Spread picks for NFL Week 16
A great Christmas weekend of football is on the docket, culminating with two substantial divisional games with playoff implications on Christmas day followed by a Monday night showdown between two teams that very well could end up with the top two seeds in their conference. After our worst week of the season against the spread, we sit at 100-99-6 (50.3 percent) on the year. We are still doing well in games where our spread is two points or more different than Vegas’ (of which there are eight games this week), with a record of 55-48-2 (53.4 percent). Our ability to pick games straight up has risen each week, up to 144-78 (64.9 percent) on the season, and we like the Raiders (66.5 percent chance to win), Rams (65.9 percent), Packers (65.8 percent), Steelers (64.0 percent) and Chargers (62.35 percent) out of likely-to-be-available teams for those of you still alive in survivor.
For win probabilities for Sunday games, follow me on Twitter at @EricEager82.
[Editor’s note: Analyst Eric Eager utilizes Pro Football Focus’ NFL Premium Stats in his predictive model. For more on Premium Stats, click here.]
Washington (-3) at Bears
Prediction: Washington wins by 2
The Bears are 4-0-1 against the spread the last five games, and are underdogs again at home against Washington. Matt Barkley has given the Bears a lot to hope for, posting the third-highest grade among all NFL quarterbacks during his four starts. He welcomed Alshon Jeffery back a week ago by targeting him nine times, resulting in 89 receiving yards and a touchdown against an improving Packers defense. If Washington tracks Jeffery with Josh Norman, look for the matchup between the ancillary pieces of their secondary (many of which are banged up) and Cameron Meredith (1.87 yards per route run) to determine if the Bears can keep up with a Washington offense putting up an average of 24.5 points per game (ninth-most in the league).
Dolphins at Bills (-3.5)
Prediction: Bills win by 4
The Bills continue to play hard for Rex Ryan, and come home with a chance to secure at least a 0.500 season against their division rival and playoff hopeful Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins were able to beat the Jets in a similar situation last week, but gave up plenty of yardage to Bilal Powel, who averaged 5.3 yards on 16 carries (including 3.1 yards after contact) and turned 11 receptions into 78 additional yards (including 106 after the catch). The Bills have more firepower than the Jets in their backfield, with LeSean McCoy averaging 5.5 yards per carry (fourth in the league), and Mike Gillislee averaging 5.9 (second) and 3.2 after contact (fourth). If the Dolphins and their 19th-highest graded run defense does not improve, look for the Bills to play spoiler at New Era Field.
Falcons (-3.5) at Panthers
Prediction: Panthers win by 1
As we said a week ago, the Falcons appear to be a team that will win the games they are supposed to win, but after Carolina’s impressive showing Monday, it’s questionable as to whether this is one of those games. With Julio Jones still slowed by a toe injury, the Panthers secondary void of the five starting-quality players will get something of a break – as it is difficult to see an injured Jones generating a game like his last one (300 receiving yards) against Carolina in the Georgia Dome. After rushing for 148 yards in Washington on Monday (their most since week 2), look for the Panthers to work on the Falcons 26th-highest-graded run defense and send Atlanta home disappointed this week.
Vikings at Packers (-6.5)
Prediction: Packers win by 7
In Week 2, the Vikings were underdogs as they broke in a new stadium and a new quarterback against the Packers. We picked the Vikings to win straight up, and they did. They won’t this week. The Vikings’ cornerbacks (all three with PFF player grades above 75) are more than strong enough to slow the Green Bay receiving corps (although Jordy Nelson has been the league’s highest-graded receiver during the team’s four-game winning streak). The issue is going to be how they handle Ty Montgomery (best in the league with a crazy 160.5 elusive rating on 82 touches as a running back). Last week against the Colts the Vikings linebackers allowed all 13 of the passes into their coverage to be completed, for 123 yards and a touchdown. Look for the Packers to exploit this matchup Saturday in Lambeau.
Jets at Patriots (-16.5)
Prediction: Patriots win by 14
This is such a big number, especially in a game between rivals, and especially coming off a week where the Patriots only scored 16 points. Playing on the road against Denver (the highest-graded defense in the league) is much different than playing at home against the Jets (the fourth-lowest-graded defense), though, so look for the Pats to put up a decent amount of points on their end. It will be up to their defense to slow the Jets’ newfound ground attack, where Bilal Powel has been the highest-graded running back in the league by a wide margin the last two weeks, rushing for 229 yards and catching 16 of 17 targets for 123 yards (the receiving stats are highs during that stretch). New England had trouble with Kenneth Dixon two weeks ago, allowing four missed tackles on eight receptions, so an adjustment is needed for this cover to be a sure thing in Foxboro.
Titans (-5) at Jaguars
Prediction: Titans win by 2
People (understandably) rip the AFC South as the league’s worst division. The Titans are tied at the top of that division, though, and have emerged as a formidable squad as the season has progressed. The Titans have wins this season against the Lions, Dolphins, Packers, Broncos and Chiefs, employing an exotic smashmouth attack that is no joke. The Jaguars are a team that just fired their coach, a move that can either galvanize a relatively talented roster or further demoralize a group that has failed expectations in spades. The Jaguars possess, grade-wise, one of the league’s best defenses, so look for the Titans and their highest-graded run-blocking (and second-highest graded pass-blocking) offensive line to have a bit more difficult a time imposing their will in a must-win game down in Jacksonville.
Chargers (-6) at Browns
Prediction: Chargers win by 2
The Browns’ last home game is probably (unless the Steelers rest their starters in Week 17) their last chance to avoid a 0-16 season. The Chargers represent a team that can easily lose to Cleveland, with quarterback Phillip Rivers having thrown 11 interceptions to go with his 12 touchdowns during the last five games (where his team has gone 1-4). However, with the Browns’ best offensive player (Terrelle Pryor) nursing torn ligaments in his finger, and a secondary without a player graded above 80.0, look for the Chargers and their deep stable of receivers to keep the Browns’ streak alive.
