The holiday season is here, and with it comes the most important week of the NFL season.
There’s no shortage of playoff and seeding implications in Week 16, and while we no longer have Thursday night games to ease us into the weekend, we get a three-game Saturday slate this week to unwrap before ol’ Saint Nick makes his way down the chimney.
NESN.com’s Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian are regifting the same thing they’ve delivered for the last 15 weeks: their against-the-spread NFL picks.
Here’s how they fared last week.
Mike Cole: 5-10-1 (108-110-6)
Ricky Doyle: 6-9-1 (118-100-6)
Andre Khatchaturian: 6-9-1 (106-112-6)
Here are their Week 16 picks.
SATURDAY, DEC. 21
(-3) Houston Texans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bucs. Tampa’s receiving corps is nearly depleted, but it might not matter against a porous Texans secondary. Defensively, Tampa — second to Baltimore in blitz frequency — could take a page out of the Ravens’ playbook when they slapped Deshaun Watson silly in Week 11, when he was sacked six times.
Ricky: Texans. Not putting too much stock into Tampa Bay’s four-game winning streak, seeing as how the Bucs’ victories came against the Falcons (5-9), Jaguars (5-9), Colts (6-8) and Lions (3-10-1) — none of whom has a winning record, all of whom have defensive issues. Also, the Bucs turned the ball over eight times in those four wins, so that major problem doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.
Andre: Bucs. The Bucs lead the league in giveaways thanks in part to Jameis Winston’s affinity for interceptions, but the Texans have only forced eight picks all year. The Texans are fifth in yards per carry, but the Bucs have an elite rush defense, allowing just 3.4 yards per carry.
Buffalo Bills at (-6.5) New England Patriots, 4:30 p.m.
Mike: Bills. Right now, the Patriots look like the Wet Bandits after a night at the McCallister house. So many injuries, most notably to Tom Brady and Julian Edelman. Buffalo’s defense — which has flustered Brady under Sean McDermott — will keep things close, and Josh Allen will do just enough against an ailing New England secondary to keep it in the number.
Ricky: Bills. Too many points to lay for a Patriots offense that’s scratching and clawing for every yard right now. New England’s receivers are struggling to create separation and Buffalo’s secondary is among the NFL’s best. On the flip side, the Bills’ offense actually has improved since these teams’ Week 4 showdown, with Allen, who threw three interceptions in that contest, slinging just three picks in his last 10 games.
Andre: Patriots. Both of these defenses are elite, but the Patriots do a better job of forcing turnovers. The Patriots have 15 more takeaways than the Bills. Say what you want about Brady, he’s better at not turning the ball over than Allen, who can be reckless at times. The Patriots will force a few turnovers and use good field position in order to get points against a stingy Bills defense.
Los Angeles Rams at (-6.5) San Francisco 49ers, 8:15 p.m.
Mike: 49ers. After last week’s loss to the Falcons, it might be tempting to think the 49ers are a bunch of sleazy con men in red suits. But they’ll be better prepared for a division rival this week, especially with a chance to officially put the Rams out of their misery.
Ricky: 49ers. Richard Sherman’s return to San Francisco’s secondary obviously is huge, but K’Waun Williams is back, too, and he’s been among the best slot cornerbacks in the NFL this season. That’ll help the Niners’ effort to slow Cooper Kupp, one of the league’s best slot receivers.
Andre: Rams. San Francisco is banged up and limping into the playoffs. That Week 4 bye has taken a toll on them, as evidenced by the numerous injuries and defensive struggles over the last two games. The 49ers have allowed 100 or more rushing yards in every game but one since Week 5, so expect Todd Gurley to have a strong game.
SUNDAY, DEC. 22
(-10) Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns, 1 p.m.
Mike: Ravens. Whoever said “No man is a failure who has friends” clearly didn’t watch the 2019 Browns. Cleveland is doner than done, and now it has to host the NFL’s best team that undoubtedly is looking to avenge its Week 4 loss. With the No. 1 seed in reach, there’s plenty of motivation here for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.
Ricky: Browns. This is a huge number in favor of a road team in a divisional game. If the Browns can weather the storm early — the Ravens rank first in the NFL in first-quarter points per game (8.7) — and establish the run, a cover seems well within reason despite Cleveland’s ongoing drama.
Andre: Browns. Cleveland has won four straight at home and believe it or not they’re the last team to defeat the Ravens. The Browns average the second-most yards per carry (behind Baltimore) and the Ravens’ biggest weakness might be their rush defense, which allows 4.5 yards per carry and ranks in the bottom half of the league. The reason why it’s never exposed is because they’ve faced the fewest rush attempts in the NFL. The Browns must commit to Nick Chubb like they did in the first meeting between these two teams and they’ll keep it within the number.
