From left: Sports Editor Karl Winter, Assistant Sports Editor Paxton Ritchey, Staff Writer Kyle McCabe, Photo Editor Ali Levens, Sports Assistant Justin Touhey and Staff Writer Austin Hall. This group of six made its picks for the penultimate week of the NFL regular season. Art by Madeline Duvall
Happy holidays, football fans. The NFL is getting into the spirit of giving early this year.
The Jets received a victory from the inconsistent Rams, narrowly avoiding a spot in the history books as the third 0–16 team ever. Fans didn’t like this gift at all, as it may dramatically alter their future if it caused them to miss out on the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
The Jaguars, on track to become only the second NFL team ever to win its first game and lose the other 15, received that No. 1 pick slot from the Jets, so Jacksonville was in a festive mood despite being trounced in Baltimore.
The Bengals, who had not won a game since rookie quarterback Joe Burrow was injured in Week 11, received a victory from the plummeting Steelers. The Steelers embraced the season of faith, as the team gave the Browns hope it could still win the AFC North. Pittsburgh also currently looks like its receivers have been baking cookies with too much butter — and its quarterback has eaten one too many of those cookies.
The Falcons simply gifted away another game but don’t need to be in the holiday spirit to do that.
The Bears, Cardinals, Cowboys, Ravens and Dolphins each remained in the playoff picture, but time will tell if each has actually been good enough this year to get a playoff ticket in their stockings.
Week 16 of the NFL season may bring more joy — the de facto NFC West championship game, an offensive showdown in frigid Green Bay, and the Bills’ coronation as new AFC East champions in Foxborough, Mass.
The PGM staff nears the end of the regular season in unity, as we agreed on the winner of 11 of the 16 games this week. If the past 15 weeks have taught us anything, however, it’s that we can take no game for granted.
Without further ado, allow Staff Writers Kyle McCabe and Austin Hall, Sports Assistant Justin Touhey, Assistant Sports Editor Paxton Ritchey, Photo Editor Ali Levens and Sports Editor Karl Winter to make their selections for this week, starting with a Christmas Day playoff rematch.
Minnesota Vikings (6–8) at New Orleans Saints (10–4) (Friday, Dec. 25 at 1:30 p.m., PST)
“The Saints are limping. They limp through their wins, they limp through their losses. Brees hardly throws the ball in front of the line of scrimmage. At the same time, the Vikings are in desperation mode after losing to the Bears. The Saints probably don’t even need to score more than 20 points to win this game because their defense is so darn good. I really don’t know what exactly my takeaway from the Saints will be in the next two weeks. Right now, I’m super iffy and wanting to sell my stock in them, but I think they’ll win this game.” — Austin
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9–5) at Detroit Lions (5–9) (Saturday, Dec. 26 at 10 a.m., PST)
“The Bucs and the Rams are two teams I find very similar in that I’m not sold on either of them making a deep playoff run. It’s fitting Tom Brady is starting to play better later in the season. The Lions don’t really have anything to play for, and the Bucs still need to try to secure a wild card spot in the NFC. I trust the Bucs to get it done, especially with Brady as their quarterback, against a team like the Lions.” — Justin
San Francisco 49ers (5–9) at Arizona Cardinals (8–6) (Saturday, Dec. 26 at 1:30 p.m., PST)
“The Cardinals will win this game. I don’t know that it will be a blowout — Robert Saleh, the [49ers] defensive coordinator, is auditioning for a head coaching job, and he’s going to do the best he can to slow down one of the game’s mobile quarterbacks with whoever is left on that defense. I actually love the Josh Rosen move for the 49ers, because if there’s one quarterback I hate in the NFL more than Jimmy Garoppolo, it’s Josh Rosen. I’m ecstatic they get to fight it out for who’s going to be in charge of this 5–11 franchise. I don’t think Rosen’s going to play this week, but if it does come down to Rosen versus [Kliff] Kingsbury, I’ll take the guy with the nicer house.” — Paxton
Miami Dolphins (9–5) at Las Vegas Raiders (7–7) (Saturday, Dec. 26 at 5:15 p.m., PST)
“I think it’s 50-50 that [Derek Carr] starts another game for the Raiders, if I’m being honest with you guys, but that’s a different discussion. If Marcus Mariota started, that’d be awesome — Tua [Tagovailoa] and Marcus Mariota are from the same high school. […] The Raiders are trying to invent new ways to lose because they got blown out by the Falcons — I don’t know who else has done that — almost lost to the Jets before losing the Jets was a thing, and somehow lost to the Chargers at their own game. The Raiders have been so hit or miss. I want to like them; I like [Jon] Gruden; I like [Mike] Mayock. I’m indifferent to Carr, but they’re going to be phoning it in for the rest of the season. They have some decisions to make in the next couple of months. Their defense can give Tua a little bit of problems, but he’s been playing more than good enough to keep them in games. I like what I’ve seen from him.” — Austin
Carolina Panthers (4–10) at Washington Football Team (6–8) (Sunday, Dec. 27 at 10 a.m., PST)
