NFL WEEK 16: Christmas came early in Tennessee this week after the Titans erased a 10-point halftime deficit on Thursday night to beat a 49ers team that had won 5 of 6 heading into the game, and with Derrick Henry set to return before the playoffs things are definitely looking up for the AFC South frontrunners. In San Francisco, meanwhile, injury issues have given way to more serious concerns– that is, whether or not the Niners currently have a quarterback on the roster good enough to take them to the promised land. It would be difficult for anyone who watched Thursday night’s game to say with confidence that Jimmy Garoppolo is that guy.

This Week 16 features plenty of games with playoff implications, and unfortunately the COVID testing regime and protocols are still with us and are threatening to cripple several teams at the worst possible time, such as the New Orleans Saints, whose top two quarterbacks have tested positive and are not expected to be available for a must-win game against Miami on Monday night. Rookie Ian Book is scheduled to make his first career start against a Dolphins defense that is playing its best football of the season, and as a result the line has moved from NO -3 to MIA -2.5. There are bound to be more games affected by positive tests in the next 48 hours, so it’s important to stay on top of the newsfeed and I’d recommend waiting until as close to kickoff as possible before placing your bets this week. With that in mind, here’s what I’m thinking:

Indianapolis Colts @ Arizona Cardinals (Saturday- 8:15pm EST) (ARI -1.5, 49.5)

Recommendation: Indianapolis +1.5 at 2.01

We’ve had some strange results in the NFL this season, but perhaps none stranger than Arizona’s loss to a 1-win Detroit team last week, a game in which the Cards fell behind 17-0 in the first half and never really made it competitive. That makes 4 losses in the last 7 games for Arizona, and all that Super Bowl talk from early in the season sure feels like a long time ago. Things won’t get any easier this week when the red-hot Colts come to town– Indy has won 5 of 6 and the offense is rolling behind Jonathan Taylor, who leads the NFL in rushing and could become the first running back to win league MVP since Adrian Peterson back in 2012. Taylor is averaging an astounding 5.6 yards per carry despite heavy usage, and he’s got a great matchup here against a soft Arizona front seven that is surrendering 4.6 yards per rush, the fifth-most in the league. With the Cardinals offense still struggling to find its rhythm, the Colts have an excellent chance to control time of possession in this game and impose their will. Despite what the records say, I believe the wrong team is favored here.

Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots (NE -2, 43.5)

Recommendation: Buffalo +2 at 1.95

This was supposed to be Buffalo’s time– after enduring 15+ years of losses and missed postseason opportunities at the hands of the hated Patriots, the Bills finally appeared to be the better team. But football has a funny way of not working out how it’s supposed to, and after the Pats went into Buffalo and handed the Bills a 14-10 loss on a frigid Monday night three weeks ago– a game in which Patriots QB Mac Jones attempted just three passes– it looked like the end of another bitter chapter in Bills football. After New England lost to Indianapolis last week, however, the door is once again cracked open for Buffalo, as only one game separates these teams in the standings. The magnitude of this game for the Bills simply can’t be overstated– lose, and this regular season is a disappointment, any way you slice it. A win, and especially an impressive, confidence-building win, could propel Buffalo to a division title and *whispers* maybe even a Super Bowl run. And I’ll tell you what– after what happened in the game a couple of weeks ago, when the Pats piled up 222 rushing yards and only threw the ball three times, I will be shocked, absolutely shocked, if the Bills defense can’t come up with some answers to get the New England offense off the field. Remember– this Buffalo defense leads the NFL in yards allowed and ranks second in points allowed. They are elite, any way you slice it. The Bills also have the better quarterback and superior skill-position talent on offense, which is why everyone was floored by Belichick’s wizardry after the Patriots were able to pull out the first game. I’m betting the buck stops here, though– superior talent will win the day, and the Bills will pick up a rare victory in Foxboro.

Los Angeles Chargers @ Houston Texans (LA -10, 46)

Recommendation: Los Angeles -10 at 1.91

A gut-wrenching overtime loss to Kansas City last week has put the Chargers in a tough spot– at 8-6 and hanging on by a thread in the AFC Wild Card race, they absolutely must get win this week before ending the season against two divisional opponents who are both only a game back of LA in the standings. Fortunately for them, the opponent on Sunday is the hapless Houston Texans, a team that has only won three games all season. The Texans are coming off a victory over Jacksonville, giving them the season sweep over the Jags, but if you look at the other 12 games– the games where they haven’t been playing Jacksonville– you have a 1-11 team that has lost eight games by double-digits. They’re starting rookie Davis Mills at quarterback, and his top receiver, Brandin Cooks, is on the COVID list and is unlikely to play in this game. There aren’t many positives on the other side of the ball, either, as only four teams leaguewide have allowed more yards than the Texans and only three teams have allowed more points. Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who ranks second in the AFC in passing and has thrown 32 TDs this season, has to be licking his chops for this matchup. Given the difference in quality between these teams and the urgency of the situation for Los Angeles, I’m having a difficult time imagining scenarios where Houston keeps this one close. Lay the points with confidence.