Well, here we are, with just four weeks of the regular season left. The AFC playoff picture is super cluttered, with the NFC being more locked in. There are multiple key matchups this week, so let’s dive in.
Baltimore at Buffalo
Two of the best teams in the AFC, and two of the biggest surprises of the season. Both are coming off of huge wins, perhaps the most impressive of the season for each. Baltimore went to the wire with the Niners in a possible Super Bowl preview. The Bills dismantled Dallas on Thanksgiving. Baltimore sits in the driver seat for the AFC’s one seed, and Buffalo is poised for a Wild Card and possibly the AFC East title.
This is set to be a great matchup, but Baltimore is a far superior team. Buffalo is excellent for what it is, but the Dallas win is its most impressive, and the Cowboys
may not be are not that good. Baltimore has been demolishing teams. Before last week, the Ravens outright decimated the Texans and Rams. They have allowed 43 points over 4 weeks. Even if the Bills can somewhat contain Lamar Jackson, they are going to struggle to move the ball. Buffalo could surprise and keep it close, but the Ravens are currently on a different level of play, and could put down a beating like they had before last week.
San Francisco at New Orleans
As said, San Fran went to the wire and came up just short. Last week’s game in Baltimore was played in extremely difficult conditions. The Niners’ offense struggled, and Jimmy Garroppolo seemed jumpy. But, just the week before, they annihilated the Packers on Sunday Night Football. New Orleans has been lackluster recently, and they’ve beat up on their division the last month. This is about to be a rude awakening.
It looks like the Saints will be without two starting linebackers Kiko Alonso and AJ Klein. Left tackle Terron Armstead was hurt last week but should play. That is a critical injury going against the ferocious Niners front. Dee Ford seems poised to return to the Niners as well. The Niners’ defense was a nightmare for the Packers and was able to somewhat restrain the Ravens. That pass rush going against the fairly immobile Drew Brees is a huge mismatch. If San Francisco can somewhat mitigate Michael Thomas, the Saints are going to struggle to move the ball. Not having Alsono and Klein in the middle will be problematic against the likes of George Kittle and the dynamic San Fran run game. This game holds NFC bye significance, and the Saints could be in for a beatdown.
Cincinnati at Cleveland
Andy Dalton was taken off the bench and delivered the Bengals’ first win of the season, shocking the Jets. The Bengals have been decently competitive their last few games, and returning to Dalton paid off for the team. Meanwhile, the cross-state divisional rival Browns suffered perhaps their worst loss of the season. The Browns took a 10-point lead in Pittsburgh, against an undrafted, third-string rookie, and blew the game. The Browns are not mathematically out of the playoffs, but their season is just about finished. A season that started with such high hopes has not totally hit the bottom. However, a loss here could instantly set things aflame.
One of the Bengals’ biggest weaknesses is the defensive ground game. Why should anyone expect Freddie Kitchens to exploit that for the entire game? And why should they be expected to not underestimate a divisional rival? Andy Dalton has played well in Cleveland over his career, and the Browns could fail to get out of their own way, while Dalton is likely auditioning for a job elsewhere in the league next year.
Carolina at Atlanta
The end of an era for the Panthers, as they fired head coach Ron Rivera on Tuesday after 9 seasons. While Rivera took the Panthers to their second Super Bowl appearance, his tenure was marked by inconsistency. The writing was on the wall for Carolina early in the year with the loss of Cam Newton. Despite that, the Panthers remained fairly competitive, until recently having dropped four in a row.
The Falcons have crashed back to earth, again, after surprising both the Saints and Panthers a few weeks back. Dan Quinn could be about to meet the same fate as Rivera. Neither of these teams do anything particularly well, aside Carolina having Christian McCaffery. That did not help at all in their last meeting, but a coaching overhaul could light a fire for the Panthers and inspire the team to raise their level. Who knows what plans owner Dave Tepper has, but the remaining coaching staff have four games to show what they have got.
Washington at Green Bay
Green Bay was able to right the ship last week and handled the Giants on the road, a week after being destroyed by San Francisco. Green Bay has this game, and then three straight critical division games that could hand them the division and possibly a bye. But they cannot look past the Redskins, shocking as that is to say. Washington somehow owns the longest winning streak in the NFC East. What a mess of a division. The Redskins’ ground attack has been locked in the last few weeks, alternating between Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice. Guice in particular has been phenomenal in his return from injury.
