NFL 2018 - Week 16
NFL 2018 – Week 16
So, are you ready for Christmas? If you’re anything like us, probably not, but at least some NFL teams have already got things wrapped up, with five of this year’s playoff spots already filled. Of course, that’s not an indication of who is going to come out on top in Super Bowl LIII in February, and there’s still a lot to play for in almost every division. Last weekend saw the Los Angeles Chargers and Chicago Bears add themselves to the list of teams heading to the post-season, joining the Rams, Saints and Chiefs, but the final two weeks of the season looks set to be intriguing ones. Week 15 started off with a cracker, as the Chargers went for two on the final play of their game in Kansas City and, by successfully converting, drew level with their hosts at the top of the AFC West. It’s crazy to think that these two teams could have the best record in the conference, yet one will have to go on the road in a wild-card game…
Elsewhere, the NFC East remains wide open after Dallas were shut out in Indianapolis and both the Eagles and Redskins won games many were predicting them to lose. The destiny of the division title still rests with the Cowboys, but they can’t afford another slip-up… There’s an equally close race in the AFC North, where the Steelers beat New England to remain ahead of Baltimore by dint of that Week 1 tie with Cleveland, while the Patriots and Texans should likely clinch their respective divisions with wins this weekend. That leaves the wild card races, where the Colts, Titans, Dolphins and Browns (yes, really) remain in contention in the AFC, and the Panthers are duelling with Philly and Washington as outsiders in the NFC. Carolina went down narrowly to New Orleans on Monday night to make it five defeats in a row, while the Dolphins and Browns need something of a miracle to make it – but this is the NFL, so who knows what will happen...
Game of the Week – Baltimore Ravens @ Los Angeles Chargers
As usual, there were a few games we could have considered for this slot, but the Ravens and Chargers won out based on their recent form. LA’s ‘other’ team is really living up to its nickname, having pulled level with long-time AFC West leader Kansas City by beating them on home soil at Arrowhead last Thursday. It took a comeback performance from veteran QB Philip Rivers, with the drama of a last-play two-point conversion, to cement the win, but leaves the Chargers with a very real chance of taking the divisional title and relegating KC to the wild card spot.
The Ravens, meanwhile, are just a half-game adrift of old rivals Pittsburgh having put together a series of wins since losing to the Steelers in early November. Only an overtime defeat to Kansas City interrupted their flow and, with the best defense in the NFL, Baltimore have shown that they can live with anyone, which makes this match-up with the Chargers all the more interesting. The Ravens wind up their regular season against Cleveland, which won’t be an easy proposition – especially as they lost first time around this season – but Pittsburgh go to New Orleans this weekend before finishing against Cincinnati, so there’s all the play for. The Chargers, meanwhile, still have to face the mercurial Broncos before knowing their fate. Kansas City takes on the Seahawks this Sunday before a supposedly ‘easy’ finale against Oakland that could well prove to be the deciding factor in the title race.
Players to watch?
Things have changed in Baltimore… When we last featured the Ravens, back in Week 8, it was clear that the offense was still Joe Flacco’s, but the team’s recent run of form has coincided with the veteran picking up and injury that thrust rookie Lamar Jackson into the spotlight. The Louisville prospect has done as much with his feet as his arm, but it’s obviously working for the Ravens and Flacco looks like yesterday’s man. There has also been a change in the backfield, where another rookie, Gus Edwards, usurped Alex Collins at running back. Although veteran Kenneth Dixon is making a play for his old spot, Edwards looks to be the one to guide Baltimore towards the playoffs. Michael Crabtree and John Brown remain the receivers of choice, while rookie Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle operate at tight end, alongside an O-line that sent Marshal Yanda to another Pro Bowl. Kicker Justin Tucker – the most accurate man in NFL history – should have made it too, but lost out in the popularity contest that is fan voting... For all its renown and 2018 performances, the Ravens’ defense only had two selections for the end-of-season shindig in Orlando – linebacker CJ Mosely and veteran safety Eric Weddle – but remains one of the elite units in the NFL this year. Throw in ageless linebacker Terrell Suggs and the likes of Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Williams and Tony Jefferson and it is easy to understand why teams find it hard to score on Baltimore.
