There are only 2 games left in the regular season, but for many teams, the playoffs have already started. A loss in the final 2 weeks could mean outright elimination let alone whether or not a squad hosts or travels during the post season. This placement of The Student of the Game’s NFL Match-Up Mania for Week 16 will introduce which contests have that impact.
Saints v. Panthers
While both these teams are all but certain to make the playoffs, the Panthers still find themselves a referee’s poor understanding of anatomy away from the division lead thanks to misidentification of Saints QB Drew Bree’s shoulder for his head in their Week 11 hosting of the 49ers. Carolina, however, still has an opportunity to make the divisional race much more intriguing when New Orleans comes into their house leaving the comfort of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the “WHO-DAT” nation.
In the previous game 2 weeks ago, it seemed the Panthers defense could skip partying that night on Bourbon Street because they appeared punch drunk by the passing display by New Orleans. They held Saints Pro Bowl TE Jimmy Graham to 2 catches, but Carolina’s ‘D’ allowed star WR Marques Colston 125 receiving on the night — a stat that helps explain why QB Cam Newton and his Cats couldn’t keep up on the scoreboard.
It baffles me that after the Seattle Seahawks squashed the fighters of the Fleur de Leis 37-7 on Monday night in Week 13, the Carolina coaches didn’t adopt a similar scoring stratagem. Force the defense to choose between Newton’s running and Newton’s passing and then beat them with the one they don’t choose. Based on this pairing’s previous episode, Cam is the only one that can carry his team passed the Saints if his squad’s defense is rendered that insignificant by Bress and his Bayou brethren again. I think the Saints win in this one and officially lock up the South.
Pats v. Ravens
So the Pats were supposed to need this game to control their destiny in winning the top spot in the AFC. Instead, they find themselves needing a win over Baltimore to get help from the Broncos should Denver slack off against the Texans Sunday. To make matters worse, should New England beat the Ravens to keep alive their slim hopes, they’ll be helping their division rival Miami Dolphins’s playoff quest after the Phins beat them last week to put them in this place. However, I don’t think QB Tom Brady or Head Coach Bill Bellichik will lose sleep in contributing to eliminate the Baltimore Ravens since it was QB Joe “the Fowl” Flacco throwing ducks in an effort that eliminated Brady and Bellichik in last year’s AFC Championship.
With that offense suffering the loss of TE Rob Gronkowski, the only solace that can be taken by the Patriots is that WRs Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman can still help move the ball better than the Ravens anaemic offense. This is one of those games that depend entirely on which defense causes more mistakes and the teams’ ability to capitalize on them. When I think of making mistakes, I’m thinking Flacco before I think Brady and that the Ravens’ playoff wings are soon to be clipped.
Bears v. Eagles
Now that Chicago is done asking the silly questions surrounding whether their starter should start as the signal caller, QB Jay Cutler and his offense can concentrate on a humiliated bunch that lost to the maligned Minnesota Vikings to advance their standing in the NFC North. For the Eagles, it’s very simple. . . Forget Week 15 — win the final 2 weeks of the season, and the postseason is yours at the 3rd or 4th seed.
Both these teams feature defenses that struggle, but the Bears in particular perform poorly against balanced offenses. I see the Eagles rallying the troops and flying yet another week to set up a dramatic week 17 against the Cowboys.
Seahawks v. Cardinals
This game is what will determine if we take Arizona’s playoff chances off of life support. In a race with the division rival 49ers, the Seahawks are a hurtle that San Francisco cleared 2 weeks ago, cornering the Cardinals into position requiring an unlikely upset over Seattle to keep their already dying playoff hopes alive. I’m not saying that QB Carson Palmer is going to lead his team into history as the “Cardiac Cards”, I’m saying that’s what it would take for them to win this game.
And yet, with the Seahawks in an echelon of regular season success not realized before under Head Coach Pete Carroll, this is a team that lacks discipline and may be inclined to go through the motions leading up to the playoffs thinking they have home field locked up.
I’m fairly certain that won’t happen, but I’m not brave enough to outright dismiss it.
Cowboys v. ‘Skins
After the Eagles gave up an embarrassing loss to the Vikings, it appears that Philadelphia doesn’t want to win the NFC (L)East any more than Dallas as we approach the end of the regular season. With over reaction from Philly fans turning them to question QB Nick Foles and the DC Drama surrounding ‘Skins stater QB Robert Griffin III, for the first time in a long time, Tony Romo isn’t the most scrutinized signal caller in the division during the month of December — until they lost to Green Bay 37-36.
However, even with the Cowboys featuring one of the Top 5 worst NFL defenses of all time, Romo may find himself as the falsely blamed focus of failure should back up QB Kirk Cousins step in and play spoiler. It will cause yet another Cowboys failure for the fans. Possibly being blown out of playoff posture in a year when the schedule in the division was weak after giving Romo an expensive contract extension — and by a back up passer to boot? . . . Anyone who claims Dallas has no pressure going into this game has forgotten the Cowboys fanbase is among the most disappointed yet the most entitled. A baffling paradoxical sentiment among gridiron goers, but true none the less. Yet, I don’t think Cousins is good enough to force the pain described above. Look for Week 17′s Eagles v. Cowboys game to make the next list.
Kyle Nash — @TheSoTG on Twitter
Founder and host of The Student of the Game show
VP of Operations and Editor for The National Gridiron Network
COO and NFL Contributor for The Sports Chronicles
Special Contributor for Pro Player Insiders
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