NFL Week 16 Preview
49ers @ Titans
NFL Network may have saved their best Thursday Night Football game for last. The red hot 49ers are facing off against the playoff-bound Tennessee Titans. In this game, the Titans are losing a few starting offensive linemen, but are also getting AJ Brown back. With Taylor Lewan, Rodger Saffold, and Kendall Lamm out, the Titans will be relying on backup linemen to stop Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Arden Key, DJ Jones, and the 49ers' top-ranked defensive line. That means Ryan Tannehill will have to get the ball out fast and it is unlikely that the Titans will find much success with D'Onta Foreman running the football. Defensively for Tennessee, there are a few matchups that I can't wait to watch. First and Foremost, Kevin Byard lined up against George Kittle will be cinematic. Both of these players are the best at their position and are in their prime. While I don't think Kittle will get as many targets as he has in weeks past, I can see Shanahan scheming up creative ways to get him the ball with both screens and reverses. Another great matchup will be Jeffrey Simmons against the 49ers' interior offensive line. Alex Mack has returned to form and is having a phenomenal season, but Simmons has played like the best defensive tackle in football. He may give the 49ers a hard time with running the football. Offensively for San Francisco, I anticipate Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk having huge games. Jimmy Garoppolo will be able to air it out against the Titans' 31st ranked pass defense. While Kittle will have a good matchup against Byard, Aiyuk and Samuel will have favorable matchups against Janoris Jenkins and whichever corner is lined up in the slot. This should be a highly competitive game, but I believe Jimmy Garoppolo will continue his hot streak and Nick Bosa will torment Ryan Tannehill with Lewan sidelined.
What to Watch For: George Kittle vs Kevin Byard
Player of the Game: Nick Bosa DE 49ers
Final Score: 49ers 30 Titans 22
Browns @ Packers
The Browns officially have their backs up against the wall. Coming off of a brutal Tuesday night loss to the Raiders with only a four-day turnaround, the Browns need to win this football game. With the Ravens, Bengals, Colts, and Bills all fighting for a wildcard spot; the Browns can't afford to take a loss. The Packers have not only clinched a playoff spot, but they have also clinched the NFC North. Right now, they are playing for the first-round bye. While I expect Baker Mayfield to be playing hungry and with a chip on his shoulder coming off of the COVID list, I don't expect it to be enough to upset the Packers. The only way teams have been able to slow Davante Adams down is by putting three defenders on him. Even with the Michael Jordan treatment, Adams was able to score a touchdown versus the Ravens last week. The smartest thing that the Browns could do is put Denzel Ward on Adams and keep a safety over top. Ward is an elite corner, but it would be foolish if the Browns didn't double team, Adams. With Marquez Valdes-Scantling placed on the COVID-19 list, Cleveland should be able to get away with single coverage on all of the other Packers' receivers. As for the Packers' defense, I expect them to focus on Nick Chubb. Baker Mayfield will be throwing against extremely heavy boxes and will have his opportunities to take shots downfield. This will be a cold-weather game and Mayfield is already playing through injury; for those reasons, I don't think Mayfield will find much success through the air. Browns fans might want to close their eyes during this game because all signs are pointing towards the Packers winning this game.
What to Watch For: Can Baker Mayfield air the ball out?
