesitant to feel all that certain in any games. Especially since there continues to be so much doubt, mostly Covid-related, about who will be active this week.
That said, I can offer somewhat of a vote of confidence for two teams in Week 16. The first is the only squad that has clinched a playoff spot: the Packers, who will host the snakebitten Browns on Christmas Day.
The Browns need a win to keep their fading playoff hopes alive, but it also feels like those were almost completely dashed on Monday, when Daniel Carlson’s field goal lifted the Raiders to a last-second win. Even if the Browns have more reinforcements on Saturday, it’s difficult to believe that Cleveland has enough juice to upset the No. 1 seed in the NFC at their own place.
I really wish it’d happen, because I’m so fed up with Aaron Rodgers (the guy who canceled his own family complaining about “cancel culture” like he’s the NFL’s Tucker Carlson):
It just seems like it’d take a Christmas miracle for the Browns to win at Lambeau.
The Eagles are coming off a short week and have already lost to the Giants once this season, but 1) the Eagles would’ve won that first meeting if they hadn’t kept shooting themselves in the foot and 2) the Giants have since shut down Daniel Jones for the season.
Even if the Eagles continue to make unforced errors, Mike Glennon’s Giants — who have lost three straight by double digits — aren’t good enough to take advantage. It seems unlikely they can keep Dallas Goedert in check again, either. Not only has he set a career high in receiving yards in back-to-back weeks, but New York’s defense is coming off a game in which tight end Dalton Schultz was the Cowboys’ leading receiver.
Plus, the holidays are Goedert’s time to shine:
You should feel least confident in these picks
I could save us some time with this section and simply write “all of them,” but that would be cheating. So I’ll narrow it down to three in particular that have left me most undecided.
On Thursday night, the 49ers will play their fourth primetime game this season when they visit the Titans. The Niners are 1-2 at night in 2021, while the Titans are 2-0. However, in recent weeks these two teams are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. San Francisco (Francisco, that’s fun to say) has won five of its last six contests, with its only loss coming against nemesis Seattle. Tennessee has dropped three of its last four, with its only win coming against the lowly Jaguars.
The Titans should have won last week, had they not turned the ball over four times, including on three straight drives in the second half (plus they turned it over on downs on the final drive). That’s not an anomaly lately, though. The Titans had five turnovers and then four turnovers in their previous two losses. Their best bet on Thursday night is to take care of the ball, and luckily for them, the 49ers are in the bottom half of the league in takeaways.
Although the Titans have gotten strong production from their running game lately (even without Derrick Henry), they’ll be facing a 49ers defense that ranks second in the NFL in rush DVOA. A.J. Brown might be suiting up on Thursday night, but I think the 49ers can continue their hot streak.
The Ravens, like the Titans, have battled an obscene number of injuries this year. Even when they were “healthier,” they got smoked by the Bengals once this season, in Baltimore in Week 7. But just like the Goonies, the Ravens never say die. While they’ve lost three straight by a total of four points, six of their eight wins have come in one-score games. John Harbaugh always has his team ready to play, especially when the pressure is on. And the stakes will be sky high on Sunday, when first place in the AFC North is on the line.
Whether Lamar Jackson plays or not, I trust the Ravens more to rise to the occasion, particularly because the Bengals haven’t faced a situation like this — a chance to take control of the division late in the season — in years. But I’m just not sure the Ravens are healthy enough to get it done, so I’m leaning toward Cincy.
The Steelers are unkillable in a completely different way than the Ravens. Almost every week, they shouldn’t even be in the game, but their opponent can’t stop hurting itself with self-inflicted wounds and the Steelers keep hanging around:
The Chiefs are owners of the longest active win streak in the NFL, which isn’t unusual in the past couple years. In 2019, they closed out the regular season on a six-game run before winning the Super Bowl. In 2020, they won 10 straight before a backup-heavy lineup lost in the final week of the season. In 2021, they’ve ripped off seven straight wins.
However, this year they haven’t done so in overly impressive fashion. During this stretch, they’ve only put together a complete effort twice, both against the Raiders. Plus, Patrick Mahomes could be missing both Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, which would be the first time the Chiefs quarterback has been without his top two weapons in the same game.
Maybe KC’s streak will end Sunday afternoon, minus a couple key players and against a team that won’t quit. But I’m done expecting the Chiefs to lose any given week … at least until they finally do again.
Why these are potential upset picks
My first upset pick could barely be considered an upset. The Cardinals are ever-so-slight favorites over the Colts, but these are two teams headed in the opposite direction. The Colts have won five of their last six to get back in the playoff picture, while the Cards have lost two straight (and three of their last five), including getting routed by the Lions of all opponents last week.
In that game, running back Craig Reynolds, who had mostly been a practice squad guy for the past three seasons, was pressed into duty due to injuries. In his NFL start, Reynolds ran for 112 on 26 carries against Arizona’s defense.
Now picture what damage NFL leading rusher and MVP candidate Jonathan Taylor can do against the same unit. Hint: a lot.
Kyler Murray, the MVP frontrunner until a midseason injury, hasn’t been very sharp lately and has clearly missed No. 1 target DeAndre Hopkins. But it’s not just Murray; the Cardinals as a team have been struggling in recent weeks and despite the fact that they haven’t clinched a playoff spot yet, they aren’t playing with any real urgency. You can’t say the same about the Colts, who are treating each week like it’s a playoff game. That’s not the kind of team I want to bet against.
A few weeks ago, I picked the Patriots over the Bills but I also said I thought these AFC East rivals would split the season series. To keep my word, I’m taking the Bills this time. Presumably, this rematch won’t be played in the same conditions as round one, i.e. in a snowglobe that’s constantly being shaken by a hyperactive kid.
For the Buffalo to come away with a victory and get back in the division race, Josh Allen needs to ball out, not just as a passer but also a runner. On defense, the Bills need to take a page from the Colts’ playbook and pressure Mac Jones early and often. That part shouldn’t be a problem — the Bills have the second-highest QB pressure rate in the league. However, their sack total is near the bottom of the league while they have the fourth-most missed tackles. As such, the Bills have to play much more disciplined football than usual if they have any chance at beating the Pats and winning the AFC East in back-to-back years. I’m hoping they can pull it off, especially without that son of a nutcracker Cole Beasley.
Welp, it’s Christmas week and I’m already a bundle of anxiety thanks to having to fly during end times. With that in mind, I’m pretty much just copying and pasting what I wrote over at USA Today. Sorry y’all. I’ll do better once we’re into the sad bleakness of January.
Pick I like the most
Miami Dolphins (+125) over the New Orleans Saints
I liked this pick when it was Taysom Hill at quarterback. I like it even more with Ian Book starting. Book is … fine. He’ll probably be a more stable thrower than Hill. But he was buried on the Saints’ depth chart for a reason, and now he’s got to face a streaking Dolphins defense that’s been one of the league’s best against the pass since Week 9:
The line on this one will probably go through a few permutations as the weekend unfolds. It would take a lot for me to flip to the Saints’ side.
Pick I overthought, so you should probably fade it
New England Patriots (-135) over the Buffalo Bills
I don’t know what to make of the Patriots after last week’s disappointing loss to the Colts. Yes, they looked awful — but they were still in a position to win that game late despite laying a first-half egg against a surging playoff team on the road.
New England held Carson Wentz to five completions and held Jonathan Taylor to fewer than 3.7 yards per carry before his breakaway 67-yard touchdown that sealed the game late. Its running game struggled, but that was against the league’s third-ranked rushing defense and without top tailback Damien Harris, who returned to practice this week. Mac Jones had a bad day, but he’s spent his rookie season bouncing back from underwhelming performances with solid games the next week.
But the Bills have a chip on their shoulder. They lost to the Patriots at home, in primetime, because they had to play through a dedicated weather recreation of Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Another loss would reinforce the little brother treatment six different states direct toward western New York.
Josh Allen can boost his way back into a wide-open MVP conversation by beating the team he torched for 320 yards and four touchdowns the last time he came through Foxborough. And we have no idea what Jones can do against the league’s second-ranked passing defense because, well, he only threw three passes in his only matchup against these guys.
The Patriots get to play at home, which is an intimidating environment in winter but also the place where Jones is 3-4 as a starter. It’ll be a different scenario with the Bills in town and a newly confident fanbase who’s had its Super Bowl hopes stoked. My prevailing thought is that this, coupled with last week’s disappointment, will be able to light a spark against an increasingly desperate Buffalo team that hasn’t won two straight games since early October.
Upset pick I like the most
Chicago Bears (+230) over the Seattle Seahawks
Last week I rolled with the Browns even though they were without roughly a third of their roster and was nearly rewarded before Daniel Carlson’s walk-off field goal stole my glory. This week we dive back into the breach with another iffy quarterback and a cursed franchise.
The Bears are playing out the string of Matt Nagy’s unfortunate tenure as head coach. The Seahawks are struggling through their first losing season in almost a decade and were just utterly demoralized when their comeback against the Rams was derailed by an awful missed pass interference call (funny how that seems to happen with LA).
Neither team has much to play for, but Chicago has slightly more optimism to gain. Justin Fields, despite his penchant for running into sacks, has showcased a strong arm and ability to make plays downfield. The easiest way for him to break the hearts of Bears fans everywhere is to finish 2021 on a heater, make himself a hot fantasy football sleeper for 2022, and then fall flat on his face in year two.
Since that’s an obvious way to exacerbate the quarterback pain of a franchise in search of one for nearly 40 years, it feels reasonable. The Seahawks have floundered in 2021 behind a down season from Russell Wilson and about eight years of awful draft choices. There’s little to do now but regroup, and it’s tough to see Seattle’s veteran core being as excited for the meaningless finish to the season (the Seahawks are still technically in the playoff race but … come on) as Chicago’s younger skill players.
So, behind this galaxy-brained theory, I’m rolling Bears as a +230 pick to win straight up. I believe in Justin Fields. As a franchise quarterback? Kind of! As a player who can be just good enough to extend the cycle of heartbreak another five years in Chicago? Definitely.