Give the NFL credit: they’re going to dominate Christmas weekend like your Trump-thumping uncle’s going to dominate conversation at Christmas dinner.
Aside from Friday night, there’s at least one NFL game every day between now and Monday. The bulk of the action will be transpiring on Saturday, Christmas Eve, but the lion’s share of the must-see games will be kicking off in primetime on Sunday and Monday night.
But while the league gets full marks for their excellent dispersion of quality games throughout the weekend, they’re unquestionably in line for a lump of coal from fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens for their scheduling of the massive AFC North showdown.
That 4:30 p.m. ET kickoff time on Christmas Day is going to create some serious family tension in both cities, so good luck to all attempting to strike a balance between Christmas dinner and the biggest game of the year for both of these squads.
Anyway, Christmas, as we all know, is a time for giving. My gift to all of you? Another week’s worth of picks, of course!
But first, let’s review last week’s picks.
ATS (Against The Spread) Record – 9-6-1 (Season Record – 111-106-5)
Straight Up – 11-5 (Season Record – 127-94-2)
Locks of the Week – 3-2-1 (Season Record – 44-35-2)
As always, here’s how we’ll break all of the games down.
No way we can lose – locks of the week: As you can guess, these will be the stone-cold locks of the week. The games that I’m so confident about that I’d put my life’s savings on them if I had a life’s savings to wager.
Feeling pretty… pretty good: Not quite willing to bet the farm on this batch, but as Mr. Larry David would say, I’m feeling pretty… pretty good about these games.
Heads or Tails: These are your true toss ups: they can go one way or another and you should pick with caution even after heeding my expert advice.
All spreads courtesy of CBS
(10-4) New York Giants @ (5-9) Philadelphia Eagles (+2.5) – Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Eagles
Level Of Confidence: Heads or Tails
Beware of the home dog in primetime on a short week. The Eagles have been close the last two weeks against good football teams in the Redskins and the Ravens. The Giants have been playing great football, no doubt about that, but I think the Eagles show up in a big way here and snag a win over the arch-rival Giants.
Relax, Giants fans. Your team is all but guaranteed a playoff berth anyway. Five Thirty Eight has given the Giants a 99 percent chance of making the playoffs, so it’s essentially a fait accompli. They’ll be a tough out when they get there, too, but I like the Eagles in primetime.
No Way We Can Lose — Locks Of The Week
(7-7) Minnesota Vikings @ (8-6) Green Bay Packers (-6.5) – Saturday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Packers
Talk about two teams that have been through a lot since they last saw each other in Week 2. The Packers seemingly stabilized things after their 17-14 loss to the Vikings and were 4-2 heading into Week 8, but that’s when the wheels came off completely. The Packers then lost four straight before rattling off four straight wins to enter Week 16 at 8-6.
The Vikings, after starting the year 5-0, have gone 2-7 since and have fallen out of the playoff picture completely barring a miracle.
So needless to say, I’m not putting a whole lot of stock in what happened between these two teams back in Week 2. I think the Packers continue rolling towards a playoff berth and win big, setting up a massive NFC North title showdown with the Detroit Lions in Week 17.
(8-6) Tennessee Titans @ (2-12) Jacksonville Jaguars (+5) – Saturday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight – Titans
Looking to open a Christmas gift a day early? Well, here it is.
I don’t see any possible way the Jaguars keep this one close unless the Titans turn the ball over five times and completely overlook an awful Jacksonville team in anticipation of their big game against Houston in Week 17.
But, again, I can’t see it, and this line is WAY too low.
So take the Titans, lay the points, and treat yourself or someone you love to something nice.
Merry Christmas Eve.
(5-9) San Diego Chargers @ (0-14) Cleveland Browns (+6) – Saturday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Chargers
Well, maybe if RG3 can improve on his atrocious 50 percent completion percentage…
Or maybe if the league’s second worst rushing defense can contain the Chargers’ rushing attack…
And, maybe if Isaiah Crowell has, like, a career best game and the Browns dominate time of possession 55:00 to 5:00…
Chargers roll over the hapless Browns.
