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*Team listed in BOLD is my pick to win the game
Seattle (vs. St. Louis) – The Seahawks clinched a playoff berth after rolling past the Cleveland Browns by a score of 30-13 in Week 15. Things came full circle for Christine Michael having been traded to Dallas from Seattle earlier this season, only to sign back with the Seahawks earlier in the week after being cut by Dallas five weeks ago. Michael actually ended up leading the Seahawks’ running backs in touches, carrying the ball 16 times for 84 yards. But it was Russell Wilson and his receivers that really shined against the Browns. Jermaine Kearse had his best game of the season, catching seven passes for the second straight week and tallying 110 yards. Doug Baldwin continued his hot play as he was on the receiving end of two of Wilson’s three touchdown throws. I expect that the Seahawks will go with a balanced attack against the Rams this week. St. Louis was just torn to shreds on the ground by Doug Martin and Charles Sims for 141 yards on just 25 carries combined. The Rams couldn’t stop Mike Evans either, who torched them for 157 yards on nine catches. Look for Wilson to air it out to both Baldwin and Tyler Lockett this week. On offense, the Rams couldn’t get the ground game going and Todd Gurley was shut down for just 48 yards on 21 carries (2.3 YPC). Look for Seattle to load the box and focus on stopping Gurley in this game. Case Keenum only threw the ball 17 times, but he did complete 14 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns and one of those touchdowns came on a 60 yard TD by Kenny Britt. Seattle is going to shut down their passing game and force the Rams to beat them on the ground. I think St. Louis will struggle putting points on the board making the Seahawks a very strong play this week.
Pittsburgh (@ Baltimore) – The hottest offense in the NFL was on full display Sunday afternoon as we got to watch the Steelers light up the Broncos’ defense in the 2nd half as they came back from a 27-10 deficit with two minutes left in the 1st half. Pittsburgh went on to score 24 unanswered points and were led by Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown in their aerial assault. These two players put on quite the show with Big Ben throwing for 380 yards and three touchdowns while Brown hauled in 16 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Many people figured that the Broncos’ defense would slow down this Steelers’ offense, but they proved many people wrong. Now it will be up to one of their biggest rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, to try to do what most teams can’t, which I don’t expect them to. The Ravens are coming off a 34-14 loss against the Kansas City Chiefs but were done in by their own mistakes. The Ravens turned the ball over three times and the Chiefs’ defense capitalized by scoring off a fumble and then again on an interception late in the 4th quarter. Jimmy Clausen threw a total of 2 interceptions on the day and he’ll have to be more careful with the football this week against a Steelers’ defense that is tied for 6th in the NFL with 15 interceptions on the season. In fact, the Steelers’ defense has created eight turnovers over the last three games. Teams have also struggled running the football against Pittsburgh as opponents average just 67.4 rushing yards per game over the last five games. Granted, teams are playing from behind most games, but teams are only averaging 3.37 yards per carry over that same time frame. That means Javorius Allen and Terrance West could be in for a long game. Ultimately, what it will come down to is the fact that the Ravens will not be able to keep pace with the Steelers offense who I expect to light up the scoreboard this weekend. Jump on Pittsburgh if they are still available for you this week.
Carolina (@ Atlanta) – The Panthers kept their undefeated season alive after nearly blowing a 35-7 lead with only 20 minutes left in the game against the NY Giants in Week 15. Cam Newton continued to prove why he’s the MVP of the league as he threw for 340 yards and five touchdowns and didn’t throw a single interception. In fact, Cam has thrown five touchdowns three different times in the last five games. He also has a TD:INT ratio of 18:1 during this time. Cam didn’t just beat the Giants with his arm, he also did it with his feet, running for 100 yards. In all, he accounted for 91.6% of the Panthers’ offense this week. The defense played well but my one concern in the game was the Panthers’ defense becoming lax late in the game and failing to stay aggressive. That’s not the first time they have done that this year, but if they want to remain undefeated and win a Super Bowl, they’ll have to start closing out teams. Josh Norman did a nice job covering Odell Beckham and I expect he’ll have the privilege of covering Julio Jones for the second time in just three weeks. Jones caught seven balls for 88 yards the last time they met, but most of the damage was done in garbage time. In that game two weeks ago, the Falcons couldn’t generate any offense and ended up being shutout 38-0. This is not a favorable matchup for Devonta Freeman either as he ran for only 40 yards on 12 carries against the Panthers and 22 of those 40 yards came on one run. Ron Rivera has already come out and said that he will play his starters this week even though Carolina has already clinched the #1 seed. If the Panthers are up big at any point in the 4th quarter, I expect Rivera to pull the starters. Either way, Carolina should keep their undefeated season alive for at least one more week and should roll past the Falcons in Atlanta.
Kansas City (vs. Cleveland) – Another strong performance by the Kansas City defense in Week 15 propelled the Chiefs to their 8th straight win and pulled them within one game of the Broncos in the AFC West division. Kansas City’s defense continued to capitalize on their opponents’ mistakes, this time it was at the hands of the Ravens. Kansas City’s defense scored 14 of the teams’ 34 points off a fumble recovery by Tyvon Branch who ran it back for a 73 yard touchdown and a pick-6 by Marcus Peters who ran it back for 90 yards. This took pressure off of the Chiefs’ offense and allowed them to do what they do best; protect the football and control the game. Alex Smith completed 21 of his 25 passes for 171 yards and one touchdown, but he was sacked three times. Cleveland doesn’t have the best pass rush, but the Chiefs’ offensive line has allowed the third-most sacks on the season (44) and will need to do a better job protecting Smith. The Browns allow opposing teams to rush for 134.9 yards per game, worst in the NFL, and have allowed a total of 11 rushing TDs on the season. That makes me believe Andy Reid will game plan around Charcandrick West early on in this contest. As for Cleveland, they struggled moving the football against Seattle in Week 15, totaling just 230 yards of offense. They also only had the ball for a little over 25 minutes due to converting just 15 first downs. I expect them to have the same issues this week, except I do believe they will turn the ball over more than just once. Kansas City’s defense should take over the game and shut down the Browns’ offense, making things easy for the Chiefs, allowing Alex Smith to make smart passes to Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce when needed, while West shoulders much of the load on offense. Kansas City should remain in the hunt to overtake the Broncos for the AFC West division for at least one more week and should win their 9th straight game.
Houston (@ Tennessee) – The Houston Texans have overtaken the AFC South after defeating the Indianapolis Colts on the road by the score of 16-10. T.J. Yates, who was filling in for the injured Brian Hoyer, tore his ACL in Week 15, thus ending his season. Brandon Weeden replaced Yates and he could possibly get the start if Hoyer doesn’t get cleared from concussion protocol. Weeden was serviceable against the Colts, completing 11 of 18 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. If he is forced into the starting lineup, Houston will limit how many times he throws the ball and will go with a run-heavy attack, like they did last week. You can expect the Texans to run the ball approximately 35 times against Tennessee with Alfred Blue leading the way. The Titans are also without their starting QB since Marcus Mariota has been ruled out of the game against Houston. Zach Mettenberger replaced Mariota in the game against the Patriots last week and went on to throw two interceptions. Coincidentally, Mettenberger was the starter the last time these two teams faced off, and it was a very rough outing for him. He was constantly under pressure and was sacked seven times and was also hit an additional 16 times. I don’t see life getting any easier for Mettenberger this week as Houston’s defense should lead the way for the Texans.
Oakland (vs. San Diego) – Amari Cooper bounced back nicely from the goose egg he put up in Week 14 against the Broncos with a six catch, 120 yard, two touchdown performance against the Packers in Week 15. Unfortunately for the Raiders, it wasn’t enough to beat Green Bay as Oakland fell to 6-8 on the season and 2-5 at home. Derek Carr has another juicy matchup on paper this week and he should be in for a huge game against San Diego’s secondary for the second time this season. In their last meeting, Carr completed 24 of his 31 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns. Cooper and Michael Crabtree benefited the most, combining for 11 catches and 196 yards. But they weren’t the only ones in on the action as Carr did a nice job spreading the ball around to nine different receivers. Phillip Rivers also picked apart the Raiders’ secondary, but he had his best weapon, Keenan Allen, playing in that game. Rivers obviously is without Allen, but he could use Danny Woodhead often. Woodhead was heavily used in their last meeting, catching 11 balls for 75 yards and two touchdowns. He had since fallen off the grid until last week where he compiled 60 total yards and four touchdowns against Miami. I wouldn’t expect four touchdowns, but he should be involved often in this game, but due to the lack of a running game on the Chargers’ end, it will limit what they’ll be able to do on offense. The Raiders on the other hand will beat the Chargers on the ground with Latavius Murray and in the air with Crabtree and Carr, making them a decent play in Survivor Pools this week.
