It’s Christmastime in the NFL, and every team is asking for a playoff berth, a healthy roster, positional help, you name it. With visions of Lombardi dancing in their heads, many teams still need to punch their ticket into the dance. It’s a huge week for the playoff contenders to make or break their seasons. With a bunch of important games on the slate this weekend, let’s take a look at what to watch in this penultimate week of regular season football.
Can Atlanta’s Defense Stop Cam Newton?
Atlanta’s one question keeping them from the Super Bowl talk is their defense. Yes, Vic Beasley has been really good this season, and yes, Deion Jones is a standout rookie. But, the fact of the matter is that without those two, Atlanta could be a bottom five defense. They have a real shot this week to prove themselves to be enough defensively. Cam Newton isn’t an excellent quarterback, but he can hit the home run balls deep once or twice a game. He can also get out of the pocket and run should Atlanta not be disciplined in their rush lanes. If Atlanta can limit the deep throws and keep Cam in the pocket, they should have no trouble putting up enough points to win.
Can Matt Moore Take Over Another Game?
It looked like the Jets were going to roll over Miami, but one forced fumble (and four Matt Moore TDs) turned the game around and led to a blowout in Miami’s favor. Now, they travel north to face Buffalo, and if the Dolphins want that playoff spot, today is the day to secure it. The Bills still have an outside shot to make it as well, so they’ll give this one all they’ve got. Offensively, the Dolphins need Matt Moore to sustain drives by using all of his options. Jay Ajayi will be fed as much as possible, but the Bills defend the run well. They will make Moore beat them, and with three solid receivers to look for, Matt Moore has the opportunity to keep Miami right in the thick of the race.
Will Kirk Cousins Respond?
Kirk Cousins did not deliver on Monday against Carolina. He did have 315 yards, but no touchdowns to one interception really hurt Washington down the stretch. Cousins had to take over with the running lanes bottled up, but the Redskins couldn’t finish drives and get in the end zone. Now, against a Chicago team that hasn’t played too bad of late, Cousins will need a win to stay alive in the playoff race. These last two games against the Bears and Giants will decide whether Cousins gets a big payday in his stocking, or a lump of coal.
Does Tampa Bay’s Defense Have What It Takes to Beat Brees Again?
There’s no sugar coating what happened on Sunday night. The Bucs front four got manhandled by the Dallas offensive line. Dak Prescott went 32 of 36, and Ezekiel Elliott had 159 yards on the ground. That loss put Tampa Bay on the outside looking in. This week? Their second date with Drew Brees and company, this time in the Superdome. There’s no doubt Brees has looked at the tape of the last matchup, and you know the Saints will give this game all they have got, because they too, even though it’s highly unlikely, have an outside shot at the playoffs. Tampa will need to control the line of scrimmage and pressure Brees into bad throws, like they did two weeks ago. If they do not generate pressure, Brees will light them up in all types of ways.
Who Has The Edge, Luck or Carr?
This is the game to watch in the afternoon slate on Christmas Eve. Luck and the Colts are still in contention, but they need a win on the west coast against Oakland. An interesting tidbit for all the readers: Neither the Colts or the Raiders have allowed 300 yards passing the last five weeks. This may not seem odd, but these two teams are among the worst in yards per play allowed on defense. One thing seems to be certain: one of them will allow it this week. Andrew Luck and Derek Carr are probably the two best young QBs right now, and we all would love a shootout out west. Both QBs have plenty of weapons to spread the ball to, but it might come down to controlling the clock in this game to a) keep the other offense off the field and b) to keep the defense rested. So, whoever gets a bigger push running the football and can sustain long drives and kill clock will win this game. Oakland’s offensive line has proved to be great all season long, so it’s up to them to turn out another winning performance. Edge: Carr
Can Baltimore Keep The Killer Bees in Check?
Now to the Christmas Day games. Baltimore and Pittsburgh meet at Heinz Field in what should be an excellent matchup. The biggest storyline to watch? Well, Big Ben is dominant at home in December, but Baltimore’s defense always seems to throw a wrench in the Steelers’ plans. The Ravens boast one of the best run defenses in football, and LeVeon Bell has been on a tear lately. If Baltimore can bottle up Bell, Pittsburgh becomes easier to handle. Even with their weapons in the passing game, Baltimore has the defense to play man coverage tight and pressure Big Ben. This game should be a close one, but this side of the football determines the outcome.
Can Denver Get Anything Going Offensively?
Last but not least, let’s visit our good friends in Denver and see how the offense is going. It’s running worse than Santa’s sleigh in Elf. How do they turn it around against one of the most complete defenses in the game? Running the football effectively would be a good start. Devontae Booker and Justin Forsett have shared the load, but with Denver’s below average line, it’s hard to get the run game going. This puts a ton of pressure on Trevor Siemian, and that hurt the Broncos last week against New England. Denver has its back against the wall now, and it’s time for something to get going. They need to mix things up running the ball, and Siemian needs to be given some help. If Denver starts out slow against the Chiefs, it could be a long night in Arrowhead.
It should be an excellent weekend. Now, let’s get to the picks.
Last Week: 14-2
On the Season: 153-71-2
This Week: 0-1
Falcons 26, Panthers 21
Packers 24, Vikings 17
Bills 20, Dolphins 16
Patriots 28, Jets 13
Titans 27, Jaguars 20
Browns 24, Chargers 21
Redskins 28, Bears 25
Raiders 31, Colts 27
Seahawks 23, Cardinals 14
Rams 19, 49ers 13
Saints 28, Buccaneers 26
Texans 22, Bengals 17
Steelers 21, Ravens 17
Chiefs 16, Broncos 13
Lions 24, Cowboys 20
Merry Christmas to all and enjoy the weekend football!