Dec 23, 2018
Essentials - Week 16
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Tampa Bay at Dallas (-7/48), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Last week’s 23-0 loss in Indianapolis shut down a five-game winning streak, but that run still has them in great shape to win the NFC East since it includes a pair of wins over the second-place Eagles. Taking care of business at home against the Bucs would take a lot of pressure off a Week 17 visit game at the Giants, but it’s going to require getting the offense back on track against a defense that has improved over the past five games, surrendering 20 or fewer points in four of six after spending the first half of the season near the bottom of the league due to injuries and poor play. Jameis Winston is struggling to generate offense and does get De’Sean Jackson back as a target, but those two have never enjoyed great chemistry. It’s no coincidence Jackson is coming back specifically for this game after being out all month with various ailments.
The Bucs boarded a plane to Texas specifically to play spoiler, so the Cowboys don’t have the luxury of being complacent. Key LB Sean Lee will be available for more action than he saw last week and offensive linemen Tyron Smith and Zack Martin should play, although Martin’s status is more tenuous due to a knee issue. Tampa Bay has seen the ‘under’ prevail in four straight games and came in last week despite being set lower (44.5) than it had been all season.
Buffalo at New England (-13.5/44.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS:The Patriots won the first meeting between these teams 25-6, but Tom Brady failed to throw a touchdown pass and New England didn’t pull away until the fourth quarter, settling for four field goals through the first three quarters. Derek Anderson was the quarterback for the Bills in Week 8, so rookie Josh Allen will be getting his first taste of Bill Belichick’s sting. The veteran coach eats first-year signal callers the way the rest of us consume late-night sweets, snacking on them without fail. New England has owned Buffalo, so this game has the potential to restore order considering it has dropped consecutive games for the second time this season despite being a road favorite in Miami and Pittsburgh.
Of course, struggling to put away the Bills would further hammer in the narrative that New England is falling off, one that has been proven wrong over and over again the past few years but only needs to come to fruition once to change everything. Rob Gronkowski has been dealing with back and ankle issues that contributed to him catching just two passes last week and Josh Gordon stepped away due to an impending suspension after his latest positive drug test, so Brady will have to solve a talented defense with depleted options. Rookie Sony Michel has only reached the end zone once in the past six games. Buffalo will have DT Kyle Williams and RB LeSean McCoy in the fold to try and put an dent in a stretch that has seen it drop 32 of 36 games against New England since 2000. Both of the Bills’ wins in Foxboro during that stretch have come via shutout. Temperatures will hover around 40 degrees, but it it is otherwise expected to be a mild December day at Gillette Stadium.
Atlanta at Carolina (-3/45), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Panthers are giving Cam Newton the week off to rest the ailing shoulder he’s been playing on for the past few months, essentially ending their playoff pursuit. The Falcons are already done, having been besieged by injuries and inconsistent play, but they come off a 40-point outburst in their home finale against Arizona last week and are favored here with Julio Jones cleared to play after suffering a rib injury last week. The defense held the Saints to 12 points last week with LB Deion Jones back and will have DT Terrell McClain and corner Desmond Trufant available to make life difficult on first-time starter Taylor Heinicke, who has completed three of five passes in his short career. The 25-year-old was born in Atlanta and played at Suwannee H.S. before becoming attending Old Dominion. The Falcons have won five of six in this series and may further benefit from Carolina pulling back some if RB Christian McCaffrey’s workload decreases.
Jacksonville at Miami (-3.5/38.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Between these two, the Dolphins are alive for a playoff spot as they take the field for their home finale looking to go 7-1 at Hard Rock Stadium, where they’ve already beaten Tennessee, Chicago and New England. The Jaguars have dropped nine of 10, beating only the Colts (6-0, Dec. 2) and topping 20 points only twice within that stretch. QB Cody Kessler was the team’s leading rusher with 68 yards on six carries in last week’s 16-13 loss to Washington but finished just 9-for-17 for 57 yards through the air.