Minnesota (vs. NY Giants) – Minnesota hosts the NY Giants in Week 16 and it couldn’t come at a better time with the suspension of Odell Beckham Jr. We don’t need to rehash what happened to cause Beckham’s suspension, but with him out this week, it eliminates the Giants’ biggest, and only true threat on offense. The Vikings’ pass rush is going to be a huge factor in this game because if they can get to Eli Manning and get him rattled, there is a good chance that he will try to force throws into coverage, resulting in turnovers. For that reason, Eli will check down to Shane Vereen often in this game. Rashad Jennings is coming off his best game of the season against the Panthers last week, running for 107 yards on just 17 carries. I don’t expect him to carry the ball that well this week and I expect the Vikings’ defense to contain him 75 yards or less. For Minnesota offensively, they will feed their workhorse, Adrian Peterson. A.P. injured his ankle last week, but Mike Zimmer says that he’ll be alright and good to go in this game. As long as there aren’t any setbacks, Peterson should bounce back after a couple tough outings over the last three weeks and help Minnesota clinch a playoff spot while keeping them in the hunt for the NFC North Division title.
Indianapolis (@ Miami) – The Colts will travel to Miami in a must-win game against the Dolphins in Week 16. Andrew Luck has already been ruled for the game and it sounds as though Chuck Pagano may give Charlie Whitehurst some consideration to start this week with Matt Hasselbeck nursing some injuries and coming off another tough game that he struggled in. Hasselbeck started out 4-0 as the Colts’ starter, but he’s come back down to earth and has struggled of late, completing just 56% of his passes, averaging just 189 passing yards and throwing more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2) over his last three games. So maybe it is time for a change behind center. No matter who starts, I expect them to have a pretty decent game this week against Miami and their secondary. They don’t have to light them up and pass for over 300 yards, but simply play well enough to win. After all, Miami just allowed the Chargers to put up 30 points in Week 15. The Dolphins’ defense allows an average of 8.0 yards per pass and has allowed 31 touchdowns on the season, next to last in the NFL. Miami’s offense is good enough to keep this game close and as long as they feed Lamar Miller, Miami will have a shot to win this game, which is why I think the Colts are a risky pick. But Miami continually finds ways to lose games, especially against bad teams. Plus, it’s not as if Miami is lights-out at home with a record of 2-4 on their own turf. Those are some reasons why I feel Indy will squeeze out a road win this week.
Detroit (vs. San Francisco) – Matthew Stafford did a very nice job on Monday night against the Saints, completing 22 of his 25 passes (88%), throwing for 254 yards, three touchdowns and didn’t get picked off a single time. Both Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell split carries, scoring a touchdown each while totaling 148 yards on just 17 carries. You should expect the same type of balanced attack game plan out of Detroit this week. They will begin the game airing it out with a couple runs here and there, but once they have a lead, they’ll stop being as aggressive and run the ball and tire out a Niners’ run defense that has allowed an average of 148 rushing yards over their last eight games. Even though I think Detroit will do a good job offensively, I believe Detroit will win this game with their defense. Drew Brees was able get the passing game going against the Lions’ defense in the 4th quarter, but for the most part, the Lions did a very nice job in that game and have played well over their last six games. They will shut down the 49ers’ running game that may be without Shaun Draughn due to a knee injury which means DuJuan Harris may take over the load. No matter who starts, don’t expect much from either player because the Lions’ defense has allowed an average of 87 rushing yards per game over their last six which includes the outlier game against Todd Gurley which was the only game in that time frame in which they allowed more than 69 rushing yards. The Lions aren’t a lock in this game, but they should be able to lock in their 6th win of the year this week at home.
