The stakes will be sky-high when NFL Week 16 kicks off on Sunday afternoon.
Four teams have clinched playoff berths while 15 other teams are still alive for the eight remaining spots. With the clinching and elimination scenarios seemingly endless, Week 16's action is sure to sort things out somewhat as the regular season winds down.
Without further ado, here are my picks for all 16 matchups this weekend, including three playoff hopefuls sure to earn momentous wins.
|Miami Dolphins (-3)||Buffalo Bills|
|Cincinnati Bengals (-8)||Minnesota Vikings|
|Kansas City Chiefs (-6.5)||Indianapolis Colts|
|St. Louis Rams (-4.5)||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|New York Jets (-1)||Cleveland Browns|
|Dallas Cowboys (-3.5)||Washington Redskins|
|Carolina Panthers (-2.5)||New Orleans Saints|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Tennessee Titans (-4)|
|Denver Broncos (-9.5)||Houston Texans|
|Detroit Lions (-9.5)||New York Giants|
|Seattle Seahawks (-9.5)||Arizona Cardinals|
|San Diego Chargers (-9.5)||Oakland Raiders|
|Baltimore Ravens (-1.5)||New England Patriots|
|Green Bay Packers (N/A)||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Philadelphia Eagles (-4)||Chicago Bears|
|San Francisco (-10)||Atlanta Falcons|
Lines via VegasInsider.com
Miami Dolphins Over Buffalo Bills
The Miami Dolphins have won two straight games on the road and will look to make it three in a row on Sunday in Buffalo, where they'll take on the Bills in a pivotal showdown with massive AFC wild-card implications.
While Miami is still in the mix to win the AFC East, New England is projected to win the division again this season with a Week 17 home game against the Bills. And with Kansas City or Denver having already secured the first wild-card spot, the Dolphins will likely need to win out in order to give themselves a shot at the postseason.
But if Baltimore and Cincinnati both lose in Week 16, the Dolphins can lock up a playoff berth and open up an early Christmas present with a win over the Bills.
Regardless of what those other teams do, though, you can expect the Dolphins to win their fourth consecutive game this weekend. After all, the Bills have lost five of seven and have been unimpressive at home all season long, losing three of their last four home games.
Offensively, the key for Miami will be protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill, according to head coach Joe Philbin per MiamiDolphins.com's Brian Coyle:
As we watched the film from yesterday I think one of the reasons Ryan (Tannehill) had the success that he had while we did give up some sacks is that he didn’t get hit that often, and he was able to set his feet and follow through.
If you give a quarterback ample time, you give him a clean pocket, and you give him a chance to follow through and step into the throw, then it falls on the quarterback.
Tannehill was sacked just twice in the two teams' first meeting and should be able to continue his strong stretch of play in Week 16 with his receivers stepping up and the Dolphins' offensive line growing more confidence with each successful performance.
Dallas Cowboys Over Washington Redskins
Despite having lost two in a row, the Dallas Cowboys still control their own destiny in the NFC East as running back DeMarco Murray recently pointed out, via DallasCowboys.com's David Helman, and the team will host a playoff game next month if it can win out:
We’ve got an opportunity to control our own destiny, an opportunity to win the NFC East – can’t be mad about that. It’s a great opportunity for us, a huge challenge, and these are times that you look forward to – big challenges for us.
Watch for Murray and the Cowboys to keep their playoff hopes alive in Week 16 when they travel to the nation's capital to battle the division-rival Redskins, who have lost six in a row to fall to 3-11 on the year.
Which team will win the NFC East?
In addition to being without quarterback Robert Griffin III for the remainder of the season, Washington boasts one of the NFL's worst defensive units, ranking dead last in scoring defense and allowing 31 points per game coming into Week 16.
While the Cowboys' defense hasn't fared much better in 2013, Dallas' fourth-ranked scoring offense has made up for it, putting up more than 28 points per game. Dallas scored 31 points on Washington in the two teams' first meeting back in October and is sure to surpass that number en route to earning the season sweep of the Redskins in Week 16.
San Francisco 49ers Over Atlanta Falcons
A win this weekend would be massive for the reigning NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, who can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football in Week 16.
Don't expect the Niners to squander such a golden opportunity at home in prime time, especially against a four-win team.
Atlanta may have beaten Washington in Week 15, but this is still a team that's dropped six of its last seven and ranks toward the bottom in nearly every key defensive category. Keep in mind that the Falcons rank 29th in fewest yards allowed and 27th in scoring defense, surrendering nearly 28 points per game.
Meanwhile, San Francisco ranks third in both of those categories and beat the 12-2 Seahawks its last time out at Candlestick Park.
Add in the fact Atlanta is just 1-6 outside of the Georgia Dome this season and it's not difficult to see why the oddsmakers have made the Niners 10-point favorites in Week 16.
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