The giving season has been kind to the NFL fans. After suffering three months of bad football it looks like our fortune is turning. Last week we saw the dismissal of Jeff Fisher, the worst coach in the NFL has ever seen. This week we saw Gus Bradley, a fellow lame duck coach much like Fisher was, get the axe AND most important of all, Brock Osweiler was benched. Can we throw a parade now? Since Christmas came early for the Rams, Jaguars, and Texans let’s see what the 29 other teams have on their wish list this holiday weekend:
Arizona Cardinals– Carson Palmer successor
Atlanta Falcons– Healthy Julio Jones
Baltimore Ravens– Viagra for Joe Flaccid
Buffalo Bills– 2013 Sammy Watkins
Carolina Panthers–One roughing the passer call for Cam Newton
Chicago Bears–Jay Cutler retirement announcement
Cincinnati Bengals–Brain implants for Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones
Cleveland Browns–A win
Dallas Cowboys–Jerry Jones moving on from Tony Romo
Denver Broncos– A starting quarterback
Detroit Lions–NFC North title
Green Bay Packers–A running back
Indianapolis Colts–A General Manager who knows what they’re doing
Kansas City Chiefs–Improbable Jamaal Charles
Miami Dolphins–Ryan Tannehill (or anyone not named Matt Moore)
Minnesota Vikings–An offensive tackle who can pass block
New England Patriots–Rob Gronkowski
New Orleans Saints–One Defender
New York Giants–Competent replacement for the incompetent Ereck Flowers
New York Jets–A casket for Darrelle Revis’ skills
Oakland Raiders–A healthy finger for Derek Carr
Philadelphia Eagles–Two more Vikings losses
Pittsburgh Steelers–Ben Roethlisberger’s accuracy returns
San Diego Chargers–Injury-free 2017
San Francisco 49ers–A prayer (aka Jed York stepping down)
Seattle Seahawks–Marshawn Lynch
Tampa Bay Buccaneers–Number two receiver
Tennessee Titans–Star receiver
Washington Redskins–Consistent Kirk Cousins
What does the holiday week have in store for us? Let’s take a look at the holiday slate. Home teams are in CAPS.
Giants (-2.5) over EAGLES
Even the most cynical of football fans will have trouble writing off the Giants’ recent run. Their defense has shut down three straight playoff caliber opponents under 21 points. They should have been 3-0 in that run, but Eli Manning shit the bed in Pittsburgh big time. As they head into Thursday’s matchup with the Eagles there is very little to nitpick about the Giants. Sure Ereck Flowers is still known to Giants fans as the guy the team took instead of Todd Gurley, but at least they drafted Landon Collins and Eli Apple in the subsequent drafts. Sure Eli Manning is as reliable Apple Maps, at least they have Odell Beckham. This Giants team never makes it look pretty, but they seem to get the job done.
There are no positive spins for the Eagles. They ended up with the better quarterback from the top of the 2016 draft, but have no receivers to throw to. Carson Wentz has been okay in the second half of the season and it’s no thanks to his pathetic supporting cast. If the ageless wonder Darren Sproles weren’t on this team Zach Ertz would be Wentz’ best option. From that sentence alone you should be able to guess how the Eagles offense performs. How they covered last week in Baltimore was a credit to Joe “Flaccid” Flacco’s below average play. The Giants are still playing for something while the Eagles are eagerly watching to see what goes on in Minnesota to see where they will pick for the upcoming draft. Expect a lot of Wentz incompletions, a lot of drops by Eagles receivers, and if we’re lucky a great Odell moment.
Prediction: Giants 23, Eagles 16
PATRIOTS (-16.5) over Jets
Normally you’d take the points here, but if you learned anything from last week it’s that bad teams find a way to get blown out on the road. The Rams were unable to cover 16 points in Seattle and the Jets are coming off an embarrassing 34-13 home loss to the Dolphins. This week they walk into a buzzsaw in New England. If Bryce Petty is still breathing after the beating he took last week the Jets might get a pity score, but not much aside from that. The defense has either quit or taken the demeanor of their leader Darrelle Revis and packed it in early this year. There is no other reason a Matt Moore-led offense scored 34 points. If Moore was able to do that just imagine what Tom Brady has in store for his favorite foe.
Brady might be without Gronk, but he has Dion Lewis back and that alone has made a difference. Lewis is the perfect elusive scat back compliment to the between-the-tackles bruiser LeGarrette Blount. His return has given the Patriots balance and partially filled the massive void left by Gronk. Martellus Bennett, Julian Edelman, and maybe freshly claimed Michael Floyd can fill the rest up as the Patriots look to secure homefield throughout the playoffs. Don’t overthink this game one bit–the Jets suck and the Patriots want to win and they will win big.