(5-8-1) Arizona Cardinals @ (9-4-1) Seattle Seahawks (-8) – Saturday, 4:25 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Seahawks
The Cardinals — one of the NFC heavyweights coming into the year — have been atrocious. Outside of beating the Tampa Bay Bucs in Week 2 and the Redskins in Week 13, the Cardinals have feasted on the weakest of the weak, including the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers (twice).
So, no, I don’t put any stock in the Cardinals tying the Seahawks 6-6 back in Week 7. And no, I don’t think there’s a chance they keep this one competitive.
(5-8-1) Cincinnati Bengals @ (8-6) Houston Texans (-1.5) – Saturday, 8:25 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Bengals
Sure, maybe Tom Savage is the next great backup-turned-starter in the NFL — crazier things have certainly happened.
Still, if you think I’m betting on Savage and a Texans team that needed every ounce of energy and every second of clock to squeak by the Jacksonville Jaguars, you’re out of your mind.
A.J. Green returns and the Bengals get back in the win column with an “upset” of the Texans.
Feeling Pretty… Pretty Good
(7-6-1) Washington Redskins @ (3-11) Chicago Bears (+3.5) – Saturday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Bears
Call me crazy, but I think the Bears might be on to something with Matt Barkley. The Bears have rallied around their young quarterback and are playing arguably their best football of the year. Granted, that’s not saying much, but hey, it’s a start.
On the other hand, the Redskins let their opportunity to control their own destiny in pursuit of a playoff berth slip through their hands against a sub-par Panthers team in primetime.
I think the Bears put together a full 60-minute game around Barkley and get the young quarterback his second NFL victory.
(4-10) New York Jets @ (12-2) New England Patriots (-16.5) – Saturday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS – Jets
Straight Up – Patriots
Look, I bore witness to the ‘Butt Fumble’ first hand and I’ve seen the Patriots’ dominance of far better teams than the abysmal, soul-crushingly bad New York Jets. But, the Jets play the Patriots and Tom Brady tight more often than not.
In the seven games played since the Thanksgiving ‘Butt Fumble’ game, the Patriots are 5-2 against the Jets, but those games have all been decided by one score or less and by an average of fewer than four points.
Could you argue that this is by far the worst iteration of the New York Jets in that time period? Sure, but I don’t think it matters. I think they keep it within two scores and maybe even put a little fear into the hearts of Patriots fans early on in this one. Boy am I going to regret that statement on Sunday morning.
(9-5) Atlanta Falcons @ (6-8) Carolina Panthers (+1.5) – Saturday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Falcons
Give the Panthers credit for continuing to fight for each other in a lost and hugely disappointing season. As I said last week, the Panthers feel like they’re capable of winning any given (Saturday?) Sunday and this week’s matchup with the Falcons is no different.
I think Carolina keeps this one tight and wouldn’t be shocked if they managed to pull out a win, but I like Matt Ryan and Co. to win this one in a shootout and continue their push towards the playoffs.
(7-7) Indianapolis Colts @ (11-3) Oakland Raiders (-3.5) – Saturday, 4:05 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Raiders
I went back and checked — I’ve picked the Colts against the spread twice this year. Both times I was wrong and it was against the Texans. So, yes, feel free to call me a Colts hater.
I just don’t trust them and I certainly don’t think they have what it takes to go into Oakland and compete with a Raiders team that now controls its own fate in the AFC West after relinquishing command just a week prior.
Raiders by a TD.
(8-6) Baltimore Ravens @ (9-5) Pittsburgh Steelers (-5) – Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Steelers
I’m expecting this to be a great game; the marquee game of the week and possibly of this NFL season. Still, I like the Steelers to win this one at home by a TD, to be honest.
I think that as good as the Ravens’ defense has been, they struggle — like everyone else in the NFL has the last few weeks — to stop Le’Veon Bell.
I think the Ravens get theirs on offense as well, but I like Pittsburgh to put this one away late and win by at least a TD to all but lock up their AFC North crown… you know, provided they can beat the Browns on New Year’s Day.
