As we get down to the final two weeks of regular season games, only the Browns against the Jets and Tampa Bay facing off with St. Louis have no importance on the outcome of how the playoffs will unfold on Sunday. Now the Seahawks, Broncos, Chiefs, and Colts have all clinched a playoff berth and are just jockeying for seeding position in the playoffs. Conversely, Carolina, New Orleans, and San Francisco all seem to be playoff bound. Nevertheless, they all need to keep winning with the dark horse Cardinals trailing right behind them. So let us jump in and take a closer look at this week’s keys games.
Saints at Panthers: The Panthers get another shot at knocking the Saints off the top of the mountain in the NFC South, after New Orleans dropped an egg in St. Louis last Sunday. Two weeks ago, Drew Brees had his way with a second ranked Carolina defense, totaling 313 passing and four passing touchdowns. Still, Carolina’s defense has deserved all the praise they have been getting this season, so be ready for them to outshine their last performance where they were pummeled in the Superdome.
With the Saints, not having the home crowd on their side this game will not be as easy as the last, as Cam and the Panther offense will not have to deal with confusions because of the fans this time around. The Panthers are in perfect position to take the top spot in the NFC South from New Orleans, who struggle away from the dome, which is clear by their 3-3 away record. For this reason and as long as the Panthers pressure Brees, they should win a closer match up than last time with the home crowd encouraging them. Panthers 24 Saints 20
Dolphins at Bills: The Miami Dolphins are riding a three a game winning streak, with two of the contests going down to the wire, where their defense shut down both Tom Brady and Big Ben on epic final drives. After the letdown game against the Buccaneers, the Dolphins seemed like a team destined to fall apart, instead they have transformed into a team that is on a mission with a never give up attitude. Although they still need the Ravens to lose Sunday for them to even have a chance at staying alive in the playoff race.
As for The Bills, they already have no chance at making the playoffs. Despite this, the defense has looked great which keeps Bills fans hopes up for a promising future; even so, injuries to rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel have kept the offense from crystallizing which is why they sit 5-9. When these two adversaries faced off earlier this season, the Bills came back in the fourth quarter to beat the Dolphins on the road. Still I believe, mainly because of how well they have been coming together as a team recently, Miami will keep their winning streak rolling against their rivals in Buffalo. One key reason why is quarterback Ryan Tannehill, as he is proving to everybody he belongs in this league, with his four fourth quarter comebacks this season. Dolphins 22 Bills 16
Cowboys at Redskins: The Cowboys are staggering after blowing the fourth game this season that they were leading in the fourth quarter. On the bright side, Dallas is going up against a Washington team that is spinning out of control even worse than they are. Both teams’ defenses are atrocious which is evident as they give up a combine 61.9 points a game, so expect a shootout that might have an interception or three happen between Romo and Kirk Cousins, who both had their fair share last week in shootouts.
Point blank, the Cowboys need this win, way more than the Redskins do, as a loss and an Eagles win would eliminate them from contention the NFC East. As for the December collapses theory, if you just look back at last year, you will see Dallas won three straight then blew it in week 17. Therefore, it is more like the week 17 heartbreak for Cowboy fans, especially with them blowing chances at the NFC East title the last two years in the final game. If the Cowboys want to win all they have to do on offense is stay balanced and quit abandoning the running game, like last they did week while DeMarco Murray was averaging 7.4 yards a carry. If Dallas can do this, they can easily win a high scoring affair against their rivals in D.C, as they have the talent to do great things, they just need to learn how to use it before it is too late. Cowboys 36 Redskins 30
Vikings at Bengals: After the shellacking Cincinnati took last week in Pittsburgh, they hope to recuperate at home this week, where they are undefeated. The Bengals need to stay motivated as they still have a chance at claiming the second seed, yet could fall to the sixth seed if they keep losing. As for the Vikings, their playoffs chances have been dead for a while, yet they played great on offense last week without their workhorse Adrian Peterson, even though the Vikings defense still let the Eagles put up 30 points. Injuries have simply depleted the Bengals defense and after letting the Steelers put up 30 points, it is starting to show.
With Cincinnati missing, their stellar defensive tackle Geno Atkins and top cornerback Leon Hall for the season, while others player like cornerback Terence Newman and defensive end Robert Geathers have been out as well; Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer needs somebody to step up big time with the playoffs looming. In spite of this problem, I see the Bengals bouncing back, mainly because they are in the confines of Paul Brown Stadium where they have played better; which is evident when you see they outscore opponents 33 -17 . Bengals 28 Vikings 14
Colts at Chiefs: Both teams have already punched their tickets into the playoffs; still they equally need to win this game to keep their chances alive for a better seed. Last week the Colts had their first game in what seems like forever, where they took control early last week and made sure they got the win. While the Chiefs rebounded from their three game losing streak, as the offense turned it up a notch with Jamaal Charles playing in the zone, as he has racked up 373 total yards and seven touchdowns in the last two weeks.
However, the defense has shown there is a kink in the armor, as they have been giving up an average 28.8 points a game since they came back from their bye, after dominating before it. Nevertheless, no matter how good of a game Andrew Luck has, I do not think a Colts defense that gives up 4.4 yards a carry can stop Jamaal Charles. Chiefs 31 Colts 22
Broncos at Texans: The Broncos are hoping to seal home field advantage throughout the playoffs, while the Texans are just hoping to get their first victory since week two and stop the dreaded losing streak. Matt Schaub is getting his first start since week six with this game probably more of a job interview for him, as he’s most likely not be playing in Houston next season.