Prediction: Jets 14, Patriots 38
BILLS (-3.5) over Dolphins
Congrats to Matt Moore and the Dolphins on winning more games than I thought they would. I’ll leave out the fact they were facing a Jets team that realized they are tanking at halftime last week and gift wrapped the Dolphins an easy victory. As of right now they are the sixth seed, but will have to stave off the either the Ravens or Steelers and possibly the Bills. Every game from here is a playoff game and without a starting quarterback playoff games are hard to win. Jay Ajayi had trouble running against a stout Jets defensive line and the Bills are not much easier to run against. The fate of the offense lies in the hands of Jarvis Landry and Devante Parker who will be the best players on the field Saturday. If Moore can get his receivers the ball the Dolphins have a chance.
How about the Bills? Why is nobody talking about LeSean McCoy as a potential MVP candidate? Shady has been unstoppable this season already running for 1,129 yards and 12 touchdowns. His production has hidden the fact that Tyrod Taylor has literally no one to throw to down field. Sammy Watkins is officially a bust through no fault of his own (injury bugs will kill careers faster than Jeff Fisher), but it seems like the Football Gods gave Buffalo McCoy and Taylor because of the misfortunes of their second overall pick from 2014. Even with McCoy running all over the place the Bills find themselves 7-7. Credit that to their leaky defense that will play well when they’re rested, but unbutton quickly if left on the field too long. This game will come down to time of possession and with the way McCoy is running right now it’s hard to see the Dolphins grab back-to-back road wins in the division.
Prediction: Dolphins 17, Bills 21
Titans (-5) over JAGUARS
There was some good new out of Jacksonville following a ninth straight Jaguars loss–Gus Bradley is finally gone. Apparently even Shad Khan has his limits of failure and Bradley pushed his owner to the brink. The only piece left to fix the Jaguars from constant underachievers to playoff contenders is at quarterback. Did you watch Blake Bortles at the tail end of the Jags collapse in Houston last week? I’m not sure I trust Bortles to win me a 7-on-7 tournament let alone a football game. Until the Jaguars realize he is the player holding them back they will continue to call the top five of the draft their home.
The Titans on the other hand are doing what most thought the Jags would be doing this year, competing for the AFC South crown. How have the Titans been able to turn things around so quickly? Great offensive line play. In case you haven’t noticed there are a handful of good offensive lines in the league (Cowboys, Raiders, Titans, Steelers, Patriots) and all those teams are in the playoff picture. The stellar play of the offensive line has allowed DeMarco Murray (and recently rookie battering ram Derrick Henry) to run rampant. Marcus Mariota has used the newfound running game to make life easier for himself as he has been good with little to no weapons in the pass game aside from Delanie Walker. Last week’s win at Kansas City showed me all I need to know about the Titans.
Prediction: Titans 27, Jaguars 19
PACKERS (-6.5) over Vikings
All the Aaron Rodgers critics and doubters have gone back into hiding until next October. When will they learn that A-Rod always gets the job done one way for another? When Rodgers said he felt the Packers could run the table back in November no one really bought it, but don’t look now they’ve rattled off four straight wins since then. An essential play-in game in Detroit is still on the table and you can bet Rodgers will not let the Minnesota Vikings get in his way. Too much is going right for the Packers right now. Receiver turned running back Ty Montgomery ran for 162 yards last week giving the offense the perfect distraction to take pressure off Rodgers. Even the defense has improved after being stomped out in the middle of the season.
Everything that has gone right for the Packers has gone wrong for the Vikings. Despite the return of Adrian Peterson last week they were shellacked at home by a bad Colts team 34-6. It has been all downhill since their 5-0 start and the fall from grace can be traced back to their offensive line. Sam Bradford hasn’t exactly been the best, but how would you do if you had two seconds to read the field. Until the Vikings get a line that gives their quarterback a reasonable amount of time to think they will go nowhere. The lack of production on offense has affected the defense that started off the season as the best unit in football, but has been in steady decline since then. Whether they want to admit it or not the season is over in Minnesota.
Prediction: Packers 28, Vikings 17
BROWNS (+6) over Chargers
If you’re in an office pool and tied for first place with 20 other people it’s time to make your Shake and Bake. The Browns have been an automatic win for gamblers all year for all the wrong reasons. Each week they look worse than they did the week prior. But this is the week. If they are going to avoid going 0-16 this is the game. In Week 17 they will face a Steelers team with something to play for so it’s now or never. Robert Griffin III can make up for all the time lost with a win here. Hue Jackson can feel a little safer about his job and Cleveland can have a decent ending to their greatest sports year.
