Assuming COVID-19 doesn’t mess with a stellar slate of Saturday games, we are set for two Christmas Day matchups this weekend. After being moved to Monday last week due to the virus, the Browns (7-7) will have to travel on just four days of rest to play the red-hot Packers (11-3). Later, the struggling Cardinals (10-4) will host the surging Colts (8-6) in a crucial game that has major postseason implications.
Let’s jump into a look at our NFL Christmas Day picks and ATS predictions for the Browns-Packers and Colts-Cardinals NFL Week 16 matchups.
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NFL Christmas Picks and ATS Predictions
Browns vs. Packers
The Browns lost via a last second field goal to the Raiders earlier this week on a kick that sent Cleveland from potentially claiming first place in the AFC North and the AFC’s No. 4 seed to currently sitting last in the division and No. 12 in the AFC. Pretty brutal.
DANIEL CARLSON IS AUTOMATIC pic.twitter.com/tDXAzyJ470
— PFF (@PFF) December 21, 2021
A swing like that might seem like a backbreaker for the Browns’ morale, particularly given the lingering uncertainty surrounding which players will even be able to return this week. However, we think it may actually be the Packers that has a tougher time getting up for this game.
Cleveland’s loss isn’t as disastrous to its playoff hopes as it may seem on the surface. At 7-7, the Browns remain still just a game behind the eight teams directly ahead of them in the conference, including all three other teams in their division. Cleveland will face two of those division rivals head-to-head over the last two weeks of the regular season, giving the Browns considerable control over their own destiny.
Furthermore, all three other AFC North squads play each of their remaining games against winning opponents, with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati each running into the AFC’s top seed, Kansas City, down the stretch. There are several other matchups between the other teams ahead of Cleveland, which will also create some opportunities. In short, if the Browns can find a way to win out, they actually have a pretty solid chance of sneaking into a playoff spot.
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Conversely, Green Bay may just be exhaling a touch after checking off its first goal of the season by clinching the NFC North last week. Green Bay sits alone at 11-3 atop the NFC with four teams close behind at 10-4. Obviously, the Packers’ next goal will be earning the NFC’s top seed and the lone bye. Luckily, Green Bay has already won head-to-head battles with Arizona and Los Angeles this season, two of the conference’s other 10-4 teams.
Green Bay also owns an 8-2 conference record, giving the Packers a two-game edge over the Bucs (10-4) for tiebreaker purposes. The Cowboys are the only team team they would dip below if each ended this week at 11-4. However, Dallas still has to play Arizona in Week 17 with the early line showing the Cowboys as favorites of less than a field goal. In other words, Green Bay has all kinds of outs even if they slip up here.
Piling on the motivational angle is the fact that the Packers could find themselves in a sandwich spot here. After clinching the division, they could get caught glancing ahead to a rematch with Minnesota, one of the three teams to beat them this season. A win over their division rivals could also help keep the Vikings from the playoffs, a veritable cherry-on-top for the Packers.
We like Cleveland’s odds to keep it close via its elite run game and quality defense, especially facing a Packers group surely focused on sneaking away with a win, not making a statement against a non-conference foe with a key game on deck.
Cleveland will likely try to shorten this game, knowing they are inevitably second best in both health and on-field talent here thanks to virus-related absences. The Browns can certainly do that, too, boasting Nick Chubb and the league’s fifth-ranked rushing attack.
That strong run game has helped Cleveland, despite its middling record, to the NFL’s eighth best time average time of possession (30:56). This will be crucial against Green Bay, which owns the league’s third best time of possession per game.
After all, two of the three teams that beat the Packers in 2021 out-possessed them, too. New Orleans had the ball for 34:36 in the Week 1 victory where Alvin Kamara gained 91 total yards and had a touchdown. Dalvin Cook put up 115 total yards and a score against Green Bay when Minnesota held the ball for 31:01. All told, the Packers have just one win in regulation this season when losing the time of possession battle.
Browns vs. Packers Pick
Cleveland’s defense, which ranks in the top 10 against both the pass and the rush, should get enough stops to keep it close. A big aid to that should be the Browns’ ability to get to the quarterback. They average 2.6 sacks per game, sixth most in football, and get a surprisingly average Green Bay offensive line which allows the 17th most sacks per game.
Look for Cleveland to extend its excellent 5-1 ATS run on the road against teams with winning home records, as they push the Packers in a game closer than many expect.
Our Pick: Cleveland +7.5
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Colts vs. Cardinals
The Indianapolis Colts are the new public favorites after dismantling the red-hot New England Patriots in primetime last Saturday. The Colts have now won five of their last six games and eight of their last 11 games after an 0-3 start to the season. Meanwhile, Arizona, once beloved after a 7-0 SU and 6-1 ATS start, has fallen out of favor, dropping two straight, including an embarrassing 30-12 defeat at lowly Detroit last week.
WHAT IS GOING ON IN DETROIT??
The @Lions take a 24-3 lead over the Cardinals! pic.twitter.com/Mj4mcnnvHI
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 19, 2021
Yes, Arizona will be without star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, but could you have envisioned an opportunity to get this team as favorites of less than a field goal at home a few weeks ago when it boasted the best record in football? Remember, Arizona’s lone home loss this season came to the 10-4 Rams, a team that was exacting divisional revenge from a 37-20 defeat back in Week 4.
We believe Indianapolis is a perfectly-constructed team for late season outdoor football, but this is Arizona, folks. The Colts’ bruising offensive line, run game, and opportunistic defense don’t gain huge edges in this locale.
Jonathan Taylor has already rushed the ball 38 more times this season than he did as a rookie. He has also equaled his reception tally from last year. Notably, he rushed 61 times in the team’s last two games, eight more than any other two-game stretch this season. Interestingly, after his previous two-game high rushing total (53 carries), Taylor came back with just 16 rushes for 83 yards against Tampa Bay in a Colts loss.
Meanwhile, Carson Wentz went 5-12 for 57 yards in the victory over New England last week, but the Colts are 0-2 SU this season in games after Wentz threw for 150 yards in his previous outing. We know Arizona’s offense is dangerous, but the team’s seventh ranked defense gets slept on a bit, sitting fifth in the league against the pass with the league’s seventh highest sack rate and fifth fewest points allowed per game. You have to imagine they can jam the box to slow Taylor and still do enough to make life difficult for Wentz here.
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Arizona’s loss to Detroit was its second in a row, the first time it has suffered back-to-back defeats this season. However, the Cardinals are 15-2 ATS in their last 17 games off back-to-back SU and ATS losses, including a 12-0 ATS mark against sub .600 opponents. Arizona has also covered 11 straight after back-to-back SU and ATS losses against non-divisional opposition. This all speaks to the team’s recent ability to bounce back from adversity. The Cardinals have gone 4-1 ATS in its last five following an ATS loss and 7-2 ATS following a SU loss by 15 points or more.
Colts vs. Cardinals Pick
Colts head coach Frank Reich is just 2-10 ATS off back-to-back SU wins against teams from outside the AFC South. If Tennessee wins on Thursday night, the AFC South race is nearly over as the Titans already own the head-to-head season sweep over Indy.
Don’t be surprised to see a letdown here in a non-conference game with the Colts already owning a strong record against AFC foes that will set them up to get into the playoffs with wins in their final two games against easier opposition.
Our Pick: Arizona -1
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