NFL Week 16 Preview: Divisional Clashes for Days
Division rivals in both the AFC and NFC will battle for days this weekend with postseason implications. Here’s a preview of what to expect in Week 16 of the 2016 NFL season:
Saturday, December 24
The Packers Can Clinch a Playoff Spot
Minnesota at Green Bay | Lambeau Field, Green Bay; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Remember when the Packers lost five of six games and their offense was a mess? Not anymore. Green Bay (8–6) has won four consecutive games, as Aaron Rodgers has become more effective and Ty Montgomery has give the Pack a running attack. They’ll need both against the Vikings, unless Minnesota (7–7) is truly in the tank.
The Vikes have lost seven of nine games after starting 5–0. Their third-ranked defense had been a bright spot in this rough patch … until it got scorched for 411 yards and 34 points against the Colts last week. If Minnesota still has postseason dreams, it’s time to make them reality by stopping Rodgers & Co. like they did in a 17-14 win in Week 2.
Green Bay can clinch a playoff spot with a win, and losses by Washington and Tampa Bay and a win by Atlanta.
The Panthers Won’t Roll Over for the Falcons
Atlanta at Carolina | Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
The Panthers have won the last three NFC South titles, a streak that will end this year. Carolina (6–8) will have a lot to say about which team takes its place atop the division: they play Atlanta (9–5) this week and Tampa Bay (8–6) next week. The Panthers have enough young talent, so they won’t likely just roll over — especially for division rivals. Provided he’s recovered from his sore shoulder, Cam Newton must be as sharp against the Falcons defense as he was in the upset win over the Redskins on Monday.
Atlanta, who beat Carolina 48-33 on October 2, can clinch the NFC South with a win and a Tampa Bay loss. They’ll clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by Green Bay or Detroit, or a loss by Washington.
Sunday, December 25
Steelers vs. Ravens on Christmas Day Is Required Viewing
Baltimore at Pittsburgh | Heinz Field, Pittsburgh; 4:30 p.m. (ET) on NFL
Nothing screams holiday spirit like two teams who truly hate each other battling on the gridiron and exchanging blows instead of presents. Plain and simple, Pittsburgh (9–5) can clinch the AFC North with a win against the rival Ravens, whom they were unable to beat on November 6.
Along with the Patriots, the Steelers are the NFL’s hottest team, each having won their last five games. If Baltimore (8–6) wants to stay in the hunt for the division title, its fifth-ranked defense will need to keep Pro Bowlers Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell from piling up yards and points. Baltimore’s offense will need to control the ball and keep Big Ben on the sidelines. QB Joe Flacco is 5–3 at Heinz Field. Just call him Joe Humbug.
The Broncos Need to Save Their Season
Denver at Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC
All the Broncos want for Christmas is a chance to retain the Lombardi Trophy. Denver (8–6) needs to beat Kansas City (10–4) to stay in the playoff hunt. The Broncos seemingly had the Chiefs beat on November 27, but a late collapse and a missed field goal allowed KC to get a key overtime win. Quarterback Trevor Siemian had a season-high 368 yards and three TD passes in the loss.
Denver’s defense, led by Von Miller and Shane Ray, must pressure Alex Smith and contain Chiefs receiver/returner Tyreek Hill. Hill has been a gamebreaker for Kansas City, allowing them to win games they should have lost with big plays. As always, the Chiefs defense will look to change the game with turnovers. Kansas City can clinch a playoff berth with a win or a Baltimore loss or tie.
Monday, December 26
The Lions Can Wrap Up the NFC North
Detroit at Dallas | AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Tex.; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
Just like everyone expected, the Lions and Cowboys are leading their respective divisions and heading toward the postseason… Except, no one thought this Week 16 game would be a battle of NFC powerhouses priming for the postseason. Detroit (9–5) and Dallas (12–2) have arguably been the NFL’s biggest surprises this season. The success of both teams is tied to their quarterbacks: Matthew Stafford and Dak Prescott.
With 22 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions, Stafford has been solid all season long. He’s also been incredibly clutch, leading his team to eight fourth-quarter comeback wins. The Cowboys defense will have to close the game out, while hoping Prescott continues his heady, non-rookie-like play. He’s thrown 20 touchdown passes and just four picks. The Lions need to get pressure on him, and stop NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott to win.
Detroit can clinch the NFC North division title with a win and a Green Bay loss or tie. The Lions clinch a playoff berth with a win and a Tampa Bay loss.
Dallas can clinch the NFC East division title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win or a Giants loss or tie.
Thursday, December 22
N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia | Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on NBC
The Giants can clinch a playoff berth with a win or losses by Detroit, Green Bay, Tampa Bay or Atlanta.
Saturday, December 24
Miami at Buffalo | New Era Field, Buffalo; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Miami can clinch a playoff berth with a win and a Denver loss or tie.
N.Y. Jets at New England | Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
New England can clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and an Oakland loss or tie.
Indianapolis at Oakland | Oakland Coliseum, Oakland; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Oakland can clinch the AFC West division title and a first-round bye with a win and a KC loss or tie.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans | Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Tampa Bay can clinch a playoff berth with a win and losses by Green Bay, Detroit and Washington.
Arizona at Seattle | CenturyLink Field, Seattle; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Seattle can clinch a first-round bye with a win plus losses by Detroit and Atlanta.
Cincinnati at Houston | NRG Stadium, Houston; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on NFL
Houston can clinch the AFC South division title with a win and a Tennessee loss.
Tennessee at Jacksonville | EverBank Field, Jacksonville; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
San Diego at Cleveland | FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Washington at Chicago | Soldier Field, Chicago; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
San Francisco at Los Angeles | Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox