It’s Week 16 in the NFL, and there’s an awful lot on the line for teams like the Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins, and Dallas Cowboys. As the season winds down, every game should be appreciated more than ever, since we only have two more full-house NFL Sundays to enjoy. And at this time of the year, there’s even more to enjoy and debate. It’s also the last week to agonize over fantasy football teams, and I wish all fantasy owners the best of luck in their respective matchups today.
This feature takes a look at one (or two) thing to watch for in each game today, so sit back and enjoy.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
If the Dolphins win and the New England Patriots defeat the Baltimore Ravens, then the Ravens hopes are trashed. The three main competitors for the AFC’s final playoff seed (Dolphins, Ravens, San Diego Chargers) all control their own destiny, and the Dolphins and Chargers are lucky that the Ravens have the hardest matchup of them all. You know, even if the Ravens are the only team to have actually won the last meeting with the team they are facing today.
One thing to focus on in this game is the Buffalo Bills pass rush, because that’s the biggest matchup swing in the Bills favor. If Jerry Hughes and Mario Williams can get enough pressure on Ryan Tannehill on the edge and both Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams can effectively push the pocket, then that’s going to provide some nice cover for the rest of the Bills defense. Tannehill has been the most-sacked QB in the league, but he’s also one of the best QBs under pressure; this is a matchup that intrigues me.
Minnesota Vikings at Cincinnati Bengals
I really want to see if Matt Cassel and Greg Jennings can keep it up, because Cassel was tossing some beautiful dimes downfield against the Philadelphia Eagles. Jennings looked like a legit playmaker for the first time in a Vikings uniform, and this Bengals secondary can be beaten deep by a talented receiver. With Adrian Peterson back in the fold, Cassel will have enough of a running game to lean on, but it’s up to him to try and pull this upset.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Indianapolis Colts
It’s going to take one of Andrew Luck‘s finest performances to beat the Chiefs, but I wouldn’t count Luck out after his displays against the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks earlier this year. Then again, that was when Reggie Wayne was healthy. I really think Wayne’s injury was the most devastating injury for any one team, because it’s really hurt the Colts passing attack. The Colts rely on their passing offense to carry them, and every passing attack takes a huge hit when their best and most consistent option goes down. The Colts are finally starting to feed T.Y. Hilton more often, and a lot hinges on him as well. The Chiefs corners are physical, but this secondary has a weakness; their safeties and CBs can get burned by an ultra-fast receiver like Hilton, who famously shredded physical duo Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner earlier this year.
St. Louis Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Rams win over the Saints last week was one of the upsets of the year, and this team is still competitive with Kellen Clemens at quarterback and a weak secondary. Jeff Fisher and the Rams are defying logic by making an old-school style of football work. These guys are running the ball all over their opponents with rookie revelation Zac Stacy, and they put pressure on the quarterback like nobody’s business. Robert Quinn is a fully legit DPOY candidate, and Stacy looks poised for another huge game. In fact, a bad game from Stacy is a rarity at this point.
New York Jets vs. Cleveland Browns
Don’t look now, but Chris Ivory is carrying the Jets offense on his back and is having an extraordinary year. It shouldn’t surprise anyone who followed Ivory’s career with the Saints closely, but it’s still tremendous to see just how he has come along lately. The Browns will be playing without Jordan Cameron and have No. 1 CB Joe Haden as a game-time decision, so this is a good chance for Geno Smith and the Jets to get one step closer to .500. Smith and the Jets also seem to be better at home.
Washington Redskins vs. Dallas Cowboys
The Redskins aren’t going to whither and die even with a coach on his way out, the backup QB starting (I mean, Kirk Cousins is a pretty darn good backup), and sitting at a 3-11 record. No, this team is fired up to face a rival, play their hearts out in London Fletcher‘s last year (that is some timely motivation), and all of that is reflected in comments made by veteran CB DeAngelo Hall. This Cowboys-Redskins game has all the makings of a shootout, and you can bet the Redskins would love nothing more than to shoot down the Cowboys and play the role of a spoiler. Both of these defenses are horrible, and I think this game is going to come down to wide receivers getting open and making plays. One thing that consistently disappoints me about the Cowboys is the fact that several of their receivers just don’t seem to know how to run routes well enough, whereas the Redskins only have one legit receiver at this point in star Pierre Garcon (the Redskins wisely placed standout rookie TE Jordan Reed on the IR).
Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints
This is the proverbial “Game of the Week”, and it was a bit of a dude on Sunday Night Football when these two teams last played. The Saints were fresh off of an embarrassing MNF defeat at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, and they were relentless against the Panthers, especially with the way they put pressure on Cam Newton, who struggled. Newton was sacked five times and had no choice but to throw quick, ineffective passes to stars Greg Olsen and Steve Smith. Whichever team can protect their QB the best in this game will win, since, as we saw in games against the Jets and Rams this year, the Saints are very vulnerable when Drew Brees is under pressure; the Saints offense is predicated on timing.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans
This game has all the makings of an ugly one, and I think the Jaguars win this game by controlling the ball with the run. With Cecil Shorts out and Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner starring at corner for the Titans, there is simply now way that Chad Henne has an effective day throwing the ball. The Jaguars need to hope that Maurice Jones-Drew can play, but they also need to start Jordan Todman over him. Why? Todman is healthier and could very well be more effective even when MJD is also healthy. Also, the Jaguars need to evaluate Todman as much as possible, since MJD is an upcoming free agent.