After a 2-2-1 Week 15 of picking games, we’re back for Week 16 of our spread and over/under picks. We’re 41-30-4 (57.8 percent) on our article’s picks the season, and overall we’re 86-76-5 (53.1 percent) against the spread and 115-78-3 (59.6 percent) on over/unders. In Week 15, said picks we were 3-5-1 and 7-6, respectively.
Each week provides an exciting slate of games, along with the knowledge generated from an additional week’s worth of PFF data. We’re going back to Dallas for the fourth time, and to pick an underdog for the third time. Seattle is that underdog for the third time, as we backed them the first time they played LA (good) and two weeks ago against the Jags (bad). For the first time all season, we’re going to pick three over/unders, deciding to sweat out our Christmas with two unders and an over in what might be a cold-weather situation in Kansas City. For the people who think PFF hates Detroit, there’s something in it for you as well!
Each of the five feature picks below comes with a point/counterpoint analysis, including a deeper dive into our “Lock of the Week” that is heard on the PFF Preview Podcast that comes out each Friday morning. The Lock of the Week is 10-5 so far (66.67 percent). For the remainder of our spread and over/under picks, check out PFF Elite and the PFF Elite Facebook Group. For our thoughts on future Thursday Night Football spread and over/unders, as well as general thoughts on each game, follow us at @PFF_George and @PFF_EricEager on Twitter each week. Thursday night graphics finished 11-2 (84.6 percent) on the season, going 4-2 against the spread and 7-0 on over/unders.
Detroit Lions at Cincinnati Bengals (+3.5)
Pick: Lions 27-21 (Lions cover)
Point (Eric Eager): This is an example of a game that we like less than our model does. However, when you drill down into the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams, there’s not a ton to like about the Bengals. Wide receiver A.J. Green (2.27 yards per route run) is one of the league’s best players at the position, but has been stymied when facing the likes of Jalen Ramsey and Xavier Rhodes on the outside. Detroit has that type of player in Darius Slay, who is allowing only a 56.3 passer rating into his coverage this season (with seven interceptions to boot). On the other side of the ball, the Bengals will be without Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil, and have additional players banged up in the secondary, while Detroit boasts one of the league’s best supporting casts of receivers for Matthew Stafford. For the first time in PFF history: Go Lions.
Counterpoint (George Chahrouri): “What do the Bengals have to play for? They must have quit on their coach, right?” Both of these wonderful questions are getting asked this week and I’m here to remind all the living room psychologists that the Cincinnati Bengals players get paid just like every other NFL player and have the motivation of feeding their families to help them play hard this Sunday. In fact, history is much against this pick; I can’t even remember a year when a team leader with a bright red portion of their head has failed to lead a successful ride on December 24th. The Bengals also have a couple of defenders that are playing really well this season in Geno Atkins and William Jackson. Atkins (91.6 – second) is one of just three interior defenders with a pass-rush and run defense grade over 85.0 this season. His comrades on the outside, Carlos Dunlap and Carl Lawson, each boast pass-rush grades over 80.0 while facing Lions tackles with sub 55.0 pass protection grades. Jackson (86.3 – 14th), is the only cornerback to allow a catch rate below 40 percent on throws into his coverage this season, so he should be able to slow down Marvin Jones (82.0 – 19th) and force Stafford to settle for shorter throws more often than he’d like. Bengals fans may not be leaving cookies and milk for Santa Marvin, but that doesn’t mean his team can’t rally to keep this one close.
Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints (over/under 52.5)
Pick: Saints 26-22 (the under hits)
Point (GC): Two weeks ago, these two teams met on Thursday night and turned in 37 total points. Yes, Alvin Kamara (90.1 – second) was injured early on and that certainly hampered the Saints potency, but we also had a Matt Ryan performance for the ages. Ryan tossed three turnover-worthy throws in the game, more than his total on the entire season to that point and yet the Saints only mustered 17 points. The Falcons have gone over a 50-point total in just four games this season and both defenses are not getting the respect they deserve in this one. The Falcons’ secondary doesn’t have a player below a 75.0 overall grade and both Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell have proven themselves in coverage this season with Jones ranking second among linebackers with a 90.8 coverage grade and Campbell coming in at 17th (79.7). The Saints have one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL, with Marshon Lattimore (91.7 – fourth) and Ken Crawley (82.4 – 29th) while Cameron Jordan continues to dominate on the edge with the best overall grade (95.3). New Orleans is allowing the third-lowest yards per pass to quarterbacks throwing from a clean pocket (6.8) and the Falcons rank seventh in this metric at 6.9. For the first time in quite a while we will be cheering for some Dan Quinn field goals, I can think of no better holiday treat.
Counterpoint (EE): There’s a chance this game turns into a classic; the type of game that we see on NFL Network or ESPN Classic as the turning point for one of these two teams on their way to an NFC South title and eventual success in the playoffs. If that’s the case, it’s going to be because Drew Brees (86.7 grade, sixth among quarterbacks) and Ryan (88.1, third) play at the top of their respective distributions, aided by Michael Thomas (90.0) and Julio Jones (90.7) on the outside and backfields full of players with Pro Bowl accolades in their career. Such a game would certainly be uncharacteristic of the games Atlanta’s played this season (especially against the Saints), which is why we like this play, even if it’s tough to root against the type of game described above.
Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs (over/under 43.5)
Pick: Chiefs 30-17 (the over hits)
Point (EE): After a long lull, the Chiefs appear to have figured out their issues offensively. In the last three games, Alex Smith has the second-highest passer rating when clean (130.8), has the most yards on completions more than 20 yards downfield (361, good for a passer rating of 141.4), and has had to deal with the most dropped passes (nine) of any quarterback. The latter piece of data means that there’s still some meat on the bone for the Chiefs offense, and while they have improved a bit in recent weeks, their run defense is still surrendering the ninth-most yards per carry (4.3) this season, meaning the Dolphins will likely continue their success on the ground with Kenyan Drake (79.6). If Jay Cutler continues his oscillations between good and bad games, this could be a fun shootout in KC.
Counterpoint (GC): As wonderful as Sir Kenyan Drake has played since taking a hold of the Miami running back job, this seems like a bet that will require some special holiday cheer from Cutler (68.7 – 34th). If we were casting quarterbacks to play the Grinch before he turns into a giant softy, Cutler would have to be near the top of that list. This would mean no carving of the roast beast or the Chiefs defense, which makes sense considering that Jazzy Jay is tied with Brett Hundley for the fewest big-time throws by any quarterback this season. The Dolphins offensive line has just one player grading over 60.0 this season and that is RT Sam Young at 67.1, who is replacing the injured Ja’Wuan James, the best pass-blocker that Miami had by a wide margin. If Grinchy Clause Cutler is unable to get things going, the Chiefs could certainly decide to let Kareem Hunt and the running game take this one home, keeping us from enjoying the points we so desperately deserve after staying on the Nice List all season.
Kai Forbath Memorial Extra Point: We’ve said this before, but for overs to hit, you need good kicking games. The Chiefs upgraded when Cairo Santos went on IR after Week 3, as Harrison Butker has hit 31-of-34 field goals (4-of-5 beyond 50-yards). The Dolphins haven’t done poorly at the position, either, with Cody Parkey helping us get to the window last week with his three field goals in as many tries in Buffalo.
Jacksonville Jaguars at San Francisco 49ers (over/under 42)
Pick: Jaguars 22 – 18 (the under hits)
Point (GC): I’m still clearing my head after the Savior – Jimmy Garoppolo – delivered a game-winning drive last Sunday. First off, I’m a little tired of everyone calling him “Jimmy FG”, he just raised a franchise from the dead and all anyone can talk about is how he has yet to turn the Field Goals into Touchdowns, be patient you heathens. If there was ever game where the Field Goals would be a welcome sight, it's this one. The Jacksonville defense has been superb, particularly against the pass, where they are allowing quarterbacks from a clean pocket just a 79.5 passer rating which ranks first (NFL average, 97.1). The results continue to be horrid for opposing quarterbacks when facing Jaguars pressure, just a 33.5 passer rating (first) with 10 interceptions (second-most). Jimmy has been nothing short of divine under pressure, averaging 9.1 yards per pass and putting 76 percent of his under pressure throws in a catchable location, both of which would rank first for the season. As we celebrate the eve of his birth, Jimmy will certainly have an opportunity to turn heathens like my good buddy Eric, into believers with a stocking full of field goals.
Counterpoint (EE): Of the two of us, I’ll be the first to pour a little cold water (wine?) on the fire that has been the Jimmy FG party. However, the two quarterbacks in this game have been impressive in recent weeks, and it’s not like this number is 52.5 points like above. The only quarterback better when kept clean the last three weeks than Alex Smith? Blake Bortles (yes… really). Jimmy FG himself has the second-most passing yards (1,008) the last three weeks, making use of a cast of receivers that isn’t going to make Jerry Rice and John Taylor blush anytime soon. For this over to hit (as it did last week in San Fran), we’ll likely need another outlier performance from Robbie Gould, whose 36 field goals (second in the league) are every bit more impressive considering the 49ers just found out they could and should score points about a month ago.
Seattle Seahawks at Dallas Cowboys (-5)
Pick: Cowboys 24-21 (Seahawks cover)
Point (EE): We are always going to be fans of the better quarterback getting points, and while Russell Wilson has really struggled the last two weeks (50.8 completion percentage, three interceptions, nine sacks taken), he certainly qualifies as such over Dak Prescott. Ezekiel Elliott returns, but so does K.J. Wright (with Bobby Wagner likely to go as well), and a Seattle defense looking to rebuild some pride after being taken care of the last six quarters against the Jaguars and the Rams. Ultimately, we see this as an opportunity to buy Seattle (just a few weeks shy of handling Philadelphia) at their lowest point on the market against Dallas (who played a less-than-stellar game in Oakland, despite winning) at one of their highest, with five points way too much to lay to play the favorite.
Counterpoint (GC): There are few things that give me more enjoyment than listening to some average doofus likening a situation they’ve been through (usually injury-related) to what a pro athlete is undergoing at that time. So, when I make the claim that spending six weeks in Cabo may or may not be the best preparation for playing running back in the NFL based on the times I spent four days there and needed two weeks to recover, you should just ignore me. If ‘Zeke can shed tacklers like he shed the pounds in Mexico, the Cowboys could take control of this one quickly. The biggest beneficiary of Elliott’s return will likely be Prescott on the play action passing game. Without Zeke in the line-up, Prescott’s passer rating off of play action fell from 126.2 (fourth) to 75.4 (27th). The revitalization of the Cowboys passing attack in combination with a stellar performance from DeMarcus Lawrence (92.5 pass-rush grade – second) as he matches up against Germain Ifedi (71.9 pass-block grade – 17th of 44 RTs) could spell a third-straight disaster for Russell the Love Muscle (we can say that now since he’s happily married).