NFL Week 16 preview
Friday, December 25
Vikings @ Saints
The Saints saw the return of Drew Brees last week and hope he can propel them to the No.1 seed in the NFC. The defense has come together, and we know the team has an excellent offense and special teams unit. However, they will need the receiving corps to show its depth without Michael Thomas. The Vikings recovered from a rough start, but are on thin ice in the playoff race. A loss here will eliminate them in 2020. Their best way to avoid that is to take care of the football.
Saturday, December 26
Buccaneers @ Lions
The Bucs are looking to cement their spot in the playoffs as a wild card and keep pace with New Orleans in the divisional race. Although the offense hasn't been the juggernaut most expected, Tampa can still put up points and beat teams with less talent. The Tampa defense has also played very well this year. Detroit can't defend anybody and several offensive players are either out or questionable. Interim head coach Darrell Bevell and most of the defensive staff will also miss this game due to COVID contact tracing. There's just too much for the Lions to overcome here.
49ers @ Cardinals
These teams played each other way back in Week 1- a game that Arizona won 24-20. San Francisco has a top 10 defense despite some uncharacteristic performances in recent weeks. Much of that has to do with a struggling offense that has been decimated by injuries and cannot sustain drives. The Niners are down to their last full-time roster quarterback, CJ Beathard. Beathard has had a decent career, but he is by no means an NFL starter. With the potent offense that Arizona has, San Francisco will need to have a herculean effort from its defense. The Cardinals are looking to put some distance between itself and other wild card hopefuls.
Dolphins @ Raiders
This one is big for the final AFC wild card spot. Miami currently holds the final spot at 9-5, but Baltimore has the same record. The Raiders are two games behind at 7-7 and need to win this one to stay in the picture. Miami's defense likely gives it the edge in this game. They are an opportunistic unit and can give the Dolphins' offense more chances with the ball. Vegas has the offense to be able to keep up, but the Raiders' defense has been their biggest weakness.
Sunday, December 27
Falcons @ Chiefs
The Falcons have a way of sticking around in these games and I'd expect that to continue. The Falcons have the offensive weapons to score with the Chiefs, however Kansas City is possibly the best team in the entire league. The Atlanta defense has struggled against the pass, which will be even more of an issue against Patrick Mahomes. I expect the Chiefs to pull this one out in a shootout, likely getting a key play from the Kansas City defense.
Browns @ Jets
The Jets confidence off of the team's first win of the season shouldn't last long. Cleveland is a rejuvenated team under Kevin Stefanski, and three straight losses from Pittsburgh have opened the door for the Browns to win the AFC North. Regardless, Cleveland is likely headed for its first playoff berth since 2002 behind a solid defense and a rising offense. The Jets struggle to move the ball period on offense and don't have a great defensive unit-- making this one a challenging matchup right off the bat.
Colts @ Steelers
The Colts are trying to keep pace with the Titans in the AFC South and currently hold a wild card spot. Meanwhile, the Steelers have lost three games in a row to slide down to the No. 3 seed. They still hold the lead in the AFC North, but a matchup against red-hot Cleveland looms next week. The Steelers' offense has struggled during the losing streak, and Indy is not the defense to help fix that. The Indy's defense is its calling card, and whatever offense they get is just a luxury. Both teams are similar in the fact that they both can struggle on offense but have great defenses. Because of that, don't be surprised if this is a low-scoring game.
Bears @ Jaguars
Well, the Bears' offense has suddenly come alive, scoring at least 30 points in three consecutive games. That is quite an accomplishment for a team that lacks offensive weapons, but that trend should continue this week. Jacksonville currently holds the No. 1 pick in April's draft and doesn't have much to work with. The defense is easy to score on and the offense goes through spurts where it can't do much. The Bears defense is one of the most talented in the NFL and will make it hard for Jacksonville to generate anything. QB Gardner Minshew has played decently well, but, like Chicago, there is not a lot of talent around him.. It also will not help him that rookie sensation James Robinson may end up missing this game.
