On Christmas Eve day, the thrilling high-stakes NFL Week 16 action kicks into full swing, as elite contenders and perennial pretenders fight for their lives for a last-minute playoff push.
Many teams already eliminated from playoff contention with seemingly nothing to play for will be as eager as a cat every time it hears a can opener to play spoiler and crash their opponents’ dreams of reaching the big stage.
Without further adieu, here’s my latest batch of predictions.
Be sure to enjoy Saturday’s amazing slate of games and let me know your thoughts below!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
Last Week: 7-9 (151-73 Overall)
Note: Due to time constraints, I picked the Houston Texans to sweep the Indianapolis Colts 28-14 on our Facebook page (or here for NFLTouchdown.com readers) on Thursday evening. I obviously struck out, as Indy got the shocking come-from-behind victory, 19-16.
Jacksonville (4-10) at Tennessee (7-7) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
Matt Hasselbeck, Chris Johnson and the Titans find retribution for the disappointment in Jacksonville in season opener and bounce back from last week’s letdown in Indianapolis to maintain their slim playoff hopes. Prediction: Tennessee 23, Jacksonville 13
Arizona (7-7) at Cincinnati (8-6) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
It’s a captivating collision that nobody could have ever envisioned would be a marquee matchup between playoff contenders before the season. John Skelton and the Arizona Cardinals have been as hot as the scorching September Arizona desert as of late, winning six of their seven contests—three in overtime.
Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals haven’t beaten any teams currently with a winning record, but they’ve been earning their stripes playing smart, tough football all year. With their sights set on the playoffs with home-field advantage and favorable weather conditions, the Bengals take care of business in another close contest down-to-the-wire. Look for a fun matchup between Patrick Peterson and A.J. Green. Prediction: Cincinnati 25, Arizona 21
St. Louis (2-12) at Pittsburgh (10-4) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
Steve Spagnuolo looks to become the fourth head coach packing this season, though Jim Caldwell, Raheem Morris, Andy Reid and/or Mike Shanahan might give him a run for his money. Likewise, St. Louis is giving the Colts, Vikings and Bucs a run for their money as the worst team in the league. The Pittsburgh Steelers advance comfortably in the Steel City with James Harrison back from a one-game suspension, albeit Ben Roethlisberger will rest on the sidelines. Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, St. Louis 7
Cleveland (4-10) at Baltimore (10-4) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
The Baltimore Ravens are 7-0 against the Browns in the John Harbaugh era. In addition, it all boils down to one dynamic with the Ravens—location, location. Baltimore is unbeaten, 7-0 at home this season.
With added motivation to not only win the division, but also earn a first-round bye in the playoffs (which includes home-field advantage), the Ravens roll and avoid a potential letdown against Seneca Wallace and co. Prediction: Baltimore 27, Cleveland 13
Minnesota (2-12) at Washington (5-9) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
There’s a lot at stake and many interesting storylines in this game. The quarterback controversy, coaching carousel and running back injuries (Adrian Peterson returns for his second consecutive contest, while rookie Roy Helu will sit out with toe and knee injuries). You can toss in the 2011 NFL Draft order, too. Rex Grossman and the Redskins improve to 6-9. Prediction: Washington 24, Minnesota 20
N.Y. Giants (7-7) at N.Y. Jets (8-6) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
Mark Sanchez and company can be incredibly inconsistent, but usually excel when their backs are up against the wall. Eli Manning and the Giants are well-recognized for bounce-back performances and have been very clutch late in games, but also fall to inferior opponents when least expected.
Both teams are facing a must-win game in Gotham, which is actually kind of a home game for both clubs.
Rex Ryan and Tom Coughlin are also receiving more heat by the week. With Osi Umenyiora likely out for the rest of the year, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul look to rotate as a wrecking ball on the right side of the line.
The trash talking really heated up on Wednesday. Darrelle Revis laughed off the criticism from Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz and the feud between Brandon Jacobs’ Giants and Bart Scott’s Jets reached its boiling point when curtains, security guards and Big Blue’s four Super Bowls were involved on gameday. I’ll take the Jets to get the job done. Prediction: N.Y. Jets 27, N.Y. Giants 20
Miami (5-9) at New England (11-3) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
In Week 1 on Monday Night Football, Tom Brady shredded the Miami Dolphins’ defense with a whopping 517 yards through the air, as the New England Patriots prevailed 38-24 in South Beach. It’s been a wild and whacky 15 weeks since then. Miami started the season 0-7, before winning five of their last seven contests. New England has scored 30 points or more for six straight weeks and 11 times overall this season.
