NFL Week 16 Preview — Which Teams Will Clinch Playoff Spots?
Just two weeks remain in the 2015 NFL season, and six playoff spots have yet to be claimed. Here’s a look at Week 16’s most interesting match-ups.
Thursday, December 24
The Los Angeles Bowl?
San Diego at Oakland | O.co Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on NFL Network
The Raiders and Chargers have already been eliminated from playoff contention in 2015. Both teams could also have a new home in 2016: Los Angeles — the city that each franchise has already left once before. We should know by mid-January.
San Diego (4-10) won what could be its last game ever in its current home city last week against the Dolphins. The Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers will try to keep Oakland (6-8) from doing the same and play ‘Grinch’ on Christmas Eve in the Bay Area.
The Raiders clearly have a bright future (let that settle), but both teams could be energized by the future prospect of playing in the nation’s second largest city. Likely future Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson announced earlier this week that the 2015 season would be his last. It’s hard to imagine anything short of a gang fight firing up the ‘Black Hole’ crowd more than having the opportunity to say good-bye (again) to Woody and the Raiders on national TV. Have you ever seen an elf with an eye patch and a battle axe? Tune in.
Saturday, December 26
The Eagles' Last Chance to Fly in 2015
Washington at Philadelphia | Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on NFL Network
Neither the Eagles nor the Redskins truly deserve an NFC playoff spot, but it’s likely that one of those middling teams will wear the NFC East crown — probably the winner of this Saturday’s primetime game. Washington (7-7) can clinch the division title by beating Philadelphia (6-8), but the Eagles can tie them with a victory — and win the division by beating the Giants next week.
Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has played well as his team has marched out of depths of dread to the middle of mediocrity; he’s thrown 16 touchdown passes and just three interceptions in the last eight games. So, perhaps he’s due for a stinker?
Philadelphia would do well just to tackle better on defense and somehow not keep giving the ball back to the opposition on offense, either via turnover or because of Chip Kelly’s sputtering scheme. Philly should also cover former Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, who would relish beating his old team and the coach who discarded him.
Sunday, December 27
The Packers & Cardinals Can Show They’re Super
Green Bay at Arizona | U of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox
The perfect Panthers and battle-tested Seahawks might be the NFC teams most likely to make it to Super Bowl 50, but both the Cardinals and the Packers have more than enough talent to represent the NFC in Santa Clara this February. They’ll need to prove it this Sunday to start convincing the pundits, though.
Arizona (12-2) has already claimed the NFC West title. A win over Green Bay (10-4) would clinch a first-round bye for Carson Palmer and Co. and force the Packers to win the NFC North against the Vikings in Week 17.
Green Bay has punched its playoff ticket, but Aaron Rodgers and his squad are light on wins over quality teams in 2015. It’s easy to see them coasting into — and then immediately out of — the postseason. They need a signature victory now.
The Vikings Are ThisClose to the Playoffs
N.Y. Giants at Minnesota | TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC
The Vikings weren’t supposed to be this good in 2015, but here they are just one win away from locking up a playoff spot — and still with an outside chance at the NFC North title. NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson has shown that he’s still an elite player. Minnesota (9-5) needs to take advantage of the Giants leaky defense to get out to a big lead, roll into the postseason and force a showdown with the Packers for the NFC North crown next week.
Because everyone else in the division stinks (too), New York (6-8) still has a slim chance at the NFC East title. Eli Manning won’t have Odell Beckham (suspension) to overthrow in this game, but the two-time Super Bowl champ still might have some magic to help save his team’s season and head coach Tom Coughlin’s job. Manning absolutely carved up the Panthers defense in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss, and the Vikings don’t defend the pass as well as Carolina does.
Monday, December 28
The Broncos Try to Stop Their Slide
Cincinnati at Denver | Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
Not so long ago, Monday night’s Bengals-Broncos game could have been touted as an AFC title-game preview. Now? It’s a classic match-up between old foes A.J. McCarron and Brock Osweiler, which is to say these teams really need quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Peyton Manning to return respectively to be Super Bowl contenders.
Denver (10-4) needs just one more win to get into the playoffs, but they are now just one game ahead of the surging Chiefs in the AFC West. The Broncos need to wrap it up now or risk falling into playoff scenario peril in Week 17. Two losses and wins by the Chiefs, Steelers and Jets could find the Broncos out of the postseason.
Cincinnati (11-3) clinched their fifth consecutive playoff berth last Sunday, but McCarron won’t have it easy against the league’s best defense with the most sacks. Maybe it’s a good thing Dalton isn’t playing this week.
Sunday, December 27
New England at N.Y. Jets | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Houston at Tennessee | Nissan Stadium, Nashville; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Cleveland at Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Indianapolis at Miami | Sun Life Stadium, Miami; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
San Francisco at Detroit | Ford Field, Detroit; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Dallas at Buffalo | Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Chicago at Tampa Bay | Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Carolina at Atlanta | Georgia Dome, Atlanta; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Pittsburgh at Baltimore | M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Jacksonville at New Orleans | Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on CBS
St. Louis at Seattle | CenturyLink Field, Seattle; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox