Expert NFL Picks for Week 16 Including Colts-Cardinals, Bills-Patriots and Steelers-Chiefs
Kevin Rogers of VegasInsider, Borgata sportsbook director Tom Gable and VSiN sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum offer their insights
This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which professional sports handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the football season.
For this edition of Best Bets, Kevin Rogers, a veteran handicapper for VegasInsider.com, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, and sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN share their opinions on five Week 16 games, many of which will be affected by the steady stream of positive COVID-19 tests and gameday calls on injured players.
You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.
Indianapolis Colts (+1, O/U 49) at Arizona Cardinals
A compelling matchup because … it doesn’t get any bigger than this for the Cardinals, who will host the Colts on Christmas on national TV after losing two straight games, including an embarrassment on the road last week in Detroit to the lackluster Lions. One of the darlings of the first half of the season, Arizona has started to fall apart despite the return of star quarterback Kyler Murray. It’s been the complete opposite for the Colts, who began the year at 1-4 but have won seven of their last nine and appear to be peaking at the right time. With 398 points this season, the Colts are the top-scoring team in the AFC thus far despite having Carson Wentz at quarterback.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Colts (8-6 SU, 9-5 against the spread) are 7-2 over their last nine games and just beat the Patriots 27-17, covering as 1-point home favorites. Meanwhile, the Cardinals (10-4 SU, 9-5 ATS) once had the NFL’s best record but just fell to Detroit 30-12, losing outright as 13-point road favorites. This early lookahead line was Cardinals -4. Sharps aren’t outsmarting themselves on this one. As soon as this number dropped, wiseguys pounced on the red-hot Colts plus the points, dropping the line down Arizona -1 or even a pick’em. Short road dogs +3 or less are 24-12 ATS (67%) this season. Craig Wrolstad, the lead ref, has historically favored road teams (67-50 ATS, 57%). The Colts also have a rest advantage, having played on Saturday while the Cardinals played Sunday. I’ll give myself my wiggle room and back Indianapolis in a teaser (+1 to +7).
Gable’s Guess: The chatter is starting now around Arizona and whether they’re going to mirror last year’s team, which collapsed in the second half of the year. I’m not surprised the questions are starting to come up. Since their bye week, they’re 1-2. Most concerning here is that their defense is giving up 115 yards per game on the ground on average. Now you have Jonathan Taylor coming in, who I feel should be part of the MVP candidate conversation. Taylor’s having a heck of a year and the Colts are 8-0 when he rushes for 100 yards in a game and 0-6 when he doesn’t. Their defense is rounding into form and this is a team no one is going to want to face in the playoffs if they get in. They’ve won five of their last six, with that sole loss being to Tampa Bay. I look at this game as essentially a pick ’em. I’m going to go with the team that’s playing the most complete right now — and that’s Indianapolis.
Rogers’s Recommendation: Indianapolis travels to Arizona looking for its third straight win after holding off New England last week. The money has come in on the Colts as the Cardinals look to rebound after getting shocked by the Lions as 13-point favorites last week. Arizona has dropped three straight home games, with two of those losses coming to Green Bay and Los Angeles. The Cardinals should rebound here in what is basically a pick ‘em spot at home. Best Bet: Arizona -1.
Our Pick: The Cardinals can’t be a paper tiger again, can they? Lay the points with Arizona on Christmas.
Baltimore Ravens (+3, O/U 45) at Cincinnati Bengals
A compelling matchup because … in a game that could end up costing one of these teams a playoff spot depending on what the rest of the AFC North does, the Ravens are on to Cincinnati to take on a team that mopped the floor with them 41-17 earlier in the season when Baltimore was playing well. Losers of three in a row and substantially more banged-up than they were earlier in the season, the Ravens may have ex-MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson back under center. However, that may not be as big a factor in the game as Baltimore’s ability to stop Cincy’s aerial attack. The Bengals are 3-4 at home; Baltimore is 3-4 on the road.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Ravens (8-6 SU, 7-7 ATS) just fell to the Packers 31-30, although they covered as 9-point home dogs. Meanwhile, the Bengals (8-6 SU, 7-7 ATS) just beat the Broncos 15-10, winning outright as 3-point road dogs. This line opened with Cincinnati listed as a 2.5-point home favorite. The public is split and doesn’t know who to back, yet we’ve seen this line rise from Bengals -2.5 to -3. Baltimore is decimated by injuries and trending in the wrong direction. I’ll follow the sharp action and back the Bengals on the moneyline.
