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Week 16 predictions: Panthers top Saints; Ravens edge Patriots

It's Week 16. Which means picks time = time to pick the playoffs. After all, how many games below don't have postseason implications?

Three, as it turns out: Titans-Jaguars, Browns-Jets and Buccaneers-Rams are the only matchups on the 16-game slate that will not impact the playoffs. That's pretty incredible, and it reflects the vision of league-wide parity held by the commissioner triumvirate of Bell-Rozelle-Tagliabue. Elsewhere ...

That is correct, Chris Kyle. Don Majkowski is the answer to the trivia question posted in the Power Rankings this week; he was the last Packers quarterback -- before Matt Flynn, of course -- to beat the Cowboys in Dallas. Chris Kyle ... is that a double first name? Like Billy Joe Tolliver? Do you remember Billy Joe Tolliver? Does anyone remember Billy Joe Tolliver? Well, he was playing as the same time as Majkowski, who was replaced in Green Bay by Brett Favre, who was replaced by Aaron Rodgers, who has been ably replaced by Flynn (with a little Scott Tolzien and -- literally -- a dash of Seneca Wallace thrown in).

Can Flynn deliver again when Green Bay hosts Pittsburgh? See below. As for the rest of the games, feel free to share your thoughts. We put a little something extra for the 'Stick's last stand. Feel free to share your thoughts on that as well ... @Harrison_NFL.

Now, let's get to it.

Elliot Harrison went 9-7 on his predictions for Week 15, giving him a record of 138-86 so far this season. How will he fare in Week 16? His picks are below, with home teams listed second. To make your own predictions on this week's games, click here.

This is a crucial game for Miami, as the AFC's sixth seed hangs in the balance. It's also a bad matchup for the Dolphins on paper, as they've allowed a league-high 51 sacks while the Bills' defense paces the NFL with 49. In fact, Buffalo has recorded a sack in 38 straight meetings with Miami -- now that's an impressive stat. Speaking of impressive, Ryan Tannehill is coming off the most impressive performance of his career versus the Patriots, hanging tough in what was certainly a pressure-packed day for both teams, as far as the AFC playoff picture is concerned. Oh, and the Dolphins have also impressed with their commitment to the ground attack. Miami has run the football 84 times for 395 yards over the past three games after rushing just 50 times in the previous three. That should give Tannehill the help he needs. #MIAvsBUF

The Saints have not played well on the road at all this season, losing four of their past five away games, including three absolutely ugly ones: at the Jets, at the Seahawks and at the Rams. The real problem is, well, a big bowl of soup; there is no single issue. The run defense has struggled, though over the back half of the season, the Saints have allowed only one opponent to top 400 total yards (the Seahawks finished with 429 in that Week 13 loss). New Orleans' ground game is another deficiency: The offensive line and backs have done virtually nothing over the past three games, running for 58 yards per contest while barely averaging more than 3 yards per carry during that stretch. And, of course, the three turnovers in St. Louis sure didn't help matters last Sunday. Speaking of turnovers, the Saints haven't forced one of their own since before Thanksgiving. Carolina is going to run on New Orleans' front repeatedly -- perhaps 35 times -- and will control the game. #NOvsCAR

Can Matt Cassel do it again? Is the Pope Polish? (No, he's not.) Against the Eagles last week, Cassel was 26-of-35 passing for 382 yards and two touchdowns, and he also added one rushing score -- making him a fantasy monster. And he was able to do it with Matt Asiata. Hey, if you can't win games with Matt Asiata in your backfield (30 carries for -- cough -- 51 yards), well, you just can't win. That's what I always say. Cassel should be able to work against a Bengals secondary that is hurting, but in Cincinnati, with the playoffs on the line, look for the home team to prevail. Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden must get rookies Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard involved early. Gruden's play-calling has been as loved around Cincinnati as an autographed John Taylor football. #MINvsCIN

Peyton Manning takes on the NFL's second-ranked pass defense. Hmm. That seems like a tough matchup -- until you dig deeper. You see, opponents have attempted just 409 passes against the Texans -- 34 fewer than the next closest team. That's because a) Houston is behind all the time, meaning teams don't have to take to the air, and b) the Texans have the 24th-ranked run defense, so clubs can grind it out if need be. Of course, many of Houston's problems stem from turning the ball over and either letting opposing defenses score or giving up ocean-front property in terms of field position. Manning should be able to exploit a Texans defense that doesn't disguise what it does very well. #DENvsHOU

The Titans are swept by the Jaguars. Tennessee might be playing for Mike Munchak's NFL life at this point, but Jacksonville is not the winless team it was when the two teams last met back in Week 10. Interesting note about the Titans: In 18 meetings in Jacksonville, Tennessee has never thrown for more than 285 yards. Considering that the Titans are struggling mightily to run the football, that's not a good sign. Jacksonville has also won three of four home games against Tennessee and four of the past six overall. Ask yourself seriously: Is there any other team that the Jaguars have beaten four out of six times? Jacksonville doesn't beat anybody four out of six times. #TENvsJAX