Player of the Game: Davante Adams WR Packers
Final Score: Browns 16 Packers 24
Colts @ Cardinals
In this game, we have arguably the hottest team in the NFL facing off against one of the coldest teams in the NFL. The Cardinals haven't clicked since Kyler Murray returned from his injury. They are coming off of the wrong side of the biggest upset of the season. In their loss to the Lions, none of the Cardinals' receivers stepped up in Deandre Hopkins' place. Arizona needs either Christian Kirk, AJ Green, or Rondale Moore to step up. Against a really strong Colts defense, I expect AJ Green to be the player with most of the targets. Kenny Moore is the best nickel cornerback in the NFL, so I suspect the Cardinals to target wherever he isn't. That means Arizona will need to throw the ball on the outside. As for the Colts' offense, they run through Jonathan Taylor. I don't care how good the Cardinals' run defense is, it ain't good enough. Taylor isn't just the best running back, he might be the best player in the NFL. He has such great vision and patience in the backfield, but what makes him so dangerous is his burst. His ability to explode once he gets to the second level is why he has so many rushes of 10+ yards. He reaches a second gear that makes him impossible to dangerous. Through the air, Carson Wentz needs to be aware of Budda Baker. While he only threw one interception last week, he had multiple throws that should have been going the other way. Baker is a ball hawk that Wentz needs to be aware of. Without Hopkins in the lineup for the Cardinals, I don't think Arizona's offense poses as much of a threat for the Colts as they once did. The Cardinals don't have the answer to stop Jonathan Taylor and I expect the Colts to beat up on a banged-up Cardinals team.
What to Watch For: Can Budda Baker make Carson Wentz regret throwing the ball his way?
Player of the Game: Jonathan Taylor RB Colts
Final Score: Colts 33 Cardinals 27
Lions @ Falcons
The Falcons have quietly crept up into playoff contention in the NFC, but after their blowout loss to the 49ers in week 15, it is unlikely that they have any type of shot of playing deep into January. On the bright side for Atlanta, Kyle Pitts made the pro bowl in his rookie season and AJ Terrell is quietly having an all-pro caliber year. You could make the argument that the Pro Bowl is a popularity contest; that is the only practical reason that both Terrell and Cordarrelle Patterson won't be in Orlando. Both players are having phenomenal seasons and deserve recognition for their success. On the other side of the game, Dan Campbell deserves some recognition for what the Lions did last week. With Jared Goff at quarterback, Craig Reynolds at running back, and Amon-Ra St. Brown as the number one receiver, the Lions were able to pull off the biggest upset of the year against the Cardinals last week. While I love the culture that Campbell is building in Detroit, they don't have the defensive personnel to match up with Patterson and Pitts. Arthur Smith runs such a unique offense in Atlanta that puts mismatches all over the field. While I think D'Andre Swift is in for a big return against the Falcons, I don't think it will be enough to pull off the upset.
What to Watch For: Can D'Andre Swift put this team on his back?
Player of the Game: Cordarrelle Patterson WRB Falcons
Final Score: Lions 23 Falcons 26
Rams @ Vikings
With the Rams trying to steal the division from the Cardinals and the Vikings trying to sneak their way into the playoffs, both teams are looking at a must win. Starting with the Vikings, the NFC Wildcard picture is extremely close, but in order to show that they are worthy of a playoff spot, they need to beat an other really good team. The Vikings' loss to the LIons is really hurting their chances of making the playoffs, but Kirk Cousins can silence his critics by upsetting a very good Rams team. While all eyes will be on the matchup of Justin Jefferson vs Jalen Ramsey, the Vikings' best chance to win this game is to feed Adam Theilen. Matched up on Darious Williams, Theilen will be able to win his battles. WIthout Dalvin Cook in the starting line up, Cousins doesn't have an insurance policy to lean on. This will be a very difficult game for the Vikings to win. After beating the Cardinals and Seahawks in back-to-back games, the Rams are getting hot at the perfect time. Defensively, the Vikings don't have the pieces in the secondary to keep up with Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. While I can see the score of this game being close, I expect the Rams to dominate in all four quarters.
