WAS (7-7) @ TEN (8-6) | SAT 4:30 PM ET | NFL Network
Washington’s win over the Jaguars last week gives the Saturday slate a huge boost, as the Redskins remain right in the thick of a playoff race and could potentially position themselves to get the No. 6 seed if Minnesota and Philadelphia both lose this weekend. The team competing with their fourth quarterback in the lineup is a testament to the job Jay Gruden has done, and somehow sneaking into the postseason would make him the NFL Coach of the Year in my opinion. That said, Tennessee is 5-1 at home, 3-0 in December, and are looking to ride the hottest player in the league—Derrick Henry and his 50/408/6 rushing line over the past two weeks—into January for the second year in a row. I don’t know why it took so long for the Titans to realize Henry is a complete monster that should be featured on a weekly basis, but the offense is suddenly a force when you combine the former Heisman winner’s unmatched power with the mobility and clutch play of Marcus Mariota. If Washington doesn’t get out to a quick start on the road, things could get ugly in a hurry due to their inability to stop the run over the second half of the season.
Winner: Tennessee Titans
BAL (8-6) @ LAC (11-3) | SAT 8:20 PM ET | NFL Network
He nearly escaped an intimidating environment at Arrowhead Stadium with a win two weeks ago, but Saturday night will be the biggest test of Lamar Jackson’s young career, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Joe Flacco get snaps if Baltimore is forced to play catch-up against Philip Rivers and the Chargers. While the defense for Los Angeles can be attacked on the ground, they typically try to take away what their opponent does best (the most recent example being a season-low 41 scoreless yards by Tyreek Hill in last’s week matchup) , which is obviously the running game centered around rookie back Gus Edwards and quarterback keepers. That could mean a lot of stacked boxes, as Jackson has yet to show he can consistently win with his arm, and the Ravens don’t have time to wait around in a control-the-clock game where every possession—and mistake—will matter, especially since Melvin Gordon (knee) and Keenan Allen (hip) are both expected to suit up for the Chargers. At the end of the night, I think Jackson will have played well, but John Harbaugh might wish they went back to Flacco to sustain drives and maximize the offense like Rivers does on the other side of the field.
Winner: Los Angeles Chargers
CIN (6-8) @ CLE (6-7-1) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
All the Browns need to make the playoffs is two wins (v CIN, @ BAL), a Ravens loss on Saturday night (@ LAC), a Dolphins loss (v JAX, @ BUF), the Titans (v WAS) and Colts (v NYG) to both lose in Week 16, and Colts-Titans to be a tie in Week 17. I mean, it sure beats 0-14 like they were this time last year, and fans are rightfully optimistic about the future centered around building blocks Baker Mayfield, Nick Chubb, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Jabrill Peppers, and others. The immediate turnaround under interim head coach Gregg Williams is further proof that talent had been in the building when Hue Jackson was in charge, and it would have been fun to see how far this group could have gone this season if not for a 2-5-1 start that included three losses by a field goal (which could have been overcome with better coaching). There’s a good chance Cleveland is eliminated before even hitting the field if Tennessee or Baltimore wins, but they still want to show growth as Williams makes a closing argument for the head job in 2019 and beyond. The Bengals could also have a little something to prove by staying out of the basement in an improving AFC North, and individually, Joe Mixon probably feels he was a Pro Bowl snub as the conference’s leading rusher. Still, I’m taking the healthier and more talented team at home.
Winner: Cleveland Browns
TB (5-9) @ DAL (8-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
The Cowboys left the door open for Philadelphia or Washington to win out and take the division, but they can put an end to those thoughts by taking care of business against the Buccaneers on Sunday. Tampa Bay hasn’t won a road game since their shocking victory over New Orleans in the season opener (1-6 record overall), while Dallas is 6-1 at AT&T Stadium and coming off a shutout loss in Indianapolis. I think this sets up as a huge Ezekiel Elliott spot against a defense that has allowed the 1,794 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns this year, and Jameis Winston could easily turn it over multiple times—setting up short fields—if he tries to press with just 185.0 yards per game and a 2:2 touchdown-interception ratio over the past two weeks. Perhaps the Bucs will wisely attack on the ground after Marlon Mack (27 carries for 139 yards and two touchdowns) exposed the Cowboys in Week 15, but there is too much defensive talent to not bounce back and clinch the NFC East. The only hope Tampa Bay has is a flawless game from Winston, but the franchise might honestly be better off seeing him implode to close out the year before upgrading at the position via free agency, trade, or the draft.
