NFL Best Bets: Experts Pick Week 16 Games Including Lions-Vikings, Cowboys-Dolphins and Ravens-49ers

A trio of sharps look at five of the week's most intriguing matchups

December 22, 2023 8:20 am
Justin Jefferson of the Vikings is tackled by two Detroit Lions.
Justin Jefferson will be a focal point for the Detroit Lions' defense.
Mike Mulholland/Getty

This is NFL Best Bets, a recurring series in which football experts and handicappers lend us their insights and picks for the most intriguing matchups for each week of the professional football season.

In our Week 16 edition of Best Bets, Thomas Gable, the director of race and sportsbook at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, sports betting reporter Josh Appelbaum of VSiN and Mike Golic Jr. of DraftKings share their opinions on five games that will be played over the weekend as the NFL expands its schedule to include three games on Saturday and another three on Christmas in addition to a standard Sunday slate on Christmas Eve.

You’ve got places to go, people to see and possibly some wagers to make, so let’s get to it.

Lions (-3, O/U 47) at Vikings

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Lions listed as a 2.5-point road favorite. We’ve seen the Lions move to -3. Detroit even touched -3.5 before some Vikings buyback grabbed the hook and brought it back down to -3. Road favorites are 44-37 against the spread (54%) this season. Dan Campbell is 9-5 ATS this season and 32-16 ATS (67%) in his career. Detroit is 5-2 on the road while the Vikings are 2-4 at home. Detroit is averaging 27 PPG on offense compared to 20 PPG for Minnesota. I’ll back Jared Goff and fade Nick Mullens. Give me Lions on the moneyline -165.

Gable’s Guess: Nick Mullens will start for Minnesota. He went 26-of-33 for 303 yards with two touchdowns in a loss to Cincinnati on Saturday. He threw two interceptions in that game as well. Justin Jefferson played his first full game since Week 4 and had 84 receiving yards on seven receptions. He looked good. One of the good stories for Minnesota this year has been the defense. Now they have the tough task of shutting down the third-ranked scoring offense in the NFL. With a win, Detroit can clinch a playoff spot and the division title and they also would control the No. 2 seed. Things look good for Detroit holding the No. 2 seed, but they have to win out to be guaranteed of that. The Lions have everything to play for, but so do the Vikings in this one. It’s tough to pick a side in a divisional game like this. I’m going with the over.

Golic’s Gamble: The real Detroit Lions may have finally stood up last week. After in-division setbacks against the Bears and Packers, we finally saw Jared Goff return to early-season form with 5 touchdown passes. But it’s the rookies that have me most excited, with Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta hitting their stride down the final stretch of the season. The offensive line is also as healthy as you could ask for. I think a Viking offense that’s still banged up on the offensive line and dealing with yet another quarterback under center this season won’t have the chops to hurt what’s been a disappointing Lions’ defense. I’ll lay the points with Detroit.

IH Best Bet: Detroit should be ready to go for this one. Laying the points.

Browns (-3, O/U 40) at Texans

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with Houston listed as a short 1.5-point home favorite. However, with CJ Stroud expected to miss this game due to a concussion, we’ve seen the line completely flip to Browns -2.5 or -3. This indicates sharp “dog to favorite” line movement on Cleveland. The Texans are dealing with a plethora of injuries while the Browns have won two straight behind Joe Flacco. I’ll sell high on Case Keenum after his come-from-behind win over the Titans last week. Give me the better defense and the sharp line move. I’ll sweat the Browns on the moneyline -145.

Gable’s Guess: The Browns continue to ride the magic arm of Joe Flacco after getting him off the couch a couple of weeks ago. Many probably didn’t give this team a chance of making the playoffs after Deshaun Watson was lost for the year, but Flacco has made some believers in their fan base. Even without CJ Stroud, the Texans were able to win last week. Thanks to the Jags moving backward in the standings, Houston is in a three-way tie in their division. The Texans will be without him again and Case Keenum will probably get his second straight start if Stroud isn’t cleared. The Brown defense is they’re certainly one of the best in the NFL, but they play better at home than they do on the road. Still, I believe this Cleveland squad is riding some clear momentum. I’ll lay the points with Cleveland.

Golic’s Gamble: We got the full Joe Flacco experience last week. Three interceptions followed by incredible throws to Amari Cooper to put the Browns in a position to win down the stretch. I think we will continue to see as much good as bad from the recently couch-surfing Flacco, while the Texans are likely going to be without their star quarterback for another week because of a concussion. I’ll take the under.

IH Best Bet: Without Stroud, have no faith in the Texans. Will trust in Flacco again and lay the points.

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Jaguars (+2, O/U 41) at Buccaneers

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Jags listed as a 3-point road favorite. With Trevor Lawrence in concussion protocol, we’ve seen this line drop to a pick’em. Some shops have even moved to Bucs -1 or -2. The Bucs are only receiving 45% of bets but 55% of the money, a sharp contrarian bet split. Tampa Bay has won three straight and is motivated to win the NFC South and punch their ticket to the postseason. I’ll hope that Lawrence is out and back Tampa Bay on the moneyline at -115.

