16. Cardinals Vs. Falcons
The Shadow Realm
The Cardinals have been in the shadow realm for a while now. The players and the season have broken down and become irrelevant. The Cardinals have moved on to David Blough, the former Detroit Lions QB. He's serviceable, but honestly, the Cardinals are so far gone that it be better for them to lose than win. Plus, JJ Watt is gone after these last two games, so the Cardinals have yet another thing to figure out next year. JJ Watt has been having a good season, and he can continue that in these last two games and go out like the legend he has always been.
The Falcons just landed in the Shadow Realm last week, but it's a place they know well. Darkness has been their old friend for years. They really need to commit to a rebuild. Right now, the Falcons need to see if they have anything with Ridder.
15.49ers vs. The Raiders
FEED ME MORE
In the Power Rankings, I expressed concern that maybe Purdy was a good Qb who had been pumped beyond his true ceiling by poor competition and his elite defense. However, that theory will only be tested in this game. The 49ers have been shutting teams down, and the Raiders, who have been consistently inconsistent on offense, will not be the ones to crack the code.
Not to mention the Raiders have just benched Carr. After everything Carr has done for the Raiders, they played him like this. Carr has never had a top-twenty defense. He has had multiple head coaches. He has had players like Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack traded away. He had to deal with his coach being fired for being a sexist bigot in the same season he lost his number-one receiver to a manslaughter charge, and that's the season the Raiders went to the playoffs. Then the Raiders fired the coach who stepped in and helped the team get to the playoffs to get a "real head coach ."Now the Raiders have been eliminated from playoff contention before the season even ended despite having more talent than last year. However, that wasn't enough for the Raiders. Then the Raiders benched Carr to avoid possibly having to pay him more money on the team-friendly contract he agreed to. Good Luck with Stidam against the number one defense in football
14. Cowboys vs. Titans
The Cowboys beat the Titans. However, this game didn't really illuminate anything for me on either side of the ball. It's not a big deal that the Titans benched Malik Willis. We knew that Malik had some raw skills, but it would take time for him to develop. However, it was strange for the Titans to bench him when the Titans weren't trying to win anyway.
At the very least, the Cowboys did what they were supposed to do and beat an opponent they were supposed to beat. However, the Cowboys still turned the ball over three different times. The Cowboys play too aggressively on offense. Late In the game, they got an interception with five minutes left, and they only took like 20 seconds off the clock before they had to give the ball back because they were too aggressive. This is yet another mistake the Cowboys would pay for against better competition. Also, turning the ball over every game is an alarming trend. It's one of those little things that can be ignored now but will blow up in their face later if the Cowboys don't address it.
Predicted Winner Cowboys
13. Chargers vs. Rams
Level One Boss
Sean McVay is showing why he is one of the best coaches in the league. Despite how depleted they are, he has got his guys fighting their tails off. The Rams remind me of the Patriots. Even when the Patriots aren't good, you still have to come with your A game because that coach in New England is going to take advantage of every pathway to victory. It will always be a challenging game, and that's what Sean McVay has done.
When the Rams played the Packers, who had good coaching and a good team, they lost. However, when the Rams played the Broncos and Raiders, who had better talent but suspect coaching, they whooped them. The Rams are like a level-one boss. They aren't overpowered, but you need to figure them out to stop them.
The Chargers are already in the playoffs, and this game only matters for seeding. However, I need to find out just how good a coach Staley is. I don't think he is a bum, but I'm also not sure how great he is. Staley used to coach under Mcvay. These two know each other very well. It will be interesting to see how this particular mental chess match goes.
12. Jaguars vs. Texans
Last week I predicted the Titans would fall to the Texans, and they did. The Texans remind me of the Lions last year. They don't have all the pieces yet, but they have good infrastructure. They have a lights-out running back in Pierce. They have built a formidable secondary. Lovie Smith and Pep Hamilton are great coaches. You can see it in the way this team plays. No matter whom you put out there, the offense is always productive. The defense is punching at the ball and creating takeaways which is Lovie's influence from his Chicago Bear days. If this team stays the course and keeps building on what they got instead of tearing it down, they could create something great in Houston.
The Jaguars also have built a great foundation but are farther along in their rebuild. The Jaguars have a nice defense and a Super Bowl-winning head coach. Plus, they have a blue chip Qb that they drafted at number one and some good offensive weapons that they picked up in free agency. In one year, the Jaguars have gone from a franchise whose best moment was playing spoiler at the end of the season for a division rival to playing a division rival for the division and a ticket to the playoffs.
11. Giants vs. Colts
Going Our Separate Ways
One of these teams was doubted and counted out. One of these teams has a first-year coach who has hit the ground running and over-performed. One of these teams has revitalized their Qb's career, fixed their offensive line, and run the ball all over their opponents. The other team is the Colts. The Colts need to continue to lose like they have been doing all year. They have a top-five pick right now; they could move up a lot if they lose again. Most of the teams in front of the Colts could conceivably win this week.
