Week 16 of the NFL season begins Saturday with three games crucial to teams making playoff pushes. None more so than New England’s home matchup against Buffalo in a battle for AFC East honors.
It’s one of three games this weekend featuring the top two teams in a division meeting with loop crowns still up for grabs. the others being Dallas at Philadelphia and Green Bay at Minnesota.
As for weather, the only venue expected to have freezing weather is the one in Foxborough for the Bills-Patriots game. The temperature at kickoff, as of early Saturday morning, is forecast to be 30 degrees for the late-afternoon game and dipping to the mid-20s as the game progresses.
No rain is predicted anywhere, but overcast skies are forecast for New England, San Francisco, Miami and Seattle. So beware.
Now for a closer look at the 16-game schedule. The odds are courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas:
Houston Texans (9-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Texans -3 (Total: 50.5)
The skinny: Houston will be aiming to lock up the AFC South crown with a victory, while the Bucs continue on their season-ending charge to a winning record.
Facts: If TB had not blown three double-digit advantages it would be on the heels of New Orleans for NFC South honors. Included was a 28-10 lead squandered against NYG. … Since Texans WR Will Fuller (questionable, hamstring) had his 217-yard receiving day against Atlanta in Week 5, he’s totaled 259 yards and missed four games. … Bucs QB Jameis Winston is listed as questionable (knee/thumb). … Houston is coming off a 24-21 win at Tennessee, which gave it the South lead.
Analysis: Winston is coming off his second straight game of 450-plus yards but will be hard-pressed to match that without his top two receivers, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, who have caught 42 of Winston’s passes that have gone for 20-plus yards. Breshad Perriman filled Evans’ void last week with 113 yards and three TDs, but now with Godwin out, too, Perriman could well wilt while receiving the full glare of Houston’s secondary.
Prediction: Texans 28, Bucs 20
Buffalo Bills (10-4) at New England Patriots (11-3)
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Line: Patriots -6.5 (Total: 37)
The skinny: The Patriots can clinch the AFC East with a victory. But the Bills can vault into first-place tie with a win.
Facts: Buffalo coach Sean McDermott is 0-5 (2-3 ATS) in his three-year career with the Bills vs. New England. Included is a 16-10 loss to the Patriots in Week 4 as a 7-point dog. … Buffalo QB Josh Allen and New England’s Tom Brady both had their worst game of the year in their matchup. In fact, Brady’s passer rating of 45.9 was his lousiest since 2006. … Patriots WR Julian Edelman vows to play on a short week, but he’s listed as questionable with shoulder and knee issues. Analysis: The Patriots’ defense is indeed terrific, but this is a relatively high point spread for a team that’s so offensively challenged because of injuries. On the other side, flashy Bills rookie RB Devin Singletary didn’t play in that previous meeting. He’s averaging 5.4 yards a carry and is tied for sixth in the league with seven 20-plus-yard rushes despite playing only 11 games. And if Joe Mixon could rush for 136 yards vs. the Patriots last week, why not Singletary?
Prediction: Bills 16, Patriots 14
Los Angeles Rams (8-6) at San Francisco 49ers (11-3)
Time: 5:15 p.m.
Line: 49ers -6.5 (Total: 44.5)
The skinny: The Rams have no room for error in their quest to gain a wild-card berth, and they can’t afford any more success by the Vikings, either, who stand two games ahead of them.
Facts: In their Week 6 meeting in LA, the 49ers won 20-7 as a 3-point ‘dog, holding the Rams and QB Jared Goff to 48 net air yards (includes sacks), the lowest total in any game this year. … The Rams weren’t bad on defense either, holding San Francisco to 99 yards on 41 carries, the only time the past three seasons a team didn’t hit 100-plus yards on 40 or more rushes. … Hmm: Rams PK Greg Zuerlein is wrestling with a right quad injury (questionable).