The most appeasing thing going on in this game is Manning and the records. Will Manning inch closer or maybe even break one of the records this Sunday? Who knows? As of right now he’s three strikes away from Tom Brady’s touchdown record and 665 away from Drew Brees’ passing yards record. After being held under 20 points for the first time this season the Broncos should be poised and ready to play this week, as Manning inches closer to the passing record with 325 passing yards and ties the touchdown record. Broncos 41 Texans 28
Steelers vs. Packers: Yes Aaron Rodgers is out again this week, still this should not be problem as Matt Flynn has found his superpowers from 2011, and has kept the Packers alive in a very tight race for the NFC North crown. Things are not going as well for the Steelers who are not mathematical eliminated from playoff contention, still heartbreaking losses to the Ravens and Dolphins have made their chance slim to none. Regardless of this Pittsburgh looked like the old fashion version last week when they beat the Bengals into the ground straight out the gate.
Therefore, this is not going to be a walk in the park for Green Bay, who would be wise to lean more on running back Eddie Lacy after his 141 rushing yard performance against Dallas. What is bewildering is when you think about how last years running game was a weakness, and how Lacy has changed that, as he has already broken the 1,000-yard barrier. In 2011, The Packers were in this same predicament, trying to keep their playoff hopes alive while Rodgers healed up, and that ended with a Super Bowl. Now I’m not saying that Green Bay is Super Bowl bound, but they should still be able to beat a Pittsburgh team that’s 2-5 on the road and hasn’t had luck on their side this year. Packers 31 Steelers 27
Giants vs. Lions: New York was embarrassed last week as they suffered a shut out defeat at home with Eli Manning throwing his way to a Giants franchise record 169 career interceptions. Things were not any better for the Lions, as they kept falling from grace and now are on the outside looking in for the NFC North title. Even so, this is the perfect game for Detroit to bounce back as the Giants are probably a team with no life after last week’s embarrassment. Still, Detroit needs to hope and pray that the Bears and Packers slip up.
Even as the offense falls apart, the defense is playing a little better as they have held the last three opponents to 20 points or less. Going up against a New York team with nothing to play for but pride at home, with their back against the wall, I see the Lions awakening from their slumber on offense and keeping their playoff chances alive. Lions 24 Giants 13
Cardinals at Seahawks: The Cardinals pulled off a miracle last week coming back from behind and beating the Titans, which kept their playoff aspirations alive. Now they must face the big bad wolf of the NFC, the Seattle Seahawks, who are hoping to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win.
Look for a defensive battle in this contest, as the Cardinals are exceptional at stopping the running game and the Seahawks are the best against the pass. Plain and simple the Seahawks have been unbeatable at home in their last 13 games, with quarterback Russell Wilson still undefeated for his career with the 12th man on his side Even though the Cardinals will play tough, I still don’t think they have a chance at winning this one. Seahawks 20 Cardinals 10
Raiders at Chargers: While it might be slim, the Chargers still have a chance at advancing to the playoffs if they keep winning and catch a break or two. The Raiders on the other hand, have not been the same promising team that they once were, as the defense as subsided the last couple weeks after playing tough earlier in the season. Moreover, Phillip Rivers seems fired up, and with running back Ryan Mathews finally starting to reach his potential with back-to-back 100 yard rush games, it does not look like San Diego will be going down without a fight. In my opinion, The Chargers should when this game easy, as long the defense brings the same intensity that they did in Denver. Chargers 28 Raiders 19
Patriots at Ravens: With a win, the Ravens will clinch a playoff spot; while the Patriots are once again trying to keep the offense going without Brady’s favorite target Rob Gronkowski as the injuries just keep piling up for them. It seems that, despite the Ravens letting go of key players and with their offense sputtering at times, the Ravens are still destined to make it back to the playoffs.Of course, it is Tom Brady and the Patriots, who they clashed with in the last two AFC Championship games, standing in their way.
With all the injuries the Patriots have had to deal with, they still have found a way to win and are first in the AFC East, while still fighting for the second seed and a bye in the playoffs.Even in defeat week last week the offense was still able to establish 453 yards, but they did have trouble punching it in when they got down to the red zone. As for the Ravens, they won last week playing tenacious defense and because of Justin Tucker and his dead on accuracy kick the ball. While most people are picking the Ravens to win, I smell an upset brewing in Baltimore, as New England usually bounces back from defeat. Patriots 26 Ravens 25
Bears at Eagles: Both the Eagles and Bears are the two NFC divisions that look to be going down to the wire with possible head on match-ups for the titles. Likewise, depending on the outcomes of their divisional rivals, both Philly and Chicago could be playing for nothing or for a division crown. After looking so good, the last couple of weeks the Eagles faltered especially on defense, as they let the Vikings run up and down the field on them totaling six touchdowns in the process.
As for the Bears, they pulled away with a victory against the Browns, even with Jay Cutler coming back and struggling, at the beginning. With the Bears defense been gashed by running backs for a grand total of 151.4 yards of game, expect to see LeSean McCoy bounce back after only getting eight carries for 38 yards last week. This game is a toss-up mainly because until we know the outcomes of the earlier games you do not know which team will be determined to win, since their home team I’ll go with Eagles in a high scoring affair. Eagles 34 Bears 24
About the Author: John Yeomans
Aspiring sports writer that is letting the world know my thoughts and predictions on the NFL.