NFL Picks Week 16: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 17, 2014

NFL Picks Week 16: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Well, the end of the line is almost here.

    With the dawning of Week 16, only two weeks remain in the 2014 regular season. This week's games run the gamut, both from the standpoint of the teams involved and the stakes.

    The week begins with the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars playing for little more than pride and position in the 2015 NFL draft.

    The next-to-last game of the week, however, features stakes about as high as stakes get, with the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals meeting in the desert with the NFC West title and a probable first-round playoff bye on the line.

    Plus, somebody has to win the NFC South, right?


    As we get ready for a Thursday night affair that may or may not violate the terms of the Geneva Convention, here's a look at how the National Lead and Division Lead Writers here at Bleacher Report expect Week 16 to play out.

Roll Call/Standings

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    David Richard/Associated Press


    Those were the magic numbers for our panel in Week 15. Six of our 16 writers correctly predicted 14 of the week's 16 games.

    It was also the aggregate score for the panel, making Week 15 easily the group's most successful week of the year overall.

    It also meant a change of sorts atop the leaderboard. Overall leader Brad Gagnon had a fine week with 13 correct picks, but the NFC East Lead Writer has company at the top now.

    Hi Brad.

    Matt Bowen: NFL National Lead Writer 14-2 (148-75)

    Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 14-2 (152-71)

    Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 14-2 (140-83)

    Erik Frenz: AFC East Lead Writer 12-4 (135-88)

    Brad Gagnon: NFC East Lead Writer 13-3 (152-71)

    Andrea Hangst: AFC North Lead Writer 11-5 (134-89)

    Christopher Hansen: AFC West Lead Writer 14-2 (138-85)

    Zach Kruse: NFC North Lead Writer 11-5 (143-80)

    Rivers McCown: AFC South Lead Writer 7-9 (126-97)

    Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 14-2 (150-73)

    Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 12-4 (139-84)

    Michael Schottey: NFL National Lead Writer 13-3 (144-79)

    Chris Simms: Former NFL Quarterback, NFL Analyst 11-5 (147-76)

    Brent Sobleski: NFC South Lead Writer 13-3 (144-79)

    Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 11-5 (140-83)

    Sean TomlinsonNFC West Lead Writer 14-2 (131-60)

    Aggregate: 14-2 (150-73)

Tennessee Titans (2-12) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    The Pick: Jacksonville Jaguars (15-1)

    This game. Oh man, this game.

    The Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars may be the NFL's two worst teams. They have a combined record of 4-24. Neither team ranks higher than 28th in the NFL in either total offense or total defense.

    The AFC South is the beat of Rivers McCown, who wrote that he'll be glued to the tube Thursday night:

    If this game were actually on CBS, it would be so similar in plot and substance to 2 Broke Girls that nobody could tell the difference.

    OK, OK, I'll take this seriously: The Titans are deserved underdogs here, even if Charlie Whitehurst has played the best of their three quarterbacks this season. The Titans are second-to-last in Football Outsiders' weighted DVOA, which looks more at how teams have played recently. The Jaguars are merely 29th!

    This game will probably come down to Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and Jaguars defensive lineman Sen'Derrick Marks, a former Titan: Which one can create the big mistake that turns the game? Because this game can totally be turned by one mistake given the offenses involved.

    If you watch this game, I will be the only person watching with you. The things we do for money.

    The Jaguars are at home, which in this stinkfest was apparently enough to get them the overwhelming nod from our panel.

    Titans: Sobleski

    Jaguars: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Tanier, Tomlinson

Philadelphia Eagles (9-5) at Washington Redskins (3-11)

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    The Pick: Philadelphia Eagles (15-1)

    It's not looking especially good for the Philadelphia Eagles.

    Losers of two straight, the Eagles have fallen from first place in the NFC East. There's now a very real chance that even if the Eagles win their last two games, the team will still miss the playoffs.

    NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon expects the Eagles to take care of business Saturday, although he doesn't necessarily think it will be easy:

    I was tempted to take the Redskins here because Philadelphia appears to be crashing and burning. But then I remembered that Washington crashed two months ago and has already become a football carcass. I can't possibly pick the Redskins to beat anybody right now, even at home. That top-notch Eagles run defense should take care of business in what is sure to be a sloppy contest.

    Our voters (with one exception) would appear to agree.

    Eagles: Bowen, Davenport, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Redskins: Freeman

San Diego Chargers (8-6) at San Francisco 49ers (7-7)

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The Pick: San Diego Chargers (10-6)

    Both the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers not only made the playoffs, but won at least one postseason game last season. The 49ers came within a few inches of advancing to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.