What to Watch For: Justin Jefferson vs Jalen Ramsey
Player of the Game: Von Miller EDGE Rams
Final Score: Rams 27 Vikings 20
Jaguars @ Jets
Once again, we have a game with major implications on the NFL Draft. While both Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence have had disappointing rookie seasons, they aren't all to blame. The Jaguars had Urban Meyer at head coach while the Jets have been banged up all season and don't quite have the personnel to compete in big time games. While both of the rookies have shown flashes, they haven't quite proven that they can be franchise quarterbacks. Both Wilson and Lawrence need to put something good on tape. Lawrence has thrown only one touchdown in the past seven games while Wilson has only thrown two in his past six. Even with a higher draft pick on the line, what's more important to see is potential. Can either one of these quarterbacks lead their teams downfield on multiple touchdown drives? Neither of them have put it on tape thusfar. This game will undoubtedly be sloppy and filled with rookie mistakes, but I'm curious to see which team shows more promise from their rookies. While the difference between the number one and number two pick are technically on the line, it is important that these teams try to win this football game. There are zero jobs secure for either of these teams next season; both these coaches and quarterbacks need to put something good on tape.
What to Watch For: Which team shows more promise from their rookies?
Player of the Game: Zach Wilson QB Jets
Final Score: Jaguars 20 Jets 21
Giants @ Eagles
We are all witnessing the ascension of Jalen Hurts. The Eagles are quietly creeping around a wildcard spot, and this should be an easy win for them. With Jake Fromm making his first career start and the Giants all banged up, this is a must win for Philly. While he started the season off hot, Devonta Smith has really cooled down the past few weeks. Smith hasn't had as strong of a rookie season as I anticipated, but he has shown that he's been able to gain separation. People were worried about his size coming out of the draft, but his skinny arms haven't really been a factor in his rookie season. In order for the Eagles to make a playoff push, Smith needs the ball in his hands. With only 11 catches in his last four games, Smith has been underutilized despite being one of Nick Siranni's best players. Defensively for the Eagles, I see Jonathan Gannon dialing up heavy pressure for the inexperienced quarterback. Josh Sweat and Fletcher Cox are going to make Fromm's first start a living nightmare. I believe the Eagles continue their hot streak and knock off a banged up Giants team.
What to Watch For: Can Devonta Smith win his one on ones against James Bradberry?
Player of the Game: Fletcher Cox DT Eagles
Final Score: Giants 12 Eagles 17
Bills @ Patriots
The last time these two teams played it was an anomaly; the Patriots won despite Mac Jones only throwing for 19 yards. Jones has played better than any rookie quarterback this year and his rivalry against Josh Allen looks like one that we will be watching for years and years. Coming off of a heartbreaking loss to the Colts last week, I expect Bill Belichick to dial up many creative plays. Since it will be another cold weather game, I anticipate both teams running the football a good amount. Damien Harris is expected to be a full go and he'll get the full workload for New England. On the other side of the football, I anticipate Josh Allen running the ball a hefty amount. Against the Buccaneers two weeks ago, Allen ran the ball for over 100 yards. While I don't see him running the ball that much, I expect his legs to be a problem for New England's defense. Gregory Rousseau doesn't have a sack since the second week of October; he will break his streak today. Rousseau is going to get after Jones and Allen will torture the Patriots defense with his legs. This is going to be a statement win for the Bills.
What to Watch For: Stefon Diggs vs JC Jackson
Player of the Game: Gregory Rousseau DL Bills
Final Score: Bills 22 Patriots 20
Ravens @ Bengals
Josh Johnson has been the definition of a journey man quarterback. Johnson has had 21 stints in the NFL, AAF, and UFL and has played for 13 different teams. At 35 years old, Johnson is back in the NFL and starting for the Baltimore Ravnes. The only way any human being could do that is through resiliency and pure love of the game. While all of that is extremely commendable, this is the Bengals opportunity to claim the AFC North. Despite Joe Burrow being inconsistent this season, he has carried the Bengals to a spot where they will most likely be hosting a playoff game in January. Coming off of a torn ACL, that is remarkable for the second year quarterback. The Ravens have the best run defense in the NFL, so Burrow will need to be remarkable in this game in order to be given the crown of the jungle. Mixon won't have many open holes which means that Burrow will have to lean on his number one target, Ja'Marr Chase. With Marlon Humphrey on injured reserve, the Ravens have the second worst pass defense in the NFL. Just like last time, I expect Chase to tear up the Ravens secondary and capitalize on the Ravens' injuries.
