There’s just three weeks left in the 2021-22 NFL regular season, and Week 16 brings plenty of hard-hitting matchups with major playoff implications. Division leads, wildcard spots, and first round byes are all up for grabs, as only one team (the Green Bay Packers) has clinched a playoff spot so far.
The week kicks off on Thursday Night Football, with current playoff contenders squaring off: Jimmy Garoppolo and the 8-6 San Franciso 49ers, and Ryan Tannehill and the 9-5 Tennessee Titans. While neither team would clinch right away, a win here all but secures a playoff spot for the winner of this game.
On Christmas Day, Baker Mayfield and the 7-7 Cleveland Browns will fight for their playoff lives against Aaron Rodgers and the 11-3 Green Bay Packers, who will look to keep a leg up in the race for the first overall seed in the NFC. In the Christmas evening slot, Carson Wentz, Jonathan Taylor, and the 8-6 Indianapolis Colts will look to keep up in a crowded AFC playoff race, against a suddenly sliding 10-4 Arizona Cardinals team.
Other big Week 16 games include:
- 8-6 Baltimore Ravens at 8-6 Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC North lead
- 10-4 Los Angeles Rams at 7-7 Minnesota Vikings
- 8-6 Buffalo Bills at 9-5 New England Patriots for the AFC East lead
- 7-6-1 Pittsburgh Steelers at 10-4 Kansas City Chiefs
- 6-8 Washington Football Team at 10-4 Dallas Cowboys
- 7-7 Miami Dolphins at 7-7 New Orleans Saints
The schedule makers really struck gold with these juicy Week 16 matchups, so without further ado, let’s dive into my picks for the week.
To debate or discuss these picks, be sure to join the conversation with @SakSports on Twitter.
Week 1: 6-10
Week 2: 12-4
Week 3: 11-5
Week 4: 12-4
Week 5: 13-3
Week 6: 10-4
Week 7: 9-4
Week 8: 9-6
Week 9: 5-9
Week 10: 9-4-1
Week 11: 12-3
Week 12: 6-9
Week 13: 9-5
Week 14: 12-2
Week 15: 9-7
Overall: 139-70-1 (67%)
As per what seems like usual, I followed up a great week with a so-so one. After finishing a strong 12-2 in Week 14, I barely broke even at 9-7 this week. My first three picks were narrow underdogs, and I don’t regret picking the Chargers, Patriots, or Titans. Hardly anyone (except Drew Brees) expected the Saints to beat the Buccaneers, and I don’t think anyone saw the Lions upsetting the Cardinals. Jaguars over Texans was a miss on a bad team toss-up, and I was also off the mark in anticipating a Seahawks upset of the Rams on Tuesday.
In Week 15, I incorrectly predicted:
- Chargers over Chiefs
- Patriots over Colts
- Titans over Steelers
- Cardinals over Lions
- Jaguars over Texans
- Buccaneers over Saints
- Seahawks over Rams
See Also: 2021-22 NFL Season Predictions
- AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West
- NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West
- Playoff Predictions and Super Bowl Matchup
- Midseason Predictions and Super Bowl 56 Matchup
- Half Season MVP Watch
Thursday Night Football
San Francisco 49ers (8-6) at Tennessee Titans (9-5)
Line: San Francisco 49ers (-3.0)
Week 15 kicks off with a pretty good matchup on paper, as the two teams play similar styles of football. Jimmy Garoppolo and the San Francisco 49ers posses the league’s 13th-best offense and 19th-best defense in terms of scoring, while Ryan Tannehill’s Tennessee Titans rank 15th in points scored and 16th in points allowed. Both teams also prefer to rush the ball, with the Titans holding the NFL’s fourth-best rushing offense (though Derrick Henry isn’t available) and the 49ers gaining the seventh-most rushing yards in the league.
I’m just trying to paint a picture: this won’t be a high scoring or flashy game, but it should be a good showcase of fundamental football. But the Titans were a much better team when Henry was on the field, and after going 1-3 in their last four games, I would expect San Francisco to take this matchup.
49ers win 23-20, PUSH ATS
Christmas Day Games
Cleveland Browns (7-7) at Green Bay Packers (11-3)
Line: Green Bay Packers (-7.5)
Coming in to the season, this was a great Christmas Day game to schedule. Both the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers made deep playoff runs last year, with aspirations to make it to Super Bowl 56 this season. However, since a hot start to the season, Baker Mayfield and the Browns have cooled off, while Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have fought their way to the best record in the NFL.
Cleveland will get a boost as players return to the roster from the COVId-19 list, but even at full strength, this year’s Brows are simply no match for the team with the best record in football. Green Bay is also a perfect 6-0 at Lambeau Field this season.
Packers win 31-22, Packers win ATS
Indianapolis Colts (8-6) at Arizona Cardinals (10-4)
Line: Arizona Cardinals (-1.0)
On the flip side, I don’t think the NFL anticipated this Christmas Day game to as important as it has become. With the 8-6 Indianapolis Colts and 10-4 Arizona Cardinals colliding, this matchup features the most combined wins (18) of any game in Week 16. The Colts are red-hot, riding Jonathan Taylor’s elite rushing abilities to a 5-1 record over their last six games. Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals held at least a share of the NFL’s best record every week so far this season: until last week’s loss to the Lions.
While that loss seems like an anomaly, the Cardinals simply aren’t firing on all cylinders right now and aren’t the same team without wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Carson Wentz and the Colts won’t blow Arizona out, but they should deliver fans a Christmas Day win at the end of the day.
Colts win 27-20, Colts win ATS
Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (9-5)
Line: New England Patriots (-2.5)
While the New England Patriots may have outlasted the Buffalo Bills a few weeks ago in an ugly weather game, the two teams have a new game to play this Sunday. Throw the records and previous result out the window, as this should be a fun AFC East battle.
After last week’s loss to the Colts, Mac Jones and the Patriots don’t appear invincible. Josh Allen and the Bills still need to do a better job keeping up with the bet teams in the NFL, but proved they could two weeks ago by taking Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to overtime.
This may be more of a gut feeling than a nuanced football pick, but I don’t see the Patriots sweeping the Bills this season. I think Allen and the Bills dig deep and pull off a narrow in at Gillette Stadium in Week 16.
Bills win 27-24, Bills win ATS
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) at New York Jets (3-11)
Line: New York Jets (-2.5)
While this game feature the lowest combined win total of any two teams going head-to-head in Week 16, the outcome won’t be without consequence. With another loss, the Jacksonville Jaguars could all but lock themselves in to the #1 spot in the 2022 NFL Draft. But the New York Jets, who would currently would pick fourth overall, could improve their position with a loss to the NFL’s worst team.
Of course, players still play to win, and this game features the top two picks from last year’s draft: Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. Obviously, neither quarterback has done much to improve their team’s pedigree, as each franchise is line for back-to-back years picking in the Top Five. Wilson and the Jets are just a bit less of a laughing stock, and should be able to give the few fans that show up to MetLife Stadium a post-Christmas treat.
Jets win 26-16, Jets win ATS
Detroit Lions (2-11-1) at Atlanta Falcons (6-8)
Line: Atlanta Falcons (-5.5)
The Detroit Lions have been feisty this season, and have earned two wins and a tie since the start of November. But the second you expecting Detroit to compete is the second they stop competing, plus quarterback Jared Goff could be out this weekend after being placed on the COVID-19 list. Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons aren’t a very consistent team, but have been mostly able to overcome weaker opponents and should win here.
Interestingly, Atlanta is just 1-5 at home compared to 5-3 on the road, but Detroit is 0-6-1 outside the state of Michigan.
Falcons win 33-24, Falcons win ATS
New York Giants (4-10) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)
Line: Philadelphia Eagles (-9.5)
The New York Giants stunned the Philadelphia Eagles a few weeks ago, stifling the Eagles offense in a 13-7 win in Daniel Jones’ final game of the season. But with Mike Glennon or Jake Fromm in line to start for New York, Philadelphia’s defense should have no problem in giving Jalen Hurts and the offense every possible chance to succeed in their push for the playoffs.
Eagles win 26-17, Giants win ATS
Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
Line: Cincinnati Bengals (-7.0)
With identical records, the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals square off for both the AFC North lead and the chance to make the postseason, period. The winner of this game will take the division lead, while the loser will likely fall outside the AFC’s top seven seeds for the time being.
This is a tough one to predict. Joe Burrow and the Bengals took the division lead last week with a 15-10 win over the Broncos, but for every big win they’ve had this season, there’s a head-scratching loss to go alongside it. Cincinnati beat Baltimore 41-17 earlier this season, but followed it up with a 34-31 loss to the Jets and then 41-16 loss to the Browns. After beating the Steelers 41-10, Cincinnati fell to the Chargers 41-22 the following week.
The Ravens have suffered from some up-and-down play as well, but aren’t as susceptible to blowout losses. Baltimore is 0-3 over the past three weeks, but has only been outscored by four total points in that stretch. John Harbaugh’s decisions to go for two late in games has backfired twice so far, but at the end of the day, the Ravens have still been in the game until the final minute. With Lamar Jackson expected to start for Baltimore, I think the Ravens will fight as hard as they can to earn this crucial win.
