It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and in the NFL, that means the two-week sprint to the playoffs is on.
With Christmas Eve falling on a Sunday, there’s a jam-packed slate for you to consume as you get ready for Kris Kringle. And there’s plenty at stake in terms of not only teams getting into the playoffs but also teams jockeying for playoff position.
NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian are back to make their picks, but before we get to their Week 16 selections, here’s how they fared last week.
Mike Cole: 6-6-3 (104-103-10)
Ricky Doyle: 3-9-3 (98-109-10)
Andre Khatchaturian: 7-5-3 (104-103-10)
SATURDAY, DEC. 23
Indianapolis Colts at (-13.5) Baltimore Ravens, 4:30 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. Here’s something I didn’t expect: Baltimore has the NFL’s seventh-best point differential this season. That figure is a little inflated by blowouts over bad teams, but hey, the Colts are a bad team, too.
Ricky: Ravens. The Ravens still have their sights set on the playoffs, are playing at home and are a Chris Boswell field goal away from being in the midst of a five-game winning streak. Baltimore’s defense has proved opportunistic on several occasions, and Joe Flacco actually has played OK this month.
Andre: Ravens. Baltimore leads the league in interceptions and takeaways, and it knows how to take care of business against bad teams. All of the Ravens’ eight wins have come against mediocrity. In those wins, the Ravens have outscored opponents by an average of 20 points and have a turnover differential of plus-24.
(-8.5) Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Packers. Aaron Jones had runs of 23 and 20 yards, respectively, to start the game last week and then heard his name called once the rest of the entire contest. He’ll be more involved this week with Aaron Rodgers’ season over, and the Packers will keep it close-ish against a Minnesota run defense allowing 4.3 yards per carry on the road.
Ricky: Vikings. According to Football Outsiders’ defensive efficiency ratings, the Packers rank 30th, 27th and 28th at defending No. 1 wide receivers, No. 2 wide receivers and running backs as pass-catchers, respectively. That paints a grim picture ahead of facing a Vikings offense featuring Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and the running back duo of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.
Andre: Vikings. We all know how great the Vikings’ defense is, and the unit should have a field day against Brett Hundley. But since Week 10, Case Keenum leads the NFL in completion percentage and passer rating and is second in touchdown passes. Green Bay has allowed the second-highest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks. Oh, and the Packers have nothing to play for.
SUNDAY, DEC. 24
Atlanta Falcons at (-5.5) New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m.
Mike: Falcons. Think the Saints find a way to win, but it will be closer than the number. Three of the last four games between these teams have been decided by six points or fewer, and the Falcons showed in Week 14 they could beat New Orleans — despite three turnovers. Take care of the football, and control the ground game against the Saints’ defense (28th in yards per carry allowed) and they’ll hang.
Ricky: Saints. The Falcons have struggled at times to control running backs in the passing game (think James White in Super Bowl LI), in large because their tackling is spotty. The Saints just so happen to have the best pass-catching running back in football this season, Alvin Kamara, who could do plenty of damage. Also expect big things from New Orleans’ top wideout, Michael Thomas, who has 27 catches for 344 yards and three touchdowns in three career games against Atlanta.
Andre: Saints. Kamara’s injury in the first meeting between these teams might’ve had something to do with the Saints losing. Drew Brees has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in ALL 14 games this season. Matt Ryan, on the other hand, has struggled lately. He hasn’t cracked the 60-percent mark in the last three games and has thrown three picks in the last four games.
Buffalo Bills at (-11.5) New England Patriots, 1 p.m.
Mike: Patriots. The number’s high, but the Patriots are just a few weeks removed from a relatively easy 23-3 win over the Bills — on the road.
Ricky: Bills. The Patriots’ defense has had trouble stopping the run, which could mean enough big plays from LeSean McCoy (511 rushing yards since Week 10; most in the NFL) to keep things relatively close. I’m also concerned about what the Bills Mafia might do from afar if Buffalo coughs up an opportunity to reach the playoffs for the first time since 1999 over the final two weeks.
Andre: Patriots. Tom Brady has struggled lately, but that’s because he’s been pressured like hell. He’ll be going up against a Bills pass rush that ranks 29th in sacks. The Bills have been outscored 124-37 in their last three losses and one of those losses was at home to New England.
Cleveland Browns at (-6.5) Chicago Bears, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bears. Merry Christmas, football fans!