The Chargers, meanwhile, led the AFC with seven Pro Bowl selections, starting with their main man, Philip Rivers, but also adding WR Keenan Allen, RB Melvin Gordon and centre Mike Pouncey from the offense. With the unrelated Mike and Tyrell Williams adding to the outside threat, Austin Ekeler filling in for Gordon and running back and veteran TEs Virgil Green and Antonio Gates still proving a handful, this is a unit that can keep pace with most teams. The defense has regained second-year end Joey Bosa to increase the threat of its pass rush alongside Melvin Ingram, while linebacker Jatavis Brown and the backfield trio of Casey Hayward and rookies Derwin James and Desmond King can comfortably hold their own. Ingram and James are both Pro Bowl bound, along with special teams ace Adrian Phillips, while King was unlucky to miss out. The kicker, meanwhile, has been something of a bugbear for the Chargers this season, but the team is hoping that newcomer Michael Badgley can be the man going forward.
Best of the rest?
With no more Thursday night games to kick-start the week, all the focus will fall on the remaining weekends of NFL action although, of course, that means Saturday football instead... Our Game of the Week is second on the slate, following the opener between playoff hopefuls Washington and Tennessee. The Redskins surprised more than a few people with their victory in Jacksonville last weekend, although it took a last-second Dustin Hopkins field goal to confirm the win and keep DC in the playoff race. Meanwhile, the Titans saw off a New York Giants team that appeared to be hitting form. That they shut out Big Blue says something for the Tennessee defense, although it might take more than that to overcome their rivals for a wild card spot Sunday’s first televised game is another NFC East vs AFC South clash with potential post-season implications, as the Texans visit Lincoln Financial Field in the hope of cementing their division title. With Deshaun Watson and Deandre Hopkins in form, and running back Lamar Miller capable of springing a surprise, the Eagles could have their hands full but, as they showed in LA over the weekend, the underdogs are still not scared of anyone – especially with Nick Foles back at the helm in place of the injured Carson Wentz!
The prime-time Sunday slot again features the Steelers as they look to claim another high-profile scalp, this time in New Orleans. Having dispensed with New England last Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger and Co still hold the upper hand in the AFC North race over Baltimore, and will be playing like their season depends on it. The Saints, on the other hand, have nothing to lose in division, but could still squander their #1 seed to the Rams if they can’t raise their game to levels last seen a few weeks ago. Sunday Night Football heads north this weekend, coinciding with the Chiefs visit to Seattle. KC needs to keep winning to see off the renewed threat from the Chargers, but this won’t be an easy proposition, even if the Seahawks were downed by lowly San Francisco last weekend. Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Co showed no signs of slowing down in their battle with the Chargers a week ago, but will find a new defensive strength emerging from the shadow of the Legion of Boom in Seattle, just as QB Russell Wilson and his under-rated offense look to steer a path to the post-season.
The final game of the week is an all-AFC West affair, with little on the line but pride and draft picks. Denver’s single-point home defeat to Cleveland last Saturday officially eliminated them from playoff contention, while Oakland were a lame duck from the start, having gradually pared their stars from the roster. That said, Jon Gruden’s motley crew is more than capable of springing a shock here and there – just ask Pittsburgh. With jobs on the line in both camps, this could still be one to watch. Away from the chosen games, there are several other divisional rivalries to keep an eye on, not least between Atlanta and Carolina, Cincy and Cleveland, Minnesota and Detroit and Buffalo and New England. While maybe not marquee match-ups, each has possible playoff connotations… Dallas will be looking to the Jerrah World effect to help wrap up the NFC East crown against Tampa Bay, while Indianapolis will look to complete a back-to-back double over rivals from the Cowboys’ division as they host the Giants. Make the most of your Thursday night and binge this weekend…. Enjoy!
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