EDIT 12/26: Lamar Jackson isn’t returning just yet, and Tyler Huntley is out too after being placed in COVID-19 protocols. With veteran journeyman Josh Johnson in line to start, I can’t pick the Ravens to win.
Bengals win 26-20, Ravens win ATS
Los Angeles Rams (10-4) at Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
Line: Los Angeles Rams (-3.0)
Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams suffered a midseason slump after losing wide receiver Robert Woods for the season, but have been playing a bit better as of late. Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings play hard each and every week, with no losses by more than eight points this season. A coouple weeks ago, I would have picked Minnesota to win, but with the Rams heating up ahead of the postseason, I think Los Angeles steals a late win in U.S. Bank Stadium.
Rams win 30-27, PUSH ATS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (5-9)
Line: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-11.0)
There’s plenty of tough-to-pick matchups this week, whether it be two good teams or two bad teams going head-to-head. This game, however, offers no such intrigue: even coming off a rare shutout loss, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be set to steamroll Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, who are 2-9 in their last 11 games.
Buccaneers win 30-13, Buccaneers win ATS
Los Angeles Chargers (8-6) at Houston Texans (3-11)
Line: Los Angeles Chargers (-9.5)
In another game that took less than a split-second to pick, Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers should have a field day against Davis Mills and the Houston Texans. Besides the mismatch in talent, the Chargers are 4-2 away from home, while the Texans are just 1-6 at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Chargers win 41-13, Chargers win ATS
Chicago Bears (4-10) at Seattle Seahawks (5-9)
Line: Seattle Seahawks (-6.5)
Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears lost 17-9 to the Vikings last week, scoring 14 points or less for the sixth time this year. Chicago ranks 29th in points scored per game (17.1) and 2th in points allowed (24.9.) Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks just want to get past this forgettable season, but they should be able to at least make their record a bit more respectable by taking acre of business at home against Fields and the bears.
Seahawks win 23-17, Bears win ATS
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)
Line: Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5)
he Kansas City Chiefs are the hottest team in the NFL, coming in to this game with seven straight victories, but won’t be at full strength as Tyeek Hill, Travis Kelce, and other Chiefs players are slated to miss this matchup after entering COVID-19 protocols. Without some of his top weapons, can Patrick Mahomes still outduel Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers? My answer is yes, for to reasons: Mahomes has been playing great football and can make things happen even without Kelce and Hill, the Chiefs defense has been playing well in the second half of the season, and finally, I just don’t think the Steelers are all that great, even if this could be the perfect opportunity for them to pick up a win.
Chiefs win 27-24, Steelers win ATS
Denver Broncos (7-7) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)
Line: Las Vegas Raiders (-1.0)
The Denver Broncos narrowly lost to the Bengals last week, 15-10, while Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders barely beat a depleted Browns team employing their third-string quarterback. While Teddy Bridgewater is all but certain to be out on Sunday, Denver should still be able to win with Drew Lock, a simple game plan, and a strong defensive effort.
Broncos win 18-13, Broncos win ATS
Sunday Night Football
Washington Football Team (6-8) at Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
Line: Dallas Cowboys (-10.5)
Taylor Heinicke is expected to return as Washington Football Team’s starting quarterback, which is more than welcome after last week’s 27-17 loss to the Eagles. The week before that, Washington lost to the Dallas Cowboys 27-20 at home, even as Dak Prescott had an off day.
Unfortunately, with a banged-up roster and the setting switching to AT&T Stadium, there’s no reason to think Washington has become the better team over the past two weeks.
Cowboys win 30-20, Washington wins ATS
Monday Night Football
Miami Dolphins (7-7) at New Orleans Saints (7-7)
After a five-game losing streak seemed to push the New Orleans Saints out of the playoff picture they’ve come back around with two wins in the last two weeks, including an impressive 9-0 shutout over Tom Brady and the Buccaneers last week. The Saints seem to have the Buccaneers number, but I’m not sure they’ll find as much success against the Miami Dolphins. Miami has won six straight games after a 17 start, and while the Dolphins offense might not be as talented as Tampa Bay’s, I don’t expect them to be shutout. While New Orleans defense has played well over the past two weeks, they also gave up scores in bunches during their five-game losing streak. I think Tua Tagovailoa will lead Miami to their seventh straight win on Monday night.
EDIT 12/26: With Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian out due to COVID-19 protocols, Ian Book will be in like for his first NFL start on Monday night. While I trust Sean Payton to make the most out of what he has, I don’t think the game will be as close as I originally thought.
Dolphins win 26-16 Dolphins win ATS
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Header Photo: Patriots Wire/USA Today