Two weeks to go, and there are still six playoff spots still to be determined. Granted, the Broncos, Chiefs, and Vikings have playoffs spots all but locked up. That just leaves the AFC South, NFC East, and a second AFC wildcard spot left. The Texans, Washington professional football team, and the Steelers are heavyish favorites for those spots. That does not mean that there is nothing to look forward to in these last two weeks.
The Raiders could be playing their final game in Oakland on Thursday. There are a few battles for seeds and byes that remain. Carolina could become the second team to finish the regular season 16-0. There are still two weeks to see how the Browns could screw up getting a top three pick, hell they already lost the inside track for the top pick by beating the 49ers. Your favorite team still has two games left to go. There is also at least one more week of fantasy football playoffs left to go (your league structure could have the final this week, next week, or as a two week playoff). So if you are thinking that these next two weeks will be without excitement, think again.
Week 16 is a fascinating week. Oakland’s final home game starts the week on Christmas Eve. Then on December 26th, the Eagles and the Washington professional football team collide in a game that could decide the NFC East should Washington win. On Sunday, we will be treated to nine early afternoon games headlined by Pats/Jets. Three later afternoon games, headlined by Cards/Packers, and Vikings/Giants that night round out football Sunday. The week concludes with Bengals/Broncos on Monday Night football, which is looking like a very exciting MNF game.
By the end of week 16, if my predictions are correct, the second bye in the NFC will have been clinched in the NFC, and the Panthers will have home field advantage.. The NFC East will be won, as will the AFC South. The second wild card in the NFC will have been clinched, and both wildcards will be clinched. Before I make my picks, I’ll review the playoff scenarios for each team:
- The Panthers can clinch the top seed in the NFC with a win, or a Cardinals loss
- The Cardinals can clinch a first round bye with a win over the Packers Sunday
- The Packers can clinch the NFC North with a win, and a Vikings loss
- Washington can clinch the NFC East with a victory Saturday against the Eagles
- The Vikings can clinch a playoff berth with a win Sunday, or with either a Falcons loss or a Seahawks win.
- The Patriots can clinch home field with a win
- The Bengals can clinch a first round bye, and the AFC North, with a win over the Broncos on Sunday night. If Pittsburgh loses, they also clinch the division.
- The Broncos can clinch the AFC West with a win and a Chiefs loss. They will also clinch a playoff spot with a win and either a Jets or Steelers loss.
- The Texans can clinch the AFC South with a win Sunday
- The Chiefs can clinch a playoff berth with a win and either a Jets or Steelers win
- The Steelers clinch a playoff berth with a win and a Jets loss
That is a lot of different scenarios. Also, for what it is worth, there are more clinching scenarios that involve teams tying. However, if you can successfully predict teams tying I suggest tweeting your ideas for lottery numbers at me (@TVG_5). So which of these playoff scenarios will I think happen on Saturday/Sunday/Monday? Lets go to the picks to find out:
I think that Washington will clinch their division this weekend. Coming into 2015, Washington would have been my last choice to win this division, but they have proved me wrong(granted I did not see the Eagles demise and the Cowboys injury problem). Kirk Cousins has been playing really well, especially since Desean Jackson has returned to the field. The Eagles rank 24th in passing yards per game. The Eagles rank 26th in rushing defense in DVOA, which will be interesting because Washington has not been the best rushing team in the league. The defense, which had made a jump this year, should be enough to slow down Philly’s offense. I think Kirk Cousins will be motivated to capture the division on Saturday, and that Washington will win the game.
Hard to pick the free-falling Falcons over the undefeated Panthers. Carolina still needs to win one more game to clinch the top seed in the NFC, so expect to see the starters in the game until it is a huge blowout. It has been over a month since the Panthers scored less than 33 points in a game. Meanwhile the Falcons have not scored 30 points in a game since October 4th. The Panthers are averaging 10 more points per game than Atlanta, and has a good enough defense to stymy the Falcons offense. Norman has shut down top receivers this year and should be able to keep Julio Jones in check. Combine that with Matt Ryan’s subpar play and the Panthers should be able to win and clinch the top seed.