    Now, neither team looks headed anywhere in January but home.

    The Chargers and Niners are a combined 1-5 over their past three games, setting up Saturday night's fade-fest in San Fran.

    AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen believes this matchup favors the home team:

    The 49ers are out of the playoff race and lost stud linebacker Chris Borland for the rest of the season. The San Diego Chargers will welcome his absence as they look to establish the run without their No. 1 wide receiver Keenan Allen. However, if running back Ryan Mathews isn't able to play, they might not be able to take advantage of Borland's absence.

    Conventional wisdom suggests the team with something to play for will win the game, but the Chargers are really banged up, and the game is in San Francisco. Defensive end Corey Liuget is also hurt and may not be able to help contain Colin Kaepernick.

    The wild card is that no one really knows how the 49ers will respond now that they are out of the playoff hunt for the first time under head coach Jim Harbaugh. The fact that Harbaugh is all but gone next season doesn't give the players a lot of incentive to put forth their best efforts.

    Quarterback Philip Rivers may have to pull out all the stops as he did in Baltimore a couple weeks ago to keep the Chargers in the hunt. He'll need big games from tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Malcom Floyd, and for the defense to continue to perform as it has in recent weeks—a tall order on the road against a team that is still tough like the 49ers.

    However, the majority of our writers went with the Chargers, which only serves to prove game-picking axiom No. 46:

    Lose to the Oakland Raiders, and no one will love you any more.

    Chargers: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Hangst, Kruse, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Tomlinson

    49ers: Frenz, Hansen, McCown, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier

Minnesota Vikings (6-8) at Miami Dolphins (7-7)

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    The Pick: Miami Dolphins (12-4)

    Given last week's drubbing at the hands of the New England Patriots, a game that effectively ended any chances the Miami Dolphins had of making the playoffs and may have spelled the end of Joe Philbin's days as head coach, it might seem a bit odd that three-quarters of our experts picked the Dolphins to defeat the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

    NFL National Lead Writer Mike Tanier agrees with that perception:

    Every year, come mid-December, you can count on a team or two just flat-out quitting. Lots of fans think that every out-of-contention team quits, but there is a difference between looking a little listless late in the year (or starting so many youngsters that it looks like the second preseason game) and just playing like your mind is on a January Netflix binge.

    This year, so many teams have bought property in Quitsville that it is hard to separate the teams that are putting on their waders and heading for the ol' fishin' hole at halftime (Chicago Bears, Redskins) and your average December quitters. Watching the Dolphins in the second half of the Patriots game, I saw a team that had lost all faith in itself and its coaching staff. These guys are eager to turn the page and try something else; they are just going through the motions with more dignity than the Bears.

    The Vikings, meanwhile, are my early playoff risers for 2015 because they have so much young talent, and they love mucking out close games (win or lose). If the Vikings put up a fight until the fourth quarter, they will find that the Dolphins, unlike the Detroit Lions, aren't fighting back.

    Still, this is a Miami team that beat the Pats and blasted San Diego at home, and AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz thinks the Dolphins will show up Sunday:

    In hopes of making a push to the playoffs, the Dolphins have turned in two poor performances in a row against good teams. If they can't get it done against a bad Vikings team, they will prove they don't belong in the playoffs. The Dolphins defense is better than it showed against the Patriots, and they will surely tee off against an inferior Vikings offense.

    The vote's with Frenz—even if some of us don't feel especially good about it.

    Vikings: Gagnon, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Dolphins: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski

Baltimore Ravens (9-5) at Houston Texans (7-7)

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The Pick: Baltimore Ravens (16-0)

    You won't hear them mentioned much when folks speak of this year's leading Super Bowl contenders, but the fact remains that teams in the AFC North quietly just keep winning games.

    Three AFC North teams have nine wins at this point in the season, including the Baltimore Ravens, who are trying to get back to the playoffs after last year's Super Bowl hangover.

    This week the Ravens travel to face a Houston Texans team that lost two more quarterbacks in last week's loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a defeat that all but eliminated the Texans from playoff contention.

    As AFC South Lead Writer Rivers McCown wrote, it's that first part that spells trouble for the Texans Sunday:

    The Jaguars just got done donating a win to the Ravens thanks to the poor quarterbacking of Blake Bortles, and now Baltimore draws an even tastier assignment: Thad Lewis with a month of the playbook, or Case Keenum signed off the street this week? Either way, Baltimore's defense is going to be huge for you in your fantasy football championship games.

