NFL Picks Week 16: Ranking Sunday's Best Games with Playoff Implications

Mike ShiekmanFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2012

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 21:  Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball while pursued by James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game at Paul Brown Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Only two weeks left and the NFL schedule has begun to fill up with playoff intrigue.

The Week 16 slate presents several matchups that have severe bearings on the playoff picture. Some will even be de-facto playoff games with win-or-go-home stipulations.

As the NFL drama piles up, the quality of football increases as well. Let’s look at the most playoff-driven games of Week 16.

5. Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans

Even though Minnesota is outmatched on paper, that same paper says Adrian Peterson and Adrian Foster will be head to head in this contest. That automatically makes it must-see viewing.

As Peterson makes his run for 2,000 yards and beyond, Foster isn’t ready to give up the title of “NFL’s Best Back” from last season.

These are the two best runners squarely in their primes, and hopefully fans will get some electrifying runs as they go up against each other.

Oh, and Minnesota is fighting for a playoff spot in the NFC, in case you were wondering.

4. New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys

I’m intrigued by the clash of styles in this game. In addition, the fact that the Cowboys’ playoff hopes ride on this game makes me shiver.

Dallas has a flair for the dramatic, no matter the opponent. Meanwhile, when the enigmatic Saints are involved, they seem to invite the same theatrics. That means we might see some actual explosions in Jerry's World. Don’t count it out.

New Orleans, especially, makes curiosity rear its head. Will they submit a similar defensive performance like the 0-fer they allowed against Tampa Bay? That game seemed totally out of character for a dreadful defensive team like the Saints.

Then again, who knows what to expect from Big D either.

3. Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

Essentially a playoff game in Pittsburgh, as the Bengals can strengthen their position by beating the divisional rival.

The Steelers have been a thorn in the Bengals’ side for years, but Cincinnati has their best crack at their nemesis with a wounded Ben Roethlisberger and fickle running game.

Still, beating the Steelers in Pittsburgh with their season on the line is one tall order. Expect a physical game that has the elements to become a classic.

2. New York Giants at Baltimore Ravens

The rematch of the Ravens’ Super Bowl victory has a whole different look.

Kerry Collins and Trent Dilfer have been upgraded with Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, while Ray Lewis will likely be watching on the sideline.

Both teams have been reeling as of late and only one will be able to get out of their slump. The matchup of the game has to be Flacco against a vulnerable Giants defense; which one will play up to their potential?

1. San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

The Sunday nightcap should be a physical one. The Seahawks defend Qwest Field like their season is on the line every week and impose their physical will. Fittingly, the 49ers play that same type of football, no matter the locale.

Both teams are playing at a high level. Seattle has looked the part of an offensive juggernaut in two-straight 50-point wins, while the Niners went into Foxboro and outlasted the Patriots.

Move over Steelers-Ravens, the most physical rivalry in the NFC gets some screen time.