New England (@ NY Jets) – The NY Jets are in a must-win situation for the next two weeks and their schedule doesn’t make things easy for them. First up, the New England Patriots. The Jets played on Saturday in Week 15, so they’ve had an extra day of rest and preparation, although I’m not sure that is going to really matter. These two teams played against one another in Week 6 and the Jets gave the Patriots all they could handle, but the Patriots prevailed 30-23. The Patriots’ offense isn’t as potent right now as it was back in Week 6, but they have a fairly healthy Rob Gronkowski who the Jets couldn’t stop the last time they played. In that game, Gronk caught 11 passes for 108 yards and one touchdown. Danny Amendola also played a major role, securing eight balls for 86 yards and a touchdown, but more of the focus was on Julian Edelman in that game, whereas this week it should be on Amendola since Edelman will not return this week. The Patriots have signed veteran Steven Jackson and I’d expect he will get a decent amount of reps this week to get his feet wet in order to prepare him for the playoffs. For New York, Ryan Fitzpatrick will need to play mistake-free football for them to win this game. I don’t believe Chris Ivory is going to run the ball effectively which is why Fitzpatrick will need control the game, move the chains and not take a lot of chances. Even though the Patriots have locked up a bye, they have not locked up home field advantage throughout the playoffs and Bill Belichick will not just roll over, especially against the Jets. The Patriots have won eight of the last nine games against the Jets, including three out of four on the road. This game will be close the entire time, which is why I feel the Patriots are a risky play this week.
Tampa Bay (vs. Chicago) – The Bucs’ playoff hopes were derailed last week against the St. Louis Rams and there is plenty of blame to go around. The Bucs’ defense allowed the Rams to return the opening kickoff for 44 yards and start the game on their own 43 yard line. From there it was all downhill. The Rams proceeded to score three touchdowns on their first five drives and to take a 21-3 lead. Once that happened, the Bucs had to abandon the run and start airing it out. Mike Evans benefited with 17 targets, and although he finished with 157 yards, he only had nine catches in the game. Tampa Bay will host the Chicago Bears this week and the Bucs have to establish the run early with Doug Martin and must commit to it. Too often this season, Martin has put together good runs, but the Bucs follow by inadvertently passing on two or three straight downs and end up having to punt. They can’t do that this week because the Bears allow an average of 4.6 rushing yards per attempt and 125.9 rushing yards per game. Defensively, Tampa Bay averages just 3.3 rushing yards per carry, so if they can shut down both Matt Forte and Jeremy Langford they should be in good shape. Alshon Jeffery is also questionable with a balky hamstring so if he doesn’t play, the Bucs could possibly be moved up a spot or two in the rankings. They just need to make sure that they don’t allow any big plays and hold the Bears to 3 and outs. If the Bucs’ defense steps up this game, I believe Tampa Bay will improve to 7-8 on the year.
Arizona (vs. Green Bay) – The Packers clinched a playoff spot with their win against the Raiders in Week 15, but once again it was the same story with their offense unable to consistently play well for an entire game. But the offense did make big plays when needed, especially when they were down by three in the 3rd quarter and Aaron Rodgers completed a pass to James Jones for a 30 yard touchdown. This should have been a game that the Packers put things together, but they didn’t. Now they face off against one of the better defenses in the league this week. The Cardinals received terrible news about Tyrann Mathieu on Tuesday having been diagnosed with a torn ACL which means he is done for the season. It’s a terrible loss to their defense and is a reason I have downgraded the Cardinals to the lowest tier. I still believe that Arizona will defeat the Packers this weekend and Carson Palmer and the Cardinals’ offense should move the ball against the Packers’ defense. But due to the fact that the Cardinals have already locked up the #2 seed in the NFC, there is a chance that the Cardinals will end up resting some of their starters which means the Packers could go up against the Cardinals’ 2nd unit. Take the Cardinals with caution.
Denver (vs. Cincinnati) – The Bengals and Broncos match up on Monday night for an all-important game that could determine which one of these two team gets a Bye in the playoffs. As it currently stands, the Broncos are one game ahead of the Bengals but that could all change this week. Both teams are without their starting quarterbacks and it will be up to their backups to lead their teams once again this week. Brock Osweiler has at times shown he has the stuff to be a starting quarterback, but all too often he hasn’t played that well. Last week against the Steelers, he helped the Broncos put up 27 points in the first half and take a 27-13 lead. The second half he was a different quarterback and the Broncos didn’t score a single point after the break. The defense is also to blame for that loss as they were torched by the Steelers’ offense, but I expect the Broncos’ defense to keep the Bengals in check this week, especially if A.J. Green is limited again on Monday. A.J. McCarron wasn’t great against the 49ers, but it is tough with Green being hurt. The key may actually be how well the Bengals’ offensive line holds up against the Broncos’ pass rush. If they give him enough time, McCarron might do well enough to keep the Bengals within striking distance of the game. If the Broncos get to McCarron often enough, he may be in for a long day against the Broncos D.