What to Watch For: Can the Ravens rally behind Josh Johnson?
Player of the Game: Tee Higgins WR Bengals
Final Score: Ravens 20 Bengals 31
Chargers @ Texans
Every year it feels like the Chargers are destined for a run in the playoffs, but miraculously end up falling short. With Justin Herbert and Austin Ekeler playing as well as they have been, I don't see that happening this year. The Texans are in the Chargers' way and should just be another opponent the Chargers step over. While Davis Mills has surprisingly played very well, it isn't going to be enough to upset Brandon Staley's team. One player that the Chargers need to stop this game is Brandin Cooks; Cooks tore up the Jaguars last week and has been the Texans' best player this year. The Texans have the worst run defense in the NFL which means that Justin Jackson is in for a humongous game. This is the Chargers' game to lose; this team is hungry and I expect them to eat some great barbecue in Houston.
What to Watch For: Do the Chargers let up against the Texans?
Player of the Game: Justin Jackson RB Chargers
Final Score: Chargers 31 Texans 23
Buccaneers @ Panthers
The Buccaneers are coming off of a devastating loss to the Saints, but fortunately for them, nobody responds to controversy quite like Tom Brady. Brady is aware of what everybody is saying about the Bucs right now and he is going to show why they are still the Super Bowl favorites. While Brady will be without his top two receivers, he will bring the best out of Antonio Brown and Tyler Johnson. The one area that the Panthers could surprise the Bucs is at the quarterback position. With both Cam Newton and Sam Darnold healthy, the Panthers can bring in some trickery. I have no clue how Panthers OC, Jeff Nixon, will call this game. Depite the Panthers having the surprise element in their favor, I don't think it will be enough to outscore Antonio Brown and the Buccaneers' offense.
What to Watch For: How do the Panthers use both quarterbacks in this game?
Player of the Game: Antonio Brown WR Buccaneers
Final Score: Buccaneers 27 Panthers 17
Bears @ Seahawks
In the Christmas spirit, it's only right that jolly Saint Nick Foles is making his first start of the season. While Foles is obviously a legend, he hasn't played well in a game for a very long time. Against a Seahawks defense that is giving up the most passing yards per game, Foles has a chance to bring joy to Bears fans all around the nation. It has been a while since Nick Foles has played meaningful football, and the speed of the game is hard to replicate in practice. As much as I want to pick the Bears to win this game, I don't expect their offense to have any rhythm. As for the Seahawks' offense, Russell Wilson is still Russell Wilson. With Tyler Lockett returning to the line up, I expect to see the return of Wilson's moon ball. It is one of the most beautiful things in sports and I expect Wilson to play like his vintage self in this game. When Wilson is clicking, he is one of the hardest quarterbacks to stop. No matter how disruptive Akiem Hicks is, I don't think he will be able to knock Wilson off his game.
What to Watch For: Can Nick Foles spark hope for Bears fans?
Player of the Game: Russell Wilson QB Seahawks
Final Score: Bears 16 Seahawks 23
Broncos @ Raiders
Last week we saw Teddy Bridgewater suffer a gnarly concussion that put Drew Lock in the game for Denver. Lock hasn't been able to capitalize on his opportunities as a starter, but he has the potential to knock the Raiders out of a playoff spot. Unfortunately for Lock, he has to go up against Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue. The Raiders have one of the nastiest defensive lines in the NFL that will be able to generate pressure on Lock with just four man rushes. With that being said, the Raiders have the 25th ranked run defense in the NFL. Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon will both be able to find gaps in the Raiders defense. With Darren Waller still out for the Raiders, I expect both teams to be able to run the football. While the Broncos will be missing Teddy Bridgewater in this game, I expect the team to rally around Drew Lock and pull off the upset.
