Sunday, 23 December 2012

NFL Week 16 - Preview and Predictions

New Orleans Saints (6-8) @ Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

The Saints and Cowboys go head to head in Dallas in what could be a big game in the NFC's playoff race.  The Saints are technically still alive although there is too long a list of things they need to go their way for their playoff chances to be seriously considered.  The Cowboys on the other hand, have a very good chance of a playoff spot.  They are part of a three way tie at the top of the NFC East, so they may even win the division.  As things stand they are outside the playoffs but two wins would most likely be good enough to see them into the playoffs.  Both sides will look to throw the ball on offense.  The Saints are 2nd in passing and the Cowboys are 4th.  The Cowboys are better in pass defense, ranking 14th compared to the Saints who are 31st.  Ultimately the game will be won by whichever quarterback does a better job of taking care of the football.  Tony Romo has 22 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions.  Drew Brees has 36 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

Prediction -
I can't side with Tony Romo against Drew Brees and think the Saints will win this one.

Tennessee Titans (5-9) @ Green Bay Packers (10-4)
This game won't have a huge impact on the season other than deciding what seed the Packers have in the NFC playoffs.  The Packers are just behind the San Francisco 49ers in the race for the number two seed.  The 49ers face a tough trip to Seattle this week and if they slip up, I expect the Packers to pounce and secure the first round bye.  The Titans have had a poor year and I expect we will see changes in the franchise before too long.  Green Bay had a bad start but they have come good and have won eight of their last nine games.  They clinched the division last week and they should be too strong for the Titans this week.  Green Bay will try to pass the ball and if the offensive line holds up, Aaron Rodgers can beat any team in the NFL.  The Packers offensive line has been the weakness all year and Rodgers has been sacked 45 times, which is more than any other NFL quarterback.  Chris Johnson has had a good year after a slow start and is now averaging 4.8 yards per carry.  If Johnson can get the running game going, he can trouble the Packers.

Prediction -
The Packers should have enough to win this one.   

Indianapolis Colts (9-5) @ Kansas City Chiefs (2-12)       
The Colts can clinch a wildcard place with a win in Kansas City over the struggling Chiefs.  Kansas have had a bad season and are currently in position for the number one draft pick in 2013.  The number one pick will be between the Chiefs and the Jaguars who are both 2-12 at present.  The Chiefs strength of schedule is currently weaker and they will therefore get the first pick but it is very close and subject to change.  The Colts have got this far thanks to rookie quarterback, Andrew Luck, who has linked up very well with Reggie Wayne.  The Colts are 8th in passing but will need to be at their best as the Chiefs are good against the pass and rank 7th.  The Chiefs will look to win the game on the ground.  They rank 7th in rushing and should be able to get some joy against the Colts who are 23rd against the run. 

Prediction - The match ups in this one suit the Chiefs but I would think they are at the stage of the year were they want the number one pick.  If the Chiefs put 100% into this one they can win it but I expect they will be half hearted and the Colts will win.

Buffalo Bills (5-9) @ Miami Dolphins (6-8)
The Bills and Dolphins look to be battling it out with the New York Jets for the positions in the AFC East behind the New England Patriots.  The Dolphins still have an outside chance of the playoffs but it is a very long shot and I can't see it happening.  Miami have struggled with inconsistency this year.  They have had some big wins over good teams like the Seahawks and the Bengals.  The trouble is the defeats to the likes of the Jets, the Bills and the Titans.  A bit more consistency and the Dolphins could have been in the playoff mix.  Both sides will look to win the game on the ground.  The Bills are 6th in rushing and the Dolphins are 16th.  The Dolphins are better in defending the run and rank 8th.  The Bills have struggled against the run and rank 30th in the NFL.

Prediction -
Miami should win this one. 

San Diego Chargers (5-9) @ New York Jets (6-8)
This game is a dead rubber between two teams who will have had high hopes at the start of the season but they have underachieved.  The Chargers are a bad team and they have not beat anyone with a winning record.  The best win they have had came against the Steelers who are 7-7 for the season.  The Jets have also had a bad year.  I've made no secret of the fact that I don't think Mark Sanchez is a good quarterback.  He has had a terrible season and Rex Ryan has finally decided to bench him.  However, he still hasn't got it right and for some reason he has decided to overlook Tim Tebow and pick Greg McElroy at quarterback.  I can't understand why Tebow is being treated this way.  He's not the conventional NFL quarterback but he could do a job for the Jets.  From what I can see, it appears that Rex Ryan has wasted draft picks on him as he hasn't used him and the media are reporting that he will be released at the end of the year. 

Prediction -
This is a tough one to call but I'll side with the Chargers to win this one.

