NFL Week 16 (Christmas!): Overcoming The Odds – 3 games to watch

Richard Graves

Richard Graves

Presenter, Writer and Broadcaster

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!

 

Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers (Bengals -2.5)

What a story the Cincinnati Bengals are! Remember, they started the season 1-3. They then won 4 on the spin – including a road win in San Francisco – before losing starting quarterback Joe Burrow to injury but they’ve now won 3 straight with Jake Browning under centre and at 8-6, if the playoffs began today, they’d be in!

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, it’s a different story. A month ago, the stars seemed to be aligning for them with each of their AFC North rivals suffering injuries to key players, but 3 straight defeats mean they are now the only team in that division who wouldn’t be in the playoffs if they started today.

Offensively, they’ve been awful all season, ranking 27th overall and 28th in scoring, averaging just under 16 points per game. 16 points was enough to get the job done in their first meeting this season with the Bengals but it’s tough to see that being the case here. Especially given the way they’ve shaped up defensively in recent weeks. A unit which ranks 20th this season gave up 24 and 21 points respectively in their last two home games to Arizona and New England before Indianapolis put 30 on them in last weekend’s loss.

It’s not like the Bengals have been lighting up opponents this year either, but they do average 22 points per game, and they’ve scored 34, 34 and 27 in their last 3. Now, if they make it to 22 points against Pittsburgh, this game’s likely over!

As Bill Parcell’s said, “you are what your record says you are!” Right now, the Steelers’ record says they’re an average team in the NFL. While the Bengals record is in positive territory and their team is heading in an upwards direction

PICK: Bengals -2.5

 

Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings (Lions -3)

Anything other than a defeat on Christmas Eve will assure the Detroit Lions a place in the playoffs for the first time since 2014. Their demolition of the Broncos last weekend was hugely impressive – Jared Goff throwing 5 TDs and no interceptions whilst their defense only gave up 17 points.

While Goff was impressive, it’s the defensive side of things that may give head coach, Dan Campbell more cause for optimism. That’s the first time in 6 games they’d given up fewer than 26 points – it’s difficult to win in the NFL when you concede so many points!

Contrast this with the Minnesota Vikings. Without QB Kirk Cousins for the season. Josh Dobb’s – initially a revelation – now benched and the only game they’ve won in their last 4 was a 3-0 thriller in Las Vegas! On the plus side, all 3 defeats in their last 4 games have come by 3 points or less. They’ve been right in there in every game! However, it’s tough to have too much confidence in Nick Mullens – especially if the Vikings find themselves having to keep pace with the Lions on the scoreboard!

Detroit are the no. 5 ranked scoring offense, scoring 27 points per game. They’re the 2nd best rushing team, 4th best passing team and ranked no. 3 overall.

The Vikings are much improved on defense this year – top 10 in points allowed (19.2ppg), 5th best against the run but 17th defending the pass. The Lions have playmakers through the air and on the ground. This is a tall order for a depleted Vikings team – it would be a big surprise if they could pull off the upset here.

Pick: Lions -3

 

Las Vegas Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs (Raiders +10)

The Kansas City Chiefs got back to winning ways last weekend, but Kadarius Toney’s issues continued – his dropped pass, turning into an interception which kept the Patriots in the game. Depending on what happens in the Broncos game, a win here could secure the AFC West title but at the very least it would put them in an almost insurmountable position.

QB Patrick Mahomes appears to have accepted that this offense just isn’t going to be the explosive unit we’ve become accustomed to seeing in Kansas City. The onus us on him to plat cleaner and smarter and rely on their 7th ranked defense to close out games.

It comes as no surprise that the Chiefs are heavy favourites heading into this one but it maybe far closer than many expect.

Since Antonio Pierce stepped in as interim head coach of the Raiders, they’ve been competitive. They have a 3-3 record in that time and this weekend’s opponent’s are the only team to have scored more than 21 points against them in that period. Let’s not forget, the Raiders have just put 63 on the board against the Chargers and had a mini bye to prepare for their AFC West rivals. On the season, Vegas are giving up 20 points per game – that’s a good enough record to put them in the top 10 of scoring defenses in the NFL. Add into the equation that this team has little to lose, the incentive of denting the chances of a division rival AND comes into this clash with some confidence now, 10 points seems a pretty big margin for a Chiefs team who just aren’t firing on all cylinders.

Kansas City may win this game – they should win this game BUT if they do, it won’t be by more than one score.

PICK: Raiders +10

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