Winner: Dallas Cowboys
MIN (7-6-1) @ DET (5-9) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Based on the unpredictability of this season so far, we are probably bound to have an upset in Week 16 to either knock someone out of playoff position or simply disrupt seeding. If it’s the former, Minnesota could be the squad to go down in a defensive battle, as their new run-heavy game plan might not work against the Lions, who have allowed just 69.5 rushing yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry over the past six outings. And it’s not just the run defense that’s gotten tougher; as a whole, Matt Patricia’s unit has had strong performances against the Rams (held to 16 points through three quarters), Cardinals (17-3 road victory), and Bills (14-13 road loss) to start the month. I expect Detroit to make Kirk Cousins beat them, and it’s worth noting that he struggled in the previous matchup this season with just 164 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The offensive line needs to not allow Matthew Stafford to be sacked ten times again, though, and someone other than Kenny Golladay—who will see a lot of Xavier Rhodes—needs to step up. It probably won’t be a cakewalk, but Minnesota’s overwhelming defensive talent should be able to win the day.
Winner: Minnesota Vikings
BUF (5-9) @ NE (9-5) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
I think a lot of people will be eating their words if they think New England is finished, but this week will be an interesting—and potentially foreboding—matchup as 41-year-old Tom Brady and his mostly aging weapons take on 22-year-old Josh Allen and a blank slate for the Bills. Brady is obviously the gold-standard at the quarterback position, but Allen has a never-before-seen skillset that could eventually lead to Buffalo unseating a dynasty. The gunslinger out of Wyoming is a natural leader and the perfect fit for the “Bills Mafia” fanbase, so we’ll see if he can become the first rookie passer to ever beat the Pats in Foxborough under Bill Belichick. We have already seen mobile quarterbacks have success against New England this year, but I would be shocked if Belichick allowed his defense to be run all over by Allen in a game they probably need to win if they want a first-round bye next month. The bigger concern will be on offense, as Josh Gordon has been suspended indefinitely, which puts more onus on Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson to step up behind Julian Edelman. If Brady can avoid mistakes against overlooked star cornerback Tre’Davious White (who laughably was left off the Pro Bowl roster for the second year in a row), the angry Pats have a chance to send a message coming off two costly losses.
Winner: New England Patriots
GB (5-8-1) @ NYJ (4-10) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
I get the feeling Aaron Rodgers partly wants to finish out the year so he can at least match Tom Brady’s single-season record for touchdown-interception (28:2), but those numbers came in a revenge tour—following a preposterous four-game suspension—that led to an eventual Super Bowl win, while Green Bay’s star quarterback simply hasn’t lived up to expectations in 2018. New York isn’t going to just let him go chase numbers, either, and last week in particular showed that Todd Bowles can dial up timely defensive calls to get off the field, which gives Sam Darnold more opportunities to make plays for the offense. I’m sure almost no one in the world agrees it’d be good moves for both teams, but what if the Packers and Jets simply switched coaches in 2019? Mike McCarthy is the top offensive mind on the market for Darnold, and Bowles would be the perfect fit to build up a Green Bay defense that has plenty of young pieces to work with, including 21-year-old Jaire Alexander, 22-year-old Josh Jackson, and 23-year-old Kenny Clark. Plus, Rodgers would be able to have all the control he wants on the other side of the ball. This week, look for New York to put up a fight at home, but the Packers have a clearly superior roster.
Winner: Green Bay Packers
HOU (10-4) @ PHI (7-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Philadelphia’s playoff hopes were jolted to life thanks to a huge win over the Rams last Sunday night, and Nick Foles might be two wins away from getting a shot at another Super Bowl run. People apparently want to make a quarterback controversy where there shouldn’t be one—the reigning Super Bowl MVP winning out undoubtedly deserves to start in January over a banged-up Carson Wentz—but as head coach Doug Pederson has said, they need to take things one game at a time anyway, and Houston is obviously one of the top teams in the NFL. However, I really like how the Eagles matchup against the Texans, particularly in the trenches where Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and company can wreak havoc on a sub-par offensive line that has allowed the most sacks (52) in the league. Furthermore, downfield passing attacks have given Romeo Crennel’s defense problems, and there aren’t numbers readily available to support it, but based on what I’ve seen, Foles has thrown it deep more frequently and effectively than anyone in terms of giving receivers opportunities to make plays on the ball over the past couple years. If DeAndre Hopkins (10/170/2 line in Week 15) is at least somewhat contained, Philly should continue their improbable playoff push as home favorites at Lincoln Financial Field.
