Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part preview of week 16 in the NFL. Part 2 will be available at noon Friday following this link.
If this week in the NFL is anything like last week, we’re in for a fun ride… If you’re still playing this weekend, congratulations are probably in order. Most leagues are rolling their championships out at least in part (if you use a 2 week final).
The NFL schedule is one of the strangest in recent memory. Due to Christmas being on Sunday, there’s the normal Thursday Night Game, and then all the afternoon games get moved into Saturday the 24th. The Sunday and Monday Night games, however, remain in the same time slots and on the same networks.
There’s a lot of key games this weekend for teams getting in/out of the playoffs or getting the position they want. It should make for some exciting playoff-like football to make your Christmas that much brighter. For each game I’ll give you my pick against the spread (taken from ESPN Pigskin Pick’Em with home team in all caps), my analysis as to why I’m making that pick, and some player notes to make sure you’re aware of when making lineup decisions. A bad choice now can cost you the championship so make sure you have all the info and choose wisely…
Last week was a great week for my picks as I went 12-4 for my best week of the year. So far my overall record is year 128-93. Here’s what I’m picking heading into what’s sure to be a wild and wacky week 16. The first half of the slate (8 games) is in this post and the 2nd half will be up tomorrow.
Texans -5.5 over COLTS
Analysis: The Thursday night showcase billing changed after Sunday’s games. Before week 15, it was “T.J. Yates is the answer and will the Colts win this year?” now it’s “Is T.J. Yates the answer? And the Colts won last week.” Houston has never won at Indy even though they’re in the same division. A guy named Manning had a little something to do with that. He’s not here for this one though, and Arian Foster is. He owns the Colts having played only 2 games against them and hung 333 yards and 4 TDs on them. The Texans will only go as far in the playoffs as their defense and Foster can carry them if Yates doesn’t turn the ball over. He did last week, and they paid for it losing to Carolina. I’m not sold that the Texans win a game in the playoffs, but this game isn’t in the playoffs and they’ll handle the not-so-mighty Colts 31-20.
Player Notes: Arian Foster-obviously a good play against a run defense ranked 28th in the league who he’s dominated in the past…Andre Johnson-is out once again as he recovers from his injury. He’s “close” and they hope to test him next week in the final regular season game…Ben Tate makes a decent flex play if you’re desperate . This one might be over early and he does get touches every game and the Colts run D may check out after getting their one win… Stay away from the Colts and stay away from Houston’s passing game. You can do better than that.
Broncos -3.5 over BILLS
Analysis: The Bills began the year with so much promise, but are scuffling to the finish. The Broncos looked bad to open the season but now are finishing the year showing a lot of potential. Tebow-mania comes to upstate NY this week, but it’s the Broncos defense that will be the difference maker. Ryan Fitzpatrick has struggled turning the ball over and has 5 INT’s in his last 3 games and 12 in his team’s 7 game slide. The Bills will have a hard time turning it around with a defense that ranks 29th against the run against the team that leads the league in rushing. The Broncos will run wild on the Bills and win easily in this one 34-17.
Player Notes: Tim Tebow‘s heroic efforts probably won’t be needed for the Broncos to win this one, but his potential numbers especially on the ground make him a QB1 for championship week. If you’re in a 2-week format it gets even better since his home matchup next week against the Chiefs is another great one… Willis McGahee-should be in for a good game as well as long as he can stay on the field. He’s had full practices the last 2 days so he should be good for feature back duties against the Bills and makes a low RB1 or high RB2…Dermaryius Thomas-he’s become Tebow’s favorite target and makes a good play for Sunday…CJ Spiller and Steve Johnson are the only Bills worth considering. Spiller had a nice game last week and makes a solid RB2/flex against a Broncos D that gave up 41 points last week. Johnson’s a nice play too as a high WR2 since Denver ranks 20th in the league against the pass and Johnson’s been consistently getting and converting lots of looks from Fitzpatrick.
