NFL Picks Week 16: Breaking Down Matchups with Upset Potential

Josh Cohen@@arealjoshcohenCorrespondent IIDecember 17, 2013

Tom Brady will have problems against Baltimore.
Tom Brady will have problems against Baltimore.Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The NFL playoff race can be thrown into disarray in Week 16 when postseason hopefuls get upset as the clear favorites in their matchups.

With just two games left in the regular season, only four teams have clinched berths for January play, leaving eight playoff spots up for grabs. A couple wins now can make all the difference for teams on the fringes of a wild-card spot or scrapping for a division title.

However, some favorites in the Week 16 meetings are at a risk of being toppled at the worst possible time. Injuries, the elements and sneakily unfavorable draws threaten to upend the better teams, damaging their chances of making a playoff run.


Miami Dolphins (8-6) at Buffalo Bills (5-9)

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 15:  Ryan Tannehill #17 of the Miami Dolphins practices prior to the game against the New England Patriots at Sun Life Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

After an upset of their own over the New England Patriots, the Dolphins have won three straight and look as good as they have all season. They control their own playoff destiny, and heading into bouts with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, Miami has to have the edge to snag the sixth seed in the AFC.

Don't sleep on Buffalo, though. When opponents come to Ralph Wilson Stadium in December, they don't just have to face the Bills; they have to contend with the weather as well.

Miami's offense has leaned on Ryan Tannehill during its winning streak, as the Dolphins quarterback has thrown eight touchdowns against just two interceptions in the victories. That said, The Weather Channel predicts temperatures in the 30s and precipitation this Sunday, which does not bode well for passing.

Meanwhile, Miami ranks just 24th in rushing yardage, making them particularly ill-equipped to contend with sloppy conditions; Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller and the Bills are fourth in that category. If the weather turns this into a ground-and-pound affair, Buffalo can steal it.


Dallas Cowboys (7-7) at Washington Redskins (3-11)

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 15: Kirk Cousins #12 of the Washington Redskins chats with Robert Griffin III after throwing a 4th quarter interception against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on December 15, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunnin
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Redskins have been a mess this season, but they're finally playing a healthy quarterback.

With Robert Griffin III shut down for the season, new starter Kirk Cousins put up 381 yards passing with three touchdowns and two picks in Week 15. RGIII hadn't thrown three scores since the Skins' Week 11 bye, and he never came within 50 yards of Cousins' yardage total in 2013.

If Washington can complement Alfred Morris' ground attack with a potent passing game, Dallas' defense is going to have problems.

The Cowboys just haven't been able to stop the ball this season. They have allowed 427.3 yards per game, 32nd in the league and threatening the all-time worst mark posted by the New Orleans Saints last season.

Considering Dallas has Tony Romo and Washington is no defensive stalwart, this is going to be a shootout. That would seem to work in the Cowboys' favor, but with their defense operating at nearly historically poor levels, nothing is certain.


Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8) at Green Bay Packers (7-6-1)

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 15: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers looks on from the sideline during a game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on December 15, 2013 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It's looking like a chilly Sunday for the Steelers and Packers as well. The Weather Channel doesn't see anything inclement on the horizon for Green Bay, but temperatures in the teens combined with wind will make it difficult to throw.

That doesn't mean they won't try, though. Both teams feature rookie running backs and need their passing game to set up the run, if not outright carry the offense. Though it's not usual to say this about the Packers, that's not what they're hoping for this week.

After Green Bay's emotional win over the Cowboys last Sunday, editor Vic Ketchman wondered whether Aaron Rodgers, who had to be talked out of playing in Week 15, will be back against the Steelers.

If he does return, he'll be shaking off the rust against a stauncher Pittsburgh D, eighth in the NFL against the pass. That's not ideal, but despite Matt Flynn's heroics against Dallas, neither is trotting out the backup.

Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 12 touchdowns against just one interception in his last five weeks, and he's the steadiest option heading into Sunday. Rodgers might be the better passer, but steadiness is more important this week.


Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at New England Patriots (10-4)

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 8: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots reacts to the cheers of fan as he leaves the field with an injury in the 3rd quarter against the Cleveland Browns at Gillette Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

In this case, the AFC North contender could play spoiler to the AFC East leader.

The Pats threw the ball on Miami, as Tom Brady tossed two scores and both Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman topped 130 yards in the loss. But make no mistake: Losing Rob Gronkowski to a torn ACL was a crippling blow. 

Without Gronkowski, New England has zero deep threats. Amendola and Edelman are effective route-runners who give Brady nice underneath options, but they can't stretch the defense and give the inconsistent run game some room.

That's going to be an issue, as Baltimore sports a top-10 defense that can take away New England's limited options. The Ravens just leaned on that unit, not to mention Justin Tucker, to take down the Detroit Lions, picking off Matthew Stafford three times and neutralizing an explosive offense.

On the other side of the ball, Joe Flacco and company should have more luck against a depleted Patriot defense. Without Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, New England can't count on its D to carry the team and can be beat by a couple of big plays.

If Miami loses, New England would clinch the East even in defeat. In their banged-up state, the Pats will likely need that help to lock it up in Week 16.


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