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NFL Week 16 Picks Against the Spread

Mario Mergola

Mario Mergola is a writer, avid sports fan, former ESPN Radio producer, husband, and father who specializes in finding the hidden gems of the less-explored option. Follow @MarioMergola


Two weeks left. With the final weekend of the regular season lurking around the corner — and, with it, a full slate of only divisional matchups — Week 16 tends to get overlooked. In a normal year, the pairings of the following week will steal the spotlight, using Week 16 as nothing more than an appetizer.

With almost every Wild Card team already solidified, 2015 may actually be the year when this week outshines the finale. At least, the outcome of the next few days will determine if the last week of the season will be relevant, at all.

Like Week 15, we are presented with another set of games that feature large spreads due to playoff implications. As favorites continue to outperform underdogs — 10-5-1 last week — the numbers naturally inflate to capture a more balanced attack.

As always, the more that one side dominates the scoreboard, the more likely we expect a return to the mean. It did not happen, last week, and Week 17 might be too unorthodox for a full-scale underdog attack, leaving Week 16 as possibly the final chance for underdogs to recover.

Below are predictions for each game against the spread. Spreads have been taken from various websites and are subject to change. The spread in parenthesis denotes the selected team. An asterisk denotes a confidence pick.

*Confidence Picks – 2015 Season: 62-39-2 (Last Week: 4-3-1)

(2014 Season: 61-46-2)

All Picks Against Spread – 2015 Season: 122-97-5 (Last Week: 6-9-1)

(2014 Season: 149-114-4)

San Diego Chargers (+5.5) at Oakland Raiders

The 2015 Thursday Night Football season will officially end with another dud. The Christmas Eve special includes the 6-8 Raiders — desperately trying to avoid another losing season — hosting the 4-10 Chargers — desperately trying to avoid further embarrassment.

Oakland carries two underlying storylines into the game, as the franchise — like the Rams and Chargers, last week — might be playing its final game in its current city. In addition, longtime defensive back Charles Woodson will be playing his last game in Oakland before retiring at the end of the year.

Oakland has effectively taken strides towards becoming a more formidable franchise, and the 6-8 record is actually a disappointment considering how well the Raiders played, at times. However, the losing culture of the organization remains palpable, as the team is currently on a 2-5 skid after starting the year 4-4. In addition, both wins were by a combined six points — a field-goal victory in each — With that, they aren’t quite ready to blow out a Chargers team that moves the football well — sixth-best in the league in yards gained — but has struggled in reaching the endzone.

The Raiders win by a single point, but San Diego beats the spread.

Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (-3)*

The NFC East is truly remarkable. While the Redskins, Eagles, and Giants all sit within one game of the division lead with non-winning records, everything that occurred prior to Week 16 might end up being meaningless. That is only if the Eagles can win on Saturday night, thus sending the division back up for grabs — for the visiting Redskins, a win would clinch the NFC East.

As poorly as the Eagles have played, at times, the convenient scheduling affords them one final opportunity to erase the first fourteen games. In addition to playing back-to-back division rivals, the Eagles will host their second consecutive primetime game after getting crushed by the Cardinals.

As always, the manner in which each team finished the prior week comes into play for the next game. Hours before the Eagles lost, the Redskins were beating the Bills. With the spotlight on the Eagles’ loss and the Redskins finally taking control of the division, the fact that the spread actually favors the Eagles is telling — despite the recent events, Philadelphia can still afford to give points. In addition, the Eagles just faced the league’s second-best scoring offense and sixth-best scoring defense. The Redskins rank 16th in both categories and are a putrid 1-5 on the road, this season.

Philadelphia wins by ten and covers.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons (+7)

Will it ever end? Every week, the Carolina Panthers get tested, and every week, they pass. The most recent episode included a near-blowout-turned-nailbiter-turned-near-brawl in which the Panthers, again, escaped victorious.

Not to be lost in the Panthers’ eventual win against the Giants was the manner in which Carolina allowed New York back into the game. The ability to put away the reeling Giants was prevalent throughout the second half, yet the Panthers refused to take advantage. While they, again, displayed toughness required to win close games, they finally looked sloppy, as well.

The initial sign of danger in picking against the Panthers is the galvanizing effect that comes from a pivotal moment like the Josh Norman and Odell Beckham, Jr. clash from Week 15. Had the Panthers played nearly any team a few short days after Sunday’s game, they would have likely pummeled their opponent. Instead, the focus has rested solely on the fallout for Beckham, allowing Carolina’s intensity to dissipate.

The Panthers showed what happens when they aren’t in an all-out attack mode, and they will actually enter Sunday’s game as the less-hungry team. Atlanta, despite the impossible odds, remains in playoff contention, and is only two weeks removed from an embarrassing shutout in Carolina. The Week 14 game ended up getting so out of hand that Panthers players were shown taking group pictures on the sidelines.