Analysis: The 49ers’ defense has lost some of its grit over the past month or so, with the loss of LB Kwon Alexander and more recently pass-rush specialist Dee Ford and CB Richard Sherman, allowing foes to score TDs on 11 of their past 12 first-and-goal possessions. That’s right up LA’s alley with RB Todd Gurley. who missed that first meeting. And over the past seven games S.F. has yielded 25.9 points a game after giving up just 11 an outing the first seven. LA should hang tougher this time.
Prediction: 49ers 23, Rams 21
Detroit Lions (3-10-1) at Denver Broncos (5-9)
Time: 1:05 p.m.
Line: Broncos -7 (Total: 38.5)
The skinny: A pair of rookie QBs who didn’t take over till late in the season will battle at Mile High when Detroit’s David Blough and Denver’s Drew Lock meet.
Facts: The flu bug reportedly hit the Broncos’ locker room and affected Lock and TE Noah Fant (questionable, shoulder), but both practiced Friday. … Detroit is on a seven-game losing streak, with backup QBs Jeff Driskel (0-3) and Blough (0-3) in charge for the past six since Matt Stafford went down. … The Broncos were 23-3 losers last week in the snow and cold of Kansas City. Temps in the low 60s are predicted here.
Analysis: The choice here would have been the Lions, but with productive RB Bo Scarbrough listed as questionable with a rib injury, not much is left for Blough to work with. Especially with RB Kerryon Johnson long gone and WR Marvin Jones also out for the year. As for Denver, its air game was dismal last week, but the Chiefs and the weather had a lot to do with that. The Lions’ 31st-ranked pass defense should be the right tonic for a turnaround.
Prediction: Broncos 27, Lions 13
Oakland Raiders (6-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-9)
Time: 1:05 p.m.
Line: Chargers -7 (Total: 45.5)
The skinny: Barring the unforeseen, the Chargers will be playing their final game in their mini-stadium against a Raiders team that, barring the unforeseen, just played its last game in Oakland Coliseum.
Facts: Despite losing their past four outings, the Raiders still haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention. But they’ll need to win out and have Tennessee and Pittsburgh to lose out. … Six weeks ago, when Oakland was making a charge at Kansas City in the AFC West, it beat the visiting Chargers 26-24 as a 1.5-point pick thanks in large part to a plus-3 turnover edge. … Oakland has had trouble getting off the field, allowing a league-high seven drives of 90-plus yard this year.
Analysis: The Chargers have been a bigger favorite only once this season, when catching Miami during its dreadful four-game run to open the season. But this spread can’t possibly be because of the home-field advantage, which doesn’t exist in this stadium. It’s probably because Raiders star RB Josh Jacobs will sit out after suffering a setback with his injured shoulder. Even so, as sloppy as LA has been with the ball (tied for last with a minus-16 turnover margin), the Raiders should stay close.
Prediction: Chargers 21, Raiders 20
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) at Atlanta Falcons (5-9)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Falcons -7 (Total: 46.5)
The skinny: Two teams coming off wins in the Bay Area meet with little at stake except to avoid the embarrassment of a double-digit loss season.
Facts: Jacksonville crawled from a 16-3 hole in Oakland last week to win, 20-16, scoring TDs on back-to-back drives in the final six minutes. Before that, the Jags had touchdowns on only two of their previous 31 possessions the past month. … Atlanta. meanwhile, earned its second road victory as a double-digit dog by winning at San Francisco 29-22, scoring two TDs in the final two seconds to screw up bettors who took under 49.
Analysis: As well as Atlanta has been playing on the road, it’s not been the same at home where the Falcons have lost five of six in a stadium that has had gobs of empty seats of late. So, Jacksonville QB Gardner Minshew should have little trouble communicating with his guys. Also, there’s joy in the Jaguars’ locker room now that front-office czar Tom Coughlin got the heave-ho in large part for his overbearing style. The Jaguars play loose and pull a surprise.
