NFL Week 16: Christmas – Hanukkah games preview and bettor’s guide

For football fans, Christmas and Hanukkah bring special gifts this weekend

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LOS ANGELES, December 21, 2016 — Football fans, and their spiritual leader is the National Football League, are getting ready to celebrate their most wonderful time of the year. Despite being a relatively new religion, the NFL is a powerful one.

At its worst, people have nearly killed each other arguing over who had the better team with the better color uniforms. At its best, football can bring people together in bonding, fellowship, and victory.

The players who earned the right to play in the 2017 Pro Bowl have just been announced, but that can wait. The Oakland Raiders had the most selections with seven, led by stars Derek Carr and Khalil Mack. The Pro Bowl is fun in the sun.

But first we play the toughest games of the regular season in the most brutal weather conditions.

For those expecting a bunch of action on Christmas Day, check the schedule. The NFL has moved most of this week’s games from Sunday to Saturday so as not to interfere too much with Christmas. On the flip side, games will be at the same time as the Jewish sabbath rather than the Christian Sabbath.

Normally it is Christians torn between going to church and watching football. This one week, it is Jews dealing with whether their holy temple will be the synagogue or the television.

Meanwhile, for those with football as their only religion, the march toward the playoffs gets hot as blazes in the cold weather. Once these games are finished, leatherheads everywhere will focus on playoff permutations and combinations for the best teams and Black Monday firings of coaches on the worst teams.

Despite a full slate of Saturday games, do not skip Sunday.

The first day of Hanukkah and Christmas Day feature a pair of head-knockers between hated division rivals. Who will get Hanukkah gelt (either real money or chocolate)? Who will get lumps of coal? How can Santa find time to deliver all those presents and still be available to fill in at left tackle if needed? Most importantly, are you ready for some December football?

To kick off this major spiritual NFL weekend does not require a priest, reverend, pastor or rabbi. It requires a different kind of leader. To quote John Randall, “This is when the big dogs come out!”

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Festivus to the rest of us. Make sure to help bucket-jumper Ezekiel Elliott by giving to the Salvation Army or other worthy charities. The holidays are about giving. It is also about receiving, depending on who wins the opening coin toss. Now let’s play some football. With everything on the line, here is the NFL 2016 Week 16 Preview and Bettor’s Guide, with point spreads provided by and all times Eastern.

Thursday, December 22, 2016, 8:30 p.m.

New York Giants (-2.5) at Philadelphia Eagles — The holidays come early for fans of these teams, who get to play and still be home in time for their holiday dinners. The 10-4 Giants could end up with home field throughout the playoffs or miss the playoffs entirely. If they win this game over the reeling eagles, the Giants clinch a playoff spot. They are on a mission. Giants cover.

Saturday, December 24, 1:00 p.m.

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills (-3.5) — The 9-5 Dolphins would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, but they have not clinched anything. The 7-7 Bills need a Christmas miracle to make the playoffs and prevent Rex Ryan from needing to seek employment as a mall Santa. Whenever he is about to be fired, Rex Ryan wins a big game. In the cold and snow at home, in Rex we trust. Bills cover.

Atlanta Falcons (-3.5) at Carolina Panthers — The 9-5 Falcons have not clinched the NFC South, but they have a one-game lead. Carolina is done but they went on the road and got a big win. They are not giving up, and would love to damage their division rival. Matt Ryan and Cam Newton can both put points on the board, but Ryan has more help from his receivers. Falcons cover.

Washington Redskins (-3) at Chicago Bears — The Bears are a mess, but the inconsistent Redskins blew a golden opportunity at home last week. At 7-6, Washington now needs help to make the playoffs. They will take care of a Bears team with nothing to play for. Redskins cover.

San Diego Chargers (-6) at Cleveland Browns — Fourth quarter collapses have the Chargers with a losing record. The Browns are on a path to 0-16. This is their last home game of 2016. It is really hard to take a winless team over Philip Rivers, but Hue Jackson is going to pull out all the stops. With help from a blizzard, Santa Claus will visit the Dawg Pound and give them one win. Upset special, Browns win outright.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (-6.5) — The 8-6 Packers are rolling and the 7-7 Vikings are reeling. Green Bay was once 4-6 and Minnesota was once 5-0. Despite Adrian Peterson returning, the Vikings were embarrassed last week at home. Mike Zimmer’s squad is injury-riddled and the Packers still have a shot at winning the NFC North. Packers cover.

