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PFT’s Week 16 picks

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The proverbial pink champagne is on ice.

Yes, with a clean sweep in the three games on which we disagreed last weekend, I’ve now built a seven-game lead over MDS, with only 32 games to go.

The problem for MDS is that we probably won’t disagree on seven games in the final two weeks.  Even then, he needs to be right on all of them.

For Week 16, we disagree on three.  So I’ll lead by at least four and possibly by 10 by the time the fat man in the red suit breaks into my house, eats my cookies, and leaves behind a bunch of stuff for everyone but me.

For the week, I was 12-4 to a 9-7 from MDS.  On the year, I’m at 146-77-1, good for 65.1 percent.  MDS is 139-84-1, still at 62.0 percent.

Falcons at Lions

MDS’s take: Both of these teams have been severely inconsistent this season, with the Falcons consistently managing to pull out wins when they don’t play very well, and the Lions consistently managing to pull out losses when they play competitively. So after a week in which the Falcons blew out a good team and the Lions got blown out by a bad team, I’m picking both teams to revert to their inconsistent ways. Does this logic make sense? Maybe not, but I’m going to have to pick some upsets to catch Florio.  So what the heck?

MDS’s pick: Lions 21, Falcons 20.

Florio’s take:  It would be fitting for the Lions to close out a disappointing year with a pair of home wins over postseason contenders from Atlanta and Chicago.  It would be fitting, but after seeing the Lions lay an egg against the nine-eggs-in-a-row-laying Cardinals, it’s impossible for me to think the Lions can take down a Falcons team that put a goose egg on the Giants.

Florio’s pick:  Falcons 31, Lions 17.

Giants at Ravens

MDS’s take: Both of these teams once looked like locks to win their divisions and now look desperate. Former Giants coach Bill Parcells liked to say that in games like this, you go with the more desperate team. That’s the Giants, who probably need to win out to make the playoffs.

MDS’s pick: Giants 24, Ravens 13.

Florio’s take:  The Ravens are desperate for a win.  The Giants are more desperate for a win.  Even though Eli Manning’s Giants have lost to two teams that Peyton Manning’s Broncos played previously and beat, the third time needs to be a charm, or Eli will have no chance to chase his third ring.

Florio’s pick:  Giants 27, Ravens 20.

Raiders at Panthers

MDS’s take: A couple weeks ago this looked like it could be a game to determine the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. But the Panthers have won two in a row, and the Raiders won last week, and so now it looks merely like a game that could help shape the Top 10 of the draft. Which makes it an even less interesting game than it otherwise would have been.

MDS’s pick: Panthers 31, Raiders 10.

Florio’s take:  Ron Rivera is making it very hard for the next G.M. to hire a new coach.  It will keep getting harder.

Florio’s pick:  Panthers 31, Raiders 20.

Saints at Cowboys

MDS’s take: The Dallas secondary is going to struggle mightily against the Saints’ passing attack, but with the season on the line I see Tony Romo having a big game against the Saints’ defense.

MDS’s pick: Cowboys 34, Saints 31.

Florio’s take:  A loss to Dallas is a win for the Saints, since it makes it more likely that there won’t be a place with the Cowboys for Sean Payton.  Even though the Saints won big over the Bucs, the Cowboys are chasing a playoff berth no one thought they’d secure.

Florio’s pick:  Cowboys 30, Saints 24.

Titans at Packers

MDS’s take: Tennessee has actually played some reasonably good football in the five weeks since owner Bud Adams put the team on notice following a humiliating loss to the Bears: In those five weeks the Titans have blown out the Dolphins, ended the Jets’ playoff hopes and played a very close game against the playoff-bound Colts. But Green Bay in December is a tough place to play, and the Packers won’t have too much trouble putting the Titans away.

MDS’s pick: Packers 35, Titans 21.

Florio’s take:  Green Bay is reached for a No. 2 seed.  The Titans are reaching for a lower draft pick.  Advantage Packers.

Florio’s pick:  Packers 27, Titans 17.

Vikings at Texans

MDS’s take: It’s impressive that the Vikings are still playing meaningful games this deep in the season, but this is where it comes to an end.  The Texans will clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by spanking the Vikings, and the loss will severely damage the Vikings’ playoff hopes.

MDS’s pick: Texans 41, Vikings 20.

Florio’s take:  The Texans may not be able to stop Adrian Peterson, but they’ll likely come through in the most important statistical category — points scored versus points allowed.

Florio’s pick:  Texans 31, Vikings 20.