Washington Redskins (8-6) @ Philadelphia Eagles (4-10)
The Redskins need to win this one to keep their place at the top of the NFC East.  They should be boosted by the return of Robert Griffin III at quarterback.  He is listed as probable but the Redskins are saying that there is a very good chance he will play.  The Eagles have had a horrible year.  I am looking forward to this game though to see what way the Eagles line up.  Most of the players who have missed out in recent weeks are fit again so I am very interested in seeing how much action LeSean McCoy will see.  The Eagles have already made it clear that Michael Vick is third on the depth chart behind Nick Foles and Trent Edwards.  I think this will be Andy Reid's last game in charge of the Eagles in Philadelphia and I would like to see him receive a positive reception but I do hope that it isn't misinterpreted as a show of support for him getting another year.  As an Eagles fan, we have two games left and if I'm totally honest I wouldn't mind losing this one and winning next week to knock the Giants out of the playoffs.  Not all Eagles fans will agree but in my time following the NFL, the Redskins have had a bad side so I don't feel the same level of rivalry with them as I do wit the Giants and Cowboys. 

Prediction -
If RG3 plays he'll have a big day and the Redskins will win.

Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
This game is technically a playoff game as it is do or die time for both sides.  If the Bengals win, they are in the playoffs.  If the Steelers win this one, they will need to beat the Cleveland Browns next week to secure a playoff place.  The Steelers have been on a bad run and have won just one of their last five games.  The Bengals are in much better form and have won five of their last six games.  This will be the best game to watch in the early games and it should be a cracker.  The Steelers will be looking to pass the ball as they are 10th in passing and 26th in rushing.  The Bengals defense are 12th in pass defense and 9th against the run so they should be able to match the Steelers offense.  The Bengals have quite a balanced offense, ranking 17th in passing and 11th in rushing.  The Steelers have a good defense, ranking 1st against the pass and 4th against the run.  It looks like the game will be quite low scoring and in my opinion will come down to one play.  It could be a vital interception, a missed tackle etc.  The game is on a knife edge and every play could be the difference in winning and losing.

Prediction -
They don't come any tighter than this.  My heart says Cincinnati but my head says Pittsburgh.  I'm going with my heart and will be rooting for the Bengals.

St Louis Rams (6-7-1) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)
These two face off in a game that won't effect playoff places.  The Rams are still alive but there are too many teams ahead of them in the race for a wildcard.  At one stage the Bucs looked likely to reach the playoffs but four straight defeats has killed off their playoff hopes.  Both of these franchises are stuck in the middle of the league in the bracket were they aren't quite good enough for the playoffs but they are too good to be getting an early draft pick.  There is potential in both franchises though and I have no doubt they will both be looking forward to next season with high ambitions. 

Prediction -
The Bucs will officially end the Rams playoff hopes with a win.

Oakland Raiders (4-10) @ Carolina Panthers (5-9)
I would imagine the only people who care about this game are people in Fantasy leagues.  Neither side got close to the playoffs and both will have relatively early picks in the draft.  Oakland have gone backwards this year after consecutive 8-8 finishes.  The franchise has been giving away draft picks in recent years but they will have their first rounder this year so I am quite interested in seeing what they do with it.  I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to trade down to try and get a few extra picks.  The Panthers have been disappointing.  I expected more from them as they have some good talent on offense but it took them a while to click.  They have won three of their last four games and oddly the defeat came against the 2-12, Kansas City Chiefs. 

Prediction -
The Panthers should have too much for the Raiders.

New England Patriots (10-4) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)
The Patriots travel to Jacksonville in the penultimate game of the regular season, needing a win to keep themselves in contention for a bye in the first round of the playoffs.  It doesn't look good for the Patriots as the Broncos and Texans have favourable schedules to get the job done but two wins from the Pats would at least put the pressure on them.  Jacksonville have had another bad year and are only playing for a draft pick now.  As things stand they would pick second as the Chiefs have had an easier schedule but it is tight and still subject to change.  The match ups are all favourable for New England and the only place Jacksonville could get some joy is against their pass defense.  Having said that I can't see the Jaguars passing game being good enough to trouble the Pats.  The Pats offense could win this one in the air or on the ground.  They are 3rd in passing and 8th in rushing.  The Jags defense are 24th against the pass and 32nd against the run so it's hard to see how they will stop New England.

Prediction -
The Patriots should be too good.

