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NFL Week 16 Picks: Projecting Winners for League's Most Pivotal Matchups

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 08:  Quarterback Cam Newton #1 of the Carolina Panthers scrambles to escape the defense of Corey White #24 of the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 8, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Richard LangfordCorrespondent IDecember 17, 2013

In an NFL Week 16 matchup that will go a long way toward determining the playoff seeding for the NFC, the Carolina Panthers will host the New Orleans Saints for an NFC South showdown.

At 10-4, the two teams are tied atop the division. They are also tied with the San Francisco 49ers for the second-best record in the conference. 

For both teams, winning this game is likely the difference between starting the playoffs at home in the Divisional Round or starting on the road in the Wild Card Round. 

Obviously, that game qualifies as one of the week's most pivotal. 

Check out my full predictions for the week, and then I'll break down the three most crucial contests of the week. 

Langford's Week 16 Picks
Away TeamHome TeamPrediction
Miami DolphinsBuffalo BillsDolphins, 24-20
New Orleans SaintsCarolina PanthersPanthers, 23-16
Dallas CowboysWashington RedskinsCowboys, 31-27
Tampa Bay BuccaneersSt. Louis RamsRams, 27-17
Chicago BearsPhiladelphia EaglesBears, 35-31
Cleveland BrownsN.Y. JetsBrowns, 16-13
Indianapolis ColtsKansas City ChiefsChiefs, 27-17
Minnesota VikingsCincinnati BengalsBengals, 27-24
Denver BroncosHouston TexansBroncos, 42-20
Tennessee TitansJacksonville JaguarsJaguars, 20-17
Arizona CardinalsSeattle SeahawksSeahawks, 17-13
N.Y. GiantsDetroit LionsGiants, 28-27
Oakland RaidersSan Diego ChargersChargers, 31-24
Pittsburgh SteelersGreen Bay PackersSteelers, 25-24
New England PatriotsBaltimore RavensPatriots, 27-20
Atlanta FalconsSan Francisco 49ers49ers, 24-13

 

New Orleans Saints at Carolina Panthers

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 8:  Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass during a game against the Carolina Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 8, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Saints defeated the Panthers 31-13.  (Photo by
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

When the Saints beat the Panthers in Week 14, the Panthers' excellent defense was shredded. The Saints posted 31 points and 373 yards of offense at home.

Most of the damage was done through the air as Drew Brees threw for four touchdowns and hit for 7.2 yards per pass. The Panthers were able to sack him just twice. 

The Saints will not be able to duplicate that success in Carolina, which is something Panthers coach Ron Rivera seems to be banking on. Following the Panthers' loss in Week 14, the Associated Press passed along this quote from Rivera, via the New York Daily News

They [Saints] have the crowd behind them and they're on turf, not natural grass, which is a little bit different. It helps them as far as their speed and their timing. The things that they do here, they do very well. We'll see how things go when they come to Carolina.

For the season, the Panthers have been playing solid pass defense. They are fifth in passing yards allowed per game and seventh in yards allowed per pass. They are 27th in opponent completions percentage, however, so it's not like this is an airtight secondary. 

That secondary gets a boost from a pass rush that has the league's third-best sack percentage. 

All of this will be enough to slow down the Saints on the road. New Orleans does not have the same offense away from the Superdome

The Saints have combined to score just 36 points in their last three road games. Meanwhile, the Panthers have not allowed more than 20 points in any home game this season. 

Carolina's defense will do a much better job of getting the Saints off the field, and that will allow their eighth-ranked rushing attack to wear down the Saints' 21st-ranked rush defense. 

Prediction: Panthers 23, Saints 16

 

Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 7: Matt Forte #22 of the Chicago Bears carries the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on November 7, 2011 in Phildelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

This game is going to be a shootout. 

The Philadelphia Eagles are coming off an outing where they allowed 48 points to a Minnesota Vikings team that was playing without Adrian Peterson. Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel threw for 382 yards. 

The Eagles' 31st-ranked pass defense is banged up, and it wasn't very good to begin with. 

The state of the Bears' defense is not any better. Chicago is dead last in yards allowed per rush and 24th in yards allowed per pass. 

Neither of these defenses will find much success in this one. 

The Bears are second in the league in points per game, seventh in yards per game and third in yards per play. The Eagles are seventh in points per game and second in both yards per game and yards per play. They also feature the league's leading rusher in LeSean McCoy.

Despite playing on the road, the Bears will pull out this shootout because they will wear out the Eagles defense and then control time of possession in the final quarter. 

Playing in Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense, the Eagles are last in the league in net time of possession. That's something Bears head coach Marc Trestman will look to take advantage of.

Prediction: Bears 35, Eagles 31

 

New England Patriots at Baltimore Ravens

Jan 20, 2013; Foxboro, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) drops back to pass as center Ryan Wendell (62) blocks Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) in the first quarter of the AFC championship game at Gillette Stad
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The Ravens have won four straight to pull themselves up to 8-6 to sit in the driver's seat for the AFC's second wild-card spot. 

The offense is still struggling, however. 

The Ravens won a thriller Monday night against the Lions on the strength of six field goals and no touchdowns. 

Baltimore's offense is doing little right. It is last in yards per rush and 28th in yards per pass, as the offensive line has spent most of the season looking completely overwhelmed. 

That weak offensive line will allow a Patriots defense that is 31st in rushing yards allowed per game and 25th in yards allowed per rush to force the Ravens into passing situations. 

The Patriots have been solid in pass defense this season with the league's 10th-ranked sack percentage helping them to the 13th-best mark in yards per pass and the 15th-highest opponent interception percentage. 

New England's sack percentage is the real key to this game. 

It's not that it's better than the Ravens. It's not. Baltimore is ninth in the category. The Patriots, however, are ninth in quarterback sacked percentage compared to the Ravens' 22nd standing. 

Tom Brady will enjoy more time to throw than Joe Flacco, and given time, the Ravens' secondary is vulnerable. 

Prediction: Patriots 27, Ravens 20

 

Stats via TeamRankings.com

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