NFL Week 16 game picks: Saints top Falcons; Dallas stays alive

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Week 16 -- what used to be the close of the regular season has become the final playoff maelstrom for the wannabes.

Despite being so late in the season, no less than 13 of the 16 games carry some level of postseason weight. Whether these contests feature teams like the Lions and Cowboys (who are trying to run the table and get help) or outfits like the Jags, Eagles and Patriots (still duking it out over seeding), the results matter. All of which serves to make this weekend more important than Week 17, when most of the eggs are already scrambled.

Coupled with the playoff implication are a few historical rekindlings, including three Super Bowl rematches. Rams at Titans is one of those -- and their memorable battle in Super Bowl XXXIV wasn't the only time these two teams faced off in the '99 campaign. They also met in the regular season that year, with the Titans holding off a furious Kurt Warner-led comeback to prove they too were for real, taking down the previously undefeated "Greatest Show on Turf." Another matchup that is certain to bring back memories -- one that legitimately shaped a few legacies -- is Seahawks at Cowboys ...

It's often hard to predict which games will have a lasting impact on fans and media. That 2006 Wild Card Weekend adventure -- and its butterfly effect -- certainly qualifies.

On to thoughts from abroad ...

Thanks for checking in, Craig. That comparison, which I made in this week's Power Rankings, was more about how these QB-TE connections are so difficult to stop when they're on -- and how most prolific aerial combos involve receivers like Jerry Rice and Antonio Brown, not tight ends.

For more of my thoughts on this sport of football, well, all of the Week 16 picks are below. As you'll see, a few of the NFC wild-card hopefuls stay relevant for another week, while a few AFC teams harness home playoff games/division titles. Your thoughts are welcome, as always: @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Now, let's get to it!

Elliot Harrison went 13-3 on his predictions for Week 15, giving him a record of 143-81 thus far this season. How will he fare in Week 16? His picks are below:

Ravens
37
Pick
Colts
10
Saturday, Dec. 23 @ 4:30 PM ET
Been waiting for the Ravens to assert themselves as more than a fringe playoff team. This is the week, as Joe Flacco should find openings in the Colts' coverage. Flacco has recorded his three highest yardage totals of the season over the last three contests. If Indy is to steal a win on the road, Jacoby Brissett's teammates must help out. Thought a huge play in the Colts' loss to the Broncos was Josh Ferguson's drop on a perfectly thrown wheel route -- that could've been a chunk play to kick-start a drive. Interesting that despite being a defense-centric team, the Ravens are 6-0 when Joe Flacco posts a 90-plus passer rating.

Vikings
30
Pick
Packers
27
Saturday, Dec. 23 @ 8:30 PM ET
What a fun Saturday matchup it would have been if Green Bay had won last week and Aaron Rodgers weren't on injured reserve. Now the Packers are playing out the string. Meanwhile, the Vikings are playing as well as any team in pro football in all phases of the game. If they were a low-budget sci-if movie, they'd be good with phasers, too -- which would in turn make Brett Hundley a red-shirt guy from "Star Trek." Last week's demolition of the Bengals was barely noticed, which is an indication of the rising bar for Mike Zimmer's team. The defense throttled Andy Dalton and didn't allow for any balance on Cincy's offense. For Green Bay to win, Jamaal Williams or Aaron Jones must command a semblance of respect, so that Minnesota's defensive ends are forced to hesitate a tad and can't just tee off on Hundley. By the way, the Vikes are allowing opponents to convert on just 26.3 percent of third downs. That's the lowest figure in the league since the 1991 Saints. The "Dome Patrol" allowed a conversion rate of 26.1 percent.

Lions
25
Pick
Bengals
20
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 1 PM ET
Boy, that Golden Tate touchdown/non-touchdown vs. Atlanta back in Week 3 sure looms large for the NFC wild-card field. The Lions really needed Tampa Bay's Patrick Murray to hit that long-range field goal Monday night -- and then have the Bucs knock off the Falcons in overtime.

