After one of the strangest weeks in NFL history, we're hoping the latest strain of COVID-19 stops wreaking havoc on players. Not only is it fantasy football playoff time, but Week 16 of the NFL season is one of the final stands for playoff hopefuls.
No one wins when a dozen or more players are testing positive for COVID-19 and have to miss time.
While some teams may be short on active players, we're filled with storylines to delve into. The weekend is filled with key games that will have a massive impact on the playoffs and offseason. Each game will be determined by lesser storylines.
The main storyline will determine the matchup's outcome. We'll dive into the top storyline for each game, and I'll also provide a pick for each game, with odds courtesy of DraftKings.
San Francisco 49ers at Tennessee Titans
Storyline: Can Tennessee Pass The Ball
Over the last three weeks, the Titans' passing yard totals are 85, 161, and 117 yards. Ryan Tannehill has simply not done well enough without the mighty Derrick Henry carrying the unit. At 33, Tannehill appears to have reached his peak and is only functional with an incredible running game despite his revival upon landing in Tennessee.
The bad news for him is he's facing a tough, talented San Francisco secondary that will restrict his passing lanes. The Titans lack consistent receiving options to alleviate the pressure on Tannehill. I don't see them scoring effectively throughout this game.
Pick: 49ers -3 (-110)
Cleveland Browns at Green Bay Packers
Storyline: How Does Cleveland Rebound?
Last week's debacle on Monday night as Cleveland squandered a needed win against Las Vegas must be avenged. Without almost half their team, the Browns impressively led with just two minutes left in the game. But they failed to convert the clinching third-down, and then played soft coverage as Derek Carr easily moved the Raiders into field goal range.
Cleveland should have most of their starting lineup back for this one, but they're still a clear rung below the Packers. Green Bay's defense needs to get back on track to cover this large spread, but their talent is there to take advantage of a hobbled and relatively ineffective Baker Mayfield. I'm predicting a 10-point win for Green Bay.
Pick: Packers -7.5 (-115)
Indianapolis Colts at Arizona Cardinals
Storyline: Can The Cardinals' Offense Be Revived?
The Colts deserve a lot of credit for how they've turned their season around. Their run is nothing to shrug off, but the way this team is built isn't ideal to stop Kyler Murray and the Cardinals. Even without DeAndre Hopkins, Murray has enough weapons to stretch the Colts' defense horizontally and vertically.
Getting a healthy Chase Edmonds is massive for this pick. The Cardinals' have been relying more on Conner in recent weeks as Edmonds has been out, and they must win this trench battle despite the Colts being stout upfront. But with the line moving to just 1.5, we only need a win to cover.
I think Arizona will shut down Carson Wentz and force Jonathan Taylor to win the game. While the star is capable, this recipe will only work so long. Wentz did his best to give last week's game away with turnovers, and Arizona is equipped to take advantage.
Pick: Cardinals -1 (-110)
Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota Vikings
Storyline: Can Either Passing Attack Prove To Be Effective?
The Vikings won last week despite managing 61 total passing yards from Kirk Cousins, and the majority of those came on one touchdown throw to Justin Jefferson. That was against the dysfunctional Bears, though, and the suddenly-hot Rams are a different challenge. Sean McVay has led a three-game win streak as the Rams surge to push for the NFC West.
I'm almost disarmed by this line moving towards Minnesota. The Vikings are fine, but the Rams have playmakers all over the field that usually swing the line in their direction. The Rams should win this game fairly comfortably thanks to their ability to pressure Cousins and force mistakes.
Editor's Note: Dalvin Cook was ruled out with COVID as I was posting this. The line will certainly change, but the Rams are still the pick.
Pick: Rams -2.5 (-115)
Los Angeles Chargers at Houston Texans
Texans rookie passer Davis Mills is far from good by any stretch of the imagination, but he has put together a competent four-week stretch of games he's played in. He's accumulated two 300-yard games, five total touchdowns, and just two interceptions in that span. The game seems to be slowing down for Mills after missing four games.
The Chargers have to make him uncomfortable with pressure, and more complex post-snap looks to cover. Los Angeles is still playing down to competition too frequently, but their time to slack is up. I have more faith the Texans will struggle to score than I do the Chargers covering, so we'll go under here.
Pick: Under 46
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
Storyline: Can The Giants Offense Do Anything Positive?
This line is interesting since Draftkings has essentially bought the line down from 10 to 3.5. The return isn't great, but it's a virtual lock. I suggest putting several units on the Eagles to cover.
Whether the Giants start Mike Glennon or Jake Fromm matters little since neither are NFL-caliber. The Eagles must simply execute their run game and ask Jalen Hurts to avoid turnovers when called upon. New York's battered offense cannot keep up with the vast majority of NFL teams at this point, and they'll lose big this week.
Pick: Eagles -3.5 (-250)
Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots
Storyline: Can Bills Stop The Run This Time Around?
The last battle between the top two AFC East teams ended in a snow-covered bloodbath. The Patriots asserted their dominance on the Bills with their run game. But with Damien Harris nicked up and the Patriots coming off a loss finally, the Bills look like a more attractive play.
Alas, the Bills' offense was still in too much disarray last week to trust to win on a small spread, so we're looking at the total. I expect both offenses to put up points in a highly competitive playoff preview. This game should easily go over.
Pick: Over 43.5 (-110)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
Storyline: Do The Buccaneers Have Enough Weapons To Cover?