Winner: Philadelphia Eagles
ATL (5-9) @ CAR (6-8) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | FOX
Carolina had a real shot at climbing right in the thick of the playoff race on Monday night against the Saints, and I think it’s fair to wonder if benching Cam Newton would have given them a better chance to win considering it was clear he had absolutely no confidence and/or ability to push the ball downfield. Second-year quarterback Taylor Heinicke will get to showcase his talent over the next couple weeks, but looking ahead, the Panthers seem to be a team in limbo with a high-paid quarterback that a) turns 30 in May, b) relies heavily on athleticism to have success, and most importantly c) doesn’t appear to be the answer in my opinion. If new ownership and potentially a new head coach aren’t 100% sold on Cam, they need to move on instead of wasting the prime seasons of Christian McCaffrey and Luke Kuechly—both of whom left it all on the field in last week’s loss. Atlanta certainly doesn’t have a question mark at quarterback, and despite a 5-9 record and plenty injuries of their own, they seem to be in a much better spot than Carolina to finish strong and rebound in 2019. Matt Ryan and the offense should keep rolling fresh off a 40-14 victory.
Winner: Atlanta Falcons
NYG (5-9) @ IND (8-6) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Second-round pick Darius Leonard—who leads the NFL with 146 tackles and also has 7.0 sacks as an off-ball linebacker—was arguably the biggest Pro Bowl snub of the year, but that’s not stopping him from setting goals the rest of the way. This week, the rookie is aiming for 40 tackles against the Giants, which would easily be a single-game record. Of course, Leonard knows he can’t significantly change what he’s been doing to emerge as a playmaker for the playoff-hopeful Colts, and that’s especially true against Saquon Barkley, who will burn a defense if they over-pursue just once. Barkley (1,809 total yards) needs to go on a Derrick Henry-like tear to break Eric Dickerson’s rookie record for total yards in a season (2,212), but the priority for New York should be keeping him healthy now that they’re out of playoff contention. The Colts cannot afford a slipup in a battle with Tennessee and Baltimore for the No. 6 seed, so Frank Reich and Andrew Luck should have their guys focused to set up a potential Week 17 clash—likely on Sunday Night Football—against the Titans for the final spot in the AFC Wild Card Round next month.
Winner: Indianapolis Colts
JAX (4-10) @ MIA (7-7) | SUN 1:00 PM ET | CBS
Somewhat expectedly, the Dolphins followed up a miracle win against the Patriots by getting destroyed in Minnesota, 41-17. But like most teams in the league, Miami is much better at home (6-1) than on the road (1-6), and they need to make a stand this week at Hard Rock Stadium to keep their playoff hopes alive before making the trek up to Buffalo to close out the regular season. Besides winning both games, the Dolphins need some help to make the postseason, but at least it’s nothing crazy like Cleveland needs, which should mean everyone in the building is still all-in on the 2018 season. If so, Miami should be able to impose their will on the collapsing Jaguars, who have dropped nine-of-ten games since a 3-1 start in September that included a Super Bowl win over New England. Unfortunately, we won’t see ironman Frank Gore (foot) the rest of the way, but Kalen Ballage broke out with 123 yards and a score off the bench in last week’s loss, and the rookie along with change-of-pace runner Kenyan Drake could be a dangerous backfield duo as the Dolphins continue to add talent around them in the future. I like what I’ve seen out of Cody Kessler under center, but he doesn’t have much help in Jacksonville if Leonard Fournette doesn’t see a full workload in a lost campaign.
Winner: Miami Dolphins
LAR (11-3) @ ARI (3-11) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
The play of Jared Goff has certainly fallen off since the bye week, but anyone making outlandish statements about him based on a three-game window obviously didn’t watch him in wins over the Vikings or Chiefs earlier this year when he made a handful of jaw-dropping throws that most quarterbacks could only dream of making. The Rams are hurting without Cooper Kupp as protection has surprisingly broken down, but Sean McVay is too bright an offensive mind to not get things turned around before January. This week, I think we will see a clean game and a lot of points whether or not Todd Gurley (knee) is able to go, and defensively, Aaron Donald should have a field day in his first action against Josh Rosen, who honestly might be better off watching from the sidelines to close out a forgettable rookie season. At the very least, I hope Larry Fitzgerald has a big day if this is his final home game, as he would seem unlikely to return for a directionless franchise that could have a new head coach and general manager in 2019.