Quick aside: Every time I see Tampa's Murray, I can't help but think of Eddie Murray, Detroit's kicker for over a decade. That guy was clutch. Back to 2017 ...

Every Detroit fan thinks in algebraic terms: Theo Riddick > Ameer Abdullah. Though Eric Ebron's recent emergence doesn't add up for a fan base that had written him off long ago. Both Riddick and Ebron are important factors in Cincy, unless the Bengals don't show up (again). Matthew Stafford will -- the franchise quarterback has completed at least 75 percent of his passes for three straight weeks.

Chiefs
24
Pick
Dolphins
16
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 1 PM ET
Most analysts will probably predict the Chiefs will win by two scores or more. Yet, every time you anticipate the Dolphins laying an egg, they show up long enough to provide glimmers of hope. Annnnnnd ... scene. Kansas City's defense lives off takeaways this season, as the unit simply hasn't been able to impose its will sans Eric Berry (season-ending injury in Week 1), Dontari Poe (free-agent exit) and Tamba Hali (limited availability all year). Miami should try to isolate Kenyan Drake on Kansas City's inside 'backers whenever possible. The potential for chunk yardage should be there, provided Jay Cutler is on-point. From the Spinning Narratives On Their Axes Department: Alex Smith leads the NFL with 12 touchdown passes of 20-plus air yards. His previous career high: six.

Patriots
34
Pick
Bills
17
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 1 PM ET
The Bills need a rare win in New England to stay viable in the playoff race. Buffalo actually won big there last year, but that was with Jacoby Brissett starting for Bill Belichick. Tom Brady has only lost to the Bills at home once, in a meaningless Week 17 game three years ago. The Bills should run right at Matt Patricia's defense, which has struggled to stop opposing ground attacks. That said, while New England is 29th in total yards allowed, they're sixth in points yielded. Talk about bending without breaking. At some point, Tyrod Taylor must challenge the Patriots' secondary down the field. Otherwise, Buffalo's hopes rest on playing clock ball. Brady, by the way, has thrown at least one interception in each of the past four games. If he tosses another this weekend, that'll make it five straight (math!), which he hasn't done since 2002. Cool. His team is also 31-4 in December home games since 2001. So there's that.

Bears
17
Pick
Browns
13
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 1 PM ET
The Bears win another game for John Fox, who is trying to lead Chicago into the offseason with a surge of momentum. Of course, much of that head of steam will come from Mitchell Trubisky making the most of his progressions, minus the negative plays. (Actually, don't minus and negative cancel each other out? So I just jinxed Trubisky. Never mind.) Run Jordan Howard 30 times. Except that might not work. Cleveland thwarted Alex Collins time and again last week. In fact, the Browns are allowing the fewest rushing yards per attempt in the league at 3.3 per carry.

(Not) fun fact: A loss here ensures the Browns pick first overall in the draft. Again. If they keep it, they'll be the first team to make the No. 1 pick in consecutive drafts since the -- surprise, surprise -- 1999-2000 Browns. That Courtney Brown pick fared well.

Panthers
28
Pick
Buccaneers
17
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 1 PM ET
Every time you expect the Panthers to roll, they roll over. Or stumble their way to a win, like in Week 12 against the Jets. Hey, the margins in the NFL are note-card thin -- as we all learned last Sunday night -- and while Carolina is a good team, it is not even close to dominant. The Panthers' offense clicks when OC Mike Shula lets Cam Newton loose on designed runs. That forces the defense to play 11 on 11 instead of 11 on 10 (with a stationary quarterback watching the run play from 7 yards deep). If you saw the Falcons run on Tampa's defense this past Monday night, you know the Bucs are vulnerable to Carolina's three-headed monster. The question is, how much can Jameis Winston do on his own? Newton has been carrying that kind of load for a while now. In fact, he has two games this season with four touchdown passes and 50-plus yards rushing. No one has pulled that off as far as we can track it, which is back to 1950. I've asked NFL Research analyst @RealJackAndrade to dig into box scores from 1934 to make sure, partially to make up for the garbage he provided for the Broncos- Redskins blurb below (tease!).

