NFL Week 16 opening line report

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An early look at the NFL Week 16 schedule

We are down to three weeks in the 2023 NFL regular season, which means that we have games with enormous playoff implications remaining and games that will determine the 2024 draft order. The holidays can be a tricky time for handicapping, as there are only so many hours in the day, but taking some time to check the early lines is important so you can see where a line is and where it might be going.

With one game on Thursday, two on Saturday, 10 on Sunday, and three on Monday, we have four days of NFL football this week to think about.

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Here are some Week 16 thoughts:

(odds as of 12/18, 12:15 a.m. PT)

New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams (-4, 44.5)

Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET

The Rams and Saints draw the short-week straw to kick off Week 16, as the Saints have a long trip out to California. Despite a good win over the Giants this past weekend, New Orleans still has a lot of unanswered questions and is really stepping up in class against a Rams team that has found its offensive identity ever since Kyren Williams returned to the field. The Rams let Sunday’s game get way too close for comfort, but it was a strong performance on both sides of the ball for three quarters. A lot of people were eager to fade the Saints against the Giants. Will they do it again here?

Cincinnati Bengals (-2, 39) at Pittsburgh Steelers

Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET

It wasn’t long ago that Joe Burrow got hurt and I wondered if the Bengals would be favored at all the rest of the season. Well, they’re a road favorite at Pittsburgh here after being favored at home against the Colts and Vikings in the last two weeks. The play of Jake Browning has been one of the biggest surprises of the season and the Bengals are in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt as a result. Meanwhile, the Steelers are trying desperately to hang on. We’ll see if they get Kenny Pickett back this week, as that would swing the number a little bit their way, but the Bengals are riding a nice wave with the backup QB and Pittsburgh has no momentum at all with theirs.

Indianapolis Colts (-2, 44.5) at Atlanta Falcons

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

It turns out that losing to the worst team in the NFL is bad for a team in what basically amounts to the stock market. Anybody who wanted to hold shares in the Falcons can’t get rid of them fast enough. The weather was horrible in Charlotte, so you could maybe make excuses for Arthur Smith’s team, but you can’t make excuses for the play-calling, touch distribution, and outright idiocy from Smith. The Falcons were a short home favorite for this game prior to last week’s disappointing effort and now find themselves a home dog.

Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans (-2.5, 42)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

The status of CJ Stroud is up in the air for this week, but the Texans gutted out an overtime win over the Titans behind Case Keenum and a few well-timed plays. The big story in this game is injuries, as the Browns have a plethora of them and also lost Joel Bitonio in the win over the Bears. The Texans have a patchwork wide receiver group going up against a Browns secondary that is very thin at the safety position. This is a brutal game to handicap and sort through with M*A*S*H units for both teams, especially since Cleveland won in spite of their offensive line against Chicago.

Washington Commanders at New York Jets (-3, 38)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

In the spirit of bowl season, maybe we could consider this the American Standard Toilet Bowl. This is maybe the worst game of the season to this point, as two teams with nothing to play for square off in the Meadowlands. The bye week didn’t really help the Commanders, who benched Sam Howell for Jacoby Brissett in the fourth quarter against the Rams. Meanwhile, the Jets sat down Zach Wilson with what was first termed dehydration, then a head injury, then he was placed in concussion protocol. WHO WANTS IT MORE?! What a dumpster fire. How can you bet this game?

Jacksonville Jaguars (-2, 45) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET

Are the Jaguars bad? Did we get hoodwinked? Trevor Lawrence isn’t 100%, but there aren’t a whole lot of redeeming qualities up and down the roster. On the other hand, Baker Mayfield is cookin’ and just posted a perfect passer rating on the road against the Packers (who may also not be very good). Is it too obvious to look at the Bucs as a home dog here and be interested? The lookahead line wasn’t really adjusted much, even though the Bucs beat a decent team on the road and the Jags were no match at all for the Ravens. This might win “head-scratcher of the week”.

Dallas Cowboys at Miami Dolphins (-1.5, 51)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

Is it a crazy statement to say that we don’t really know who these teams are against comparable or better competition, even though it’s Week 16? The Cowboys got soundly beaten by the Bills this past week. They were thoroughly beaten by the 49ers. They did play well against the Eagles in both games, but Philadelphia doesn’t seem to be on par with recent versions.

Then there’s the Dolphins. They play the bully role well. They’ve also been crushed by the Bills and have lost to the Chiefs and Eagles. They’ve crushed almost every inferior team put in their path, but Dallas is not an inferior team. Far from it. Dallas may actually be quite a bit better. This is a great litmus test game for each team, especially if we get a full-strength version of Miami with Tyreek Hill back. Fascinating game, but maybe not the best game to bet on.

Baltimore Ravens at San Francisco 49ers (-5, 45.5)

Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET

The top game on Monday is clearly this one between the Ravens and the 49ers. Baltimore hasn’t really missed a beat without Mark Andrews and we all agree that San Francisco is the best team in the league. It will be interesting to see which way this line swings. A spread of -5 used to be in the “dead zone” between 4 and 6, but ever since the extra point was pushed back, it has come up a little more frequently. Will we get some Baltimore support to drive this line down to 4 or will we see the 49ers get respect and have this one move up to 6? That’s the question that I don’t know the answer to, but I’ll be watching this line closely to see.

Early lines I like for Week 16:

Buffalo Bills (-14, 42.5) at Los Angeles Chargers

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

The Chargers might get what some people refer to as the “dead cat bounce” this week with Brandon Staley gone. Staley lost the team a long time ago, but a cheap ownership group kept trying to milk a cow that didn’t have anything left to give. Players don’t like to be embarrassed and they were embarrassed by the Raiders on Thursday night. Now, they’ve got Staley out and a Bills team that has either been really good or really bad in most of its games. With a short week off a huge Dallas win and a long trip out to SoFi Stadium, I’m not sure we get the best the Bills have to offer and should get some guys playing with more pride for the Chargers.

Pick: Chargers +14

Arizona Cardinals at Chicago Bears (-4, 44.5)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

I really liked what I saw from the Bears against the Browns on Sunday. They didn’t win the game, but Montez Sweat and the defensive front spent a lot of time harassing Joe Flacco. Justin Fields made some insane throws and had some bad plays, but some big-time drops and a muffed punt catch kept the Bears from winning the game outright. The Cardinals came off the bye and allowed 7.5 yards per play. Are the Bears anywhere near the 49ers? No, but Arizona is playing out the string of a throwaway season. Chicago is trending upward and Fields has all kinds of incentive, plus the defense is playing at a very high level.

Pick: Bears -4