WASHINGTON, December 23, 2015 — The gap between NFL 2015 Weeks 16 and 17 will be spent looking at playoff permutations and combinations as well as the grim practice of predicting which coaches will be fired on Black Monday.
Between Weeks 15 and 16 is a time to reflect on what makes football great. What makes football great is great football. Whatever one thinks of them, it is time to congratulate the New England Patriots. It happened with little fanfare a couple of weeks ago, but the Patriots tied an NFL record that once seemed unattainable. They won the AFC East for the seventh straight season.
The only other team to win seven straight division titles was the Los Angeles Rams from 1973 through 1979. Despite winning the NFC West all those times, they could not get past Dallas or Minnesota. Ironically, the only one of those Rams teams to make the Super Bowl was the 1979 team, which may have been the weakest of the bunch. That dynasty was on its last legs but staggered to a 9-7 record and their last division title. The Patriots won the AFC East five straight times from 2003 through 2007. In 2008, with Tom Brady out for the season, the Patriots finished tied for the division lead with an 11-5 record. They lost the tie-breaker and missed the playoffs. If not for tie-breaker rules, the Patriots would have 13 straight division titles.
The Patriots have a chance to make more history in 2015. They have been to four straight AFC Title Games from 2011 through 2014. The Philadelphia Eagles went to four straight NFC Title Games from 2001 through 2004. Yet only one team has been to five straight conference title games. From 1973 through 1977, the Oakland Raiders went to five straight AFC Title Games. The Patriots are in position to have home field throughout the playoffs this season. One playoff victory will get them to a fifth straight AFC Title Game, tying another record.
The San Francisco 49ers from 1983 through 1998 had 16 straight seasons of at least 10 regular season wins. The 1991 team lost a tie-breaker, missing the playoffs. That year they had their third string quarterback. The Patriots have had 13 straight seasons of at least 10 wins, so they need three more seasons to tie that record.
The Patriots have at least 12 wins for six straight seasons from 2009 through 2015, which is a record. The Oakland Raiders had four straight seasons of at least 12 wins from 1974 through 1977. However, the Raiders only played 14 games in a season. The Patriots have 16 regular season games, but two extra seasons of at least 12 wins cannot be dismissed.
The 2007 Patriots are the only team to finish the regular season 16-0.
The Patriots have had 15 straight winning seasons from 2001 through 2015. The 2002 team went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. The Patriots can tie the 49ers next year with a winning season, although 49ers fans will remind everyone their streak involved at least 10 wins, not 9 wins.
However, consecutive winning seasons may be out of reach of the Patriots. The Dallas Cowboys had 20 straight winning seasons from 1966 through 1985. They went 7-7 in 1965, which gives them 21 straight non-losing seasons. They barely had losing seasons in 1986 and 1987, giving them 23 straight seasons of at least 7 wins.
The Raiders had 16 straight winning seasons from 1965 through 1980. They went 7-9 in 1981, had winning seasons from 1982 through 1985, and then fell to 8-8 in 1986. That is 22 straight seasons of at least 7 wins. From 1965 through 1996, they had 32 seasons of at least 7 wins every year except 1987, a strike year where three games were played with replacement players and one game not played at all..
So while some records will stand the NFL test of time, Robert Kraft, Bill Bellichick and Tom Brady are in the record books as a team. They have won four Super Bowls, tying the Pittsburgh Steelers team of Art Rooney, Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw. The Cowboys and 49ers won five Super Bowls, but with different owners, players and coaches.
The Kraft-Bellichick-Brady team have been to six Super Bowls, and were one minute away in 2006 from a seventh Super Bowl appearance. That is a record.
Critics can argue Deflategate, Spygate and the Tuck Rule, but the wins are what they are. They have played great football, and the best may be yet to come.
With that, the playoffs are almost here. As retired Minnesota Vikings Hall of Famer John Randall says, “This is when the Big Dogs come out.” Here is the NFL 2015 Week 16 Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point spreads provided by FootballLocks.com and all times Eastern.
San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders (-5.5) is the Thursday night Christmas Eve game. Both teams are eliminated from playoff contention. The Raiders blasted the Chargers in San Diego, but the Chargers have improved the last couple weeks. The Raiders never make anything easy. Raiders win but fail to cover.
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (-3) is the Saturday night game. Washington clinches the NFC Least with a win, but a loss opens the door for Philadelphia and the Giants. The Eagles looked dreadful at home last week, but Washington is frequently awful on the road. Kirk Cousins has been playing well. The Eagles inspire nobody. Everything says Washington will win outright. This is a time to ignore the facts. Eagles cover.