Saints
30
Pick
Falcons
20
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 1 PM ET
An integral game to not only the NFC South but the entire wild-card field, Falcons at Saints is easily the game of the week in the NFL. Atlanta was fortunate to not see Alvin Kamara for 3.5 quarters when these teams hooked up two weeks ago. Now, the Saints will look to use their two-back rotation -- or play Kamara and Mark Ingram together, creating mismatches for the Falcons' defense. Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell must hold the fort in coverage when possible. Matt Ryan can ill-afford the missed throws he suffered in Tampa on Monday night. For all the talk that Drew Brees isn't having to do as much this season -- or isn't enjoying his finest campaign -- bear in mind that he's owned a 100 passer rating in five straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Redskins
22
Pick
Broncos
20
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 1 PM ET
Perhaps the Broncos' defense has turned the proverbial corner, having allowed a grand total of 13 points in two straight wins while playing top-shelf football. Unfortunately, the offense is still a bunch of well drinks. Moving the ball on the Colts' depleted D last week does not project to Brock Osweiler dicing up the Redskins. Last Sunday, Washington frustrated and picked off Blaine Gabbert, who, quite frankly, has looked better than Denver's quarterbacks this year. The 'Skins will lose if they can't gain an inch on the ground, like last week (20 carries for 31 yards).

Research fodder: @RealJackAndrade provides your hack writer with notes for this column every week. As an ancillary bonus, he tossed out a hot sports take fresh out of the toaster oven: "I've had Kirk going to Denver since last summer and I'm sticking with it." (Yes, apparently he and Cousins are on a first-name basis.) Real Jack provided these numbers to support his logic:

Kirk Cousins in 2017: 259.7 passing yards per game, 66.1 completion percentage, 24:9 TD-to-INT ratio, 98.8 passer rating, five 300-yard games.
Broncos QBs in 2017: 204.3 passing yards per game, 58.0 completion percentage, 13:19 TD-to-INT ratio, 68.8 passer rating, one 300-yard game.

Rams
30
Pick
Titans
20
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 1 PM ET
Los Angeles should go to the air early and often. Dick LeBeau's defense has struggled mightily in pass defense this year despite playing very few premier quarterbacks. Where this D has succeeded is in the red zone, where opponents have often been forced to settle for field goals. That's where the Todd Gurley factor should come into play. Sean McVay's stud tailback has already scored 17 touchdowns and is a certifiable MVP candidate.

Fun fact: Jared Goff has thrown multiple touchdown passes in four straight games. The franchise record is six straight, shared by Kurt Warner (in 2001), Trent Green (2000), Roman Gabriel (1967) and Norm Van Brocklin (1957). I have Van Brocklin's 1957 Topps football card. He's in a sweet passing pose, arm cocked behind his head. Thought you knowing that would add much value to this article.
Chargers
26
Pick
Jets
17
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 1 PM ET
The Chargers must take this game in New Jersey to maintain any chance of reaching the playoffs in Anthony Lynn's debut season as head coach. The Bolts will be coming off an extra day of preparation, given that they played last Saturday. Might not sound like much, but at this juncture, every player in the NFL is banged up. Weather is always a factor when West Coast teams venture all the way to the East Coast for a game at this time of year, but the Jets simply don't have enough on offense with Bryce Petty running the show.

Fun fact: Melvin Gordon is the first Charger since LaDainian Tomlinson to produce at least 1,300 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns in consecutive seasons. Lance Alworth, who is somehow underrated (even as a first-ballot Hall of Famer), did it twice in the mid-'60s as a wide receiver. Alworth > Gordon.

