Two weeks remain in the regular season and more playoff scenarios could be resolved by the end of the weekend. Specifically, the NFC East has a three-way tie for first between the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys, while the Atlanta Falcons can clinch home field advantage with a win over the Lions. The Steelers and Bengals also face off in a key game that could decide a playoff spot in the AFC.
In the “Pick Your Knows” department, it was a ten-win week that boosted my season total to 126 victories.
Last Week: 10-6
This Season: 126-98
Last Two Seasons: 144-112 (2010) and 131-125 (2011)
It’s once again time to “Pick Your Knows” – the only time it’s not a disgusting habit – and here are Week 16’s scheduled games (with spreads as they appear through CBS Sports Fantasy).
Pick Your Knows: 2012 NFL Week 16 Picks Against the Spread
Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions (+4.5)
There is chatter circulating that Jim Schwartz has lost his team, but I’m not buying into that, even after Detroit’s blowout loss to the Cardinals last week. The Falcons, meanwhile, are coming off a huge win and can clinch home field throughout the playoffs with a win. Atlanta’s two losses are both on the road, but Detroit isn’t exactly stellar at home, going 2-4. The Lions do have the NFL’s top passing offense, and Atlanta will obviously have its hands full with Calvin Johnson. But while Detroit throws for a lot of yards, Matthew Stafford (78.9 QB rating, 17 TD, 15 INT) has been mediocre this season. Combine that with the fact that Atlanta’s defense has allowed 13 passing touchdowns, while managing 18 interceptions, and Stafford could struggle. In the end, the Lions have the offensive firepower to stay with any team, but with this being a lost season, combined with Atlanta having a shot to seal home field advantage, I’m going with Matt Ryan and the Falcons. Atlanta covers on the road.
KP’s Pick: Atlanta
Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans (-7.5)
Adrian Peterson continues to mow down opponents, rushing for 212 yards last week. Houston has a very solid defense, but has been beatable as of late. The expected battle will be in the ground game between Peterson and Arian Foster. But the key starts in the trenches, where the Texans have allowed 20 sacks, the second fewest in the NFL. Houston also has 42 sacks, which is the second most. Meanwhile, Jared Allen and the Vikings will need to disrupt Matt Schaub to have a chance, considering Minnesota’s pass offense is ranked last in the NFL. Expect the Texans to stack the box, but even in doing so, they may still not be able to stop Peterson. Minnesota is fighting for a playoff spot and will have plenty of motivation. The Vikings are just 2-5 on the road, but Adrian Peterson – fighting for the single season rushing record – will give Houston fits, and keep this game closer than a touchdown. Take Minnesota and the points.
KP’s Pick: Minnesota
New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars (+14.5)
The Patriots fell behind big to the 49ers last week and couldn’t complete the comeback. Now, New England is a game behind Denver for a first round bye, so this game has importance for the Pats. Jacksonville, meanwhile, will be playing for pride, as they have been for weeks now. New England’s offense is ranked in the top ten (for both passing and rushing). The pass defense has been beatable for most of the year, but Jacksonville’s passing offense is far from potent. In fact, the Jags are ranked 24th or lower on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. The most telling stat of all is Jacksonville’s 15 sacks, which is six less than any other team in the NFL. That translates to Tom Brady having all day to throw the ball. Expect a blowout here – and even with the spread this high, I’m taking the Pats to cover.
KP’s Pick: New England
St. Louis Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3.5)
Tampa Bay’s defense is where you should look when analyzing a game that involves the Bucs. Tampa Bay is first against the run (83.3 ypg), but last against the pass, allowing 311 yards per game through the air. Drew Brees took advantage of that pass defense, but this week, Sam Bradford doesn’t have nearly as many weapons. The Rams often look to Steven Jackson to provide a spark and with how solid the Bucs are against the run, this will be a tall task. Worse, Jackson hasn’t practiced this week due to an illness. In the trenches, St. Louis has the fourth most sacks (41), while Tampa Bay has allowed the third fewest (21). St. Louis is ranked in the top ten in passing yards allowed, but Tampa Bay is balanced on offense, mixing in rookie Doug Martin, along with Josh Freeman, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Tampa Bay has lost four straight and was embarrassed by the Saints last week, and considering that, I would normally take the underdog Rams in a 3½-point spread. However, I like the Bucs at home, considering how the defense will line up against the Rams’ strengths. Tampa Bay covers.
KP’s Pick: Tampa Bay
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers (-4.5)
Cincinnati has had a few extra days of rest after playing last Thursday night. But this group of Pittsburgh players knows that if they lose this game, they will be eliminated from playoff contention. In Week 7, the Steelers won on the road 24-17, and obviously these teams know each other well, so one could discount the extra days of prep time. The Steelers have the NFL’s top pass defense and the Bengals’ defensive group leads the NFL with 43 sacks. Key players will need to have an impact, such as A.J. Green for the Bengals and Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers. In the end, I believe the Steelers will win this game and remain in contention heading into the final week of the regular season. But the question remains, by how much? A 4 ½-point spread seems on the high side for a bitter rivalry featuring two playoff contending teams. That’s why I’m banking on a four-point victory by Pittsburgh. Take Cincy and the points.