Tennessee Titans (-5) at Jacksonville Jaguars — The 8-6 Titans are tied for the AFC South lead after big wins against Denver and Kansas City. Their offense rolled for a few weeks and the last two weeks the defense has been lights out. The Jaguars just fired Gus Bradley. Marcus Mariota is playing well. Blake Bortles is not. However, the Jaguars tend to collapse late. This will not be a cakewalk. Titans win but fail to cover.

New York Jets at New England Patriots (-16.5) — The 12-2 Patriots have already clinched the AFC East for the eighth straight time. They have already clinched a first round bye. A win gets them one step closer to home field throughout the playoffs. The spread is sky high, but the Jets are that bad. Also, Brady loves to humiliate the Jets. However, spreads this high sometimes see a late garbage touchdown. Patriots win but fail to cover.

4:00 p.m.

Indianapolis Colts at Oakland Raiders (-3.5) — The 11-3 Raiders have clinched a playoff spot and lead the AFC West by one game. However, they could fall to the wild card spot if they stumble. The Colts had a big road win last week, but at home, trust Derek Carr over Andrew Luck. Khalil Mack has been making big plays on quarterbacks late in games. The Raiders never win easy, but they do win. Raiders win but fail to cover.

San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) — In the season opener the 49ers blanked the Rams 28-0. The 49ers then lost 13 straight. The Rams recently fired Jeff Fisher while the 49ers may fire everyone from the owner to the hot dog vendors. The Rams defense desperately wants to humiliate Colin Kaepernick. Rams cover.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints (-3) — A tough loss at Dallas dropped Tampa Bay to 8-6, and they will need help to make the playoffs. They can still win the NFC South with help. Drew Brees is on pace for his fifth 5,000 yard season. No other quarterback has done this more than once. The Saints have the offense and the Bucs have the defense. In the Superdome, trust pinball wizard Brees, especially after the Saints put up 48 points last week at Arizona. Saints cover.

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-8.5) — Last week Arizona put up 41 points and lost. Seattle has clinched the NFC West. A win gets them closer to a first round bye. Arizona is the epitome of unrealized potential, playing out the string. Despite lacking Earl Thomas, the Legion of Boom will torment an underperforming Carson Palmer. Seahawks win but fail to cover.

8:30 p.m.

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (-2) — Christmas Eve features lumps of coal for Bengals head case Vontaze Burfect and benched Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler. The Texans at 8-6 hold the AFC South division tie-breaker, and are now a Tom Savage nation. The Bengals have not quit on Marvin Lewis, but the stakes are too high for the Texans to stumble at home. Texans cover.

Christmas Day, December 25, 4:30 p.m.

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (-5) — Peace on earth and good will toward man does not exist in the AFC North. The Steelers are 9-5 and the Ravens are 8-6. Baltimore won the earlier contest, so this game is for control of the AFC North. The loser most likely misses the playoffs. This game is why we watch football. Ben Roethlisberger, who is not Jewish, deserves the edge at home. Expect Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh to try and play smash mouth. Tomlin has LeVeon Bell. Harbaugh does not. Steelers win but fail to cover.

8:30 p.m.

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (-4) — Kansas City’s stunning home loss last week put them at 10-4 one game back in the AFC West. Denver’s loss dropped them to 8-6 and on the outside looking in. The Chiefs can still win their division and a first round bye. These teams are mirror images of each other, with brutal defenses and quarterbacks who are not asked to do too much. The Chiefs win by forcing turnovers and with special teams heroics from game-breaker Tyreeq Hill. This will be a war of attrition. Chiefs win but fail to cover.

Monday, December 26, 8:30 p.m.

Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys (-7) — The 12-2 Cowboys are already in the playoffs. With a win, they clinch the NFC East and home field throughout the playoffs. The Lions at 9-5 are one game up in the NFC North with a showdown next week against Green Bay. The Lions could get a first round bye but could miss the playoffs completely. Matthew Stafford keeps the Lions competitive, but going into Dallas on Monday night and getting a win is a bit much to ask. Cowboys win but fail to cover.

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