Greetings all. Due to technical difficulties (lack of a laptop and Christmas travelling) last week I didn’t get a full preview of week 16 online. Sincere apologies to anyone that was waiting for it and it won’t happen again. That being said I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas and I hope you all did too!
The last week is upon us and obviously three important games with playoff implications have been allocated the appropriate TV time so the rest of the league is full of games of utter in-consequence or potentially shifting the playoff spots up or down.
I will cover the rest of the leagues games after Adam covers the televised games as always. There will be no fantasy outlook because most, if not all fantasy leagues will be finished now. One thing to look for over the next few weeks is I will be writing a series of reviews of the fantasy season. Looking at studs and duds at each position along with surprises and disappointments. Hopefully it will give an insight, certainly for me anyway, in to next years’ fantasy season.
Baltimore Ravens @ Cincinnati Bengals
The first irrelevant game of the evening starts in Cincinnati. Both teams have been knocked out of contention for the playoffs so now, and hopefully with any other team with no playoff hopes, this is now for pride and looking to finish 2017 on a high. No one likes to lose right? The headline for this one could be that it is Steve Smith Snr’s last game. His recent comments of an 89% (his playing number) chance of retirement so one would presume that he is pretty much done . He should be commended after coming back from what would normally be a career ending injury and played well at age 37 do be at least a positive rather than a hindrance to his offense. The fact that he was mostly Joe Flacco’s preferred target is telling for a disappointing Ravens offense. I would expect a fully revamped offense next year as the Ravens threw the ball 65.2% of the time which is just unacceptable in today’s NFL where balance is key to keeping defenders on their heels.They might roll with an all out run game with Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon this week to change things up a bit but lets be honest, with recent history in mind, even when they run the ball well, it never carries over and the passing game takes over. Joe Flacco has been average at best so a lot will be on his shoulders next year with potentially a new offensive coordinator and new scheme to work with. They have been as inconsistent as any other team in the league so I would expect some serious changes on the offensive side of the ball. The D seems fine and has been assembled very well, Suggs and Dumervil have been great this year and they have been a top 10 D all year and I would expect a decent showing from them to end the season. Playing in to this is the absence again of AJ Green for the Bengals. No point in running him out and getting re-injured so it will be a chance to take another good look at replacement Tyler Boyd to see if he can deal with the increased reps. Not sure about Brandon LaFell but I don’t know if there are better players out there in free agency but you would think he will play well to cement his position on the team next year. Andy Dalton has surprised most people with how well he has played this year, especially with no Green as his safety net. I certainly feel that the stigma associated with him being a game manager type has gone so it is very much a shame that with all the injuries they had, they should have had a much better season. I think we will see more Kenneth Dixon and other back up type players having a decent show out for evaluation purposes and on that basis, I am struggling to pick a winner here. I don’t think Jimmy Smith is playing so I would expect the Bengals to take care of business at home and add to Baltimore’s recent misery after being bumped from the playoffs last week.
Winner – Bengals
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts
So again, both teams out so a few narratives to watch out for. This might be an audition for the coaching job for Jacksonville interim HC Doug Marrone. There was noticable improvement for Blake Bortles and Allen Robinson last week in beating the Titans last week. Not just beating them but destroying them in the process so if they play well again then you would think keeping Marrone would be the best option to have some kind of continuity. Bortles and Robinson are the big name disappointments from both real life and fantasy perspectives and unless Bortles fixes his mechanics and removes the perception of him about not being 100% in to football as he should be. Not saying that you don’t have a life outside of football but at the games most important position, you have to be seen as a leader and fully committed to the game and your teammates. Whether he does or not next year might just end his career. One shining light from this season for the Jag’s is their defense. CB Jalen Ramsey facing off against TY Hilton will be fascinating to watch. He has pretty much shut down most WR1 players that he has played this year which is staggering for a rookie. If it wasn’t for the stellar play of Joey Bosa in San Diego, Ramsey would be a lock for defensive rookie of the year. The trendy narrative in the off season was that the D would propel the team in to the playoffs but the offense has just been so bad, that it has negated all advances that the D has made this year. If, and it is a big IF, the Jags can fix Bortles and pick up a running back in the draft, they might just get over the hump and put 2016 behind them. As for the Colt’s, more of the same really since Andrew Luck was drafted. The guy is a special player but there are just too many holes in their team to take advantage of his gifts. The D is bad, they have played well in spots but generally against mediocre teams so the whole team needs a very clear and distinct shake up this off season. Potential coaching changes in Indy ahead but I would certainly get a new GM because his roster moves have been awful. One thing to look for will be Frank Gore, who at 33 needs just 36 yards to get over 1000 for the year. He would be only the 4th player in history to rush for 1000 yards at 33 or older. Of those three other players, I only recognized the name John Riggins who used to play for the Redskins and he was a beast. All three of those other players are in the Hall of Fame so that gives you an idea of what an amazing feat this would be for Gore. Again as always with these sorts of teams, players are auditioning for roster spots next year so I think this one might actually be good. All hinges on the QB play though so whoever has more time to throw, will guide their team to victory. I actually think that this will be the visiting team!