Carolina Panthers at (-7) Indianapolis Colts, 1 p.m.
Mike: Colts. Indy would be nothing more than a bunch of cotton-headed ninny muggins to do anything other than give the ball to Marlon Mack 40 times and let him carve up the Panthers’ No. 32-ranked DVOA rushing defense.
Ricky: Colts. Maybe Will Grier is good. Maybe he isn’t. But until the rookie third-round pick throws an NFL pass, I just can’t back him here on the road, especially since he’ll need to do a lot to overcome Carolina’s defensive deficiencies.
Andre: Colts. The Panthers have a minus-12 turnover differential since Week 10 and they’ve only forced two takeaways in that span. Jacoby Brissett isn’t very turnover prone (just six picks this year), whereas Carolina is starting an unknown commodity in Grier.
Cincinnati Bengals at (-1) Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m.
Mike: Bengals. You’d rather shoot your eye out than watch this game. Give me the Bengals, because when a team as bad as the Dolphins is favored — even by just a point over another crapbag team like Cincy — you have to take the point(s).
Ricky: Bengals. This seems like a classic case of Andy Dalton bouncing back from last week’s four-interception performance against New England with a four-touchdown performance against Miami. Or something like that.
Andre: Dolphins. I’ll take the home team, which just so happens to be the team that doesn’t stink as much in this pick’em.
Jacksonville Jaguars at (-7.5) Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m.
Mike: Jaguars. If you watch this game willingly, you need therapy. Many, many years of therapy. I’ll grab the points here because a letdown seems inevitable for the Falcons after beating the 49ers last week, and the Jaguars’ pass rush is still pretty fierce, and Atlanta has struggled to protect Matt Ryan this year.
Ricky: Jaguars. My first thought when I saw this matchup: Who the hell knows? (Or cares?) In those instances, I’ll generally lean toward taking the points. But you can do whatever you want.
Andre: Falcons. Both of these pass defenses stink, but I trust Ryan over Gardner Minshew. The Falcons’ rush defense is in the top half of the league, so they should be able to contain Leonard Fournette, who hasn’t had a 100-yard game since Week 7.
New York Giants at (-2) Washington Redskins, 1 p.m.
Mike: Redskins. Well, Ellen, it looks like both teams are at the threshold of hell here. Give me the Redskins, though, as I’m short-term buying Dwayne Haskins’ chances of replicating his performance last week (121.3 passer rating vs. Philadelphia) again this week against another bad defense.
Ricky: Redskins. It might take Daniel Jones a few drives to shake off the rust after missing the Giants’ last two games with a high ankle sprain. Plus, you gotta think Haskins is motivated to show the Giants they should’ve selected him — not Jones — with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 draft.
Andre: Redskins. Haskins had his best game of his young career in last week’s losing effort against the Eagles. Now, he faces an even worse pass defense, that allows 8.1 yards per pass attempt.
(-2.5) New Orleans Saints at Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m.
Mike: Titans. The weather’s looking a little dicey for Nashville, with temps in the 40s, a chance of rain and perhaps some fog as thick as peanut butter. Typically, that hasn’t been great news for Drew Brees and the dome-happy Saints offense. Perhaps more importantly, New Orleans will be tasked with stopping Derrick Henry, who’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry since mid-October.
Ricky: Titans. The Saints’ injuries up front (defensive end Marcus Davenport and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins) will stand out this week with Henry rolling through. Among 41 running backs with at least 100 rush attempts, Henry ranks first in yards after contact per carry (4.04). The Titans will be able to pound the rock, setting up play-action, an area in which Ryan Tannehill has thrived this season.
Andre: Titans. The Titans are averaging nearly seven yards per play over the last seven games. They have a comparable yards per play differential with the Saints during that span. They’re the home team, getting points and are facing a must-win.
(-3) Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Jets, 1 p.m.
Mike: Steelers. When Sam Darnold faces pressure, he smells like beef and cheese. The Jets QB has a 56.4 passer rating under pressure and a 61.9 passer rating when blitzed. The Steelers lead the NFL in pressure percentage and only six defenses have blitzed more.
Ricky: Jets. Of the 77 points the Steelers have scored in Devlin Hodges’ four starts, Pittsburgh’s defense/special teams have accounted for 35 (45.5 percent). That’s a tough way to live. Feeling an upset.
Andre: Steelers. Since Week 4, the Steelers have allowed just 4.3 yards per play — the best mark in the league. They also have the second-most takeaways in football. The team might be a little undervalued this week after Duck Hodges’ four-interception performance last week, but that was against Buffalo’s vaunted defense. The Jets have the fifth-fewest interceptions, so expect Duck to clean it up and the Steelers’ defense to force Sam Darnold to make key mistakes.