Ricky: Browns. Fun stat: Since December 2011, Browns coach Hue Jackson is 2-0 on Christmas Eve and 0-32 in all other games. The Bears, meanwhile, are 0-7 in their last seven games as a favorite. Does all of this add up to a Christmas miracle? Yes, if by “miracle” you mean the Browns covering the spread for just the fourth time this season.
Andre: Bears. It’s the season of giving for all of us. But the season of giving for the Browns started way back in September. They’ve given the ball away 36 times this year — eight more than the next team on the list.
Denver Broncos at (-3.5) Washington Redskins, 1 p.m.
Mike: Redskins. Neither team has playoff hopes, so who has the most motivation here? How about Kirk Cousins? He’s about to hit free agency, and you know who could use a quarterback? The team across the field with the quarterback troika of Paxton Lynch, Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler.
Ricky: Redskins. The Broncos have been awful this season, but they’ve been especially bad on the road, going 1-6 SU and ATS. (Their lone win was last week against the hapless Colts.)
Andre: Redskins. Washington’s defense has allowed the fourth-lowest completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks and Denver quarterbacks have the fourth-lowest completion percentage. The Redskins also are better than mediocre. They just had the misfortune of having a brutal schedule this season. They’ll beat up on the bottom-feeders.
(-5) Detroit Lions at Cincinnati Bengals, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bengals. The Lions have been favored by five points or more on the road just five times in the last 20 years; they’ve covered only once. Joe Mixon is back for the Bengals, who should keep it close.
Ricky: Lions. The Bengals don’t know whether their head coach is coming or going, and that’s been reflected on the field, where Cincinnati has been a puddle since its Week 13 loss to Pittsburgh.
Andre: Lions. The Bengals have already mailed it in. They’ve been outscored 67-14 in the last two games and will be facing a desperate Lions team trying to make the playoffs. The Lions also are third in takeaways thanks to Darius Slay, who leads the league in picks.
(-6.5) Los Angeles Rams at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m.
Mike: Titans. Tennessee has won five straight home games, and its run defense is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry. Speaking of the run game, that’s really the only thing the Titans do well on offense, which is good news against a Rams defense that’s allowed 100 or more rushing yards in nine of 14 games; the Titans are 5-0 when they run for 100 or more.
Ricky: Rams. The Titans have looked out of sync, especially on offense, where they won’t be able to keep up with the Rams. Marcus Mariota has sucked this season, plain and simple, and Los Angeles’ front seven will ensure that continues. The Titans have the worst turnover differential (minus-7) of any team currently positioned to make the playoffs.
Andre: Rams. As expected, the Titans are regressing to the mean after two poor games against bad teams. The Rams, who are fifth in takeaways and second in sacks, will feast on Marcus Mariota, who still has more picks than touchdowns. L.A. is first in the league in first-quarter points. If the Rams get up on top early, we might not see Tennessee’s strong running game very much.
(-6.5) Los Angeles Chargers at New York Jets, 1 p.m.
Mike: Chargers. There’s still a playoff path for the Chargers, and while the Jets played the Saints tough last week, that probably was a case of New Orleans looking ahead. L.A. won’t do the same this week, and now they’ve got a game of tape on Bryce Petty.
Ricky: Jets. In a weird twist, the Jets have been a very good bet at home this season (6-1 ATS). The Chargers, meanwhile, typically don’t travel well to the East Coast. Plus, the Chargers laid an egg last week and made me look like an idiot. Screw them.
Andre: Chargers. The Chargers get sacks and force turnovers. The Jets don’t do a very good job protecting quarterbacks and have Petty, who was just 12 of 23 on passes that traveled less than 11 yards in the air, according to ESPN. One has to think Philip Rivers will be the hungriest man on the field as he tries to propel the Chargers to the playoffs.
Miami Dolphins at (-10) Kansas City Chiefs, 1 p.m.
Mike: Chiefs. Andy Reid historically struggles to cover double-digit spreads, but I just have a hard time seeing a Jay Cutler-led Miami team going to play in sub-30, windy weather on Christmas Eve and being competitive.
Ricky: Chiefs. Kansas City’s offense has looked revitalized since Reid ceded play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, and the Chiefs now will host a Dolphins team that ranks 28th in opponent yards per play on the road.
Andre: Dolphins. Cold weather generally mitigates even the best passing attacks. It will be cold in Kansas City, so I expect plenty of touches for Kareem Hunt and Kenyan Drake. I think the Chiefs ultimately win, but a lack of big plays and struggling quarterback play will mean this one stays low-scoring and close.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at (-10) Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m.