Paxton: Football Team
Ali: Football Team
Kyle: Football Team
Karl: Football Team
“This is the type of game the Panthers will win. The Football Team have been playing well, but it’s almost like a Kyle move — I don’t know why I’m picking the Panthers, but I’m picking the Panthers.” — Justin
“The Panthers have gone backward. They’ve lost eight of nine, and I wasn’t high on them to begin with. At the beginning of the year, Matt Rhule looked like a success, and lately, it hasn’t been that way, and that’s with more players back from injury. The Football Team can clinch the division here because they haven’t had great quarterback play all year and have still gotten the job done with running game and solid defense. That’s a winning formula against Carolina. Shoutout to Riverboat Ron [Rivera], who was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the year and then had to deal with the team cancer of Dwayne Haskins and a quarterback whose leg might split open on any given play, and also Kyle Allen. They’ve just had a circus and somehow could still get in the playoffs here.” — Karl
Indianapolis Colts (10–4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11–3) (Sunday, Dec. 27 at 10 a.m., PST)
“I’m actually going to go against the grain here and take Pittsburgh. There’s one reason why, and it’s Mike Tomlin. He’s one of the most underrated coaches in football. We’ve seen this from the Steelers before, where they seem out — last year, they started 0–4 and then traded their first-round pick away, and we were all like, ‘What are they doing?’ Mike Tomlin has a phrase that [Pepperdine Men’s Volleyball Head Coach] David Hunt copies all the time: ‘The standard as the standard.’ He’s just going to hold that team accountable. […] This week is the bounce-back game for them, but it better happen now because there’s no hiding the fact they’ve been terrible the last few weeks. The last thing you want is entering the playoffs losing five in a row — or four of your last five or anything like that.” — Paxton
“The success of the Steelers is almost entirely predicated on whether JuJu Smith-Schuster decides to dance on the opposing team’s logo before the game. He hasn’t shown any remorse for doing it. […] He’ll probably still be dancing. I don’t see the Steelers turning it around, at least not this week. They could potentially win a playoff game — not how they’ve been playing lately, but it’s a team that knows how to win. They have Big Ben, they have Mike Tomlin, they have that sort of experience, but I don’t see them taking down Philip Rivers and the Colts.” — Kyle
Atlanta Falcons (4–10) at Kansas City Chiefs (13–1) (Sunday, Dec. 27 at 10 a.m., PST)
“Chiefs versus Choke City? This is a no-brainer. Patrick Mahomes!” — Ali
Chicago Bears (7–7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1–13) (Sunday, Dec. 27 at 10 a.m., PST)
“It’s going to make for an interesting sideline on both sides. [Mitchell] Trubisky is playing just well enough to for [the Bears] to think about extending him. They’re winning enough games to where Matt Nagy’s probably not going anywhere. The funny thing here is what the Jaguars’ sideline is going to look like. Are they trying to lose? At the same like, they have multiple quarterbacks that are trying to fill up their resumes for being a possible backup to Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields, however it shakes out. Are they coaching to lose the game? Is Gardner Minshew just going to say, ‘I’m trying to win the game’? I don’t know. It’s interesting, but obviously not interesting enough to pick them now that, for the first time, they’re tasting Trevor.” — Austin
Infographic by Inez Kim
Cincinnati Bengals (3–10–1) at Houston Texans (4–10) (Sunday, Dec. 27 at 10 a.m., PST)
“Bengals may have won last week, but they won’t win two games in a row.” — Ali
New York Giants (5–9) at Baltimore Ravens (9–5) (Sunday, Dec. 27 at 10 a.m., PST)
“As the residential Giants fan, I will unfortunately say that our playoff hopes are slowly withering away. The Ravens look like they’re back to old form. I’m really happy with the direction of the Giants. Joe Judge was an excellent hire, and they have a lot of things going for them in the near future. I think they’re going to end up like the Dolphins next year, where they may not have had the most impressive record, but they could definitely vie for the division next year. I’m excited to see where they go from here, but the Ravens are better, so they’ll win.” — Justin
Cleveland Browns (10–4) at New York Jets (1–13) (Sunday, Dec. 27 at 10 a.m., PST)
“A somehow impossible win last week will be the only time the Jets feel success for the rest of the season. Rest in peace, No. 1 draft pick. Also, the Browns did play well last week against the [Daniel] Jones-less Giants, so I don’t see this game being an issue, no matter where they are on the [Baker] Mayfield cycle.” — Ali
Denver Broncos (5–9) at Los Angeles Chargers (5–9) (Sunday, Dec. 27 at 1:05 p.m., PST)
“I’m going to make the shocking decision of taking the Broncos in this game. Last week was a bad week to be a Broncos fan. With another guaranteed losing season and guaranteed no shot at the playoffs, what I’m looking for from the team now is that they don’t give up. Against the Bills, we were in it in the first half, and then in the second half, it started to slip away. It looked like the whole team literally gave up. I’m just hoping I see some fight out of the Broncos this week. We’ve already beaten the Chargers once — it doesn’t seem unreasonable we could do it again. Drew Lock had a career game two weeks ago, and everybody’s already back on the ‘Drew Lock is trash’ train, so we’ll see how it goes.” — Kyle