The Jaguars have only played in Miami twice since coming into the league, winning their first meeting in ’06 before losing 24-3 in their last trip back in 2012. Leonard Fournette will play, but it remains to be seen how much he can do as he comes in off a foot injury and hasn’t looked like himself throughout most of the season. The Dolphins hope to have LB Kiko Alonso out there despite a knee issue but have ruled out safety T.J. McDonald. RB Frank Gore was placed on IR, so fourth-round pick Kalen Ballage is expected to get more carries next to Kenyan Drake, who scored on a 69-yard miracle play last time he touched the ball at home against the Patriots. Miami fell 41-17 in Minnesota last week.
N.Y. Giants at Indianapolis (-9.5/48.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Colts also remain alive for a playoff spot but got no help on Saturday night with the Titans rallying past the ‘Skins and the Ravens pulling off an upset over the Chargers to each post their ninth victory. Indianapolis will visit Nashville next week and now needs to close on a four-game winning streak to try and reach the postseason. Andrew Luck threw touchdown passes in his first 11 games this season and had a run of eight games throwing at least three, but he’s come up empty in two of his three December outings. It’s vital that he gets up and running again and will have top target T.Y. Hilton back after being cleared to return despite an ankle sprain.
New York’s Eli Manning has made it to Week 16 as the starter, which is a small wonder given how this season has gone for the Giants. Odell Beckham Jr. was ruled out for a second straight week but Manning will have Sterling Shepard to throw to after some concern that he’d join Russell Shepard and OBJ in missing this contest. The Colts will look to keep Saquon Barkley from finding a rhythm and will sell out to do so, which means Manning will have opportunities to push the ball downfield. Indianapolis impressively blanked the Cowboys last week but will be without a couple of key defenders here. Look for the x-factor here to be Indianapolis RB Marlon Mack, who touched it 28 times for 149 yards in last week’s win over Dallas and has scored eight touchdowns in eight wins. The Colts are 5-0 when he finds the end zone.
Houston at Philadelphia (-2.5/47), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Eagles are hoping Nick Foles’ magic can deliver another playoff appearance after he came up with another upset of the Rams last week, prevailing as a 13.5-point underdog. The defending champs have still been collectively outscored by seven points despite getting back to .500 after Carson Wentz was again lost for the season. The defense came up with a huge effort to aid the cause last week but is still a mess in the back due to injuries. The strength of the unit remains up front, so look for that group to try and make Deshaun Watson’s first visit to Philadelphia unpleasant. DT Fletcher Cox has been upgraded to probable, while guard Senio Kelemete remains questionable. The Texans will be without RB Lamar Miller, who didn’t make the trip after suffering an ankle injury in last weekend’s win over the Jets.
Houston has won 10 of 11 games to put itself in position to earn a first-round bye ahead of the Patriots, but would lose a head-to-head tie-breaker against them and need to stay one game clear by winning out. The Texans are expected to see D’Onta Foreman debut alongside Alfred Blue to try and minimize the damage over losing Miller. They won’t have rookie slot receiver Keke Coutee again but will have top target DeAndre Hopkins gutting it out through an ankle issue. Corner Kayvon Webster was activated from IR, which definitely helps since the availability of top CB Johnathan Joseph will be in question until game-time. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-40s for this one.
Minnesota (-6.5/43) at Detroit, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Vikings are hoping to celebrate Christmas with a playoff spot assured, but can only unwrap that present if the Texans aid their cause and they’re able to take care of business on the road against a division rival that they didn’t trail against once in a 24-9 Week 9 win to open November. DE Danielle Hunter recorded 3.5 sacks and scooped a fumble and rumbled into the end zone, so keeping him from Matthew Stafford is Detroit’s top priority. After dealing away Golden Tate and losing WR Marvin Jones, Jr. and rookie RB Kerryon Johnson for the season, the Lions offense has sputtered and hasn’t produced more than 17 points in any of the last four games. Top target Kenny Golladay (chest) has been cleared to play to aid the cause, while tackle Rick Wagner has been cleared from concussion protocol.
