NFL Week 16 Saturday Preview: Which Bets Should You Target?
A three game Saturday slate can mean only one thing -- we are getting close to some playoff football.
Lucky for us, we are treated to a feast of games that all have playoff implications. While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are out of the playoff picture, they could play the role of spoiler against the Houston Texans, who are looking to clinch the AFC South. For the first time in a long time, a late December in Foxboro actually matters something as the 10-4 Buffalo Bills (not a typo) are trying to chase down the 11-3 New England Patriots.
And who doesn't like a nightcap? For our final game, the 8-6 Los Angeles Rams will try and stave off elimination, traveling to the Bay Area to play the 11-3 San Francisco 49ers, who now need some help to win their division.
So what should we expect from these three contests? Let's dig in and find out.
Houston Texans vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This one is gonna be fun -- and we should see plenty of offense, if that's yo' thing.
Let's jump in.
Peeking at our power rankings, the home Buccaneers (13th) are actually two slots higher than the road Texans (15th).
Starting at the quarterback position, we have two of the most adept passers in the game suiting up. Deshaun Watson has been outstanding yet again this year. In terms of Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, Watson's mark of 0.21 placed him ninth among quarterbacks with 175 or more drop backs. While the Bucs' leader, Jameis Winston, doesn't stack up quite as well (0.12, 19th), he's been on fire as of late, throwing for 450-plus yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back games.
In terms of the ground attacks, Houston has the edge. Carlos Hyde has been the most efficient runner between the two teams with a Rushing NEP per rush mark of 0.02, while Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones both sport a mark of -0.07 for Tampa. It's no surprise that the Buccaneers, with that type of poor efficiency from the running game, sport a 1.64 pass-to-run ratio.
Using our adjusted per-play metrics, the Tampa Bay defense will need to continue to shine -- they rank seventh overall, ninth against the pass, and second against the run. The Texans, who have dealt with an injury to J.J. Watt this season, rank only 22nd overall in defense.
Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots
The appetizer for Saturday's slate is nice, but the main course is gonna be some beef tenderloin and mashed potatoes, y'all.
The 10th-ranked Bills, per our numbers, travel to face the 3rd-ranked Patriots, and with a road win, the Bills could be tied with New England atop the AFC East. How long has it been since we've said that in December?
Things are starting to look bleak for Tom Brady as he is suffering through one of the worst statistical seasons of his career. In terms of Passing NEP per drop back, Brady edges out Josh Allen by one spot with a lead of 0.06 to 0.05. While Allen sports a mark of 9.2 Average Intended Air Yards (IAY) per throw, Brady slams all the way down to 7.5, one of the worst clips in the league. And he doesn't have Allen's wheels, either -- Allen has 631 rushing yards and 8 rushing scores in 2019.
The Bills would probably like to control the game by pounding the rock with Devin Singletary and avoid Allen having to drop back a lot against this elite New England pass D. We rank Singletary as one of the more efficient runners in the league with a rate of 0.10 Rushing NEP per rush across 136 carries. Unfortunately, 100-year-old Frank Gore has 160 carries to his name, racking up a league-worst -0.17 Rushing NEP per carry in the process.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have struggled on the ground. Sony Michel sports a clip of -0.09 Rushing NEP per carry this season, and the Pats have continued to utilize James White in the passing game. Michel ran the ball 19 times a week ago, with Rex Burkhead (six carries) also mixing in.
What's carried New England this season is its league-best defense as they are tops overall, per our metrics, as well as fist against the pass. Buffalo's defense is no slouch, however. They clock in fifth overall and sixth against the pass, although slide back to 18th against the run. Buffalo is also tied for seventh in sacks with 42, and New England is a tick back in ninth with 41.
Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers
We are pretty fortunate to get treated to such an outstanding slate of games, and the evening affair will rival the second game for tops on the day as the 12th-ranked Rams head to San Francisco to take on the 2nd-ranked 49ers.
After signing a monster contract last year, Jared Goff has struggled, making that investment seem a bit worrisome for the future. He ranks only 18th in Passing NEP per drop back (0.12), and he's not taking a whole of shots downfield with an IAY mark of only 7.8. For the 49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo has been far better -- he ranks eighth in Passing NEP per drop back (0.22), although his 6.4 IAY lags far behind the pack.
What may be hurting the Rams more is the continued degradation of Todd Gurley. In terms of Rushing NEP per carry, he has really struggled with a mark of -0.02, a far cry from the league-leading rate of San Fran's Raheem Mostert (0.14). The struggles from Goff and Gurley are a big reason that this once-highly efficient LA attack now ranks 17th in the league.
From a defensive perspective, this is two top-10 units. The 49ers are behind only New England in overall defense, according to our numbers, and the Rams sit eighth. They are also outstanding in harassing the opposing passer -- San Francisco leads the league in Adjusted Sack Rate (10.0%), while the Rams are sixth (8.2%).
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