After wrapping up the division and well within striking distance of the top seed in the AFC, the Patriots should be filled with holiday cheer. Matt Moore and Miami could give the Pats trouble. Reggie Bush is also having a career year. The Dolphins would love to build confidence and more momentum heading into next season. Prediction: New England 34, Miami 17
Denver (8-6) at Buffalo (5-9) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
Tim Tebow has exceeded expectations with the Broncos in his sophomore season (depending on who you talk to I guess), albeit the Tebow Train was halted last week against New England once Willis McGahee headed to the sidelines with an injury.
The Buffalo Bills got off to fast start at 3-0, before going 4-2 in their first six games. The team has taken an inevitable mid-late season tumble, losing seven straight heading into Week 16. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been ho-ho-horrendous since receiving his new shiny contract. I think the Bills will bounce back and make it close at home, but it’s tough to imagine them pulling out the win. Prediction: Denver 28, Buffalo 19
Oakland (7-7) at Kansas City (6-8) (CBS, 1:00pm EST)
The reeling Raiders have lost three straight games by 81 combined points, while the Chiefs have won two of their last three tests, including the biggest upset of the year led by interim coach Romeo Crennel, who’s showing some promise as the future head coach heading into 2012.
Oakland’s high hopes of returning to the postseason for the first time since ’02 seem to be vanishing at the seams, as the team is limping across the finish line with a laundry list of injuries and suffered from a never-ending impediment of self-inflicted wounds. The Kansas City Chiefs presumably put the dagger in the Raiders’ chances in a mildly surprising upset at Arrowhead. Prediction: Kansas City 20, Oakland 17
Tampa Bay (4-10) at Carolina (5-9) (FOX, 1:00pm EST)
The Buccaneers have lost eight straight games and Raheem Morris is sitting on a hot seat that is scorching to say the least. Cam Newton and Carolina have won three of their last four contests and are starting to find some serious momentum. Prediction: Carolina 30, Tampa Bay 10
Predictions for remaining games are coming shortly!
Predictions are always posted on our Facebook page (http://facebook.com/GridironGrit and http://facebook.com/NFLTouchdown) whenever they’re not all published in article form before game time. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed it! Please feel fee to comment and let us know what YOU think!
Be sure to check out Peter King’s predictions, Albert Breer’s picks and Jason La Canfora’s preview on all of the games. And enjoy another great slate of games! Also find ESPN.com’s and CBSSports.com’s expert roundtable picks.
San Diego (7-7) at Detroit (9-5) (CBS, 4:05pm EST)
Phillip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers are playing super and can somehow sneak into the postseason if they run the table and have some help. Their inevitable and perennial late-season surge is absolutely mind blowing.
The Chargers have outscored their last three opponents by a combined 71 points. However, if the Broncos beat the Bills, winning the AFC West is out of the question and every team in the division can all finish 8-8.
Detroit achieved its first winning season since 1997 last week, and can reach the postseason a variety of ways, but the most simple scenario is—simply put—win and they’re in.
Nevertheless, while the Detroit Lions have minimal competition for the sixth seed in the NFC, chances are they’re really hungry to enter the playoffs with more momentum and would also enjoy claiming the top wildcard spot over Atlanta, which would lead to facing the winner of the NFC East, rather than a rematch with San Francisco on the road in the Bay, or New Orleans in the Super Dome.
Matthew Stafford became only the second-youngest quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in last week’s win over Oakland. Look for lots of fireworks here, as these two teams get into a track meet. Prediction: San Diego 34, Detroit 31
San Francisco (11-3) at Seattle (7-7) (FOX, 4:15pm EST)
The Seattle Seahawks are red-hot right now and have the home-field edge with the “12th Man” on hand. The Seahawks are using the same recipe—a great ground game and hard-nosed defense—as the 49ers to take care of business.
San Francisco has won 10 of its last 12 games and hope to strike gold with the second seed in the NFC. Seattle, meanwhile, has won three consecutive games and five of its last six contests by 58 points combined.
The Seahawks are also still alive in the NFC playoff hunt. Tarvaris Jackson has been at the top of his game and Marshawn Lynch continues to taste the rainbow in beast mode. Nonetheless, while the Niners are on the road on a short week, they’re also the better team. Prediction: San Francisco 24, Seattle 16
Philadelphia (6-8) at Dallas (8-6) (FOX, 4:15pm EST)
While the dream team discussion is long gone, the Philadelphia Eagles can make the playoffs with a Christmas miracle. If the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants all end the season 8-8, the Eagles fly away as division champions.
But Philly’s dreams will become shattered if the team fails to deliver against Dallas or the Giants top the Jets. Michael Vick and the Eagles are as explosive as TNT right now. Tony Romo and the Cowboys could end up winning the division or losing the crown to the Eagles or Giants regardless of this game’s outcome. The Eagles sweep the Cowboys in a high-stakes thriller. Prediction: Philadelphia 38, Dallas 28