Will Jamaal Charles knock it out of the park again? Will Alex Smith once more play like Len Dawson with a touch of Johnny Unitas? Well, let's slow down, as Smith's five touchdown passes against the Raiders traveled oh, I don't know, about 12 yards total in the air. Still, the man did go 17-of-20 passing while averaging more than 14 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, the Colts' secondary has been getting burned quite a bit on the road without getting many big plays to offset its struggles; in their past five away games, they've allowed 10 touchdown passes without notching a single interception. And you can't expect Andrew Luck to suddenly play amazingly against that defense in Kansas City when he's been mostly mediocre for a month and a half -- in his past four games, Luck passed for 163, 200, 326 and 180 yards. Indy needs this one to avoid having to beat the Chiefs again two weeks from now as a No. 4 seed before potentially having to travel to Denver for the AFC Championship Game. Unfortunately for the Colts, I don't think they'll get it, not behind what has mostly been a lackluster running game. At least Trent Richardson thinks he's played well. #INDvsKC

Just when you think the Jets are going to implode, they'll win a game. They had better stop Browns receiver Josh Gordon, who has been a beast, posting at least one touchdown catch in five straight games. He's also averaging 19.8 yards per catch (tops in the NFL), has 1,467 yards (also tops in the NFL) and loves kittens. Considering that the Jets have allowed opposing quarterbacks at least three completions of 25 yards for seven straight games, this figures to be a difficult matchup. Still, Cleveland can't run, and that will be especially true against the Jets. Now, being at home, Geno Smith merely needs to protect the football and use his running game -- the Jets have netted 300 yards on 60 carries over the past two contests, good for 5 yards per carry. Hopefully, Santonio Holmes won't call Cleveland's front seven the weak link. #CLEvsNYJ

Factoring in location, the host Rams are certainly at an advantage; Jeff Fisher's group, which is coming off a big win, is 4-3 in St. Louis. The Buccaneers, meanwhile, are an awful 1-5 on the road, despite boasting a turnover differential of plus-eight in away games -- that really is an incredibly weird stat. So what's been the catch? Stupid mistakes -- like Lavonte David's Week 1 gaffe -- come to mind, as well as a complete lack of offense. Tampa Bay averages just 282.5 yards per away game, the worst mark in the NFC by far and the lowest in the NFL. The Rams force more than two turnovers per game in St. Louis, where their defense clearly responds to the friendly crowd; they've also amassed 24 sacks at home, fifth best in the NFL. The Bucs are going to have a difficult time moving the football with rookie quarterback Mike Glennon against a team that seems to be finishing hot for the second year in a row. #TBvsSTL

A lot of people are expecting the Dallas Cowboys to tank, but that's not their M.O. The usual Dallas way would be to win this game in exciting fashion, then tank next week ... you know, finish 8-8 to let the NFC East slip away for the third straight year. Who knows? Maybe offensive coordinator and play-caller Bill Callahan won't let his apparent disdain for DeMarco Murray surface; maybe he'll actually hand the guy the rock in the second half. Of course, that's all fine and good -- until the defense starts giving up gobs of yards to the Redskins' offense. Some might debate me on this, but Kirk Cousins -- turnovers or no -- is a better passer than Robert Griffin III. Now, the question is, how effective will Washington's Alfred Morris- and Roy Helu-led ground game be? With Sean Lee not likely to be manning the middle for the Cowboys, the Redskins' running backs versus the Dallas front seven is the key matchup to watch. #DALvsWAS

Detroit gets untracked this week. (Where did that dumb sportswriter phrase come from anyway? Is any team "on the track?" My apologies.) Don't you just feel like this is the kind of game that the Lions will win to make the NFC North interesting, only to let their fans down harshly? Sorry, Detroit fans; we can't do that to you. Eli Manning might not throw five picks again, but he'll cough up at least one, which should give the Lions' offense what it needs. I also think that, what with all the attention, a supremely motivated Calvin Johnson will get, well, you know, while Nate Burleson will have a 100-yard day. Let's hope Matthew Stafford plays better than Eric Hipple this week. (Actually, we're not sure Hipple played that bad.) #NYGvsDET

Don't be looking for a 58-0 score here, though we did predict that exact final in our picks column last year. It really was a visionary moment -- except not at all. Actually, after nailing five scores last year, we don't think we've gotten one exactly right in 2013. Well, this is the week we hit the bull's-eye, as Seattle wins by nine behind some clutch out-of-pocket playmaking by Russell Wilson. It's interesting to note that Marshawn Lynch topped 100 yards against the Cardinals for the first and only time of his career thus far in that blowout win last season. Against Arizona earlier this season, Lynch darn-near busted Darnell Docket's grill on one particular run, going into partial Beast mode that game. On Sunday, Lynch will be leaned on against what is a pretty tough front seven. Any way you slice it, the Cards' defense will continue to miss injured safety Tyrann Mathieu ... aaaand Carson Palmer will need to throw a couple of touchdown passes ... aaand Bruce Arians will have to dial up Rashard Mendenhall 15 to 20 times to keep things in balance. Otherwise, Arizona will fall. #AZvsSEA

