NFL Picks Week 16: Ranking Each Game's Predictability
The NFL regular season is coming to a close, and for many teams, the last two weeks will determine who is in the playoffs and who isn't.
So, how predictable are the games this week? Here is a list that ranks the predictability of all 15 games yet to be played.
Some victories are nearly assured (don't tell the Green Bay Packers that), while for a few other games, it is nearly impossible to guess the outcome.
Time to get to the games. Here is a quick preview of every matchup on the NFL schedule.
Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins
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Christian Ponder has struggled the last five weeks. The first-year quarterback has been sacked 19 times, thrown nine interceptions and fumbled four times in just the last five games. Ponder has thrown 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions on the year, and he has only led the team to one victory (in which he didn't throw a touchdown pass).
The Redskins have had quarterback problems as well, but the team nearly pulled off an upset against the New England Patriots in Week 14 and dominated the New York Giants last week.
Any team that has Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson can't be counted out, but the Redskins are the favorite for a reason in this game.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
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For a team that didn't get its first win until Week 9, the Miami Dolphins have played well as of late. Since Week 7, the Dolphins are 5-4, but of those four losses the only team to beat Miami by more than a field goal was the Philadelphia Eagles.
The New England Patriots sit atop the AFC East with an 11-3 record, and Tom Brady has led one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. The New England Patriots rank second in overall offense with 426.3 yards per game.
These two teams met during Week 1 in a 38-24 New England victory. Subsequently, the Dolphins have replaced the injured Chad Henne with Matt Moore, and Reggie Bush has come alive. However, Moore and Bush won't give Miami enough of a spark to overtake the Patriots.
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
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The Cleveland Browns will have to play without their starting quarterback, Colt McCoy, for at least one more game (and maybe the rest of the season).
Seneca Wallace replaced McCoy as the starter against the Arizona Cardinals last week, but the former Iowa State quarterback lost a low-scoring game that went into overtime. He faces a Baltimore Ravens team that is first in the AFC North and has the third-ranked overall defense in the NFL.
The Ravens could use a win against the Browns, too. Baltimore and the Pittsburgh Steelers sit at 10-4. Both teams have a chance to take the division and get a first-round bye in the playoffs (both are locks for at least a wild-card playoff berth).
Baltimore will have to do without its leading receiver, Anquan Boldin, who is undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus this week, but the Ravens shouldn't have a problem taking care of a Cleveland team that has won only four games all year.
Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills
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Since the Week 6 bye, Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos have won seven out of nine games. Denver's only losses in that span were to the powerful offenses of the Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots.
The Buffalo Bills have been heading in the complete opposite direction. The Bills started the season by winning five of their first seven games, but since then, Buffalo has dropped seven straight. The Bills do have the potential to put up points any given Sunday though (in this case, Saturday).
While Buffalo plays at home and is looking to get back on track, injuries have ravaged the team, and Denver's momentum will likely be too much for the struggling Bills to handle.
Arizona Cardinals at Cincinnati Bengals
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The Cincinnati Bengals are having a better year than most analysts predicted. Rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, alongside a stout sixth-ranked defense overall, have led the team to an 8-6 record and a possible playoff berth.
But the Arizona Cardinals have been an upset machine. The Cardinals have beaten the Philadelphia Eagles, the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys on their way to a 7-7 record.
It is still up in the air who will start on Saturday for Arizona, but John Skelton was the starter for the victory over the 49ers in Week 14, so even though the Bengals should win, both Skelton and Kevin Kolb give the Cardinals a shot at victory.
St. Louis Rams at Pittsburgh Steelers
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There will be no Sam Bradford. Steven Jackson is playing with a beat-up offensive line, and the St. Louis Rams have the 30th-ranked total offense and 21st-ranked defense in the NFL. To make things even worse, the Rams play the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers got knocked down last week against the San Francisco 49ers, but expect Pittsburgh to bounce back with an easy victory on Saturday (even if Charlie Batch is going to be under center).
New York Giants at New York Jets
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This game could go either way.
The New York Giants and the New York Jets both are playing for a chance at a playoff berth. Both teams have played well at times and horrible at others.
The Giants have the third-ranked passing offense, but the Jets are ranked seventh in passing defense.
The Jets and Mark Sanchez haven't been great through the air, but they have a solid running game and the Giants defense ranks 29th overall.
There has been quite a bit of smack talked between the two sides, but fans will just have to wait until Saturday to see who the king of New York really is.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
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The Carolina Panthers' quarterback, Cam Newton, has been one of the great surprises of the 2011-2012 NFL season.
Newton is the primary reason that the Panthers have the fifth-ranked total offense (although Steve Smith deserves his just due). The Auburn product is averaging 256.9 passing yards and 43.5 yards rushing yards per game with 13 rushing and 17 passing touchdowns on the year.
The main problem for the Panthers is that Newton's success hasn't translated to wins. With a 5-9 record, Carolina has just one more win than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Newton does have a tendency to throw interceptions as well (16 picks on the year), but the Buccaneers' 26th-ranked passing defense and 30th-ranked overall defense won't scare him much.
The Panthers have a below average defense, too. Carolina ranks 23rd in total defense (Tampa Bay has the 20th ranked total offense).
