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Your NFL Week 16 Matchup Guide: Will the Rams or Seahawks Gain a Divisional Edge?

L.A. is coming off a bad loss to the Jets, and Seattle’s offense is trending in the wrong direction. Which team will find its stride this week? Plus: how the rest of this week’s games could shape the playoff race.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There are just two weeks left in the regular season, and this one features a game on Friday and three games on Saturday. After the Friday matchup, the NFL will have officially played on every day of the week this season. While most American business has receded, the NFL has expanded to occupy an even greater share of our lives. But at least the Patriots are out of the playoffs.

We will give you these games in chronological order, but first, the Game of the Week—which, uh, is a little deflated after a certain team lost to the Jets.

Game of the Week

Los Angeles Rams (9-5) @ Seattle Seahawks (10-4)

Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Seahawks -2
Over/under: 46.5

L.A.’s loss to the Jets last week took a lot of the wind out of this matchup. But Seahawks-Rams games are always good. Since Sean McVay took over the Rams in 2017, five of these teams’ seven matchups have been decided by a touchdown or less. This week’s game will have even higher stakes because a division title is on the line. If the Seahawks win, they will clinch the NFC West. If the Rams win, they would be able to clinch the division with a victory over the Cardinals in Week 17. Yet neither team is exactly playing their finest football right now. The Rams are coming off their most embarrassing loss of the McVay era (other than that Super Bowl loss to the Patriots), while the Seahawks have reverted to ground-and-pound football after letting Wilson air the ball out over the first half of the season.

Friday

Minnesota Vikings (6-8) @ New Orleans Saints (10-4)

Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox/NFL Network
Opening point spread: Saints -6.5
Over/under: 52.5

The Saints will clinch the division if they win this Christmas Day game, and even if they lose, they’ll probably still take the NFC South title. A loss would eliminate the possibility of earning the no. 1 seed in the NFC. But the real thing the Saints need this week is to get their offense in some sort of rhythm. Receiver Michael Thomas is on injured reserve and won’t be back until the playoffs, leaving the team with receiver Emmanuel Sanders, tight end Jared Cook, and a bunch of practice squadders as receiving options.

Saturday

Tampa Bay (9-5) @ Detroit Lions (5-9)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: NFL Network
Opening point spread: Bucs -7.5
Over/under: 54

Despite their 9-5 record and a comeback win over the Falcons last week, the Bucs have been disappointing this season. But even so, they have little maneuvering left to do for the playoffs—they have almost no chance of missing the postseason, nor any chance of winning their division, so all they are playing for is wild-card positioning. The most important thing for Tampa Bay this week is to show the ability to dominate a struggling team like Detroit, whose secondary is in shambles and whose starting quarterback is so banged up he may not even play.

But Detroit has bigger problems than just Matt Stafford’s potential absence this game. Lions interim head coach Darrell Bevell was deemed a close contact of someone with the coronavirus on Wednesday and will not be able to coach. The same is true for almost all of Detroit’s defensive coaching staff. Quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan will likely call the plays on offense instead of Bevell (Bevell spent his 28th wedding anniversary in self-isolation this week). It is unclear who will be in charge of their defense.

San Francisco 49ers (5-9) @ Arizona Cardinals (8-6)

Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Channel: Amazon Prime (We’re in a brave new world)
Opening point spread: Cardinals -3
Over/under: 49.5

The Cardinals currently hold the last playoff spot in the NFC and are fighting to keep it. The only team that can realistically catch the 8-6 Cardinals is the 7-7 Bears. If the Cardinals lose this week and the Bears beat the Jaguars, Chicago would leapfrog Arizona for the no. 7 seed heading into Week 17. We are living in a world where Kyler Murray might lose his playoff berth to Mitchell Trubisky.

But that’s not even the strangest aspect of this game. The truly weird part is that this is a pseudo-home-game for both teams. The 49ers have been playing in Arizona since contact sports were banned in California’s Santa Clara County earlier this month. So the 49ers will play in the Cardinals stadium as visitors this week after two games of being there as the home team.

