It’s the penultimate week of the regular season in the NFL, which means teams have just two games left in which to secure playoff spots or improve seeding. After losing two in a row, the Patriots return home to host the Bills as they hope to get back into one of the AFC’s top two seeds to earn a first-round bye. The second seed is currently held by the Texans, who are coming off a Saturday win against the Jets, and this week they head to Philadelphia to take on an Eagles team that is still in the postseason hunt in the NFC. Other games with playoff implications include Steelers at Saints and the Sunday night contest, featuring the Chiefs visiting the Seahawks. Thursday night games are done for the season, but we have another Saturday doubleheader this week. I went 7-9 last week, giving me an overall record of 108-126 for the season. As always, I’m using the lines from ESPN’s Pigskin Pick ‘Em game. My picks are in bold and my survivor pool pick (straight up, not ATS) is in red
Redskins at Titans (-10.5) – The Redskins beat the Jaguars last week — with QB Josh Johnson picking up his first career win as a starter in the process — to keep alive their slim hopes of winning the NFC East. This week, they face a tougher opponent, although the Titans have been inconsistent this season. Titans RB Derrick Henry will likely be able to run on the Redskins, and lead Tennessee to a win, but i think 10.5 is a lot of points to give, so I’ll take the Redskins to cover.
Ravens at Chargers (-4.5) – The Chargers upset the Chiefs last Thursday and will have had nine days to prepare for a Ravens team that is still in the playoff hunt. The Chargers should get RB Melvin Gordon back this week, after he has missed the last few games with a sprained MCL. While that will be a boon to the 11-3 Chargers, who are looking to win the AFC West and earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, they may be without WR Keenan Allen, who bruised his ribs in last Thursday’s win over the Chiefs. I don’t think Ravens QB Lamar Jackson is a good enough passer yet to have much success through the air, so I expect the Chargers to win and cover.
Sunday 1PM games
Falcons at Panthers (-3.5) – The Panthers have lost six straight and now they face Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Falcons in a battle of teams that have disappointed this season. RB Christian McCaffrey has been by far the Panthers’ best player of late, and he will likely have to carry the team in the final two games as the Panthers have shut down QB Cam Newton for the season, which means QB Taylor Heinicke will make his first career start this week. I think the Falcons win the game, so I’ll take the points,
Bills at Patriots (-12.5) – These Patriots are not the Patriots of old, in the midst of a rare two-game losing streak in December. Age my finally be starting to get the best of QB Tom Brady, and TE Rob Gronkowski isn’t himself and likely isn’t fully healthy. WR Julian Edelman is probably Brady’s best pass-catcher right now. For the Bills, rookie QB Josh Allen can get things done on the ground. The Patriots need to win this game if they want to stay alive for the No. 2 seed and a potential first-round bye. I expect them to win the game, but I think the Bills keep it close and could even pull off the upset. Give me the points.
Bengals at Browns (-6.5) – The Browns have won two straight and are surprisingly still in the hunt for a playoff spot entering Week 16, though they need to win and get quite a bit of help from other teams to get the chance to play in January. But Browns QB Baker Mayfield seems to be the real deal, and RB Nick Chubb has been performing well since the team traded RB Carlos Hyde to the Jaguars earlier in the season. The Bengals basically have RB Joe Mixon and not much else. The Browns should win the game, but I think the Bengals can keep it within a field goal or so, so I’ll take the points on the road in the divisional battle.
Buccaneers at Cowboys (-7.5) – The Cowboys were shut out on Sunday for the first time since 2003, leaving the NFC East up for grabs. Now they look to bounce-back from that bad loss against the Buccaneers. I think QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott and WR Amari Cooper will play better than they did last week and should pick up an important win, but I’m hard pressed to give more than a touchdown with a team that couldn’t score a week ago, so I’ll take the points.
Vikings at Lions (+5.5) – This looks like it should be a low-scoring game between two teams that have been struggling offensively in recent weeks, save for the Vikings’ 41-point output last week against the Dolphins. Still, I don’t trust QB Kirk Cousins right now, so I don’t think the Vikings will score more than about 21-24 points. Given that expectation, I think the Lions cover the spread although Minnesota likely wins the game.
Packers at Jets (-0.5) – At the beginning of the season, I don’t think many people expected the Jets to be favored over the Packers in this game, even if it is just by half-a-point. Part of that could be uncertainty over the status of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Now that the Packers have officially been eliminated from playoff contention, there has been speculation that they could sit Rodgers for the final two games and go with backup QB DeShone Kizer. If KIzer does get the start, I think the Jets win the game, and even if Rodgers does start, there’s no guarantee he’ll play the whole game and the Jets may still win. Jets QB Sam Darnold is playing well, as is RB Elijah McGuire so I’m going to go with the home team.
Giants at Colts (-9.5) – A week ago, the Giants were shut out by the Titans, while the Colts handed the Cowboys their first shutout loss in 15 years, so it would appear that the Colts have the advantage in this game. The Colts definitely have the advantage under center, with Andrew Luck vs. Eli Manning, and the Giants may be without top WR Odell Beckham Jr., who has sat out the last two games with a quad injury. The Giants say they are “hopeful” for his return on Sunday, but it is not yet official. If Beckham doesn’t play, I think the Colts could cover the 9.5. But I expect Beckham to take the field, so I think the Giants may barely cover.
Jaguars at Dolphins (-4.5) – The Jaguars are not playing well with QB Cody Kessler starting in place of Blake Bortles, and it seems like they may be playing to get a better draft pick rather than playing to win games. Even RB Leonard Fournette didn’t have a great game in Sunday’s loss to the Redskins. The Dolphins aren’t a great team, but I think they can win by a touchdown or so, so I’ll give the points.
Texans at Eagles (-0.5) – Both teams need to win this game. For the Texans it would clinch the AFC South and keep them in the No. 2 seed in the conference. For the Eagles, it could keep them alive in the NFC East race. The Eagles have already announced QB Nick Foles will start again this week, but he has a tough challenge against the Texans defense led by DE J.J. Watt. Texans RB Lamar Miller injured his right ankle in Saturday’s win over the Jets and may not be able to play. But the Texans still have a strong passing game led by QB Deshaun Watson and WR DeAndre Hopkins. I think the Texans win the game.
Sunday 4PM games
Bears at 49ers (+3.5) – The 49ers pulled off the upset of a potential playoff team in the Seahawks last week, and now they’ll look to do the same against the NFC North champion Bears. I don’t think this is going to be a close game, so I’m surprised it’s just a 3.5-point spread. Bears win easily.
Rams at Cardinals (+14.5) – The Cardinals may be the worst team in the league at this point, and now they have to go up against an 11-3 Rams team looking to stay alive for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Rams’ offense hasn’t been as explosive in the last couple of games as it had been earlier in the season, and it may take a hit with RB Todd Gurley not at 100% after tweaking his knee in last week’s game. He should play on Sunday, but he may be limited with backup RB John Kelly getting some of Gurley’s workload. Regardless, the Rams should win the game but I don’t know if they’ll do it by two touchdowns, so I’ll take the points.
Steelers at Saints (-6.5) – The Steelers are coming off a big win at home against the Patriots, but now they have to hit the road to go to the Superdome to take on QB Drew Brees and the Saints. New Orleans’ offense has struggled recently, scoring 12 or fewer points in two of the team’s last three games. With Brees, RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas, the Saints are always capable of hanging a big number on the scoreboard, but they haven’t been doing it lately. The Steelers, meanwhile. may see the return of RB James Conner this week, which would likely give the offense a boost and take some of the pressure off of QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown. although RB Jaylen Samuels had a good game in Conner’s absence last week., I think the Saints will win the game, but I think the Steelers keep it close so I’ll take the points here.
Sunday Night Football
Chiefs at Seahawks (+2.5) – Both teams lost last week and are looking to bounce back, with the Seahawks looking to retain their hold on one of the NFC’s wild card slots and the Chiefs hoping to solidify their standing as the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes had one of his worst statistical games of the season last week, but he still threw for two touchdowns in the defeat. I expect a bit of a bounce-back game for the Chiefs, and Seattle is a tough place to play for the opposing team, but I think the Chiefs can win and cover the spread.
Monday Night Football
Broncos at Raiders (+2.5) – The week ends on an anticlimactic note with two teams that won’t be playing in January. The Broncos’ offense isn’t great, but neither is the Raiders’. I think the Broncos have the best offensive player on the field with RB Phillip LIndsay, so I think they’ll win the game. I’ll give the points on the road.