2016 NFL Picks: Week 17
Last Week: 3-4
- Pittsburgh Steelers -6 vs. Cleveland Browns
- Carolina Panthers +4.5 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Chicago Bears +6 at Minnesota Vikings
- Houston Texans +3 at Tennessee Titans
- Miami Dolphins +10 vs. New England Patriots
- Indianapolis Colts -4.5 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
- Baltimore Ravens +1 at Cincinnati Bengals
- Seattle Seahawks -10 at San Francisco 49ers
- New York Giants +7.5 at Washington Redskins
- Arizona Cardinals -6.5 at Los Angeles Rams
- Green Bay Packers -3.5 at Detroit Lions
My late-addition Facebook pick missed when the Chargers lost to the Browns, giving us our first losing record since Week 6. Now we're under .500, facing Week 17 and the many questions it poses. Will teams like the Cowboys and Patriots play their starters? Will Steve Smith's retirement announcement motivate the Ravens, or at least make them fear the consequences of disappointing him? Can David Johnson get enough touches to log an NFL-record 16th game with over 100 yards from scrimmage after carrying my fantasy team to a championship? All of these are difficult questions to answer, and one is me publicly bragging about winning a game based almost entirely on luck.
Of course, if you've ever watched an NFL game with me, you're well aware that I despise teams who play conservatively. I'm approaching our picks with the same attitude, so we have eleven games to run down below. If we hit all of them, we'll end the season at a healthy 53.8% success rate. We need to go at least 9-2 to get over the vig-included hump of 52%. 7-4 will be enough to leave us with a winning record heading into the playoffs. Let's do this; Leeroyyyyyy Jenkins!
Pittsburgh Steelers -6 vs. Cleveland Browns
The Steelers are the most (and only) balanced team in the top ten of total DVOA, ranking above average in offense, defense, and special teams. The Browns are also balanced, but in a less desirable way; they rank 29th in offensive and special teams DVOA and 31st in defensive DVOA. A win also gives Pittsburgh a good chance to play Miami in the Wild Card round rather than Kansas City. With Cleveland still reeling from the shock of their first win, Pittsburgh should win comfortably at home.
Carolina Panthers +4.5 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Panthers narrowly lost when these teams met at Carolina in Week 5, but that was with Cam Newton in the league's concussion protocol. The Buccaneers are technically alive in the NFC playoff picture, but it would require a Lemony Snicket-esque series of events to punch their postseason ticket. These teams are statistically very similar, with Tampa holding a small advantage on offense (16th vs. 25th) and the Panthers a small advantage on defense (10th vs. 14th). The points and the upgrade from Derek Anderson to Cam Newton should get the job done.
Chicago Bears +6 at Minnesota Vikings
Before getting into details, I want to thank Matt Barkley for dispelling any illusions of him being a franchise quarterback. We were entering dangerous territory, but his five interceptions against the league's 25th-ranked defense should convince the Chicago front office he's a backup. This week, the Bears play a Minnesota team incapable of blocking. This could be a problem, as we shockingly boast the league's best adjusted sack rate. Six points seems like a lot against a Vikings team that has only won twice in their last ten games. I'll take it!
Houston Texans +3 at Tennessee Titans
This line would have felt right if Marcus Mariota had led the Titans to a victory over Jacksonville last week, making this a battle for AFC South "supremacy". Instead, Tennessee was trailing by 15 points when Mariota broke his tibia. Tom Savage isn't exactly saving the Texans from quarterback hell, but his counterpart Matt Cassel isn't any better. Houston is riding a ten-game win streak against divisional foes, and they should extend it here.
Miami Dolphins +10 vs. New England Patriots
While the Patriots haven't clinched the top seed in the AFC, they don't really have anything to play for here; Derek Carr's injury means the only team capable of edging them out would be starting Matt McGloin at quarterback. The Dolphins are an exceptionally average team, ranking between 11th and 19th in every individual phase of offense, defense, and special teams. Not exactly inspiring stuff, but against a Patriots squad likely resting Tom Brady for at least part of the game, I'll take the ten points. Besides, Miami has sneakily won their last three home games against New England.
Indianapolis Colts -4.5 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars soundly beat the AFC South's "best" team last week, but now they travel to face the Colts and Andrew Luck. I don't think Blake Bortles is the man to take advantage of Indianapolis's 30th-ranked defense, which means Jacksonville's 13th-ranked defense will need to slow down the Colts's 11th-ranked offense. In case I need a few extra points, I can turn to special teams, where the Colts rank 4th and the Jaguars 24th. Let's hope Andrew Luck can finish the 2016 season with a bang.
Baltimore Ravens +1 at Cincinnati Bengals
I thought we had all agreed the Bengals weren't good, already! Sure, their offense is competent (12th in DVOA), but their defense and special teams are both terrible. Unless Baltimore decides not to show up after being eliminated from the playoffs in backbreaking fashion, it's hard to picture them losing this game. And with Steve Smith on his way out, it's hard to picture the Ravens not showing up.
Seattle Seahawks -10 at San Francisco 49ers
The Seahawks need to win this game to preserve hope for the #2 seed in the NFC Playoffs. The 49ers have already lost nine games by at least 10 points this season, including one to Seattle in Week 3. Even Seattle's shoddy offensive line should be able to survive San Francisco's 16th-ranked pass rush, and their defense will smother the league's 24th-ranked offense. If that isn't enough, the Niners need to lose to have a chance at the first overall pick in next year's draft! This one will get ugly quickly.
New York Giants +7.5 at Washington Redskins
The Giants have only lost two games by eight points or more this season and the Redskins have only won three games by eight points or more. The Giants don't have anything at stake this week, but you'd have to believe Eli Manning and Ben McAdoo are aware of playoff scenarios to think that will impact the team's play on Sunday. Even if they rest some stars on offense, the Giants and their 2nd-ranked defense will keep this game close.
Arizona Cardinals -6.5 at Los Angeles Rams
Since Jared Goff took over as Los Angeles's starting quarterback, they've lost all six of their games by an average of 16 points. The Cardinals are bad, but they'll be feeding David Johnson to help him get the aforementioned record and their defense ranks 6th in DVOA. Unless the Rams can leverage their 2nd-ranked special teams unit to make up the difference, Arizona can easily win by two touchdowns. Luckily, they only need one to cover the spread.
Green Bay Packers -3.5 at Detroit Lions
Ahh, the biggest game of the week! The winner of this game clinches the NFC North, and if Washington beats the Giants, the loser will be watching the playoffs from home. Unfortunately for Lions fans, their team is trending sharply downward. In the process of beating my Bears to move to 9-4 (with eight wins coming by one score or less), Matthew Stafford injured his throwing hand. Since then, they've struggled to score points against the Giants and Cowboys, two good teams. Across the field, the Packers have re-established themselves as a good team by winning their last five games by an average of 13 points. Detroit now sits 27th in total DVOA while the Packers rank 6th, and their league-worst pass defense won't do them any favors against Aaron Rodgers's most recent flamethrower impersonation. Green Bay is a better team, with a better and healthier quarterback; 3.5 points won't be enough. LIONS!