When the Dallas Cowboys were blown out at home in back-to-back weeks to the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers, they looked dead in the playoff race. Those might be the final two losses of the Cowboys’ season.
Dallas has won three in a row, and gets running back Ezekiel Elliott back for games against a reeling Seattle Seahawks team on Sunday and for Week 17 against the Philadelphia Eagles, when the Eagles might have nothing to play for. And suddenly the Cowboys are back in the playoff hunt.
The Cowboys’ biggest problem might be that they don’t control what happens. Using the New York Times’ playoff simulator, if the Cowboys and Detroit Lions both win out, the Cowboys have a four percent chance of making the playoffs. Dallas obviously also needs at least one loss by the Atlanta Falcons, since the Falcons led Dallas by a game for the sixth seed. The Falcons are underdogs at the New Orleans Saints this week, and finish against the Carolina Panthers, so that’s promising for the Cowboys. The Lions part of it is more concerning for Dallas. Detroit plays at a Cincinnati Bengals team that looks like it has packed it in, and at home against a Green Bay Packers team without Aaron Rodgers. That looks like two Lions wins.
All the Cowboys can control is winning twice. The Cowboys-Seahawks game is an elimination game. That makes it a little more difficult for the Cowboys. The Seahawks are going to be just as engaged.
The Seahawks looked awful last week in a 42-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. And if you want to believe the Seahawks are done, especially with their injuries, that makes sense. If you look at last week (and really the last two weeks; the Seahawks were handled by the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago), the Seahawks don’t have much hope on Sunday. But I don’t think this Seattle team will go away so easily. This is a proud team and they can’t be happy after being embarrassed by the Rams last week. They understand that they’re going home with a loss.
With everything on the line, I think we’ll see a great effort by the Seahawks. I’m not sure if it’s enough to beat the Cowboys, but I’ll take Seattle as a five-point underdog, and they’re a SuperContest play for me at plus-4.5. I don’t think they’re going out without a fight. And if the Cowboys win, you’ll see a lot of folks in Texas searching tiebreaker scenarios for Week 17.
Here are the rest of the Week 16 against-the-spread picks:
Bills (+11.5) over Patriots: At the risk of being struck by lightning, I’ll say this softly: Tom Brady hasn’t looked like Brady the past few weeks. He has two touchdowns, four interceptions and a 75 rating. Much of that was erased by an amazing drive to take the lead against the Steelers. I’m just saying, it’s at least worth keeping an eye on considering the awful history of 40-year-old quarterbacks. (This line is plus-13 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Titans (+6.5) over Rams: I’ve been as down on the Titans as anyone, but here’s the thing: This is a perfect spot to take them as a home underdog. You could argue that last Sunday was the Rams’ biggest win in more than a decade. That was a huge game for Los Angeles, given Seattle’ history in that division. Now they have to go on the road against a blah Titans team in an early game. It will be very hard for the Rams to get up for this game. Meanwhile, the Titans practically need this win to save a playoff berth. I know the Rams are much better, but the Titans should be able to at least be competitive. (This line is minus-7 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Jaguars (-4.5) over 49ers: You love Jimmy Garoppolo, I love Jimmy Garoppolo, we all love Jimmy Garoppolo. He has been great. But his starts have come against the Bears, Texans and Titans. That’s nothing near what he’ll see against this great Jaguars defense. Jacksonville’s offense is playing well too. Jacksonville is simply a much, much better team. (This line is minus-4 in the Yahoo Pro Football Pick’em.)
Cardinals (-3.5) over Giants: I know Arizona isn’t playing great and Drew Stanton might not be healthy, but based on the line we’re saying the Cardinals are practically the same as the Giants, a truly awful team. I don’t buy it.
And here are the rest of the picks …
Colts (+14.5) over Ravens: People will complain on Saturday about the matchups, but let’s think back to April. Colts vs. Ravens looked good. Andrew Luck got hurt and the bottom fell out for Indianapolis. The Packers lost Aaron Rodgers, or Vikings-Packers would have been a great game. You can’t flex games between days. It just stinks for all of us that injuries screwed up two matchups that should have been much better than this.
Packers (+10) over Vikings: It’s hard to like the Packers too much with Brett Hundley back, after their playoff dreams were crushed. But this will be a frigid game — the temperatures should be in the teens on Saturday night, at best — and it’s still a rivalry. Double digits for this home underdog seems like a little too much.
Browns (+7) over Bears: Last call for the Browns to win a game this season. They’re not winning against a Steelers team that will likely be fighting for a playoff seed in Week 17. The Bears shouldn’t be laying a touchdown against anyone, even the lowly Browns.
Lions (-5) over Bengals: I think you’ll go broke hoping for the Bengals to turn this thing back around. Improved health will help, but they’ve looked wretched the past two weeks.
Dolphins (+11.5) over Chiefs: Favorites have been covering at a remarkable pace this season, and I think you’re seeing the lines reflect that. There are a lot of spreads that just seem too high, and this is another one. At some point it’s going to be an underdog-heavy week.
Saints (-5.5) over Falcons: I think the easy play would be to take the Falcons getting points in this great and underrated rivalry. But the Saints are the better team. They were the better team in the first meeting a couple weeks ago and the Falcons were fortunate to win. And in that game the Saints had a ton of injuries including Alvin Kamara. The Saints are playing for a ton. Using the New York Times’ playoff simulator, the Saints win the NFC South 87 percent of the time with a win on Sunday, and nine percent with a loss (and they miss the playoffs 18 percent of the time, which is crazy). The Saints will roll.
Jets (+7.5) over Chargers: The Jets have been feisty, even last week without Josh McCown. The Jets are 7-2-1 against the spread in their last 10 games as an underdog and have covered in seven of their last eight home games according to OddsShark. I think the Chargers rebound, especially on defense, but I’ll ride with the trend here.
Redskins (-3) over Broncos: As of Friday morning I’m going to assume Brock Osweiler starts at quarterback, because if Paxton Lynch was healthy enough I think he’d have been named starter already. If Lynch starts, I think the spread should be much higher. Either way, I don’t really trust either quarterback, even though Osweiler did play great last week.
Buccaneers (+11.5) over Panthers: I think if you take all of these huge underdogs in Week 16, you’ll win a fair share. The Buccaneers are in danger of a huge letdown after losing a heartbreaker on Monday night last week (their last chance to have a nice highlight this season), but the offense is good enough that the backdoor cover will be available.
Texans (+10) over Steelers: The Monday matchups also looked fun back in April when the NFL set the schedule. Sigh. It’s hard to pick the Texans after the total flop last week, but the Steelers have a long history of being a different team on the road and also playing down to the competition, and this week they won’t have MVP candidate Antonio Brown.
Eagles (-10) over Raiders: That was a truly crushing close loss last week for the Raiders. I worry a little about the Eagles defense after two straight poor performances, but I’m going to assume last week’s scare against the Giants gets the Eagles back on track.
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