Patriots at Jaguars

MDS’s take: The Patriots can’t be feeling good about themselves after Sunday night’s loss to the 49ers. They’ll take it out on the Jaguars in the day’s biggest blowout.

MDS’s pick: Patriots 38, Jaguars 3.

Florio’s take:  Five years ago, these two teams squared off in the playoffs.  The closest the Jaguars ever get to returning comes from periodically losing to New England.

Florio’s pick:  Patriots 41, Jaguars 14.

Colts at Chiefs

MDS’s take: Let’s just stop and reflect for a moment on how important the quarterback position is in the NFL: In 2010, with Peyton Manning, the Colts were a playoff team. In 2011, with Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins, the Colts were the worst team in the league. In 2012, with Andrew Luck, the Colts will beat the Chiefs on Sunday and clinch a playoff berth.

MDS’s pick: Colts 28, Chiefs 14.

Florio’s take:  The team that lucked into the top pick in the 2012 draft faces the team that won’t have the same good fortune finding a quarterback with the first or second overall selection in 2013.

Florio’s pick:  Colts 24, Chiefs 13.

Bills at Dolphins

MDS’s take: Amazingly, the Dolphins are still in playoff contention, although they would need a lot of help in order to get there, even if they win out. They’ll at least take care of their end by winning on Sunday.

MDS’s pick: Dolphins 24, Bills 20.

Florio’s take:  The Dolphins are surprisingly still alive for the postseason.  The Bills unsurprisingly aren’t.  Edge to the home team and the team that still have something to play for, which in this case is the same team.

Florio’s pick:  Dolphins 20, Bills 17.

Redskins at Eagles

MDS’s take: The Redskins just need to win out and they win the NFC East. No way they get tripped up by the Eagles, who are just playing out the string. Who would have figured before the season that the Redskins would be playing for a division title while the Eagles would be long since eliminated from playoff contention?

MDS’s pick: Redskins 31, Eagles 10.

Florio’s take:  It’s likely the final home game for Eagles coach Andy Reid.  And Reid surely would love to spoil Washington’s chances to get to the postseason.  Of course, Reid also would have loved to have had the kind of year that would have made Sunday’s game not his final home game.

Florio’s pick:  Redskins 24, Eagles 14.

Bengals at Steelers

MDS’s take: The game of the day is in Pittsburgh, where these two teams will be fighting for the one open playoff spot remaining after the Colts take care of business. I like the Steelers to summon everything they have left and put themselves in prime position to clinch in Week 17.

MDS’s pick: Steelers 21, Bengals 20.

Florio’s take:  The Bengals are 0-9 in their last eight games against the Steelers and Ravens.  And the Steelers are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.  And the Steelers desperately need a win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.  This isn’t a game the Steelers lose.

Florio’s pick:  Steelers 23, Bengals 13.

Rams at Buccaneers

MDS’s take: I was surprised the extent to which the Bucs looked on Sunday like they’ve given up on the season. Greg Schiano and Jeff Fisher both have rebuilding jobs on their hands, but Fisher’s Rams appear to be closer to getting that job done than Schiano’s Bucs.

MDS’s pick: Rams 17, Buccaneers 9.

Florio’s take:  The Bucs play their final home game of the season while in a full-blown free fall.  Since it’s potentially cornerback Ronde Barber’s final home game of his career, look for the Bucs to find a way to turn things around against a Rams team that saw its unlikely postseason run slam to a halt in Week 15.

Florio’s pick:  Buccaneers 28, Rams 17.

Browns at Broncos

MDS’s take: The Broncos just need to beat two bad teams, the Browns and Chiefs, in order to ensure that if they rematch the Patriots in the playoffs, that game takes place in Denver. Peyton Manning and Co. will take care of business.

MDS’s pick: Broncos 28, Browns 10.

Florio’s take:  The Broncos are closing in on a bye.  The Browns are closing in on saying “bye” to their coach and G.M.

Florio’s pick:  Broncos 27, Browns 14.

Bears at Cardinals

MDS’s take: The Bears need to win out and get some help to make the playoffs. I’m not sure if they’ll get the help, but with only the Cardinals and Lions left on the schedule, they should win out.

MDS’s pick: Bears 27, Cardinals 9.

Florio’s take:  No one’s ass is getting crowned as a result of this one.

Florio’s pick:  Bears 20, Cardinals 10.