Winner – Jaguars
Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings
God this is hard to keep writing about. Right so for this game, again looking at job auditions. Matt Barkley has surprised pretty much everyone this year with his good play at QB. I would credit him for his own work as a player but I have to consider the coaching staff putting him in the right positions to produce. They also did the same with erratic Brian Hoyer so it is not just a strange anomaly. That being said, I hope to god that they cut Jay Cutler, he is such a crappy player that has been marauding around as someone with talent but he has proven to just destroy teams and get coaches fired because the belief was that he was a good player. He’s not. He does not have the tangibles and I would be surprised if he started ever again in the NFL. Chicago have their bright spots in Jordan Howard and a promising defense so their traditional mould of stout run play and great D is there but they need serious upgrades on offense and much better luck with injuries to be honest in order to make legitimate progress in 2017. Cameron Meredith and Marquess Wilson have played great with Barkley so you can almost see them parting with Alshon Jeffrey in the off season and can afford to wait yet another year for Kevin White to live up to the hype when he was drafted. Speaking of Jordan Howard, he needs 61 yards to beat Matt Forte’s Bears’ rookie record of 1238 yards rushing. I think he will get it against a floundering Vikings unit who have just been worn down thanks to way too much playing time. Their offense has been bad all year, despite Sam Bradford’s decent play (he may break the single season completion percentage record set by Drew Brees) you just cannot win if you running backs are hit behind the line of scrimmage on the bulk of their plays. Bradford himself has been prone to injuries and he has seen the turf up close far too many times as well. You would expect the Bears to build on recent strong play and take it to the Vikings this week. They certainly seem to play better than their record suggests so they do have some things to look forward to next year. The Vikings have some important questions in the offseason, some good, some bad. Good is having Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford at QB. Both have played well and been serviceable at the position. Their D is good when not playing for 40plus minutes a game so that can certainly be focused on and strengthened. However, what will they do with Adrian Peterson? Most would think he is done in Minnesota and he finally proved that he is in fact a human when his comeback from injury utterly failed. He has a hefty price tag and I doubt any team will pay big money for an aging RB with 2 serious leg injuries behind him. Don’t get me wrong he is a legend at the position and has wowed us all most seasons but father time is cruel and catches up with us all. He could certainly end up on a title contender next year as a role player, if his ego will allow it. He’ll find work I’m sure but his best years are more than likely behind him now. As for this game however, I would love the Bears to win but their 0-7 record on the road cannot be ignored and I think the Vikings win a boring low scoring affair.
Winner – Vikings
Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets
Rex Ryan’s revenge game is now null and void after being fired last week. Like Doug Marrone in Jacksonville, this is very much an audition for offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. I actually loved watching the Bills play the last few weeks and watching the LeSean McCoy renaissance season has been awesome. Shame their season got derailed with Sammy Watkins going out injured for most of it but last weeks game is very much a microcosm of how well they can play. However, looks like that may not matter as Tyrod Taylor is all but out of Buffalo as he has been benched for EJ Manuel. Ryan was a huge advocate of Taylor and that is probably the only thing that I liked from Rex this year because I think he is a good player, he does disappear from games but he has proved he can play and make the required throws along with his dazzling ability to scramble and keep plays alive. I think the smart play would be to keep those three together but I doubt it will happen with a new regime change likely. If Colin Kaepernick leaves the Niners I would love to see Taylor cross the country and sign for San Francisco, he could certainly run Chip Kelly’s system and the general consensus would be that he is an upgrade from Kaepernick. As for the Jets, they have a lot to think about. Bad roster moves, players checking out on the season, terrible QB play all but ended the season for them months ago. I don’t see many positives for them this year and not many in to 2017 which is a shame and not a reflection on HC Todd Bowles. However, their D, perceived as a strength has been equally terrible so all in all, a change in management is extremely likely along with overhaul of aging players and replacing them with some youth. I don’t see anyone on the Jets playing well, let alone trying to keep their jobs as most guys probably want out. I’ve got nothing to say about the Jet’s other than good luck for next year.