Winner: Los Angeles Rams
CHI (10-4) @ SF (4-10) | SUN 4:05 PM ET | FOX
Aaron Rodgers walked into Soldier Field like he owned the place last week, but Chicago held him to his worst statistical game of the year and his first loss there since 2010; making things even sweeter, the Bears clinched the NFC North and are now within reach of either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the conference. San Francisco has shown fight down the stretch like they did in 2017, but I doubt Matt Nagy allows his team to sleep on them despite what could be a trap game on the west coast. Mitchell Trubisky might even have a slight chip on his shoulder after the 49ers decided to trade back with Chicago rather than draft him two years ago, but Nagy should keep feeding Jordan Howard (19 carries in each of the past two games) as the formula to win in the postseason. I think we could see a close game because offensive tackle duo Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey won’t fold against Khalil Mack and company, but San Francisco isn’t playing for anything other than pride, which probably won’t be enough against the league’s best defense.
Winner: Chicago Bears
PIT (8-5-1) @ NO (12-2) | SUN 4:25 PM ET | CBS
I probably get as frustrated as any non-Steelers fan about the forced throws Ben Roethlisberger has made over the past couple years to cost Pittsburgh games, but this is just a ridiculous “take” by Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan about the two-time Super Bowl champion:
#Saints Cam Jordan is not buying the idea that #Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Famer. Apparently, he's not even one of the Top 5 QB of his era – "I’d honestly put Eli before I put Ben" #PITvsNO #HereWeGo ➡️https://t.co/eUxl5N3Nxs⬅️ pic.twitter.com/uoBdAEu4jN
— Simon Chester (@SimonAChester) December 20, 2018
This game is very much one that could go either way, but I think comments like that could give the Steelers an edge, and Jordan better hope he gets pressure on Big Ben to stop Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, or a newly-confident James Washington from going wild.
Winner: Pittsburgh Steelers
KC (11-3) @ SEA (8-6) | SUN 8:20 PM ET | NBC
Seattle is an insane 21-5-1 in primetime games with Russell Wilson under center, and they are seemingly unbeatable at home (including 2-0 this season) under the lights. That said, the Seahawks have rarely faced an offense capable of what Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are, and this game has increased significance for Kansas City after the Chargers came roaring back last Thursday night to put pressure on their status as the top seed in the AFC. We know Pete Carroll wants to control the clock and keep the ball on the ground, but do they have the firepower to keep up if they fall behind? Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin don’t have the size that could be a problem for the Chiefs’ smaller cornerbacks like we saw with Mike Williams (7/76/2) in Week 15, so Brain Schottenheimer will need to dial up play-action passes for all four wideouts—Lockett, Baldwin, David Moore, and Jaron Brown—to get some chunk gains. On defense, not having to face Sammy Watkins (foot) will help, but Tyreek Hill isn’t going to be contained for the second week in a row, and I think the extra day to prepare for Andy Reid gives the slight nod to Kansas City for what should be a thriller.
Winner: Kansas City Chiefs
DEN (6-8) @ OAK (3-11) | MON 8:15 PM ET | ESPN
Visible emotion in Jon Gruden’s eyes when discussing Raiders’ potential final game in Oakland, next Monday vs. Broncos. He plans to address with team. “Maybe the night before the game, we’ll sauce up a video for the guys to give them a true respect of where they’re playing again”
— Michael Gehlken (@GehlkenNFL) December 17, 2018
In Oakland on Christmas Eve? No chance I pick against Gruden and the Raiders for their final game at the Oakland Coliseum.
Winner: Oakland Raiders
Last week: 9-7 /// Overall: 110-114
Recommended picks last week: 2-3 /// Overall: 40-35
Redskins @ Titans (-10)
Ravens @ Chargers (-4.5)
Bengals @ Browns (-9)
Buccaneers @ Cowboys (-8.5)
Vikings @ Lions (+5.5)
Bills @ Patriots (-13)
Packers (-2.5) @ Jets
Texans @ Eagles (-2.5)
Falcons (-3.5) @ Panthers
Giants @ Colts (-9.5)
Jaguars @ Dolphins (-4)
Rams (-13.5) @ Cardinals
Bears (-4) @ 49ers
Steelers (+6) @ Saints
Chiefs @ Seahawks (+2.5)
Broncos @ Raiders (+2.5)
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