NFL Football Predictions: Week 16 Opening Line Report and Picks
by Alan Matthews - 12/16/2014
We didn't have a single playoff spot wrapped up entering Week 15, but now four clubs are in: New England, Denver and Indianapolis clinched their respective division titles while Arizona clinched at least a wild-card berth. The four teams to have qualified through Week 15 is the second-fewest number since the field expanded to 12 in 1990. Depending on what happens this week, all four NFC division crowns could be up for grabs entering Week 17 for the second year in a row. That has never happened in back-to-back seasons in a conference dating to the merger.
The Patriots and Broncos can lock up the top two seeds in the AFC with wins this week; New England is the No. 1 with a win and Denver loss. Three-fourths of the AFC North teams -- the Bengals, Steelers and Ravens -- could all clinch playoff spots this week with wins and a bit of help. The Cardinals clinch the NFC West and the top seed in the NFC with a win over Seattle. New Orleans takes the NFC South with a win and Panthers loss.
Here are a few Week 16 opening lines at WagerWeb that caught my eye. I will preview Saturday's Eagles-Redskins game (sorry not touching the sad Titans-Jaguars Thursday finale), Sunday's Seahawks-Cardinals and Monday's Broncos-Bengals this week, so I won't touch on those here.
San Diego at San Francisco (-2, 41.5): I'm only interested in this Saturday night game to see if the Niners will totally quit now that they are out of the playoffs. That means teams can officially start sniffing around Coach Jim Harbaugh -- maybe he's named the Michigan coach by the time this game kicks off. Will Colin Kaepernick have a fourth straight game throwing for less than 175 yards? The Chargers (8-6) are currently No. 8 in the AFC and must win out and get plenty of help to return to the playoffs.
Kansas City at Pittsburgh (-3, 46.5): Pittsburgh is in the playoffs with a win regardless of what happens anywhere else. The Steelers still have designs on the division title, and if they beat the Chiefs and then visiting Cincinnati next week then they will win it. Kansas City (8-6) is currently No. 7 in the AFC, so it needs to win out and get some help. This will be strength vs. strength as Kansas City is No. 2 in the NFL against the pass and Pittsburgh is No. 2 in passing yards. Ben Roethlisberger is having the best year of his career and already has set a career high in pass yards. He has been stellar at home with a rating of 118.0, 20 touchdowns and only three picks in 2014. The Chiefs have an NFL-low four interceptions but also the NFL's sacks leader in Justin Houston with 17 (tied with Baltimore's Elvis Dumervil).
Baltimore at Houston (+4.5, 41.5): How fortunate are the Ravens? This week they get to face the Texans' fourth starting quarterback of the season, presumably Case Keenum, who was just signed this week after Houston lost both Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom Savage to injury in Week 16. It could also be Thad Lewis. Neither guy should scare the Ravens much. Then next week the Ravens get to face Cleveland rookie Johnny Manziel, who looked overwhelmed in his first NFL start. The Ravens are in the playoffs this week with a win and either Steelers and Bengals losses OR losses by the Chiefs and Chargers. Obviously one of Pittsburgh/Kansas City has to lose (barring a tie). Houston is expecting back receiver Andre Johnson from injury for this one.
Indianapolis at Dallas (-3, 55.5): I'm a bit surprised there's an opening line on this game because it's not clear if Dallas star running back DeMarco Murray, the league's leading rusher, will play after having surgery for a broken left hand on Monday. He is the Cowboys' offense this season, so obviously it would affect things greatly if Murray can't play. The team isn't ruling him out and in fact is confident he will. Murray's a lot tougher than I am! Murray needs 87 yards in the final two games to eclipse Emmitt Smith's single-season team record of 1,773 yards set in 1995. He has an outside shot at 2,000 yards. The Cowboys clinch the NFC East with a win and an Eagles loss Saturday.
Atlanta at New Orleans (-5.5, 56): The Saints looked quite good in Monday night's win in Chicago -- or the Bears are just really lousy. Probably a mix of both. New Orleans has lost four straight at the Superdome but clinches the NFC South with a victory and a Carolina loss at home to Cleveland, which is possible if Cam Newton doesn't play again. The Falcons would own the tiebreaker with the Saints with an upset as Atlanta beat New Orleans 37-34 in overtime at the Georgia Dome in Week 1. But the Falcons (5-9) have one more loss than the Panthers (5-8-1), so the Cats would have to lose at least once for Atlanta to win the division. Carolina plays Atlanta in Week 17. Star Falcons receiver Julio Jones is expected to play after missing Week 15 with a hip injury. If Atlanta loses this one, Coach Mike Smith is gone for sure.
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