The Giants are on the edge of securing the playoffs. All they have to do is win, and they are in the playoffs. They had a great season, and they are facing a team that's better off losing than winning. However, the NFL has a very slim margin between each team, so games often are more challenging than they look. Can the G-Men get it done when they need it most?
10. Steelers vs. Ravens
The Raven's Super Bowl hopes are still alive, and this game will help them with seeding. However, even more than that, this is a game about pride. These are division rivals, and I'm sure the Ravens would love to be the ones that crush the dreams of the Steelers and kick them out of the postseason.
The Steelers are still in play to make the playoffs and keep Mike Tomlins's winning season record alive. The Steelers have a lot to play for in this game. So I expect them to come out guns blazing. The Raven's defense will be tough, but they are down Peters at cornerback, and the offense is down Lamar Jackson, so this is a golden opportunity for the Steelers. They have to take advantage.
9. Browns vs. Commanders
The Browns have been eliminated from playoff contention. Some critics who are really mad about other things that didn't hold up in two grand jury hearings are blaming Watson and calling him a bust, saying he isn't worth his contract. However, if you are doing honest sports analysis, you know the Browns didn't pay Watson to win this year after joining the team in week 13. He's only getting paid a million this year, anyway. The Browns would have liked to make the playoffs, but that would have been gravy. While Watson hasn't returned to form yet, he hasn't been awful, either. He's been improving every week. Last week he had a lot of dropped passes because it was 6 degrees out. Now that Brown's playoff hopes have been dashed, the season is about Watson. Will he get back to being elite before the season is over?
On the other side of the ball, we have the Commanders who have made an insane decision to go back to Carson Wentz. Taylor Heinicke is 5-3-1 as a starter. It's safe to say the only reason the Commanders are in the playoffs is that they switched to Taylor Heinicke. Carson Wentz is 2-4 as a starter this year. Not to mention that he isn't a Colt this year because when the Colts were one game away from getting into the playoffs, Wentz collapsed, and they lost to the Jaguars, one of the worst teams in the league. Now the Commanders are turning the team over to Wentz when they need it most. Why? Was it because Taylor Heinicke didn't look great against the 49ers? Do you know who else didn't look great against the 49ers? Every other Qb who had played them when they were healthy. The Commanders play better as a team with Taylor. He has the stuff you can't measure as well as the wins. What does Carson have to hang his hat on, almost being an MVP for one season years ago? This is a massive gamble by the Commanders. Will it pay off big time, or will the Commanders miss their Nick Foles moment chasing Carson Wentz?
8. Bears vs. Lions
Days of Future's Past
The Lions need to win this week. The Lions were roaring back, winning six games in a row. However, they completely dropped their guard and got boat raced by the Panthers. The Lions can still make it into the playoffs, but they need to win against the Bears. The Lions can still get to a playoff game, but hey, would they be the Lions if they didn't make it tough on themselves?
However, the Bears are one the most dangerous teams in the league. The last time the Lions played the Bears, they barely got out of Soldier Field with a win. The Bear's defense has gained some momentum lately. They picked off Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen. If the Lions sleep on the Bears as they did the Panthers, they will be out of the playoffs quickly. The Bears have the number two draft position, but a win doesn't hurt them too much because they can still get the things they need as long as they are in the top ten. Also, Justin Fields has been giving it all he's got every game and coming this close to a win every time. This feels like the week when it will finally pay off. The Lions showed a massive weakness in the run game, and the Bears are some running fools.
7. Dolphins vs. Patriots
Double or Nothing
The Dolphins beat the Patriots earlier this year, and it looked like the Dolphins would be leaving the Patriots in their dust. However, four losses and a few Tua concussions later, the Dolphins find themselves in the muck fighting for a playoff spot, just like the Patriots. The Dolphins don't even know if Tua will be able to come back for playoffs or if he should.
No team has a clear advantage in this game. The Dolphin's defense isn't the shutdown defense it once was. They played their butts off against the Packers, but it's unclear if that will hold every game. The Dolphins will be starting Teddy Bridgewater against the Patriot's defense which should be an advantage, but the Dolphins still have elite weapons. It's time for the Dolphins and Patriots to throw everything they have at each other because the loser of this game will be eliminated from playoff contention.
6. Broncos Vs. Chiefs
New Year, New Me
The Chiefs are dominating this year. They aren't the number one seed, but they are tied with the Bills for the number one seed. The Chiefs could take the lead in the AFC one game before the end of the season. It sounds like a great way to start the new year.