That is where the concern lies for the Packers. Their run defense is the biggest weakness of the team and is what the Redskins will focus on. That is an outright strength against weakness, but the pass defense is strong, and Dwayne Haskins has yet to show much of being a threat. On top of this is, of course, Aaron Rodgers going against a weak defense. The Redskins would have to jump out to an early lead and play ball control, but even then, Rodgers will be too much to handle. The Packers merely need to be themselves, and they’ll walk away winners, but it may not be an utter blowout.
Miami at New York Jets
Two teams coming off of huge weeks in different ways. They each pulled a result from extreme ends of the spectrum. The Dolphins shocked the NFL and defeated the Eagles as double-digit underdogs, and the Jets handed the Bengals their first win of the year. The Jets went and spent a ton of money in free agency, and Miami was shipping off players up until the deadline. Brian Flores has done an incredible job, in creating a competitive team. The Jets already lost to the Dolphins this year, and that happening again seems unthinkable.
The Dolphins’ pass attack, of all things, has been strong the last few weeks, and pass defense is the Jets’ defensive weakness. It is of course entirely possible a Ryan Fitztragic game happens and makes all of this moot. But even then, the Jets’ offense is such a weird group and could shoot themselves in the foot against an exploitable Miami defense. A loss here would be near unfathomable for the Jets. Maybe it is what they need to be able to jettison Adam Gase, but the Jets have been solid at home, with 3 of their 4 wins coming at the Meadowlands.
Detroit at Minnesota
Minnesota lost on the road to Seattle but played a strong game. The Vikings’ defense has been suspect their last few games, and the team could be without Dalvin Cook this week. It seems as if he will play, but they likely would not need him for this one. The Lions again blew a lead, after jumping on the Bears early. With three days notice, UDFA David Blough played a strong game against the solid Chicago defense. It was not enough for the Lions. There is a world where Blough is able to attack the ailing Vikings secondary, relying on Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones to make big plays. More likely, however, is a rookie going against a Mike Zimmer led defense finds himself totally overwhelmed.
The Lions’ defense is still a disaster, and even without Cook, the Vikings could plug in Alexander Mattison and still have a field day against the Lions. This is on top of a possible Adam Thielen return, to frustrate the Lions even more. A loss here would be an absolute disaster for Minnesota, and they have to be itching to go out and get back on track.
Indianapolis at Tampa Bay
Injuries have taken a huge toll on the Colts. No TY Hilton hurts incredibly, and Jacoby Brissett is clearly still bothered by a knee injury. The Colts are reeling from two devastating divisional losses and were yet again let down by Adam Vinatieri. Tampa Bay has come on strong as of late.
The Colts have needed to rely on their rush attack, and the Bucs have an excellent run defense. Sending pressure after a hobbled Brissett often would also complicate matters further for Indy. Jameis Winston is, of course, prone to exciting new turnovers but has so many weapons around him that will overwhelm the Colts. Indianapolis absolutely needs this one to stay in the playoff picture, but they are heavily outmatched.
Denver at Houston
Houston was able to secure a huge win against their boogeyman Patriots, in a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score indicated. They were able to move the ball effectively and forced key stops against the Pats when they had to. Houston sits in control of the AFC South but has two huge matchups with the Titans on the horizon. Denver was able to steal a win against the Chargers, after nearly handing away a game… again. This time, it was second rounder Drew Lock running the show in his first action of the season. Denver’s offense cooled off as the game went on, but they did just enough.
Despite last week, Houston’s defense is fairly questionable and maybe could get taken by surprise by the Denver ground attack and the electric Courtland Sutton. The Broncos’ defense has been solid as of late but now get the Deshaun Watson-Deandre Hopkins Show. Houston cannot look past this game, but that is absolutely something they would do. Deshaun Watson is too good for them to lose this one, but there could be some anxiety involved.
Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville
The Chargers are seriously able to find some new and ridiculous way to lose each week. Losing on a (questionable) PI call against the rival Broncos, who were starting a first game rookie QB, is remarkable in the worst way. So much talent and none of the results to match. The Jaguars are circling the drain, losers of four straight. Nick Foles has been benched, and Minshew Mania is back on the menu.