Winner – Buffalo
Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
This game has actually annoyed me a bit. Coach Garrett said earlier this week that they would not be resting their starters this week. To play or rest your stars in meaningless games has been widely discussed in recent years and I see the point of resting starters in certain scenarios but history has shown that resting players does not give you guaranteed success in the playoffs. Football is very much a game where repetition and confidence carry as much importance as any other tangible element within the sport so playing is more important than sitting to maintain momentum at least. However, as you saw last week with Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota, the threat of injury is very clear and present so you see why the very boring discussion carries on. Back to my point, it looks like Tony Romo will be getting some action this week starting for Dallas so at least one starter, Dak Prescott will be rested so you would presume that Zeke Elliott will be pulled from the game very quickly as well. In fact given that Garrett has flipped his stance I would presume that it will be the Eagles against the Dallas second stringers from at least half time. Carson Wentz in fact might actually end his season on a high as which he could certainly use as a confidence boost for the off season. He has the talent but the real work comes now for the young play caller to work on his mechanics as well as engulfing himself in his playbook and working with his team mates. Other than Wentz, the Ealges need to find out what they have on their team this year as they also have serious questions on offense. Their offensive line has been okay but was a shambles once Jason Peters went out. Their WR corp, as I have mentioned before is the worst in the league only slightly ahead of the 49ers current pass catchers. Auditions again for roster spots next year, guys like Nelson Agholor and Ryan Matthews will be on the hot seat as they are very replaceable. Like the Ravens, their D has been a shining part of their season but bad offensive play has weakened them as a team strength so again I would expect a few new additions to improve an already strong unit. With Dallas sitting players very likely, I would pick the Eagles to win and Dallas to not really care.
Winner – Eagles
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers
This could be very bad for the Browns. Very bad. Like I said about momentum, the Steelers have been up and down all year and they will want to carry on their success against Baltimore last week and pretty much destroy the hapless Browns. Mike Tomlin as a coach is as aggressive as they come but given how a blow out is on the cards, even he will most likely pull his big 3 of Ben, Bell and Brown out of the game once it is out of reach. I do really like the match up of the Browns wide outs of Pryor and Coleman against young CBs’ of Pittsburgh in Artie Burns and Sean Davis. They have improved all year so once the game is out of control and Cleveland takes to the air, it will be a nice thing to watch in an otherwise irrelevant game. That being said, if Pittsburgh give up and pull all starting players and Cleveland somehow win, they would all but guarantee losing the number 1 draft pick and hand it on a silver platter to San Francisco. So which is more important? Going 1-15 but securing the top spot in the draft? Or winning and making an entire fan base weep as they lose out again on the best player in the draft (whomever that may be).For me the result is irrelevant but no less obvious. Home team all the way, even if they rest their starters.
Winner – Steelers
Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This game has an element of playoff implication for Tampa Bay. They need about 5 other games to go their way and to win against Carolina so their odds of getting in are beyond infinitesimal but it makes it all the more interesting! Tampa Bay have been a pleasant surprise this year, after a slow start they have clawed their way to a decent record of 8-7. The Panthers, lost their season many weeks ago but have already played spoiler against a few teams in recent weeks so you would expect a decent game from both sides. Hopefully Cam Newton will just sling the ball everywhere and get some mojo back with Kelvin Benjamin against a less than perfect defensive secondary. Jonathan Stewart is almost all but certain to be playing for a job next year so I would presume that the Panthers will play as if the playoffs are on the line. Their defense always plays hard and they have a high sense of pride despite the miserable year that they have endured. Tampa will want to secure a winning record regardless of other results so going 9-7 would be perceived much better than 8-8 so it is all for them to play for. Jameis Winston and Mike Evans should light up an equally shaky Panther secondary and they should just pummel Evans with targets and try and dismantle their division opponents.No Doug Martin for the Bucs thanks to below par play and slightly more importantly a 4 game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Feel bad for the guy so he was obviously trying to get back from injury and took some slightly shady methods to boost his recovery. That is of course speculation by me but it makes sense right? The Panthers D has been good against the run so my guess would be that both QB’s take to the air and we have a relatively fun game on our hands.
