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

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 23, 2015

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

0 of 17

    Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

    Deck the halls with high-stakes football!

    There will, however, be no fa-ing or la-ing, so there.

    Christmas week features a number of games with much on the line. The Carolina Panthers head to Atlanta in an effort to inch closer to a perfect regular season. The Cincinnati Bengals travel to Denver to face the Broncos in a game that has major playoff implications.

    And the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders kick the week off with an AFC West tilt featuring, well, two teams who don't even know for sure where they will be playing in 2016.

    It's the Black Hole on Christmas Eve where we'll kick off our look at how the NFL Analysts and National Lead Writers here at Bleacher Report expect this week's pressure-packed slate to play out.

    After all, doesn't everyone spend Christmas Eve there?

Roll Call/Standings

1 of 17

    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    It's shakeup time!

    Entering Week 15, NFL National Lead Mike Freeman held the overall lead. And Freeman did well, nailing over half his selections.

    The problem is that was the low-water mark in a week where two writers got 14 of 16 correct.

    With all the big numbers posted, Freeman now finds himself in third, two back of overall leader Matt Miller.

    This one is going down to the wire.

    Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 14-2 (139-85)

    Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 9-7 (138-86)

    Brad Gagnon: NFL Analyst 10-6 (133-91)

    Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 13-3 (140-84)

    Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 14-2 (128-96)

    Brent Sobleski: NFL Analyst 12-4 (135-89)

    Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 10-6 (127-97)

    Sean Tomlinson: NFL Analyst 11-5 (133-91)

     

    Consensus: 11-5 (137-87)

San Diego Chargers (4-10) at Oakland Raiders (6-8)

2 of 17

    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    The Pick: Oakland Raiders (8-0)

    Thursday night's matchup between the Raiders and Chargers may be the last home game ever for the Raiders at the venerable Oakland Coliseum.

    By venerable, I mean it's a dump.

    It will also be the last home game for safety Charles Woodson, who, per Bill Williamson of ESPN.com, announced that he's calling it a career at season's end—after 18 years in the NFL.

    General manager Reggie McKenzie released a statement regarding Woodson's decision:

    Charles Woodson is one of those players that comes along and reminds you why you love the game. He is truly a one of a kind player that goes above and beyond his Heisman trophy and future gold jacket. It has been an honor to have worked alongside Charles for so many years and have the confidence to call him what he truly is: the G.O.A.T. He is, without a doubt, the embodiment of what it means to be a Raider.

    The Coliseum may be a dump, but for Raider Nation, it's also home. Oakland fans will no doubt be out in full force and in full night-game form for this one. Maybe even more than usual.

    If that's possible.

    The Chargers, facing their own uncertain future, just rode a similar wave of momentum to a blowout win over the Miami Dolphins last week.

    Look for a better Raiders team that has made real strides in 2015 to make a similarly emphatic statement.

    Chargers: Sure, let's move two teams into a market that used to have two teams but now has no teams because both teams left because no one cared. Great plan.

    Raiders: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Washington Redskins (7-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-8)

3 of 17

    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Pick: Washington Redskins (7-1)

    Raise your hand if at the beginning of the 2015 season you picked the Washington Redskins to be in first place in the NFC East entering Week 16.

    Now put your hand down. If Santa finds out you're lying, your stocking will be full of coal.

    And yet, here the Redskins sit, the only team in the NFC East at .500. Win Saturday at Philadelphia, and the Redskins are headed to the playoffs.

    The problem? Winning back-to-back games has been a problem for Washington this year, much less three straight. Winning on the road hasn't been any easier, with the Redskins managing only one victory in six tries outside the nation's capital.

    However, Mike Jones of the Washington Post thinks there just might be something to the Redskins' Cinderella run in 2015:

    If you’re just going off of the established body of work, then you have good reason for skepticism. Posting back-to-back victories proved challenging enough. But the Redskins do appear to be gaining momentum. Yes, the Eagles find themselves in a desperate situation, but so do the Redskins. There’s no guarantee they beat the Cowboys, so the players have stressed to each other the importance of taking care of business this week.