KP’s Pick: Cincinnati
San Diego Chargers at New York Jets (-3.5)
Here’s a bit of a train wreck matchup, featuring two underachieving teams and two coach-GM combos that are clearly either on the way out, or very much on the hot seat. Mark Sanchez has officially been benched and Greg McElroy will start for New York. McElroy did lead a game-winning drive for the Jets a few weeks back against Arizona. On the other side, Ryan Mathews is out for the rest of the year, removing depth from San Diego’s struggling run game. The Chargers are one of the bigger Jekyll and Hyde teams, getting blown out by the Panthers just one week after dominating the Steelers. San Diego still has plenty of weapons, with Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Danario Alexander being included in that group. Meanwhile, the Jets have struggled offensively. Overall, New York is better running the ball (10th in the NFL), but will face a San Diego defense that is ranked 7th against the run. San Diego is stronger throwing the ball, but the Jets are ranked second against the pass, with only Pittsburgh allowing fewer yards through the air. In the end, it’s hard to trust a Jets team that is struggling and will be starting its third string quarterback, especially with the spread set at 3 ½. Take San Diego and the points.
KP’s Pick: San Diego
Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers (-11.5)
The Titans had last week’s win over the Jets gift-wrapped by Mark Sanchez, while the Packers clinched the NFC North division title with its win over the Bears. Aaron Rodgers and the pass game have the highest rating in the NFL (105.2), coupled with 33 touchdowns and just 8 interceptions. That group is likely to be without Jordy Nelson again, but will be facing a Tennessee defense that is currently ranked 19th against the pass, allowing a 92.3 QB rating and 26 touchdowns through the air. Tennessee’s pass offense (78.6 QB rating, 16 TD and 14 INT) doesn’t produce enough to be able to keep up with Rodgers. That likely means that the game could come down to the efficiency of Chris Johnson, as well as each team’s performance on special teams. In the end, the Packers are playing at home and still have a shot at a first round bye, which leaves me to believe that Green Bay will post a commanding win. But will it be enough to cover the spread? I don’t have a Magic Eight Ball, but I know how good Aaron Rodgers is, so I’ll predict that all signs will point to “yes”. Packers cover.
KP’s Pick: Green Bay
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (+5.5)
The Eagles have had a few extra days to rest and prepare for the Redskins. It appears that two key players (Robert Griffin III for the Redskins and LeSean McCoy for the Eagles) appear ready to return from injuries. Philadelphia’s offensive line (42 sacks allowed – 4th most in NFL) has been a major issue, and one reason that Cincinnati’s aggressive defense beat Philadelphia last week. But Washington’s defense has managed 25 sacks on the season, which is ranked for 28th in the league. This could mean more time for Nick Foles to move the offense down the field. RG3 is set to return, but just how healthy and mobile will he be? Either way, with him and Alfred Morris, Philadelphia will have its hands full with Washington’s top-ranked rushing offense. The Redskins’ pass defense is ranked 30th in the league, leaving more doorways for the Eagles to move the ball. Washington is clearly on a roll as of late, and controls its destiny in the NFC East, but the Eagles are playing hard and Nick Foles is trying to make an impression. The Eagles would like nothing more than to spoil a division rival’s fun, especially in front of its home crowd. I still like the Redskins in this game, but I don’t like the line. My gut tells me the Eagles limit the mistakes this time, and keep this game close. I’m taking Philly and the points.
KP’s Pick: Philadelphia
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs (+6.5)
As I mentioned a few weeks back, the Colts do not blow opponents out, but we could see a change, considering how much the Chiefs have been struggling. Andrew Luck is having a great rookie season, but still does have 18 interceptions and a 75.5 QB rating. The Chiefs are 7th in passing yards allowed per game, but have managed just 7 interceptions, while allowing 25 touchdowns and a 99.3 QB rating. But look no further than Kansas City’s pass offense, which has managed just 8 touchdowns and is 31st in total yards. Couple that with the fact that the Colts are still playing for playoff position, and this one seems like a no-brainer. Indianapolis will find a way to win by a touchdown or more. Colts cover on the road.
KP’s Pick: Indianapolis
Oakland Raiders at Carolina Panthers (-8.5)
Here’s a tricky line, because the Panthers aren’t exactly lighting up the standings, yet Cam Newton has played very well over the last month. The Raiders have a solid pass game and can move the ball down the field, but have had trouble stopping opponents, with exception to last week, when the Raiders blanked the Chiefs. In the trenches, the Panthers are 7th in sacks with 36, while the Raiders are 31st with just 21 total on the year. That leaves me to believe that Cam Newton could have plenty of time in the pocket – and with the way he’s been playing – this could be bad news for the Oakland defense. Combine that with the fact that the Raiders have to travel from the west to the east coast, and that’s another advantage to the Panthers. Finally, Carolina’s pass defense is 10th in yards allowed, but the rest of the unit’s numbers are in the middle of the pack. Still, I keep coming back to Oakland’s lack of a pass rush, and because of that, I’m taking Carolina to cover at home.
KP’s Pick: Carolina
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (-4.5)
The Bills won the last meeting in Buffalo, and this is a follow-up game between two fairly evenly matched teams. Each builds off the momentum of their run games, with Buffalo’s being more potent (1.1 yards per carry more on average). Both passing offenses are ranked near each other. Buffalo’s run defense has struggled often, allowing 5.1 yards per carry. Miami has managed 39 sacks on the season, but only nine total interceptions. Honestly, no stats really stand out, and in the past, I have come to expect Ryan Tannehill to struggle, but at times he’s been solid. But when it comes down to it, the Dolphins covering is just not an obvious choice, even when playing at home. Buffalo has the talent to keep this game close, and that’s why I’m taking the Bills and the points.
KP’s Pick: Buffalo
New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys (-3.5)
The Saints are coming off a dominating win over the Bucs last week, while the Cowboys got a big victory at home over the Steelers. Dallas has the 31st ranked rushing offense, but has seen a boost in recent weeks with DeMarco Murray back. The New Orleans defense has been shelled numerous times this season, and Dallas has plenty of weapons to be able to score in bunches. The key is how the Saints are in regards to getting interceptions, as Tony Romo has thrown 16 picks this season. The Cowboys have the fourth-ranked pass offense and the Saints have allowed 27 passing touchdowns and 14 picks. Digging deeper, the Saints have allowed just 24 sacks on the year and the Dallas pass defense has just seven interceptions. The Cowboys should score a lot of points, but I see a lot of success likely coming from Drew Brees, too. A late field goal seems like a good possibility and that’s why I’m going with the Saints. Take New Orleans and the points.
KP’s Pick: New Orleans
Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos (-13.5)
Peyton Manning’s performance on offense has taken away the attention from Denver’s defense. The Broncos are ranked in the top ten against the pass and the run. The Broncos have allowed just five touchdowns on the ground this year. Both teams are tough in the trenches, with Denver having 42 sacks and the Browns with 36. Peyton Manning is obviously having a great year and will move the ball down the field. But aside from last week’s 17-point loss to the Redskins, the Browns have not lost a game by two touchdowns or more since October 7th. Combine that with the fact that during its nine-game win streak, six of Denver’s wins were by less than two touchdowns. I fully expect Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson to struggle against Denver’s defense, but I still have a hard time calling for a two-touchdown victory, and that’s why I’m taking the Browns and the points.
KP’s Pick: Cleveland
Chicago Bears at Arizona Cardinals (+5.5)
The Cardinals ended a nine-game losing streak by defeating the Lions last week at home. Chicago continued its struggles, and needs to recover in order to keep playoff hopes alive. Both pass defenses have been solid: Arizona is ranked 4th in yards allowed and has 22 INT’s, while Chicago is ranked 6th in yards allowed, with 21 INT’s. That would point towards each passing offense struggling, which would shift the focus to the run game, where Arizona is ranked dead last and Chicago is ranked 12th. In the trenches, the Cardinals have allowed the most sacks in the NFL (52), while the Bears have allowed the 6th most, with 41. Combined with these facts, you can’t help but look at the recent comments from Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, assuming that the Bears will find a way to move forward and win this one by at least a touchdown. Bears cover on the road.
KP’s Pick: Chicago
New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens (+2.5)
This is a big game for both teams, as the Giants were blown out last week and the Ravens have lost three straight. One of the major points is that Baltimore has clinched a playoff berth while the Giants need a win to keep its playoff hopes alive. Due to tiebreakers, the Giants fell to third in the NFC East, even while maintaining the same record as both the Cowboys and Redskins. Both passing and rushing offenses are similar statistically. Ahmad Bradshaw is questionable heading into the game and it’s becoming clearer each game that the Ravens just do not use Ray Rice enough. When looking at the pass defenses, the Giants have allowed more yards/touchdowns than the Ravens, yet managed 20 interceptions compared to Baltimore’s thirteen. But the biggest stat of all to me is the fact that the Giants have allowed just 16 sacks on the season. Protecting Eli Manning will be the difference in a game between two potent offenses. Giants win a close one on the road.
KP’s Pick: New York Giants
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (+1.5)
Rain appears to be in the forecast in this game that will likely feature a lot of work in the ground game. Seattle’s success at home (6-0 this season) is no secret, but the 49ers are actually 5-2 on the road, which should not be ignored. By winning in New England last week, San Francisco proved that playing in a hostile environment is manageable. Both run defenses are ranked in the top ten in yards allowed, but San Francisco Is allowing 3.6 yards per carry, while the Seahawks is nearly a yard more (4.5). In the end, it comes down to which youthful quarterback – Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick – can handle the pressure of the opposing defense. When I look at Seattle’s recent schedule, I see five wins over the last six, but against lesser teams like the Jets, Cardinals and Bills. My gut says that the 49ers will find a way to sweep the season series and give Seattle its first defeat at home this season.
KP’s Pick: San Francisco