NFL Underdogs: NFL Picks, and Predictions Week 16

As we inch closer to the end of the season, there remains a slew of underdogs worth targeting from week to week. The Chicago Bears play up to their competition and the Buffalo Bills, their Week 16 opponents, have struggled to cover of late.

Last Updated: Dec 20, 2022 3:50 PM ET Read Time: 4 min
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If you thought the battles on the gridiron were tough, wait until you see the internal struggles for NFL bettors this holiday weekend. 

With games spread out on Saturday and Sunday, those with NFL picks and predictions for Week 16 (and let’s not forget our fantasy football brethren) will be bouncing between sweating bets and festivities with family and friends until kickoffs conclude.

Even though sports betting is legal in most places — and not as taboo as it used to be — you may catch some sideways looks from your relatives when they ask you why you’re begging Baby Jesus for a good 2-point conversion or playing your Bubbe’s menorah like a guitar after that fourth down stop. 

I’m not going to say we, as sports bettors, need to reel it in this weekend, but I would avoid adding the line, “And God, please let Tom Brady pass for more than two touchdowns, amen,” when you cap off grace before Christmas dinner on Sunday.

Whatever you celebrate and however you like to celebrate it, best of luck balancing your NFL betting picks and all the joys of the holiday season… that stand in the way of the television on that crucial goal-line stand. HOLY HELL AUNT MARIE — MOVE IT!

Here are my favorite NFL Underdogs for Week 16.

NFL picks against the spread for Week 16

Click on each pick to jump to the full analysis.

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The Panthers had a tough time pushing around Pittsburgh last Sunday, rushing for a mere 21 yards after dominating their recent opponents with a relentless run game. 

The ability to play bully ball on the ground has been at the core of Carolina’s late-season success and it kicks the tire on a Detroit defense that has seen its run-stop unit do a sudden about-face during its current three-game winning streak. 

The Lions have gone from 30th in EPA per handoff in the first 12 weeks of play to No. 1 in that metric over the last three games, trimming opponents’ success rates from 45.7% to just 29.1% since Week 13. 

But while they bottled up the Jets to 50 yards on 22 carries last Sunday, the Lions’ big leads during this stretch have also deterred foes from running the ball as they try to play catch-up. The last time Detroit lost — a 28-25 defeat at home to Buffalo in Week 12 — the defense buckled for 164 yards on the ground.

This is a tough spot for the Lions, who play their second straight road game on a short week in what will be a chilly setting in Charlotte (30 degrees on Saturday). Carolina is a physical team on both sides of the ball and its defense has shown how well it can play with just a little support from the offense.

The Panthers rank out No. 7 in EPA allowed per play since Week 10 and have a deep and talented secondary that has been shutting down rival passing attacks, sitting third in EPA allowed per dropback in that span. Carolina has caused chaos during this defensive renaissance, with 15 total sacks and four interceptions in the past five contests.

We saw the Detroit offense take a step back against the Jets in Week 15, not only facing a stout New York defense but playing outside for the first time in almost a month. The Lions’ 20 points represented just the fourth time this offense has posted fewer than three touchdowns in a game in 2022. 

Quarterback Jared Goff posted his lowest passer rating since the previous outdoor road game and his production dips significantly when exposed to the elements, with an 85.5 passer rating outdoors versus 101.3 indoors. That leaves the Lions’ air attack to average just 6.6 adjusted yards gained per attempt away from Ford Field, compared to a healthy average of 8.56 on the fast track under the dome.

As for Carolina’s passing game, the retread on Sam Darnold at quarterback has paid off. While Darnold isn’t hanging huge numbers like Goff, the Panthers’ passing attack has been extremely efficient in his three games under center, sitting No. 6 in EPA per dropback despite playing respectable defenses like Pittsburgh and Denver during that span.

Darnold is coming off his best game of that stretch, averaging just under 10 yards per pass attempt and completing 61% of his throws for 225 yards in the loss to the Steelers. And while the Lions’ run stop has improved, this Detroit defense continues to stink at slowing the throwing, ranked 22nd in Pass Defense DVOA at Football Outsiders.

PICK:  Panthers +3 (-115 at BetMGM)

Buffalo exploded out of the gate in 2022 and played like a Super Bowl champion in the opening eight weeks of action. But ever since that loss to the Jets in Week 9, the wheels on the Bills Mafia Mobile have wobbled. 

And when measured against the expectations of the betting market, we find Buffalo blew its tires as early as Week 8. The Bills, who smashed spreads like tailgate tables in the first six games of the season, have covered the spread only twice since October 30, burning backers for a 2-6 ATS mark in the last eight outings.

Yet, despite that horrid ATS record and a downtick in dominance, Buffalo continues to draw big spreads and support from bettors. That’s what we see in Week 16, with the Bills as big as 9-point chalk.

We find Buffalo as a beefy fave on the road in Chicago on Xmas Eve, with a nasty sandwich spot skewing its focus further: prone for a letdown off the big win over Miami and looking past the bumbling Bears to a possible AFC Championship preview in Cincinnati on January 2.

Chicago is mired in a seven-game slide but has stepped up against tougher competition as it did versus Philadelphia last weekend. The Bears battled as 8.5-point home underdogs (losing 25-20) to an Eagles team playing far better than Buffalo at this point in the season. Now books are setting a similar spread for Week 16 — a line the Bills don’t deserve and one that sells Chicago short. 

The Bears may stink overall, but they come to play at home where they own an average margin of just -1.6 points per game (compared to -8.1 on the road). The offense jumps to 18th in DVOA as a host (versus 25th on the road) and the defense ranks 20th in DVOA at home (dead last as a visitor). 

That may not seem like much of an improvement, but when you tack on an extra nine points from the oddsmakers, size up a nasty schedule spot for Buffalo, and consider that dual-threat QB Justin Fields has lifted this offense from 24th to 11th in EPA per play since Week 7, the Bears have bite as big home pups.

The Bills defense has slipped considerably in the second half of the schedule, dropping from No. 4 in EPA allowed per play in the opening eight weeks to 24th in that advanced metric since Week 9. And while Fields and this Chicago attack isn’t on par with the likes of recent Bills foes like Minnesota, Detroit or Miami, Buffalo hasn’t faced a threat like Fields since allowing 73 yards rushing to Lamar Jackson back in Week 4.

Betting on the Bears is about as comfortable as the climate in Solider Field Saturday afternoon (feels like -11 with wind gust up to 30 mph), so a few of Uncle Dave’s "adult" egg nogs may be needed.

PICK: Bears +9 (-107 at PointsBet)

Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts could sit out this monster matchup with the Cowboys on Christmas Eve due to a sprained shoulder, and the betting markets have adjusted to this news. 

The Eagles opened as 1-point road underdogs, jumped to +2 with early play against them on Sunday night and then moved as big as +6 when Hurts’ status was unveiled Monday afternoon. With Hurts not officially ruled out, books are padding this spread with an uptick of about four points. And should Philly officially rule out their dual-threat MVP candidate, you could see this one go through a touchdown and land somewhere on the other side of +7. 

But, as of Tuesday morning, head coach Nick Sirianni isn’t counting out Hurts and we’re starting to see some buyback on Philadelphia at +6, with many respected online markets dealing Dallas -5.5 as of Tuesday morning.

In my opinion — and I am a Dallas fan — Philadelphia is a dangerous team with either Hurts or mustachioed folk legend Gardner Minshew under center. Sure, not having Hurts makes this offense much less dynamic, but the team surrounding the QB position is just so damn good.

For one, Minshew isn’t a wet-behind-the-ears backup and has the swagger and confidence to come out swinging. He likely won’t have to, considering how good this Philadelphia run game is. Even without Hurts breaking off big gains, the Eagles can go ground-and-pound against a Dallas defense that has been bullied by opposing runners this season. 

The Cowboys just gave up 192 yards on 27 carries in a collapse to Jacksonville, allowed Houston to control possession with 117 yards on 37 runs in a Week 14 scare, and watched the Colts claw their way to 106 yards on 30 rushes before an upside-down fourth quarter gift-wrapped a W for Dallas. 

Even with the Cowboys knowing full well the Eagles are going to run the ball, I don’t know if they can actually stop them. Philadelphia’s offensive line is the second-best run block unit in the land, according to ESPN’s run block win rate, while Dallas’ defensive line ranks out 26th in run-stop win rate. 

The Cowboys are 22nd in yards allowed per run and Philly can take the air and all the Xmas spirit out of AT&T Stadium, by running a methodical pace that chews up clock like Texas BBQ. The Eagles owned the football for 34:30 in the first meeting with Dallas back in Week 6, amassing 136 yards on 39 carries and only 27 of those gains came from Hurts’ crazy legs.

Defensively, Philadelphia faces a different beast than the Cooper Rush-led Cowboys offense it smothered back in October. Dak Prescot is back under center and Dallas is clicking, ranked out No. 2 in EPA per play since Week 8 (Eagles are No. 1). 

That said, the Eagles are the best stop unit the Cowboys have taken on in that stretch. Philadelphia does everything Dallas does, but better. It generates the third-highest pressure rate per dropback but blitzes less than 22% of the time, manifesting a league-high 55 sacks and causing plenty of chaos which has bubbled over into 25 takeaways, including an NFL-best 15 interceptions.

Prescott has played well since returning to action in Week 7 (third-highest QB EPA per play) but turnover troubles continue to rear their ugly head, throwing 10 interceptions in those eight outings. Now, to be fair to Dak, a number of those INTs have been bad luck picks, with the ball hitting the WR in their hands and popping up in the air before finding its way to the defender. But the Eagles' aggressiveness and ball awareness in the secondary will extrapolate that “bad luck”.

Hurts may be the MVP frontrunner, but the Eagles have a chance to show the world just how good the rest of the guys are around him. As a Cowboys fan, I’m fully prepared to have Xmas Eve dampened by a dud of a performance from Dallas. As an NFL bettor, I’m grabbing all the points I can with the best team in football.

PICK: Eagles +6 (-107 at PointsBet)

Last week: 1-1-1 ATS -0.05 units (Risking 1 unit per play)
Season: 20-24-1 ATS -4.38 units (Risking 1 unit per play)

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