Thursday, December 22, 2016

NFL Week 16 Primer (With Picks): Christmas Football

The Chiefs and Steelers are two of the teams that can clinch a playoff spot with a win this weekend.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin) and Joe Parello (@HerewegoJoe)

For the first time in a long time, we have pro football happening on Christmas Day. Even better than that, we have four days this weekend of legitimately good football games. Thursday has a rivalry game, Saturday has the usual Sunday slate, Christmas Day has two marquee games (Ravens-Steelers and Broncos-Chiefs), and then Monday night has one of the few good Monday night matchups of the year, as well as the season's last Monday Night game.

The Playoff picture is becoming more and more clear, but also more and more confusing. Here are the teams that control their own destiny and can clinch something with a win this week.

1. Dallas clinches the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win (or a Giants loss).
2. The Giants clinch a playoff spot with a win (or a loss by ANY of Detroit, Green Bay, Tampa Bay, or Atlanta)
3. Pittsburgh clinches the AFC North with a win.
4. Kansas City clinches a playoff spot with a win (or a Baltimore loss).

Everyone else will need a little help to clinch a playoff spot or a specific seeding, even by winning this week. So I expect there to be a lot of scoreboard watching. Entering Week 16, according to most models that simulate the remainder of the season a whole bunch of times, here are the projected playoff seedings:

1. New England
2. Oakland
3. Pittsburgh
4. Houston or Tennessee (will in all likelihood be decided by their head-to-head in Week 17)
5. Kansas City
6. Miami

1. Dallas
2. Seattle
3. Atlanta
4. Detroit or Green Bay (their Week 17 matchup will likely decide the division)
5. New York Giants
6. Green Bay or Detroit (see above)

We'll see how this weekend shakes out and then be ready with all possible clinching scenarios next week.

Here Are The Picks We Agree On (Home Teams In CAPS)

Atlanta (-2.5) over CAROLINA

JC: This is the end of the line for Carolina. If the Panthers wanted to make the playoffs, they probably shouldn't have blown a double-digit lead in the 4th quarter two different times this year. The Falcons are fighting for (maybe) a first-round bye, so they're going to keep taking games seriously.

JP: I don't feel great about this one, but I do believe Atlanta is a little better. So, despite giving 2.5 and playing on the road, I'll ride with the Dirty Birds. If this line was a half-point higher...

GREEN BAY (-7) over Minnesota

JC: Here's a theory - maybe the Packers just played a slew of good offenses? That four-week stretch when they got torched, they played Atlanta (No. 1 scoring offense), Indianapolis (No. 8 scoring offense), Tennessee (No. 12 scoring offense), and Washington (No. 10 scoring offense). Now they've played four in a row against poor offenses and their defense has looked great. I'll go out on a limb and say Minnesota's 25th-ranked scoring offense has more in common with Houston and Chicago than Atlanta and Indianapolis.

JP: If Minnesota didn't just get its teeth kicked in last week, I might disagree with you, because I don't think Green Bay is all that good either. But, I guess I'll give the points and hope Aaron Rodgers has a vintage performance. 

Tennessee (-5) over JACKSONVILLE


JP: Yeah, no lie, the Titans won me over last week with that gritty win at Arrowhead. This is the best, and most entertaining team in the AFC South.

Indianapolis (+4) over OAKLAND

JC: I'm desperately trying to unload my Oakland stock. Their scoring margin is on par with Baltimore and Buffalo. They aren't as good as you think they are.

JP: That, and I don't think Indianapolis is terrible. They can score some points, so I expect this one to be close.

NEW ORLEANS (-3) over Tampa Bay

JC: Time for Drew Brees to put a nail in Tampa Bay's postseason coffin.

JP: Went back and forth on this one a ton, and you're right, it comes down to the quarterback. I'll bet on the more experienced and accomplished guy, but I do really like what Tampa Bay has done this year.

LOS ANGELES RAMS (-3.5) over San Francisco

JC: I wouldn't watch this game even if it weren't in the middle of Christmas Eve dinner. And you shouldn't, either. This game shouldn't even happen. This game makes me depressed.

JP: Ugh.

Arizona (+8.5) over SEATTLE

JC: I'm still on the "Seattle's offense is randomly terrible sometimes and there's no real way to predict it so any line more than a touchdown is excessive" train. The last time these two teams met, Arizona out-gained the Seahawks by almost 200 yards. That doesn't mean anything here?