Gable’s Guess: The Bengals’ defense really should be given more credit than I think they get. They are the reason this team has exceeded expectations so far and they’re firmly in the playoff hunt. We all know what Joe Burrow can do. He has that extra challenge of not really having an offensive line to protect him. I think Burrow threw for more than 400 yards in the first matchup between these two teams this year. We’ll see if Jackson’s back for the Ravens, but Tyler Huntley played great in Jackson’s absence against Green Bay. Despite being up double digits, you never really felt like Green Bay was in control, and the credit goes to Huntley for that. The very limited secondary Baltimore has will be vulnerable to Burrow, much like they were to Aaron Rodgers last week. And Cincinnati has more weapons at the skill positions than Green Bay does. I’m going to lay the points with the Bengals.
Rogers’s Recommendation: All the losses in Baltimore’s losing streak have been by two points or fewer. The Ravens received a solid performance from backup quarterback Tyler Huntley, who threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more scores in place of Jackson last week. The Bengals have lost two straight at home but held off the Broncos for a huge road victory last week. There is no word on who will start at quarterback for Baltimore, but Huntley has shown he can play in place of Jackson. The Ravens should end their losing streak here against the Bengals. Best Bet: Baltimore +2.5.
Our Pick: It’s a tough spot for Baltimore, but feels like the kind of game they win. We’ll take the points.
Buffalo Bills (+2.5, O/U 43.5) at New England Patriots
A compelling matchup because … in a rematch of Monday Night Football three weeks ago, the Bills head to New England looking to even the season series between the two division rivals as well as take back first place in the AFC East and the inside track to a top playoff seed. In a game that is shaping up to be relatively unaffected by COVID-19, at least in comparison to many others, the winner could come down to whether New England quarterback Mac Jones can complete passes against Buffalo’s secondary, something he was not asked to do on MNF a few weeks back.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Bills (8-6 SU, 7-6-1 ATS) just waxed the Panthers 31-14, covering as 14.5-point home favorites. On the flip-side, the Patriots (9-5 SU, 9-5 ATS) just fell to the Colts 27-17, failing to cover as 1-point road dogs. This line opened with New England listed as a 2-point home favorite. The public is split, yet the Pats have moved from -2 to -2.5, signaling respected money in their favor. I think Bill Belichick has something to prove after the bad loss to Indianapolis last week. The Pats also enjoy a one-day rest advantage, having played on Saturday while the Bills played Sunday. I’ll back New England on the moneyline (-135).
Gable’s Guess: We need to throw out the first game between these teams because of the weather conditions it was played in. The Patriots were able to run the ball against the Bills and they should be able to do that again. The Bills struggle against physical teams and the Patriots definitely are one. On defense, New England has given up the fewest points of any defense in the NFL this year. They’ll need to continue that high level of play, because New England’s offense has gotten very thin at wide receiver. They lost two wide receivers to injury during the Colts game and had to add another to the COVID-19 list. They’re only left with two of their normal roster receivers and two from the practice squad. The Bills are also dealing with some COVID-19 issues. But without the weather issues from the first game, I believe you’ll see more from the Buffalo offense here. The Bills need to run the ball more. And that doesn’t mean more Josh Allen runs. They were willing to run more against Carolina on Sunday, so we’ll see if that continues. I’m going to take the points here with Buffalo.
Rogers’s Recommendation: These two rivals are meeting for the second time in three weeks as Buffalo tries to bounce back from a 14-10 home loss to New England. The Bills can tie the Patriots for first place in the division with a win, as Buffalo seeks its fifth road victory of the season. The Patriots had their seven-game winning streak snapped in last week’s loss and it will be interesting to see how they respond to their first defeat since mid-October. Best Bet: Buffalo +2.5.
Our Pick: This feels like a field goal game. The Patriots have a better kicker and are at home. Lay the points.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+7.5, O/U 46) at Kansas City Chiefs
A compelling matchup because … riding the longest winning streak in the league, the COVID-19-riddled Chiefs will welcome a Steelers team that has only won on the road twice this season, with both wins coming in divisional matchups within the AFC North. Though their overall records on the season are quite different, the Chiefs and Steelers are both 5-4 in conference games, suggesting this one might be closer than expected. That said, a sputtering Steelers offense taking on a surging KC defense could be one of the top mismatches of the week.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Steelers (7-6-1 SU, 6-8 ATS) have won two of their last three games and just took down the Titans 19-13, covering as 1-point home favorites. Meanwhile, the Chiefs (10-4 SU, 7-7 ATS) have won seven straight and just beat the Chargers 34-28, covering as 3-point road dogs. This line opened with Kansas City listed as a 10-point home favorite. COVID-19 concerns with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce dropped this line down to Chiefs -7.5. Kansas City has a big rest advantage, having last played on Thursday while the Steelers played Sunday. I’ll tease down the Chiefs from -7.5 to -1.5.
