With the N.F.L. schedule shifting from one game on Thursday to three games on Saturday, the shape of Week 16 is a bit different from the rest of the season, and the stakes are awfully high for the teams still trying to make the playoffs. Eight of the 12 postseason teams are already known, but there are first round byes to secure, divisions to win, and much more to determine in a series of games that could have huge consequences not just for the postseason but for off-season coaching decisions.
Here is a look at N.F.L. Week 16, with all picks made against the point spread.
Last week’s record: 6-9-1
Overall record: 118-102-4
The Games to Watch
Cowboys at Eagles, 4:25 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Cowboys -2.5 | Total: 46
It wasn’t easy to watch the Cowboys (7-7) implode over a three-week period. In an admittedly brutal stretch of games against terrific defensive teams (New England, Buffalo and Chicago), Dallas saw its offense humbled, its record fall below .500 and its once-commanding lead in the N.F.C. East evaporate. The ship was righted somewhat last week with a blowout win over the Los Angeles Rams — the Cowboys’ first victory this season against a team with a winning record — but the stakes remain enormous in this division game against the Eagles (7-7).
While a win would clinch a division title for Dallas, a loss would not directly hand the title to Philadelphia — but it would clear a fairly easy path to it, as neither the Cowboys nor the Eagles play a good team in Week 17.
So who wins this crucial game? It may come down to health.
Dak Prescott did not participate in practice Wednesday because of a shoulder injury that running back Ezekiel Elliott described as a problem with Prescott’s AC joint. The injury, which Prescott sustained in the win over the Rams, most likely played a role in Dallas’s run-heavy approach in that game.
Prescott is expected to play on Sunday, regardless of his practice status. But replicating that run success will be difficult unless the Cowboys get a little luck in the health department. Left tackle Tyron Smith did not practice on Wednesday because of an eye problem, and right tackle La’El Collins was a limited participant.
Facing Philadelphia’s solid run defense would not be a huge issue with Smith and Collins on the field, especially not if Prescott is near 100 percent, but the math would change considerably if any of those three is unable to play. Pick: Cowboys -2.5
Texans at Buccaneers, 1 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network
Line: Texans -3 | Total: 49.5
Saints at Titans, 1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Saints -2.5 | Total: 50.5
The A.F.C. South title is on the line. If the Texans (9-5) beat the Buccaneers (7-7) on Saturday, they will have clinched their division crown despite a strong push over the last few weeks from Tennessee. But if the Texans lose and Tennessee beats the Saints (11-3) on Sunday, the Titans (8-6) could set up a de facto division championship game between Tennessee and Houston in Week 17.
How likely is any of that to play out? Not very. The Texans should beat Tampa Bay, which would bring a neat end to all of the drama. The Buccaneers will be playing without wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, both of whom have serious hamstring injuries, and that takes the bite out of an offense that has looked superb in recent weeks.
Even if the Buccaneers’ hot streak carries them to an upset, there is very little chance of the division remaining undecided: Tennessee is good, but not as good as New Orleans.
The Upshot says the Titans would still have a 47 percent chance of making the playoffs after a loss. Picks: Texans -3; Saints -2.5
Rams at 49ers, 8:15 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network
Line: 49ers -6.5 | Total: 45
Richard Sherman has been practicing in full this week, and that is simultaneously terrific news for the 49ers (11-3) and a potentially dangerous decision. Why San Francisco would want him back is obvious: The veteran cornerback was the best player in the N.F.L.’s best secondary for the first 15 weeks of the season, and when he sat out last week with a partially torn hamstring the defense fell apart, letting Matt Ryan drive the Falcons to a shocking victory.
For San Francisco to slow down the Rams (8-6), a healthy Sherman is a must. But with the 49ers having already secured a playoff spot, and with home field advantage throughout the playoffs probably requiring consecutive wins (including one in Seattle), getting Sherman an extra few weeks of rest might have been a better choice than rushing him back and risking further injury.
Regardless, both Sherman and his fellow cornerback K’Waun Williams appear on track to play in this game, which is awful news for Jared Goff, who was held to just 78 passing yards the last time he faced this defense.
Playing at home, San Francisco is in a strong position to win. But if Rams Coach Sean McVay is anywhere near as competent as we were led to believe in previous seasons, he should have his team fired up to play the role of spoiler. That motivation could be enough to keep the score fairly tight. Pick: Rams +6.5
Bills at Patriots, 4:30 p.m. Saturday, NFL Network
Line: Patriots -6.5 | Total: 37.5
If Buffalo manages an upset in Foxborough, the Bills (10-4) would pull even with the Patriots (11-3) in the A.F.C. East (with a common-opponent tiebreaker tipping things to New England). But The Upshot estimates that Buffalo’s chance of a division title would increase only to 10 percent from 3 percent, because Week 17 pits the Patriots against the hapless Dolphins, making Buffalo’s last game (and really its last two games) fairly irrelevant. That is not to say that this season has been less than a huge success for the Bills. They won 10 games for the first time since 1999, secured their second playoff appearance in three years by clinching at worst a wild-card spot, and made it clear last week, in a win over Pittsburgh, that they have a defense to be feared.