Colts at Raiders (-3.5)
Prediction: Raiders win by 7
The Raiders continue to plug away, winning a close one in San Diego last week despite a non-descript game by their quarterback Derek Carr. Andrew Luck and the Colts won a laugher in Minnesota, exploiting the middle of a Vikings defense by completing 13-of-14 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown to backs and tight ends against weak coverage linebackers. Malcolm Smith has allowed over a 100 passer rating and more than 1,000 yards into his coverage in his two seasons as a Raider, and Perry Riley Jr. is surrendering a 117.4 rating into his coverage this season. If the Colts continue to own the middle of the field in the passing game, this could be tricky for the Raiders. Fortunately for them, their offense is far better than the Vikings’, and should be able to put up plenty of points against the Colts’ lowest-graded defense in the league.
Buccaneers at Saints (-3)
Prediction: Saints win by 3
Two weeks ago we backed the Saints on the road against this constantly improving Bucs team, only to see Drew Brees have (by far) his lowest-graded game of the season. Last week we faded the Saints only to see them win an impressive one out west, with Brees generating his second-highest grade on the year. Even though Tampa Bay’s pass coverage has improved substantially since they began their hot streak (less than 300 yards allowed through the air in six straight games), I see Brees having a big game at home, utilizing his trio of receivers with PFF Player Grades in the top 21 at their position group.
49ers at Rams (-3.5)
Prediction: Rams win by 6
Gracious. Both the Rams and the 49ers were big underdogs a week ago, and both failed to cover. The games did not come without positives, though, as Aaron Donald, William Hayes, Eugene Sims, Cam Thomas and Ethan Westbrooks all graded well up front for Los Angeles last Thursday in Seattle, while quarterback Colin Kaepernick had his third positively graded game in his last six starts. The Rams (with the 18th-highest cumulative PFF grade to this point) have more talent and have played better this season than the 49ers (32nd), and should be the better side in this one.
Cardinals at Seahawks (-8.5)
Prediction: Seahawks win by 3
In a rematch of the touchdown-less tie game largely controlled by Arizona in late October, the Seahawks have a first-round bye in their sights, with Cardinals having only pride to play for. Injuries have played a big part in the decline of the (now) Cardinals’ fifth-highest-graded defense, with Drew Brees’ 37-for-48, 388-yard, four-touchdown performance the emergent property of said dynamic. Russell Wilson’s had a really weird season, with a few poor performances sullying what has otherwise been an MVP-caliber effort for the Seahawks offense. If he has another poor performance, the likes of Tony Jefferson (88.6), Patrick Peterson (86.8) and Tyrann Mathieu (74.3) should be able to make enough plays to propel the Cardinals to contend for a win in the Emerald City.
Bengals at Texans (-2)
Prediction: Texans win by 2
The Texans finally did it, and they plan to do it again this week. Brock Osweiler goes to the bench in favor of Tom Savage. While Savage may not be the long-term answer, there’s no doubt that a quarterback able to simply throw fewer interceptions than touchdowns to this point will do wonders for a Texans team with a playoff-caliber defense led by first first-overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney had a sack, quarterback hit, three hurries, a batted pass and four snaps a week ago against the Jaguars, and is second among 3-4 OLBs in run-stop percentage (12.9) on the season to this point. The Bengals continue to be competitive, despite their non-existent playoff chances. With the possible return of A.J. Green, I think they have a chance to play spoiler this week in Houston.
Ravens at Steelers (-5)
Prediction: Steelers win by 4
A duo of Christmas Day games starts with a game that could very well decide the AFC North title when all is said and done. The Ravens survived a scare at home against the Eagles, with their top-graded rushing defense allowing 169 yards on the ground (at 4.4 a clip). They beat the Steelers in their first matchup by holding Le’Veon Bell to just 32 yards on 14 carries, and 38 yards on eight targets. Big Ben was also on his first game back from injury during the matchup, and his very poor grade was a reflection of substantial rust. He’s been better since then, and he’ll have to be to cover such a number this week against a divisional opponent. While I see the Steelers winning this one, look for it to be closer than this number indicates.
Broncos at Chiefs (-4)
Prediction: Chiefs win by 4
Hopefully this game lives up to its predecessor a little over a month ago, where the Chiefs stole a win in Denver by virtue of Tyreek Hill’s diverse collection of touchdown plays and a Herculean effort by Justin Houston. They’ve lost uninspiring home games to Tampa Bay and Tennessee since that game, however, and are more than capable of dropping this one – even with the AFC West division title possibly on the line. The Broncos have mustered just 13 points in the last two games, and still employ Russell Okung (58.0), Donald Stephenson (28.1) and Ty Sambrailo (34.4) at the tackle spot. While I see this being a close one, look for the Chiefs trio of Houston, Tamba Hali and Dee Ford and their combined 20 sacks, 10 quarterback hits and 71 hurries to continue Trevor Siemian’s tough initial season as Denver’s starter.
Lions at Cowboys (-7)
Prediction: Cowboys win by 9
And a great holiday weekend of football ends with a game featuring two surprise division leaders in the Big D. The Lions and the Cowboys both had difficulties the last two weeks in New York against the Giants’ defense. The Lions’ struggles appear more sustainable than Dallas’, however, as quarterback Mathew Stafford is struggling with an injured middle finger on his throwing hand and their running game has surpassed 100 yards just once since week 2. Look for the Cowboys’ third-highest-graded offense to have some success against Detroit’s fourth-lowest-graded defense and cover this ever-important game on Boxing Day.