Christmas comes early for football fans this Saturday, as the NFL Week 16 schedule sees six teams take the field for an appetizer before the Sunday feast.
And luckily enough, all three games feature at least one current member of the upcoming postseason party looking to improve their seeding ahead of the all-important tournament.
As always, we’ll assess the week’s most intriguing contests using the latest lines posted by online sportsbook Bovada.
Four Playoff Teams Jockey for Position in Saturday Tripleheader
The festivities on NFL Saturday kick off with the suddenly feisty Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-7) hosting a Houston Texans (9-5) team fresh off its most important win of the season.
Houston hit the road and defeated the Tennessee Titans (8-6) last Sunday to take control of the AFC South divisional race, but with a rematch awaiting in Week 17, a trip to Tampa Bay could be the classic “lookahead” trap game. Complicating matters, with the Texans currently in ownership of the #4 seed in the AFC playoff chase, beating the Buccaneers is vital if the team hopes to leapfrog the Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) and claim the #3 seed.
As for Tampa Bay, while the playoffs won’t be in the cards this year, their four-game win streak should have fans excited for what veteran head coach Bruce Arians has in store for his second season on the sidelines.
Backed by the boom and bust play of quarterback Jameis Winston – who leads the league in passing yards (4,573) and interceptions (24) – the Bucs have averaged 34.75 points per game during their recent winning jag.
Tampa Bay is playing for pride alone, and with Houston on the verge of yet another playoff appearance, it’s the Texans slotted as (-3) road favorites in this one.
Next up on the Saturday slate, an AFC rivalry reborn sends the Buffalo Bills (10-4) to Foxboro for a dance with the dreaded New England Patriots (11-3).
The defending Super Bowl champions – and preseason favorites to repeat in that regard – the Patriots have continued their winning ways despite a dramatic decline in QB Tom Brady’s overall performance. That includes a hard-fought 16-10 win in Buffalo earlier this year, a victory which epitomizes New England’s abrupt transformation into a defensive-powered powerhouse. Thanks to the photographic memory of head coach Bill Belichick, the Pats have allowed just 12.9 points and 268.4 yards per game to lead the NFL on both fronts.
Buffalo also boasts a superior defense in all phases – the Bills allow 15.9 points (3rd in NFL) and 291.9 yards (3rd) per game – one which has put the Bills on pace to make the playoffs for only the second time in the last 20 years.
A win this week would help to make that postseason appearance so much sweeter, what with the AFC East crown and a guaranteed home game still within striking distance.
Bookmakers know the betting public still loves to back the six-time Super Bowl champion Belichick / Brady combo, so the Bills are getting (+6.5) as road dogs here.
To close Saturday out in style, the San Francisco 49ers (11-3) host the Los Angeles Rams (8-6) in the ultimate role reversal game.
This time last year, it was the Rams who held 11 wins en route to a Super Bowl run while the rival 49ers sat on the outside looking in. Fast forward to 2019, however, and L.A. has fallen back to Earth while San Fran have harnessed the offensive play-calling powers of head coach Kyle Shanahan to perfectly compliment an elite defensive unit
With the aforementioned New England / Buffalo duo dominating the defensive discussion, San Francisco lurks close behind. The 49ers have surrendered just 269.0 yards (2nd) and 18.4 points (Tied-4th) per game on the year – numbers which would be significantly better if not for a 48-46 barnburner win over the New Orleans Saints (11-3) two weeks ago.
The 49ers were humbled last Sunday in a last-second loss to the Atlanta Falcons (5-9), so expect the (-6.5) home favorites to refocus and rebound against a disappointing Rams team that just slept-walked through a season-ending loss of its own.