Prediction: Jaguars 21, Falcons 17
New Orleans Saints (11-3) at Tennessee Titans (8-6)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Saints -2 (Total: 50)
The skinny: The Saints are still pushing to earn an NFC first-round bye and can’t afford a slip-up. Tennessee, meanwhile, is tied for the final AFC wild card with Pittsburgh, but the Steelers hold the tiebreaker.
Facts: In New Orleans’ 34-7 home win over Indianapolis on MNF last week, the Saints had a mid-game edge in yards gained of 325 to 17. … Tennessee has had back-to-back weeks with lousy starting field position, opening from its 16 two weeks ago in a 42-21 win at Oakland and from its 18 in a 24-21 home loss to Houston last week. … Titans star RB Derrick Henry (hamstring) is off the injury list. … Saints WR Michael Thomas leads the league with 133 catches, but is 71st at 11.7 yards a reception.
Analysis: The Titans’ morale surely will be affected by the outcome of Saturday’s game between the Texans and Bucs in Tampa. If Houston loses, the Titans will remain alive for the AFC South title and would win the crown with a victory here and one at Houston in Week 17. On the other hand, they’re still in the running for an AFC wild card. Thus, there’s little reason to hold back Henry, who will be going against Saints’ defense that’s missing two defensive line starters.
Prediction: Titans 24, Saints 20
New York Giants (3-11) at Washington Redskins (3-11)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Pick’em (Total: 42)
The skinny: This isn’t even the worst matchup of the week (see Bengals at Dolphins) but fan bases for both squads will be interested in seeing how their rookie starting QBs perform.
Facts: Last week Carolina’s Kyle Allen threw three INTs and was subsequently benched. The Chargers’ Philip Rivers threw three and now is foggy about his future. NYG’s Eli Manning threw three and got the game ball. … QB Daniel Jones returns to the Giants’ lineup after missing two games (ankle). He directed a 24-3 home win over the Redskins in Week 4. … In that game, Washington QB Dwayne Haskins got his first action, throwing three INTs.
Analysis: Jones has said he is working on ball security, which is mighty important for a guy who has started only 10 games yet leads the league with 15 fumbles to go with 11 interceptions. Now he’ll be going against a Redskins pass rush led by LB Ryan Anderson, who got three forced fumbles against Philly’s Carson Wentz last week. On Washington’s side, Haskins has shown he’s capable of running the read option with the best of them, which should give the Giants fits.
Prediction: Redskins 28, Giants 14
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6) at New York Jets (5-9)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Steelers -3.5 (Total: 37)
The skinny: Stealing the headlines for this game is Jets RB Le’Veon Bell going against his former team after abandoning them last year in a contract holdout.
Facts: If the Steelers win here and the next week against Baltimore they’ll secure the final wild card. Which would mean if the Steelers are to reach the Super Bowl, they’ll be playing five straight games on the road. … NYJ had been allowing a league-low 78.9 rushing yards a game before being gouged by the Ravens for 218 in a 42-21 road loss last Thursday. … Bell averaged 4.7 yards a carry during his 1,361-yard season in 2017. His norm is 3.3 this year.
Analysis: The Steelers will be sticking with QB “Duck” Hodges despite the fact he threw four INTs in a 17-10 home loss to Buffalo last week that cost Pittsburgh a chance to take over the first AFC wild card slot. It should help him, though, to get back WR JuJu Smith-Schuster. As for the Pittsburgh defense, a unit that’s tied for first with 49 sacks will get to go against a Jets offense that’s allowed 48, the fourth most. That could be the difference.
Prediction: Steelers 24, Jets 14.
Cincinnati Bengals (1-13) at Miami Dolphins (3-11)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Bengals -1 (Total: 46.5)
The skinny: If anyone will be watching, the talk during the game will be about who the Bengals will draft at No. 1 if they clinch the top pick with a loss here.
Facts: It looked like Miami was going to be a favorite for the first time this year, but the line flipped Friday. … It’s hard to believe the Bengals were a 1-point choice over visiting San Francisco in Week 2. The 49ers won 41-17. … Bengals RB Joe Mixon, who led Week 14 rushers with 146 yards and had 136 last week vs. New England, has been nursing a calf injury but was taken off the injury report late in the week.