Giants @ Ravens
Big game for both teams. The Ravens are trying to keep up with the Dolphins in the battle for the final AFC wild card spot, while the Giants are trying to keep up with Washington in the NFC East. A Giants' loss could help Washington clinch the division. Meanwhile, Baltimore's only shot at the playoffs is through the wild card. The Ravens offense has struggled much of the season but has exploded for at least 34 points in each of the last three games. The Giants' offense presents a favorable matchup for the Ravens' defense, and it will be up to the New York defense to stop Lamar Jackson and company and keep the Giants in this game.
Bengals @ Texans
The season may as well be over for both these teams. Houston was unable to get through a tough schedule to start the season but has put together some good offensive outings under interim coach Romeo Crennel. Unfortunately, its defense hasn't been up to par. The same can be said for Cincinnati, although you could make the argument that the defense has been showing signs of putting it together. The Bengals' offense was running well with Joe Burrow at the helm, but since his injury, the quarterback play hasn't been good enough to keep that momentum going. I think the offenses will carry the teams in this game. It could be an ugly one, but someone has to win this.
Broncos @ Chargers
Again, a game between teams that are out of the hunt. Both teams have shown promise on the offensive side of the ball. QBs Drew Lock (Denver) and Justin Herbert (LA) have both played well this year, and both teams have had some young receivers step up in bigger roles. Denver's defense is slightly ahead of LA right now, but neither is good. I see a shootout in this one, similar to their previous meeting.
Panthers @ Washington
Ron Rivera coaching against his former team isn't the only storyline here. There are actually quite a few with the Washington team right now, but I'm going to focus on the NFC East divisional race. For all the hardships this organization has endured on and off the field for the past year, Washington can clinch the NFC East with a win and a Giants loss. That would be an impressive accomplishment in the first season under Rivera. Washington has a fantastic defense but has been missing its offense most of the season. That offense has clicked much better lately, and it's finally resulting in wins. Carolina is out of the race. The Panthers have a decent offense, but their defense gives up way too many points. This should be an easier unit to defend, so Carolina will have to capitalize on its opportunities.
Eagles @ Cowboys
Both these teams need wins to stay alive. The Eagles have gotten a jolt from rookie QB Jalen Hurts assuming the starting quarterback role. Again, he has had his struggles, but his game brings an element to the offense that was missing. The Cowboys' defense struggles against the run, and Hurts' dual threat ability could make a difference in this game. Dallas's offense has improved but has a challenge against the Philly defense. The Cowboys should be able to find big plays in the passing game, but the running game could struggle--especially if Ezekiel Elliott misses this game.
Rams @ Seahawks
This is a battle for first place in the NFC West. The Rams are looking to rebound from an embarrassing loss to the Jets last week. An LA win results in a tie for first place in the division with the Rams winning the tiebreaker. Seattle is hoping to strengthen its case for the No.1 seed in the NFC, just a game behind Green Bay. The Seahawks have won two in a row since a shocking loss to the Giants. Seattle's offense has been great this year, except in the first meeting between these two teams. Expect Seattle to take that into account and come out swinging. LA will need its defense to show that they really are the league's top unit.
Titans @ Packers
This should be a great game. Both teams have similar foundations and great offenses. Packers' head coach Matt LaFleur was hired from his position as Tennessee's offensive coordinator. Green Bay's offense uses more frequent passing, and Tennessee likes to pound the ground with Derrick Henry to set up its passing game. I think Tennessee has the more favorable matchup. Green Bay's defense struggles against the run, which should be a huge disadvantage against the league's leading rusher. QB Ryan Tannehill is also have an impressive season. He doesn't have a deep arsenal, but there is enough on his offense to make big plays against the Packers. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense will have to be sharp. This game could come down to a key turnover or whoever has the ball last.
Bills @ Patriots
Ironic that the Bills are playing the Patriots just a week after clinching the division and ending New England's 11 year reign. The Patriots still have a stellar defense but have struggled on offense due to a lack of play makers. Cam Newton has been alright, but he's also had a few horrible games. There isn't a single player they can rely on in the passing game, and the rushing attack barely exists. In contrast, Buffalo has taken huge steps on offense while remaining about the same on defense. The first matchup between these teams was a defensive battle. Both teams used their running games to breakthrough in the second half. With Stephon Gilmore missing this game for the Patriots, I'm exploiting his replacement with Stefon Diggs all game if I'm Buffalo. Opening up the passing game should allow Zack Moss and Devin Singletary to grind the game out on the ground at the end.