He’s making a list, and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice . . .
There’s plenty of oh-so-nice games this week, with favorable matchups that could leave you in a Winner Wonderland. There are two Saturday games, followed by a loaded Christmas Eve schedule and two games on Christmas Day.
Favorites went 14-1 straight up in Week 15. They were 8-4-3 against the spread (ATS), and have a 105-101-12 advantage for the season. They should continue their hot stretch, but there’s always a few underdogs who could spoil the party.
My most confident picks ATS this week: Panthers, Eagles, Rams, Jaguars and Browns. A few naughty games that you should avoid: Broncos-Redskins, Lions-Bengals and Dolphins-Chiefs.
COLTS (3-11) AT RAVENS (8-6)
TV: NFL, 4:30 p.m.
Ravens by 13.5; O/U: 41
This is a lot of points to lay with an inconsistent offense, but Baltimore has heated up of late, scoring 44, 38 and 27 points the last three weeks. The Ravens are playoff-bound if they win their next two, while the Colts were out of it a long time ago. Indy is 1-6 straight up (SU) on the road, including some blowout losses: 46-9, 46-18, 36-22 and 30-10. This could be a similar result.
The pick: Ravens
VIKINGS (11-3) AT PACKERS (7-7)
TV: Ch. 4, 8:30 p.m.
Vikings by 9; O/U: 41
This matchup likely would’ve been for the NFC North title had Minnesota not knocked out Aaron Rodgers in Week 6. Rodgers returned last week but was put on IR after the Pack was eliminated from playoff contention when the Falcons won Monday night. This is a big number to lay on the road against a division rival, but Minnesota has its eye on a first-round bye and is the far superior team on both sides of the ball.
The pick: Vikings
SUNDAY’S 1 P.M. GAMES
FALCONS (9-5) AT SAINTS (10-4)
Saints by 6; O/U: 52.5
If it feels like these teams just played each other, well, it’s because they did. Atlanta won a Thursday night thriller, 20-17, in Week 14 after Drew Brees was picked off in the end zone and Sean Payton had a meltdown. Things will go New Orleans’ way this time. Alvin Kamara was knocked out of the first meeting early, and his ability to be out there a full game will go a long way. After dropping its home opener, New Orleans has won six in a row in the dome, including a 31-21 win over fellow NFC South power Carolina in Week 13. This should be a close one, but expect Brees, Kamara and the Saints’ improved defense to get even with the Falcons and prevail by a touchdown as they move closer to winning the NFC South title.
The pick: Saints
LOCK OF THE WEEK
BUCS (4-10) AT PANTHERS (10-4)
Panthers by 10; O/U: 46.5
Carolina can clinch a playoff spot with a win, and expect it to roll at home against an overmatched Bucs team. Think about Tampa Bay’s mindset: It just played one of its best games of the season, giving everything it had at home Monday night before failing to force overtime with a last-second kick. Would you blame the players if they’re thinking about the flight home and Christmas morning fun with the family? Carolina, fresh off impressive home wins against the Vikings and Packers, beat Tampa Bay, 17-3, in the first matchup. Expect Cam Newton, Jonathan Stewart, Christian McCaffrey, Greg Olsen — really, anyone in a Carolina jersey — to have big days as the Panthers give out a lot of touchdown balls to fans.
The pick: Panthers
RAMS (10-4) AT TITANS (8-6)
Rams by 7; O/U: 47.5
Tennessee is on the verge of going from 8-4 to missing the playoffs after back-to-back losses at Arizona and San Francisco. Now it gets the best of the NFC West. The Titans are a desperate team, but that won’t be enough to slow down a dynamic Rams team that is 6-1 SU on the road. The Rams put the rest of the NFL on notice with their 42-7 win at Seattle last week, and Jared Goff, Todd Gurley & Co. will follow it up with another dominant offensive performance to clinch the division title.
The pick: Rams
LIONS (8-6) AT BENGALS (5-9)
Lions by 5; O/U: 44
Detroit still has a shot at the playoffs while Cincinnati appears to have checked out: 33-7 and 34-7 losses the last two weeks. This spread almost feels too good to be true, though, and when that’s the case, you have to start asking questions. Like, will Cincy finally show some effort in Marvin Lewis’ home finale as coach? Going to go with a gut feeling here and say the Bengals put up a fight and keep this close enough for the cover.
The pick: Bengals
BILLS (8-6) AT PATRIOTS (11-3)
Patriots by 11; O/U: 47
By now, you know Tom Brady owns the Bills. He’s 27-3 vs. Buffalo, and with the No. 1 seed for the Patriots’ to lose, expect them to win again. But what about the spread? Buffalo is fighting for a wild-card spot and then there’s that extra motivation from the cheap shot Rob Gronkowski delivered to Tre’Davious White in the Pats’ 23-3 win at Buffalo in Week 13. Buffalo’s run game — and that big chip on its shoulder — keep it in this game long enough for the cover.
The pick: Bills
DOLPHINS (6-8) AT CHIEFS (8-6)
Chiefs by 10.5; O/U: 43.5
Kansas City is in the driver’s seat for the AFC West title after beating the Chargers, and it’s easy to think the Chiefs will just cruise at home here. When you pick every game for every week, though, you learn that the only sure thing in the NFL is there is no sure thing. In two previous spots as a double-digit favorite, KC lost outright to the Giants and Bills. The Chiefs will win, but they’ll again fail to cover the big number.