Analysis: A couple of teams with rookie coaches are seeing this game as a rare chance for a victory and aren’t concerned about draft order. Even though Miami has been overachieving, it’s been hard for them to overcome a secondary that’s been a revolving door as well as having seven different starters at right guard. And what’s with greybeard QB Ryan Fitzpatrick being the team’s leading rusher? Cincinnati takes advantage, especially with vet QB Andy Dalton back in charge.
Prediction: Bengals 27, Dolphins 20
Carolina Panthers (5-9) at Indianapolis Colts (6-8)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Colts -7 (Total: 46.5)
The skinny: Both teams are closing out horribly disappointing seasons, with the Panthers on a six-game losing streak and the Colts having lost six of their past seven after holding the AFC South lead in October.
Facts: Carolina will be giving rookie QB Will Grier, the 100th guy taken in the draft, his first start. He takes over for error-prone Kyle Allen. … The previous 12 first-time QB starters this season have gone 7-4-1 SU/10-2 ATS, most recently Drew Lock’s win for Denver as an underdog in Week 13 against the Chargers. … Indy is coming off a 34-7 beatdown on MNF and working on a short week.
Analysis: Indy coach Frank Reich has hinted that he might change things up, with lots of input from QB Jacoby Brissett, which should bring new life to the offense. It will help that it will face a Panthers defense that’s allowing a league-worst 5.2 yards a carry. This could be the game the new quarterback doesn’t fare so well.
Prediction: Colts 34, Panthers 16
Baltimore Ravens (12-2) at Cleveland Browns (6-8)
Time: 10 a.m.
Line: Ravens -10 (Total: 49)
The skinny: The Ravens can wrap up the AFC’s top seed with a victory and put to bed the Browns’ hopes for a .500 season.
Facts: This line opened at 7 before Cleveland was a 38-24 loser in Arizona last Sunday. … In one of the stunning outcomes of the 2019 season, the Browns were 40-25 winners in Baltimore in Week 4 as a 7-point dog. Since then Cleveland has gone 4-6 and the Ravens 10-0. … The Browns had two drives with seven first downs against the Cardinals. No one else has done that in a game this year. … Baltimore yielded 530 yards in that previous loss to Cleveland. Since then it hasn’t given up even 350 in a game.
Analysis: The Browns continue to supply locker room drama, from Odell Beckham suggesting he’s be happier elsewhere, to Baker Mayfield throwing the team trainers under the bus and now to RB Kareem Hunt questioning whether some of his teammates were taking plays off. How can Baltimore not get a big measure of revenge against a team in this kind of turmoil.
Prediction: Ravens 31, Browns 10
Dallas Cowboys (7-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)
Time: 1:25 p.m.
Line: Cowboys -2 (Total: 45.5)
The skinny: The NFC East title is up for grabs at the Linc. The Cowboys would clinch the title with a victory whereas if the Eagles win they would still need to prevail the next week vs. the Giants (or benefit from a Dallas loss) to guarantee the crown.
Facts: In Week 7, the Cowboys beat the Eagles 37-10 thanks to a 23-yard edge in average starting field position, the biggest margin for a team this year. … In 2018, Dallas won 27-20 at Philly as a 7.5-point ‘dog despite having a short week and facing an Eagles club off a bye. … After injury-plagued Philly lost its first three games out of its Week 10 bye, it scrambled to beat NYG and Washington the past two weeks. … Dallas had a season-best 263 rush yards in last week’s 44-21 win vs. the Rams.
Analysis: Much of the talk this week has been about the injured passing shoulder of Dallas’ Dak Prescott. He says he’ll be good to go, but does that mean he’ll be able to make deep throws? Maybe that’s why he didn’t have more than one completion to a any wideout last week. But it probably won’t matter. The running game should fare well, even vs. an Eagles team that ranks third in allowing only 90.4 ground yards a game. That unit, after all, did give up 189 rush yards in that previous loss.