Why are the Chargers the perfect opponent to give the Browns their only win? For one they are a West Coast team playing the early game. Melvin Gordon, their best offensive player this season, is likely out as there is no reason to rush him back from injury. Without Gordon the Chargers do not look the same. Philip Rivers has not been able to find the end zone since losing his rising star, the offense has put up 16 points in two straight weeks. All of this seems like the perfect storm to save the Browns from the ultimate humiliation.
Prediction: Browns 20, Chargers 16
Redskins (-3.5) over BEARS
How many Redskins fans liked what Kirk Cousins was able to do last Monday night? Not many I’d imagine. Cousins’ biggest flaw is his inconsistency and that flaw reared its ugly head at the worst possible time. Facing the Panthers at home should have been a cakewalk for Cousins and the Redskins given how bad the Panthers secondary has been this year. Instead the soon to be free agent did not reach the end zone, threw an interception and fumbled in a crucial play of the night. Their playoff hopes are on life support with wins in the final two weeks only guaranteeing a chance at the Wild Card. Cousins risked it a lot of money by betting on himself this year and as of right now it’s too close to call whether it was a wise decision.
The Bears have been out of the playoff race since Week 1. That could be depressing depending how you look at. I for one think it was the best thing that could have happened to them. Through this vigorous tanking campaign the Bears have found out they have a solid defense, a future star at running back, and maybe even an answer to their quarterback players. We know about Jordan Howard already, but what about Matt Barkley. It seemed like the once prized recruit from USC would never be more than that, but these last two weeks have been a showcase for him and he has passed. Counting all the drops from his receivers Barkley has been pretty damn accurate and has the respect of his teammates (something Jay Cutler has never had). The Bears have something with Howard, Barkley, and Alshon Jeffery. That by itself should be a reason Bears fans should smile.
Prediction: Redskins 27, Bears 21
Falcons (-2.5) over PANTHERS
Cam Newton and the Panthers still have a pulse. Their chances of defending their NFC crown are slim, but there is still a chance. Newton showed up big time on Monday Night Football against former teammate Josh Norman and the Redskins. The Panthers offense finally reverted back to the offense we saw last year. Jonathan Stewart punished on the ground (132 yards on 25 carries). Newton picked the Redskins apart for 300 yards flat with a pair of touchdowns and Greg Olsen continued to be the Newton’s safety valve. Even the Panthers defense played well although it’s obvious they are not the same defense without Luke Kuechly.
What better team to put the Panthers’ season to rest than the Falcons? Last year it was the Falcons who ended the perfect season bid, this year they can guarantee there will be a new NFC champ. They have an inside track on the division title and have been able to win the last two games comfortably without Julio Jones. In Julio’s absence Matt Ryan has kept his MVP candidacy alive by utilizing the other guys in the offense mainly Taylor Gabriel, Tevin Coleman, and Devonta Freeman. This week Julio should be back in the lineup and join a red hot offense as they continue their tear into the playoffs.
Prediction: Falcons 31, Panthers 27
RAIDERS (-3.5) over Colts
The streak is over! After 14 years filled with JaMarcus Russell, Lane Kiffin, Dennis Allen, Darrius Heyward-Bey and countless other forms of embarrassment, the Raiders are back in the playoffs! Jack Del Rio’s two-point gamble in Week 1 should be credited as the powder keg that start this wave of success. Derek Carr has been money all season and as the season winds down the defense appears to have waken up. You can thank pass rushers Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin for that in addition to Del Rio. Last week’s win was ugly, but it was a win. Carr’s dislocated pinkie has made things tougher than necessary, but that is why Latavius Murray and that beastly offensive line exists. If Carr’s finger is still causing issues throwing the football the Colts should expect to see a lot of Murray and Jalen Richard on Sunday.
Speaking of the Colts, is there anything left to play for? Shockingly that answer is yes. At 7-7 all they have to do is win both games and hope the Titans lose at least one more game and the Texans lose both of their games. It seems highly unlikely, but if there’s a chance you have to go for it. Last week they surprisingly manhandled the Vikings in Minnesota. Frank Gore pounded the Vikings defense into submission and Andrew Luck finished them off with a pedestrian day by his standards (250 yards, 2 TDs, 0 TOs). The Raiders need to win to keep pace with the Patriots for homefield throughout making this one of the more important games of the day. Expect a lot of entertainment and possibly a lot of points in what will likely be the final regular season game in the Oakland Coliseum.
