Santa’s got an extra special treat for football fans this year.
Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, which means the holiday weekend will be jam-packed with pigskin, starting on Thursday night, bleeding into Christmas Eve on Saturday, two must-see matchups Christmas Day and a Monday night tilt between playoff hopefuls in Dallas on Monday night.
As far as our weekly NFL picks go, we handed out some gifts last week for those smart enough to tail us, going a combined 28-17-3 … which means regression’s probably on the way this week.
Here’s how we all fared last week.
Mike Cole: 10-5-1 (100-115-8 overall). He’s doing his best Packers impression, saving his best for a late-season push.
Ricky Doyle: 9-6-1 (106-109-8). By the time you’re opening your gifts Sunday morning, Ricky could be sitting at .500.
Andre Khatchaturian: 9-6-1 (102-113-8). He stopped talking about the Bills’ pass rush just long enough to construct a very nice Week 15.
Here are our Week 16 picks, with lines from our buddies at OddsShark.
THURSDAY, DEC. 22
(-2.5) New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, Thursday, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Giants. The only case I can make for Philly is it has a chance to throw a division rival off course. That won’t help them magically solve the Giants’ defense, though.
Andre: Giants. The Eagles have the third-worst yards per play differential in football. They have failed to score three touchdowns in a game since Week 3 and are 2-9 since then. Carson Wentz has also been trash with 8 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in that span.
Ricky: Giants. These teams are going in opposite directions this season — the Eagles have lost seven of their last eight games and the Giants have won eight of their last nine — so it’s hard to imagine anything other than a victory by at least a field goal for the G-Men, whose defense is just too tough.
SATURDAY, DEC. 24
Minnesota Vikings at (-6.5) Green Bay Packers, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Packers. Green Bay is just locked in right now — on both sides of the ball. They beat up on offenses lacking in talent (Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago — for most of the game), and the Vikings don’t really have a playmaker who scares you, especially if Adrian Peterson is nursing a groin injury.
Andre: Packers. The Vikings had a plus-11 turnover differential in the first five games (5-0) and are minus-2 since then (2-7). In the last five games, Aaron Rodgers has 10 touchdowns and no picks and with a new found running game, the Packers won’t have to rely on the pass as much.
Ricky: Packers. Minnesota is 2-8 straight up in its last 10 games on the road against teams with winning records. Since starting the season 5-0, the Vikings are averaging just 16.1 points per game, and it’ll take more than that to cover against the Packers, who are rolling behind Aaron Rodgers’ stellar play.
(-4.5) Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Jaguars. The Titans finally are starting to string together wins, but their combined margin of victory in this three-game winning streak is just 12 points.
Andre: Titans. Mike seems to be forgetting that the Titans’ margin of victory might be low because they beat the Chiefs and Broncos. The Titans ran for 328 yards in those two games and the last time they played Jacksonville, who is actually good against the run, they ran for 214 yards.
Ricky: Jaguars. Jacksonville surprisingly is tied for fifth in the NFL in opponent yards per play (5.0) and tied for seventh in yards allowed per rush attempt (3.8). Of course, that means little when your record is 2-12. But between being able to stop the run, which is Tennessee’s bread and butter, and the extra boost that can come from a coaching change, the Jags have the potential to pull off an upset.
(-3) Washington Redskins at Chicago Bears, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bears. The Redskins are still alive, but that was a pretty uninspiring effort Monday night at home against the Panthers. The Bears are 3-11, sure, but they haven’t lost by more than six points since mid-November and remain one of the best teams yards per play team in the NFL.
Andre: Bears. The Bears are actually fourth in the league in sacks. Kirk Cousins has been fairly pedestrian in the last three games with three touchdowns and three interceptions and he’s getting hit more (five sacks in three games.)
Ricky: Bears. Chicago plays much better at Soldier Field. The Bears are 3-4 SU and 5-2 ATS at home versus 0-7 SU and 2-5 ATS on the road. Expect Jordan Howard to have a big day in the Windy City against Washington’s leaky run defense.
Miami Dolphins at (-3.5) Buffalo Bills, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Dolphins. This isn’t going to be easy for the Dolphins, but even if they don’t win, I like getting points. And while Buffalo’s pass rush is fierce, you can run on the Bills, especially if you’ve got a good rushing attack — they’ve allowed 5.1 yards per rush the last three weeks.
Andre: Bills. I absolutely love the Bills pass rush. I talk about them every week. They lead the league in sack percentage (7.8 percent) and as good as Matt Moore was last week against the Jets, it was against the Jets. Miami also allows 4.8 yards per carry (second-worst) and LeSean McCoy and the Bills are the best rushing team in football (best).
