NFL Week 16 odds, picks: Aaron Rodgers isn't himself; Bears avoid letdown vs. 49ers, plus other best bets
Best bets include the Bears beating the 49ers and the Vikings beating the Lions with ease
After getting vanquished by the Bears on Sunday, the Packers have been eliminated from playoff contention, surpassed by their arch nemesis, and are facing a rather pointless final two weeks of the season. But the implications of Sunday's loss might extend beyond just this season. Not only were the Packers usurped by the Bears, but Aaron Rodgers submitted yet another underwhelming outing, lending more ammunition to the argument that Rodgers is past his prime and that the Packers might be in trouble for the wars to come.
For as much crap as we gave Mike McCarthy right up to the moment the Packers finally fired him, he wasn't the entire reason why the Packers' offense has looked ordinary in recent seasons. Rodgers, himself, deserves some of the blame. Sure enough, without McCarthy on Sunday, Rodgers submitted one of the worst outings of his career against the Bears' top-ranked defense, succumbing to the pressure created by the likes of Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd, but also missing the kind of open throws he's supposed to hit.
When it was all over, he'd gone 25 of 42 for 274 yards, no touchdowns, an interception, and a 68.9 passer rating. Along the way, Rodgers missed more than one layup that would've been automatic touchdowns for him a few seasons ago.
There was his end zone miss in the first half that forced the Packers to settle for a field goal. The touchdown was absolutely there for the taking. Rodgers just missed the throw.
In the fourth quarter, in a tie game, Rodgers had a chance to give the Packers their first lead of the game on what would've been a huge touchdown. But Rodgers overshot a receiver streaking wide open downfield.
In the fourth quarter, trailing by 10, Rodgers' saw his historic interception streak end when a deflected pass wound up in the arms of Eddie Jackson. Some blamed the interception on Jimmy Graham, the target of Rodgers' pass. But the truth is, the pass was thrown behind Graham and it was deflected by Bears linebacker Roquan Smith. Rodgers didn't miss by much, but by leaving the ball a tad behind Graham, he gave Smith a chance to get his hands on the ball. And in that situation, the one thing Rodgers couldn't do was give the ball away. A field goal would've given the Packers hope. Instead, he threw away their remaining hope.
And that pretty much ended the game.
No one would be foolish enough to suggest that Rodgers is done. No one should think he's suddenly a bad quarterback. He's not. He's still very good. But what's becoming increasingly clear is that Rodgers is no longer the superhero, fire-breathing dragon he once was. He's 35. He's missing the kind of throws he usually makes. He's no longer carrying the Packers on his own.
And he's getting more expensive. That's what's troubling about the Packers' future. Unlike the Bears, who have a very cheap (if not great) quarterback, which makes building a team around him that much easier, the Packers have a very expensive quarterback, which makes building a team around him that much more difficult. What's become clear this season and last season and even the year before that one, is that Rodgers needs more help. With his cap hit on the rise, supplying him with help won't be easy.
Maybe the Packers hire an offensive mastermind and Rodgers gets back to his previous ways. That shouldn't be ruled out. Rodgers is still one of the better quarterbacks in football. His skills haven't completely evaporated. But as of right now, Rodgers isn't the Rodgers we've grown so used to seeing, and as a result, the Packers' future is no longer bright and sunny.
Onto my best bets, which are unfortunately following Rodgers' career trajectory. After a great start, I've hit a rough patch.
Last week: 2-3
This year: 42-32-1
Bears (-4) at 49ers
The injuries to safety Eddie Jackson and pass rusher Aaron Lynch, both of whom will presumably miss Sunday's game, will be felt by the Bears. But the Bears are still substantially better than the 49ers on both sides of the ball. While 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens has outshot all reasonable expectations, he'll likely struggle against a defense that is the best in the league by a significant margin. He's thrown six interceptions in six starts. The Bears lead the league in takeaways by a significant margin. On the other side of the ball, after Mitchell Trubisky submitted one of his best outings of the season against Packers, he should find more success against a 49ers defense that ranks 23rd in DVOA. Trubisky tends to be pretty good when he isn't under pressure and the 49ers' defense isn't particularly good at attacking quarterbacks. Against the pass, they're 25th in DVOA.
I think the Bears will jump out to a big lead and that will be enough.
After an emotional win over the Packers, don't expect the Bears to suffer a letdown. Suddenly, they're in play for a first-round playoff bye. They still have too much to play for to take a week off.
The Browns might be a good team and the Bengals, without A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, are definitely not a good team. The last time these two teams saw each other in Cincinnati a month ago, the Browns handed Hue Jackson and the Bengals a 15-point loss. I'm expecting nothing to change with the rematch being played in Cleveland. At home, the Browns have only lost to the Chargers and the Chiefs. Free from Jackson, they're not only competitive, they're also competent. Since their Week 9 bye, the Bengals have only won once and that win came against the Raiders at home. Expect the team with the better defense and the better quarterback and the better skill position players to win big at home.
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Chargers (-4.5) vs. Ravens
Credit to the Ravens for surging since making the move to Lamar Jackson, but I think they're going to run into problems when they face a team that can put them into an early hole, which will force Jackson and the Ravens to abandon their run-oriented, methodical approach on offense. Unlike the Chiefs, the Chargers can at least slow down the Ravens' run-heavy offense and the Chargers' offense is good enough to put up points against a tough Ravens defense. Philip Rivers is playing and there's no reason for the Chargers to have an emotional let down after considering they now have a chance to win the division and steal the one seed in the conference. Meanwhile, the Ravens have to travel across the country on a short week (Sunday to Saturday) to play arguably the most complete team in the AFC. I expect the Chargers to win by a touchdown.
Cam Newton's lingering shoulder injury , which means it'll be
Derek Anderson Taylor Heinicke under center for the Panthers. Even if Newton was playing, I'd lean toward the Falcons in this spot because of how bad the Panthers have been for the past month and a half. Losers of six straight, the Panthers haven't won a game since Nov. 4. The Falcons aren't any good, but Matt Ryan continues to play damn well on a bad team. He's completing 69.9 percent of his passes for 4,307 yards, 30 touchdowns, six interceptions, and a 107.6 passer rating. The quarterbacks don't directly play against each other, but in a game between Heinicke and Ryan, the answer in obvious. Take the team with a great quarterback to beat the team that can't buy a win that is now starting a backup quarterback.
With their bad offensive line, the Vikings aren't well-equipped to beat up on good teams with strong defenses. We've seen that repeatedly this season, with their most-recent losses to the Seahawks and Bears serving as the perfect examples. But what the Vikings can do is beat up on bad teams, with their most-recent win over the Dolphins serving as the perfect example. The Lions are not a good football team. By DVOA, their defense is the second-worst in football. Kirk Cousins might struggle against great defenses, but he can pick apart bad defenses. And the Lions own the worst passing defense in the league by DVOA. The Lions don't have a much better offense (22nd by DVOA) and they're going up against a top defense. In need of a win to earn a playoff spot, I think we'll see the Vikings roll against an inferior Lions team.
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