NFL WEEK 16: It’s Christmastime and a great weekend of NFL action, with 11 games taking place on Saturday the 24th and three games on Christmas Day. Playoff races have cleared up considerably and most teams who are still in contention know the various scenarios and what needs to happen, so we can expect some high intensity, pressure-packed football over the season’s final three weeks.
I’d like to wish everyone reading this a Merry Christmas and happy holiday season, and my best advice this week is to cherish the time you have with family and friends. Life is short and the magical times are fleeting. Make the most of them.
Let’s see if we can spread a little holiday cheer with some winners:
Atlanta Falcons @ Baltimore Ravens (BAL -6.5, 35.5) *Saturday Dec. 24
Recommendation: Baltimore -6.5 at 1.91
Lamar Jackson is the straw that stirs the drink in Baltimore, but he’s been dealing with a strained PCL and has not taken the field since November. In his absence, Tyler Huntley has led the Ravens offense to just 29 combined points across three games, with a 16-point output against Pittsburgh in Week 14 the high water mark thus far. Huntley will be under center again this week, which would seemingly make Baltimore a precarious play as a 6.5-point favorite. That said, the opponent here, Atlanta, is in even worse shape at the quarterback position, as rookie Desmond Ridder will be making his second career start after the ownership-driven move to bench Marcus Mariota. I’m not sure if you saw the Falcons play the Saints last week, but to say Ridder seemed lost is putting it kindly. He threw for a mere 97 yards on 26 attempts and looked incredibly uncomfortable in the pocket.
You can be sure that the Baltimore defense has seen the tape, and they are absolutely chomping at the bit to get after this rookie. I’m expecting more turnovers than touchdowns from the Atlanta offense. On the other side of the ball, a Falcons defense that allows 130 rush yards per game and 4.3 yards per attempt will have its hands full with a Baltimore rushing attack that has been rejuvenated since JK Dobbins returned from IR a couple of weeks ago, with Dobbins rushing for 247 combined yards in the team’s last two games, the most in the NFL in that stretch. The Ravens can clinch a playoff berth with a win here and a loss by either Miami or New England, while Falcons ownership and upper management has begun to look to the draft, as evidenced by recent personnel decisions. This one won’t be close.
Washington Commanders @ San Francisco 49ers (SF -7, 37.5) *Saturday Dec. 24
Recommendation: Washington +7 at 1.91
Kyle Shanahan’s Niners are on a serious roll, winning their last 7 games despite being down to their third-string quarterback. All but two of the wins have come by double-digits, with the defense playing dominant football and the addition of Christian McCaffrey giving the offense a jolt of big-play juice that it lacked earlier in the season. This is the type of team that, as a bettor, I generally either ride or avoid– betting against them is not a sound option most weeks. That said, I have a strong feeling that we’ve reached a “sell high” point for these Niners– for one week, anyway.
This is a really tough matchup for the San Francisco offense, a unit that is starting a rookie quarterback and will be missing its top perimeter weapon in Deebo Samuel. Without Samuel, the Brock Purdy-led passing attack is going to be extremely limited, and this is of course obvious and apparent to anyone who knows football, which is why the total here (37.5) is so low. What is less apparent, maybe, is just how good this Washington defense is: for all the talk about the San Fran D, the Commies actually allow fewer pass yards per game and are right behind the Niners in the total defense stats, ranking third in the league in yards allowed and surrendering just 19 points per game. The one thing that has been missing from the Washington defense– the one thing preventing it from being truly dominant– is the lack of a dynamic pass-rusher, but that problem may now be a thing of the past, as freakish edge rusher Chase Young is fully healthy again and will be making his season debut in this game. You think he’s not chomping at the bit to get after a rookie QB making his fourth career start? How, exactly, are the 49ers going to move the ball in this game… running it right into the teeth of an excellent Washington front seven and what is sure to be a loaded box? Good luck. As long as Taylor Heinicke protects the ball, the Commies will be in this one until the end. Seven points is too many.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Arizona Cardinals (TB -7.5, 39.5) *Christmas Day
Recommendation: Tampa Bay -7.5 at 1.91
Sometimes teams simply unravel over the course of the season, and by the last few weeks they bear no resemblance to their full self. Such is the case with these Arizona Cardinals, and anyone who has been watching HBO’s in-season “Hard Knocks” has seen this dynamic play out behind the scenes (just imagine the stuff that isn’t on-camera). The Cards are simply awful, losers of 6 of their last 7 games, and you increasingly get the feeling that ownership is about to clear the whole deck– general manager Steve Keim, head coach Kliff Kingsbury, and maybe even franchise QB Kyler Murray. It isn’t working, and it doesn’t appear as though Kingsbury has any answers or any ability to right the ship and stop the bleeding. They just keep getting worse.
With both Murray and backup Colt McCoy injured and out, Arizona will be going with rookie Trace McSorley at quarterback this week, who will be making his first career NFL start. He’ll be facing a veteran Tampa defense that ranks 5th in the NFL in pass yards allowed, and he can’t really lean on a running game that is producing just 111 ypg on the ground. So… disaster likely awaits. The Bucs badly need this game as they cling to a 1-game lead in the NFC South, and this is the dream opponent for a team in desperate straits, looking to bounce back from back-to-back losses. Brady and the offense should be able to find some rhythm against an Arizona defense that has surrendered 24 points or more in each of the team’s last 6 losses, and the Bucs should be celebrating Christmas with a double-digit victory and an easy win for their backers.