“Drew Lock has a lot of moxie, but I don’t know if I want moxie in my quarterback. I definitely don’t want him to wear a backward hat, which I don’t think [Justin] Herbert does. He’s a frontward-hat kind of guy, all day, especially to hide that cancerous haircut that he’s got going now. I’m going with the Chargers.” — Austin
Philadelphia Eagles (4–9–1) at Dallas Cowboys (5–9) (Sunday, Dec. 27 at 1:25 p.m., PST)
“This is probably the toughest game of the week for me to pick, because I just have no idea who’s gonna show up on those two teams. I don’t know what to think about any of them. Both of them are so irrelevant at this point in the season. Even so, the Cowboys have not improved on defense at all this year. They gave up 33 last week to CJ Beathard. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Jalen Hurts is playing a little bit better than CJ Beathard right now. Because of that, I’m going to take the Philadelphia Eagles and ride the Jalen Hurts train.” — Paxton
“We’ve seen a trend with rookie quarterbacks where they’re hot coming out of the gate, and then teams figure them out. The Cowboys defense doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence, but their offense has been putting it together of late. Dalton has played well. This may be one of the few games in the entire NFL season where home-field advantage really matters. Because the Cowboys allow so many fans into their stadium and it’s a true road game for Jalen Hurts, playing at home might actually have an effect here. It might be close, maybe high scoring, even if Hurts plays well, but I’m going to take Dallas here. I still think Washington will win and clinch the division so it won’t really matter for them, but we’ll see.” — Karl
Los Angeles Rams (9–5) at Seattle Seahawks (10–4) (Sunday, Dec. 27 at 1:25 p.m., PST)
“As a Seahawks fan, the Rams losing to the Jets last week made me absolutely terrified to play them this week because of how pissed off they’re going to be. But I’m still taking the Seahawks. We just have too many advantages in this game — obviously home field, Jared Goff has really not been playing well lately while the Seahawks defense is playing better than it has all year, [and] we’ve got healthy running backs — three of them, which is wild. We’re going to be able to control the pace of the game. The Seahawks have just shown they’re more adept at winning ugly games than the Rams, traditionally. Think about games like the Super Bowl or games like the Jets. The Rams fall apart when it’s an ugly situation, whereas the Seahawks typically thrive and win by two to five points. It very well could be one of those games again, but the Seahawks are more battle-tested and will be more ready to play.” — Paxton
Tennessee Titans (10–4) at Green Bay Packers (11–3) (Sunday, Dec. 27 at 5:20 p.m., PST)
“The Titans’ secondary got absolutely exposed in the first half against the Browns. I’m sure they can make coaching adjustments to fix some of those issues, and they did come back pretty well in that game, but I do believe that Aaron Rodgers is a better quarterback than Baker Mayfield is. I have more confidence in the Packers to win this game than I do the Titans.” — Kyle
“The Titans are the highest-scoring offense in the league, but they also have the worst pass rush in the league, so that doesn’t bode well. Also, it does bode well when you have the best running back in the league [in Derrick Henry] and you’re playing in a really cold environment where passing might be more difficult. My main prediction is that whoever jumps out to a lead first will win because then they can control the tempo of the game and play their own brand of football. It would be hard to come back in a game like this when you’ve got two great offenses going against each other. Game-time decision, I’m just going to go with the Titans because I hate the Packers. The Titans’ offense has been great week in and week out and will continue to be that way. Yes, the Packers have to play for the No. 1 seed, but the Titans are still playing for a division as well. I’m going with my heart here, more than anything, but this could go either way, so I’m just going to make things interesting, stir the pot and take the Titans.” — Karl
Buffalo Bills (11–3) at New England Patriots (6–8) (Monday, Dec. 28 at 5:15 p.m., PST)
“This is the official ceremony of the Bills taking over the AFC East crown. This could be a trap game for them because they’ve played so well of late, but the Patriots look so bad lately that nothing tells me that I should pick against the Bills. The Bills have lost to some good teams, and they’re a Hail Mary away from winning their last eight in a row. They have an argument to be the best team in the league right now — they’re certainly one of the hottest teams. They’re looking at that No. 2 seed and trying to grab that, and I think they’ll get there. Josh Allen is miles ahead of Cam Newton right now.” — Karl
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Contact Karl Winter via Twitter: @karlwinter23 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org