49ers at Seahawks

MDS’s take: The Sunday night game is a big one, matching the two teams that may be playing the best football in all of the NFL right now. On a neutral field I’d probably take the 49ers, but in Seattle I give the Seahawks the edge.

MDS’s pick: Seahawks 21, 49ers 17.

Florio’s take:  The “what’s your deal?” rivalry suddenly has become one of the best in the game, making the frosty relationship between the two coaches an afterthought.  The Seahawks could have, and should have, won the last time these teams met.  This time, the Seahawks are even better.

Florio’s pick:  Seahawks 20, 49ers 17.

Chargers at Jets

MDS’s take: Greg McElroy may get the loudest ovation at home that a Jets quarterback has received since Joe Namath. I don’t think McElroy is the long-term answer, but I do think he’ll play competently, and the Jets’ defense will play well, and Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow will stand together on the sideline awkwardly watching the McElroy-led Jets win a low-scoring game.

MDS’s pick: Jets 13, Chargers 10.

Florio’s take:  The McElroy era begins with a Bolt.  Or maybe a butt fumble.  There’s too much drama this week in the locker room for the Jets to come together and win.

Florio’s pick:  Chargers 17, Jets 10.

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Falcons go up 13-7 on Saints just before halftime

Atlanta Falcons v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

Once upon a time, opponents worried about going to the Superdome.

That hasn’t been the case this year, and the Falcons are the latest to make themselves at home there.

Matt Ryan hit Eric Weems for a short touchdown just before halftime to give the visitors a 13-7 lead at the break.

The Falcons have played an alarming amount of defense, limiting the Saints to 78 yards and sacking Drew Brees three times along with picking him off once.

There have also been several fights over the course of the game, as both sides are desperate to hang onto playoff chances.

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Steelers hold on fourth down to hold onto halftime lead

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Chiefs have moved the ball well against the Steelers on Sunday, but only until they get anywhere close to the Pittsburgh end zone.

Once the Chiefs make it onto the Pittsburgh side of the field, things have played out much better for the Steelers. They held the Chiefs to field goals on their first two drives of the game and then held firm on fourth down on the final drive of the half to hold onto a 10-6 lead at Heinz Field.

Officials initially ruled that Chiefs running back De’Anthony Thomas got a first down on the previous play, but the booth called for a review that found Thomas short. Jamaal Charles was stuffed on fourth down and the Steelers remained in front. There wasn’t much time left in the half and the Chiefs may have had to settle for a field goal even after converting, which opens the door for criticism of coach Andy Reid given the team’s established red zone issues.

The Chiefs never punted in the first half, gained 181 yards and held the ball for more than 17 minutes, but they weren’t able to make any plays in the red zone outside of a successful fake field goal pass to Travis Kelce for a first down. It’s not a new problem for a team that hasn’t thrown a touchdown to a wide receiver all year and it’s not something that Reid has even admitted is a problem, but it’s a big reason why the Chiefs could find themselves losing this Sunday.

The Steelers have pulled off a couple of long drives of their own, twice scoring at the tail end of 11-play, 80-yard voyages down the field. Ben Roethlisberger is 10-of-15 for 131 yards, but the Chiefs have done a good job against Le’Veon Bell outside of his one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

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Johnny Manziel leaves game with hamstring, questionable

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Browns might start looking at quarterback options sooner than anticipated.

Rookie Johnny Manziel had to leave the game after taking a hard shot just before halftime, and Brian Hoyer replaced him.

He was driven into the ground by Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly and safety Colin Jones as he ran for the sideline. Trainers took him to the locker room, as he draped a towel over his head.

They announced his injury as a hamstring, and he’s questionable to return.

Manziel has had a largely ineffective first half, though the playoff-hopeful Panthers have something to do with that. He’s still 3-of-8 for 32 yards passing, with two rushes for 3 yards.

Brian Hoyer didn’t exactly light it up in relief, as the Browns still trail 10-3.

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Packers starting to assert themselves vs. Tampa Bay

Eddie Lacy, Mason Foster AP

Heavy favorites over the Buccaneers, the Packers have generally looked as much in the early stages of Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay.

Tailback Eddie Lacy’s 47-yard TD run put the Packers on the board first, and they have added to their edge since, taking a 10-0 second-quarter lead over the Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay’s offense has struggled mightily, gaining a grand total of zero yards on 15 plays. Meanwhile, the Packers have the passing and ground games going. After something of a slow start, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has settled in, completing 13-of-17 passes for 121 yards. According to the Fox telecast, Rodgers is dealing with a cold.