BENGALS -4.5 over Cardinals
Analysis: The Bengals look to protect their home-field against the red-hot Cardinals in this matchup of 2 teams on the outside hoping to get into the playoff races in their respective conferences. The Bengals are tied with the Jets but lose the tie-breaker for the 6th and final playoff spot in the AFC, and the Cardinals need to win out and get some help to get into the NFC Wild Card picture. Both defenses have been playing better, but Arizona has struggled on the road going just 2-4 and beating only St. Louis and Philadelphia. The Cardinals also have some uncertainty at QB with Kevin Kolb apparently over his concussion but John Skelton playing well lately. Coach Ken Whisenhunt hasn’t announced his intentions, but either way I’ll take the dynamic duo of Bengals rookies Andy Dalton and AJ Green to win in a close one. It’ll be a great playoff atmosphere, so I think the home field makes a difference in this 23-17 defensive struggle.
Player Notes: Points won’t be plentiful in this one since both defenses have been playing well. Cedric Benson is a RB2 as is Beanie Wells. Wells has been limited in practice but should be good to go on game day without any problem. Larry Fitzgerald and AJ Green are both low-end WR1’s and if you have either one at this point you’re starting them for your playoffs. In 1 QB leagues I would avoid both Andy Dalton and whoever the Cardinals start, but in 2 QB leagues both would be decent, although not great, options. I don’t expect a lot of fantasy points in this one, but the finals isn’t the time to get cute so play your stars but don’t expect huge results in this one.
Browns +13.5 over RAVENS
Analysis: The Ravens dropped a tough one to the surging Chargers last Sunday night and now get the Browns after a tough overtime loss in Arizona. I think the Ravens will win, but the 14 points seems like way to big a spread for a divisional rivalry game. The Browns have been playing better and have Peyton Hillis back to mostly full-strength and may have Seneca Wallace under center. I think the Ravens win 23-14, but the Browns cover on the road like they have 4 out of 6 times this year.
Player Notes: Ray Rice makes a great RB1 against a team he shredded for 204 yards back in week 13. Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin, and Torrey Smith all had rough games last week and since the Ravens will probably be able to run, I don’t see them having a good week this week either. With all their struggles, the Browns still rank #3 against the pass…Peyton Hillis is a tough play against the #2 rushing D in the league, but he looked good last week so if you need him as a RB2 or flex play he should get a TD or two and 60-70 yards… Greg Little was Seneca Wallace‘s favorite target last week (9 targets, 5 catches, 131 yards, 1 TD) so he makes a sneaky WR3 or flex if you’re desperate and need to reach.
TITANS -7.5 over Jags
Analysis: The Titans embarrassed themselves by being the first team to drop a game to divisional rival Indianapolis and now come home to face the Jags. Jacksonville is a mess and last week got crushed by Atlanta in the Thursday Night game. They’ll be well-rested, but just don’t have the weapons on offense to compete with the Chris Johnson-led Tennessee offense. Tennessee won’t run away and hide, but they’ll win 23-10 and cover.
Player Notes: Chris Johnson disappeared again last week in the Titans loss to the Colts but will look to bounce back against a stout but not amazing Jags run-D that ranks 14th in the league. The reason I think Johnson bounces back is that Matt Hasselbeck and the passing offense will struggle agains the #4 ranked pass defense of the Jags. When the Jags do get beat in the air, it’s usually to the #1 receiver (see White, Roddy from last week) so I actually think Nate Washington is a solid WR3 this week…The only Jag you can start in any format (except bad quarterback leagues like Grantland’s) is Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD continues to put up numbers week-too-week despite the fact that there isn’t any other weapons on this offense. He’s an RB1 this week and should be again next year.
CHIEFS -.5 over Raiders
Analysis: KC is a hard place to play, just ask Aaron Rodgers. That game could have been over early if the Chiefs could convert their drives into TDs instead of FGs. The struggle can mostly be attributed to Kyle Orton just learning the offense… The Raiders meanwhile have dropped their last 3 games and are rapidly fading out of the AFC West title picture. They’ll be looking to avenge a 28-0 beatdown from the Chiefs in Oakland week 7, but I think the Chiefs will take it again in Arrowhead in a closer game 17-14 in overtime.
