If the weekly National Football League game predictions were an actual battle for gridiron supremacy, it would be third-and-goal from the 5-yard-line with 20 seconds left on the clock.

That is how it feels because, with only two weeks of the regular season ahead, the "Pigskin Pundits" and their guests are locked in one of the closest races for the top spot in the media company's more than two-decades-old selections.

After a recent week in which he won only four games, a previous first-place holder has had several solid and consistent consecutive weeks to close within two games of the top spot as the predictors and predictions head down the home stretch.

Prognosticators experienced strong success in Week 15, but with only two weeks to go, it is anyone's game.

Five games separate the picker in first place and the other three media selectors, as well as the guest.

Week 15 of the NFL season provided mostly good news. And with the regular campaign near an end — with only two weeks left — the game results become exponentially more important.

The wins and losses last week helped one member of the "Pigskin Pundits" pull within one game of the top spot, while the guests continued to make a late-season charge.

The race to the number one spot continued relatively tight for the four media prognosticators as, after 224 turf battles this pandemic-weary season, five games separate the quartet. The guests are five games off the leader's pace.

Now, it is Week 16 of the NFL regular season and the outcomes of the previous week's prognostications tightened the season's race to first between the "Pigskin Pundits" and their guests.

This year, the "Pigskin Pundits" and their weekly guests are back for predictions in the 22nd annual version of the harder-than-it-looks guessing games.

As usual, the Courier Publications/VillageSoup "Pigskin Pundits" include Reade Brower, owner; Ken Waltz, sports director; Mark Haskell, associate sports director; and Zack Miller, sports reporter.

After 17 weeks of the regular season someone will secure bragging rights?

Each week through the Super Bowl, a guest, along with the Courier Publications/VillageSoup group, make predictions on the outcome of games. The outcomes are based on wins and loses, not a points spread.

In Week 15, Miller, Haskell and Waltz finished 12-4 and Brower 11-5. Guest Brad King of Camden, the two-time defending guest champion, finished 10-6.

The Week 16 guest is Sam Clement of Bennington, Vt. He originally is from Lincolnville.

After 15 weeks, Reade Brower has compiled an overall mark of 143-80-1 (.641 winning percentage), Miller and Waltz 141-82-1 (.632) and Haskell 138-85-1 (619). The guests are 138-85-1 (.619).

For the guests, in Week 1, Dave MacNeill of Warren finished 8-8; Week 2, Howard Fogg Jr. of Monmouth 13-3; Week 3, Rusty Worcester of Cushing 7-8-1; Week 4, Emily Cole of Waldoboro, 6-9; Week 5, Ryan Jackson of Warren, 10-4; Week 6, Richie Oliver of Jefferson, 9-5; Week 7, Casey Holmes of Dixmont, 9-5; Week 8, Matt Petrie of Wiscasset, 8-6; Week 9, Erik Benner of Friendship, 10-4; Week 10, Sandy Cameron of Belfast, 6-8; Week 11, Meagan Miller of Warren, 9-5; Week 12, Austin Haskell of Rockland, 11-5; Week 13, Lucas Brower of Rockland, 11-4; Week 14, Garrett French of Warren, 11-4; and Week 15, Brad King of Camden, 10-6.

For the Courier Publications/VillageSoup crew, Miller and Waltz have the best weekly records at 14-2 in Week 2, while, for the guests, Fogg has the best weekly mark at 13-3 in Week 2.

Waltz has been the regular-season winner the last two years, but others have risen to the top in the postseason.

For decades, the weekly picks were featured in Courier Publications’ newspapers The Courier-GazetteCamden Herald and The Republican Journal. Now, those picks are made exclusively on the organization’s websites — knox.villagesoup.com and waldo.villagesoup.com.

The picks appear each week online.

After 17 weeks of regular-season play, the guest with the best weekly record will return to pick against Waltz, Haskell, Miller and Brower for the playoffs and Super Bowl. The guest with the best weekly record also will receive a year's subscription to one of Courier Publications' newspapers or one of the organization's websites.

For the past two years, the guest winner has been Brad King of Camden, who has clearly proven the “king” of the guest pickers. Last year, he went 12-3-1 in Week 1 to earn the right to pick against Brower, Waltz, Haskell and Miller in the playoffs, while two years ago, King went 11-4 in Week 12 to earn the honors.

