NFL Week 16 Picks: Game-by-Game Predictions & More
It's the next to last week of the 2012 NFL regular season, and with Christmas just around the corner many teams are hoping to unwrap a win this week that will keep their postseason dreams alive.
Whether it's keeping those playoff hopes on track, the pursuit of individual accolades or two teams jockeying for position in next year's draft there are plenty of storylines to watch this week, and here's a look at the biggest one in each contest as well as how those games will shake out.
Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions:
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Biggest Storyline: After losing six straight games the Detroit Lions are in full-on free-fall, but there has been at least one bright spot.
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is the first player in NFL history with back-to-back seasons of over 1,600 receiving yards, and with 182 yards over his last two games Johnson can break Jerry Rice's single season record in that category.
The Pick: With a win the Falcons can lock up home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, and an injury-ravaged Lions secondary is going to be hard pressed to keep up with Atlanta's prolific passing game.
Atlanta 31, Detroit 17
Oakland Raiders at Carolina Panthers
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Biggest Storyline: It's a little hard to find many compelling storylines in a game between two teams that have long since been eliminated from the playoffs.
However, keep an eye on Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who has racked up 138 tackles as a rookie and sits only two stops off the league lead.
The Pick: Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has picked up his play over the past few games, and West Coast teams tend to struggle when traveling east for early games, so the smart money is on the home team here.
Carolina 24, Oakland 13
New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys
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Biggest Storyline: At 6-8, the New Orleans Saints need a Christmas miracle to make the playoffs, while at 8-6 the Dallas Cowboys have to win if they're going to keep their NFC East hopes afloat.
One of these teams is getting a lump of coal in their stockings this week.
The Pick: As the Saints showed quite well in throttling the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 41-0 last week they remain a very dangerous opponent, but they also remain a very dangerous opponent with the worst defense in the National Football League.
Dallas 31, New Orleans 28
Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers
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Biggest Storyline: The Tennessee Titans travel to Green Bay playing for nothing but pride, but for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers quite a bit more is on the line.
The Packers still have a shot at securing the second seed in the NFC and a first-round bye, and until that's resolved Green Bay won't be taking their foot off the gas.
The Pick: As I said, Green Bay won't be taking their foot off the gas, and at home against a leaky Titans defense that ranks 30th in the NFL in scoring defense this game could get out of hand pretty quickly.
Green Bay 28, Tennessee 13
Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans
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Biggest Storyline: There's no shortage of storylines in this game.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has a real shot at 2,000 rushing yards and a chance of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is making a run at Michael Strahan's sack record, and a Texans win would lock up the AFC's top seed for Houston.
The Pick: At 8-6 the Vikings are clinging to a wildcard spot in the NFC, but it's awfully hard to see their one-dimensional offense being good enough to beat the Texans in Houston, even if that one dimension is Adrian Peterson.
Houston 24, Minnesota 14
New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars
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Biggest Storyline: Talk about a game between the haves and the have-nots.
The New England Patriots roll into Florida smarting off their loss to the San Francisco 49ers last week, and an angry Patriots team still in the hunt for a first-round playoff bye will likely take those frustrations out on the hapless Jaguars.
The Pick: I know that anything can happen in the NFL, but with one of the league's best offenses meeting one of the NFL's worst defenses, this game will be over by halftime.
New England 34, Jacksonville 7
Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs
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Biggest Storyline: The 2012 season has been an absolute disaster for the 2-12 Kansas City Chiefs, due in large part to the worst quarterback situation in the NFL.
It boggles the mind, but that situation may actually have worsened, as the rib injury suffered by Brady Quinn last week may force the Chiefs to start Ricky Stanzi at quarterback.
The Pick: I repeat, the Chiefs may be starting Ricky Stanzi at quarterback against the 9-5 Indianapolis Colts. Enough said.
Indianapolis 24, Kansas City 3
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins
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Biggest Storyline: This game pits two AFC East also-rans against one another, and while the Dolphins may actually be pleased by six wins from rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill the same can't be said for the Bills.
That places a great deal of pressure on Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who needs a strong finish to the season or his job security for 2013 will be next to nil.
