Many of the major battles in Week 16 of the NFL season are division games, but there are two key NFC versus AFC matchups on tap.
The Minnesota Vikings at the Houston Texans and the New York Giants at the Baltimore Ravens both have immediate playoff implications. The former even has compelling side stories.
Here is a breakdown and prediction for the big inter-conference games.
Vikings at Texans
The Texans have't wrapped up home-field advantage and the Vikings are still battling for one of the last two playoff spots in the NFC.
Needless to say, both teams need this game.
Beyond the team implications, Adrian Peterson is chasing the single-season rushing record. AD is just 293 yards shy of Eric Dickerson's record of 2,105 yards in 1984. He needs to average 147 yards per game over the final two weeks to reach the record books.
The Texans will be trying to do their part to slow him down, but they'll also be trying to win the game.
Christian Ponder and the offense hasn't proven they can consistently beat teams that load up the box to stop Peterson. On the other hand, loading up the box hasn't been 100 percent effective in slowing Peterson down.
Peterson has gashed opponents in wins and losses. He's rushed for at least 100 yards in four of the Vikings' six defeats.
The issue for the Vikings in this game is going to be stopping the Texans' run game. Arian Foster isn't going for the single-season rushing record, but he's still one of the game's best running backs.
Who is the better all-around back?
He's fourth in the league in rushing with 1,313 yards and first in touchdowns with 14. If the Vikings can't stop the Texans' rushing attack, they could easily find themselves down early. That will put pressure on them to keep pace through the air.
This takes them away from their strength, and it puts pressure on Ponder to make plays against the Texans' defense, led by J.J. Watt. Watt is also chasing a single-season record of his own.
He and Aldon Smith of the San Francisco 49ers have 19.5 sacks, which is three sacks short of Michael Strahan's record.
On the road, this Texans' defense and running game will be too much for Ponder and the Vikings. The Texans will win this game, but don't be shocked to see Peterson eclipse the 100-yard mark again.
He may not get 147 yards, but he'll get enough to keep the record in reach for the final week of the season.
My prediction: Texans 30, Vikings 17
Giants at Ravens
At the beginning of the season, many people would have touted these two teams as favorites to reach the Super Bowl. With two games remaining, both squads are headed in the wrong direction.
The Giants have lost four-of-six and the Ravens have dropped the last three.
Who will right the ship?
Without a ton of suspense, my answer is the Giants. This team is not decimated with injury like the Ravens, and the core isn't an aging one. The Giants' issues have been mental and it starts at quarterback.
Eli Manning has been atrocious in the team's four defeats in a six-game span. He's thrown only one touchdown pass to five interceptions. That said, we've seen him go through these types of stretches before, and we've seen him rebound.
I have full confidence he'll do that again, and it starts in this game against the Ravens.
Which team has the most realistic chance of reaching the Super Bowl?
The Ravens' defense has been about as bad as we've ever seen them. The plethora of injuries on that side of the ball have been too much to overcome, and the overall age of the group is finally starting to show.
They can't stop the run with any regularity anymore. They are ranked 26th in the NFL in that category.
At a time where David Wilson is establishing himself as a real weapon for the Giants out of the backfield, this game spells danger for the Ravens.
Wilson will have a huge day and Manning will find his stride, and the Giants will grab a huge road win over the Ravens.
My prediction: Giants 28, Ravens 13.
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