    This is a very confident bunch right now. I wouldn’t describe Washington as cocky, but they have a focus about them, and a mind-set of, “If every one of us does our jobs, gives maximum effort and goes all out, we should win.” If you consider the way the offense has clicked as of late and the improved pass rush, they just maybe there’s reason for confidence on a fan’s part.

    Remember, Washington had one of its better rushing days against the Eagles in Week 4, and the defense did a good job of getting to Sam Bradford. The Redskins matched up well with the Eagles in that game, and now throw in the return of a highly motivated DeSean Jackson to Philadelphia, and you have to like Washington’s chances again despite the challenges that they face on the road.

    Of course, all the NFC East crown will get Washington is a Wild Card Weekend beatdown at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, but hey...

    One problem at a time.

    Redskins: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Eagles: Gagnon

New England Patriots (12-2) at New York Jets (9-5)

4 of 17

    Winslow Townson/Associated Press

    The Pick: New England Patriots (8-0)

    The New York Jets are in quite the pickle.

    By virtue of the Pittsburgh Steelers' wild win over the Denver Broncos last week, the Jets fell to No. 7 in the AFC despite defeating the Dallas Cowboys.

    Not only do the Jets have zero margin for error, but they need help (as things stand today) in their hunt for a playoff berth.

    This fact hasn't escaped head coach Todd Bowles, who told Brian Costello of the New York Post his focus is on only that which he can control:

    You’ve got to win the last two games and just hope for the best. That’s all you can do. We don’t know what our chances are. We don’t control our own destiny. We can just control the two teams we play against.

    We’re just going to try to win those two games and make positive steps going forward, and if the football gods deem that we’re worthy, and somehow we win these last two games, maybe we will, maybe we won’t. You can’t worry about it because you can’t control it.

    There is a different feeling about the game. It’s not necessarily the Patriots, it’s just about the position we’re in as far as giving ourselves a chance to make the postseason. We’ve got to give ourselves a chance. It doesn’t matter who we were playing this week. It would be an important game and a big game for that reason.

    Yeah, that's the other problem. The Jets face a Patriots team Sunday they haven't had much success controlling of late. Since 2011, the Jets are 1-8 in the regular season against their AFC East rivals.

    And those AFC East rivals are still fighting for home field throughout the AFC playoffs and getting healthier.

    The problems just keep adding up.

    Patriots: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Jets: The Jets are better. But not good enough yet.

Houston Texans (7-7) at Tennessee Titans (3-11)

5 of 17

    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    The Pick: Houston Texans (8-0)

    The Houston Texans, much like the Washington Redskins in the NFC East, are in first place in the AFC South because someone has to be in first place in the AFC South.

    It's been that kind of year in the NFL.

    Still, a playoff spot is a playoff spot, just as last week's first-ever road win over the Indianapolis Colts counts the same for the Texans regardless of the circumstances of the game.

    And as Sean Pendergast of the Houston Press pointed out, if the Texans get in, anything is possible:

    I actually like the way a playoff like this would line up for them, all things considered. Certainly, of the two wild card teams, I'd rather face Alex Smith and the Chiefs (their eight-game winning streak notwithstanding) than this Pittsburgh Steelers buzzsaw that just hung 34 on the Broncos' top-rated defense. You get them at home, and then, why can't the Steelers knock off the Broncos again in a 3 vs 6 matchup? If that happens, then the Texans travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals, where they've won already and against whom they own a 2-0 playoff record.

    And hey, what if the Steelers went into New England and won a shootout with Tom Brady and the Pats? Then you get the AFC Title Game at NRG STADIUM!! Dare to dream, people. DARE TO DREAM…

    OK, so that might be getting just a little carried away. Or a lot carried away.

    But it doesn't exactly take a huge stretch to imagine the Texans taking care of a three-win Titans team starting backup Zach Mettenberger at quarterback.