    J.J. Watt can increase his MVP case by winning this game. Actually, if the Texans do manage to win this game, he probably should be MVP. The game certainly isn't going to be won by anyone else on the offensive side of the ball. Unless J.J. Watt plays there, too. Again.

    He's not getting any argument here.

    Ravens: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Texans: Case Keenum? Thad Lewis? Might as well start Frank the foam finger dude.

Detroit Lions (10-4) at Chicago Bears (5-9)

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

    The Pick: Detroit Lions (16-0)

    If you look up "mailing it in" in an online dictionary, you'll find a link directing you to tape of Monday night's game between the New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears.

    Were the Bears even awake in the first half, or did they just start hibernating early? They certainly didn't seem to hear the chorus of boos raining down on them at Soldier Field.

    On Sunday the stadium will fill once again, as Bears fans gather to watch the team face the first-place Lions.

    No, really. The Detroit Lions are in first place.

    NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse said those fans will once again leave disappointed:

    The Bears are as dysfunctional a football team as the NFL can offer right now. They've packed it in for the season. Meanwhile, the Lions are one win from the postseason. Another blowout at Soldier Field wouldn't be at all surprising.

    Well, at least they're used to it by now.

    Lions: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Bears: Boy, that contract for Jay Cutler just looks better by the day.

Cleveland Browns (7-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-8-1)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Pick: Cleveland Browns (8-8) ***COIN FLIP***

    After watching what might have been the worst NFL debut by a player named John in league history, Greg Cosell of NFL Films didn't mince words about Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel's performance against the Cincinnati Bengals:

    The problem is Manziel didn't want to stay in the pocket. He lacks any feel for the pocket, has almost no pocket patience and discipline and is very quick to move and play what I call "random football" outside of the structure of the offense.

    Despite that disaster, it will be Manziel under center when the Browns visit the Carolina Panthers on Sunday. AFC South Lead Writer Rivers McCown thinks things will be at least somewhat different for Manziel the second time around:

    All right, yeah, Johnny Manziel was hot garbage last week. He was also a first-game starter against a very good Bengals defense. Carolina's pass defense is a little less talented—at least to the point where I believe Manziel can not completely lose the game all by himself again.

    Plus: The Panthers are starting Derek Anderson. Derek. Anderson. The Browns have quietly had a very nice pass defense this season—second in pass defense DVOA coming into Week 15—and I could see that side of the ball getting completely shut down.

    And in a game between the running attacks, I'll take Cleveland's offensive line and running backs over Carolina's. Add the fact that Carolina is an NFC South team and I'll say Cleveland wins a mostly unwatchable game of football.

    It took a coin flip to break the tie, but do or die the panel is riding with Manziel, McCown and the Browns this week.

    Browns: Bowen, Hangst, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier

    Panthers: Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hansen, Kruse, Schottey, Tomlinson

Atlanta Falcons (5-9) at New Orleans Saints (6-8)

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Pick: New Orleans Saints (10-6)

    At first glance, Sunday's matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints appears to be one of the better games of Week 15.

    After all, it's a contest that could go a long way toward determining the NFC South champion.

    Then you see that the two teams are a combined 11-17.

    Well, at the very least the Saints should be a heavy favorite in the friendly confines of the Superdome, right?

    Wrong. The Saints have dropped an eye-popping four straight at home.

    The NFC South is the purview of Lead Writer Brent Sobleski, and given everything he's endured covering the division, it's only fair to allow him a say here:

    The season hangs in the balance for both the Falcons and the Saints as Atlanta travels to New Orleans for the biggest game of the year in the NFC South. Throw out the sub-.500 records. Two of the most dynamic offenses will be on the field against subpar defenses. This should be a barnburner with the winner taking pole position in the division.

    It's hard to determine exactly which version of these teams will show up, but the Saints appear to have the edge after rearranging their lineup last week to a positive result. Plus, the status of Falcons injured wide receiver Julio Jones continues to play a factor in how successful Atlanta can be even against the Saints secondary.

    There you go.

    Falcons: Hansen, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms

    Saints: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Kruse, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Green Bay Packers (10-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-12)

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    The Pick: Green Bay Packers (16-0)

    Last week, the Green Bay Packers were the unanimous pick of this panel on the road.

    That didn't work out so well. A stifling Bills defense held quarterback Aaron Rodgers without a touchdown pass, and Buffalo stunned the Packers 21-13.