Josh Freeman has regressed slightly this season, but in a divisional matchup against a Carolina Panthers team that seems to find a way to lose games, anything can happen. But Carolina already beat Tampa Bay once (although without Freeman), and I wouldn't bet against the Panthers in this game.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee Titans
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The Tennessee Titans have had some ups and downs this season. Surprisingly, the team isn't out of playoff contention yet with one wild-card spot up for grabs in the AFC.
The Jacksonville Jaguars defense is ranked fourth overall although the unit has played better in some games than others, but the Jaguars offense has played consistently—consistently bad. The Jacksonville total offense ranks dead last in the NFL.
Maurice Jones-Drew, who has the most rushing yards of any running back this season, is the lone bright spot for the offense. Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert has not gotten much help from his offensive line, but he isn't developing quickly either. The Titans have an inconsistent defense that is poor against the run though, so Jones-Drew could have a huge day.
The Titans did just hand the Indianapolis Colts their first victory of what many thought would be a winless season. However, as inconsistent as they are, he Titans still get the nod in this matchup.
Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
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The Kansas City Chiefs pulled off the biggest upset of the season against the Green Bay Packers last week in Romeo Crennel's first game as the Chiefs' interim head coach, while the Oakland Raiders lost a close game to the Detriot Lions.
The Chiefs and the Raiders are in a four-way race to the top of the AFC West, and this game is a must-win for both teams.
Oakland gets to play at home, yet the Chiefs are riding high from last week's momentum.
Kansas City got the better of the Raiders the last time these two teams played (28-0), but Carson Palmer was still brushing off the dust.
I wouldn't take the spread either way on this game.
San Diego Chargers at Detroit Lions
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The San Diego Chargers will be in a shootout Saturday against the Detroit Lions.
The Chargers have the sixth-ranked passing offense and the Detroit Lions are one better at fifth. The Lions are ranked 12th in passing defense and San Diego is ranked sixth, so it might not be all about the offense (but still expect a high-scoring game).
San Diego has reeled off three in a row, and the Lions have won two straight.
And both teams are fighting to get into the playoffs. The Chargers still have a shot at taking the AFC West with their 7-7 record, but the Lions at 9-4 are playing for a highly coveted NFC wild-card spot.
It is a must-win for the Chargers, but the Lions have will be playing at the roaring Ford Field. I give the slight edge to the Lions because of home-field advantage, but the Chargers aren't going down without a fight.
This game may come down to who has the ball in their possession on the last drive.
Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
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The Philadelphia Eagles have a number of deadly weapons on both sides of the ball, but the team has managed to find a way to lose games all season long. Even with their 6-8 record, the Eagles are still in contention to win the NFC East. To have a chance, Philadelphia needs to win its next two games.
Currently, the Dallas Cowboys sit atop the NFC East and control their destiny. A win against the Eagles this week and a New York Giants loss would cement a Dallas playoff berth. The Cowboys do play the Giants next week as well, so even if they lose to the Eagles, a win against the Giants would give them the division.
Dallas is ranked sixth in total offense and are firing on all cylinders. Tony Romo lost breakout star running back DeMarco Murray, but he has his receiver corps back intact. Philadelphia, ranked 10th in total defense, will do its best to slow Romo down.
Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy lead the third-ranked total offense in the NFL, so Dallas, ranked 13th in total defense, will have its hands full.
While the Eagles dominated the Cowboys in their first matchup (34-7), this game will be a whole lot closer.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
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The San Francisco 49ers' first-ranked overall defense has dominated opponents the entire season. No team has scored more than 27 points on San Francisco, and that happened only once this season (Cowboys).
The Seattle Seahawks defense is pretty good, too. The defense ranks eighth overall, but the 28th-ranked overall Seahawks offense will have trouble putting up points.
Although the 25th-ranked San Francisco offense hasn't been much better, the 11-3 49ers almost always do enough to win.
The Seahawks have been playing better. Their offense is improving, and the 16-point loss against the 49ers at the beginning of the season is a little deceiving (Seattle gave up a punt and kickoff return late in the fourth quarter).
While the Seahawks have won five of their last six games, the 49ers are still a heavy favorite. But if there is going to be one giant upset this week, this game could be it (but don't expect a Seattle victory).
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
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At one time, the Chicago Bears looked like they were heading to the playoffs with a 7-3 record, but without their starting running back and quarterback, the Bears have lost four straight.
The Green Bay Packers have already won the NFC North and can clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win at home against the Bears. After losing for the first time this season, the Packers will be out for blood against a severely wounded Chicago team that is starting quarterback John McCown for the first time this season.
While this divisional matchup would be a lot closer if Chicago was healthy, Green Bay will cruise to victory Christmas night.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
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The New Orleans Saints haven't clinched the NFC South, but a victory at home over the Atlanta Falcons Saturday would wrap up the division. If New Orleans loses its next two and Atlanta wins the next two, then the Falcons will take the division.
Drew Brees, who is the focal point of the No. 1 overall offense in the NFL, only needs 305 to break Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record. In New Orleans against the 16th-ranked Atlanta pass defense, I'd say Brees has a pretty good chance at breaking it.
Atlanta will be focused on the victory (not that Brees won't), and Matt Ryan has been playing lights-out as of late. Ryan has thrown seven touchdowns without an interception in his last two games, and he will be playing against the 28th-ranked New Orleans pass defense.
The last game between these two teams came down to overtime. While the Saints have a slight edge, this game won't be much different from the last one.