It is the holiday season, which means half the NFL is fighting for a rare playoff berth, and the other half is simply looking to play the spoiler.
Of course, do not forget the gray area, where teams perhaps look to improve draft standing (Hi, Houston).
Alas, this means home wins are no guarantee. That is the case all season, but it becomes a more glaring reality with each team in desperation mode. In Week 15, only seven home teams successfully pulled off home victories.
While it is difficult to gauge whether that number will be higher or lower in Week 16, there are several teams sure to make things happen in front of home fans as they push for playoff positioning.
|Miami Dolphins||Buffalo Bills||Miami Dolphins|
|Minnesota Vikings||Cincinnati Bengals||Cincinnati Bengals|
|Indianapolis Colts||Kansas City Chiefs||Indianapolis Colts|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||St. Louis Rams||St. Louis Rams|
|Cleveland Browns||New York Jets||New York Jets|
|Dallas Cowboys||Washington Redskins||Dallas Cowboys|
|New Orleans Saints||Carolina Panthers||Carolina Panthers|
|Tennessee Titans||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Denver Broncos||Houston Texans||Denver Broncos|
|New York Giants||Detroit Lions||Detroit Lions|
|Arizona Cardinals||Seattle Seahawks||Seattle Seahawks|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Green Bay Packers||Green Bay Packers|
|Oakland Raiders||San Diego Chargers||San Diego Chargers|
|New England Patriots||Baltimore Ravens||Baltimore Ravens|
|Chicago Bears||Philadelphia Eagles||Philadelphia Eagles|
|Atlanta Falcons||San Francisco 49ers||San Francisco 49ers|
Chris Roling's predictions.
Cincinnati Bengals Pounce on Minnesota Vikings
There is much to be said about an angry, playoff-hungry team, which is a description that perfectly encapsulates the Cincinnati Bengals at this point in time.
The Bengals went out and laid an egg in Week 15 on Sunday Night Football against the Pittsburgh Steelers, losing a divisional battle and potentially the AFC North crown and a shot at the postseason. (If Baltimore wins out, it wins the AFC North. The Bengals could miss the playoffs at 10-6 with a loss to the Ravens in Week 17.)
Now Cincinnati returns home, where it is 6-0 on the year with notable wins over teams such as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers and Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Veteran safety Chris Crocker recently explained what makes playing at Paul Brown Stadium so advantageous, via Geoff Hobson of the team's official website:
I think just crowd noise in general affects the offense's cadences, the audibles. It doesn't allow them to do much, and our offense doesn't have to deal with it. Just in general when I think of the problems we've had on the road, we've had false starts and a lot of stuff like that. Teams come in here, they have the same issues. So it helps both ways, both offensively and defensively.
Now, the Minnesota Vikings are more than capable of pulling off an upset here. After all, the team was without Adrian Peterson last week and dropped 48 on Philadelphia. But the Vikings struggle in all aspects of defense, and the Cincinnati coaching staff has finally discovered the offense is more potent with rookie back Giovani Bernard in place of veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The numbers, via ESPN, do the talking:
Bengals: Averaging 5.9 yards per play with Gio Bernard on field this season, and 4.9 yards per play with BenJarvus Green-Ellis on field.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 19, 2013
So it should come as no surprise that Bernard (1,069 total yards, eight scores this year) received 13 carries to Green-Ellis' four against Pittsburgh. There are plenty of things at play Sunday in the Queen City, but Bernard above all else will lead the team to a win against a defense that allows an average 30.4 points per game—one team surrenders more.
Prediction: Bengals 24, Vikings 6
Detroit Lions Move Past New York Giants
Let's just start with a telling comment from Mike Wilkening of Pro Football Talk:
I'd be surprised if the Lions lost to the Giants. That said, beating the Vikings in the last-ever Metrodome game will be tough.— Mike Wilkening (@mikewilkening) December 17, 2013
New York has lost three of four after an impressive midseason run to give some hope, but there is no coming back from a 23-0 loss at the hands of Seattle in Week 15.
The Giants offense is simply too mediocre. Eli Manning (16 touchdowns to 25 interceptions) and the unit simply cannot move the ball through the air (No. 19 rank) or on the ground (No. 28) this year, and now they will be without star wideout Victor Cruz, per SportsCenter:
THIS JUST IN: Giants have ruled WR Victor Cruz out of Sunday's game against Lions. He has a concussion and a sprained knee.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 19, 2013
It is not as if the Lions have a good defense—far from it—but Matthew Stafford and the NFL's No. 3 pass attack and an offense that averages 25.9 points per game will prove difficult to keep up with.
In the end, it will be Calvin Johnson and the Detroit offense that wins it at Ford Field over a New York team that is just 2-5 on the road this year.
Prediction: Lions 27, Giants 20
Baltimore Ravens Stun New England Patriots
The Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots are no strangers to critical contests against one another in recent years. Both are also comfortable in close games this season, as NFL Network's Albert Breer illustrates:
Patriots-Ravens is a big one Sunday ... Check this out: 11 of Pats' 14 games, and 10 of Ravens' 14 games have been decided by 7 pts or less.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 17, 2013
It will be another close one in Week 16 from M&T Bank Stadium, but the outcome is rather easy to see.
Fans should have known the moment Cincinnati lost on Sunday Night Football and opened the door for Baltimore that the defending champions would go on a run. They did just that with a victory in Detroit on Monday Night Football.
Now the Ravens return home, where they are 6-1. They get a New England team that, while led by quarterback Tom Brady, has a neutered offense once more without tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Home team with best chance for a win in Week 16?
Baltimore's defense has quietly been one of the better units in the NFL this year and ranks in the top 10 with an average of 19.8 points allowed per contest.
That unit will be the difference here against a New England team in a free fall. Week 14 was a one-point victory over four-win Cleveland, while Week 15 was a loss to Miami. Brady and the Patriots are 3-4 on the road this year and round out a tough stretch against the defending champs, who know a thing or two about getting hot at the right time while in control of their own destiny.
The Ravens are just that late in the year for the second straight season, and it will guide them to a win Sunday.
Prediction: Ravens 21, Patriots 20