Miami Dolphins (9-5) @ Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)

Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Channel: NFL Network
Opening point spread: Dolphins -2
Over/under: 47

The Dolphins currently have the last spot in the AFC playoffs and are trying to hold off the surging Ravens. Both teams are 9-5. Miami has the tiebreaker, so the Dolphins would make the playoffs if the season ended today. But the standings will likely change in the next two weeks. Miami’s next two opponents are the Raiders and Bills, while Baltimore’s got the Giants and Bengals. So Baltimore’s chances of finishing 2-0 are high, meaning this is a true must-win game for the Dolphins. Vegas, meanwhile, has almost no chance of making the playoffs.


Sunday Early Slate

Indianapolis Colts (10-4) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Steelers -3 (Now Colts -1.5???)
Over/under: 46

The Steelers are in a full-blown identity crisis after their embarrassing 27-17 loss to the Bengals on Monday Night Football. The problems they’ve dealt with all season have started to spiral out of control. Ben Roethlisberger looked like he needed to retire in the first half of the Bengals loss before rebounding in the second. Roethlisberger’s deep ball is gone, and Pittsburgh has no running game to speak of. The team’s once-elite defense is injured and was ineffective enough on Monday to give up an untouched rushing touchdown to Ryan Finley.

After an 11-0 start, the Steelers are on the ropes. A loss this week combined with the Browns beating the Jets would make Pittsburgh’s matchup with Cleveland next week an AFC North title game. Even giving Cleveland that opportunity would be embarrassing for the Steelers, but especially because no NFL team that started 11-0 has won fewer than 13 games since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. Barring a 2-0 finish, the Steelers will be the first.

The Colts have serious playoff implications riding on this game, too. A win combined with a Titans loss to the Packers would give Indianapolis a one-game division lead heading into Week 17.

Cleveland Browns (10-4) @ New York Jets (1-13)

Time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Browns -10
Over/under: 44

The Jets seem destined to fall back to Earth this week after their stunning win against the Rams. That victory was just the fifth time ever that a 17-point underdog has won an NFL game. (But at what cost?)

The Browns, meanwhile, have real stakes in this game. A win combined with a Steelers loss would position the Browns to win the division if they beat Pittsburgh in Week 17. Few things would be as cathartic for Browns fans as ripping a division title from the cold hands of a formerly 11-0 rival.

But first the Browns have to beat the Jets, and this game shows how much the two franchises have diverged in the past three years. In 2018, the Browns drafted Baker Mayfield first overall while the Jets drafted Sam Darnold third. Mayfield made his NFL debut in Week 3 that year against the Jets, and he led Cleveland to its first win in almost two years. Flash-forward to 2020 and the Browns are 10-4 with a chance to take the division from Pittsburgh. The Jets, meanwhile, are on pace to finish 1-15.


New York Giants (5-9) @ Baltimore Ravens (9-5)

Time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Ravens -9.5
Over/under: 45

Baltimore is heavily benefiting from its schedule right now. To make the playoffs, the Ravens need to finish 2-0 and have the Dolphins lose at least one of their next two games. The Ravens should certainly be able to do their part, as they play the Giants and Bengals in the next two weeks. The Bengals may not be a cakewalk after beating the Steelers, but Baltimore’s schedule is easier than Miami’s (the Dolphins finish the season against the Raiders and Bills).

The Giants, meanwhile, are pretty much out of the NFC East race if they lose this game. This week, head coach Joe Judge said winning the division isn’t what the team’s been focusing on.

“There may be a time that we talk about [winning the division] in the future, possibly, based on what the situation is,” Judge told ESPN. “That being said, it’s always been my belief to keep focused on what you’re doing right now. We can’t do anything about Dallas [in Week 17] right now. That’s a week away. We can only control Baltimore. Anything that may or may not come after that doesn’t even exist yet. Wasting mental energy and focus on something that doesn’t exist, to me, is just wasted time.”

Atlanta Falcons (4-10) @ Kansas City Chiefs (13-1)

Time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Chiefs -12.5
Over/under: 53.5

Lol.

Chicago Bears (7-7) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13)

Time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Bears -3.5 (now Bears -7.5)
Over/under: 47

The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to get Trevor Lawrence with the first pick in the upcoming draft unless they screw it up by winning this game. To be clear, the Jaguars players have zero interest in losing—most of them won’t even be around for the Lawrence era. But Jacksonville’s fans and front office have to be rooting for a loss.