    It was a loss that dropped the Packers from first place in the NFC North, but NFC South Lead Writer Brent Sobleski feels the Packers will get back on the winning track Sunday:

    It sure was nice of the NFL to schedule a bye week this late in the season for the Packers. While Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith won't admit it publicly, his squad is being evaluated for next year with the first overall pick in April's NFL draft hanging in the balance.

    The Packers, meanwhile, still have the best quarterback in the business right now, even after the Buffalo Bills debacle. And the Buccaneers don't present anything close to what the Bills do on defense. This game will likely be tagged as the blowout of the week.

    Yep. That about covers it.

    Packers: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Buccaneers: Tampa's defense isn't Buffalo—by a long shot.

Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5)

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (14-2)

    Now this is more like it.

    Stakes don't get a whole lot higher than those in Pittsburgh's home tilt with the Kansas City Chiefs.

    The Chiefs are clinging to their postseason lives by a thread. The Steelers are locked in a three-team dogfight for the AFC North title.

    Simply put, the loser of this game probably isn't making the second season in 2014.

    Both teams are coming off Week 15 wins, and NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter smells an upset:

    The Chiefs broke a three-game losing streak by getting revenge on the Oakland Raiders, thanks in large part to a good game from Alex Smith and a reassertion of dominance by their defensive front seven. The Steelers have struggled to put together a string of complete games all season long, and the Chiefs pose an especially tough matchup.

    However, Schalter's out on the proverbial limb here, with only AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz joining him in selecting the Chiefs on the road.

    Chiefs: Frenz, Schalter

    Steelers: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

New England Patriots (11-3) at New York Jets (3-11)

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    The Pick: New England Patriots (16-0)

    Hey, you never know.

    Maybe a New England Patriots team that clinched its 38th straight (approximately) AFC East title last week will look past the New York Jets on Sunday.

    Maybe Jets head coach Rex Ryan has one more trick up his sleeve against his arch-nemesis, the evil Darth Hoodie.

    Maybe I'll win Powerball.

    Maybe Santa will bring me a '69 Chevelle for Christmas.

    AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz returns us to reality:

    Rex Ryan's swan song begins in earnest Sunday, and with a roster filled with players who would take a bullet for their head coach, the Jets should put up a fight. These two teams played a close game the last time around, too. But the superior talent won out in New England, and the Patriots offense should once again roll against a secondary that is depleted with injuries.

    Thanks for the cold water, Erik.

    Patriots: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Jets: I don't know that even Ryan would pick Gang Green here.

New York Giants (5-9) at St. Louis Rams (6-8)

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    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    The Pick: St. Louis Rams (12-4)

    There's nothing but pride to play for when the New York Giants and Rams meet in St. Louis on Sunday. The Giants have had many more downs than ups in 2014, while the Rams have struggled through another year in the NFC West basement.

    However, the Rams have been a much tougher out at home, downing the likes of the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks in the Gateway City.

    As AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst points out, the Giants are neither of those teams:

    The St. Louis Rams defense has been picking up steam in recent weeks, thanks in part to two straight shutouts in Weeks 13 and 14. Though they lost, 12-6, against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 15, holding that team to 12 points was a impressive feat.

    It's the defense's ability to keep opposing offenses scores low that makes the Rams a home-field favorite this week. The Rams are allowing just 21.2 points to their opponents this season; the Giants, meanwhile, are scoring 22.4 points on the road but haven't seen as red-hot a defense as St. Louis' in some time. There just aren't going to be enough yards or scoring opportunities for the Giants to get the advantage this week.

    Three-quarters of our writers like the way Hangst thinks.

    Giants: Bowen, Freeman, Miller, Simms

    Rams: Davenport, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Schalter, Schottey, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at Oakland Raiders (2-12)

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    The Pick: Buffalo Bills (16-0)

    Break up the Bills!

    After last week's huge win over the Green Bay Packers, the Buffalo Bills remain in the hunt to finally end their long postseason drought.

    Long as in they haven't seen a postseason game this millennium.

    As Chris Brown of the team's website pointed out, Buffalo's fifth-ranked defense has been on quite a roll of late:

    While we made the handling of Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers a primary focus in our feature story coming off of Buffalo's win over Green Bay Sunday, [the] two quarterbacks are just part of a string of signal callers that have not been able to manage a passing touchdown against Buffalo's defense.

    The Bills held Manning without a touchdown for the first time in 51 games, then held Rodgers, the league leader in touchdown passes to no scoring throws Sunday, but that's been the case for Buffalo's the [sic] defense the past four weeks now.

    Buffalo did not allow Michael Vick or Geno Smith to throw a touchdown pass back in Week 12 and Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel could not reach the end zone through the air either, though Manziel had a rushing score. Ryan Tannehill is the last quarterback to throw a TD pass against the Bills back in Week 11.