Winner – Bucs
Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans
If you looked at the standings, you would presume that this would be all to play for? Sadly not, the Texans are locked in as the number 4 slot in the playoffs so the play this week is of no consequence to either team. The Texans though should be up for it in every way because again, that little thing called momentum would be very handy moving in to the first week of the playoffs. This is very much a game for Tom Savage to build on his young career and try a few things against a relatively weak Titans D. Might we see more of DeAndre Hopkins? I really hope so because if they have any chance of making it past week 18 then they need their star receiver playing well and getting battered with targets. The sad news out of Tennessee is Marcus Mariota breaking his leg and leaving us with the joy of Matt Cassel behind center. You would take the winner of this game on a coin flip with Mariota in but with Cassel, this does not bode well for the Titans offense. I would definitely see DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry getting 50 odd touches between them even if the Texans play with 11 men on the line of scrimmage. Again it is a shame because I really like Tennessee but they are just not ready for prime time yet. Next year though I think will be a turning point for them as a franchise. I would pick the Titans usually but the Texans have played well on D and you just can’t overlook Matt Cassel starting for the Titans. It could get ugly in Tennessee.
Winner – Texans
New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
For all intents and purposes, these two teams are virtually carbon copies of each other. Just this year, the Falcons have simply played better. They both have power house offenses led by powerful two headed running back attacks and game changing wide receivers. Naturally, both their defenses leave something to be desired but they have both played well when required. Atlanta are the favourites in this one as a win would secure them the number 2 seed in the NFC and a bye in the playoffs. Plus they really don’t want to lose at home to their division rivals. On the flip side, you know that the Saints would love to knock their division rivals down a peg and ruin their week off once 60 minutes has expired. This has markers of an upset but I made that mistake with the Falcons before I won’t be making that mistake again even against the Saint’s offense. I think at last count, these two teams accounted for the highest scoring games in the last calendar year or so and I see no reason for that to change. Easily looking at both teams putting up 30+ points. For me, the running backs and wide receivers of the Falcons are better than the Saints so despite their marked improvements of D, barring injury I think this is the Falcons game to lose. Drew Brees will want to light up the scoreboard and is just 161 yards away from his 5th 5000 yard season (by the way no one else in NFL history has more than one…. yeah exactly). Matt Ryan will also want to build on his solid MVP candidacy. This year, he is on pace to post the 4th highest QB rating in a single season in NFL history (115.5) and he should spread the ball around to his various weapons and have fun picking apart the Saints D and cement his MVP award. Pride and competition will fuel this one so if you like points, watch this space!
Winner – Falcons
Oakland Raiders @ Denver Broncos
Playoff implications aplenty in this one. Just not for the team you would have expected! Denver are out so this is all for the Raiders. If they win, they can not only secure the division but potentially, with a Patriots loss, secure the number 1 seed in the AFC. They will want to win this trust me as going to New England in the playoffs is not something that any team will want to do. However, they lost starting QB stud Derek Carr to a broken leg, eerily similar to the injury to Marcus Mariota had last week as well. Under center will be Matt McGloin who believe it or not, has played well for the silver and black over the last few years when standing in for Derek Carr so you don’t have the same doom and gloom feeling that the Titans have. Which is great if you weren’t playing the best secondary in the league at home. Thankfully though McGloin has proven himself a decent passer so that part of their game should play as normal. Or as well as you can against the Broncos defensive backs. What should turn the tide however, is the emergence of the three headed running attack of the Raiders. With Latavius Murray doing the grunt work and then rookie standouts Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washingon spelling him as change of pace backs. Washington in particular looked frightening last week and Denvers run D allows 40-50 yards a game more than they did last year which is telling. The key for the Raiders, will be trying to shut down the Bronco’s offense. Which to be fair, is probably not going to be that difficult given recent results but pride is a huge motivator for teams, especially at home. The Bronco’s will definitely want to spoil their division rivals path into the postseason by knocking them down a peg so they should play flat out. If the Broncos can gain any resemblance of a running game then this could get really interesting as that would free up the great pairing of Thomas and Sanders on the outside. I would feel much more confident if Carr was playing as I think they would do just enough to beat the Broncos but it is now very difficult to call. Personally I think the Chiefs have a slightly easier game so I don’t think the Raiders will get the division title and will slip to the wild card spot regardless of this result.
