NFL fans around the world are in for a treat in Week 16, as the TV schedule is loaded with potential season-defining contests.
With just two games left before the NFL's postseason, only four teams have secured playoff berths. Only 12 teams have been eliminated, as noted by Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, meaning there are 16 teams fighting for the final eight spots:
There are plenty of playoff scenarios that could play out, and you can view all of them here, courtesy of NFL.com.
This is the time of year when the best teams play at their best. It's also the time of year when a team that has struggled early can get red-hot and make a run at the Super Bowl, much like the New York Giants during the team's recent championship seasons.
Here's a look at the entire TV schedule for Week 16, followed by a deeper examination of a few of this weekend's most pivotal contests.
|SUN, DEC 22||TIME (ET)||TV||LOCATION|
|Miami at Buffalo||1 p.m.||CBS||Ralph Wilson Stadium|
|Minnesota at Cincinnati||1 p.m.||Fox||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Indianapolis at Kansas City||1 p.m.||CBS||Arrowhead Stadium|
|Tampa Bay at St. Louis||1 p.m.||Fox||Edward Jones Dome|
|Cleveland at NY Jets||1 p.m.||CBS||MetLife Stadium|
|Dallas at Washington||1 p.m.||Fox||FedEx Field|
|New Orleans at Carolina||1 p.m.||Fox||Bank of America Stadium|
|Tennessee at Jacksonville||1 p.m.||CBS||EverBank Field|
|Denver at Houston||1 p.m.||CBS||Reliant Stadium|
|NY Giants at Detroit||4:05 p.m.||Fox||Ford Field|
|Arizona at Seattle||4:05 p.m.||Fox||CenturyLink Field|
|Pittsburgh at Green Bay||4:25 p.m.||CBS||Lambeau Field|
|Oakland at San Diego||4:25 p.m.||CBS||Qualcomm Stadium|
|New England at Baltimore||4:25 p.m.||CBS||M&T Bank Stadium|
|Chicago at Philadelphia||8:30 p.m.||NBC||Lincoln Financial Field|
|MON, DEC 23||TIME (ET)||TV||LOCATION|
|Atlanta at San Francisco||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||Candlestick Park|
New Orleans at Carolina
The NFC South title is on the line in Week 16.
The New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers are currently tied at 10-4, with New Orleans holding an edge in the standings based on the team's win at home over Carolina in Week 14.
Which team will win the NFC South?
The winning team will be the No. 2 seed in the NFC heading into the final weekend of the season, while the losing team will likely fall into the No. 6 seed. The reason for this is that the San Francisco 49ers will likely win on Monday Night Football against the Atlanta Falcons, improving to 11-4, while the losing team in this upcoming battle will fall to 10-5.
The team that finishes the 2013 season as the No. 6 seed in the NFC will likely head to Seattle for the divisional round—provided it wins its wild-card game.
Needless to say, neither the Saints nor the Panthers want to play the Saints at CenturyLink Field in January. A home game and first-round bye is much more appealing, and you can be sure the players will approach Week 16's game with playoff intensity.
The Saints have been a mediocre club on the road this year, posting a record of 3-4, so nobody should expect a one-sided victory at Bank of America Stadium for New Orleans.
Expect Carolina's offense to attack the Saints with a heavy dose of the running game. New Orleans has been manhandled on the defensive side of the ball the past two road games against Seattle and St. Louis, allowing 271 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Rookie offensive tackle Terron Armstead better step up and play big for the Saints. He's replacing veteran left tackle Charles Brown this weekend, and head coach Sean Payton hopes he's up to the challenge, via NewOrleansSaints.com.
"I think Terron has improved during the course of the season, taking scout team reps, and it's time to see what he can do."
He'll be going up against Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy all game long, and the Saints won't have a chance if he struggles in his first career start.
Carolina's defense will rebound from the poor showing in New Orleans, and the Panthers will take control of the NFC South with a huge win at home.
Pittsburgh at Green Bay
The Pittsburgh Steelers snuck back into the playoff race with a big win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15. At 6-8, however, the team's chances of reaching the postseason are slim already, and another loss would likely be the last straw.
The Green Bay Packers have been a miserable wreck for the most part since Aaron Rodgers was injured in Week 9, posting a record of 2-4-1. However, the team has won two in a row and is just one-half game behind the Chicago Bears for the NFC North divisional crown and a playoff berth.
The big story heading into this game is whether Rodgers will be medically cleared to play. As pointed out by Rapoport, Wednesday, Dec. 18, is a big day for Rodgers:
Big exam & practice for Aaron Rodgers today. #Packers sources say… they don’t know. No 1 does. There’s hope. But depends on medical opinion— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 18, 2013
If Rodgers is unable to play, the Packers have to feel somewhat comfortable sending Matt Flynn out once again after his last two performances that led to wins. That said, there's no doubt the team, and its fans, would feel much more at ease with Rodgers behind center.
Lacy has been outstanding in his rookie campaign, and he won the NFC's Player of the Week award after shredding Dallas for 171 total yards and a touchdown in Week 15, per Pro Football Talk:
Eddie Lacy wins NFC offensive player of the week http://t.co/qbAsrc0sB3— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 18, 2013
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, expect Lacy to be heavily utilized on the ground. Keeping Roethlisberger off the field will be a big part of Green Bay's game plan, and another big performance by Lacy will spur the Packers to victory.
Chicago at Philadelphia
Both the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles hold tenuous one-game leads over divisional rivals for their respective divisional titles with 8-6 records.
The Bears are embroiled in a three-way battle for the NFC North with the Packers (7-6-1) and Detroit Lions (7-7). Should both the Bears and Packers win, then Detroit will be eliminated from playoff contention, as Bleacher Report's Zach Kruse noted:
The Eagles are one game ahead of the Dallas Cowboys. There's a chance Philly could clinch the NFC East in Week 16, provided the Eagles win and the Cowboys lose to the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
Both teams have big mismatches offensively, meaning this could be a high-scoring affair.
Chicago's passing game—which has been hotter than molten granite of late—should have no trouble shredding Philadelphia's No. 31-ranked pass defense. On the other side, LeSean McCoy should romp over, around and through Chicago's league-worst run defense.
Oh, and don't forget about second-year Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who has been tremendous as the starter for Philadelphia since taking over for Michael Vick earlier in the season. He had a difficult game against Minnesota in Week 15, but he's ready to bounce back this weekend, as Alex Smith of PhiladelphiaEagles.com relayed:
...I just keep fighting through it because my teammates are looking at me as the quarterback, and they’re trying to see how I’m going to react in those adverse situations. When everything is going wrong, when guys are going crazy and when composure’s lost, what is the quarterback doing? Is he going to lose composure or is he going to keep firing the ball? I’m going to keep firing the ball and keep the guys together.
In the end, Philadelphia will prevail at home, thanks to a big day from McCoy on the ground.
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