NFL Week 16 preview and picks: In The Pocket

Carolina Panthers @ Pittsburgh Steelers
The Panthers didn’t get the memo that they had the top draft pick sewn up last week if they lost to the Cardinals. However the Bengals did them a favour by winning last week, still leaving them with the NFL’s worst record for 2010. The chances of them repeating the performance against the marauding defense of the Steelers are very slim indeed, and this is reflected in the 14.5 point spread offered by most bookmakers currently. Pittsburgh have a very sketchy offensive line and their best defensive player (Troy Polamalu) is under an injury cloud, but they should still win comfortably. However, In The Pocket feels that the best play for this game lies in the Total Points market, where the under is good value. Panthers @ Steelers UNDER 37 total points (Sportsbet)

Houston Texans @ Denver Broncos
The Texans are done for the season, but coach Gary Kubiak still wants victories to ensure his place as coach. His team like and perform for him, so despite their defensive liabilities they are still playing hard. Their offense remains red-hot and they can score 30 points on almost any side – and the Broncos could go for more. They’ve fired their coach and are in turmoil on both sides of the ball, even swapping quarterbacks when that has little to do with their current malaise. Facing the inept secondary of the Texans may allow them to regain some semblance of form, but not enough to cover the spread. Texans -3 @ 2.00 (Centrebet)

Detroit Lions @ Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins have had one of the strangest NFL seasons on record. A lonely single win from 7 home games, they’ve been a very solid team on the road, especially against the spread. Counter-intuitive as that may sound, it seems that the Miami fans have saved all their cheers for LeBron James’ Miami Heat this year. This week, a Detroit team that is 10-4 against the spread comes to town, a team that has failed to cover just twice since week 5. They’ve had a couple of very strong recent performances and their defensive line in particular is causing real havoc. They are a real chance of winning this one outright, but with 3 points on offer (3.5 at some bookies), they look to be strong value here. Lions +3 @ 2.10 (Centrebet, Sportingbet)

Other games
The Green Bay Packers are now out of the running for the NFC North title, but the final wild card spot is still well within their reach. They had a strong showing last week without QB Aaron Rodgers against the Patriots’ juggernaut, and with Rodgers returning this week, their defense should be strong enough to shut down the NY Giants, while their receivers are strong enough to beat the G-Men’s poor tackling secondary. No line is available on this game until Rodgers is confirmed as the starter though, so keep an eye on this one. The shoe is on the other foot for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers though. A strong cover team all year, weight of injuries is starting to impact upon their season. In the same position as the Packers, their path to the playoffs sees Seattle visit them this week. The Seahawks are struggling too, but the expectations on this young 8-6 Tampa team to keep winning and get a shot at the wild card may well be too much. The six points on offer for Seattle seems good value, but remain a little wary about the Seahawk’s road record.

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