JP: Anything over a touchdown is too rich for my blood, considering how inconsistent Seattle has been. 

Cincinnati (+2) over HOUSTON

JC: I'm GETTING points to bet against Tom Savage? With a Cincinnati team that is decidedly not terrible? Why oh why must Christmas come but once a year?

JP: Dat dude savage AF doh.

Baltimore (+4.5) over PITTSBURGH

JC: These games are always close for no reason, so either this line is two points too high, or Vegas has already adjusted and they think Pittsburgh is really 6+ points better than the Ravens. Either way, I'm taking the points. It's just the safer play here.

JP: Well, Roethlisberger hasn't played well the last two weeks, and I'm not counting on Le'Veon Bell rushing for another 236 yards (especially against Baltimore's run defense, it's one discernible strength), so I guess I have to take Baltimore.

Denver (+3.5) over KANSAS CITY

JC: Denver is fighting for a playoff spot and Kansas City is another one of those teams where you look at their statistical resume and say "huh, they aren't as good as they seem to be." They haven't had a double-digit win since October and (this is not a typo), they currently sit 28th in yards allowed. Not exactly a juggernaut.

JP: That half-point convinced me.

Detroit (+7) over DALLAS

JC: I'll continue to say that Dallas is over-valued. They're a good team, but they aren't a blowout team. They're efficient, they keep the chains moving, and they win games. But they either (a) let teams hang around, or (b) don't have the explosiveness to put them away late. And as we know, Detroit hangs around, and hangs around, and hangs around. They shouldn't be getting a touchdown against anybody except maybe the Patriots. And even then, I'd take the points.

JP: Yeah, a touchdown is a little much here. Still like the Boys, but Detroit isn't terrible.

Here Are the Picks We Disagree On (Home Team Still in CAPS)

JC: PHILADELPHIA (+3) over New York Giants

Is it not troubling to anyone else that the Giants are 24th in scoring, 27th in yards, ranked 30th in rushing yardage and yards per rushing attempt, Eli is having a mediocre season at best (he's 18th among qualified quarterbacks in completion percentage, 21st in yards per attempt, 19th in passer rating, 16th in QBR, 20th in DVOA, and 19th in DYAR), and the Giants are somehow 10-4? I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

JP: New York Giants (-3) over PHILADELPHIA

I have no idea what to make of either of these teams, and I keep betting wrong on both of them. So, I'll just pick the Giants since they actually have something to play for.

JC: CHICAGO (+3.5) over Washington

Washington's defense kinda sucks, their offense is banged up, and their playoff hopes might be slipping away. The Bears have looked vaguely competitive of late (close losses to the Giants, Titans, Lions, and Packers, and a blowout over the 49ers), so I'll take the extra half-point at home.

JP: Washington (-3.5) over CHICAGO

Is Matt Barkley secretly decent? Probably not, so I guess I'll take Washington.

JC: BUFFALO (-3.5) over Miami

The Dolphins picked up a weird win over the Jets thanks to defense and special teams, but I'm not betting on that happening again, especially against a Buffalo team with its back against the wall. It becomes harder to take them seriously when you realize they don't even really do anything that well. Somehow they just pick up wins.

JP: Miami (+3.5) over BUFFALO

I would take Miami in this game if they were giving 3.5 points. I remain undeterred, and stick to my previously insane prediction that the Dolphins are grabbing the 6-seed in the AFC. Phins up!

JC: New York Jets (+16.5) over NEW ENGLAND

I mean, come on. You expect me to lay 17 points?

JP: NEW ENGLAND (-16.5) over New York Jets

Uh, have you seen the Jets lately?

JC: CLEVELAND (+6.5) over San Diego

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me fourteen times in a row, shame on all of us.

JP: San Diego (-6.5) over CLEVELAND

Uh, have you seen the Browns lately (or ever)?

Jeremy's Record:
Last Week: 7-8-1
Season: 107-110-7
Last Week's Disagreements: 2-3
Season's Disagreements: 32-38-1

Joe's Record:
Last Week: 8-7-1
Season: 113-104-7
Last Week's Disagreements: 3-2  
Season's Disagreements: 38-32-1

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