    In fact Tannehill's two passing TDs in that Week 11 game are the only two passing touchdowns allowed by Buffalo since midseason. Opposing quarterbacks have not thrown a touchdown pass on the Bills in six of the last seven games.

    That group of quarterbacks has however, [thrown] a total of 11 interceptions to Buffalo defenders.

    This week they get Derek Carr. How do you think that's going to turn out?

    Bills: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Raiders: If they're sold on Carr, their first-round pick in 2015 could net quite a haul.

Indianapolis Colts (10-4) at Dallas Cowboys (10-4)

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    The Pick: Dallas Cowboys (11-5)

    One of Week 15's biggest games is also among the hardest to predict this early in the week.

    That's for one very large reason. Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, who leads the NFL in rushing by a country mile, had surgery Monday to repair a broken bone in his left hand.

    That leaves Murray's status for Week 16 very much in doubt, although head coach Jason Garrett told ESPN's Todd Archer that Murray has yet to be ruled out:

    The biggest question we have to ask ourselves is, is he functional to do his job? Can he hold the football? Can he carry it under duress? Can he block? Can he do the things necessary to play the position? He's as strong-willed and as determined an individual as I've ever been around, and if anybody has a chance to come back, he does.

    NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon is confident the Cowboys can down the Colts, Murray or no Murray:

    The Cowboys have more to play for than an Indianapolis team that has looked a little off its game the last couple weeks. In Dallas, the Cowboys should roll against a bad run defense, with or without DeMarco Murray.

    That's also the opinion of the majority of our experts, though picking Dallas in December without Murray just feels like asking for trouble.

    Colts: Kruse, McCown, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier

    Cowboys: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Miller, Schottey, Simms, Tomlinson

Seattle Seahawks (10-4) at Arizona Cardinals (11-3)

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The Pick: Seattle Seahawks (14-2)

    The Arizona Cardinals won the battle a week ago, clinching their 11th win and a playoff spot with their victory over the St. Louis Rams.

    Unfortunately, they may have lost the war in the process.

    With quarterback Drew Stanton joining Carson Palmer on the shelf, the Cardinals will turn to journeyman Ryan Lindley to start the game that will determine the 2014 NFC West champion.

    NFC West Lead Writer Sean Tomlinson says that is most assuredly not a good thing:

    The Cardinals might actually be better off attempting the offense that briefly neutralized Bobby Boucher in The Waterboy, a classic piece of '90s filmmaking. Just kneel down every play to prevent turnovers, and hope the defense does all the scoring (for the record, Arizona is third with four defensive touchdowns).

    The Seahawks have allowed an average of only 6.75 points per game over the last four weeks. If the Cardinals defense bends even a little bit, this game will get ugly fast.

    I'd like to find fault with that given how gritty the Cardinals have been in 2014. But grit will only get you so far, and it isn't getting them past a Seattle team peaking at the right time.

    Seahawks: Bowen, Davenport, Gagnon, Hangst, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Simms, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Cardinals: Freeman, Frenz

Denver Broncos (11-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-4-1)

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    Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

    The Pick: Denver Broncos (12-4)

    The final game of Week 16 is a tough one to forecast. On one hand, it's hard to pick against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. However, the Broncos have scuffled a bit recently, and with the team having already locked up the AFC West, there's a real possibility of a letdown game on the road.

    Then there are the yo-yos that are the Cincinnati Bengals, who look like world-beaters one week and doormats the next.

    AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst believes Dr. Jekyll will show up against the Broncos:

    This might be going out on a limb, considering the Andy Dalton-era Bengals have won just two of their eight prime-time games and have already lost one this year to the New England Patriots. But patterns were meant to be broken, and the Bengals actually have a formula to defeat the Broncos on Monday night. How? By running the ball.

    Granted, Denver's defense isn't as weak against the run as Cleveland's defense is, so 244 total rushing yards might not be in the Bengals' future. But Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are among the most hard-to-tackle running backs in the league.

    If the Bengals can establish the run early, controlling the clock and keeping Peyton Manning off the field, the AFC North leaders could shake off one of their biggest criticisms: falling woefully short in very big games.

    However, Andy Dalton's pulled the Mr. Hyde act too many times in prime time for the majority of our experts to follow Hangst's lead.

    Broncos: Bowen, Davenport, Freeman, Hansen, Kruse, McCown, Miller, Schalter, Schottey, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Bengals: Frenz, Gagnon, Hangst, Simms