NFL Week 16 Picks: Predicting Scores for Biggest Games on Schedule

Matt Fitzgerald@@MattFitz_geraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 19, 2013

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 8:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws in the first half against the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

There is little time left for those vying for an NFL playoff spot to grab one, and there are several games among the myriad of magnificent matchups in Week 16 that will go a long way in shaping the postseason picture.

Headlining the early action is a showdown between the last two teams standing from the AFC in last year's playoffs. One division title in the NFC is essentially on the line in Charlotte, while two other division leaders from the conference will square off in the final Sunday night contest of 2013.

Below is a closer look at those epic clashes and projected scores for them, along with a complete list of picks for the contests on the upcoming schedule.

New England Patriots (10-4) vs. Baltimore Ravens (8-6)

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 20:  Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens celebrates with the Lamar Hunt Trophy? in the locker room after defeating the New England Patriots in the 2013 AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium on January 20, 2013 in Foxboro, Massa
Elsa/Getty Images

It's a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game in which Patriots legendary quarterback Tom Brady was shut out in the second half while his counterpart Joe Flacco continued on an amazing run to Super Bowl MVP.

Brady will be facing a far less experienced defense this time around, but he also be throwing to a bevy of new targets that occupy his current supporting cast.

Mike Reiss of notes how at least rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins—who missed the Patriots' most recent game—are back on the practice field:

ESPN Stats & Info highlights one discouraging trend for the visitors: How Brady has had a difficult time outplaying Flacco in previous meetings:

This is dangerous territory for New England, because it just lost a chance to clinch the AFC East in Miami last week, which caused the hyper-competitive Brady to be rather short with the media afterwards:

The key to this game will be whether or not the Ravens, who have won five straight, can establish a running game. That has been a challenge this season as the Ravens have averaged just 82.3 rushing yards per game—29th in the league.

In the front seven, the Patriots are very thin with Vince Wilfork and Jerrod Mayo being out. That has resulted in opponents gashing them for 132.5 yards per contest on the ground.

Chances are, though, it will come down to a late play, and Brady should be more trusted to come through in that scenario over Flacco. Despite a poor history in this budding head-to-head rivalry, Brady has made more plays and been less mistake-prone (23 TDs, 10 INTs) than Flacco (18 TDs, 17 INTs).

Prediction: Patriots 31, Ravens 27

New Orleans Saints (10-4) vs. Carolina Panthers (10-4)

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 08:   Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints throws a pass under pressure from Kawann Short #99 and  Wes Horton #96 of the Carolina Panthers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 8, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by C
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The NFC South is knotted once again after New Orleans' surprising loss to St. Louis in Week 15 and Carolina's 30-20 victory over the New York Jets.

Drew Brees devastated the Panthers in the Superdome in Week 14, throwing for 313 yards and four touchdowns en route to a decisive 31-13 win. That got a lot of people off the Carolina bandwagon, but it should be filling up yet again.

There needs to be more of an effort by the Panthers to get running back DeAngelo Williams going after he registered 52 yards on 13 carries against the Saints in their first matchup.

Williams caught three passes for 87 yards and a TD versus the Jets to go with 15 carries for 81 yards—his highest total on the ground since Week 3.

That could be the X-factor in this one, but QB Cam Newton must do a better job of utilizing his athleticism and avoiding New Orleans' strong pass rush led by Cameron Jordan (11.5 sacks). He lost 49 yards on five sacks when he last faced the Saints.

Newton is in the friendly confines of home field this time around, and with an elite defense to help him out and just as eager to bounce back, the setup is in place for the Panthers to pull ahead in the division with one game remaining.

Prediction: Panthers 24, Saints 20

Chicago Bears (8-6) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)

ST. LOUIS, MO - NOVEMBER 24: Head Coach Marc Trestman of the Chicago Bears watches from the sidelines during a game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on November 24, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)
Michael Thomas/Getty Images

The battle of two division leaders pits the Bears (NFC North) against the Eagles (NFC East), and as disastrous as their two clusters have been, they have managed to rise to the top at this late juncture.

What will be fascinating is the war of wits between first-year head coaches and play-callers in Chicago's Marc Trestman and his adversary Chip Kelly.

Trestman is based in the West Coast system but has a lot of creative wrinkles that should give the Eagles' 31st-ranked pass defense serious problems. Then there's Kelly, more of an innovative, uptempo and spread type of coach who thrives on tempo and momentum.

After cooling off in Week 14, Philadelphia QB Nick Foles threw for 428 yards and three TDs in last week's loss, but Jay Cutler made his return under center for the Bears and was amazing after two early interceptions in a win in Cleveland.

Both signal-callers are hot, so this one should come down to the final possession. That's where Cutler may have the edge, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Star linebacker Lance Briggs practiced on Wednesday, too, per Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune. It seems he is increasingly likely to play, which would bring back a huge emotional leader to the Bears' defensive huddle.

The concern is that Chicago's decimated defensive line could be vulnerable to the Eagles' top-ranked rushing attack.

While that is true, look for Cutler to destroy the Eagles with big targets in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery being enough to give the Bears this statement triumph on the road in the Sunday night finale.

Prediction: Bears 41, Eagles 38

Complete Week 16 NFL Picks
Away TeamHome TeamWinner
Miami DolphinsBuffalo BillsDolphins
New Orleans SaintsCarolina PanthersPanthers
Dallas CowboysWashington RedskinsRedskins
Tampa Bay BuccaneersSt. Louis RamsBuccaneers
Cleveland BrownsNew York JetsJets
Indianapolis ColtsKansas City ChiefsChiefs
Minnesota VikingsCincinnati BengalsBengals
Denver BroncosHouston TexansBroncos
Tennessee TitansJacksonville JaguarsTitans
Arizona CardinalsSeattle SeahawksSeahawks
New York GiantsDetroit LionsLions
Oakland RaidersSan Diego ChargersChargers
Pittsburgh SteelersGreen Bay PackersSteelers
New England PatriotsBaltimore RavensPatriots
Chicago BearsPhiladelphia EaglesBears
Atlanta FalconsSan Francisco 49ers49ers
Picks are strictly opinion


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