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Kym Fortino/San Francisco 49ers

2023 NFL Game Picks: Week 16

Last week: 12-4

Season: 141-83


NO (7-7) @ LAR (7-7)

Thursday, December 21 | 8:15 PM ET | Prime Video


Saints-Rams being an extremely important matchup in the NFC wild card race should make up for last week’s 63-21 blowout on Thursday Night Football, and it’s a game that I have gone back and forth with. On one hand, the Saints have suddenly flipped the script defensively by keeping opponents out of the end zone in back-to-back games, and Derek Carr was very efficient last week by completing 23-of-28 passes for 218 yards and three scores. Los Angeles is also hitting their stride, though, as Matthew Stafford has a 12:1 touchdown-interception ratio since Thanksgiving, and Sean McVay’s squad has gone 3-1 over that span—with the lone loss being to the Ravens in overtime. Because the headlining offensive trio for LA is a little more dangerous right now (Kyren Williams, Cooper Kupp, and Puka Nacua) and they get the Saints at home, I’ll give the Rams a slight edge, but they need to keep Alvin Kamara from going crazy and tighten up the deep coverage after Terry McLaurin got behind the defense a couple of times late in Week 15.


Winner: Los Angeles Rams


CIN (8-6) @ PIT (7-7)

Saturday, December 23 | 4:30 PM ET | NBC


The Bengals and Steelers have gone in opposite directions since Pittsburgh’s 16-10 victory to close out November, as Cincinnati has won three consecutive games behind Jake Browning, while the Steelers have dropped three winnable games in a row to severely decrease their playoff odds. That said, Mike Tomlin-led teams often come through in spots like this, and turning to Mason Rudolph—who has gone 5-4-1 as a starter for his career—can be a boost for the offense, including unlocking downfield upside for a maligned George Pickens. Also, the Bengals being without Ja’Marr Chase (shoulder) limits the game-breaking potential for Cincinnati’s offense, so the Steelers should allow rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. to shadow Tee Higgins and need to have the run defense show up to stop an angry Joe Mixon. If that doesn’t happen, Pittsburgh would need to win in Seattle and in Baltimore to avoid their first losing season under Tomlin.


Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers


BUF (8-6) @ LAC (5-9)

Saturday, December 23 | 8:00 PM ET | Peacock


The first NFL game to be streamed exclusively on Peacock isn’t what NBCUniversal had in mind with the Chargers being without Justin Herbert (finger) and having just fired head coach Brandon Staley and general manager Tom Telesco, but Buffalo can’t overlook anyone—and I doubt they will. Last week’s win over Dallas was powered by James Cook’s domination, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of fight Los Angeles has under interim head coach Giff Smith; Josh Allen can’t get reckless, but Saturday night could be a spot for him to be aggressive with downfield throws (especially based on how the Chargers covered last week) to Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis. For the Los Angeles offense, second-year running back Isaiah Spiller should get extended opportunities over the final three games, and the franchise might need to shed a few heavy salaries this offseason, but the roster can be quickly retooled into a competitive group for 2024 if the right buttons are pushed.


Winner: Buffalo Bills


IND (8-6) @ ATL (6-8)

Sunday, December 24 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


I have previously mentioned Jake Fromm as an option for quarterback-needy teams around the league, and it’s crazy to me that upwards of 60 signal-callers will end up starting this season—but the former Georgia star hasn’t gotten a shot to be one of them. The Falcons in particular should have signed him as a guy that thrived in their own backyard for the Bulldogs, and Joe Flacco, Joshua Dobbs, and others have shown that quarterbacks can have immediate success with a new team as an in-season acquisition. Taylor Heinicke is at least a solid option, but Atlanta won’t be at their best until they fully commit to featuring Bijan Robinson, Drake London, and Kyle Pitts at the same time, and the lack of offensive success has overshadowed a defense that hasn’t allowed a touchdown in three of the past four games. With the seat heating up for head coach Arthur Smith and Indianapolis showing they have one of the league’s top head coaches in Shane Steichen, I like them to get a huge win behind Jonathan Taylor and the impressive complementary options.


Winner: Indianapolis Colts


GB (6-8) @ CAR (2-12)

Sunday, December 24 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


The road is a lot tougher following back-to-back losses, but Green Bay can still win out and have a very good shot at the postseason—and Carolina is an ideal opponent to get back on track against. While the defense certainly needs to play better to win out, Jordan Love has also struggled with easy misses in the losses to the Giants and Bucs, so he needs to tighten up his mechanics to play like he did in the wins over Detroit and Kansas City that seemed to have many believing the former first-rounder had “arrived.” At wide receiver, I know rookies Dontayvion Wicks and Malik Heath have made plays, but more opportunities for Romeo Doubs (three targets last week on a season-high 90% of the snaps played) might improve the consistency of the offense, and they should have scored more than 20 points against a struggling Tampa Bay defense last Sunday. This week, look for Aaron Jones to lead the offense versus a Carolina squad that has allowed an NFL-high 21 rushing touchdowns this season.


