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Monday, December 20, 2010

Week 16 NFL Predictions: December 26, 2010

Early picks for week 16.   Buy the half point on SD if you need to.  Check here for the latest odds.  I'll have the other write-ups posted a little later on today.

San Francisco 49ers vs St Louis Rams: STL -2.5
If you have been following this blog this season you'll know that I am usually on the right side of the line when the early numbers come out, but I was surprised to see this game go the other way this week.  Right now STL can be had for -2.  It's possible that the sharps are taking the points with SF because Bradford and company have had a bad couple of weeks.  Having said that, these games are all about matchups and I see no reason to ride the 49ers in this one. 

You can look through every meaningful category and be hard-pressed to find an area that SF have the advantage in.  Their red zone defense has been a bit better than average so 49er fans can take solace that they won't get blown out, but is that reason enough to go with them?  They've also had a few extra days to prepare, but when Mike Singletary is your coach I don't think anyone in STL is shaking in their boots.  STL have the better coach and I fully expect them to get back on track in what should be a big divisional game.   Ok, it might be laughable to say that given the fact that no one in the division even has a .500 record, but you can be sure that STL will have a healthy home field advantage given what's at stake here.

The bottom line is that while STL might not be a "good" team yet, they still do many things better than SF at this point.  Their defense know how to get off the field on third down, they are much more disciplined in the penalty department, and they have consistently ran more completed plays per game than SF.   I like Bradford and Jackson over whoever is at QB and Westbrook, and Willis and Spikes have broken hands and continue to wear black jerseys in practice this week.  This isn't good news when you have to worry about wrapping up on S-Jax all day.  STL is 9-5 versus the spread this year and they should reach double digits after Sunday.  Prediction: Bank STL -2.5.

Tennessee Titans vs Kansas City Chiefs: KC -5
When a game opens at +/-5 sharps usually lay off and wait to see what the public do before acting.  That may be a fine strategy for them, but I see value in this number and I wanted to take it before the possibility of it going towards 7.  I realize TEN showed a pulse last week and smacked around HOU, but they will be a long way from home when they travel to a very raucous Arrowhead stadium on Sunday. 

On the field I do not like how TEN matchup whatsoever.  With Matt Cassel back, the running lanes that weren't there two weeks ago are now back and open for business.  Jamaal Charles continues to be one of the most underrated running backs in the league but that could change as KC march towards their first division title in a while.  I expect KC to dominate the clock on the ground because that is what they have done for most of the year.  They have also done a great job in the turnover differential department this season.  When you control the clock and don't give your opponent extra offensive possessions you usually win the game. 

On the other side of the ball I think it will be hard for TEN to sustain drives throughout the game.  Chris Johnson is great.  This isn't a newsflash, but his production has gone way down without Vince Young in the lineup.  Defenses scheme differently with Collins under center and the crowd will give this unit a lot of problems on Sunday.  It's been some time since people have feared going to KC, but those days could be returning with their team in the playoff hunt.  The home team might not do anything spectacular defensively, but they are collectively solid in most areas - including their kickoff and punt coverage.  TEN will need to earn most of their points, but at the end of the day it won't be enough.  Prediction: Bank KC -5.

Indianapolis Colts vs Oakland Raiders: IND -3
This is perhaps the most intriguing matchup on the card this week.  Some people have wondered why IND -3 is showing up as EV odds, but keep in mind the overnight line was below -3 and OAK matchup much better than one would think.

A closer look reveals that OAK have a real shot at winning this game.  It's no secret that they can dominate games on the ground this year and that IND have had problems in this area for what seems like a decade.  You can be sure that they will use the 'keep Peyton off the field' approach on Sunday and try to limit his ability to do damage in the air.  The only problem?  OAK have been wildly inconsistent this year.  At times they look like they can smoke any team on the field and other weeks we are left wondering if they could even compete for the college National Championship.   They might have the edge in the run game and should win the field position battle this week, but if they want a realistic shot at winning they will need plays from the QB position.  Unfortunately for OAK they do not matchup well in pass protection.  They also better hope that IND doesn't jump out to an early lead because the IND pass rush will be in the backfield a number of times.   OAK continue to struggle with red zone/third down offense, take far too many penalties, and don't get enough points from sustained drives.  These are not areas you want to be deficient in when you take on a team like IND.

Peyton won't have as much success without Austin Collie, but he will still have enough time to find the open guy this week.  He has averaged 347 yards on the road this year.  Even in their losses this offense has driven down the field and put up points with ease.  They still rank near the top in points from sustained drives and red zone/third down offense.  Getting Dominic Rhodes back in the run game is a nice compliment to Donald Brown and should give Peyton more options at the line.  This is a well-coached team that doesn't hurt themselves a lot with stupid penalties either. 

Usually when a team gives IND a run for their money it is because they earn it each and every quarter.  I don't see enough mismatches for OAK to do that and they will need to keep it close so their crowd stays involved.  It's also a really bad time to lose two impact players.  Both Seymour and Lechler are questionable with hamstring injuries.  I'll happily lay the points and ride the road team.  Prediction: Bank IND -3.

San Diego Chargers vs Cincinnati Bengals: SD -7
Since I have taken KC to win this week it means that I'm not sure if SD can catch them for the division crown.  We'll see how it all shakes out, but I don't see how CIN can win this week in a matchup that gives them very few advantages.  In fact, the only advantage they seem to have will be returning kickoffs and punts. That means they qualify as my special teams wonders of the week and when that's all a team has going for them I will go the other way if the line is reasonable.  Seven points is a lot to give up on the road, but SD should dominate this game on both sides of the ball and on the ground and in the air.  I give CIN credit for returning to what they do best last week against CLE because when they commit to the run, limit the responsibility on Palmer, and play gap control defense they are a tough out.  However, SD is not CLE and many CIN players might already have their bags packed for the offseason given the recent slew of injuries.  T.O. has been shut down for the season and Ocho is banged up and crying on Twitter.  Scott is also banged up which eliminates another potential big play guy.

To make matters worse CIN is going to get man-handled on the line of scrimmage.  Palmer would be wise to not take too many 5 and 7 step drops because the pass protection won't be there this week.  At the same time, Rivers should continue his monster season with more than enough time to survey the field and find his receivers.  CIN have been horrible in most important categories this year and sit at 5-9 against the spread.  SD score twice as many points from sustained drives per game and it could get ugly by the fourth quarter.  I might have picked CIN to win the division, but I recognized early in the season that they were not going to repeat their performance of last year despite having a better roster on paper.  I love SD as a standard play and as my main team in all my teasers.  Prediction: Bank SD -7. 
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