The pick: Dolphins
CHARGERS (7-7) AT JETS (5-9)
TV: Ch. 2; Radio: ESPN (98.7)
Chargers by 7; O/U: 42.5
Even after last Saturday’s loss to the Chiefs, L.A. still has a shot to make the playoffs. You have to think the better team with more on the line will find a way to win. Covering is a different story, though. The Jets have been tough at home, going 5-1-1 ATS. They’ll play with some holiday spirit on Christmas Eve and give their fans a competitive game in the fourth quarter.
The pick: Jets
BROWNS (0-14) AT BEARS (4-10)
Bears by 6.5; O/U: 38
Last Christmas Eve, the 0-14 Browns earned their first win. Will Santa bring another this Week 16? Probably not, but there’s a chance, so taking the points is the right play. Chicago has played well at home and may be motivated in what is likely John Fox’s home finale. But in the Bears’ previous two spots as a favorite this season, they lost both games outright at home to the Packers and 49ers. Cleveland’s defense can stop the run, and Josh Gordon will make this interesting.
The pick: Browns
BRONCOS (5-9) AT REDSKINS (6-8)
Redskins by 3; O/U: 40.5
Both teams won uninspired matchups last week and now find themselves facing off in another yawn fest. Denver’s defense has looked good in back-to-back wins, so take the points.
The pick: Broncos
SUNDAY’S 4 P.M. GAMES
SEAHAWKS (8-6) AT COWBOYS (8-6)
Cowboys by 5; O/U: 47.5
The winner maintains its outside shot at the playoffs while the other is done. Dallas should get a boost with Ezekiel Elliott back from suspension, and Seattle’s defense is banged up. Still, doesn’t this feel like too many points? You have to think Pete Carroll will have his team fired up after a 35-point shellacking at home against the Rams. The Seahawks are 9-0 after losing as a favorite the previous week, according to Odds Shark.com. Russell Wilson’s ability to scramble, plus an angry defense coming off an embarrassing loss, keep Seattle in this one late.
The pick: Seahawks
JAGUARS (10-4) AT 49ERS (4-10)
Jaguars by 4; O/U 42
Jimmy Garoppolo is 3-0 as San Francisco’s starter, beating the Bears, Texans and Titans. Let’s see how he does against the Jaguars’ dominant defense. Jacksonville, still in the hunt for a first-round bye, has the pass rush and secondary to finally frustrate “Jimmy GQ.” Blake Bortles has been a model of consistency himself, also going 3-0 in December with an NFL-best 7 TD-to-0 INT ratio. Bortles and the Jaguars’ ‘D’ stay hot.
The pick: Jaguars
GIANTS (2-12) AT CARDINALS (6-8)
Cardinals by 3.5; O/U: 40.5
University of Phoenix Stadium will always Eli-cit fond memories for Eli Manning: David Tyree’s helmet catch and the Super Bowl XLII win over the Patriots. This matchup won’t be anywhere near as exciting. Arizona plays well at home, having beaten Jacksonville and Tennessee there the last month. This should be low scoring. Take an underrated Cardinals defense to make more stops in Arizona’s home finale.
The pick: Cardinals
STEELERS (11-3) AT TEXANS (4-10)
TV: Ch. 4, NFL, 4:30 p.m.
Steelers by 9; O/U: 45
Pittsburgh just suffered one of the most brutal losses of the NFL season, and now has to spend Christmas on the road without Antonio Brown. The Steelers will win, but they play down to inferior competition on the road (23-17 loss at Chicago, 20-17 win at Indianapolis). Houston will give this game everything it has and Pittsburgh will be happy to win by a TD.
The pick: Texans
RAIDERS (6-8) AT EAGLES (12-2)
TV: ESPN , 8:30 p.m.
Eagles by 9; O/U: 47.5
Philadelphia can wrap up home-field advantage for the playoffs with a win on Christmas Night. The Raiders’ slim playoff hopes were fumbled out of the end zone last Sunday night, and now they have to fly cross country and spend their holiday against an Eagles team that is 6-0 at home with wins by an average margin of 20 points. Eagles fans enjoy such a big win — thanks to a strong game from Jolly St. Nick Foles — that they even cheer Santa Claus.
The pick: Eagles
Staff picks and standings
(best bets in bold)
JOE MANNIELLO 100-112-12, 3-12 best bets
Last week: 6-7-3
Ravens Vikings Saints Panthers Rams
Bengals Bills Dolphins Jets Browns Broncos
Seahawks Jags Cardinals Texans Eagles
BOB GLAUBER 102-110-12, 9-6
Last week: 9-4-3
Ravens Packers Falcons Panthers Rams
Lions Pats Chiefs Chargers Bears Redskins
Cowboys Jags Cardinals Steelers Eagles
TOM ROCK 108-104-12, 7-7-1
Last week: 7-6-3
Ravens Vikings Saints Bucs Rams
Lions Pats Dolphins Chargers Bears Broncos
Cowboys Jags Cardinals Steelers Eagles
CALVIN WATKINS 100-97-11, 7-7
Last week: 8-5-3
Ravens Vikings Falcons Panthers Rams
Lions Pats Chiefs Chargers Bears Broncos
Cowboys Jags Giants Steelers Eagles