Winner: Green Bay Packers


CLE (9-5) @ HOU (8-6)

Sunday, December 24 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Joe Flacco continued delivering dimes for the Browns in last week’s comeback win over Chicago, and head coach Kevin Stefanski has created an offense with the perfect blend of playing through the stars (Amari Cooper and David Njoku) while also keeping others involved. The Texans will try to have some answers, but they’ve allowed some big production to tight ends, and Njoku is red hot with a 16/195/3 line over the past two weeks—showcasing his ball skills and run-after-catch ability. On defense, Cleveland has unleashed Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah with more creativity like we saw at Notre Dame, and the defensive line will try to keep him free to track down Devin Singletary as the offensive engine with C.J. Stroud (concussion) likely out again. The Browns are the pick on the road with a shutdown trio at cornerback and the ability to create consistent pressure versus Case Keenum.


Winner: Cleveland Browns


DET (10-4) @ MIN (7-7)

Sunday, December 24 | 1:00 PM ET | FOX


There is a scenario where the Lions and Vikings face off three times in four weeks (again in Week 18 and then the Wild Card Round), but Minnesota probably needs to win at least one of their matchups to make that a possibility—and the absence of Kirk Cousins (Achilles) might be too much to overcome. However, Detroit is very vulnerable on the backend, and the return of playmaking and tone-setting safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson (pectoral) isn’t expected to be enough to slow down Justin Jefferson after he roasted the Lions for 223 yards last December. Fortunately, Jared Goff snapped out of a brief slump with a five-touchdown performance last Saturday night, and Ben Johnson should have counters in place to combat all the pressure packages that Brian Flores will show; in particular, look for Jahmyr Gibbs and Jameson Williams to break chunk plays if isolated in single coverage, but the offensive line needs to hold up versus Danielle Hunter and company.


Winner: Detroit Lions


WAS (4-10) @ NYJ (5-9)

Sunday, December 24 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


A stoppable force meets a movable object this weekend with the struggling offense of the Jets taking on the paper-thin defense of the Commanders—but New York has at least shown life more recently with a 24-point win a couple of weeks ago, and maybe Zach Wilson (concussion) will get cleared and have more of a chance versus a less ferocious defensive front than Miami was. Looking ahead to 2024, it will be all about Aaron Rodgers for the Jets, but Washington could be having a complete teardown, so we’ll see how that is balanced with the opportunity to take a quarterback early in the draft; as stated previously when discussing Sam Howell (and now becoming clearer to those previously convinced he was the franchise quarterback), there will be an upgrade available, and I don’t think the franchise can afford to pass on a signal-caller if he’s the top-graded player on the board. Maybe Howell will show well after last week’s benching, but the Jets should have the coaching and talent advantage at home.


Winner: New York Jets


SEA (7-7) @ TEN (5-9) 

Sunday, December 24 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


Drew Lock deservedly received plenty of praise for Monday night’s comeback win over the Eagles that saved Seattle’s season, but we shouldn’t overlook the catch by Jaxon Smith-Njigba or the performance by Kenneth Walker III in the second half when the Seahawks committed to him. Walker and JSN are two of the many promising young players on Seattle’s roster, and they have also hit in free agency with guys like Geno Smith (who should return this week from his groin injury) and Julian Love (who had the game-winning interception versus Philly). Tennessee hasn’t had the same kind of impact acquisitions made in recent years, and the coaching of Mike Vrabel can only take them so far; assuming Pete Carroll remembers the game a couple of years ago when Derrick Henry had 41 touches for 237 yards and three touchdowns, I’d think Seattle will have all hands on deck ready to stop the monster runner similar to what DeMeco Ryans accomplished last weekend.


Winner: Seattle Seahawks


JAX (8-6) @ TB (7-7)

Sunday, December 24 | 4:05 PM ET | CBS


The December collapse (at least through three games) for Jacksonville has seemed to fly under the radar, but they have gone from being a contender for the No. 1 seed to now fighting to even earn a playoff spot thanks to a three-game losing streak. If there is a sign to be encouraged about regarding their primetime loss to Baltimore, it’s that Travon Walker flashed with a sack and some pressures, and a full emergence over the final three games is needed to back up Josh Allen and get the defense playing to their full potential. On Sunday, the best way to cool off Baker Mayfield would be consistently pressuring him, but Rachaad White is primed to do damage with Jacksonville struggling to contain pass-catching backs, and Doug Pederson needs to commit to his own star runner with Travis Etienne Jr. having carry totals of 11, 14, and ten during the current losing streak. As long as Trevor Lawrence (concussion) is active, I’ll say Jacksonville does just enough to get a victory.


Winner: Jacksonville Jaguars


ARI (3-11) @ CHI (5-9)

Sunday, December 24 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX


Finishing games has been an issue for Matt Eberflus and the Bears, but there is no denying that they have played better on defense down the stretch—and Montez Sweat has been a major part of the turnaround with 6.0 sacks in the past four games. The overall size/length for Chicago’s defense might present problems for Kyler Murray, though defending emerging tight end Trey McBride needs to be a priority after the defense had no answers for David Njoku last week, and it’s easy to imagine former Purdue standout Rondale Moore going off in Big Ten country with Marquise Brown (heel) highly questionable. On the other side of the ball, Justin Fields and got a vote of confidence from DJ Moore this week, and the duo could explode on Sunday with Arizona struggling both in coverage and to defend the run; and for Fields especially, he is playing to give Chicago a tough decision to make at quarterback this offseason.


Winner: Chicago Bears


DAL (10-4) @ MIA (10-4)

Sunday, December 24 | 4:25 PM ET | FOX


The Cowboys and Dolphins both have something to prove this week, as Dallas needs to show they can win games on the road (which they will almost certainly need to do next month), and Miami is looking for a signature win with losses to the Bills, Eagles, and Chiefs so far in 2023. But despite all the questions, I believe both teams have what it takes to win it all, so this is a tremendous Christmas Eve showdown. To me, the wild card is whether electric rookie De’Von Achane is close to 100% health with the toe issue impacting in back-to-back games, as he can be a nightmare facing a defense that just allowed James Cook to go crazy, and Mike McDaniel will probably try using him and others to tire out Micah Parsons with a bunch of pre-snap motion and alignments. Still, Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb might be able to attack the Dolphins similar to how DeAndre Hopkins did a couple of weeks ago, and Parsons has been a little too quiet recently heading into a matchup versus a banged-up offensive line.


Winner: Dallas Cowboys


NE (3-11) @ DEN (7-7)

Sunday, December 24 | 8:15 PM ET | NFL Network


The possibility of snow on Sunday night could make up for the weather being too warm in the three Christmas Day games, and New England continues to play hard—particularly on defense—to be a dangerous opponent for the playoff-hopeful Broncos. In order to successfully play spoiler on Christmas Eve, the Patriots need to keep the game close and play through Ezekiel Elliott, and it’d be a great time to get Mike Gesicki involved with Hunter Henry (knee) banged up and Denver being the worst team in the league at defending tight ends. Of course, the Broncos will have a similar game plan by hoping to play through Javonte Williams, and they have a clear advantage on the offensive line (but we’ll see if Christian Barmore can wreck things up front) and at quarterback—not to mention homefield advantage.


Winner: Denver Broncos


LV (6-8) @ KC (9-5)

Monday, December 25 | 1:00 PM ET | CBS


I don’t think Patrick Mahomes and Maxx Crosby will be exchanging gifts this Christmas.



Winner: Kansas City Chiefs


NYG (5-9) @ PHI (10-4)

Monday, December 25 | 4:30 PM ET | FOX


It’s disappointing to not have New York entering the week with an extra win or two to make them more serious playoff contender, but Tommy DeVito says he is embracing the “villain” role, and the Eagles might not run New York out of the building like the Divisional Round matchup (38-7) based on how they’ve played during a three-game losing streak. On the Philly offense, the health of DeVonta Smith (knee) is something to watch, but I’d like to see the running game be more of a focus, including Jalen Hurts taking matters into his own hands like he did some in the loss to Seattle; overall, I’d expect the group to figure it out by January, and the defense remains more of a concern, so the imprint Matt Patricia has over the next three weeks will be interesting to monitor. On Monday, the concern I have is them not being able to keep up with the speed of Jalin Hyatt or the size/skillset of Darren Waller, and I continue to believe linebacker Nakobe Dean (foot) can tie things together if he returns along with slot cornerback Avonte Maddox (pectoral). Either way, Hurts should do enough to make the Philadelphia fans happy this Christmas.


Winner: Philadelphia Eagles


BAL (11-3) @ SF (11-3)

Monday, December 25 | 8:15 PM ET | ABC


The NFL schedule-makers picked the perfect Christmas Night matchup with Baltimore and San Francisco being the top two teams in the league entering Week 16, and each side would go a long way towards locking up homefield advantage in their respective conferences with a win. In terms of pure dominance, the eye test leans heavily towards the 49ers with superstars all over the field—so much so that they have three offensive players in Brock Purdy, Christian McCaffrey, and Trent Williams that have been mentioned by the others as being worthy of NFL MVP honors; but the Ravens have as good of a case as anyone by holding late leads in every game this year, and Lamar Jackson is a flat-out winner with a 56-19 career record, and playoff success is the final piece of the puzzle. Also, if there is a guy that might take it personally to at least slow down McCaffrey, it’ll be Roquan Smith, and maybe the length and skills of Kyle Hamilton can force Purdy into a rare mistake. That said, the Niners are operating on another level right now, and I like them to follow up the primetime win on Thanksgiving by doing the same on Christmas.


Winner: San Francisco 49ers