Jan. 31, 2019
Pick 6: NFL Week 16
A lot can change in the final two weeks of the NFL regular season. There are still seven slots yet to be claimed. Even teams like the Browns and Panthers are still in the hunt, despite both of them having losing records. Seeding could change drastically as well. The Chiefs and Chargers could swap places, putting one of the most dominant teams in the league in a wild card slot. Those are just the most extreme examples of the crazy scenarios we could face as we move into January.
With the postseason picture as open as it is, there's a lot of meaningful games this week. The trick is finding the games that are not only important in the big picture, but are also worth your time to watch for the individual game itself. These six fit that criteria.
Redskins vs Titans
Not many teams represent a throwback style of football like these two. They have survived almost entirely due to defense and rushing attacks. That's no easy task in this league. Both are still in the mix for playoff spots. An early exit would almost certainly follow their appearance, but that doesn't make it much less meaningful. Washington would be thrilled to make the cut with Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Johnson leading the team through the 2nd half of the season. A Tennessee appearance could be a sign of a bright future, considering Mariota has had a down year and it's Mike Vrabel's first year of coaching. So yes, any taste of January football would be appreciated by either side.
This Saturday's game is sure to be a grueling battle. Scoring will be at a premium. But ultimately, the Titans should be just a little bit better. Their defense is better. Their running game is better. Their QB is better. Plus, they have the home field. It will take something special for Washington to keep their season alive.
Titans win, 17-9
Ravens vs Chargers
For the time being, these are our two AFC wild card teams. However, each of them still have a shot at a division title. They can't do it on their own though. The Chargers need a Kansas City loss to keep the title within reach. The Ravens need the same from Pittsburgh. But if either of those losses come, it would swing the door wide open for for one of these 2nd-place teams. The need to hang in there and win their last two to capitalize on that potential opportunity. And in Baltimore's case, they may need both of those wins just to stay in the playoff picture. Only one of them can win this week though, which means the other's division title hopes will be all but gone.
Lamar Jackson is officially Baltimore's starting QB. He's been on a great run in his first five starts, but at some point, he needs to throw the ball more effectively. Jackson is currently completing under 60% of his passes. He has yet to throw for over 200 yards in a game, and his passer rating is just 82.0. To be fair, that really isn't all that bad for a rookie, especially when you factor in his 427 rushing yards in five games. However, they are going to need more from him to win games like this. A good running game is important, but it doesn't get you far in this league without a passing attack.
The Chargers have yet to score less than 20 points in a game this season. Even against one of the best defenses in the game, I expect them to continue that trend. If Baltimore wants to beat that, they need a better passing attack then what they've been getting. L.A. boasts one of the strongest passing defenses in the NFL. Jackson's decision making and accuracy need an uptick if he's going to get through that D. Rushing alone won't cut it. Right now, I can't see that kind of performance from Lamar Jackson. Maybe in a year or two.
Chargers win, 23-16
Bengals vs Browns
Believe it or not, the Cleveland Browns still have a chance at postseason football. It's a small chance with a lot of help needed, yes, but it's more than they've had in quite some time. Going from 0-16 last year to a wild card slot would be nothing short of miraculous. I can only imagine what the feeling around the team would be if they actually pulled it off. The only thing that the team may cherish more would be beating Hue Jackson a second time.
Hue Jackson was fired midway through the 2018 season, after compiling a record of 3-36-1 with Cleveland. He was then picked up by Cincinnati as Special Assistant to Marvin Lewis. Some Browns players were not shy to express negative feelings toward their former coach. Baker Mayfield most notably called him "fake". You could tell when they beat the Bengals back in week 12 that the players were thrilled to win with him on the other sideline. I'm sure they'd love to do that again.
Personally, I don't see any reason why they won't do just that. Under Gregg Williams, Cleveland has gone 4-2, including the aforementioned win over the Bengals. That game was one of their best of the year, and with the rematch being on their home turf, this one could be just as good. It will be a happy day in Cleveland if they walk out of there with another win.
Browns win, 28-17
Texans vs Eagles
Week after week, I kept waiting for the defending Champs to find their groove. As we neared to end of the regular season, it seemed all hope was lost. And then came their knight in shining armor, Nick Foles, to take down the L.A. Rams. I don't know what Foles could possibly bring to the team that Wentz doesn't, but the team really kicks it into gear when he's under center. It appears Foles could be leading the team the rest of this season, and after that, it's anyone's guess. It may seem crazy, but maybe it's best for the Eagles, Wentz, and Foles if Philly moves on from Carson Wentz. It's certainly worth pondering. Strong performances from Foles in the next two or more weeks could make for an interesting decision in the off-season.
This week's challenge is no easy one. The Texans have seemed to fly under the radar all year. I don't know how that's possible when you win nine games in a row. Even though they didn't have the toughest schedule during the stretch, that kind of streak can't be ignored. Houston has top 5 defense. They run the ball well, and they don't let you do the same. Watson hasn't been given a great supporting cast, but he doesn't let that stop him from making plays. On top of all that, they protect the ball better than most. The Texans have everything needed to make a playoff run. Nobody should feel comfortable when Houston's on the schedule.
Ultimately, I do think the better team is currently the Texans, and I believe they will win this game. However, the Eagles aren't going down without a fight. They just showed last week that the 2017 team is still in there somewhere. It feels like they could snap back at anytime and beat anyone. It should be a great battle.
Texans win, 23-20
Steelers vs Saints
Pittsburgh has felt like a permanent fixture in the AFC postseason for quite a long while. Everyone just assumes they'll be there like always, and that's for a good reason. They don't fall short often. They did have a slow start this year, but after winning six in a row in the middle season, it began to seem like business as usual. Then came a 3-game losing streak. Although they did end that by beating New England last week, that skid put them in a position to fail. Although they still lead the AFC North, a loss this week could potentially bump them to 2nd place and possibly put them out of the playoff picture all together. This thing could came crashing down in hurry.
The Saints have come down to Earth in recent weeks, but they still remain the best team in the game in my opinion. Yes, the last three games were a little sketchy, but it's worth noting that all those were on the road. The Saints in the Superdome are different team. New Orleans is averaging 38 points on their turf. Scoring more than that on road is a challenge in itself. The Saints make it even harder on you by not allowing you to run the ball. The Saints allow just 3.7 yards per carry. New Orleans might not look great on the road, but I don't think that matters. They play their final two games at home. They only have to win one of those to clinch the top seed, giving them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. I don't know if there's anyone out there who will beat New Orleans on their turf. I definitely don't see the Steelers being the team to do it.
Saints win, 38-31
Chiefs vs Seahawks
Kansas City and Seattle got wake up calls last week. For some time now, they both appeared to be firmly in their respective positions. But now, not so much. The Chiefs' loss to the Chargers put their rival in striking distance. One more Kansas City loss opens up the door for L.A. to swoop in and take the West and the 1st seed for themselves. Seattle is almost guaranteed a wild card spot, but a shocking loss in San Francisco leaves the possibility of failure on the table, and it also makes me question their chances if they do get there. Needless to say, this game means a lot for these teams.
Kansas City has been a joy to watch in 2018. Watching Patrick Mahomes flourish in an offense that is tailor made for him is just so incredible to watch. They've been able to pretty well dominate in the regular season to this point. However, late-season football is a different game. Things like the running game, defense, penalties, and turnovers are big in these types of games. Seattle has slight advantages in all those categories. Take those advantages and put the Chiefs in a hostile environment like CenturyLink Field, and now this is a rough situation for them. This looks like the trouble for Kansas City to me.
Seahawks win, 28-26