Prediction: Colts 23, Raiders 30
Buccaneers (+3) over SAINTS
A quick turnaround for these two as they just faced each other two weeks ago. Not much has changed since they met in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers lost a tough one to the Cowboys on Sunday night, but still in striking distance for the final Wild Card spot. Jameis Winston started to regress to the gunslinger from the middle of the season, turning the ball over four times. The Buccaneers are at their best when the running game is working and Winston is under control. This allows Mike Evans to get accurate passes thrown his way which lead to more touchdowns. Last week Martin only ran for 42 yards and the domino effect led to Winston turnovers and a loss. Against an inferior defense this week Martin should look to get back on track.
The Saints were able to win in Arizona last week, torching the Cardinals’ defense for 48 points. Drew Brees dominated throwing for four touchdowns on the day with only one turnover. Mark Ingram added 78 yards and Tim Hightower scored twice to pace the Saints offense over the Cardinals. The defense on the other hand was dreadful, allowing 41 points and could have given up more if it weren’t for Brees and company controlling the clock. They were able to hold the Bucs to 16 points last time, but a defense this bad is sure to give up a few more this week.
Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Saints 21
SEAHAWKS (-8) over Cardinals
The Cardinals are easily the biggest disappointment of the 2016 season. Even with Carson Palmer regressing below his mean there is no explanation for the 5-8-1 record. The whole season has been one letdown after another and if it weren’t for David Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald there is no telling how much worse this could’ve been. The bright side is that they will not need much to turn things around in 2017. If they can swing a trade for Tony Romo or Jimmy Garoppolo they can use a high draft pick on a luxury pick similar to what the Cowboys did in drafting Zeke. If that is indeed the plan these next two games should mean nothing to them. They can’t spoil anything for the Seahawks and even if they did there is not much they can do.
Everything is running smoothly in Seattle. The NFC West is locked up as well as the two seed thanks to the poor play of everyone else in the conference. These are not the Seahawks teams of years past that you can rely on late in the year, but at home they can always be relied on to beat the brakes off an opponent. In their last two home games they have outscored their opponents 64-10. Russell Wilson is much better in the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field as is the defense. Even without Earl Thomas the Seahawks should make some noise if only because they’ve been there before. They’ll look to keep the home dominance going and stay in range of home field throughout.
Prediction: Cardinals 14, Seahawks 24
RAMS (-3.5) over 49ers
Do we have to talk about this? The best thing about Rams fans is that they are probably based in LA (assuming the St. Louis fans had a brain and used this golden opportunity to root for a real team) so they will not even watch this disgrace of a football game. The team responded to Jeff Fisher’s firing with an uninspiring 24-3 loss in Seattle. Perhaps it was a homage to their fallen coach who would have produced a similar or worse result if he were on the sideline last Thursday. This week we should see the response to being freed from the incompetence of Fisher. Todd Gurley has been getting clowned all year for his lack of fantasy production and the Rams overall have been a punching bag for the league. This will be their chance to hit back against a willing punching bag in the 49ers.
Chip Kelly’s 49ers stayed on course last week, getting pummeled by the Falcons 41-13, as they look to grab the top pick in the upcoming draft. It’s amazing that they have been able to keep pace with the winless Browns, but that’s why Jed York hired Kelly! There is literally no reason to watch this game. Even if you eat, sleep, and dream football this game has the makings of the worst game of the year. The 49ers blanked the Rams 28-0 at home in Week 1 so the Rams could be looking for some revenge, but then again who really cares?
Prediction: 49ers 10, Rams 14
TEXANS (-1) over Bengals
If there was not already a reason to be happy about life this weekend, the Brock Osweiler era is over! It only took 13 and a half underwhelming performances for Bill O’Brien to pull the plug, but the important thing is that Brock is no more. After hesitating to name a starter for this week O’Brien finally came to his senses and named Tom Savage the new starter. Savage helped lead the Texans comeback against the Jaguars last week and should be the starter for the rest of the way. Savage was good, but he wasn’t the driving force in last week’s comeback. That credit goes to Jadeveon Clowney. Texans fans feared he would be a bust, but all he really needed to do was get healthy. Once J.J. Watt returns next season the AFC will have a third pass rushing duo to fear. Clowney controlled the game last week by getting into the backfield at will and in prime time he should produce similar results.