The Falcons will be ready for revenge.

While Atlanta tallies scores in the bottom-half of the league, their offense still ranks ninth in yards. The Falcons’ defense is a significant step up from that of the Giants’ — then again, nearly everyone’s is — and the Panthers simply cannot stay at this level, forever.

Hosting a division rival aiming for perfection and with a 38-0 thrashing on the resume two weeks prior is enough for the Falcons to revert back to their early-season form. The Falcons end Carolina’s pursuit for perfection, winning by a touchdown and beating the spread.

Dallas Cowboys (+6) at Buffalo Bills

For a 4-10 franchise that has gone through three starting quarterbacks, the Cowboys have suffered their share of heartbreak. Six of their ten losses have been by one score, and Dallas’ defense frequently keeps the team in games — the Cowboys have allowed no more than 28 points ten times.

Buffalo enters Week 16 losers of four of their last five games and officially eliminated from postseason contention. The Bills do, however, have one more game that will likely include a playoff atmosphere — next week when the Jets come to town. Week 16 is simply a formality.

The Bills remain a team ready to rebound for a win against a Cowboys offense that barely functions — third-fewest points and sixth-fewest yards in the league. With that, Buffalo will outscore Dallas, in the end, but, failing to reach 26 points in all but one of its last six games, will not pull away.

The Bills win by four, but Dallas beats the spread.

San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions (+9)

At what point do the Detroit Lions — a once 1-7 team –become nearly double-digit favorites? Apparently, now.

The Lions are likely getting a bump in the spread thanks to a nationally televised victory to close out Week 15, but it is worth noting that Detroit knocked off a 5-9 Saints team that ranks near or at the bottom of every defensive category. It should also not be overlooked that the Lions eventually allowed the Saints back into the game, ultimately winning by eight.

San Francisco continues to prove that it cannot move the football on offense, but the defense ranks in the middle of the pack for points allowed. Simply put, the 49ers will not be able to outpace the Lions, but Detroit’s 35-point outburst against the Saints was only the second time in its last eight games that the team scored more than 23 points. With that, the Lions, also, will not be lighting up the scoreboard.

Detroit wins by six, but San Francisco beats the spread.

Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3)*

Could a team have looked worse on national television than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football in Week 15? Aside from the loss, itself, the team was imploding on and off the field, and left the viewing audience with a stark reminder that the franchise still has a long way to go.

Instead of the Buccaneers following up their pitiful performance by getting right back onto the football field, the extended rest gives the team an opportunity to assess and correct where it went wrong. This additional time works right into the hands of head coach Lovie Smith, who likely already had this game circled on his calendar.

When the Bears come to town, it will be to face their former coach in Smith. Considering how Tampa Bay’s gameplan of relying on the team’s running game has resulted in six wins — three times as many as last season — there is no reason why the Buccaneers will change anything when facing a Bears defense that allows the fifth-most rushing-yards-per-attempt.

Tampa Bay wins by ten and covers.

New England Patriots at New York Jets (+3)*

By now, the position in which the Jets find themselves is not only well-documented, but is virtually scripted for a franchise that has a history of raising expectations only to miss them. Needing help from the Steelers and Chiefs — at least one needs to lose — the Jets still will likely need to win their final two games to make the playoffs. As could only be the case for the Jets, they will face their division rivals in Week 16 before heading to Buffalo to face their former head coach.

When it comes to divisional games, the records are often thrown out the window. Familiarity allows for a more level playing field, and the better team does not necessarily win the game. Instead, the situation and circumstance drive the outcome. In the case of the Jets and Patriots — where the latter is a historically dominant team with a total of two losses on the year — the spread is as good an indicator as any.

The New England Patriots are giving a mere three points to a Jets franchise that consistently plays second-fiddle in the division and just squeezed out a win against the lowly Cowboys. Why? Are the Patriots not more than a field goal better than New York? Of course, but not on Sunday, otherwise the spread would be significantly larger.

The Jets were a few minutes away from completing a road victory in New England in Week 7, only to fall victim to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his uncanny knack for winning games late. If anything has changed since their last meeting, it is the Patriots’ collective health, which has dwindled in the interim.

The Jets’ top-five defense — in yards allowed — is up to the task of slowing down the New England offense, and the tenth-ranked offense — that constantly flies under-the-radar — will continue to produce. The Jets win by a field goal, beat the spread, and set up a dramatic showdown in Buffalo in Week 17.

Cleveland Browns (+12.5)* at Kansas City Chiefs

It just keeps getting worse for Cleveland. 3-11 and threatening for the top pick in next year’s draft, the Browns will travel from Seattle to Kansas City to face yet another impossible opponent on a hot streak. Perhaps they could skip the game, entirely, but they would still find misery in Week 17, as the Steelers await.