Lacy, for his part, has added 84 yards on 10 carries for 10-4 Green Bay, which is tied for the NFC North lead.

Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown has a tough go of it thus far, completing just 1-of-8 passes for five yards.

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Nick Mangold carted off, Jets tie game

Nick Mangold AP

Jets center Nick Mangold has had a lot of good battles with Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork over the years, but Sunday’s looks like it will be an abbreviated one.

Mangold was carted off the field in the second quarter at MetLife Stadium after suffering a left leg injury during a Bilal Powell run. Mangold remained down on the field for several minutes surrounded by members of both teams and Wilfork shared a few words with his longtime rival before Mangold was taken to the back.

The Jets announced Mangold, who sported an NYPD hat during pregame a day after two New York police officers were murdered in their patrol car, has an ankle injury and called him questionable to return.

The Jets were driving when Mangold went down and continued their march after the injury. Geno Smith hit Jeff Cumberland for a 25-yard pass over a frozen Patrick Chung to tie the score at 7 with six minutes to go in the first half.

The Patriots broke a scoreless tie with a touchdown catch by Rob Gronkowski earlier in the second quarter. Danny Amendola helped set it up with a big punt return as he fills in for Julian Edelman on both offense and special teams this Sunday.

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Panthers and Browns locked in a real thriller

Cleveland Browns v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

Johnny Manziel hasn’t been a disaster today.

But he hasn’t been much of anything, really.

The Browns and Panthers are locked in a 3-3 pillow fight, as neither Heisman-winning quarterback has gotten much going.

Manziel hit Andrew Hawkins for a 28-yard pass earlier, but has otherwise struggled, but has 4 yards on his other seven pass attempts.

The Panthers have dominated time of possession, but don’t have much to show for it.

As they have all year, they can put together long drives occasionally, but stall in the red zone.

Despite outgaining the Browns 119-40 in the first quarter, they’re sitting on a field goal.

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Chiefs pull off fake field goal, but wind up settling for field goal anyway

Kansas City Chiefs v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

The Chiefs are now more than a quarter into their 15th game of the 2014 season and the search for their first touchdown pass to a wide receiver continues.

They came close in the second quarter at Pittsburgh. Dwayne Bowe had a pass from Alex Smith in his hands, but Steelers corner Antwon Blake knocked it away for an incompletion. Smith would scramble out of bounds for a loss on third down and the Chiefs settled for a Cairo Santos field goal to give them a 6-3 lead.

Santos had been on the field a few plays earlier, but the Chiefs pulled a bit of trickery to set up Bowe’s near-miss in the end zone. Holder Dustin Colquitt threw a pass to tight end Travis Kelce to convert on 4th-and-5 from the Steelers’ 12-yard line for a first down that the Chiefs weren’t able to turn into six points.

The Steelers got off to a fast start with a 44-yard pass to Martavis Bryant, but their opening drive also stalled close to the end zone. The Chiefs have driven well twice for field goals since then and have a leg up with halftime approaching.

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Texans take early lead vs. slow-starting Ravens

Case Keenum

Case Keenum’s return to Houston has gone well-enough thus far.

Keenum, whom the Texans re-signed just this week because of injuries at quarterback, has helped Houston take a 6-0 second-quarter lead over visiting Baltimore on Sunday.

Though Keenum has been picked once, he has generally done the job, completing 8-of-13 passes for 120 yards.

By contrast, the Ravens’ offense has sputtered, gaining just 22 yards on its first 11 plays.

The Ravens (9-5) currently hold one of the two wild-card spots in the AFC, while Houston (7-7) is on the fringes of playoff contention.

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Report: Browns to “explore all options” at quarterback

Manziel Getty Images

That homeless guy apparently has given Jimmy Haslam some new advice.

According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Browns intend to “explore all options” at quarterback this season.

Those options include a possible trade up to get Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, a player with whom G.M. Ray Farmer reportedly is smitten.

The Browns will enter the draft with a pair of first-round picks that could be packaged in an effort to get Mariota, if the Browns decide to make a move up.  It would mean making a move out with current starter Johnny Manziel, whose wage-scaled contract would allow the Browns to keep both guys around, if they wanted to.

The willingness of the Browns to explore their options shows that they’re far from sold on Manziel, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft.  If they decide they were wrong about Manziel, it makes much more sense to admit the mistake and move on than to try to justify it by sticking with a guy who can’t get it done.