Those interested in being a weekly guest picker should email Mark Haskell at mhaskell@courierpublicationsllc.com.

The 16th week of the 2020-21 schedule includes:

Friday, Dec. 25

Minnesota at New Orleans

Saturday, Dec. 26

Tampa Bay at Detroit

San Francisco at Arizona

Miami at Las Vegas

Sunday, Dec. 27

Atlanta at Kansas City

Cleveland at N.Y. Jets

Indianapolis at Pittsburgh

Chicago at Jacksonville

N.Y. Giants at Baltimore

Cincinnati at Houston

Denver at Los Angeles Chargers

Carolina at Washington

Philadelphia at Dallas

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle

Tennessee at Green Bay

Monday, Dec. 28

Buffalo at New England

The following are the Week 16 picks of the Courier Publications/VillageSoup "Pigskin Pundit" crew and guest:

Brower — New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Baltimore, Houston, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington, Dallas, Seattle, Green Bay and Buffalo.

Waltz — New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Miami, Kansas City, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington, Dallas, Seattle, Green Bay and Buffalo.

Haskell — New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Miami, Kanas City, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington, Philadelphia, Seattle, Tennessee and Buffalo.

Miller — New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Miami, Kansas City, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Chicago, Baltimore, Houston, Denver, Washington, Philadelphia, Seattle, Tennessee and Buffalo.

Clement — New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Miami, Kansas City, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Washington, Chicago, Baltimore, Houston, Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia, Seattle, Green Bay and New England.

History lesson

In 2019-20, Waltz finished 165-90-1 (.647 winning percentage), Brower 159-96-1 (.624), Haskell 158-97-1 (.620), Miller 155-100-1 (.608) and guests 158-97-1 (.620).

Among the 'Pigskin Pundits,' Brower had the best weekly records at 14-1 in Week 8 and 13-2-1 in Week 1, while Brad King finished 12-3-1 in Week 1 for the best mark among the guests.

In the playoffs, Miller went 9-2, Waltz and Haskell 7-4, Brower 5-6 and King 3-8. Miller, Waltz, Haskell and Brower correctly picked the Kansas City Chiefs to beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 54, with Haskell’s prediction of 33-23 the closest to the 31-20 final score.

Guest participants in 2019-20 were: Week 1, Brad King of Rockland, 12-3-1; in Week 2, Michele Scheffler of Jefferson, 8-8; in Week 3, Howard Fogg of Monmouth, 11-5; in Week 4, Ethan Butler of Appleton, 7-8; in Week 5, Scott Case of Belfast, 7-8; in Week 6, Emily Cole of Waldoboro, 9-5; in Week 7, Casey Holmes of Dixmont, 11-3; in Week 8, Jacob Light of Warren, 10-5; in Week 9, Chad Blake of Rockland, 6-8; Week 10, Brad Strong of Rockland, 4-9; Week 11, Otis Kneeland of Stockton Springs, 10-4; Week 12, Chris Hart of Rockport, 10-4; Week 13, Sandy Cameron of Belfast, 11-5; Week 14, Dagney Ernest of Thomaston, 10-6; Week 15, Lynsey Carr of Augusta, 11-5; Week 16, Connor Kneeland of Stockton Springs, 12-4; and Week 17, Laura MacDonald, 10-6.

In 2018-19, Waltz was the “top dog” in the regular season as he finished 161-93-2 (.634 winning percentage), thanks to a 16-0 final week, while Miller was second at 157-97-2 (.618), Haskell third at 151-103-2 (.594) and Brower fourth at 142-112-2 (.559). The guests finished 148-106-2 (.583).

Overall, Waltz finished 167-98-2, Miller 162-103-2, Haskell 158-107-2, Brower 150-115-2 and guests 159-110-2.

Brad King of Rockland, who went 11-4 in Week 12 and earned the right to pick against Waltz, Haskell, Miller and Brower in the playoffs.

In the postseason, Brower finished 8-3, Haskell and King 7-4, Waltz 6-5 and Miller 5-6. All five correctly picked the Patriots to defeat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

Courier Publications' sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com or by phone at 594-4401.