This one will include much offense and a lot of field goals. If you watched the Ravens on Thanksgiving or on Monday night, you know how their offense can get bogged down, leaving them to rely on the kicker. As for that kicker, by the way, is anyone better than Justin Tucker? A lot of people got mad at me for picking Tucker over Minnesota's Blair Walsh on this team, but Tucker has been a baller -- that's right, we're calling a placekicker a baller. Get excited. Thing is, Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski will be leaned on heavily, too, as frankly, Tom Brady hasn't played well against the Ravens, putting together a career passer rating of 72.1. Baltimore is the only team against which he's thrown more picks than touchdown passes -- playoffs included. We'd have more confidence in the home team if we knew the Ravens could exploit the middle of the Patriots' run defense -- but then, have you seen the Ravens' ground game this season? This one's gonna be close! #NEvsBAL

Not going to lie; this is a "cool-uni" matchup. Oh, and it also carries some major playoff implications, with the Packers still fighting for the NFC North while the Steelers -- even with gut-wrenching losses to the Ravens and Dolphins in recent weeks -- are alive and kicking in the chase for that sixth spot in the AFC, if barely. The historical footnotes are sweet, as well. This will be the first meeting of these two franchises -- which have 10 Super Bowl championships between them -- since Super Bowl XLV. Game Picks trivia: For what is the matchup best known?

As for this particular meeting, it should be one of the most entertaining contests of Week 16, even if it is flying a bit under the radar. The Packers' wideouts should be able to get separation against the Steelers' defensive backs. Also, for whatever reason, quarterback Matt Flynn plays well in Green Bay's system. Pass protection is the key, along with the Packers' ability to mix in Eddie Lacy enough to keep the defense honest. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, gets to the quarterback about as often as people have something glowing to say about Emmanuel Sanders' hands. If the Steelers can't improve on that, Green Bay wins at home. Game Picks trivia hint: The game also took place in Lambeau. #PITvsGB

The Raiders are certainly capable of playing the Chargers tough in San Diego, but with so much -- including, potentially, the AFC's sixth seed -- riding on the outcome, I figure the Bolts will hang tough. Make no mistake, San Diego needs a lot of help, but losing to Oakland would definitely sink Mike McCoy's hopes to land a playoff berth in his first season in SoCal. First things first, though; the Chargers have to stop the run. The Raiders can carry the football with Rashad Jennings and Marcel Reece. As bad as San Diego's defense has been in spots this year, that matchup can't be understated. Oakland beat the Chargers earlier this season behind a mix of big plays, solid running, turnovers converted into points and special-teams contributions -- not to mention, San Diego came out flat. We don't expect that to happen this time; if the Chargers protect the football, they'll win. They simply are more talented and have a better quarterback. #OAKvsSD

All right, time for some interesting nugs of gold:

» This matchup pits the two players with the most touches in the NFL this season -- Matt Forte (324) and Shady McCoy (314) -- against each other.
» The Bears' run defense has allowed 152.4 yards per game, at a clip of 5.2 yards per carry.
» Nick Foles has 23 touchdown passes and two interceptions this season.
» Alshon Jeffery averages 14.3 yards per touch this season, most in the NFL among qualifiers (he's on pace for 100 touches).
» The Eagles had allowed 21 points or less for nine games in a row -- and then they coughed up 48 to Matt Cassel and Matt Asiata. Matt Asiata.

So basically we're saying this is going to be a shootout. Once the Eagles get a lead, the Bears' run defense will fail to hold the fort ... or even build a fort to begin with. Philly wins. #CHIvsPHI

The last game at the 'Stick. It really is sad. We like the 49ers, mostly because the Falcons will have trouble matching up with Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis -- or, to put it another way, they won't be able to cover all three. Davis can stretch the game vertically. Boldin can snare the ball in traffic as well as anyone. Michael Crabtree is phenomenal after the catch. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan has thrown 11 touchdown passes against 12 interceptions with a sub-75 passer rating on the road for Atlanta.

On another note, here are my top five games in Candlestick Park history. Let us know if we got it wrong (@Harrison_NFL):

5) 2011, divisional playoff: Alex Smith and Vernon Davis take out the Saints with what is now referred to as "The Catch III."
4) 1980, Saints at 49ers: Joe Montana pulls off a legendary 28-point comeback -- and begins a legendary career. This was once the biggest comeback in league history.
3) 1990, NFC Championship Game: The 49ers fumble away their bid for a threepeat, as the underdog Giants pull off a fake punt and a game-winning kick in a phenomenal matchup.
2) 1998, NFC Wild-Card Game: "The Catch II." Steve Young slips, T.O. hangs on, and the 49ers win an incredible wild-card matchup against the two-time defending NFC champions.
1) 1981, NFC Championship Game: "The Catch." Perhaps the greatest game in NFL history. #ATLvsSF

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @Harrison_NFL.

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