Ricky: Dolphins. As Mike mentioned in this week’s episode of “The Spread,” this game could be the quickest game of the NFL season, as it makes sense for each team to rely on its strong rushing attack against the other team’s shaky run defense. That said, give me the Fins, who are 7-1-1 ATS in their last nine games. I’m all about being spotted more than a field goal in this extremely tight matchup.
(-2.5) Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Falcons. The Panthers have forced eight (eight!) turnovers the last two weeks and unsurprisingly have won both games. They won’t make it three this week, not against an Atlanta team that’s turned it over just 11 times all season.
Andre: Panthers. The Panthers lead the league in sacks with 40 and I see them dominating the line and throwing Matt Ryan off his game a little. I also like that I’m getting points and that the Panthers are home. Cam Newton’s completion percentage is still atrocious, but he’s cleaned up his game and has just four interceptions since Week 4.
Ricky: Falcons. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Atlanta has been a great bet on the road this season, going 6-1 ATS and averaging a plus-6.4 points per game scoring differential in those contests, according to OddsShark. The Falcons are 5-2 SU away from the Georgia Dome, with wins against the Raiders, Saints, Broncos, Buccaneers and Rams. Expect Atlanta’s offense to roll despite Carolina showing improvement down the stretch.
(-6) San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Browns. Not only do I think the Browns cover, I think they’ve got a legitimate chance to win this game. San Diego has nothing to play for and instead of spending its Christmas Eve in sunny San Diego, it has to go to Cleveland. Gonna be tough to get up for this one.
Andre: Browns. After taking a highly unprofessional and unwarranted shot at Mike earlier in this picks column, I’m going to tail him in this one.
Ricky: Browns. Why not?
New York Jets at (-16.5) New England Patriots, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Mike: Patriots. That’s an enormous line, but I take a little solace in the fact that the Patriots have covered the last four games they were favored by at least 13 points … by an average of 21 points.
Andre: Patriots. Bill Belichick gets to prepare against yet another rookie quarterback. Dating back to last season, the Patriots are 6-1 against quarterbacks without a full year of experience under their belt. Those quarterbacks have a 56.9 percent completion percentage with four touchdowns, six interceptions and a disgustingly low 5.9 yards per attempt against the Pats.
Ricky: Jets. I’ll probably look up at the scoreboard Saturday and regret this pick when the Patriots are leading 746-2. But regardless of the circumstances, the Jets always seem to play the Patriots tough — they’re 6-0-1 in their last seven games against New England — and a three-score cover is tough to bank on in a divisional game in which one team already has a first-round playoff bye locked up.
Indianapolis Colts at (-3.5) Oakland Raiders, Saturday 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Raiders. The Colts’ rushing attack is starting to come alive, and don’t be fooled by a couple of decent performances lately: Indy’s run defense is nothing special. Oakland, which is allowing 6.1 yards per play this season, has shown improvement lately, allowing just 5.4 YPP the last three weeks.
Andre: Raiders. Derek Carr shouldn’t have any trouble moving the ball up and down the field against a hideous Colts defense that allows 7.6 yards per pass attempt.
Ricky: Raiders. The Colts showed a good pass rush last week, sacking the quarterback five times in a 34-6 win. But this is where I remind you that performance came against the Vikings, whose patchwork offensive line looked like a turnstile. The Raiders, on the other hand, do a good job of protecting the QB. They’re first in the NFL with just 15 sacks allowed. Expect Oakland to jump out early and then take some pressure off Derek Carr by riding its run game late.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at (-3) New Orleans Saints, Saturday, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Saints. The Bucs played their biggest game in a long time Sunday night in primetime and lost. Not only do they now have to travel again this week, they have to do so in the division. That’s a lot to ask.
Andre: Saints. Drew Brees had a horrendous three-pick game against the Bucs two weeks ago but that was without Michael Thomas. Brees is a smart dude and I think he’s going to look at the film, see what he did he wrong and fix it at home.
Ricky: Bucs. I’m not going to overreact to the Bucs’ road loss to the NFC’s best team Sunday night. They still covered and had chances to pull off an upset. Plus, Tampa Bay is 6-1 ATS on the road and New Orleans is 3-4 ATS at home, so there are at least a couple of trends working in the Bucs’ favor.
Arizona Cardinals at (-8) Seattle Seahawks, Saturday, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Seahawks. I mentioned on “The Spread” this week that there are just so many trends in Seattle’s favor. Here’s just one: The Seahawks are 4-1 against the spread in their last five games vs. divisional opponents.
Andre: Seahawks. Carson Palmer on the road this season: 0-5, 58.5 percent completion percentage, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions with an ugly 6.1 yards per attempt and a 70.5 quarterback rating. I’m not expecting those numbers to all of a sudden improve against an incredible Seahawks defense.