Winner – Raiders
Arizona Cardinals @ Los Angeles Rams
Ahhhh back to the irrelevant games. The 6-8-1 Cardinals travel to the 4-11 Rams. The Rams put up a fight but still somehow lost to the Niners last week and the Cardinals put a massive smile on my face and beat Seattle in Seattle so I REALLY enjoyed last week. Now put these two teams together, no one cares about the result so based purely on talent, can anyone else make a case for a Rams win? I can’t so a Cardinal victory is all but guaranteed in my opinion. There will be a new coach in LA next year and I don’t see any of the current staff returning. Rumours aplenty about the new coach there but it will take someone pretty special to completely shake up a lost franchise with ridiculously high expectations. The one aspect of the game that I want to see is David Johnson and see if he stays in the game long enough to gain 100 scrimmage yards. If he does he will have 100 plus yards in every game this year, which is phenomenal and he will stand atop as the only player in history to accomplish the feat. He also has over 2000 total yards and 20 touchdowns this year so truly an incredible player who has only played in 21 career games. He and Le’Veon Bell are easily the two of the best, if not the best players in the league right now. David Johnson for MVP? Why not? Larry Fitzgerald played his 200th game with Arizona recently and he will never play with another team so that is a cool side note as well. Neither side has much to look forward to next year and all need significant improvements on both sides of the ball, for now, it will be fun to watch Johnson just plough through the Rams and score 20 odd points on his own.
Winner – Cardinals
Kansas City Chiefs @ San Diego Chargers
As briefly detailed earlier, this game means a lot for Kansas City. A win all but cements a division title and bye week in the playoffs. A loss and they have to hope Oakland loses at Denver. Given how the Chiefs have been playing on offense, I would be stunned to see them lose this one despite playing away from home. Tyreek Hill has established himself as a legitimate game changer in the air and on the ground. Without Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott you would have him win offensive rookie of the year hands down. In my opinion the Chiefs have disappointed in the run game despite an abundance of talent at the position but they do just enough to compliment the Chiefs pass game and the emergence of Trevis Kelce as the best TE in football not named Gronkowski. The Chargers let Gary Barnidge and Cleveland beat them last week so expect Kelce’s current hot streak to continue with extreme confidence. The absence of Melvin Gordon has truly hurt the Chargers the past few weeks. No threat on the ground has led to Philip Rivers just chucking it all over the field to Chargers and opposing players alike. I live Rivers fire and passion for the game but I can never get over his penchant for turning the ball over in key games and flaming out season after season. This increase in the pass game just plays in to the Chiefs primary strength on D, turnovers. Big play guys like Marcus Peters and Eric Berry should have a field day and I would expect similar from their linebacking corp harassing Rivers all afternoon. The demise of the Chargers continues as this game is just too important for the Chiefs so they will go all out and play a full 60 minutes to guarantee the number 2 seed.
Winner – Chiefs
San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks
I wish this was one of the games that meant nothing and Seattle rested their entire team and played 2nd and 3rd stringers but it sadly will not. They have won the NFC West but a win and an Atlanta loss will propel them back in to the number 2 seed in the NFC and that coveted bye week. Even without Thomas Rawls, I would expect the Seahawks to revert back to their tried and tested formula of power running and great defence to coast to victory. The Niners have failed to contain any running back regardless of talent or depth chart standing so it would be insanity to consider anything different happening this week. Since Jim Harbaugh’s departure, the Seakhawks have had the Niners number in every possible way and without Carlos Hyde, the Seattle D will have their way with San Francisco. The one positive may just be that San Francisco secures the number 1 spot in the draft next year. Even if that pick is not used, the teams trading out of that spot have had incredible success with the plethora of picks that come with it. Sadly there is no game changing QB talent this year so I pray that the Niners trade out of it and use the extra picks to help the rebuilding process. I’m not going to go in to any more of the 49ers situation as we all know it has been a miserable season from week 2 to now so I won’t bore anyone else with those tedious details. Barring a catastrophic set of injuries to both Russell Wilson and the entire Seattle secondary, Seattle finishes the season with a win and in control of their own destiny when it comes to the playoffs.
Winner – Seahawks
The rest of the games that @cavey007 will cover are severely more interesting and important than the above games so it might be the week where I come off Redzone and watch the TV games in more detail. You have the Patriots and Dolphins where the Pats will want to secure the number 1 spot in the AFC and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Miami needs a win and a Kansas City loss to sneak into the 5th seed. The Giants and the Redskins face off in Washington in a win or go home scenario for the Redskins (Giants are in regardless). Finally, the game of the week sees Green Bay and Detroit face off for the NFC North title. The winner obviously goes to the playoffs but the loser could still get in if Washington loses.
Lots to play for and I literally cannot wait. Thankfully Monday is a bank holiday so I will be watching every single game this week! Good times.