    This Zach Mettenberger.

    Texans: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Titans: Don't blow it, Titans. That No. 1 overall pick is there for the taking.

Cleveland Browns (3-11) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-5)

6 of 17

    Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    The Pick: Kansas City Chiefs (8-0)

    The Kansas City Chiefs are the hottest NFL team this side of Charlotte. They have won eight games in a row. And with Denver stumbling, the surging Chiefs now sit only one game out of first place in the AFC West.

    A team that lost five of its first six games controls its own playoff destiny. Win their last two games, and the Chiefs are in.

    However, in the opinion of Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox, the Chiefs have the makings of much more than just a postseason participant.

    This is a team that could do some damage:

    Marvel at how a team that appeared dead in the water barely a month-and-a-half into the season has rebounded to become one of the most dangerous squads in the NFL.

    When you consider where the Chiefs were in October—and that they lost star running back Jamaal Charles for the season with a torn ACL then—their current position is remarkable. Kansas City has managed to win eight straight games and put together one of the better comeback seasons in recent memory.

    The Chiefs have also coalesced into a team that should legitimately worry potential playoff opponents. This is because Kansas City has essentially been playing elimination football since October and has managed to keep up the intensity.

    Some teams get complacent with winning this time of year and coast into the postseason. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have grabbed the AFC by the throat and are refusing to let go.

    Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns are...well, you see, this year the Browns have...they, um...

    Nine in a row, anyone?

    Browns: Knowing the Browns they'll win this and louse up their draft position.

    Chiefs: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Indianapolis Colts (6-8) at Miami Dolphins (5-9)

7 of 17

    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Pick: Miami Dolphins (5-3)

    Things have not gone at all according to plan for the Miami Dolphins in 2015.

    A big contract extension for quarterback Ryan Tannehill and big spending on the defensive side of the ball were supposed to pay big dividends for the team. The Dolphins were going to be contenders.

    Well, the defense is among the league's worst. Tannehill has regressed. Head coach Joe Philbin was fired. Interim head coach Dan Campbell is about to follow.

    And as James Walker of ESPN.com wrote, last week in San Diego, Miami looked very much like a team playing out the string:

    The Dolphins' anemic offense couldn’t get off the ground until it was too late in garbage time, despite the fact its defense held the Chargers to just seven points in the second half.

    Miami showed little fire throughout. That could be a sign of things to come as the team plays out a woeful season. Expect major changes when the season wraps up in January.

    So why is this Dolphins team the pick over a Colts squad labeled a Super Bowl team by some a few months ago?

    Well, as Michael Marot of the Associated Press (via Fox Sports) reported, it may have something to do with Indy's problems at quarterback:

    [Head coach Chuck] Pagano had no update on Andrew Luck, who has missed five straight games with a lacerated kidney and a partially torn abdominal muscle. He still has not been cleared to compete during the team portion of practices, but if he is cleared before the end of the season, Pagano said Luck would play.

    Pagano didn't have much more on Matt Hasselbeck. After being knocked out of each of the last three games with back, shoulder, neck and rib injuries, the three-time Pro Bowler said he hurt his jaw in Sunday's 16-10 loss to Houston -- or as Pagano described it, Hasselbeck is beat up from the feet up.

    More pain came Monday when the Colts learned Tennessee had signed practice squad quarterback Alex Tanney to its active roster. And as if that wasn't enough, receiver Griff Whalen, Indy's emergency quarterback, went on injured reserve with a fractured rib.

    That leaves the Colts with only one healthy quarterback on the team, third-stringer Charlie Whitehurst, and a real quandary. The depth chart has shrunk so much that Pagano was even asked about using punter Pat McAfee as a quarterback at practice this week.

    Charlie Whitehurst. Yeah, that might be it.

    Colts: Freeman, Gagnon, Miller

    Dolphins: Davenport, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

San Francisco 49ers (4-10) at Detroit Lions (5-9)

8 of 17

    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The Pick: Detroit Lions (8-0)

    The 2015 Lions were finished before they got started this season after making the playoffs a year ago. Losing seven of your first eight games will do that.