Foles was probably rushed back from a serious injury too soon, but even then, the Jags have been a mess. The defense is up and down, and there have been rumblings of discontent between management. They are a team due for sweeping change, but so are the Chargers. The Jags have been bad, but the Chargers are enigmatic and would certainly find a way to lose this game. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram should give the Jags fits, but Minshew is crafty in the pocket. The Jags should aim to rely on Leonard Fournette, quietly having a solid season. The Chargers have weapons on offense and studs on defense, but it does not translate. This game could absolutely go either way, but it feels like Jacksonville will sneak up on LA.
Kansas City at New England
The Chiefs returned from their bye to absolutely destroy the rival Raiders. The Chiefs’ offense has not been the high-flying air show as expected the last few weeks, but they’ve still been very good and are complemented by a defense rounding into shape. Chris Jones is one of the most under-the-radar defensive players in the league and is going to be a massive problem for the Patriots this week. The Pats are going on three weeks of highly concerning offensive play, garbage time last week notwithstanding.
New England will be without starting center Ted Karras this week, which is where Jones could feast. The Pats’ defense is still excellent, but it was diced up by Deshaun Watson last week. Now they face Pat Mahomes and the Chiefs’ plethora of offensive weapons. There is always the hesitancy to go against the Patriots. They are who they are, but this matchup presents some huge problems. Them winning would be in no ways surprising, but something here feels a little different than prior years, namely offensive line issues and Tom Brady’s cohesion with his skill players.
Tennessee at Oakland
The Titans have been playing excellent football as of late and are a totally different team with Ryan Tannehill running the show. The Titans are a team built for late season football, with a strong defense and an absolute one man wrecking ball in Derrick Henry. The Raiders are fading hard lately, amassing only 12 points against the Jets and Chiefs the last two weeks. The Jets just lost to the Bengals, so that is a not a great sign, on top of the Raiders possessing a -84 point differential, and being 6-6. That all does not add up.
The Raiders had been a nice story, but are still lacking talent all over the defense and have a cobbled together receiving core. The Raiders’ season is on the line, and they need to come out on fire. Tennessee has a huge matchup next week against Houston and could possibly be looking ahead. But, Tennessee has been one of the most locked in teams in the league recently, and the Raiders a mess. The Raiders’ defense is going to be totally outmatched trying to stop Henry and the ground game, and the Titans’ defense should be able to hold the fort against a flailing Derek Carr led attack.
Pittsburgh at Arizona
The Cardinals were plucky there for a few weeks but were destroyed by the Rams last Sunday. The defense couldn’t get a stop, and the offense couldn’t get on track. The Cardinals are eliminated from playoff contention but still have a lot of hope for the future. Pittsburgh, however, sits in the AFC six seed. The Steelers’ defense remains excellent. The offense still leaves a ton to be desired, but under Duck Hodges, they have avoided self-destructive mistakes. That is all the Steelers need in this one.
The Pittsburgh front should be able to keep the Cardinal’s offense in check. And the Cardinals have such a bad defense, the Steelers should be able to control the ball and put up enough points for a comfortable win. Of course, there is a chance the Cardinals come out like they did against the Niners, and the defense forces some mistakes but with how much the Steelers need this game, they’ll bring their best effort.
Seattle at Los Angeles Rams
Seattle, yet again, played a tight game and walked away winners. The Seahawks’ defense was all over the place, but the offense remained an efficient machine. Even with Tyler Lockett clearly not being at one hundred percent, the Seahawks were able to lean on a two-headed backfield monster with Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny. The Rams finally got back on track, after a month of offensive ineptitude, and exploded for 34 points against the Cardinals. It’s unclear how much confidence that should actually garner.
Arizona has been one of the worst defenses in the league. Seattle’s is not great either, but they aren’t that exploitable. Just last Monday, the Rams were destroyed on national TV. Even if the offense is competent, the defense is going to have its hands full with a dynamic Seattle offense. Seattle loves to play with fire in close games, so Los Angeles could steal this one, but Seattle absolutely needs this to stay ahead of San Francisco for seeding.
- San Francisco
- Green Bay
- New York Jets
- Tampa Bay
- Kansas City