Nothing at stake in this game. The Cowboys could try and tank to get better draft picks, but starting Matt Cassel/Kellen Moore is basically the same thing. It is tanking, without explicitly trying because they don’t have another option on the roster. The Bills lost in a disappointing fashion to Washington last week, and this could be a chance for them to blow some steam. The Cowboys have had trouble scoring without Romo. I am picking the Bills because Matt Cassel got called for an intentional grounding penalty on an interception, but Kellen Moore also threw a horrific interception. While the Bills defense has not been great this year, they currently sit at 29th in DVOA, but they simply have way to much talent to let Cassel/Moore beat them. If not, the poor Cowboys defense should leave room for Karlos Williams to run through. Dallas is also 31st in guarding opponent’s best receiver. Sammy Watkins should have a great day. The Bills should win this game.
This game also means nothing, except to the two teams playing the game. To me, this is a coin flip game. However, the news that Alshon Jeffery is doubtful for the game is concerning to me. As well as Cutler has played this season, it is harder for him to do it without his best receiver. Tampa Bay ranks fourth in rushing defense DVOA, so they could be able to disrupt the Bears running game. If Jeffery is out, the Bears will be vary thin at WR. It may be enough of a hindrance to the team where it loses them the game. While the Bears secondary has outperformed expectations this year, they have not been great at guarding the other teams best receiver, ranking 30th according to football outsiders. Get ready for Mike Evans to feast on the Bears secondary. They also rank dead last in rushing defense DVOA, and Doug Martin is one of three players who has 1,000 yards this season. That could be bad news for the Bears defense on Sunday. As much as it hurts me to pick the Bucs, they are my choice to win this game.
The Chiefs will lock up a playoff spot this week(spoiler, the Jets will lose), despite losing Jamaal Charles earlier in the season. The Chiefs have not lost since October 18th. The Chiefs have one of the best five defenses in the league according to DVOA, while the Browns are in the bottom five. Despite losing Charles like I said earlier, DVOA still says the Chiefs have the best rushing attack in the league. They also rank 8th in rushing yards per game. The Browns are also in the bottom half of the league when it comes to guarding opponent’s top WR and about league average when it comes to tight ends. Since Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce are Alex smith’s main weapons, this bodes well for the Chiefs. I think the Chiefs win this game, and win it big.
This game has absolutely no impact on the playoff race, but it could have an impact on the draft order. Detroit is the better team here and its pretty clear. The Lions are rated as league average by football outsiders in both offense and defense, while the 49ers are rated in the bottom 10 for both, including having the worst offense in the league. Calvin Johnson should be in line for a big game Sunday, especially after the disappointment against a juicy matchup with the Saints. The Lions are clearly the better team, and will emerge victorious on Sunday.
The Texans really need to win this to clinch the division. The Titans will be without Marcus Mariota on Sunday, which makes their offense less scary. DeAndre Hopkins could have a great game, especially against the Titans that ranks 23rd against opponent’s top WRs. Houston has had a top 10 defense this year, and should not have a difficult time against the Titans punchless offense without Mariota. Brian Hoyer is out, which is a negative for Houston. But, I have a feeling this will be a big J.J. Watt game, taking the pressure off of the offenses. I’ll take the Texans.
The Colts need to win this game in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Dolphins meanwhile, are not a good football team. After firing their coach and beating the Texans and Titans, the only teams the Dolphins have beaten are the Eagles and the Chargers. The Colts offense without Andrew Luck has not been great, averaging about 18 points per game in the last five weeks. They should be able to score more than that, as the Dolphins are 28th in defensive DVOA. The Colts simply need this game, and the Dolphins have nothing to play for, so I’ll take the Colts.
According to my predictions, the Pats deal the Jets a potentially fatal blow to their playoff chances. On defense, the Patriots are doing a good job at covering opponents top two receivers. They are in the bottom half of the league against running backs, so Bilal Powell could be in line for a decent game. The Patriots have Gronk and Brady, which is generally enough for me. But the Jets are only league average against tight end, meaning Gronk could have a huge day. The Jets have a good rushing defense, but that is not the strength of Patriots offense. The Patriots have been on a mission all year, and I doo not think they are going to lose this week.
The Steelers are one of the hottest teams in the league, and the Ravens are not. The Steelers have Big Ben, Antonio Brown, and one of the scarier offenses in the league, and the Ravens are starting Ryan Mallett. The only real case for the Ravens is the fact that this is a rivalry game, and the Ravens are not quitting on this season because they have so much pride. Baltimore’s secondary is ranked 29th by football outsiders, and the Steelers should have no trouble putting up enough points to beat the Ravens
The Jaguars are still technically alive in the AFC South, but they need a lot of help if they hope to make the playoffs. Based on my predictions, they will be eliminated this week. Either way, the Jaguars will try and win this game, and they have a good shot at doing it. The Saints secondary is arguably the worst in the league, and the Jaguars passing attack has been one of the better ones in the league. This is an important game for Blake Bortles. He has shown improvements this year, and has a great chance to close the year on a high note. To win this game, the Jaguars secondary is going to need to get some stops. The Saints have one of the best passing attacks in the league, so this could be a problem, but Drew Brees is playing hurt. But. since the Jaguars have a good rushing defense, they can focus on stopping the Saints passing attack. The Saints have the worst defense in the lead according to DVOA, and I am taking the Jaguars.
This is the best game on Sunday. The Cardinals have a chance to clinch a first round bye, while the Packers need a win to help clinch their division. Taking the Cardinals was an easy choice, especially given the way that the Packers have been playing this year. They look like a completely different team, struggling to move the ball for chunks of time, which is very uncharacteristic for a Green Bay team. Meanwhile this Cardinals team may be the best team in the NFC, sorry Panthers fans. Carson Palmer has been playing well this year, but David Johnson could be the star of this game. The Packers are below average in rushing defense according to football outsiders, and Johnson had a great game last week against the Eagles. The Cardinals defense should be able to do enough to disrupt the Packers offense, as many teams have been able to do. The Cardinals are one of the most complete teams in the league, and should be able to secure a victory.
The Seahawks are peaking right now, and the Rams have nothing to play for. The Rams are starting Case Keenum, and the Seahawks defense has been very good recently, allowing just over 8 points per game over their last three games. The Seahawks offense, helped a lot by Russell Wilson, has also been on fire lately. The Seahawks would also most likely rather face Washington in the first round of the playoffs than Green Bay, so the Seahawks need to keep winning. Stopping Todd Gurley is the main key for stopping the Rams offense, and the Seahawks are allowing the third least rushing yards per game. To me, the choice of the Seahawks is easy.
This game became much easier to pick after the NFL upheld OBJ‘s one game suspension. Since he is missing this game, the Giants offense lacks an elite punch. The Vikings rank 13th in yards allowed per game, but now no longer have to deal with one of the best receiving threats in the league. Adrian Peterson could have a good day, as the Giants are below league average when it comes to rushing yards allowed per game. The Giants have an even worse secondary, meaning Bridgewater should be able to at least move the ball effectively. Stefon Diggs could see a big game, as could Mike Wallace, as the Giants rank 20th at guarding deep balls. The Vikings need to win this game to clinch a playoff spot, and I think they do just that.
Brock vs. A.J. Just like everyone thought in the preseason. Both of these teams needs a win to gain the upper leg in the hunt for a first round bye, so this should be one of the better Monday night games of the year. Picking the Broncos was made easy after watching the Bengals struggle to move the ball against the poor 49ers defense. Unless they did not want any of McCarron’s throws on tape, they will struggle even more on Monday to move the ball against the best defense in the league. Being without Tyler Eifert will only make it worse. The Broncos should be able to shut down the Bengals running game, and should not have an issue with A.J. Green. The Broncos rank tops in the league in both rushing and passing yards allowed per game. Brock Osweiler has also shown some great abilities in his time starting, but he needs ot be able to keep it up throughout an entire game instead of just the first half. The Broncos should be able to win this game behind the strength of their defense, even if it is a little banged up. I’ll take the Broncos.
Best eliminator picks: Chiefs, Steelers, Colts, Vikings, Patriots. The Jaguars could be a decent deep play.
Ted Van Green(@TVG_5)
Spark Sports NFL Analyst/Contributor