Mike: Panthers. Ball security is of utmost importance this time of year, and Carolina has been great lately, with a plus-6 turnover differential over the last five weeks. Expect a big day from the Panthers’ running backs after Atlanta’s backfield torched Tampa Bay for 240 total yards last week.
Ricky: Panthers. The Bucs have been a terrible bet this season (3-9-1 ATS; 1-5-1 ATS on the road), and they’re coming off a short week, on the road, with nothing to play for against a Panthers squad that’s rolling.
Andre: Bucs. Cam Newton has 11 touchdowns and just one pick in the last six games, but he’s only completed 56 percent of his passes during that span. Tampa is ranked fifth in takeaways and Jameis Winston has played very well in the three games since his return from injury. He has seven touchdowns and two picks, and all three of the losses were close.
(-4.5) Jacksonville Jaguars at San Francisco 49ers, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Jaguars. I know it’s the Jags and all, but a 10-4 team is just a 4 1/2-point favorite over a 4-10 club, and the ‘dog is getting 64 percent of the bets? Jacksonville’s defense is by far the best Jimmy Garoppolo has faced, and the likely return of Leonard Fournette is bad news for San Fran’s 22nd-ranked run defense.
Ricky: Jaguars. I know I said I’d keep riding the Jimmy G bandwagon for as long as it’s fully functioning, but I’m jumping off this week, mainly for the reasons Mike mentioned. This is the week we’re reminded the 49ers still have some work to do in their rebuilding effort.
Andre: 49ers. I’m going to keep riding the Jimmy G train. Garoppolo will face his biggest test yet against the best defense in the league, but the Jaguars have to travel across the country from east to west on Christmas Eve and maybe will rest on their laurels after clinching a playoff spot.
New York Giants at (-3.5) Arizona Cardinals, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Giants. With the total set at 40 (second-lowest of the weekend), Vegas expects a low-scoring game. If that’s the case, I’ll take the points, especially if Eli Manning is anything close to what he was last week.
Ricky: Giants. The Cardinals are going back to Drew Stanton. You could plug in Giancarlo Stanton, and it’d be a more inspiring quarterback change.
Andre: Giants. I have a nice vision of Manning putting together a strong performance at the site of his first Super Bowl victory and then getting a private room at a nice steakhouse in the Phoenix era with the entire Manning family for an exquisite Christmas Eve dinner. Close by, a well-dressed man will play classic holiday tunes on a grand piano for the entire family to enjoy. What a festive scene.
Seattle Seahawks at (-4.5) Dallas Cowboys, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Cowboys. Seattle is a mess right now, on and off the field. Russell Wilson might keep it close for a while, but the Dallas running game and the returning Ezekiel Elliott will wear down the Seahawks as Santa starts to make his rounds.
Ricky: Cowboys. The Cowboys rank seventh in first-half points per game and third in opponent first-half points per game. The Seahawks, meanwhile, rank 29th in first-half points per game and 16th in opponent first-half points per game. This is significant because Dallas’ rushing attack can wear you down, and Seattle could fold relatively quickly if it falls behind early, all things considered.
Andre: Cowboys. Wilson has still accumulated 81 percent of Seattle’s total offense this season. He’s clearly the most valuable player in the NFL to his team, but with Zeke returning and Sean Lee dominating on defense, there’s just too much weight on Wilson’s shoulders.
MONDAY, DEC. 25
(-8.5) Pittsburgh Steelers at Houston Texans, 4:30 p.m.
Mike: Steelers. The Texans allowed 83 rushing yards per game through their first 10 games. In the last four, they’ve been torched for 144 yards per game on the ground, which is good news for LeVeon Bell (and my fantasy team).
Ricky: Texans. Houston absolutely blows, but Pittsburgh will be without Antonio Brown and typically plays down to its competition, anyway. Plus, who really cares? By this point, I’ll probably be on my 12th glass of eggnog. And I don’t even really like eggnog.
Andre: Steelers. From Week 3 to Week 8, the Texans cracked the 30-point mark five consecutive games. Since then, they’ve only managed to crack the 20-point mark once. With T.J. Yates going up against one of the league’s best pass rushes, expect another piss-poor performance from Houston.
Oakland Raiders at (-9) Philadelphia Eagles, 8:30 p.m.
Mike: Eagles. The Philly offense didn’t skip a beat with Nick Foles under center, and Oakland probably has nothing left after one final attempt to salvage its season last week.
Ricky: Eagles. Just take the better team and go spend time with your loved ones.
Andre: Eagles. The Raiders just fell out of playoff contention and have to travel all the way to the East Coast on Christmas Day against a team trying to lock up a bye week.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images
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