2017 NFL Picks Week 16: A Christmas Spectacular!
What an awkward, disorganized, and ultimately uneventful week. Multiple pushes, the Chargers’ surprising-if-they-weren’t-the-Chargers no-show against a struggling Kansas City team, and a short-lived Aaron Rodgers return left a faint taste of sawdust in my mouth. I benefited from the ongoing madness surrounding the NFL’s catch rules and was victimized by Blaine Gabbert’s inability to turn one of six red zone trips into something other than a field goal. There aren’t as many exciting games this week; only four feature two teams with winning records facing off, and Brett Hundley is once again in the starting lineup for Green Bay. Luckily for us, the matchups don’t have to be intriguing to represent good gambling opportunities. Handsome Jimmy is getting too much credit, the Lions aren’t getting enough, and backup quarterbacks abound. Let’s get to it!
Baltimore Ravens -13 vs. Indianapolis Colts
I’m not quite ready to buy into the Joe Flacco rebirth, but it’s hard to deny the recent effectiveness of the Baltimore offense. After scoring just 21 points per game through their first nine games, the Ravens have averaged 31 points per game in their last five, including games against competent defensive teams like the Steelers and Lions. Indianapolis, meanwhile, has nothing to play for and seems to be trending downward, with recent losses to the Titans and Broncos. I don’t expect the anemic Colts’ offense (31st in DVOA) to make any progress against Baltimore’s 2nd-ranked defense, and it’s hard to imagine a game-swinging play against Baltimore’s top-ranked special teams. Cheer up, Colts fans. Andrew Luck will be back next year…right?
Minnesota Vikings -9 at Green Bay Packers
Green Bay’s loss to Carolina last week was enough to convince the Packers to shut Aaron Rodgers down for the rest of the year, effectively waving a white flag on the 2017 season. There are huge playoff seeding implications for the Vikings, and their defense shouldn’t have any trouble shutting down Brett Hundley. It still feels weird saying it, but I’m taking Case Keenum as a large road favorite.
Detroit Lions -3 at Cincinnati Bengals
Detroit hasn’t really impressed anyone this season, but they’ve been a steady middle-of-the-road team all year long. They currently rank 15th in offensive DVOA, 17th in defensive DVOA, and 6th in special teams DVOA. That mix isn’t a recipe for dominance, but it should be enough to get an important road win against the Bengals. Cincinnati isn’t above average in any facet of the game, and they’re better off losing this game anyway. If the Bears can blow you out, you’re in deep trouble. Help me out Matty Staffs!
Los Angeles Chargers -6.5 at New York Jets
Last week would have been a bizarre performance for anyone who hasn’t watched the Chargers over the past five years. A dramatic turnaround had them tied with the Chiefs atop the AFC West, but Phillip Rivers and the league’s 9th-best offense by DVOA managed just 13 points against Kansas City’s 22nd-ranked defense. Division games will always present unique challenges, though, especially on the road. You know who doesn’t present challenges? Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. Yes, I missed my pick last week when the Saints failed to cover their 16.5-point spread, but the line is a lot lower here. The Chargers’ big advantages in line play (8th in adjusted sack rate against the Jets’ 29th-ranked offensive line) and passing should allow them to get out to an early lead and run away with it from there. Besides, much like Detroit, they need to win to maximize the Week 17 disappointment for their fan base.
Los Angeles Rams -6.5 at Tennessee Titans
The Rams again rank 1st in total DVOA after their obliteration of division rival Seattle last week. Tennessee has slipped down to 20th, and while they’re running the ball well (5th in DVOA), they’re passing woes (24th) allows Wade Phillips to scheme against a one-dimensional offense. That’s a bad situation for any team to be in, and it won’t look any better as the Rams’ 3rd-ranked offense gets out to an early lead against Tennessee’s 24th-ranked defense. The Titans’ playoff odds will take a big hit this week, pushing Blake Bortles closer and closer to a division championship.
Cleveland Browns +6.5 at Chicago Bears
The Browns only have two more chances to avoid the second 0-16 season in NFL history: this week in Chicago and next week against Pittsburgh. The Bears are obviously the weaker of the two, and Cleveland actually matches up favorably in a couple of ways. First, the Chicago offense under Mitch Trubisky is very one-dimensional, ranking 16th in rushing and 29th in passing. The Browns pass defense is miserable (28th) but they actually have the league’s top-ranked rushing defense. I strongly advise against watching any of this game, but don’t be surprised if you see a close score late into the second half. Anything is possible with Trubisky as your quarterback.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers +10.5 at Carolina Panthers
The Panthers have looked good in recent weeks, but there are still legitimate questions about their consistency on offense. The hilarious exchange between Cam Newton and Clay Matthews last week aside, Carolina ranks just 14th in offensive DVOA. They should be able to score against Tampa Bay’s 31st-ranked defense either way, but games against division rivals are always interesting. Of the last three meetings between these two teams, only one was decided by double digits. Throw in Thomas Davis’s suspension, and I think the final score will be surprisingly close.
