Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:55 AM

Sunday's Essentials - Week 16

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Saints (-2.5/47) at Titans, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: With Houston having wrapped up the AFC South, it’s now not a given that Tennessee star RB Derrick Henry will continue to play through the hamstring injury that has been bothering him for weeks. He was downgraded to ‘questionable’ despite practicing on Friday as the Bucs’ coughed up an opportunity to tie or win the game late. The Titans can still finish as the AFC’s final wild card, so we’ll see if Henry opts to play if he wakes up feeling well. Count on Dion Lewis, Khari Blasingame and Dalyn Dawkins, just elevated to the active roster, to divide the touches if Henry ultimately doesn’t add to his league-leading 271 rushing attempts. Corner Adoree Jackson and WR Adam Humphries have been ruled out for Tennessee while DL Jeffery Simmons is listed as questionable.

New Orleans will be playing its first game outdoors since a Nov. 17 win in Tampa and will be playing just their second in seven outings. The Saints are 4-1 SU and ATS with the elements involved but may have to deal with a little rain in Nashville. Ironically, they’ll have to fare well outdoors to ensure most of their playoff run comes In the friendly enclosed confines of the Superdome. Drew Brees looks to build off on his record-setting Monday night but offensive linemen Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat and Ryan Ramczyk have all missed been listed as questionable while guard Larry Warford hasn’t practiced. New Orleans is hoping for help from Minnesota against Green Bay on Monday night since it remains in the mix for a No. 1 seed, so this is a very important game for this group. RB Alvin Kamara hasn’t scored since Week 3, but he and Latavius Murray could have big days here to lighten Brees’ load if it’s raining. Michael Thomas has 133 receptions and needs just 11 to set the single-season record. The total has come down from 50.5 but the number has held steady despite uncertainty over Henry.

Steelers (-3/37) at Jets, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: JuJu Smith-Schuster announced on his Instagram that he’d be returning for the first time since Nov. 14, which means QB Devlin Hodges will be able to work with a receiving corps that’s at full strength for the first time since taking over as the full-time starter. He has performed better on the road than he has at home, helping beat the Chargers, Bengals and Cardinals. None of those teams have a winning record, but neither do the Jets, who can finish only 7-9 if they win out with an upset here and against a Bills team that’s already locked into the No. 5 spot and may not play many starters next week. As far as this week goes, New York will get back safety Jamal Adams back to anchor the defense and has a motivated LeVeon Bell helping take pressure off Sam Darnold.

The Steelers are looking to earn a wild card spot and have to play at the Ravens next week, making this a must-win. Head coach Mike Tomlin stuck with Hodges despite his four interceptions last week, pondering a return to Mason Rudolph. There’s no question that a quick hook is certainly possible, but the Hodges will probably get a fairly long leash unless he turns the ball over since the team simply needs him to not be a burden considering he’s at the helm of the league’s 30th-ranked offense. Ultimately, Pittsburgh is still banking on its defense to create turnovers against Darnold, who has been at his best at home but leads in the 31st-ranked offense against a Pittsburgh group that leads the NFL in sacks (49) and ranks second in takeaways (35). The total has dipped from 38.5 to 37. Tight end Vance McDonald is set to return for the Steelers.




Ravens (-10/49) at Browns, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Baltimore can wrap up homefield advantage for the entire AFC postseason if it picks up a victory here against one of the two teams it has lost to this season. The Ravens have rolled off 10 straight wins since suffering their only home loss, falling 40-25 to close out September. Cleveland ranks 27th in the NFL in rush defense and will look to stop the league’s most effective ground attack, so Lamar Jackson is a good bet to significantly add to his total of 1,103 rushing yards, an all-time single-season record for a quarterback. Baltimore has scored a league-best 33.7 points per game, average 202.1 yards on the ground and has already notched the most touchdowns (58) it has managed in any given season.

