Welcome to the Week 16 edition of our NFL Bets of the Week column. Here, I’ll strive to identify a handful of games I feel have profit potential at DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook, 888 Sports, and BetStars Sportsbook.
Depending on the circumstance, I’ll hone in on moneylines, point spreads, or projected totals. Sometimes I may even touch on multiple metrics for one game. We’ll strive for quality over quantity here as well — the focus will only be on spots that seem to truly be advantageous. Then, I’ll take you on a fairly deep dive as to why.
Please note we’ll be referencing only legal, regulated sportsbook betting odds and totals here at PlayPicks. A “pick” is a wager that, as of the time of this writing, we feel confident recommending. A “lean” is a wager that we favor over the other side. This play could end up on our card with the release of additional information.
Let’s take a quick look at how things went in Week 15 and follow that up with a leap into two interesting scenarios for Week 16.
Recapping Week 15
Week 15 winners: Vikings -6.5, Vikings moneyline, Ravens -7.5, Ravens moneyline, Titans +2.5 (lean)
Week 15 losers: None
Season record to date:
ATS Picks: 21-10 (.677)
ATS Leans: 4-2 (.667)
Moneyline: 9-7 (.563)
Over/under: 1-1-1 (.500)
Week 16 NFL Betting Picks
Atlanta Falcons (5-9) at Carolina Panthers (6-8)
Over/Under Total: 43.5
How They Fared in Week 15
The Falcons generated one of their best all-around efforts of the season. They toppled the Arizona Cardinals by a 40-14 score. Matt Ryan threw for an efficient 231 yards and two touchdowns. He also compiled 18 yards and another score on the ground. Tevin Coleman broke out for a season-high 145 rushing yards and a touchdown. Julio Jones (6-82-1) and Calvin Ridley (5-42) paced the Atlanta pass catchers. On defense, the Falcons racked up seven sacks in total and picked off Josh Rosen — who was eventually benched for Mike Glennon — on two occasions. The win snapped Atlanta’s five-game losing streak.
The Panthers dropped a 12-9 decision to the Saints on Monday night, their sixth consecutive defeat. Cam Newton, who’ll now officially miss the last two games of the season with his ailing shoulder, threw for a season-low 131 yards. He was picked off once and took four sacks. Christian McCaffrey actually had Carolina’s lone touchdown pass, uncorking a 50-yard scoring throw to Chris Manhertz. McCaffrey added 53 rushing yards and another 67 through the air, with his eight catches pacing the Panthers. Carolina’s defense did a serviceable job limiting the Saints’ potent offense. Drew Brees netted only 203 passing yards. Carolina intercepted him once and sacked him twice. New Orleans’ backfield duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown (Kamara’s) on a combined 26 carries.
Potential Playoff Implications
In possession of the worst record of teams still technically in the hunt for an NFC wild-card spot, the Panthers essentially need to keep winning and hope that many other scenarios involving other teams break their way over the last two weeks of the season.
Notable Matchups and Metrics
The elephant in the room that must be addressed up front regarding this game is Newton, or rather, his absence. He’s officially ruled out for the final two games of the season due to his ailing throwing shoulder. That opens the door for Old Dominion product Taylor Heinicke to make his first NFL start. The second-year signal-caller did rack up an impressive 14,959 yards and a 132:39 TD:INT in four college seasons. However, that was often against inferior competition. Notably, Heinicke compiled another 1,320 yards on the ground and a whopping 22 running touchdowns during his time with the Monarchs. Yet he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry. That includes just 1.7 per tote during his senior season in 2014.
Heinicke threw all of five regular-season passes over his first season-plus in the NFL. He did have a respectable preseason this past summer (24-for-36, 323 yards, two touchdowns, one interception), but Sunday’s game speed will be a far cry from that of the exhibition slate. His inexperience coupled with the likelihood of a truncated playbook figures to at least slightly downgrade an already middle-of-the-pack Panthers passing attack. Carolina has passed for a mediocre 234.1 yards per game (17th in the NFL) with Newton under center, including 198.6 at home. The latter figure ranks as the fifth-lowest home figure in the league.
An offense that’s therefore set to be more one-dimensional than usual is potentially bad news for Carolina’s most potent remaining weapon: McCaffrey. While he could well see an uptick in his already robust workload as an outlet option for Heinicke, he’s also likely going to be staring at two and three defenders the instant he hauls in a pass. And on the ground, eight-man fronts could well be the norm Sunday, unless Heinicke is able to burn the Falcons early with a deep ball or two to the likes of D.J. Moore or Curtis Samuel.The lack of a reliable safety valve and proven threat at tight end now that Greg Olsen (foot) is gone for the season also serves as a damper.