Atlanta Falcons +6 at New Orleans Saints
Atlanta beat New Orleans with the help of a few lucky bounces just a few weeks ago, and they need every win they can get to stay in the playoff hunt. DVOA suggests the Saints should win comfortably, with big advantages in defensive (9th to 25th) and total (2nd to 16th) efficiency. The history between these two teams suggests differently, however, with 3 of the past 4 meetings decided by 6 points or less. If they can get some offense going on the ground, this one should stay close until the end.
Washington Snyders -3 vs. Denver Broncos
A couple of wins over the Jets and Colts and the oddsmakers have Denver facing the standard 3-point road line. I’m always happy picking against Brock Osweiler, but even moreso when the opponent has a huge advantage rushing the passer and seems unlikely to be victimized by Denver’s last-ranked special teams. Try not to overthink this one; Osweiler is still really bad, and 3 points isn’t enough.
Kansas City Chiefs -10.5 vs. Miami Dolphins
I’m not very enthusiastic about picking the Chiefs as two-score favorites, but I can’t bring myself to pick Miami on the road either. So far this year the Dolphins are 2-5 on the road, and few teams pose the threat Kansas City’s 5th-ranked offense and special teams do. On the other side of the ball, Miami’s 31st-ranked rushing offense isn’t going to take advantage of the Chiefs’ porous run defense. Throw in the playoff atmosphere at Arrowhead Park, and I think this game will get out of control early.
New England Patriots -11.5 vs. Buffalo Bills
No one can survive the personnel losses Buffalo has endured this season, and traveling to Foxboro doesn’t help matters. The only phases in the game where the Bills are above average are special teams (8th) and pass defense (12th). Unfortunately, the Patriots are even better at both, ranking 4th in special teams and 1st in pass offense. Unless the snow is falling heavily and LeSean McCoy can continue his run as a blizzard wizard, the Bills simply won’t be able to keep pace.
Jacksonville Jaguars -4.5 at San Francisco 49ers
I know. I’m picking Blake Bortles on the road. But stay with me on this one! He’s flashed odd blips of competence in recent weeks, and the top-ranked Jacksonville defense won’t allow Jimmy “I-fold-in-the-red-zone” Garoppolo to get much going. I know everyone is excited about the 49ers new quarterback, but it’s time to pump the brakes. The Jaguars are 10-4 and the Niners are 4-10. The line should be bigger for this game.
Arizona Cardinals -3 vs. New York Giants
The Cardinals aren’t very good this year (22nd in DVOA), but the Giants are considerably worse (30th). Arizona can even hang its hat on their 5th-ranked defense, whereas the NFC New York team’s best ranking is 18th in offensive passing. Both teams are terrible on special teams. A three-point line suggests Vegas considers these teams about equal, but that’s simply not the case. Let’s go Blaine Gabbert!
Seattle Seahawks +4.5 at Dallas Cowboys
Everyone is excited about Ezekiel Elliott’s return from suspension this week, but look past the Seahawks at your own risk. Dallas hasn’t done anything to demonstrate they’re the same team they were last year, and Russell Wilson is as dangerous as ever. The Cowboys don’t have an Aaron Donald to single-handedly ruin drives, and Seattle is still in the playoff hunt. I could see the Cowboys being 3-point favorites at home, but 5? No, Pete Carroll and co. aren’t going away that quietly.
Pittsburgh Steelers -9 at Houston Texans
Pittsburgh appeared to be hitting a stride on offense until Antonio Brown’s injury last week, and even with them on the road I expect a strong showing. The Texans are in free-fall, losing to the Jaguars, 49ers, and Titans all by double digits in their past three games. The Steelers’ defensive line (4th in adjusted sack rate) should get serious pressure against Tom Savage and Houston’s 26th-ranked pass protection, and with a couple of mistakes this game will become a blowout. Get well soon, Deshaun Watson.
Philadelphia Eagles -9 vs. Oakland Raiders
This one is tough with Philadelphia’s lackluster defensive performance against the Giants last week. It was encouraging to see the Eagles’ offense put up 30 points with Nick Foles, but their defense was supposed to be more formidable. I think they’ll get back on track this week against an Oakland team that looks alternatingly dysfunctional and disinterested. Add in a long trip to the east coast on Christmas day, and I think the Eagles will fly through Week 16.
That's all for this week! Kick back, grab a drink, and feel free to blame me if you put money on these picks and come out behind. I won't compensate you, but maybe your significant others will send their wrath in my direction instead of yours.