The dysfunctional Browns look to finish the season as effectively as they can and are hoping to close their home schedule with a 5-3 record. WR Odell Beckham, Jr. will play through a groin injury and Jarvis Landry is dealing with a hip issue that may require offseason surgery. DT Sheldon Richardson didn’t practice earlier in the week due to a back problem but hopes to play, while center J.C. Tretter is dealing with a knee issue for an offensive line that has numerous bumps and bruises. Nick Chubb has a league-high 1,408 yards rushing, so count on the clock running throughout this contest given how often we’ll see the ball on the ground. Temperatures will be in the 40s and wind gusts of 10-to-15 miles per hour shouldn’t be overly intrusive.

Raiders at Chargers (-7.5/45.5), 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: This game may carry no playoff implications by the time these kick off, but these vagabond franchises are still vying to finish second in the AFC West, making this one of the more attractive matchups in the late afternoon block. Oakland opens the day alive to reach the playoffs and is looking to snap a four-game losing streak. Jon Gruden’s team has managed just 12 points in the second half of games over the past five games, while L.A. is finally escaping the plight of playing in a soccer stadium where most of the fans root for the visiting team. Although the Raiders are moving to Las Vegas and played their final contest in Oakland last week, they’ll probably have more fans in Carson than the Chargers, who have gone 11-10 in their temporary home since moving to San Diego.

Rain will add to the festivities as these teams square off with a backdrop of it being the second-to-last game that Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon suit up in for the Chargers. The talented running back fumbled twice last week but ran for a season-high 108 yards the first time he faced the Raiders, helping lead to a 26-24 Week 10 win. Oakland has failed to cover in five straight weeks and won’t have talented rookie RB Josh Jacobs for Derek Carr to hand the ball to and keep a talented L.A. front seven from coming after the Raiders’ quarterback. He’s being held out with a shoulder injury. DeAndre Washington is expected to get the bulk of the work at tailback.

Cardinals at Seahawks (-9/51), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: Seattle will look to remain alive for the No. 1 seed in the entire NFC by taking care of business at home over the next two weeks with division mates Arizona and San Francisco visiting. The Seahawks’ most lopsided win of the season came at Arizona in a 27-10 Week 4 victory. It appears that the team will take the cautious approach with key defensive starters Jadeveon Clowney, Ziggy Ansah, Mychal Hendricks , Quandre Diggs and Shaquill Griffin all potentially sitting. Linebacker Bobby Wagner has been dealing with an ankle injury. Considering that defeating the 49ers next week will give them the West Division regardless of what happens here. Seattle has matched a league-record with 10 wins by eight or fewer points.

The Seahawks are 4-1 in games Diggs has started since Nov. 11 and have been exceptionally effective, so his absence could be an issue against Kyler Murray if the rookie standout can get it going. Kenyan Drake is coming off a four-touchdown game against Cleveland and speedy WR Christian Kirk has been cleared to play, so this could be a much tighter game than you might expect. Rain will likely be part of the equation in the second half of this one, so it wouldn’t be a good idea for either team to start slowly since finding a rhythm in inclement weather is tough to accomplish. A first-half over call would be my recommendation.

Cowboys (-2/46) at Eagles, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: The most meaningful game on the Sunday slate boils down to Carson Wentz’s ability to keep pace with a top-ranked Dallas offense that has struggled with consistency but dominated the first meeting between these teams, prevailing 37-10 on Oct. 20. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 111 yards and will be given every opportunity to loosen up the Philly defense the way he managed to in last week’s lopsided win over the Rams. Philadelphia has lost all five games he’s in which he's suited up for the Cowboys against them. Dallas is looking for consecutive NFC East titles for the first time since 1996.

WR Nelson Agholor and RB Jordan Howard were questionable but now won't play. Tackle Lane Johnson won’t suit up, so Philadelphia will be without one of their top offensive linemen in this one. DE Derek Barnett has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, but the hope is that he’ll suit up to try and help contain a Cowboys offense that has helped produce a 7-0 record when they top 30 points but have contributed to an 0-7 mark when they’ve failed to. Weather should be mild as far as December in Philly typically goes, so both attacks are likely to gain traction. Wentz has been able to find a rhythm of late throwing to his tight ends and Greg Ward, Jr., while Dak Prescott has been sharp of late and doesn’t appear on the injury report with his shoulder issue. Cooper Rush would be called upon if Prescott gets banged up.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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