The Bengals could have derailed their bitter rivals the Steelers last week, but blinded by rage they killed themselves. The amount of stupid penalties accrued had no end. It looked like the Bengals defense was not interested in playing a football game more than they were looking to get into a fight. The common denominator in the Bengals’ stupidity is sadly one of their more talented players, Vontaze Burfict. As a linebacker he is a beast, but as a person he is a fucking moron and possible lunatic. The Steelers seem to piss him off the most so we will not see another meltdown against the Texans, but at this point the Bengals have already lost so much.
Prediction: Bengals 24, Texans 27
Ravens (+5.5) over STEELERS
Look no further this will be the game of the week. This will decide the AFC North and it’s a shame the NFL is too stupid to flex this game to 8:30, competing with the NBA’s Christmas Day slate will not be easy. If you are one of the football diehards that will tune in regardless of what else is on, you will be handsomely rewarded. The Ravens have fought all season and own the tiebreaker over the Steelers. Despite Joe Flacco’s average play a majority of this season the defense and Justin Tucker have kept this team afloat. Tucker is a legitimate MVP candidate and is the kicker no team wants to see lineup for a field goal with a chance to beat them. The offense is what holds the Ravens back as a full fledged contender, but everything else is fine.
The Steelers are kind of the opposite. Their defense is not terrible, but they are not the traditional defenses affiliated with Steelers lore. Their kicking game is equally middle of the road, but all of that means nothing because the offense is so damn good. Ben Roethlisberger is blessed enough to have the best receiver (Antonio Brown) AND the best running back (Le’Veon Bell) in football at his disposal. Big Ben has not played well the past couple weeks, but Brown and Bell have made due and carried their future Hall of Famer. Ben is due for a big game and Sunday is as good a time as ever to bounce back and win the division.
Prediction: Ravens 20, Steelers 24
CHIEFS (-3.5) over Broncos
A few weeks ago this matchup looked exciting. Both played each other to a draw after 60 awesome minutes. In overtime the Broncos were backed into a corner and had no choice but to try a long field goal that they missed which cost them the game. That night was Trevor Siemian’s best game (368 yards, 3 TDs, 0 TOs) and since then he has not been anywhere near that good. The writing's on the wall in Denver and it says that the defending Super Bowl champs will not get to defend their crown. Last week they were held to a measly three points by a Patriots defense that is not that good. In addition to Siemian’s average play the offensive line has been the Achilles heel of this unit. The lack of run game since C.J. Anderson went down has affected the offense as a whole and has exposed Siemian.
The Chiefs are in no better of a mood after losing to the Titans 19-17 at the end of regulation. To make matter worse they were up 14-0, but did not score over the final two hours of the game. The offense sputtered after getting off to another fast start–thanks to late season x-factor Tyreek Hill’s 68-yard touchdown run–and let the Titans hang around. In case Andy Reid has not figured it out yet here is how he makes sure the offense runs smoothly–get Hill the ball. Whenever the speed demon has the ball in his hands good things tend to happen. He scored three touchdowns against the Broncos in Denver and should play a pivotal role in the rematch on Christmas night.
Prediction: Broncos 13, Chiefs 20
Lions (+7) over COWBOYS
Week 16 ends with a possible playoff preview. A win on Monday night would punch the Lions’ ticket to the playoffs. That alone should be reason enough to get Matthew Stafford a Pro Bowl spot, but apparently it wasn’t enough. Stafford has been one of the MVP candidates with the least amount of attention, but the way he has carried this team this year should not be taken lightly. Last week was their worst game in weeks, you can credit that to facing a red hot Giants defense at their place. Life doesn’t get any easier as they head to Jerry’s World to take on the NFC’s top seeded Cowboys. Theo Riddick’s availability will help the Lions who struggled to find many playmakers outside of Eric Ebron and Golden Tate. Dwayne Washington is a nice complement to the quicker Riddick, but he’s not ready to carry the load by himself.
On the Cowboys’ side they will be getting a slight shot in the arm on defense. Young pass rusher Randy Gregory returns from suspension and should add some depth up front. With more depth the defense can start to clamp down as the playoffs are just a couple weeks away. On offense the plan is to stay the course. Jerry Jones might still have a boner for Tony Romo, but Dak Prescott proved last week he is the present and future of this franchise, totaling 299 yards (279 passing, 20 rushing) and a touchdown. With fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott (159 yards on the ground last week plus a touchdown) by his side and the best offensive line at his disposal Prescott will look to continue his historic rookie season.
Prediction: Lions 24, Cowboys 27
Last Week: 8-8