The Once-Over: Week 16
The Early Games
Baltimore (8-6) at Pittsburgh (7-7): In a freakish turn of events, this normally defense-minded matchup could produce some serious offensive output. Baltimore boasts a top-10 rushing offense behind Ray Rice, and Joe Flacco has the passing game ranked 13th.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards last week and the Steelers put up 37. Pittsburgh has won six of its last eight games against Baltimore at home, and with a playoff berth on the line history should repeat itself. Look for a close game to be decided by less than a touchdown -- but, the scores will be in the upper-twenties instead of in the teens.
Carolina (6-8) at New York Giants (8-6): The Panthers have some health issues headed into New York. Jake Delhomme as been banished to the injured reserve and backup Matt Moore has a banged up shoulder. The two-headed rushing monster could be missing one portion of the mixture that makes this tandem so stout -- DeAngelo Williams made the trip but is doubtful due to an ankle injury.
Eli Manning seems to enjoy the holiday season. In three December games he's thrown for 900 yards and has only one interception to eight touchdown passes. The offensive line will need to keep Julius Peppers away from Manning for most of the day if Manning has any hope of maintaining December's holiday cheer, because the Giants are going to have to throw the ball.
Pick: New York Giants
Tampa Bay (2-12) at New Orleans (13-1): Josh Freeman is still figuring things out under center, but Kellen Winslow is a veteran tight end and Tampa Bay's biggest offensive weapon. He'll need to have a big game if the Buccaneers have any chance of pulling off the upset.
New Orleans thumped Tampa Bay earlier this season and there is no reason to believe any other outcome could arise on Sunday. Drew Brees needs to display some awesome numbers if he wants to stay in the MVP race -- this Tampa defense is prime for such a needed result.
Pick: New Orleans
Jacksonville (7-7) at New England (9-5): Jacksonville is fighting for its playoff life on Sunday and will have to go through a good, but not great Patriots team. David Garrard needs to find a way to finish games for his team and New England's less-then-stellar pass rush may give him time to get things done.
Tom Brady hasn't had as successful of a season as many had hoped, but with the 27th-ranked pass defense headed into Foxboro, he should be a pretty happy guy. He'll need to bolster his passing efficiency on Sunday and keep mistakes to a minimum for the Patriots to reach a double digit win total in Week 16.
Pick: New England
Houston (7-7) at Miami (7-7): Matt Schaub should be licking his chops entering Week 16 as he gets to throw into a Miami secondary that is starting a pair of rookies at cornerback and doesn't get much younger as you get inside. The running game hasn't been terribly effective of late, but it probably won't have to be on Sunday.
It's true that Chad Henne is making his fair share of mistakes in his rookie season, he's thrown eight interceptions and only four touchdown passes in his last four games. But, his receiving corps is getting better by the week and Henne is finding ways to build relationships with each of his route-runners. Henne isn't going to be able spark a win on his own. Ricky Williams is going to have to step up and provide numbers on the ground if the Dolphins wish to stay alive in the playoff hunt.
Seattle (5-9) at Green Bay (9-5): When one of the biggest motivators and story lines heading into a Week 16 game is whether or not Darryl Tapp bit Aaron Rodgers last season, there isn't much hope for a classic game in waiting to materialize on Sunday. Seattle is trying to avoid tying their worst road record in team history with a loss on Sunday.
Rodgers may not have been bitten last season,but he should chew through the Seattle defense in Week 16. The Seahawks are ranked 29th against the pass and have next to no chance in stopping Rodgers from reaching to 4,000 yard milestone this week. Rodgers needs 38 yards passing to register back-to-back 4,000 yard passing seasons.
Pick: Green Bay
Oakland (5-9) at Cleveland (3-11): JaMarcus Russell loses his job to Bruce Gradkowski, then leads his team to victory filling in for Gradkowski after an injury -- only to find out that Charlie Frye will start against Cleveland at quarterback. Soap opera writers could learn a thing or two from spending time in Oakland's house.
Joshua Cribbs has turned into one of the most exciting players in football. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns last week then watched Jerome Harrison steal the limelight by rushing for 286 yards. The Browns may need that kind of output again on Sunday to get back-to-back wins. On a side note, Derek Anderson will walk onto the field Sunday and know that he's the best quarterback in the game. How often does that happen.
Kansas City (3-11) at Cincinnati (9-5): Kansas City gave up 286 yards to Jerome Harrison last week. Imagine what Cedric Benson and Larry Johnson will do to this feeble unit.
