NFL Week 16 game picks: Cards nip Pack; Pats earn home-field

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It might as well be playoff time ...

The way things are shaking out, more playoff scenarios could be decided this week than next. That includes the final NFC wild-card spot (courtesy of the Lake Minnetonka offense), at least one AFC wild-card bid (#ChiefsKingdom), as well as home-field advantage for those always-on-a-playoff-bye New England Patriots. That's not all. The Cardinals can clinch a first-round bye. The Texans might wrap up the AFC South, as well. All of which might make Week 17 anticlimactic.

For all of my thoughts on this week's action, take a look below. As always, feel free to share your hot sports opinion, fresh out the oven: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Now, let's get to it!

Elliot Harrison went 10-6 on his predictions for Week 15, giving him a record of 134-90 so far this season. How will he fare in Week 16? His picks are below.

Detroit wins! Detroit wins! Two in a row. Golden Tate! Eric Ebron! Billy Sims! The 49ers must find some way to generate offense after two straight games of floundering. Blaine Gabbert simply couldn't get anything going when it mattered in Cleveland two weeks ago (despite being provided some short fields), while four turnovers last week destroyed any chance San Francisco had of winning. (You know, like the almighty dollar has destroyed any chance of San Francisco winning the war against the migrating techies.) The 49ers' defense sure can't afford to provide this new-look Lions offense any help. Since the Lions' bye in Week 9, the Jim Bob Cooter-led offense has averaged over 25.5 points and 370 yards per game. Seems like Cooter is the type of guy who has sweet pass routes folded up in a Folgers can marked "nuts and bolts" in his garage. On to the next blurb ... #SFvsDET

It feels too simplistic to say Pittsburgh is going to destroy the 4-10 Ravens this weekend. (You know, like, this rivalry bout could be a 14-10 ballgame.) So the Steelers win 36-14.

Baltimore has been decimated by injuries on defense this season. At least the offense is averaging 11 points per game over the past three weeks! That's one point per player. Pretty strong. Sunday's game marks an opportunity for Pittsburgh to almost close the door on the Jets' hope for that sixth playoff spot. #PITvsBAL

Good grief, we have some cruddy games this weekend. "Kellen Moore ... Tyrod Taylor ... It's the NFL on FOX!!!" Buffalo wins, not because Moore stinks, but because he's going to see looks he has no idea what to do with. When it comes to preparing for Rex Ryan's scheme, the young lefty probably would get more out of binge-playing Madden 16 than reflecting on the play he saw from Matt Cassel over the last few weeks. Taylor certainly has been better than most expected, but have you ever seen an emptier stat than his 100-plus passer rating? Taylor will find the going tough against a Dallas defense that Brandon Marshall believes is much better than some analysts think. Of course, the Jets' star receiver also pointed out that the Cowboys aren't getting turnovers. Their scant total of nine takeaways is easily the lowest in the league. If you have any other creative uses of the word "scant," please send them my way ( @HarrisonNFL). Trying to incorporate it more. #DALvsBUF

Tampa Bay wins for Lovie. Of course, if they really wanted to do something for him, they could've won one of the last two games against weak teams -- you know, when it mattered and stuff. Chicago might be without Alshon Jeffery, who barely played last week and might be on a pitch count this weekend. That means that either Matt Forte or Jeremy Langford will need to make plays, taking advantage of the same poor tackling that victimized Tampa during last Thursday night's game (otherwise known as Tavon Austin's audition tape). A hallmark of Lovie Smith teams has always been takeaways, a category his young squad has excelled in with 21. His former club can't buy a turnover as of late, causing only one in this three-game dump they're on. #CHIvsTB

Not picking against Carolina again, even if this matchup does have the potential to be a tough divisional game. Then again, with the NFC South on the line last season on the road in Atlanta, the Panthers came through in blowout fashion. For all of you out there who think your hack writer hates on Carolina, let me be clear that he was one of the few that picked that outcome properly. Seemingly everyone saw the Falcons winning the South last December. This season, many league observers caught on rather early to the smoke-and-mirrors fashion Dan Quinn's group was initially winning games. With the road triumph in Jacksonville, however, Atlanta is still alive in the NFC wild-card race. Simple formula: They must win out, while the Seahawks and Vikings must lose out. Like we said, impossible formula. #CARvsATL