Ricky: Seahawks. When these teams met in October, the Cardinals were 1.5-point favorites at home. They’ve since lost five of seven, in which they’ve covered only once. This has become a lost year in the desert.
San Francisco 49ers at (-3.5) Los Angeles Rams, Saturday, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Rams. … because a push is impossible.
Andre: Rams. Horse poop has a more pungent odor than dog poop. No, but really. The 49ers putting up a total of six passing yards with two different quarterbacks in an entire game might be the most underrated stat of the season (Week 13 at Chicago).
Ricky: 49ers. I’m OK with prioritizing football. But if you watch this game rather than spend time with your family on Christmas Eve, it’s grounds for a divorce, in my opinion.
Cincinnati Bengals at (-1) Houston Texans, Saturday, 8:25 p.m.
Mike: Texans. Sounds like Lamar Miller will play, which should help Tom “Macho Man” Savage ease into his first start. Getting Whitney Mercilus back won’t hurt the Texans, either.
Andre: Bengals. The Texans have a minus-44 point differential. I’ll take the more experienced quarterback Andy Dalton, who has been excellent at protecting the football this year (seven interceptions). Houston also has the sixth-worst turnover differential (minus-8).
Ricky: Texans. Speaking of “Macho Man,” I feel like we, as a society, always have underplayed Randy Savage’s use of the graduation song as his WWF theme music. Anyway, I’ll take the other Savage — Tom Savage — here, mostly because I don’t trust the Bengals against any team that doesn’t completely suck. Cincinnati has five wins this season: two against the Browns, one against the Eagles, one against the Jets and one against the Dolphins (in Week 4 before Miami was any good). The Bengals are 0-10-1 SU in their last 11 games against teams with winning records.
SUNDAY, DEC. 25
Baltimore Ravens at (-4.5) Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. The Steelers should win this game, but it just feels too much like a field goal game to expect them to cover. The Ravens have actually won the last four meetings between the two clubs, and the last three matchups were decided by an average of 4.3 points.
Andre: Steelers. Pittsburgh’s pass rush has 19 sacks over the last five weeks and they limited Andy Dalton to just 157 passing yards last week. They’re winning games because of their defense — not Ben Roethlisberger, who has a 87.1 passer rating during the Steelers’ five-game winning streak. Just imagine how good this team will be once Big Ben starts doing Big Ben things again.
Ricky: Ravens. The Ravens have five wins at Heinz Field since 2010, the most of any team in the NFL, so they’re unlikely to be fazed by that aspect of this crucial divisional slugfest. Ultimately, this is going to come down to the Ravens slowing the Steelers’ offense. And they’ve done it before, limiting Le’Veon Bell to a season-low 70 total yards in their Week 9 matchup.
Denver Broncos at (-4) Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Chiefs. Kansas City has found the key to beating Denver. The Chiefs have won their last two vs. the Broncos despite gaining 288 yards per game. But they don’t turn it over. The Broncos 6-8 in their last two seasons when they don’t force multiple turnovers; they’re 17-2 when they do.
Andre: Chiefs. The Broncos rush defense isn’t that strong (4.2 yards per carry, 16th) so I expect the Chiefs to use the ground and pound to take over the game. I’m also not a big fan of the inner turmoil going on in the Broncos’ locker room.
Ricky: Chiefs. The Broncos, unlike the Titans last week, don’t have the rushing attack to take advantage of perhaps the Chiefs’ biggest defensive flaw. And on the flip side, Denver also doesn’t have the run defense to bottle up Kansas City’s ground game. All things point toward K.C. winning at home, where the Chiefs haven’t lost back-to-back games since 2013.
MONDAY, DEC. 26
Detroit Lions at (-7) Detroit Cowboys, Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Cowboys. Detroit’s averaging just 18.9 points per game over its last eight games, which is “meh” at best. And while you might not think of the Cowboys a high-powered offense, they dominate time of possession (second in the NFL) and points per play (sixth). They put you in a hole and make it hard for you to climb back, especially if your offense isn’t clicking.
Andre: Lions. I think Dallas wins this game by controlling the clock, much like they’ve been doing all year, but they’re not blowing anyone out. Plus, 12 of the Lions’ 14 games this season have been decided by seven or fewer points.
Ricky: Cowboys. Dallas has the NFL’s best run defense in terms of yards allowed per game (80.9) and Detroit has the 29th-ranked rushing offense (81.7), which means Matthew Stafford will need to have a big game. Given how he’s played since dislocating his finger, that seems like an unreasonable expectation, especially on the road, where the Lions have suffered four of their five losses.
Thumbnail photo via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports Images