As we come inching closer to the postseason, we are back for the Pigskin Preview for Week 16. After a wild week, we know the Steelers, Patriots, Eagles, and the Vikings will be Division Champs. But with so much up in the air, we breakdown the 3 most crucial games regarding playoff implications.
Atlanta Falcons (9-5) @ New Orleans Saints (10-4)
Just two weeks ago, these divisional rivals faced off in Atlanta as the Falcons prevailed in a 20-17 victory. However the Saints were without one of their two 2018 Pro Bowl running backs Alvin Kamara. The rookie suffered a concussion in the first quarter of the Week 14 defeat, but the Ingram/Karma duo will be fully intact this time around.
Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara now each have at least 1,200 scrimmage yards and 10 scrimmage TD this season. Per @EliasSports, they are the 3rd pair of RB teammates to each reach those marks in a single season in NFL history and the first since Ickey Woods and James Brooks in 1988. pic.twitter.com/2VfvmOy39z
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 17, 2017
Another factor that has changed is the Saints grasp of the NFC South crown. With the Falcons having a tie-breaker, if they win their last two games, they will win the division. Atlanta’s #1 weapon, wide receiver Julio Jones, has 1,215 yards on the year, earning him a bid to his 5th Pro Bowl. The Saints will look to solve that problem with their own Pro Bowler, Marshon Lattimore. The rookie from Ohio State leads this Saints defense with 4 interceptions on the year. But overall, these two teams are very similar to each other. The Falcons try to keep up with Karma/Ingram with a duo of Devonta Freeman and Telvin Coleman. Both teams have MVP QBs who can light it up and kill you down field. The Saints also have a #1 WR in Michael Thomas who has 94 catches for 1,085 yards. The Saints currently hold the #1 offense in the NFL (4th in passing-5th in Rushing). The Falcons are in the top 10 as well, ranking 9th(12th in passing-9th in rushing) proving to be two of the most dangerous units in the league. With how sloppy the first meeting was due to it being on Thursday Night, I expect the offenses to come out with guns blazing in this one. With all the playoff implications, and it potentially being one of the highest scoring affairs this weekend, This is my can’t-miss Game of the Week.
Buffalo Bills (8-6) @ New England Patriots (11-3)
After the Patriots locked up the division in their 23-20 thriller in Pittsburgh a week ago, the Bills come to town clinging onto the 6 seed in the Wild Card for dear life. The Bills come into this game winners of two straight thanks to 252 yards and three touchdowns from LeSean McCoy. I would look for the Bills to try and establish Shady early and often in this one. The Bills could do next to nothing offensively in the Week 13 loss hosting New England, as tensions grew high. TE Rob Gronkowski had nine catches for 147 yards in the victory, but lost his cool toward the end of the game. After a late Tom Brady interception by Tredavuois White, Gronk took a cheap shot resulting in a single game suspension. Gronkowski has historically had his way against his hometown team, so it will be interesting to see how he responds. One key piece who played a big part in the first outing, RB Rex Burkhead, will likely not be active. He rushed for 78 yards and two touchdowns, but went down with a knee injury last week versus Pittsburgh. However, an X-factor for New England’s defense is expected to return, and that is Kyle Van Noy. The LB has missed the past two games since suffering a calf injury in Week 13 in Buffalo.
The Bills look to fend of the Ravens in the Wild Card standings, the Pats look to clinch the #1 seed. Tensions will be running high and I expect a chippy game once again. This one will come down to the Bills ability on defense to contain a fired up duo of Gronkowski and Brady. And Offensively the Bills will rely on their lead back McCoy as they try to stun the Pats.
Los Angles Rams (10-4) @ Tennessee Titans (8-6)
The Rams look to seal the deal on the NFC South after a 42-7 whooping of Seattle last week. The Rams were dominate, especially RB Todd Gurley who had 152 rushing yards with three trips for six. The 3rd-year star also caught three passes for 28 yards and added another score. Head Coach Sean McVay now needs just one win or a Seahawks loss to clinch a division crown in his first season as Coach.
Another big reason for the success on the season is QB Jarred Goff, who actually played poorly a week ago. Only throwing for 120 yards, and an interception, I expect Goff to respond nicely facing the 25th worst passing D in Tennessee. This Titans secondary was also victimized by Niners quarterback Jimmy Garropolo for 381 yards, and dropped their second straight game. A big reason for the 25-23 loss to the Niners and the 12-7 loss in Arizona is the running game. Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry failed to combine for 100 yards rushing in both losses. It will be crucial for the Titans to take pressure off of QB Marcus Marriota and, most importantly and possessions from the Rams offense. Tennessee will look to end their rushing woes this week. Facing a Rams defense that gives up 120.8 rushing yards a game, they will look to attack early. This is a showdown of two of the most talented young teams in the NFL. The Titans will be playing for their playoff lives in this one with how bunched up the AFC playoff picture has gotten. With no wiggle room, I expect to see a better effort from Tennessee than the past few weeks. If we see the same mistakes, things could get out of hand thanks to the high powered Rams offense.