Prediction: Cowboys 34, Eagles 21
Arizona Cardinals (4-9-1) at Seattle Seahawks (11-3)
Time: 1:25 p.m.
Line: Seahawks -9 (Total: 51)
The skinny: For the fourth straight season, these teams will meet in Seattle in late December, with the Seahawks in a battle for the NFL West crown and possible first-round playoff bye.
Facts: Arizona has won three of its past four games in Seattle, including twice as an underdog of 8-plus points. Since 2013 the Cardinals also are 5-1 ATS in the Northwest. … In 10 of Seattle’s 11 wins this season, the margin of victory has been one score. It’s most lopsided win came at Arizona in Week 4, 27-10. … Seattle is tied for the league high with three victories after trailing by double digits, including their crucial 27-24 OT win at San Francisco six weeks ago. Analysis: A host of key defenders are ailing for Seattle: DE Jadeveon Clowney and safety Quandre Diggs are doubtful, and CB Shaquill Griffin and LB Mychal Kenricks are questionable. Not to mention LB Bobby Wagner, second on the league tackle chart, who left last week’s game with an ankle injury. Thus, a Cards offense that thrived in a 38-24 victory over Cleveland last week should take advantage against a team that might not be inclined not to let border-line healthy guys risk injury with next week’s showdown looming vs. S.F.
Prediction: Seahawks 26, Cardinals 24
Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) at Chicago Bears (7-7)
Time: 5:20 p.m.
Line: Chiefs -6 (Total: 44.5)
The skinny: Chiefs coach Andy Reid will match wits with his former longtime aide Matt Nagy, who helped nurture KC’s Patrick Mahomes during the QB’s 2017 rookie season.
Facts: Kansas City has clinched the AFC West but can earn a first-round bye by winning out and if New England loses one of its final two games. Chicago, FYI, is kaput after its 21-13 loss at Green Bay on Sunday. … KC added a pass rusher to its squad by picking up ex-Raven/Cardinal Terrell Suggs off waivers. … Chicago’s Khalil Mack has had only two sacks his past seven games. … In 2015, Chicago won in KC 18-17 as a 9.5-point dog, its biggest upset win since 2013.
Analysis: Bears QB Mitch Trubisky has shown signs of life, but mostly in a pair of games against the woeful Lions and one against the Giants. Now he’ll face a surprisingly stout Kansas City pass defense that ranks third in allowing a completion percentage of only 60.4 to enemy passers. Chicago just won’t be able to keep up with Mahomes and Co.
Prediction: Chiefs 35, Bears 20
Green Bay Packers (11-3) at Minnesota Vikings (10-4)
Time: 5:15 p.m.
Line: Vikings -5.5 (45.5)
The skinny: In another 1 vs. 2 intradivision battle, the Packers get a chance to clinch the NFC North with a victory.
Facts: Minnesota will have secured a playoff spot if the Rams were losers to San Fran on Saturday. … In Week 2, GB won at Lambeau 21-16, with Vikings QB Kirk Cousins going 14-for-32 for 230 yards, his only sub 50 percent passing day of the year. … Minnesota RB Dalvin Cook is doubtful (shoulder) and backup Alexander Mattison (ankle) is questionable. That could leave much of the rushing loaded to undrafted RB Mike Boone, a second-year player.
Analysis: Just like San Francisco and Seattle, Green Bay can lose this week and still control its division destiny with a victory in the season finale vs. 3-10-1 Detroit. So, the Packers might not be playing with the same adrenaline rush as the Vikings, who are the league’s only unbeaten team at home. And don’t sleep on Boone, who has impressed Vikings coaches with his fresh legs and drive.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Packers 17
Last week: 6-10 ATS, 6-10 SU
Season: 106-112-5 (.486) ATS, 128-95-1 (.574) SU