Larry Johnson has played well in a limited role since joining the Bengals after being cut by Kansas City. Just like Michael Vick emerged against his old team the Atlanta Falcons, look for Johnson to play a bigger role in the Cincinnati game plan on Sunday.
Buffalo (5-9) at Atlanta (7-7): The progression from Trent Edwards to Ryan Fitzpatrick and now to Brian Brohm is proof that injuries have killed the Bills this season. Brohm will make his NFL debut on Sunday after very limited time working with the first team. Fortunately he'll face a Falcons secondary that has been very friendly to opposing quarterbacks.
The Falcons also have had their fair share of injuries and it's still in doubt whether or not Michael Turner will be able to play. If Turner cannot play, Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood will benefit from running against the worst run defense in the NFL. Buffalo has allowed 12 straight 100-yard rushing games.
The Late Games
Detroit (2-12) at San Francisco (6-8): Both quarterbacks on the field Sunday will use this game as an audition of sorts. With Matthew Stafford and Daunte Culpepper out with injury, Drew Stanton will have a two-game opportunity -- that starts with Week 16 -- to show the Lions that he can be a backup next season to Stafford.
Alex Smith still hasn't locked down the starting job for 210 in San Francisco. There is only one worse passing defense in the league than Detroit, so Smith should be able to take a good step forward in securing the job with awesome numbers against the Lions.
Pick: San Francisco
St. Louis (1-13) at Arizona (9-5): Keith Null gets that start at quarterback with Kyle Boller and Marc Bulger on the shelf with injuries. But, if you're looking for excitement in the Rams offense, Null shouldn't be in your sights. The Cardinals have had trouble stopping top-notch running backs this season. Steven Jackson is about as top-notch as they come.
St. Louis has the 27th-ranked run defense and Beanie Wells is coming off of a pretty good two-week performance. With 189 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games, Wells could continue to shine in Week 16 -- especially if the offense is pared down a bit with the Cardinals playoff spot secured already.
New York Jets (7-7) at Indianapolis (14-0): Mark Sanchez could be called an Achilles heel for this Jets team this season. The Jets are the only team in the NFL to keep opposing offenses under the 4,000 yards gained plateau this season and they also rank number one allowing only 15.8 points per game. However, the team is just 7-7 and probably looking forward to next season, and not having a rookie quarterback.
The only way to predict this game is to know how long the starters in Indianapolis will play, and only Jim Caldwell knows any answers about playing time. If Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne get to play for an extended period, watch the Darrelle Revis matchup on Wayne. Manning may take a shot or two at the shut-down cornerback.
Denver (8-6) at Philadelphia (10-4): Brian Dawkins wasn't properly sent off from Philadelphia since Eagle Nation felt he would be back in a Philadelphia jersey in 2009. This is his first game back since leaving and the Broncos will likely announce their defense during player introductions, giving the Philadelphia faithful a chance to pay tribute to one of their favorite sons.
Brian Westbrook may get a chance to play on Sunday, but it will be in a limited role if he does. He practiced in full with the first team all week, which hasn't happened since he suffered his second concussion in Week 10. Westbrook will provide a spark, but it will be DeSean Jackson and Donovan McNabb that prove t be too much for Denver.
Sunday Night Football
Dallas (9-5) at Washington (4-10): Dallas, and Tony Romo in particular, finally launched that poor December play monkey off their backs and now have to travel and face a tough pass defense in Washington. When these two teams play anything can happen, but Romo and the tandem of Felix Jones and Marion Barber should be able to continue Dallas' December winning streak.
Albert Haynesworth is scheduled to start on Sunday even though he was sent home from practice for being late and torched the Redskins coaching staff for not using him properly. This is just another distraction in a long list that includes Jim Zorn's job security during the season and the future search for a new coach in the off-season.
Monday Night Football
Minnesota (11-3) at Chicago (5-9): If you're tuning in on Monday night to see the aftermath of the Brad Childress and Brett Favre fiasco, you might be disappointed. The Bears aren't good enough to force any difficult decisions -- Favre will play the entire game on Monday because is numbers will be so good, it would be foolish to remove the future Hall of Famer.
The Bears have nothing else left to play for this season except for pride and Lovie Smith's job. Will a win over Minnesota be enough to secure Smith a paycheck in 2010? Will another loss seal his fate and send him to the unemployment line?