Here I am again this year, back for more NFL picks. Just like last season, I will still be picking all of the NFL games each week, but I will try and help some of you with some confidence and rankings of the selections - which also may assist those of you with Las Vegas trips. I tend to rate games that I like (and some extras like Over/Unders) with 1-3 "Stars", which basically highlight my best bets for the week. Those games which have zero stars I don't truly like one way or the other, but will select to help those trying to get some advice for their weekly office pools or other contests that they may be participating in either this week or this season.
Week 14 was rather unkind, with injuries and upsets all over the place. Such is life in the NFL, but every week is a new week. Time to refocus on what teams have something to play for – either a playoff push or to get ready for the postseason. It is also important to look for teams that have packed it in for the season and are looking more at holiday plans and golf in January than finishing the season strong. With just three games to go, that should help narrow down the 16 games to the key ones to target this week. Also note that we have our first Saturday slate this year with two games a day earlier than usual (and this will also happen next week).
Before we get into the penultimate week of the regular season, let’s look at motivation. That first starts with a look at the playoff picture. Here is a quick breakdown of each conference:
The NFC Picture
Philadelphia (12-2) has the inside track on the top seed. The NFC East is clinched as is a bye, but one more win (or Minnesota loss) gives them the top slot.
Minnesota (11-3) just clinched the NFC North and should get the second spot and the bye. Two tough divisional games remain, starting with a trip to Green Bay, but I am sure that the Vikings hope that they either win or get some help to lock up the second seed before Week 17. Even if that is not the case, Minnesota is way better than Chicago, and a home game against the Bears should provide enough cushion to get the bye.
The fun starts with three 10-4 teams – the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans and Carolina. The Rams just went to Seattle and won, which gives them a two-game lead for the division with two games to go and nearly locks up the division for Los Angeles, but they are still in the hunt for a bye if the Vikings fall back to them. Carolina and the Saints are in a battle for the division and a potential bye as well (although the Vikings beat Carolina). Bottom line – all of the 10-4 teams are motivated to win in Week 16.
After Atlanta’s big win Monday, the Falcons (9-5) have far and away the best shot at the postseason for teams lacking 10 wins. Atlanta needs one more victory to get into the playoffs, and winning out will secure the NFC South. The problem is that they face the Saints and Panthers in their last two games, which means nothing will come easy.
All of the other teams at 8-6 are barely alive with Atlanta moving up to 9-5. That means Seattle, Dallas, and Detroit must win out and hope Atlanta loses their final two games thanks to the Falcons owning tiebreakers over all three teams. That does mean, however, that all three will be highly motivated to win and force the issue, so look for the Lions to win this week and the Cowboys-Seahawks game takes on a playoff atmosphere as it is a virtual elimination game.
The AFC Picture
Turning to the AFC, New England has the inside track at the top spot after a close win over Pittsburgh. Both teams still have to secure their byes, so both will have strong motivation for Week 16. Jacksonville looks like a certain third seed, as the 10-4 Jaguars just locked up the AFC South and one more win should lock up that status. Catching the Patriots or Steelers seems unlikely, but Jacksonville will probably want to stay tuned up for a Wild Card weekend home game.
After the top three in the AFC, it starts to get tricky. More than likely, three of the four 8-6 teams (Kansas City, Baltimore, Tennessee, and Buffalo) will make it, although the Los Angeles Chargers at 7-7 could still make some noise. Given the schedules of the Titans (vs. the Rams, vs. the Jaguars) and Buffalo (at New England, at Miami), both will be hoping for teams that are not motivated down the stretch to offer them a chance to get one more victory. Given the easy schedule for Baltimore (vs. Indianapolis, vs. Cincinnati), the Ravens have an inside track but the Chargers could win out and pass a Titans team that could lose their final two. Overall though, all of the 7-7 or better teams in the AFC will be highly motivated to win in Week 16.
As an aside – I’ve coped pretty well with the Rams and Chargers being in L.A. now, but how hard is it to not only identify one team in Los Angeles, let alone two? And now both should make the postseason. What a wild year.
Lots of motivation has been earmarked, and that is a lot of what I will use to make my selections for Week 16.
Here we go:
Note that the lines and Over/Unders are taken from VegasInsider.com.
Teams on a Bye Week – NONE (Byes are over!)
Teams coming off of a Bye Week – NONE