Minnesota’s defense has overcome a shaky start and is again imposing. The Vikings sacked Detroit 10 times and held Detroit to under 10 points, so Mike Zimmer will be counting on making sure Stafford doesn’t find a rhythm enough to play spoiler. Offensively, the Vikings must be wary of Matt Patricia’s defense, which does come in relatively healthy and has been productive over the past month-plus with DE Ziggy Ansah and top corner Darius Slay both in the mix. The Lions have dropped consecutive games against the Vikes.
Green Bay (-3/47) at N.Y. Jets, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Aaron Rodgers continuing to play despite the Packers being eliminated is a mild surprise, but does speak volumes about his leadership after essentially winning a power struggle with the now fired Mike McCarthy. Any progress the Pack can make now will benefit them next year, so count on Rodgers continuing to work with rookie receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown, who will both be pressed into larger roles with Randall Cobb not in the mix. Tackle Bryan Bulaga has also been cleared to play, so Rodgers should have support up front.
The Jets have dropped seven of eight and haven’t won at home since rookie Sam Darnold won a shootout against Andrew Luck and the Colts way back on Oct. 14. He won’t have top target Quincy Enunwa and lost RBs Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell weeks ago, so Darnold is working short-handed. Rodgers will have Jamaal Williams as his primary back since Aaron Jones was lost to an ankle injury last week. Temperatures in East Rutherford will be in the low 40s with mild wind, so the quarterbacks won’t have to battle the elements.
Cincinnati at Cleveland (-9.5/44), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Browns have been officially eliminated from playoff contention, but remain engaged as they try to win out in order to finish above .500. A lot has been made about the Browns being such a heavy favorite for this matchup, but the Bengals do arrive in town depleted and got beat 35-20 at home a few weeks ago in a game where Andy Dalton was lost for the season and backup QB Jeff Driskel came in and produced a few scores to try and save face. Cleveland has won four of five games and has really responded to the play-calling of Freddie Kitchens on the offensive side of the ball in addition to Gregg Williams’ aggressive defense.
The Bengals lost WR Tyler Boyd and have been without A.J. Green as well, so Driskel will have to beat the Browns’ blitz with his legs and perhaps the speedy John Ross in addition to a heavy dose of the screen game with Joe Mixon featured. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict is questionable to return for a defense that has already been without numerous key contributors. Cleveland is favored to sweep the Bengals for the first time since ’02. The Browns secondary should be at full strength since Jabrill Peppers hopes to return from a neck injury and standout rookie safety Denzel Ward has cleared concussion protocol. There will be some wind gusts to deal with, but temperatures will be above freezing throughout this contest.
L.A. Rams (-14/43.5) at Arizona, 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: - The availability of standout running back Todd Gurley will be up in the air until just before kickoff since he’s looking to play but the team wants him to warm up so they can feel comfortable with his knee injury being a thing of the past. Although they’re looking to lock up homefield advantage in the NFC and is chasing New Orleans while trying to hold off Chicago, the cautious approach would definitely be recommended given the opposition. Backup Justin Davis is unlikely to play due to a shoulder injury, so newly-signed veteran C.J. Anderson may be in for a heavy workload.
L.A. is looking for Jared Goff to bounce back in Glendale after throwing five interceptions without a touchdown in the team’s two losses the past few weeks, contributing greatly to setbacks against the Bears and Eagles. He’s missed Cooper Kupp, but has Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks available. Patrick Peterson can’t cover them both at the same time, so it’s important to see Goff get going again. Sean McVay would also love to see him avoid being picked off since it’s happened to him in all three December contests after he tossed only two in a six-game stretch between Oct. 14 and all of November. The Cardinals have a laundry list of injuries and are the week’s biggest underdog.
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