    Since that horrific start, the Lions have gone 4-2, culminating in last Monday's 35-27 win over the New Orleans Saints. The Lions are a Hail Mary away from winning five for their last six.

    It's good that the Lions are playing well in December, but Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press raises a fair question.

    Where was this Lions team in September? Or even a couple of weeks ago?:

    If anything, this performance should make Detroit Lions owner Martha Firestone Ford even angrier.

    Where was this nearly flawless offensive execution when the Lions barely held onto a thin thread of playoff contention the last couple weeks?

    Instead, the Lions’ 35-27 Monday night victory over the New Orleans Saints served as another example of how this franchise often stands at the intersection of hope and fear. Looking good in a mutually meaningless late-season game could still become quarterback Matthew Stafford’s enduring legacy with the Lions.

    Well, look at the bright side, Detroit fans.

    At least there's a point this season where the Lions have looked good.

    Cue fans of the San Francisco 49ers slowly shaking their heads.

    49ers: We thought it might get bad for San Fran this year. Just not this bad.

    Lions: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Dallas Cowboys (4-10) at Buffalo Bills (6-8)

9 of 17

    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Pick: Buffalo Bills (8-0)

    Boy, we've hit the meat of the schedule now. That's for sure.

    It wasn't supposed to be this way for the Buffalo Bills this season. Under new head coach Rex Ryan, the Bills were going to end their long playoff drought. Ryan said as much before the season. And as recently as Week 10, it appeared the Bills were at least still in it.

    But last week's loss to the Washington Redskins stuck a fork in yet another season in Western New York. According to Michael Salfino of the Wall Street Journal, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation.

    The Bills are cursed:

    Doug Flutie led the Buffalo Bills to a 10-5 record as a starter in the 1999 season, but then-coach Wade Phillips made a mysterious decision. He decided to sit Flutie for the playoffs despite a clean bill of health. With Rob Johnson starting, the Bills lost 22-16 to the Tennessee Titans in a wild-card game known as the “Music City Miracle.” It was one of the most devastating losses in NFL history, and the Bills haven’t made the playoffs since.

    So who could blame a growing number of superstitious Bills fans for believing Buffalo is being haunted by the Curse of Doug Flutie? Following Flutie, the team has had 14 different starting quarterbacks ranging from no-names like Alex Van Pelt and Jeff Tuel to failed first-round picks EJ Manuel and J.P. Losman. And eight head coaches have tried in vain to end the streak. The latest, Ryan, was thought to be the perfect choice to mold one of the game’s best defenses from 2014, when they finished 9-7, into a record-setting unit. Instead, the Bills have fallen to 22nd in yards allowed per play and 17th in points allowed—categories in which they finished third and fourth, respectively, a year ago. The only record they’re on pace to set is for most penalty yards.

    Of course, mention curses to fans of the Dallas Cowboys and they will probably point to starting quarterback Kellen Moore.

    He's the fourth starter Dallas has used at the position this season.

    Cowboys: Did you see Moore play last week?

    Bills: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Chicago Bears (5-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)

10 of 17

    David Banks/Getty Images

    The Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't be going to the postseason in 2015. Whatever slim hopes there were of that happening were dashed when a listless Bucs team fell at St. Louis a week ago.

    Still, after winning only two games in 2014, the Buccaneers have made strides this season. And as Rick Brown of ESPN.com passed along, Tampa thinks these last two games allow for an opportunity to make even more:

    "We want to set the momentum going into next year," cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah said Monday. "I feel like these last two games are like the first two games of next season, and that's a good thing in a way."

    The Buccaneers (6-8) have a chance to avoid a losing season for the first time since 2010, when they went 10-6. Head coach Lovie Smith described the final two games, against Chicago and at Carolina, as "very important." He said it's a way for each player to say, "I want everybody to have that lasting impression that this is what you're going to get from me next year."

    "For the most part, I think we've had everybody in position to prove what they can do this year," Smith said. "There are still a couple of guys that it would be nice to know a little bit more about them."

    The Bears, frankly, are in a similar boat. Not a good team by any stretch, but not really a bad one either. And one that will spend its last two games looking forward.

    Give us the Buccaneers at home. But this is one that could go either way.

    Bears: Schalter, Sobleski

    Buccaneers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Tanier, Tomlinson

Carolina Panthers (14-0) at Atlanta Falcons (7-7)

11 of 17

    Bob Leverone/Associated Press

    The Pick: Carolina Panthers (7-1)

    The Carolina Panthers face a quandary. On one hand, they are two wins from the second 16-0 regular season in NFL history. On the other, they will own home field throughout the NFC playoffs with either one win or one Arizona loss in the next two games. 

    So, is it pedal to the floor in pursuit of an undefeated season? Or resting starters in pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy?

    Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight wrote that the Panthers might just be able to have their cake and eat it too:

    If Panthers coach Ron Rivera decides to rest his starters, the Panthers’ path to 16-0 becomes more difficult. But thanks to the late-season schedule gifting Carolina two relatively weak divisional opponents in Weeks 16 and 17, it’s far from impossible.

    If we assume Carolina plays Week 16 at its current strength according to Elo and its starters play only half of Week 17 against Tampa Bay, the team’s chance of going undefeated drops to 60 percent. To simulate a Week 17 in which the starters don’t play at all, we assumed that QB Derek Anderson is a replacement-level passer, that Carolina’s defense will drop to an average level with Luke Kuechly and friends sitting out, and that the Panthers’ top backs and receivers will play sparingly; even in that case, the probability of the Panthers going 16-0 only falls to about 49 percent.

    My two cents? It seems to me that every time we see a team really take its foot off the gas (Tony Dungy's Colts made it an annual rite), that team winds up making an early exit (something else Dungy's Colts had a habit of doing).

    And at any rate, the Panthers aren't expected to rest too many players Sunday against a Falcons team that went from 5-0 to 6-7 before finally stopping their skid last week.

    Too much Carolina, although it's worth noting that the one dissenting voice is the writer with more correct picks than any other this season.

    Panthers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Falcons: Miller

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-10)

12 of 17

    Gene Puskar/Associated Press

    The Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (8-0)

    At the beginning of the season, this one got circled. A December tilt from two bitter rivals who met three times in 2014.

    Of course, that was before Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got hurt. Twice. Before the Ravens were hit with a list of injuries, bad calls and blown leads so long that when you write it all out it becomes something of a tragic comedy.

    And yet those injuries aren't why the Ravens have no chance of playing spoiler Sunday.

    For all their problems, the Ravens are especially bad at defending star wide receivers. So many Ravens cornerbacks have been burned deep this season that the secondary is now sponsored by Coppertone.

    And as Chase Stuart of the New York Times wrote, this is most definitely a bad thing when preparing to face Antonio Brown:

    With 116 catches through 14 games, Brown is 28 receptions from breaking the single-season N.F.L. record, set by Marvin Harrison in 2002. Brown is also nearing the single-season record for receiving yards, set by Calvin Johnson in 2012. Brown has 1,586 yards and needs 379 to break the mark. Given Brown’s dominant play and the poor pass defenses of Pittsburgh’s next two opponents, Baltimore and Cleveland, neither mark is out of reach.

    Of course, had Roethlisberger not missed time this year with an injury, Brown would have a much higher chance of breaking those records. In three games started by Michael Vick this season, Brown totaled just 11 catches for 111 yards and no touchdowns; Brown can match those numbers in about three quarters with Roethlisberger.

    Brown has been one of the best wide receivers in the N.F.L. for each of the last three years. He had 1,499 receiving yards in 2013 and 1,698 yards last year, and he will almost certainly set a career high this season. He and Jerry Rice are the only players with at least 1,499 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons, and he and Wes Welker are the only players with at least 110 receptions in three straight years.

    For the Ravens, Week 17 can't end fast enough.

    For the surging Steelers, it looks like that will only be the beginning.

    Steelers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Ravens: As much as the Ravens would love to ruin Pittsburgh's fun, they just don't have the horses.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) at New Orleans Saints (5-9)

13 of 17

    Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

    The Pick: New Orleans Saints (4-4) ***COIN FLIP***

    Just in case you haven't eaten quite enough turkey over the holiday season, the NFL provided us with one a couple of days after Christmas.

    If nothing else, Sunday's game in the Big Easy will showcase an old versus new duel under center.

    Or not.

    There's youngster Blake Bortles of the Jaguars, who has posted solid numbers this season but has also turned the ball over too much. Per Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com, Bortles' play last week was a microcosm for an uneven year:

    He nearly threw for 300 yards (297) and ran for a touchdown but he threw a costly interception at the end of the first half that the Falcons turned into a field goal. He gets points for running Kemal Ishmael down to save a touchdown, but he made a poor decision on the throw.

    Then there's 36-year-old Drew Brees, who injured his foot last week against the Lions.

    Larry Holder of the Times-Picayune thinks that just the inkling of an injury should be enough for the Saints to roll out the backup in Week 16:

    Brees sustained a torn plantar fascia in his right foot, according to ESPN, in the Saints' 35-27 loss to Detroit on Monday night. The report also stated Brees is awaiting a second opinion and plans to play through the injury in the final two games, which is the same injury Peyton Manning has dealt with in 2015.

    No good can come from Brees playing out the last two games. Absolutely none.

    The injury affected his plant foot during the loss to the Lions and would affect him going forward this season. Sure Brees gutted out the injury to nearly propel the Saints to a comeback victory. Yet the injury clearly hobbled Brees late in the first half and throughout the second half.

    And Holder is right. The season is lost. Playing Brees serves no purpose.

    Unless, of course, the current brain trust in the Big Easy knows it won't be around in 2016 and just doesn't care.

    Jaguars: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Tanier

    Saints: Gagnon, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson

St. Louis Rams (6-8) at Seattle Seahawks (9-5)

14 of 17

    Tom Gannam/Associated Press

    The Pick: Seattle Seahawks (8-0)

    As Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times reports, last week's home win got the Seattle Seahawks back into the postseason. It won't be via the usual route, however:

    What we know about the Seattle Seahawks’ playoff situation is that they are indeed in the playoffs.

    Seattle clinched a spot with its win on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. For those who wondered why that is when the Seahawks could conceivably still fall into a tie with the Vikings and Falcons at 9-7, it’s that the Seahawks and Falcons would win that three-team tiebreker with the Vikings the odd team out due to strength of schedule (Seattle wins a two-team tiebreaker with the Vikings due to the head-to-head win and would win a common games two-team tie with the Falcons).

    What we also know about the Seahawks and their playoff situation is that they can not win the NFC West, meaning they will be either the No. 5 or No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs and will play on the road on the first weekend of the playoffs, Jan. 9 or Jan. 10.

    What we don’t know is basically everything else.

    What Condotta wrote isn't entirely true though.

    Sure, it's true that we don't know who the Seahawks will face on Wild Card Weekend just yet.

    But we do know that none of the potential victims, er, opponents want any part of that game.

    This is the two-time defending NFC champions. A battle-tested team that has peeled off seven wins in eight games since starting 2-4. A surging club led by a quarterback who has already played in two Super Bowls and is playing out of his mind at the moment.

    Russell Wilson and these Seahawks lost at St. Louis the first weekend of the 2015 season.

    Don't think they've forgotten that.

    Rams: A Jeff Fisher team looking at a 7-9 season. Stunner.

    Seahawks: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Green Bay Packers (10-4) at Arizona Cardinals (12-2)

15 of 17

    Mike McGinnis/Associated Press

    The Pick: Arizona Cardinals (5-3)

    Now this is more like it. A matchup replete with storylines.

    The 10-4 Green Bay Packers and their roller coaster of a season. Fighting for the NFC North championship. Still holding out hopes (however faint) of dodging the Wild Card Round and a possible date with the aforementioned Seahawks.

    A 12-2 Arizona Cardinals club looking to dash those hopes with yet another signature win. Yet another victory over a contender. Yet another message to the rest of America that the Redbirds are the best team in the NFL no one talks about.

    As ESPN.com's Josh Weinfuss wrote, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians realizes the importance of securing that extra off week:

    I don’t think there’s any doubt that when we play the Packers next week our focus is to get that bye, and knowing there’s a good chance we’re either going to play the Vikings, the Packers or the Seahawks again shortly.

    A bye. That would be huge to get everybody healthy and not have to play the first week. Probably will see them again, one way or the other, here or there. Or Seattle, here or there -- not at their place, but here.

    Our panel believes that the Cardinals will do just that, although I'll confess to dissenting.

    This feels like a game where Aaron Rodgers reminds everyone how good he is while reminding Arizona just how big the loss of Tyrann Mathieu to a torn ACL is.

    Packers: Davenport, Freeman, Tanier

    Cardinals: Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson

New York Giants (6-8) at Minnesota Vikings (9-5)

16 of 17

    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Pick: Minnesota Vikings (7-1)

    In the lead-up to this game, the headlines have been dominated by wide receiver Odell Beckham's meltdown against the Carolina Panthers and the one-game suspension that arose from it.

    That's too bad, as it deflects attention away from a Vikings team that could be looking at a whopper of a Week 17 tilt.

    If the Vikings beat the Giants (or Green Bay loses at Arizona earlier in the day), Minnesota will trek to Lambeau Field next week with a division title on the line.

    And as head coach Mike Zimmer told ESPN.com's Ben Goessling, the Vikings aren't eyeing the back door to the postseason.

    They'd rather go in the front:

    I don’t feel too good about it yet. Our goal really isn’t to get into the playoffs. Our goal is to win the division first.

    You talk about those things at the beginning of the year. Really, all we’ve talked about is this week, winning each week -- focusing on the task at hand this week and here’s what we have to do to win and stack them up at the end. I’ve said that many times -- 'We’ll count them up at the end and see where we’re at' -- and now we’re close enough to, I think, have that realization that we have an opportunity to do that.

    If the Giants have anything going for them in this game, it's that the Vikings don't have an aerial attack capable of fully exploiting their marshmallow-soft, league-worst pass defense.

    Of course, without Beckham, the Giants passing attack isn't going to terrify anyone, either.

    Can't wait for Lambeau.

    Giants: Freeman

    Vikings: Davenport, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

Cincinnati Bengals (11-3) at Denver Broncos (10-4)

17 of 17

    John Grieshop/Getty Images

    The Pick: Denver Broncos (4-4) ***COIN FLIP***

    Once upon a time, Monday Night Football was the week's spotlight game. In recent years, that biggest game of the week has shifted to Sunday night.

    Well, usually.

    In Week 16, though, Monday is back in the spotlight, as the Bengals travel to face Denver with a first-round playoff bye hanging in the balance.

    Both contenders are limping along with injured quarterbacks. The Bengals have already announced, per ESPN's Adam Schefter, that AJ McCarron will make his second career start against the Broncos.

    It appears the Broncos will similarly roll out Brock Osweiler Monday night, although head coach Gary Kubiak wouldn't definitively say while talking to USA Today's Lindsay Jones.

    "Nothing has changed," Kubiak said of Osweiler, who hurt his shoulder in last week's loss at Pittsburgh. "All indications are that he'll be OK. I'd say we're day-to-day right now."

    Cincinnati's offense had all sorts of issues sustaining drives against a bad San Francisco defense last week. The Broncos haven't scored a point in the second half in three weeks.

    Not one.

    It's no wonder our panel is split right down the middle.

    It's a fitting final NFL game of 2015.

    Bengals: Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson

    Broncos: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller