Patriots-Ravens, Saints-Panthers Battle for Top Billing as Final Push for Postseason Begins

Torrey Smith, Devin McCourtyIt’s that time of year in the NFL where teams are playing the playoff musical chairs. That jockeying for position will be the theme of Week 16 as everyone tries to figure out where they’ll land and if their season will extend into January.

Here’s our rundown for Week 16:

Top Three Must-See Games of the Week:

1. New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers

A week ago, this game was one that the New Orleans Saints didn’t have to win. Now, it’s a game New Orleans can’t afford to lose. Why is this the case? The Saints stumbled in St. Louis in Week 15 against the Rams; their offense cratered in an ugly 27-16 defeat. New Orleans fell into a tie with Carolina for the NFC South lead at 10-4.

The challenge for the Saints is that they’ve been so much worse on the road than at home this season. They now have to beat Carolina on the road in order to win the division and get a first-round bye in the playoffs. The stakes are considerable: the winner will probably be the No. 2 in the NFC while the loser will be either fifth or sixth (probably sixth behind the currently fifth-seeded San Francisco 49ers). New Orleans has the advantage at the quarterback position with Drew Brees going up against Cam Newton, but the Panthers have a stronger defense and will be playing this game on their own turf. Home-field advantage should give Carolina the edge here. The Panthers are a 3-point favorite at Bovada on the NFL betting lines.

2. New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens

The best game in the NFC is the New Orleans-Carolina matchup, but this is top contest in the AFC. New England is trying to bounce back from a tough loss to Miami, one that wasn’t sealed until the last play of regulation, when the Dolphins intercepted Tom Brady in the end zone. The Patriots are trying to lock up a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, while the Ravens need to win to keep pace with the Dolphins in the race for the sixth playoff spot. The Ravens are also trying to stay within reach of Cincinnati in the AFC North. There’s so much at stake for the two teams that have met in each of the last two AFC Championship games.

3. Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs

This is a game in which the Colts are trying to work their way up the ladder from the fourth seed to the third seed and maybe (though not likely) the second seed in the AFC. The Chiefs are trying to force the Denver Broncos to win out in order to win the AFC West. If the Chiefs win this game and then win at San Diego in Week 17, they will be in a position to win the West if Denver stumbles in one of its last two games.

The Biggest Underdog with a Reasonable Chance to Win is the: Washington Redskins

The Redskins are playing at home, it’s their last home game of the season and they’re playing their biggest rival. They should be highly motivated to play this game. Dallas will be in a negative mental state after blowing a 23-point halftime lead to the Green Bay Packers this past weekend, and simply put, if the Cowboys can’t beat the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers at home while holding a 23-point lead, they can lose to anyone anywhere right about now. All the ingredients are there for a Washington upset.

The Best Suicide Pool Pick of the Week is the: San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco is a whopping 12-point favorite at Bovada as they host the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football. The Falcons have been more competitive of late, winning two of three, but they are only 1-6 on the road. The 49ers need this game to not only hold their playoff spot in the NFC, but also to move up to fifth in the conference.

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