Although the Browns ended up losing by three possessions in Week 15, they remained competitive against the spread for the better part of the game. While this is, obviously, not the goal of the organization, it is what we track when trying to assess how likely it is for a team to get blown out week after week. For the Browns, they have proven that they are capable of playing within striking distance of the spread against some of the best in the league, and the math suggests that it is difficult for them to fail again.

Kansas City has now scored thirty or more points in four of its last five games, and the one miss was a sloppy, rainy contest against a division rival. Even with the recent success, the Chiefs still only rank eighth in the league in points scored, and 24th in yards gained. Cleveland’s Week 15 opponent ranks seventh and fifth in the points and yards, respectively.

If Cleveland allowed thirty points to a better offense in Seattle and still missed beating the spread in their last game by a few points, why should this matchup be any more one-sided? In addition, the Chiefs were gifted two defensive touchdowns in their last game, and were on the verge of potentially failing to cover their spread with a few minutes left in regulation.

The disparity in scores balance out, as both the Browns and Chiefs are due to play a more competitive game. The Chiefs still win, but only by four as the Browns beat the spread.

Houston Texans (+4.5) at Tennessee Titans

The Texans apparently only play games swirled in uncertainty and failing to receive a spread until the last possible minute. At the time of this writing, quarterback Brian Hoyer is practicing for Houston, but not yet cleared to start. For the Titans, rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota is out for the remainder of the season.

Once again, the Texans might be playing in a battle of backups.

Between the two teams, Houston has the two biggest strengths — a defense that allows the fourth-fewest yards in the league and the best player on the field in wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Even with Mariota, the Titans scored the fifth-fewest points in the league. Without him, Tennessee’s offense is downright anemic — in backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger‘s two starts in 2015, the Titans have a combined thirteen points.

Houston wins the slapfest by six and beats the spread.

Indianapolis Colts at Miami Dolphins (PK)

There is arguably no team that wants 2015 to end sooner than the Miami Dolphins. 5-9, losers of four out of their last five games, and getting outscored by a combined 49 points in that stretch, the Dolphins have reached rock bottom. Again.

Despite sitting only one game out of first place in the AFC South, the Colts have actually been trending down for the entire season, only recently falling. They had survived the loss of quarterback Andrew Luck for four games, but the pressure had built to the point where it finally exploded. The Colts have now scored a total of 36 points in their last three games.

As poorly as the Dolphins have played all season, the Colts are actually on a path to be worse. At least, Miami still has the same level of talent in place that started the season, and it is only through pure disappointment that the team has reached this level. In what might be its last chance for a win — New England comes to town, next week — Miami will not let the opportunity pass.

The Dolphins and their sixth-ranked rushing attack — in yards-per-carry — cruise against a Colts defense that allows the eight-most rushing-yards-per-attempt. Miami wins by two touchdowns and covers.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (+10)*

After playing twelve consecutive games decided by eight points or fewer, the Ravens finally crashed to the tune of back-to-back losses by at least twenty points. With the Steelers coming to town — and, in a playoff race — it appears likely that the trend will continue.

Then again, if the Ravens have one more fight left in them, wouldn’t it come against their bitter rivals in a home game?

Both the Steelers and Ravens are tending so strongly in opposite directions — the Steelers’ three-game winning streak was almost cut short, last week, but Pittsburgh simply muscled through in Denver to the tune of 24-unanswered points — and a regression for each franchise is likely. In addition, the double-digit spread for a division game with the underdog playing at home is simply too large.

The Ravens play their best game of the last month, likely altering their game plan for a more aggressive — and reckless approach — but they fall short of an actual upset. The Steelers win by a field goal, but Baltimore beats the spread.

Green Bay Packers (+4.5) at Arizona Cardinals

In what may be a preview of a postseason matchup, the Packers and Cardinals will square off with both a first-round bye for Arizona and a division title for Green Bay on the line. Due to the late kickoff, the Cardinals will likely know their fate thanks to the outcome of the Panthers’ game, but they would still need a win to clinch a first-round bye.

The Cardinals enter the matchup riding an eight-game winning streak and on the heels of a 23-point road blowout on national television. The recent image of the Cardinals dominating the Eagles remains burned into the minds of the viewing audience, and it is likely the biggest reason for a nearly five-point spread against a 10-4 team.

Despite entering the game with a winning streak in their own right — three consecutive victories — the Packers have been far from perfect over the past two months. Regardless, they have done enough to clinch another playoff berth and still tout a top-ten scoring offense and top-five scoring defense.