The clunker games keep on comin' ... (Indy needs a win and help to make the postseason.) OK, there is plenty of history between these two franchises. Lamar Smith set an NFL playoff record (that still stands) with 40 carries in the 2000 wild-card showdown, the last time the Dolphins won in the postseason. In a 1995 regular-season bout, Dan Marino set the NFL record for career completions, but Miami blew a 24-3 lead over the resilient Colts. The other quarterback in that contest? Jim Harbaugh. He would take Indy all the way to the AFC Championship Game that season. On that note, the Dolphins and Colts locked up in the 1971 AFC Championship Game, when safety Dick Anderson took an interception 62 yards to the house to help Don Shula get to his first Super Bowl with a 21-0 victory. Anderson was always an underrated safety. Hmm. Kind of like a guy who didn't make the Pro Bowl. #20 #INDvsMIA

The Patriots are trying to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, which they can do with a win. The Jets' best hope might be to pound Chris Ivory, who will be facing a Dont'a Hightower-less defense (or at least a defense with a hampered Hightower). The Broncos' rushing numbers shot through the roof in Week 12 when Hightower had to leave early with an injury. Getting Ivory going could open big plays to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker, who continue to make everyone question whether this is really the Jets' offense they're watching.

In case you were wondering, New England has now won at least 12 games for six consecutive seasons. In this day and age of parity ball -- Paul Tagliabue's vision of the NFL in the aughts -- that's a remarkable stat. Well, on Sunday, Stephen Gostkowski hits from 53 yards out to provide New England with a 13th regular-season win for the first time since 2011. #NEvsNYJ

Was going to go with Houston 23, Tennessee 10. Decided against it, as Zach Mettenberger will fare better than expected -- like against Pittsburgh last year. Speaking of 2014, wasn't this the Mettenberger selfie game? #storylines. Get excited.

You try writing a Texans- Titans preview in late December. Brutal.

Actually, with a win here by the Texans and a Colts loss in Miami, the AFC South belongs to Houston.

The challenge for Mettenberger in delivering the upset versus Bill O'Brien's pesky squad will be dealing with a pass rush that has posted 36 sacks this season. Over the last two weeks, Tennessee's ground "attack" has accounted for a total of 83 yards (at 2.4 yards per carry), so ... J.J. Watt and company can pretty much sprint to the quarterback with no worries. #HOUvsTEN

The Chiefs have now won eight games in a row, and the most impressive aspect of the streak is the defense, which has allowed 12.3 points per game during this span. They've scored three touchdowns on defense while on this torrid run, as well. Speaking of being on a run, the ground game is eighth in the NFL at 122.8 yards per game, averaging 4.65 yards per carry. That's better than when they had Jamaal Charles healthy. If the Browns are to have any shot in this game, they must get the run game going. They are averaging a paltry 86.5 yards per game. Yuck.

Kansas City moves to 10-5 en route to eventually securing the top wild-card spot. #CLEvsKC

Questions abound ... Who is going to play defense in this game? Will Drew Brees play? Will the Saints commit 15 penalties in the red zone? Will they find the red zone if Matt Flynn's at quarterback? Maybe not before letting Blake Bortles put up 462 yards with the Allen boys running wild. Luckily for the Saints, the Jaguars' defense is almost as bad as their own. Jacksonville is 30th in points allowed, and has been the biggest culprit in Gus Bradley's team becoming a non-factor in the AFC South. Odd, considering his discipline is the defensive side of the ball. No matter, because the story of this contest is it being potentially the last home game for Saints head coach Sean Payton. And there are those who say the same for Drew Brees -- not seeing that development. #JAXvsNO

Arizona wins, sans the Honey Badger, in what might be the game of the week. Ah, heck, forget the imaginary debate: This is the game of the week. Carson Palmer should be able to exploit the Packers' back seven, despite the fact that Green Bay's secondary came up with turnovers (and points) for Mike McCarthy last Sunday in Oakland. Derek Carr was uncharacteristically off, missing open receivers and tossing Damarious Randall a gift. Don't count on Palmer making similar mistakes. He might throw the DBs a 50-50 ball vertically, but Bruce Arians will take those -- they force the defense to play the whole field. When it comes to Aaron Rodgers, his wideouts must caaaaatch the football this week. Catches = yards = touchdowns = Aaron Rodgers not pulling his hair out. #GBvsAZ

Seattle stays hot. Or at least hot enough to take care of business at home versus the Rams. Expect two more touchdowns from Doug Baldwin, who will then kick two extra points and maybe a couple of field goals. (Good grief, he is hot.) If he does score twice this week, he will keep pace with Jerry Rice, who enjoyed a five-game stretch with 12 scores in his historic 1987 season. That season saw Rice set an NFL record with 22 receiving touchdowns. Randy Moss surpassed the mark with 23 in 2007. The kicker here? Rice did it in 12 games. Long story short: Baldwin is in special company. Of course, it helps that Russell Wilson is on maybe the best five-game QB run in the history of the National Football League. He's accounted for 20 touchdowns during that time. His game-by-game passer ratings: 138.5, 147.9, 146.0, 139.6 and 128.3. That's insane. Tavon Austin is on a torrid one-game pace. If he is the dynamic playmaker that everyone on social media claimed last Thursday night, he must do it against top competition -- on the road, too. He has 161 receiving yards away from home this year. #STLvsSEA

Bench it like Beckham. The way to beat New York is with the passing game, which certainly has not been a strength for the Vikings this season. Signs of life were found versus the Bears last weekend, though, as Teddy Bridgewater topped his career best in passer rating by over 30 points. Stefon Diggs came straight off the side of the milk carton to catch a dime from Bridgewater in the back of the end zone. Eli Manning must make Rueben Randle and Dwayne Harris look like that crosstown duo to win. Yep, we went there. #NYGvsMIN

The Backup Bowl! Brock of Ages vs. the fast-paced offense under AJ McLaren. OK, so that was a reach. My bad. Brockodile Dundee is going to be resourceful on Sunday. Country Brock will be as smooth as butter against the Bengals' top-10 defense. Say what you want about the Denver quarterback, so long as you're dancing your cares away down in Fraggle Brock. With Peyton Manning talk reaching its zenith following the Broncos' second straight loss, how will Gary Kubiak handle quarterback matters should Osweiler struggle? Marvin Lewis has no such decision to make (or options), yet McCarron showed enough promise when he was asked to make throws to suggest Cincy will be OK. But facing the NFL's No. 1 defense on their turf? Too tall of a task. One note to those who think Denver can't win with Osweiler, bear in mind how special this defense is. Wade Phillips' group is No. 1 against the rush and the pass. If the Broncos can finish the season in that position, they'd be the first team since the 1991 Eagles to pull that off. #CINvsDEN

ALREADY COMPLETED


This is usually a fun game. Remember the super-late Sunday night contest from a couple years ago that kicked off at, like, 11:30 p.m. ET? People watching "Lace Ventura" on Cinemax had a real decision to make about where to turn the dial: football or a great movie plot? The storyline of this game is whether Oakland can rebound from a tough loss to the Packers to make a push for .500, and whether the Chargers' win last Sunday was a fluke or a sign of better days to come (... somewhere). The Raiders had better find someone to find Danny Woodhead when he slips out on his pass routes, while also applying more pressure on Philip Rivers than the Dolphins did. Expect Derek Carr to bounce back from a subpar performance. #SDvsOAK

We're taking the plunge, otherwise known as youlikethat. Washington secures the NFC East title on the Eagles' turf with clutch quarterback play and classic, bend-but-don't-break defense.

If you remember this matchup last year, Kirk Cousins put up huge numbers only to lose in the end. In the postgame, Cary Williams complained about Chip Kelly overworking the Eagles in practice -- yes, in the postgame of a 37-34 Philly win. The Eagles have only reached that point total once this season, doing so against the shoddy Saints defense. ("Shoddy" wasn't the word I initially was thinking of using, but it's as close as I can get without losing my job.) Chip Kelly's offense has had trouble putting up points all season. The Eagles have eclipsed 30 points just three times, with the latest being a 35-point effort in New England a few weeks ago ... when three scores came via special teams/defense. #WASvsPHI

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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