With two weeks left in the NFL season, it’s essential for bettors to know the playoff scenarios and how they might impact the point spreads. There might be lines that seem too high, but the reason for the inflation is a team who needs to win to make the playoffs or improve their seeding is playing a team with nothing to play for.
Week 16 features three games on Saturday that all have playoff implications, and the results of those games can impact the line movement on some of the Sunday matchups. I typically bet NFL games early in the week or on Fridays when some of the injury questions are answered. But this week, I will likely place my bets between Saturday, as games are finishing, and before the early afternoon kickoffs on Sunday.
In Week 15, I had one of my strongest weekends of the season going 4-1. My favorite bet was the Falcons +11 and they won straight-up. It’s been a tough NFL season, so I was encouraged to win a game like that.
As always, my picks will be separated into five categories. Keep in mind that some game theory could factor into my selections because of the large-field NFL “picks” contest I’m in. For example, I might avoid a game in an attempt to be contrarian if I think a large amount of the field will be on a certain side.
Here’s what I’m currently thinking for Week 16.
Note: I will take a closer look at the Saturday, Sunday and Monday games on a Periscope show I host called Weekend Warriors. The show starts on Saturday at 11 a.m. ET and can be seen on Stadium’s Periscope channel or Stadium’s Twitter.
[RELATED: A Guide for Making College Football Bowl Confidence Picks]
Sides I’ll use unless there’s an injury
Titans (+3) over Saints: Both teams enter this game with a lot to play for. The Saints would like to keep winning and earn a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs. As for the Titans, they’re fighting for at least a Wild Card spot, although a chance at the division could open up if the Texans lose on Saturday. You can argue that the Titans will be the more motivated team, but that factor isn’t built into this price. This is also an inflated line based on the Saints’ win over the Colts in primetime last Monday — a beatdown in which Drew Brees broke the all-time passing touchdown record. The line for this game was Saints -1.5 before the Monday night game, so there’s line value in the Titans.
Sides I’ll likely use
Cardinals (+9.5) over Seahawks: Seattle hosts San Francisco in Week 17 and that game would decide the division if the 49ers beat the Rams on Saturday. That could make the Seahawks’ Week 16 game against the Cardinals less significant, and Pete Carroll’s team could be looking ahead to the Niners. If the 49ers win on Saturday night I will like this Cardinals pick on Sunday even more and would immediately bet on them before the line adjusts.
Picks I’m considering
49ers (-6.5) over Rams: The 49ers were in a horrible scheduling spot last week and were held back by injuries, as they fell to the Falcons. I’m going to give them a pass for that performance, and I expect them to bounce back against a Rams team whose playoff chances took a huge hit last week. I might not bet on the 49ers to cover, but they will be one of the teaser legs I use this week.
Jets (+3) over Steelers: The Steelers are facing the must-win pressure that comes with being in the AFC playoff hunt. Devlin Hodges is also coming off his first bad game in his NFL career and will look to bounce back on the road, but I don’t trust the Steelers offense to cover this number as favorites. My concern about taking the Jets is the bevy of injuries to key players, but if they can get healthy I’d take New York with more confidence.
Panthers (+7) over Colts: This could end up backfiring because the Panthers have been lifeless since Ron Rivera was fired. But they are making a quarterback switch from Kyle Allen to Will Grier, so maybe that gives the team a one-game boost. I also don’t believe this current Colts roster should be favored by this many points.
Eagles (+2.5) over Cowboys: I was fully expecting to make a case for the Cowboys earlier this week given the injuries to the Eagles offense, but now there’s an injury concern to Dak Prescott who has been limited in practice this week with a shoulder injury. His ability could be compromised if he plays, and the betting market thinks that could be the case as the line has moved in favor of the Eagles as of Thursday morning.
Bears (+6.5) over Chiefs: The Chiefs are the team with something to play for, and I believe the line is over-inflated because of it. The Chiefs are currently the AFC’s No. 3 seed, and they could jump the Patriots if New England drops one of their last two games. Kansas City could also fall to the No. 4 seed if they drop a game and the Texans win out. Both Houston and New England play on Saturday, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the line moved in this game based on Saturday’s game results. I also believe there is inflation because the Bears were mathematically eliminated from the postseason last week. However, the Bears knew their playoff chances were slim for the last several weeks, so I don’t expect them to be flat. There’s also the familiarity angle of Andy Reid vs. Matt Nagy, so I would expect a low-scoring game in which the underdog will keep it close.
Vikings (-5.5) over Packers: It’s rare to see an 11-3 division winner as this big of an underdog at this point of the season, but that just speaks to how the betting market and bettors view the Packers, who are doing just enough to win games. The Vikings trail the Packers by one game in the NFC North, but they have a worse record in division games than Green Bay. So Minnesota needs to win on Monday and hope the Lions can upset the Packers in Week 17 in order to clinch the division. Keeping that in mind, I believe the Vikings will cover and make a statement against an overvalued Green Bay team that can wait until next week to clinch the division in Detroit.
Games I’ll likely avoid
Bills at Patriots (-6.5): I like the Patriots in a teaser, and you can pair them up with the 49ers if you’re looking for action on Saturday. I just can’t lay the points with New England in a game with a total of 36.5.
Texans (-3) at Buccaneers: The injuries to Buccaneers wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have caused a drastic line move towards the Texans. Houston is going to be a heavily bet team because they just need to win to clinch the AFC South.
Giants at Redskins (-2.5): I don’t want to bet the Giants because I can see a letdown coming after Eli Manning’s (likely) swan song from last week. I also don’t think the Redskins should be favored by -2.5 in this spot.
Ravens (-10) at Browns: A lot has changed since the Browns beat the Ravens 40-25 as seven-point underdogs in Week 4. Baltimore has won 10 straight games and Cleveland has sputtered all season. Baltimore has covered seven of their last eight games despite the market continuing to inflate their point spreads. The Ravens just need to win this game to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC, so they don’t need to win by margin. As for the Browns, they need to show some life in order to save Freddie Kitchens’ job, and I can see them keeping it within single digits, but I don’t want to step in front of the Baltimore train.
Raiders at Chargers (-7): Last week, the Raiders were booed off the field in an ugly scene after losing their final home game in Oakland. So I can see the Raiders not playing with much confidence during the final two games of the season. But if there was a game they might get up for it would be one in Los Angeles, where many of their fans reside. That’s why I can’t play the Chargers knowing they will have a strong disadvantage despite being the “home” team.
Games I’ll definitely avoid unless there’s a major injury
Lions at Broncos (-7): There are plenty of games this week between teams who can’t make the postseason, and the next three matchups you’ll read about will all be games I want no part of. The Lions have descended to the basement of the NFL, and I don’t trust Broncos rookie QB Drew Lock to cover this number.
Jaguars at Falcons (-7): Both teams are coming off dramatic wins in the Bay Area. I can see the Jags winning straight-up or the Falcons winning by multiple touchdowns — I’m going to stay away.
Bengals at Dolphins (-1): There was hope earlier this season that this game would decide who gets the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft. Unfortunately, the Dolphins have played too well and this matchup now means less than what we hoped for.