Jaguars
23
Pick
49ers
17
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 4:05 PM ET
Everyone around the league seems to be buying in on these Jags, and why not? The defense has been nothing short of suffocating to pass offenses this season -- which is precisely what makes this interconference matchup so interesting. Jimmy Garoppolo has built his own legion of believers, having led the 49ers to three straight wins while posting a sterling 98.0 passer rating. He faces the preeminent secondary in the bigs this week. The dude will enter downright legendary status if he torches these guys, too. Maybe Blake Bortles will be the difference. I can't believe I just typed that last line, either. Would you believe he's the only starting quarterback without an interception since Week 12? He's also put up a triple-digit passer rating every time out since Week 13. #Bortlesmania

Cowboys
30
Pick
Seahawks
23
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 4:25 PM ET
The Cowboys win on the strength of the run game. That doesn't mean Ezekiel Elliott will trounce Seattle's front single-handedly. Elliott is fresh, for sure, but he could also come out as rusty as Aaron Rodgers did in Carolina last weekend. Dallas' offensive line is superior to the Rams' unit that just overpowered the Seahawks -- at least when the Cowboys' big boys are playing as their highest selves. (Well, not their metaphysical selves. This isn't chakra talk. I mean as offensive linemen and such.) Seattle is still trying to topple those Rams in the NFC West. Dallas is looking to grab a wild-card spot. Since Elliott's suspension started in Week 10, Dallas has boasted the NFL's 30th-ranked offense. They were eighth before he departed. Read into that what you must.

Cardinals
20
Pick
Giants
17
Sunday, Dec. 24 @ 4:25 PM ET
Who knows? You got a better prediction for this showdown in Arizona? Please share your most random Giants- Cardinals thoughts with me: @HarrisonNFL. Who wins the punting matchup? Who was better, Phil Simms or Neil Lomax? How about Kent Graham with the Giants or Kent Graham with the Cardinals? Arizona's playing for .500. What are the G-Men playing for? Maybe the future, but whose future? That's the question. If New York is to win, the Giants must apply pressure in the pass rush, and Eli Manning can't miss the kind of open throws that he misfired on late last week. Eli's numbers continue to plummet: After throwing for 277.0 yards per game with 35 touchdowns and a 93.6 passer rating during the 2015 season, his stat line dropped to 251.7/26/86.0 in 2016 and 236.4/18/84.2 this season. Hard to put that all on Odell Beckham Jr.'s absence.

Steelers
28
Pick
Texans
17
Monday, Dec. 25 @ 4:30 PM ET
Could the Steelers stumble after such an emotionally draining loss to the Patriots? Sure. Think about their last three games: That torrid affair with the Bengals, then the nail-biter at home against the rival Ravens, followed by the rulebook monster taking them down in a bitter ending vs. Patriots. Pittsburgh will be playing on the road without Antonio Brown. And if you are a Steelers fan, you probably don't need to be told that Mike Tomlin's teams routinely play down to inferior opponents, especially on the road. The embattled Bill O'Brien says he's not quitting. How his team responds this week after getting trampled by the Jags will reveal much. So will the play from the quarterback position.

Fun fact (well, unless you are Le'Veon Bell's hamstrings): The Steelers' bell-cow back has 387 touches this season, 76 more than any other player.

Eagles
34
Pick
Raiders
21
Monday, Dec. 25 @ 8:30 PM ET
It's a rematch of a Super Bowl from 37 years ago. Don't worry, you didn't miss much. The Eagles came out flat and the Raiders capped off a week-long party in New Orleans with a three-score victory. The significant thing about that Super Sunday: Oakland won with its backup quarterback, Jim Plunkett. No one is suggesting Derek Carr gets benched. But this Philadelphia team can win with Nick Foles. Whether or not the defense -- which has allowed points in bunches over the last two weeks -- can play winning football alongside Nick Foles is another matter. Jim Schwartz's group was allowing about 18 points per game prior to these recent stutters. Perhaps running the football more -- and shortening the game -- is the answer. Then again, Foles tossed seven touchdown passes in his lone career start against the Raiders, back in 2013. Because that matters. Because these teams are exactly the same as then. OK, I'll stop.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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