The real intrigue here is for Chicago. If the Bears win this game and the Cardinals lose to the 49ers, Chicago will have a 3 in 4 chance of getting the NFC’s last playoff spot. The team’s offense has looked strong with Mitchell Trubisky in the past three weeks, but don’t stare directly at it because you might be blinded into thinking Chicago should sign Trubisky to an extension this offseason.

Cincinnati Bengals (3-10-1) @ Houston Texans (4-10)

Time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Texans -8.5
Over/under: 45

Last week, the Bengals beat the Steelers much in the same way that a younger brother does the first time they realize they are stronger than their older brother. But this week, we’ll see whether the Bengals have really grown up, or if they just caught their older brother off guard.

The Texans have had a bizarre month, losing twice to the Colts on goal line fumbles in the past three weeks. These teams are playing for pride, but this game affects the draft order more than it does anything else. And considering both of these teams already have their franchise quarterbacks, the pride might be more important than the draft slot.

Sunday Late Slate

Denver Broncos (5-9) @ Los Angeles Chargers (5-9)

Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Chargers -2.5
Over/under: 50

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Carolina Panthers (4-10) @ Washington Football Team (6-8)

Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Washington -3
Over/under: 44.5

What an awful few days in Washington. Earlier this week, multiple news outlets reported that in 2009, the Washington Football Team and owner Dan Snyder paid a former employee $1.6 million as part of a settlement after the woman described sexual misconduct by Snyder (this is separate from the 15 women who told The Washington Post they were sexually harassed while working for and adjacent to the team, as detailed in a July report from the Post, as well as 25 other women who said they experienced sexually harassment while working for the team in a Post report a month later).

Adding to Washington’s embarrassment is the fact that quarterback Dwayne Haskins was stripped of his captainship after being photographed maskless at a party earlier this week. It’s the second time this season that Haskins has violated the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. With backup quarterback Alex Smith dealing with a calf injury and Kyle Allen on injured reserve, Haskins is the team’s last real option at quarterback as it fights to win the NFC East title. As Mina Kimes said on ESPN on Tuesday, Haskins is going to be punished for his actions. Will Dan Snyder be punished for his?

Philadelphia Eagles (4-9-1) @ Dallas Cowboys (5-9)

Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Pick Em (now Eagles -2)
Over/under: 48.5

Jalen Hurts is the first quarterback in NFL history to have 500 passing yards and 150 rushing yards in his first two starts. Beyond the numbers, his poise is also impressive. Hurts had a reputation for being unflappable in college, and he’s looked unflappable in the NFL too—which is a rare trait in a rookie. But Philadelphia catches the Cowboys as they are finding their stride, and the Dallas offense could show some life against Philly’s listless secondary.

Sunday Night Football

Tennessee Titans (10-4) @ Green Bay Packers (11-3)

Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Channel: NBC
Opening point spread: Packers -4.5
Over/under: 55.5

The Packers are the highest-scoring team in the NFC, and the Titans are the co-highest-scoring team in the AFC (with the Chiefs). No wonder this game has the largest over/under of the week. The defining quality of the Packers and Titans this season has been consistency. The Packers have scored less than 22 points just once this season. The Titans have scored 20 points in all but two of their games. These teams are well coached—and they have coaching ties, too. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was Tennessee’s offensive coordinator in 2018.

The real matchup in this game is Derrick Henry against a Packers defense that ranks 21st in stopping the run, per Football Outsiders. Green Bay fans likely have little confidence in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to stop Henry, but perhaps LaFleur has a better idea of how to slow down his former offense.

Meanwhile, Green Bay’s offense stagnated in the second half of a close 24-16 win against the Panthers last week. But Aaron Rodgers is optimistic the Packers will improve. “As hard as it is to be great every single week, when the expectations are so high and the preparation is what it is, I think it’s kinda hard to suck back-to-back weeks as well,” Rodgers told reporters this week.

Monday Night Football

Buffalo Bills (11-3) @ New England Patriots (6-8)

Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Opening point spread: Bills -4.5 (now Bills -7)
Over/under: 45.5

This was supposed to be a crucial game that could decide the AFC East. Instead, the Bills already clinched the division, and the Patriots are locked into third place. There is nothing left for Buffalo to accomplish here. It’s over. But rubbing it in New England’s face will be all the more fun. The Bills beat the Patriots in the standings, but it’s time to beat them on the field and guarantee New England’s first losing record in 20 years.