Minnesota Vikings (8-6) @ Houston Texans (12-2)
On paper this looks like another very good game.  The Vikings need the win to keep their playoff hopes alive.  It doesn't get much tougher than going to Houston to face the Texans who need the win to secure the top seed in the AFC.  The Texans are very good on the ground and rank 5th in the NFL.  As good as the Texans running game is, they aren't as good as the Vikings who have been led by Adrian Peterson.  Peterson has a chance of breaking the single season rushing yards record.  He needs 294 yards in his last two games to break the record but he won't get it easy as the Texans are 5th against the run.  We have already saw Calvin Johnson break the receiving yards record but for me, this record would be more impressive.  The league has moved more towards a passing league which accommodates receivers but there has never been a tougher time to run the ball than now.  Defenses are bigger, stronger and faster than they ever were but this hasn't stopped Peterson and he has took it in his stride and I for one would love to see him break the record. 

Prediction -
Peterson to get less than 100 yards and the Texans to win easily. 

Cleveland Browns (5-9) @ Denver Broncos (11-3)
The Browns travel to Denver to take on Peyton Manning's Broncos in their penultimate game of the season.  It has been another mixed year for the Browns.  They are 5-9 and won't be in the playoffs but there has been some positives.  They picked up good wins against divisional rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers.  Rookie running-back, Trent Richardson has also had a good year.  He needs just 103 yards to get 1000 yards in his rookie season and he has 11 touchdowns which is a good return.  The Broncos have built on last year's divisional win and with Peyton Manning at quarterback, the franchise has gone from strength to strength.  If they win their last two games they will get a bye in the first round of the playoffs and will host a game in the divisional round of the playoffs. 

Prediction -
The Broncos should have too much on offense for the Browns and will go a step closer to that playoff bye.

Chicago Bears (8-6) @ Arizona Cardinals (5-9)
These two both started well but have since suffered huge collapses.  The Cardinals were 4-0 but lost nine in a row before beating the Detroit Lions last week.  The Bears were 7-1 but have lost five of their last six to drop to 8-6 and as things stand they are outside the wildcard spots.  The Bears have a lot of talent but they have been very poor recently and they need a quick turnaround or they will miss the playoffs which seems remarkable after such a good start.  The Bears will aim to run the ball with Matt Forte and Michael Bush sharing the load.  The Cardinals are very poor against the run so the Bears should be able to have some success in that area.  The Bears will also be hoping that receiver, Brandon Marshall is fit to play.  He has been struggling with a hamstring injury but they will need to be at full strength in what is a must win game.

Prediction - The Bears will win this one.

New York Giants (8-6) @ Baltimore Ravens (9-5)

Just like the Bears and Cardinals game, this game is also between two teams who have suffered a collapse in form.  The Giants were cruising towards another NFC East title at 6-2 but they have gone 2-4 in their last six and the Redskins and the Cowboys have put together winning runs to reach 8-6.  The Giants are currently outside the playoff places and this game is must win for them.  The Ravens have hit their own slump and have lost their last three in a row.  Luckily for them, they had already done enough to guarantee a playoff spot but they are now in serious danger of losing the divisional title and therefore having to start their playoff campaign on the road.  I've made no secret of the fact I don't really fancy this Ravens team and think they are not using Ray Rice to his full potential.  If they give Rice 20-25 carries a game, he could win them games but it's almost as if Coach Harbaugh is scared to play him and wants to keep him under wraps for the playoffs. 

Prediction -
It all depends on Harbaugh, if he gives Rice the ball, he will put up big numbers and win the game.  If not, Eli will throw the deep bomb and Victor Cruz will catch enough of them to win the game for the Giants.  I'm going with the latter and a Giants win.

San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) @ Seattle Seahawks (9-5)
This game had the potential to be a cracker and it still might be but a little of the edge was taken out of it with the 49ers win in New England last week.  It now means that the 49ers can afford to lose this game and as long as they win next week at home to the Cardinals they will win the division.  Seattle have been one of the surprises of the season.  When they signed free agent quarterback, Matt Flynn from Green Bay, I didn't know what to expect.  He had done well in his few appearances in Green Bay but so had Kevin Kolb for Philadelphia and he is far from a good quarterback.  I didn't expect the rookie, Russell Wilson to step in and take the starting job and actually do a very good job of it.  Wilson has been very good and obviously time will tell how good he really is but he has certainly shown all the signs of being a top player.  San Francisco have their own issues at quarterback.  I still don't think they have done the right thing by benching Alex Smith in favour of Colin Kaepernick.  Smith isn't a great quarterback but he is a better fit than Kaepernick in the 49ers offense.  Kaepernick is a totally different style of player and he changes the identity of the team.  The 49ers were doing well with Smith and I don't think it was a good idea to change the team's identity midway through the season.

Prediction -
I'm going with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to get the win here. 


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