New Orleans (vs. Jacksonville) – Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints made their game against the Detroit Lions interesting on Monday night, but they failed to capitalize on numerous occasions in the red zone, most notably on the final play of the 1st half. Brees also suffered a torn plantar fascia, but he is expected to start this week against the Jaguars. Jacksonville was eliminated from the playoffs after losing to the Falcons last week. As noted in previous weeks, just when you think you can trust the Jaguars, they let you down. All too often the Jaguars have lost games against teams that they should have beaten. This is another favorable matchup for Blake Bortles and the Jags’ offense and Bortles should throw for over 300 yards and multiple touchdowns. Allen Robinson should break out and go over 100 yards after having tough matchups in his previous two games. But the fact is the Jags make costly mistakes that put them in holes that they have to dig out of. New Orleans is certainly beatable, especially if Brees isn’t 100%., but as it stands right now, neither team can be trusted which is why both teams should be avoided if at all possible.
Buffalo (vs. Dallas) – The Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys were both eliminated from the playoffs with their losses in Week 15. Buffalo may have also lost LeSean McCoy for the rest of the season due to a torn MCL. They say he could return this season, but I find that hard to believe with Buffalo playing meaningless games. That means Karlos Williams will take over, but I don’t think he’s going to do much against the tough Cowboys’ defense. Sammy Watkins has put on a clinic against defensive backs over the last four games, averaging 115 receiving yards per game and finding the end zone on six occasions. Dallas is going to have to make sure that they don’t allow Watkins to get behind their secondary and burn them for any touchdowns. The Cowboys are going with Kellen Moore as their starting quarterback this week following the serviceable job he did against the Jets last Saturday. He wasn’t exceptional by any means because he also made some poor throws that resulted in interceptions, especially one in the end zone that held them from scoring a touchdown. I expect that the Cowboys will pound the ground with Darren McFadden and allow Moore to throw the ball 30-35 times in this game. The Bills have struggled at times defending the pass, so if Moore can make smart throws and connect with Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams and Jason Witten, he’ll give the Cowboys a chance to win this game. Unfortunately, I think Moore will be forced into mistakes and his turnovers will prove costly.
Washington (@ Philadelphia) – Washington heads to Philadelphia on Saturday night and this could ultimately end the race for the NFC East title if Washington pulls out the win. If Philadelphia pulls out the W, it will extend the playoff race for one last week. Kirk Cousins has played very well this season and has completed at least 71% of his passes in six of his last eight games. In two of those games he completed 80% and 82.5%. He has also done a great job protecting the football, throwing just three interceptions over the last eight games while throwing 16 touchdowns. That isn’t something we were used to early on this season. The last time these two teams played one another was back in Week 4 and Washington squeaked by with a 23-20 win. Cousins threw for 290 yards and one touchdown in that game and he was without DeSean Jackson. But now he has Jackson healthy and Jordan Reed has been a monster over the last four weeks, catching almost every single pass that comes his way. He will be a focal point in this game against Philadelphia and he could possibly extend his touchdown streak to three games. Sam Bradford has also picked up his play of late and has performed well in three of the last four games, but he has been plagued by interceptions in the last two games. I believe there is a good chance that Bradford will falter under the pressure of trying to keep his team’s playoff hopes alive this week which is why I recommend Washington in this game if you are forced to take one of these two teams in your Survivor Pool.
Week 16 Survivor Pool Rankings:
1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. Carolina Panthers
4. Kansas City Chiefs
5. Houston Texans
6. Oakland Raiders
7. Minnesota Vikings
8. Indianapolis Colts
9. Detroit Lions
10. New England Patriots
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
12. Arizona Cardinals
13. Denver Broncos
14. New Orleans Saints
15. Buffalo Bills
16. Washington Redskins