Gable’s Guess: Whether it be costly mistakes, penalties, turnovers or bad play-calling, the Jaguars have not looked right for weeks. It’s all adding up to losses. Once it was a foregone conclusion they would win their division and now the Jags find themselves battling it out in the final weeks of the season. With Trevor Lawrence in concussion protocol after self-reporting symptoms, the whole division is up for grabs. The Buccaneers have exceeded expectations this season and they eclipsed their preseason win total (6.5) with their win over Green Bay last week. They’re still very much in the running for their division. With Lawrence possibly out, the timing could be good for Tampa. I’ll lay the points with the Buccaneers.

Golic’s Gamble: Bucs Mania feels a little too good to be true considering two of their last three games have been divisional matchups. That being said, the uncertainty surrounding Trevor Lawrence’s availability and the overall inconsistency of the Jags has me leaning toward a sloppy one in Tampa. I’ll side with the under.

IH Best Bet: Betting Lawrence finds a way to get out there and Jacksonville’s D is bad. Taking the over.

Cowboys (+1, O/U 50) at Dolphins

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the Cowboys listed as a short 1-point road favorite. The public is split down the middle and doesn’t know who to take. However, we’ve seen this line flip to Miami -1 or -1.5. Essentially, all movement and liability is on the Dolphins in a sharp “dog to favorite” line move system match. Miami is 6-1 at home while the Cowboys are just 3-4 on the road. Dak Prescott is 0-3 ATS as a dog this season. Miami also has value as a non-conference favorite and a favorite in a high total game. I’ll cross my fingers that Tyreek Hill is healthy enough to play and take Miami on the moneyline -115 at home.

Gable’s Guess: This is a huge game for both teams with plenty of implications, and neither team has fared well against teams with winning records this season. Dallas caught a big break with Philly losing to Seattle on Monday Night Football. They’re still in play for the NFC East title, but their loss to Buffalo raises the same old question: how good is this team on the road? The Dolphins had a very easy time with the Jets, even without Tyreek Hill. But all of a sudden, the Bills are charging hard in the AFC East and Miami will need to keep winning. They have a tough road ahead though. It doesn’t have much to do with this game, but the last time Miami beat the Cowboys was in 2003. The winning team will be in a much better position to secure their division. I’m going to lay the point with the home team.

Golic’s Gamble: Dallas’ morale is at a new low for the season as they laid an egg in their latest test vs. the Bills. Miami is coming off of a blowout win vs. the Jets where they were able to proceed with caution and hold out Tyreek Hill to give his injured ankle added recovery time. But I still have worries about the Dolphins’ ability to hold up against teams who can get pressure the way Dallas can. The Cowboys’ offensive line should have Zack Martin back this week after a brief scare vs. Buffalo. Give me the Cowboys in a bounce-back week for Dallas.

IH Best Bet: Hoping the Dallas D can hold down a hobbled Hill and get after Tua. Dallas with the point.

Ravens (+5.5, O/U 47) at 49ers

Appelbaum’s Assessment: This line opened with the 49ers listed as a 5.5-point home favorite. The public is all aboard the 49er bandwagon, and 60% of bettors are laying the points with San Francisco at home. However, despite this lopsided support, we’ve seen the line remain stagnant at 49ers -5.5 or even dip to -5 at some shops. This signals a sharp line freeze and some sneaky reverse line movement on Baltimore plus the points. Lamar Jackson is 11-1 ATS in his career as a dog. John Harbaugh is 45-30 ATS (60%) as a dog as head coach of the Ravens. I’ll go contrarian in primetime and take the Ravens +5.5.

Gable’s Guess: It’s rare when you get the two highest power-rated teams in the AFC and the NFC facing off here, but that’s what we have here. These teams rank third and fourth in scoring offense and have quarterbacks who are No. 1 and No. 2 in the odds market for MVP.  It’s pretty cool to see this matchup here. The question is how will Lamar Jackson fare against the San Francisco pass rush. Last week, San Francisco gave up 234 rushing yards to Arizona, which is a little concerning. Lamar may be able to get a lot on the ground here. Kyle Shanahan said the tackling was the problem in the Arizona game and if fatigue is an issue, it could end up playing a role here. I think this line is slightly high, so I’m going to take the points with Baltimore.

Golic’s Gamble: The two best teams in the NFL playing on Christmas feels so unfair to the NBA. I’m fascinated to watch the chess match between Kyle Shanahan and Baltimore defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald. To me, the Raven defense is the perfect mirror of the 49er offense: dynamic game-breaking pieces inside of an innovative scheme that others around the NFL envy. You’ve got a matchup of MVP-candidate QBs as well. I think the Ravens’ top-ranked rushing attack can give those great edge defenders enough trouble with Lamar as a runner to keep this close, even though the 49ers likely win outright. Baltimore with the points.

IH Best Bet: Give me Jackson over Purdy any day of the week. Taking the Ravens with the points.

Last Week: 2-1-2; This Season: 37-33-4

Editor’s note: Betting lines fluctuate based on injuries, the weather and other factors. Double-check the odds before betting.

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