San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions (-9) — Both teams are eliminated from playoff contention. The 49ers look like one of the worst teams in football while the Lions have been fighting hard in recent weeks. The Lions looked good in a road win las week but the spread is high, even against the dreadful 49ers. Lions win but fail to cover.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-10) at Baltimore Ravens — This is usually the game of the year, but an uncharacteristic season of misery in Baltimore changes things. The Steelers are 9-5 and just knocked off Cincinnati and Denver in successive weeks. Baltimore is down to their third string quarterback. Pride may allow a garbage touchdown to defeat the high spread. Steelers win but fail to cover.
Dallas Cowboys at Buffalo Bills (-6) — In the 1990s these teams played for the Super Bowl. Now they are both just teams out of playoff contention. The Cowboys are down to their third string quarterback, while the Bills have underachieved all year. Even the Buffalo defense has been less great than advertised. However, Dallas has nothing. Bills cover.
Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3) — Both teams have been eliminated from playoff contention, but both teams will be better next year under John Fox and Lovie Smith. Trust the Buccaneers with the home field with everything else being equal. Buccaneers cover.
Carolina Panthers (-7) at Atlanta Falcons — Carolina blew a 28 point second half lead last week but for the second time in three weeks won a shootout. That was sandwiched around a blowout when they beat Atlanta 38-0. The Falcons are in free-fall despite a win last week. The 14-0 Panthers are aiming for perfection while the 7-7 Falcons are fighting for their playoff lives. Desperation will be enough to beat the spread. Panthers win but fail to cover.
Indianapolis Colts at Miami Dolphins (Pick ‘em) — The 6-8 Colts are now one game back in the AFC South, and desperately need a win to stay alive in the playoff race. The Dolphins are done and look like a team that has quit. For this reason only, go with those not quitting. Colts win.
New England Patriots (-3) at New York Jets — The 12-2 Patriots with a win can lock up home field throughout the playoffs while the 9-5 Jets need to win to have a shot at the playoffs. Todd Bowles has a solid defense, but that has not stopped Brady before. This is one rivalry where home field does not provide and advantage. Patriots cover.
Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans (-4.5) — The Texans are down to their third string quarterback but a big win over Indianapolis last week has the 7-7 Texans one game up in the AFC South. The Titans are done and Marcus Mariota is talented but not at full strength. Houston has a defense, and J.J. Watt will lead the way. Upset special, Texans win outright.
Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5) — The Browns are terrible and the Chiefs have won eight straight games to get to 9-5 and the thick of the playoff race. However, Johnny Manziel creates some excitement and the Chiefs win far too ugly to justify this spread. As long as Manziel does not give up a couple defensive touchdowns, the Browns can lose respectably. Chiefs win but fail to cover.
Jacksonville Jaguars at New Orleans Saints (-3.5) — Both teams are done for the year after being embarrassed at home last week by other teams that were also not that good. Somebody has to win. Blake Bortles has been playing decently enough, but Drew Brees is a legend. If these are his final games in the Superdome, he will go all out. Saint cover.
Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals (-4.5) — Green Bay is 10-4 and Arizona is 12-2. Home field throughout the playoffs is most likely out of reach for the Cardinals, but a win in this game locks up a first round bye. Aaron Rodgers and the offense has been inconsistent. Green Bay has been winning with defense, but Arizona is an offensive juggernaut. The Cardinals have so much firepower. The spread seems high, but this is not the same Packers offense as years past. Cardinals cover.
St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks (-13.5) — The Rams are done while the Seahawks have won five straight to get to 9-5 and the thick of the playoff race. The spread seems sky high, but the Rams do not have the quarterback play to keep this game competitive. Jeff Fisher has some playmakers, but the Seahawks at this point are just demons possessed. Seahawks cover.
New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings (-6) is the Sunday night game. The Giants overcame a 28 point deficit before suffering another gut-wrenching loss in a season of them. At 6-8, the Giants have faint playoff hopes. However, if Washington defeats Philadelphia earlier in the day, the Giants would be eliminated before this game starts. Either way, the 9-5 Vikings trail Green Bay by one game in the NFC North and the Giants will be without the suspended Odell Beckham, Jr. Vikings win but fail to cover.
Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos (-3.5) is the Monday night game. Cincinnati is 11-3 and Denver is 10-4, but both teams are reeling without their starting quarterbacks. Denver has lost two straight, while Cincinnati has lost three of five after a 9-0 start. Denver has a tenacious defense, and they will feast on A.J. McCarron. Cincinnati clinches a first round bye with a win and could have an outside chance at home field throughout the playoffs. Denver would need a miracle to get home field throughout, but a win puts them in strong position for the bye. Meanwhile, Denver is only one game up in their division. They could go from top seed to out of the playoffs altogether, although that seems unlikely. Trust Denver’s defense at home. Broncos cover.