Gable’s Guess: Kelce and Hill are two of the few skill position players that affect the number for me. Not many do, as it’s typically the quarterbacks. But I think they’re both worth something. If both of them are out, this line will come down further towards the Steelers. Pittsburgh’s offense continues to struggle. They really didn’t win that game against the Titans on Sunday as much as the Titans lost it to them with all those turnovers in the second half. The Steelers are ranked 21st in the NFL in points per game. The Chiefs’ defense continues to be a big bright spot. I wouldn’t expect the Steelers to suddenly explode for points in this one. The Chiefs should be able to run the ball as the Steelers rank 31st overall in run defense. I’m going to take the under.
Rogers’s Recommendation: Kansas City’s COVID outbreak makes it a little difficult to handicap this game as Kansas City’s top offensive weapons outside of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Hill and Kelce are questionable for Sunday. The Steelers picked up a huge victory over the Titans last week to stay alive in the AFC Wild Card race, while Pittsburgh enters Sunday’s contest at 5-3 ATS in the underdog role this season. Best Bet: Pittsburgh +7.5.
Our Pick: We’ve bet wrong on Pittsburgh all year. Let’s avoid that entirely and just take the under.
Miams Dolphins (+3, O/U 38.5) at New Orleans Saints
A compelling matchup because … what was already shaping up to be a tough game for the Saints got a little more difficult on Thursday when it was announced Taysom Hill, the third QB New Orleans has started this season, was ruled out for Monday night due to COVID-19. With Hill sidelined, the Saints will start fourth-round pick Ian Book, who only threw 15 touchdowns in 12 games with the Fighting Irish in his final year at Notre Dame. Sitting at .500 on the season at 7-7, the Dolphins are 2-4 in road games this season, the same record the Saints have at home.
Appelbaum’s Assessment: The Dolphins (7-7 SU, 7-7 ATS) started 1-7 but have since won six straight, most recently beating the Jets 31-24 last week but failing to cover as 10-point home favorites. The Saints (7-7 SU, 7-7 ATS) are riding a two-game winning streak and just shocked the Bucs as 11.5-point road dogs. This line opened with New Orleans listed as a 3-point home favorite. We’ve seen this line fall to a pick ’em or even hop the fence to Dolphins -1. Why? COVID-19 concerns for New Orleans. I’ll back the hotter team and bet against the fourth-string QB. Give me Miami on the moneyline.
Gable’s Guess: The Saints shocked a lot of betters on Sunday night by shutting out Tampa. New Orleans always plays Tampa tough, but it was definitely impressive. They played with great energy and intensity for the entire game on defense and were able to frustrate Tom Brady. They didn’t allow Tampa to run even one play within the red zone all game. Now they’re right in the Wild Card picture. Miami has been on a nice hot streak and they’re also battling for a playoff spot. Their offense is only marginally better than they were at the beginning of the year when they started 1-7. Their defense is what is flying under the radar. Since Week 9, they’re second only to New England in yards allowed per game. This is obviously a huge game for both teams. The loser is more than likely going to be out of the playoff picture. It’s a very low total with both defenses playing well, but I’m still going to take the under.
Rogers’s Recommendation: Miami heads to New Orleans seeking a seventh straight victory. The Dolphins haven’t been a road underdog since late October against Buffalo, while the Saints are coming off an upset of the Buccaneers. New Orleans has lost its last three games at the Caesars Superdome while posting a 1-4 ATS record in its last five contests. Miami has covered five times during their six-game winning streak and the Dolphins have limited five of their last six opponents to 17 points or fewer. Best Bet: Miami +3.
Our Pick: Primetime usually equals points, but this looks like a defensive battle. We’ll take the under.
Last Week: 1-4; Season: 32-40-1 … (We blame COVID-19!)
Editor’s note: Betting lines fluctuate throughout the week based on injuries, weather reports and other factors such as COVID-19. Make sure to double-check odds before betting.
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