The Pick: The Bills are coming off an absolute pasting against the Seattle Seahawks that exposed their supposedly improved defense yet again, and with this game in south Florida the Dolphins will avenge a loss to the Bills earlier this year in another close matchup between the two clubs.
Miami 23, Buffalo 20
San Diego Chargers at New York Jets
Biggest Storyline: In a battle between two teams that have disappointed in a major way in 2012 this week's matchup between the Chargers and Jets is all about the quarterback situation in the Big Apple.
Mark Sanchez has been benched after a disastrous game against the Tennessee Titans, and with Tim Tebow getting passed over in favor of Greg McElroy it appears that "Tebow Time" in New York was over before it ever really started.
The Pick: If a football game happens in America's largest city but no one cares then did it really happen?
We'll find out Sunday.
San Diego 17, New York 6
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles
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Biggest Storyline: Will he or won't he?
Without question the dominant storyline surrounding the NFC East showdown between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles is the knee of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin and whether the electrifying rookie will take the field for the NFC East leaders in a must-win game.
The Pick: The guess here is that Washington plays it safe and starts Kirk Cousins for one more week, and while Philadelphia's defense has improved since they dumped their "wide nine" scheme the Eagles' propensity for turning the ball over will once again be their undoing.
Washington 23, Philadelphia 19
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
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Biggest Storyline: This game is replete with storylines, as the loser will all but certainly be watching the playoffs from home.
The biggest matchup inside the matchup may lie in the Pittsburgh secondary, which will have to contain star wide receiver A.J. Green without top cornerback Ike Taylor.
The Pick: This game screams one of those contests where the battle-tested Steelers outlast a Bengals team that just can't seem to get over the hump, but that Pittsburgh secondary has been at the root of consecutive losses that will become three in a row after a crushing loss in the Steel City.
Cincinnati 19, Pittsburgh 17
St. Louis Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Biggest Storyline: A month ago the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appeared to be a playoff contender in the NFC, but four straight losses punctuated by a 41-0 drubbing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints have the players and coaches at one another's throats.
Seriously, they're fighting on the sideline.
The Pick: Meanwhile the St. Louis Rams have quietly made significant strides in their first year under head coach Jeff Fisher, and the team that isn't imploding will make relatively short work of the one that is.
St. Louis 23, Tampa Bay 10
Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos
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Biggest Storyline: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is enjoying an MVP-caliber season in his first year in the Mile-High City, and a Broncos team riding a nine-game winning streak will be looking to keep their hold on the second seed in the AFC.
The Pick: This particular matchup will make any Browns fan over a certain age have some very unpleasant flashbacks, and the 9,000 replays of "The Fumble" that will probably be shown this week will inspire the same reaction as the game's outcome for Cleveland supporters.
Denver 31, Cleveland 13
Chicago Bears at Arizona Cardinals
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Biggest Storyline: The Chicago Bears are fighting for their postseason lives after dropping five of six, but this week a Bears defense that's among the best in the NFL will feast on a Cardinals offense that's among the worst.
The Pick: Let's see. Take an opportunistic defense with one of the NFL's top pass rushing ends in Julius Peppers and match them up against an offensive line that would have trouble protecting a quarterback from four Girl Scouts peddling cookies.
Think we'll go with the Bears here.
Chicago 27, Arizona 3
New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens
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Biggest Storyline: This game features two postseason regulars, one that backed their way in last week despite their third straight loss and one looking to squeak their way into the playoffs for the second straight season so that they might defend their Lombardi trophy.
The Pick: These are two hard to figure out teams both coming off blowout losses, but at the end of the day I trust Eli Manning and the Giants more in a gotta-have-it game than I do Joe Flacco and a Baltimore Ravens defense that has been shredded by injuries.
New York 23, Baltimore 16
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
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Biggest Storyline: Much will be made of duel between young quarterbacks, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks and Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers, in this huge NFC West battle, as well as the matchup between a pair of stout defenses.
However, the biggest storyline to watch may be the "12th Man", as a usually raucous Seattle home crown is going to absolutely insane in a night game that's the Seahawks' biggest game in years.
The Pick: Were this game in San Francisco I'd be inclined to favor the 49ers, but that Seattle crowd will rattle Kaepernick into a mistake or two that will make the difference in a close contest.
Seattle 17, San Francisco 16