Detroit Lions at (-7) Denver Broncos, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Lions. If you’re the Lions, there’s not much else to say other than “It’s Christmas, and we’re all in misery” — again. That being said, the Broncos probably shouldn’t be favored by seven points again anyone.
Ricky: Broncos. Fading the Lions has been a good idea recently, evidenced by their 1-8 record SU and ATS in their last nine games. Don’t expect much to change this week, either, as Denver’s defense might pitch a shutout.
Andre: Broncos. I’ll give Drew Lock the benefit of the doubt because he played in blizzard conditions last week and that’s tough for anyone. David Blough hasn’t looked good at all and the Broncos have the highest-graded rush defense, so expect a lot of Blough this week.
Oakland Raiders at (-6.5) Los Angeles Chargers, 4:05 p.m.
Mike: Chargers. At this rate, Derek Carr might rather have his face smashed with an iron than try to take on this Chargers pass rush without his starting left tackle and star running back.
Ricky: Chargers. Not the best time for the Raiders to lose Trent Brown, with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edges for the Chargers.
Andre: Chargers. Philip Rivers has the tools and talent to exploit a Raiders pass defense that allows the most yards per pass attempt. But the Chargers turned the ball over seven times last games and Rivers threw three picks against the Raiders the last time these two teams played. That said, I’m banking on Rivers to clean up his act and lead the Chargers to a big victory.
Arizona Cardinals at (-9.5) Seattle Seahawks, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Cardinals. Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he? Well, the Seahawks have plenty of holes, as they might be without Jadeveon Clowney, Ziggy Ansah, Shaq Griffin, Bobby Wagner and/or Quandre Diggs. Arizona should score enough to keep it close.
Ricky: Cardinals. Love catching a hefty amount of points with the scrappy Cardinals, who are 8-4-1 ATS as underdogs this season, especially when they’re facing a divisional foe that tends to play down/up to its competition, resulting in a lot of close games.
Andre: Cardinals. Too many points. All but one of Seattle’s wins this season have been by one possession.
(-2.5) Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles, 4:25 p.m.
Mike: Eagles. It’s silly, but I still believe — in the Eagles finally figuring this thing out. Even if the offense doesn’t get going, Philly gets a banged-up Dak Prescott, which could neutralize the Eagles’ awful secondary. This is also an enormous revenge game for an Eagles team that was pasted by Dallas in Week 7.
Ricky: Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 114.8 rushing yards in five career games against the Eagles, in addition to racking up 31 catches for 241 receiving yards. Dallas should feed Zeke early and often.
Andre: Cowboys. Prescott’s strong quarterback play will expose the Eagles’ terrible secondary, which ranks 23rd in pass coverage, according to Pro Football Focus. The advanced metrics love the Cowboys, who have a significant advantage in yards per play differential. They’ve had some bad losses, but they’re clearly the better team here as evidenced by the first meeting between these two teams.
(-6) Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears, 8:20 p.m.
Mike: Chiefs. This Bears season has to have Clark Griswold once again looking for the Tylenol. It’s tempting to take Griswold’s guys here with the Bears getting just 30 percent of the bets as a home dog, but it’s just too hard to see Mitch Trubisky keeping pace with Patrick Mahomes, even despite Matt Nagy’s familiarity with Andy Reid.
Ricky: Chiefs. Kansas City’s defense continues to round into form. Which is a scary development ahead of the postseason, given the Chiefs’ obvious offensive upside.
Andre: Chiefs. It really feels like the Chiefs are flying under the radar heading into the postseason. They’ve been crushing teams they should be beating (Oakland, Denver) and road wins against the Patriots and Chargers (who are actually fifth in the NFL in yards per play differential) are impressive. The Bears have allowed the third-most receiving yards to tight ends, so watch out for Travis Kelce.
MONDAY, DEC. 23
Green Bay Packers at (-5.5) Minnesota Vikings, 8:15 p.m.
Mike: Vikings. If the Packers want to reach the top, they’re going to have to prove they can go into someone else’s house and not come away dressed like a chicken. Their two worst losses of the season came against good defenses on the road (Chargers, 49ers), and they might suffer a similar fate this week in Minnesota where they have typically struggled in recent years.
Ricky: Packers. Putting faith in Aaron Rodgers’ ability to connect on a few deep balls, as Vikings cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes have regressed rather significantly this season. Plus, Andre changed his pick on “The Spread” this week (see video above), and I’d like to bask in his regret on Christmas Eve.
Andre: Vikings. Minnesota has been taking care of business at home this year, with a 6-0 record and average margin of victory of 13.5 points. Dalvin Cook isn’t expected to play, but Alexander Mattison ain’t no slouch. He averages 4.6 yards per carry and will have the opportunity to feast against a weak Packers rush defense.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images