Since both teams’ defenses rank as highly as they do, the game should not result in a shootout and, therefore, be more competitive. In the end, the Cardinals pull out the win via a field goal, but the Packers never fall too far behind and ultimately beat the spread.

Jacksonville Jaguars (+3.5) at New Orleans Saints

In years past, a matchup between the Jaguars and Saints would be as easy a decision as it gets — the Saints would be expected to dismantle the Jaguars. Instead, the two teams meet with identical 5-9 records one week after New Orleans lost a primetime game at home.

History continues to travel with the Saints, as New Orleans is somehow the favorite in the game — the Jaguars’ struggles over the past decade is likely playing into this number, as well. The Saints and Jaguars teams of the past are non-existent in 2015, however, and Sunday’s matchup will include mirror images of high-powered offenses going against horrible defenses.

What appeared to be the biggest takeaway from New Orleans’ loss in Week 15 was its furious comeback at the end of the game that fell short. For a brief time, the Saints looked like the same team that dominated the NFC South for years, and reminded us all how dangerous they could be.

Had this game been played closer to the beginning of the season, a possible carryover effect could be in play, as the team could potentially rally around its late charge. Instead, the Saints are what they have been all season — bad — and head into Sunday with quarterback Drew Brees less than 100 percent.

The Jaguars take advantage of the opportunity, winning by four and beating the spread.

St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks (-13.5)

What happens when a team reaches a level in which it scores at least 29 points for six consecutive games? Normally, it regresses. But, are the Seahawks really ‘normal?’

After starting the year 4-5, the football-watching world began to climb off Seattle’s bandwagon, believing that the end of its current run had come. Instead, the Seahawks tore off five consecutive wins and clinched another playoff spot.

With the Seahawks winning games by such large margins of victory — their closest game was a nine-point win against the Steelers — Seattle is bound to slow down. However, their opponent on Sunday is responsible for handing the Seahawks their first loss of the season, and have been a frequent thorn in the side of NFC West opponents, regardless of record.

When the Rams enter the building, Seattle will be waiting. St. Louis, unable to match the intensity of last week’s home win — possibly its last game in St. Louis — will be caught standing still. Conveniently, Seattle ranks second in the league in points and yards allowed, while the Rams rank second-worst in points and yards gained.

Seattle wins by twenty and covers.

New York Giants (+6)* at Minnesota Vikings

Has a franchise ever played better with their backs against the wall than the New York Giants? Constantly on the verge of falling out of any race — division, postseason, and even a singular game — the Giants never go out with ease. Even their Week 15 loss against the Panthers included a similar outburst, as the Giants only played well when trailing 35-7 and seemed to be completely out of the game.

Whether or not the Giants head into Sunday Night Football with anything on the line — by the time New York plays, the Redskins and Eagles will have already decided the current fate of the NFC East — they are in a perfect position to return from the depths. The suspension of wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. obviously weakens the offense, but it also removes what would have been a undeniable distraction for the team. Instead, the Giants — still with the sixth-most passing yards and third-most passing touchdowns in the league — have a balanced enough attack to counter Minnesota’s defense. In fact, five different players scored a touchdown for the Giants against the Panthers, and Carolina’s defense outranks that of the Vikings in nearly every category.

On the other side of the ball, the Vikings finally exploded for their biggest offensive output of the season when they scored 38 points against the Bears. However, the Vikings’ passing game — with the second-fewest yards-per-game — was a non-factor, again. If the Vikings cannot exploit the Giants’ horrible secondary, how will they outscore New York?

They won’t. The Giants receive contributions throughout the roster and knock off the Vikings, winning by a touchdown and beating the spread.

Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos (-3.5)*

Week after week, we tend to follow specific teams through their schedule. For a while, we continued to wait for the Browns to win — or, at least, beat a spread — only to eventually get our wish fulfilled. The Panthers refuse to play along, but they have, at least, failed to cover two of their last three games. The Broncos did oblige by falling apart in back-to-back weeks, but the Bengals continue to skate on thin ice.

They will fall through in Week 16.

A ridiculous 11-2-1 against the spread, the Bengals were able to win and cover yet another game when they beat the 49ers by ten points in Week 16. Most notably, Cincinnati earned a victory despite starting A.J. McCarron at quarterback in place of the injured Andy Dalton.

If anything, the fact that Cincinnati covered the spread against a horrible 49ers team raises the chances that they will soon fall flat against their next opponent. Said opponent just so happens to be the Broncos, losers of back-to-back games and suddenly clinging to a one-game lead in the division, still featuring a defense that allows the fewest yards in the league.

The Broncos quickly douse the flame of the Bengals — running on fumes. Denver wins by seventeen and covers.

Featured Image Credit: By Mike Morbeck (Flickr: Aaron Rodgers) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons