If the Dallas Cowboys are ever going to take the next step during the Tony Romo era, they will need to take care of business in Texas on Sunday.
The Cowboys are just one of six teams with an 8-6 record set to suit up for a pivotal game in Week 16. With the playoff picture becoming more and more clear, Dallas, like many other teams, knows it must keep winning in order to play into January.
With the pressure to win heating up, and the margin for error shrinking fast, a few teams are sure to come up short when it matters most this weekend.
Here are my picks for playoff hopefuls that will experience a letdown in Week 16.
The Dallas Cowboys have won three in a row and five of their last six games overall, but on Sunday they'll face a team with unrivaled offensive firepower in the New Orleans Saints. New Orleans boasts the NFL's second-best passing attack this year, and is led by the league's leading touchdown thrower in Drew Brees.
At 6-8, the Saints are playing with absolutely nothing to lose, and will be aiming to finish the year strong and ruin the Cowboys' season on the road.
This is a scary matchup for Dallas, as it must avoid looking ahead to Week 17's colossal showdown with the Washington Redskins, a game that could potentially determine the NFC East division champion.
My biggest concern for the Cowboys in Week 16 is that they will let the Saints hang around too long and lose another close game at home. They've been fortunate to escape some narrow battles recently, but don't expect their luck to continue this weekend.
If not for some poor play down the stretch in Week 14, the Bengals would be 9-5 and in the midst of a six-game winning streak coming into Week 16's mega clash with the division-rival Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Both teams are chasing Baltimore in the AFC North division with two weeks left to play, but Cincinnati enters Sunday afternoon's matchup one game up on Pittsburgh in the AFC wild-card race. A win over the Steelers would clinch a playoff berth for the Bengals and eliminate Pittsburgh.
I, for one, can't see a team with the championship pedigree of the Steelers rolling over at home to surrender a playoff spot to a bitter division rival.
Pittsburgh has already beaten Cincinnati once this season and should have the edge in this game. A Steelers win would pull both teams to 8-7 with one game to play, setting up a wild Week 17.
Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings have overachieved in the eyes of many, but with two brutal matchups left to play this season, Minnesota is likely headed to 8-8 in 2012.
The Vikings will play at the Houston Texans in Week 16, a team that's looking to clinch a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, before hosting the Green Bay Packers in Week 17.
First up, the Texans. Houston has only lost two games all year long and possesses a stout run defense—ranked fifth in the league—that is surely capable of slowing Peterson down. The Vikings rank dead last in passing offense this year, so if the Texans can shut down or at least contain Peterson, they should be on their way to clinching the AFC's top seed at home in Week 16.
For Minnesota, that would mean taking a huge step back in the NFC wild-card race.
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