It all comes down to this week in many cases, as we have been saying for weeks that the clarity of the playoffs would eventually pan out. That hasn’t happened with the 49ers losing to the Falcons as double-digit favorites last week, and it has caused some uncertainty in the NFC West. The NFC East and North will be decided this week, and the AFC East and South potentially could be finalized as well. With all that intrigue coming in and games on Saturday this week there is plenty to get into coming into Week 16. Went 2-1 last week with this column, so let’s see if we can do a little better this week.
Buffalo Bills vs New England Patriots
Buffalo comes in after defeating the Steelers in an ugly display of offensive football from both sides. The Bills have to be pleased by the result as Josh Allen again performed against a very good defense. The signs are concerning that Josh Allen is just an athlete playing quarterback, but if he can’t be more accurate against good defenses the Bills will struggle to get anywhere in the playoffs. The Bills defense was sensational and Tre’Davious White had another monster game and is a top-five cornerback in the league. The matchup couldn’t be better for the Bills who will take on a Patriots offense that has been inept for a handful of weeks now if not all season. New England’s offense reached a new low in offensive weighted DVOA and has dropped to 19th in the league. The good news for Patriots fans is that it is still better than the Bills offense, which ranks 21st so don’t expect a lot of offensive fireworks from either team on Saturday. The Patriots limp into this division game a little gimpy with Edelman looking like a shadow of his normal squirrel-like ways, and his status is worth keeping an eye on. The Patriots defense dominated the lowly Bengals last week and they will look to do the same against Josh Allen who they intercepted three times and knocked out of the game last time these two teams played. Offensively the Patriots ran the ball well last week but they will need to do it again against a defense that has been no joke this year. The Bills defense ranks fourth in weighted DVOA third against the pass and nineteenth versus the run. I expect this game to be another slugfest where the teams play field position game. Turnovers will be key in this one and the team that can avoid them will win this game. I expect the championship pedigree of the Patriots to prevail here at home but no way am I taking the Patriots -6.5. My play is under 37.5.
New Orleans Saints vs Tennessee Titans
The Saints roll into Tennessee with their eye on potentially getting home field throughout the playoffs. They crushed the Colts on primetime last week. They will have to go outdoors and play a Tennessee team that has been nothing short of dominating since they moved to Tannehill at quarterback, and they badly need to win this game to stay in the playoff hunt. Saints are second in weighted DVOA on the year and their play has been amazing all year long. The concern for the Saints in this one is their defense comes in banged up. They acquired Janoris Jenkins who they picked up off waivers, which should help in the secondary and the struggling Eli Apple. On offense, the Saints are rolling mostly because of the sensational play of Michael Thomas who has been the best receiver this year and it isn’t close. Drew Brees broke Peyton’s touchdown record last week and looked sensational at home in the dome. This game is a little different as I expect the Titans to double Michael Thomas as much as possible and they will need to have Logan Ryan and hopefully Adoree Jackson healthy and ready to go against their stiffest test of the year. Kenny Vaccaro will also get his reunion with the team that drafted him. The Titans defense should be able to handle the run game of the Saints which has not been great all season. On offense, the Titans will hope that Derrick Henry is a bit healthier than he was last week as he has been a monster all season long. The loss of Marcus Davenport on the Saints defensive line could prove huge in this one as the Titans will look to pound the ball and keep Brees off the field as much as possible. This game is a good spot to fade the Saints after the performance they put on last week, and expect the Titans to give the Saints all they can handle here. My pick is the Titans +2.5.
Green Bay Packers vs Minnesota Vikings
Packers and Vikings, not a better rivalry in the NFL and this one will not disappoint on Monday Night Football. The Packers are cruising along win after win and see themselves atop the NFC at the moment. The Vikings come in chugging right along as well and need a win for any hopes of taking the division from the Packers. The Packers, although on the top of the NFC, is ranked twelfth in weighted DVOA and Minnesota is sitting at sixth. The Packers offense has been good early in games and dominates in the red zone mostly due to the balance they have had on offense this year. Aaron Rodgers has not had to do as much as he has in the past. The Packers threw the ball 67.5% of the time last year and currently sits at 59.4% this year. Rodgers is taking care of the ball as he normally does with only two interceptions so far this season. The Vikings defense has had issues in the secondary with Xavier Rhodes slowing down, but with this being a divisional matchup and these teams knowing each other very well, the coaching matchup here has to go to Zimmer and the Vikings defense. Aaron Rodgers will look to have a vintage performance to secure a victory in Minnesota where the Vikings have been very good all season long. The Vikings on offense will be without Dalvin Cook and possibly Mattison as well. If that is the case Mike Boone will be next man up and he looked very good in the preseason and in his last game. Kirk Cousins who was one of the guys who was snubbed for NFC Pro Bowl quarterback will look to prove himself on the big stage in the biggest game of the year for the Vikings. Stephon Diggs and Adam Thielen should be ready to go and the Vikings will need to get them going early in this one and it will not be easy against this stingy secondary of the Packers. This game will be worth the price of admission and although the Vikings and Minnesota, in general, have a terrible aura around them in big games but this is one I expect them to pull out. My pick is the Vikings -5.5.
That wraps this week’s matchup column. Philadelphia vs Dallas is a game that is a bit up in the air with the Prescott news that he is banged up so I avoided it. I would lean Dallas however if he plays. Remember to check out www.sportcastr.com and follow myself @semiproUSN I cover all the NFL lines and player props every week. Make sure to check out the @betsunwrapped twitter page as well when you get a chance as we put out plays on all sports every day. I look forward to this week’s games good luck to all this week and let’s beat the house.