Besides, if Haslam won’t be firing his coach or G.M. after the season, he needs to fire someone, and the homeless guy who suggested that Manziel be drafted already is unemployed.

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Jets and Patriots defenses shine in first quarter

New England Patriots v New York Jets Getty Images

Jets coach Rex Ryan said this week that he’s not dead yet in reference to the presumed end of his tenure with the team and the same is true of his defense’s pass rush.

They sacked Tom Brady three times in the first half of Sunday’s home game against the Patriots, helping to force three Patriots punts on three possessions in the first quarter. The Patriots had just 20 total yards through the first 15 minutes as the Jets have done their best to spoil New England’s hopes of running out to a big lead on their way to potentially clinching home field through the AFC playoffs.

The Jets Offense hasn’t done any better however. Just as the pass rush has turned in a familiar performance, so has the offense. They’ve managed just 40 yards of their own and the game is scoreless with one quarter in the books.

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Jimmy Clausen unimpressive early in Chicago

clausencutler AP

Early on in Chicago, Bears quarterback Jimmy Clausen is looking about the way you’d expect a backup to look against a good defense like Detroit’s.

The Bears have gone three-and-out on each of their first two offensive drives. Coach Marc Trestman is playing it very safe on the play-calling, not asking Clausen to do anything fancy and not accomplishing much. The Bears even ran the ball on third-and-9 on their first possession, suggesting that they don’t have a lot of faith in Clausen’s ability to make plays.

The good news is that Clausen doesn’t have any turnovers, and the Bears’ defense forced the Lions to punt on their first drive. Perhaps the Bears can at least keep this close with Clausen at the helm.

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Saints grab quick lead on Falcons in NFC South slugfest

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints Getty Images

The Saints didn’t need long to grab the lead.

Twenty seconds in, they’re already up 7-0 on the Falcons, in a game crucial to their playoff hopes.

A 99-yard kickoff return by Jalen Saunders set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Mark Ingram, putting them up in a hurry on Atlanta.

Saunders, replacing an injured Travaris Cadet, joined the Saints on waivers earlier this year after the Jets cut the fourth-round pick.

The Falcons answered with a field goal, though the way the NFC South has gone this year, you fully expect futility to the finish.

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Menelik Watson donates game check to four-year-old fan

Watson AP

From our buddy Jay Glazer of FOX Sports comes a great story for the holidays.

Glazer arranged through his Touchdown Dreams program for Ava Urrea, a four-year-old fan with hypoplastic left heart syndrome to visit the Raiders this week.  The team pulled out all the stops for Ava, who was born with half a heart and has had 14 surgeries.  (It’s the same condition that TJ Olsen, the son of Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, has been dealing with since birth.)

Ava received a signed helmet, signed footballs, and making her the captain for the day.  Then came the unexpected twist.  Raiders offensive lineman Menelik Watson donated his game check for the week to Ava’s family.

According to NFLPA records, Watson’s base salary for 2014 is $622,948.  That makes his weekly gross salary $36,944.

With federal and California taxes consuming roughly half of that amount, the net check would have been in the range of $18,000.

It’s a great gesture by Watson, coming at the end of a season that has been focused all too often on all the bad things a small handful of NFL players do.

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Oddsmakers set season’s lowest total on Seahawks-Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Getty Images

Expecting Sunday night’s Seahawks-Cardinals matchup to be a grinder?

You aren’t alone.

Oddsmakers have set the lowest Over-Under of the season on Seattle-Arizona (8:30 p.m Eastern, NBC), with some sports books setting the number as low as 35.5 points.

The Over-Under is a proposition setting a combined point total for both clubs in a given game. If bettors believe the game will exceed the total, they take the OVER. If they believe the game won’t reach the total, they bet UNDER.

If the consensus total for Seahawks-Cardinals closes at 37 or less, it will be the first time since 2012 the Over-Under has reached such depths. According to data from Spreadapedia.com, every regular-season or postseason game in 2013 and 2014 has had a total of at least 37.5 points.

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Will Revis have “something special” for the Jets this time around?

Revis Getty Images

Before the Patriots hosted the Jets back in October, former Jets and current Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis reportedly planned “something special” for his old team.

That “something special” ended up being “something nothing.”

Lost in the likely last game between the two franchises featuring Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan as the respective head coaches is the possibility that the “something special” will happen today.

Ryan could have something special for the Pats.  With nothing to lose and the ability to derail home-field advantage of the Patriots to gain, Rex could be doing all sorts of crazy things in the hopes of forcing the Pats to go on the road for the AFC title game.

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