What to Watch For: Drew Lock's progression or regression
Player of the Game: Javonte Williams RB Broncos
Final Score: Broncos 24 Raiders 21
Steelers @ Chiefs
The Chiefs are coming off of their biggest win of the season and have had ten days to rest. The Steelers on the other hand just upset the Tennessee Titans, a team that beat the Chiefs. Kansas City is also without Travis Kelce which is a huge loss for Andy Reid. I expect the Steelers to double to Tyreek Hill and make a different Chiefs receiver beat them. With an extra three days to think about this matchup, I expect Andy Reid to have answers. I could see Reid leaning on the run game against the Steelers and using Clyde Edwards-Helaire in screens. A heavy dosage of screen passes will get TJ Watt off his game and is a way to slow down the probably DPOY. Offensively for the Steelers, Najee Harris needs to get going. Mike Tomlin needs to keep Patrick Mahomes on the sideline and he'll do that by running the football. If the Steelers can't stop Tyreek Hill, they won't be able to keep up in this game. The Chiefs' offense is just too high-powered and I don't see the Steelers having an answer for Andy Reid's creativity.
What to Watch For: Who steps up with Travis Kelce out?
Player of the Game: Tyreek Hill WR Chiefs
Final Score: Steelers 22 Chiefs 30
Football Team (WFT) @ Cowboys
In a game where the WFT is picking guys up from the street, the Cowboys are in a prime position to claim the NFC East. While Taylor Heinicke is making his return to the starting lineup, the last time these two teams faced off the WFT was outmatched for three and a half quarters. I don't just expect the Cowboys to win this game, I expect them to be hitting on all cylinders. Offensively, it has been leaked that Amari Cooper is frustrated with his role. To make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl, a coach needs to keep his stars happy. I expect Mike McCarthy to make sure Cooper gets the ball; it seems like he is destined for a big game. Defensively, I expect Micah Parsons to make Heinicke uncomfortable. Parsons is having a historic rookie season and has been playing all over the front seven. The WFT has been flustered by the Omicron variant, and their players haven't been practicing altogether. The team has no rhythm or chemistry. The Cowboys have all the momentum and I expect them to take care of business on Sunday Night Football.
What to Watch For: Can Taylor Heinicke bring this team together to beat the Cowboys?
Player of the Game: Amari Cooper WR Cowboys
Final Score: WFT 20 Cowboys 35
Dolphins @ Saints
There isn't any group of fans more excited for this game than Notre Dame fans. With Ian Book prepared to make the first start of his NFL career, the "Who Dat" nation has his back. On the flip side, the Dolphins are looking to get over.500 after starting the season 1-7. Tua Tagovailoa has been proving everybody wrong in this six week span where the Dolphins have beaten all of their opponents. The little things that used to trip Tagovailoa are now just hurdles that he can easily jump over. Whether it's him running over defenders or fitting throws in between DBs, Tagovailoa has developed into what scouts believed he "could be". He was never supposed to be one of those Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes deep ball throwers. Tagovailoa plays to his strengths: anticipation and accuracy. The addition of Jaylen Waddle has been huge for his development. The speedy and reliable receiver is someone that Tagovailoa has had great chemistry with since college. Waddle has quietly had one of the best rookie receiver seasons of all time. While his numbers may not be on par with Ja'Marr Chase, he has already became the Dolphins' number one receiver. I can't wait to see him matched up with Marshon Lattimore; this will be one of his biggest challenges in year one. With all that being said, I expect fellow rookie, Jaelan Phillips, to give Ian Book problems and be the best player in this low-scoring game. Brian Flores is going to throw a ton of unique coverages in Book's direction. Flores comes from the Belichick regime that tears rookie quarterbacks up. Book will have growing pains in his first start against this unique Dolphins defense.
What to Watch For: Jaylen Waddle vs Marshon Lattimore
Player of the Game: Jaelan Phillips EDGE Dolphins
Final Score: Dolphins 24 Saints 13