Heads or Tails
(9-5) Miami Dolphins @ (7-7) Buffalo Bills (-3.5) – Saturday, 1:00 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Dolphins
I’m not saying that the Bills have no shot at making the playoffs, but the list of things that they need to happen in order for them to make the playoffs is longer than Santa’s list. Let’s review, courtesy of WKBW.com.
“The Bills (7-7) must win out, beating Miami and the Jets
The Dolphins (9-5) must lose their two remaining games to the Bills and Patriots
The Ravens (8-6) must lose their two remaining games to the Steelers and Bengals
The Broncos (8-6) must lose to the Raiders, because that will then give the Bills the tiebreaker over Denver at 9-7 due to a better record against common opponents.
The Colts (7-7) must lose once, either to the Raiders or Jaguars
One of the Texans or Titans have to lose both of their remaining games. The Texans play the Bengals in Week 16, and the Titans play the Jaguars. The Texans then play the Titans in Week 17. If both lose in Week 16 and the Colts lose one of their last two games, the Bills are assured to move past both AFC South teams that do not win the division.”
Crazier things have happened, of course, and the Bills aren’t dead yet. Only issue is I don’t see them beating the Dolphins this week, so it’s all for naught.
Side note to fellow Jets fans: How fun would it be if all that crazy s**t happens and the Jets have a chance to return the favor and play spoiler against the Bills in Week 17?
(1-13) San Francisco 49ers @ (4-10) Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) – Saturday, 4:25 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – 49ers
The Rams are bad, head coach-less and got waxed by the 49ers in the opening week of the season 28-0.
The 49ers are bad, can’t play defense or offense and have gotten waxed by every team not named the Los Angeles Rams in 2016.
This, is a tough one.
I think the 49ers get one over on the Rams yet again, because, why not?
(8-6) Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ (6-8) New Orleans Saints (-3) – Saturday, 4:25 p.m. ET
ATS/Straight Up – Buccaneers
A mere two weeks ago the Bucs’ defense stifled Drew Brees and the Saints offense at every turn. After an impressive showing against the Dallas Cowboys in what was, ultimately, a losing effort, I’m not ready to back away from the Bucs just yet.
I think they win, but in completely different fashion than they did in Week 14. I think this one’s more of a high-scoring shootout that Jameis Winston and Tampa come out on top in.
Bucs win by a field goal.
(8-6) Denver Broncos @ (10-4) Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5) – Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET
ATS – Broncos
Straight Up – Chiefs
I know I hyped up the Steelers-Ravens game big time, but I’m reluctant to call that game Sunday’s main course. ** Think of Sunday’s slate of games more like a traditional Italian dinner, where there’s a “primo” course, then “secondo”, ETC… One’s not necessarily better or more important than the other and both are hearty meals in and of themselves.
Great, now I’m starving.
Anyway, point is this will be another great game, one that I think will be even closer when all is said and done than the Steelers-Ravens affair.
The Chiefs have played close games all year long and I don’t see any way they put up a large number of points on the Broncos in this one. I think it’ll be a low-scoring affair that Kansas City finds a way to win, keeping them alive for the AFC West crown while all but eliminating last year’s Super Bowl champs from playoff contention.
**(Note: Please feel free to send me a correction email if I butchered (no pun intended) this analogy)
(9-5) Detroit Lions @ (11-3) Dallas Cowboys (-7) – Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET
ATS – Lions
Straight Up – Cowboys
The schedule makers sure didn’t do the Cowboys any favors with their end-of-the-year schedule. Since they faced (and fleeced) the Browns in Week 9, the Cowboys have played all teams with records at or above .500. Not ideal.
But, as you well know, they went 5-1 in that stretch. Extremely impressive.
The Lions can’t lose their grip on the NFC North division title against the Cowboys with a loss, but a win coupled with a Vikings win over the Packers would make their Week 17 matchup with Green Bay meaningless and give them the crown.
Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening this week. I think the Lions drop a close one to the Cowboys, setting up an epic, do-or-die showdown at home with the Green Bay Packers.
That will be fun.
Good luck and thanks as always for reading. Happy holidays to you and yours.
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for a championship for any of his other three teams.