Player Notes: Kyle Orton-didn’t find the endzone against the Packers, but threw the ball well and moved the ball effectively. He’s a nice QB2 option against the Raiders secondary ranked 23rd in the league that has been decimated by Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Matt Moore in the last 3 weeks. Dwayne Bowe should bounce back from a tough game last week and is a good WR1 and Steve Breaston is also playable in deep leagues if you need him. Stay away from the Thomas Jones, Jackie Battle, and Dexter McCluster backfield if at all possible, but if you have to go with one go McCluster and hope they find ways to get him the ball…For the Raiders, don’t expect too much as this defense just shut down the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers last week. Michael Bush is a low RB2 but the Chiefs rank 24th against the run so he’s got some upside. Carson Palmer and the MASH unit that is the Raiders receivers are tough to be confident of going against the #9 passing D of the Chiefs but I’d still start Darrius Heyward-Bey as a WR3 since Palmer and he appear to be developing a solid connection.
STEELERS -15.5 over Rams
Analysis: It looks like a showdown between Kellen Clemens and Charlie Batch in this one. I reason I still think that Pittsburgh can cover this is the vast difference between the 2 supporting casts in this one. The Rams have been horrific on the road going 1-6 and only covering the spread the one time they won (which was by one over the Browns when they missed a chip shot). They’ve put up 13, 0, 13, 13, 7, and 3 in their last 6 road games. That was with Sam Bradford and AJ Feeley at QB and I don’t see Clemens as muh of an upgrade…The Steelers are 4-3 against the spread at home and have rolled teams like Seattle, Tennessee, and Cincinnati at home. The Steelers will rely on Rashard Mendenhall and the playmaking ability of receivers Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace to lead them over the Rams. I think they’ll be enough as the Steelers roll 35-3.
Player Notes: The only Ram worth thinking about starting is Steven Jackson. Jackson is the only weapon on St. Louis, but he’ll find it tough going against the Steelers #6 rushing defense. Kellen Clemens isn’t a good option even in 2 QB leagues against the #1 ranked passing defense. The Rams are in for a long day on offense and their default #2 receiver Austin Pettis, who you probably didn’t want anyway, was suspended 4 games for violating the leagues performance-enhancing substance policy and will not play Sunday…It’s hard to say what to expect for the Steelers since Charlie Batch hasn’t played much with the first-string offense. If you’re in the finals and you have Mike Wallace or Antonio Brown you can start them and hope for the best. The focus of the offense though will be Rashard Mendenhall who could have a breakout game against the Rams worst-in-the-league ranked rush defense giving up over 150 yards per game.
Dolphins +10.5 over PATRIOTS
Analysis: The Dolphins always play the Pats close and this visit to Foxboro will probably be no different. Matt Moore has led the Dolphins late-season resurgence along with a revitalized Reggie Bush, and although I don’t think they have the fire power to keep up with the Patriots, I do think they’ll play them close and end up losing 34-24 and covering.
Player Notes: This has the potential to be where all the points are this week. The Patriots D is decimated with injuries with DE Andre Carter being the latest casualty. They may get Patrick Chung back and that would be a huge help, but still all your dolphins are good starts. Matt Moore is a borderline QB1, Reggie Bush is a borderline RB1, Brandon Marshall is a WR1, and if you need to take a flyer on Brian Hartline at a flex spot you could. On the other side of the ball, the Dolphins have been solid against the run but victimized by the pass all year and Tom Brady tore them up in the opener for 517 yards and 4 TDs. It’s not a newsflash that he, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez are must starts but they could absolutely explode and win lots of fantasy leagues this Christmas Eve.
The second half of the NFL week 16 preview is on tap for tomorrow so make sure you come back for breakdowns on the Pack bouncing back, the big Monday Night Football matchup for the south, and the Battle of New York between the Jets and the Giants. Until then have a great Thursday and with all the bowls and NFL games, try not to OD on football. If you do though, we’ve got your fantasyCPR right here….