New England’s defense just happens to be better. Neither team has a particularly intimidating offense, so this matchup should come down to a few key mistakes. That is a situation the Patriots have thrived in throughout the Tom Brady era, but a close game, or even a Buffalo upset, is not out of the realm of possibility. Pick: Bills +6.5
How Important Are This Week’s Games?
The Positioning Games
In these matchups between contenders and also-rans, the drama centers mostly on how the result will affect the stronger team’s playoff seeding.
Ravens at Browns, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Ravens -10 | Total: 47.5
These teams have been inextricably linked since the original Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore back in 1996, becoming the Ravens and necessitating the creation of an expansion franchise in 1999 to replace them in Cleveland. Further layers of overlap were added when the league decided the Browns’ historical record would remain in Cleveland, retroactively turning the former Browns (now the Ravens) into an expansion team. The net effect is a record book in which it appears that an entire roster of players was traded from an existing team to an expansion team, with no assets going the other way, while the original team took a three-season hiatus.
The stakes of this week’s game are far less confusing. With one more win, the Ravens (12-2) will have secured home field advantage throughout the A.F.C. playoffs. With one more defeat, the Browns (6-8) will have secured their 12th consecutive season with a losing record.
As Baltimore has shown so many times this season, almost regardless of opponent, it can win by as many points as it so chooses. Lamar Jackson, who has thrown a league-leading 33 touchdown passes and has already broken Michael Vick’s season rushing-yards record for a quarterback, could most likely sit out the rest of the season and still win the N.F.L.’s Most Valuable Player Award. He and 11 of his teammates were selected for the Pro Bowl.
Theoretically it is time for the Ravens to ease up a bit and get healthy for the playoffs, but the same was true last week, when they stomped the Jets, 42-21. A win of something less than 10 points seems like the most likely scenario, but to be clear: If the Ravens wants to win by more than 10, they will. Pick: Browns +10
Chiefs at Bears, 8:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC
Line: Chiefs -5.5 | Total: 45
The Chiefs (10-4) have been a bit boom-and-bust this season. They opened the season with four convincing wins, had a lull in which they went 2-4 (1-3 at home), and are now on a four-game winning streak in which they’ve outscored their opponents by a combined score of 110-45. Considering they have already won the A.F.C. West division title and are peaking with the playoffs around the corner, it is hard to argue with their methods. A road game against the Bears (7-7) is little more than a speed bump, and the bright lights of prime time football should let Patrick Mahomes put on a bit of a show. Add in the fact that any slip-up by New England could lead to a first-round bye for Kansas City, and you have all the motivation the Chiefs need for a big win. Pick: Chiefs -5.5
Cardinals at Seahawks, 4:25 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Seahawks -9.5 | Total: 50
If the Seahawks (11-3) win their final two games of the season, both of which are at home, they will earn the No. 1 seed in the N.F.C., securing both a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Considering Seattle has spent the last few years saying goodbye to high-profile players from the team’s once-celebrated defense, it would be quite a feat if the Seahawks managed to surpass the 49ers, the Saints and the Packers, all of whom have received far more publicity this season.
The trick will be not to look past this game against the Cardinals (4-9-1) with a Week 17 showdown against San Francisco looming. Arizona is certainly pluckier than your typical nine-loss team, and last week showed a new wrinkle in Coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense when the Cardinals dominated the Browns with a running game led by Kenyan Drake. But realistically the best Arizona could hope for in this game is to keep things fairly close. Pick: Cardinals +9.5
Steelers at Jets, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Steelers -3 | Total: 38
The Jets (5-9) have an opportunity to be huge spoilers, as the chances for the Steelers (8-6) to land a playoff spot would improve to 68 percent with a win, but would drop to 20 percent with a loss. Considering Pittsburgh’s offensive woes of late, the prospect of a loss on the road is not all that outlandish, especially since Jets safety Jamal Adams may be able to return from injury. The deciding factor, however, will probably be whether the Steelers’ superb defense can force Sam Darnold into a few game-changing mistakes. Pick: Steelers -3
The Irrelevant Games
In each of these matchups, both teams either have already been eliminated, or have less than a 1 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to The Upshot.
Bengals at Dolphins, 1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Dolphins -1 | Total: 46.5 | Pick: Dolphins -1
Jaguars at Falcons, 1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Falcons -7 | Total: 46 | Pick: Jaguars +7
Raiders at Chargers, 4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Chargers -7 | Total: 45.5 | Pick: Raiders +7
Giants at Redskins, 1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Redskins -2.5 | Total: 43 | Pick: Redskins -2.5
Panthers at Colts, 1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Colts -7 | Total: 46 | Pick: Panthers +7
Lions at Broncos, 4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Broncos -7 | Total: 38.5 | Pick: Broncos -7
Packers at Vikings, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Vikings -5.5 | Total: 45
At various points this season it has seemed as if the Vikings (10-4) might fade away. But thanks to the team’s balanced offense, Minnesota is almost assuredly a playoff team, and the Vikings retain a 12 percent chance of winning the N.F.C. North. That number could fall to zero this week, as a loss would hand the division crown to the Packers (11-3). That gives the Packers every reason to attack their rivals in this game, and Minnesota might be severely limited as Dalvin Cook deals with a shoulder injury. He may end up not playing, or playing at far less than 100 percent. Pick: Packers +5.5
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Cowboys -2.5, for example, means that Dallas must beat the Eagles by at least 3 points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
All times are Eastern.