After taking a few steps back in his quest to win the annual “Pigskin Pundits” National Football League weekly game-guessing title, Reade Brower, who has led his media colleagues and guests much of the season, made significant strides to nail down the championship with another stellar performance in Week 15.

With three weeks remaining in the regular season, Brower holds a “comfortable” advantage on the field.

The title is his for the taking.

Jared Porter

Or is it?

Are there any Hail Marys left to be thrown by the other pundits or guest?

In the unpredictable world of NFL football — for example, the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers and GOAT, Tom Brady, allowed nine points to the New Orleans Saints and, wait for it, lost when Tampa Bay, which averages about 35 points, was shut out: at home — anything is possible.

Who saw that coming? Who has seen about a quarter of the results from this season coming? So maybe there are a few surprises in store for Brower down the stretch.

We shall see.

Now, as the weeks dwindle, the other prognosticators and their guests essentially need to fight and claw back to vie for the regular-season crown.

The 2021-22 NFL regular season is down to a precious handful of games and a mere three weeks of play. The campaign has put 224 games in the books.

And the final battles begin in Week 16, where there are a ton of difficult matches.

The 15th week of the “Pigskin Pundits” saw Brower finish 12-4; Mark Haskell, Zack Miller and Ken Waltz, 10-6; and guest Jeff Hart of Camden, 9-7.

Thus, through 15 weeks, Brower is 149-74-1 (.668 winning percentage); Haskell, 145-78-1(.650); Waltz, 142-81-1 (.637); and Miller, 140-83-1 (.629). The guests are 139-84-1 (.623).

The numbers show Brower, as the games come down the stretch, holds four-, seven-, nine- and 11-game advantages over those in the field.

Reade Brower

The Week 16 guest is Jared Porter of Thomaston.

Thus far, Brower has experienced the most productive week among the “Pigskin Pundits” at 13-2 in Week 8, while Ryan Verrill of Warren has been the best guest picker at 12-2 in Week 14 (Scott Cournoyer of Swanville held that spot about 10 weeks).

The guests’ records this fall include: Howard Fogg Jr., Monmouth, 8-8 in Week 1; Troy Smith, Waldoboro, 11-5 in Week 2; Scott Cournoyer, Swanville, 12-4 in Week 3; Bradley Strong, Rockland, 10-6 in Week 4; Mike Curtis, Thomaston, 10-6 in Week 5; Jason Karam, Warren, 10-4 in Week 6; and Meagan Miller, Warren, 8-5 in Week 7; David Page, Winslow, 10-5 in Week 8; Mike Fuller, Islesboro, 4-10 in Week 9; Kristin Falla, Tenants Harbor, 7-6-1 in Week 10; Garrett French, Warren, 10-5 in Week 11; Donald Prescott, Rockland, 8-7 in Week 12; Joshua Toothacker, Stockton Springs, 10-4 in Week 13; Ryan Verrill, Warren, 12-2 in Week 14; and Jeff Hart, Camden Hills, 9-7 in Week 15.

The “Pigskin Pundits” of Courier Publications/VillageSoup are in their 23rd consecutive year as they make weekly game selections, with a guest each week.

Each year during the pro football season, Waltz (sports director), Haskell (associate sports director), Zack Miller (community editor, former sports reporter), Brower (company owner) and a weekly guest go head-to-head to pick the winners (no scores or points spreads involved) of that week’s slate of games.

Ken Waltz

Readers/fans are invited to test their football wits against the “pros.”

Those interested in being a weekly guest can email Haskell at mhaskell@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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

For nearly a quarter century, the media foursome and guests have returned for the harder-than-it-looks weekly guessing games.

After 18 weeks, with the regular season extended to 17 weeks and one bye week, 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 the Courier Publications/VillageSoup newspapers or one of the organization’s websites.

The NFL’s Week 16 schedule includes:

Thursday, Dec. 23

San Francisco at Tennessee

Saturday, Dec. 25

Cleveland at Green Bay

Indianapolis at Arizona

Mark Haskell

Sunday, Dec. 26

Detroit at Atlanta

Baltimore at Cincinnati

Los Angeles Rams at Minnesota

Buffalo at New England

Jacksonville at New York Jets

New York Giants at Philadelphia

Tampa Bay at Carolina

Los Angeles Chargers at Houston

Chicago at Seattle

Pittsburgh at Kansas City

Denver at Las Vegas

Washington at Dallas

Monday, Dec. 27

Miami at New Orleans

Zack Miller

The following are the Week 16 picks of the Courier Publications/VillageSoup “Pigskin Pundits” and guest:

Brower — San Francisco, Green Bay, Arizona, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Minnesota, New England, New York Jets, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Dallas and Miami.

Waltz — San Francisco, Green Bay, Arizona, Detroit, Cincinnati, Los Angeles Rams, New England, N.Y. Jets, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Dallas and Miami.

Haskell — San Francisco, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Detroit, Cincinnati, Los Angeles Rams, Buffalo, New York Jets, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle, Kansas City, Denver, Dallas and Miami.

Zack Miller — San Francisco, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Detroit, Baltimore, Los Angeles Rams, New England, New York Jets, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle, Kansas City, Las Vegas, Dallas and New Orleans.

Porter — Tennessee, Green Bay, Arizona, Detroit, Baltimore, Los Angeles Rams, New England, New York Jets, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle, Kansas City, Denver, Dallas and Miami.

History lesson

Last year’s top guest picker was Howard Fogg Jr. of Monmouth. He earned a 13-3 record in Week 2 to earn the distinction. As the defending guest champion, he returns as the Week 1 guest in 2021.

After 17 weeks of the 2020-21 regular season, Brower finished 166-89-1 (.651 winning percentage), Waltz, 164-91-1 (.643); Haskell, 163-92-1 (.639); and Miller, 160-95-1 (.627). The guests finished 159-56-1 (.624).

Ultimately, after 256 gridiron clashes from September to January, that included one tie, Brower prevailed by two games over Waltz, three over Haskell and six over Miller, as well seven over the guests.

In the postseason, Haskell proved the top picker with a 10-3 record, while Waltz and Fogg finished 9-4; Miller, 8-5; and Brower, 6-7. Waltz, Miller and Fogg correctly picked the Buccaneers to win Super Bowl LV.

For the media crew, Miller and Waltz finished tied with the best weekly records at 14-2 in Week 2, while, for the guests, Fogg earned the best weekly mark at 13-3 in Week 2, thus will pick against the media members in the playoffs.

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 LIV, with Haskell’s prediction of 33-23 the closest to the 31-20 final score.

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/VillageSoup sports staff can be reached by email at sports@villagesoup.com.