On the defensive side, the Panthers have largely been in a freefall since a 52-21 shellacking at the hands of the Steelers back in Week 10. Their strong effort versus the Saints in Week 15 may have been their last stand of the season. Carolina has actually been more vulnerable at home as well. They’re allowing 258.0 passing yards per game allowed at Bank of America Stadium, the ninth-highest home figure in the league. And while they’ve been much better against the run (89.0 yards per game allowed at home, sixth lowest in the league), they’ve given up 122 rush yards per contest overall in the last three games. Carolina has also given up between 20 and the aforementioned 52 points in five of their last six points. That includes a 30-point tally by the Seahawks in Week 12 at BOA Stadium.
The Falcons have the ammunition to take advantage of some of those weaknesses, especially through the air. Despite Atlanta’s disappointing campaign from a team perspective, Ryan is putting together another stellar season. He’s thrown for 4,307 yards and generated a 30:6 TD:INT. He’s even posted another three touchdowns on the ground. Atlanta ranks fifth in the NFL with 288.6 passing yards per game, including an impressive 285.3 on the road. Ryan’s 69.9 completion percentage equals the career high he set during his 2016 MVP season. Coleman is also a potential X-factor in this game. In addition to his outstanding showing in Week 15, it’s worth noting he gained 107 yards on just 16 rushes versus the Panthers in the Week 2 win, adding four catches for 18 yards.
And on the defensive end, the Falcons have tightened up their pass defense in recent games. While they still give up the second-most passing yards per game (251.3), most of their trouble has come at home. They’ve been a near-elite unit defending the pass on the road, allowing the second-fewest passing yards per away tilt (199.3). Plus, they’ve allowed just 171.3 yards through the air over their last three games overall. The one area of concern will be defending a Panthers running game that’s been second-most prolific in the league on their home field. However, as mentioned earlier, Atlanta catches a sizable break in not having to worry about Newton. Then, they did limit McCaffrey to 37 yards on eight carries in their one prior meeting this season, although he did touch them up for 14 receptions and 102 receiving yards.
By the Numbers
The Falcons are 2-2 (50.0 percent) versus the spread in division games this season. One of those two wins is a 31-24 victory over the Panthers in Atlanta back in Week 2.
The Panthers are 6-8 (42.9 percent) against the spread overall this season. They’re also 3-4 (42.9 percent) versus the number after a loss.
The Final Word
This is the type of matchup where you have to throw out the numbers a bit, as the impact of Newton’s absence is naturally significant and isn’t accounted for in Carolina’s record against the spread this season. Atlanta does have that dreaded extra half-point above a field goal to overcome in terms of the spread. However, given that an inexperienced Heinicke will be at the helm for the Panthers, the Falcons defense should have significantly less to worry about and have more resources to devote to McCaffrey. Carolina will also be playing on a short week following their Monday night loss. In a battle of two teams with no postseason aspirations, I look for Atlanta to have slightly more motivation and overall talent to pull out a four-point or better win.
The Pick: Falcons -3.5, Falcons moneyline
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1) at New Orleans Saints (12-2)
Over/Under Total: 53.5
How They Fared in Week 15
The Steelers finally got the Patriots monkey off their back, defeating New England by a 17-10 score at Heinz Field to snap a five-game losing streak to Bill Belichick’s team. Ben Roethlisberger threw for 235 yards, and although he was guilty of two interceptions, he helped make up for them with two touchdown passes. The story of Pittsburgh’s upset win was Jaylen Samuels, the next man up in the backfield in the wake of James Conner‘s ankle injury. He compiled 142 yards on 19 carries and added a pair of receptions for 30 yards.
Then, the dynamic duo of Antonio Brown (4-49-1) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (4-40) was quiet by its standards. However, rookie James Washington stepped up with three receptions for a career-high 65 yards. What’s more, Eli Rogers made his season debut after suffering an ACL tear last January and made four grabs. The Pittsburgh defense only brought Tom Brady down once, but they forced him into three straight incompletions in the red zone during the Patriots’ last possession to seal the victory.
The Saints gutted out a 12-9 win over the Carolina Panthers on Monday night. Drew Brees threw for a modest 203 yards and did not record a passing touchdown for only the second time all season. Alvin Kamara (103 total yards, one rushing TD), and Mark Ingram (63 rushing yards at 5.3 YPC) turned in solid contributions. Then, Michael Thomas led New Orleans pass catchers with a modest 49 yards. The Saints defense was pivotal to the win, sacking Cam Newton six times while limiting him to a season-low 131 passing yards. They did allow a 50-yard touchdown pass to Christian McCaffrey on a trick play and saw him take eight catches for 67 yards. However, they limited the star running back to 3.5 yards per rush.