It's incredible how fast things change in the NFL. The Buccaneers swiftly went from the most dangerous offense in the league to a team desperate for Antonio Brown to return from suspension because their playmaker corps was depleted. Stars Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Leonard Fournette all suffered injuries last week for a varying amount of time.
Last week's embarrassing 9-0 loss to New Orleans may have been a bad omen about Tom Brady's ability to succeed without superstars around him at 44 years old. The Panthers have a defense capable of limiting scoring opportunities, but their bad offense won't be able to push this total over. The safest bet is to avoid the large 10-point line and go under 44.
Pick: Under 44 (-110)
Jacksonville Jaguars at New York Jets
Storyline: Which Team Bottoms Out For The No. 1 Pick?
The loser of this game likely gets the top pick in the draft. While the public likes the Jets after their spirited loss to Miami last week, the Jaguars barely have the better team. I expect the Jags' solid defense to give Zach Wilson enough problems to force a turnover or two and give their struggling offense some life.
Trevor Lawrence should be able to have more success in this game compared to his recent production. The Jets have just one long-term starter in their secondary as-is, and the Jaguars have the talent to expose the group. This game will stink to watch but I like getting the Jags on a pick 'em.
Pick: Jaguars PK (-110)
Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons
The Lions are looking much more competent as the weeks go by despite a huge injury list and already-limited roster. The coaching staff has pushed the team to two wins, one tie, and two close losses since their bye week. Seeing them as six-point underdogs to Atlanta after this stretch is stunning.
The Falcons are reeling a bit after two blowout losses in the last three weeks. Their playoff odds are on the line here, so Matt Ryan needs to convert red zone opportunities better than recent passers have against the Lions. Atlanta's defense also needs to get Jared Goff uncomfortable with pressure and force the mistakes he has avoided lately.
Pick: Lions +6 (-120)
Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals
Storyline: Does A Healthy Lamar Jackson Swing This Game?
The Ravens are a mess and quickly losing ground in the loaded AFC North. Adding a fourth-straight loss, this time to the Bengals, would all but seal their fate to miss the playoffs. As admirably as Tyler Huntley has performed in relief of Jackson, the Ravens are low on playmakers, and the Bengals are absolutely talented enough to take care of business at home even with Jackson.
Cincinnati's defense was able to lead a needed win last week against Denver, and the offense is always a threat to put up 30 or more points. I lost faith in the Ravens after their injury list swelled against Pittsburgh two weeks ago. I'll continue to fade them this week as the Bengals ascend into first place.
Pick: Bengals -2.5 (-110)
Chicago Bears at Seattle Seahawks
Storyline: Does Russell Wilson Clean-Up Issues?
The Seahawks were trending upward until their loss against the Rams last week, and the franchise had an outside shot at making the playoffs. The key to their revival was Russell Wilson, but then the veteran was out of sync and generally inaccurate when the season was on the line. Facing Chicago with a large line, why should we give any credit to the Seahawks when they continue to trip over themselves?
The Bears also offer no reason for confidence after continually shooting themselves in the foot last week as well. Their offense is completely inept despite boasting some quality individual playmakers. The under is the safest play between these inconsistent teams.
Pick: Under 43 (-115)
Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders
Storyline: Will Drew Lock Show Improvement?
Both Denver and Las Vegas have come crashing down after their surprising early-season performances. Injuries have played into that, and the Broncos were dealt a blow when Teddy Bridgewater suffered a concussion that has limited him in two games over the last three weeks. Unfortunately for the Broncos, backup Drew Lock hasn't been able to step in with any type of competence in relief.
The Raiders will benefit from facing a backup passer for the second-straight week. Lock's scattershot accuracy will cost the Broncos dearly, and I expect the Raiders to take advantage as they did against Cleveland's Nick Mullens. It might take until the final drive once again, but the Raiders are a good bet to outlast the Broncos.
Pick: Raiders -1 (-105)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs
Storyline: Which Chiefs' Playmakers Are Able To Go?
On one hand, we're getting some baked-in value as skeptics have driven the line down 2.5 points, but also the Chiefs likely aren't 7.5 points better than the Steelers without both of their top receivers. Grabbing this line early, either way is a bet for or against the likelihood of a negative test for any individual.
This is a low-confidence pick for me. With the Chiefs rolling lately and the Steelers struggling against the Vikings, Bengals, and Chargers offenses over the last month, if I have to gamble, I'll take the Chiefs in a solid win.
Pick: Chiefs -7.5 (-110)
Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys
Storyline: Can Washington Avoid Repeat Loss?
The last matchup between these teams just two weeks ago ended in a seven-point Dallas win. But the Football Team has been struck by COVID since then and were embarrassed by Philadelphia despite pushing the spread last week. Dallas should easily pick apart Washington barring an unexpected return from guys like William Jackson, Curtis Samuel, and a host of depth players.
Dallas can clinch the NFC East with a win and further press the Cardinals and Rams for the conference title. They're as motivated as any team to deliver a message in primetime. I expect a comfortable home win.
Pick: Cowboys -10.5 (-110)
Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints
Storyline: Which Dominant Defense Prevails?
This game will be ugly, and oddsmakers expect as much with a 38.5 total. The Dolphins will have leading receiver Jaylen Waddle back and have settled on a running back rotation of Duke Johnson and Philip Lindsay that actually works. With six straight wins and improvement from Tua Tagovailoa, the Dolphins' playoffs odds are looking more realistic than ever.
The Saints won't make it easy. Their defense is fantastic on every level and will make Miami work hard for points. I doubt Ian Book can create consistent offense in his first career start, though, and will take the money line.
Pick: Dolphins ML (-120)
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