The Broncos, surprisingly, have a lot on the line. The Broncos fired their coach Nathaniel Hackett and now have an interim head coach. All will be forgiven if they play well with this new coach and win. This is the Bronco's and especially Russel Wilson's chance to make the statement that they aren't sorry Hackett was.t give Bronco fans hope for next year. Plus, the last time Russ looked like himself was when he roared back against the Chiefs before he got injured. Can he finish the job this time?
5.The Eagles vs. Saints
Despite Saint's poor performance this year, they can still make the playoffs if they win out and get some help. However, every game is a playoff game now, and if they lose, it's all over. The Saints have yet to win three games in a row all season. Can they do it when they need it most?
The Eagles have a lot on the line against the Saints as well. They still don't have Jalen Hurts, and if they want to make a run at a Super Bowl, they need him healthy. Securing the number one seed is about more than a shorter path to the Super Bowl it's also about extra time for Jalen to rest and get back to full strength. The Eagles have easily won games all year, and now that they need just one win, they need Hurts. Also, if the Eagles knock the Saints out of the playoffs, they will ensure that the first-round pick they got from the Saints will be high.
4. Packers vs. Vikings
The Packers have gotten hot lately, and now they have a chance to make the playoffs. All that stands in front of them are the Vikings and Lions. Before we get to that, though, let's talk about how hot the Packers really are because I'm not convinced they are good as everyone thinks. Let's look at their big wins. They beat the Cowboys, whom they have typically owned. They beat the Bears, who are one of the worst teams in the league this year and whom the Packers usually beat. They beat the Rams starting Baker Mayfield with major pieces missing on both sides of the ball. Then they beat the Dolphins, which looks good. However, we now know that Tua was concussed when he threw those three picks that ultimately won the game. However, the Dolphins were playing great defense against the Packers, and the Dolphin's offense had a ten-point lead in the first half. If Tua doesn't get concussed and give the Packers the game, do we really believe the Packers still win? All I'm saying is that these wins are looking funny in the light. If the Packers can beat the Vikings, then I will believe they are for real.
On the Viking's side, it's simple. They are having a great season, and they have clinched the playoffs, and they are in play for the one seed. However, if this division is truly the Vikings division and the Packer's reign of terror is over, we need to see them slay this dragon once and for all and knock the players out of the playoffs.
3. Panthers vs. Bucs
Who Really Deserves It?
The blue and red team colors aren't the only thing that makes these teams opposites. The Bucs have the more talented roster, but this is the first time I have seen a group of elite players play so badly. The Panthers aren't super-talented, but they are playing way better than the Bucs. The Bucs have a superstar Qb, but he is struggling this season. The Panthers have Sam Darnold, the opposite of a star QB, but he is playing the best football of his career. Both Teams have black head coaches getting a second chance at being head coaches. However, Bowels got a good situation, and something has gone rotten under his watch despite them having the lead in the division. Steve Wilks inherited a dumpster fire in the middle season, and he has his team fighting for the number one see in the NFC South.
So who should be in the playoffs this year? People want to see Brady and the Bucs return, and they have the most ready-to-compete team on paper. However, the Panthers are the more optimized roster playing at their best. Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.
2. Seahawks vs. Jets
The Seahawks did not do well against the Chiefs at all. However, they have a much different opponent this week. They face the Jets, a team just like them. The Jets also need this win to convert all the good things they have done this season into wildcard playoff games. The Seahawks even have former Jets Qb, Geno Smith. I'm sure Geno wants revenge on the Jets organization after all this idea that he was a bust started there. It would be a huge full-circle moment for Geno to knock the Jets out of the playoffs in order to make the playoffs.
The Seahawks aren't the only ones with a Qb reviving his career. Mike White is returning to the lineup and has been great for the Jets. He wasn't drafted at number two like Zach Wilson, but he is the engine of the Jet's offense. He makes the offense look its best. The team loves Mike because when he is around, the receivers actually get to show off, and the defense gets to do their thing without being dragged down by the offense. The Jets will stay alive for the playoffs if Mike White can work his magic again.
1. Bills vs. Bengals
So We Finally Meet
This is one of the most exciting first-time Quarterback matchups. These guys are in the same Qb class but aren't usually directly compared. If the coin toss last year had gone Buffalo's way, they would have been the ones playing the Bengals. What would have happened then? Well, we are about to find out. The Bills and Bengals will most likely meet again in the playoffs, but this is a nice preview. Burrow has already beaten Mahomes and Lamar. Can he add another Elite Qb to his collection? If Joe takes down Allen, it would be tough to push off the conversation about Burrown being top two and maybe not two.
On the Bill's side, they have a lot to play for. Josh Allen has to defend his right to be the one b to Mahomes, and the Bills have to defend their number one seed. If they lose this game, they could lose the number one seed to the Chiefs, and they would give a head-to-head away to the Bengals, who are also in the hunt for the number one seed. Figurative and literal spots are on the line. Who will be great?