Potential Playoff Implications
The Steelers can clinch the AFC North with a win or tie if the Ravens fall to the Chargers on Saturday night in Los Angeles. They can also clinch a playoff berth with a win and losses by both the Titans on Saturday to the Redskins and the Colts to the Giants earlier Sunday.
The Saints can clinch the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a win. They can also secure the spot with a tie and a Rams loss or tie, or with a Rams loss and a Bears loss or tie.
Notable Matchups and Metrics
The Steelers have a reputation for being less than effective road warriors. However, their track record this season away from Heinz Field isn’t as bad as that reputation might suggest. Pittsburgh has road wins in the especially tough road environments of Jacksonville and Baltimore. They’ve also toppled the Buccaneers and Bengals in away contests, and they notched an opening-week tie versus the Browns in the Dawg Pound.
The Week 15 win over the Patriots may prove to ultimately be pivotal to the Steelers’ season in more ways than one. Not only did they prove to themselves that they could conquer a formidable rival after years of futility, but they learned a lot about Jaylen Samuels. His stellar performance has to give the coaching staff considerable confidence in him heading into a matchup versus a stingy run defense.
That’s where Samuels’ strong pass-catching acumen also comes into play. A former tight end, he’s highly capable of doing damage through the air if the sledding is rough on the ground, which it could well be against a New Orleans squad that leads the league with just 79.1 rushing yards allowed per game. Samuels demonstrated as much in Week 14 versus the Raiders. Despite gaining just 28 yards on 11 rushes, he brought in all seven targets for 64 yards. The Saints could facilitate some production in that regard; they’ve yielded the ninth-most receptions to RBs (78), along with four receiving TDs.
Then, Roethlisberger has actually been at his most productive on the road. The Steelers top the NFL with 335.4 passing yards per game in away games. Big Ben’s 7.85 YPA in away games is an improvement over his 7.53 figure at home. Those numbers dovetail perfectly for Pittsburgh’s chances of keeping the game close when paired with the Saints’ metrics versus the pass in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. New Orleans is allowing the most passing yards at home in the NFL (294.0). The fast track should benefit speedsters Brown, Smith-Schuster and Washington. (Note: Smith-Schuster popped up with a groin injury during Thursday’s practice, but the initial outlook is optimistic for him to play Sunday).
On the other side of the ball, Kamara and Ingram could find the Steelers’ front seven less than welcoming. Pittsburgh gives up the sixth-fewest rush yards per game (96.9). They’ve been even better of late, allowing the third-fewest ground yards per contest (78.7) over the last three. Things don’t get much better on the receiving front, either. The Steelers have allowed the fourth-fewest receptions to running backs (59).
Then, the matchup for Brees isn’t a cakewalk by any means. Pittsburgh’s secondary has been at its best on the road. They’ve allowed the fourth-fewest passing yards per game in away contests (215.1). And no team averages more sacks per game on the road than the Steelers (3.9). Additionally, the Steelers have been quite adept at both limiting completions and damage on those they do allow. Pittsburgh checks in ranked in the top half of the NFL in catch rate allowed (64.0 percent), while the 1,450 total yards after catch they’ve allowed this season ranks them fourth in that category.
By the Numbers
The Steelers are 7-6-1 (53.8 percent) against the spread overall this season. That includes a 4-0 mark versus the number as an underdog, including 3-0 as a road underdog. Pittsburgh boasts a 3-0 tally against the spread in non-conference games. Moreover, the Steelers are 4-2-1 (66.7 percent) against the spread after a win this season.
The Saints are 10-4 against the spread overall this season. That includes an 8-2 mark over their last 10 games. However, they’re a more modest 3-2 (60.0 percent) versus the number as a home favorite and 4-3 (57.1 percent) versus the spread in non-conference games since the beginning of last season. Additionally, they will be playing on a short week and had to travel after their Monday night win at Carolina.
The Final Word
Both teams have plenty to play for here, which is why I believe the spread is a bit on the inflated side. Pittsburgh’s record against the spread as both road dogs and in interconference tilts also helps make a case for their ability to slide in under the number. A potential third consecutive absence by Conner certainly wouldn’t help, but Samuels demonstrated some nice upside in Week 15.
The fast track and climate-controlled conditions of the Superdome should also help the Pittsburgh offense, which is arguably about as deep as the Saints’ man for man. New Orleans is more than likely to pull out a win here, but I like the Steelers to keep it close enough to come in under a number that seems slightly elevated for an unfamiliar opponent the caliber of Pittsburgh.
The Pick: Steelers +5.5