The closing weeks of the NFL season are ripe with opportunity for contenders to beat their chests with a major win before heading to the postseason for what could be a special run.
Whether it is fending off a team looking to play spoiler or downing another playoff hopeful set to enter the postseason, the Week 16 slate is littered with intriguing matchups set to at least slightly preview what the playoffs will bring fans.
Three games stick out in particular as contests between contenders. The teams set to emerge victorious and put the league on notice are not as obvious as the first take would lead fans to believe.
|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.
Carolina Panthers Fend Off New Orleans Saints
Something has to give when the New Orleans Saints meet the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium in Week 16, as both are tied at 10-4 for the top spot in the NFC South.
Believe it or not, the Panthers are in the driver's seat after winning nine of their last 10. The one loss came in New Orleans, where the Saints put a 31-13 beating on the Panthers.
Go ahead and throw that out the window. Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn put it best, via the team's Twitter account:
Precisely. No team is going to New Orleans and easily picking up a win, but on the road, the Saints are merely human. It is why the team has road losses to the New England Patriots, New York Jets, Seattle Seahawks and most recently a humbling 27-16 loss in St. Louis to the Rams.
Meanwhile, Carolina is 6-1 at home, and quarterback Cam Newton has to be in the MVP conversation thanks to his 3,556 total yards and 27 touchdowns. At home, the Panthers get their revenge and put the NFL on notice.
Prediction: Panthers 23, Saints 20
Seattle Seahawks Blast Arizona Cardinals
Let's just get this out of the way, courtesy of ESPN:
The last time the @Seahawks faced the Cardinals in Seattle, they DOMINATED winning 58-0.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 19, 2013
Anyway, that outcome may not perfectly capture what is about to go down from CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks have not lost since December 2011.
But it is close.
Kudos to coach Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals for a magnificent year, especially in the NFL's best conference, but there will be no statement win here. The Cardinals' injury report is littered with important names such as Karlos Dansby, Andre Ellington, Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer.
Now is not the time to be banged up. Seattle has lost just two games this year by a combined eight points and returns from New York after a 23-0 victory over the Giants.
Seattle is a defensive powerhouse led by a league-best 14.6 points allowed on average. Arizona will be able to move the ball, but not enough to make this entertaining. Seattle continues to compile the impressive wins.
Prediction: Seahawks 30, Cardinals 20
Baltimore Ravens Stun New England Patriots
Here we go again.
Contender most likely to get statement win in Week 16?
The Cincinnati Bengals opened the door for the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football in Week 15 with a loss to Pittsburgh, which means the Baltimore Ravens could win out and win the AFC North.
The Ravens, no strangers to getting hot when it matters most, took care of business the following night on Monday Night Football and now face a New England team they are more than familiar with.
The Patriots do as good a job as anybody in the league, and have over the years, of fitting players into their offense and then taking advantage of the things that they do well. They do the underneath stuff, the short passing game, the inside routes, and they do a great job of that.
Perhaps Harbaugh is being modest because his defense ranks in the top 10 with an average of 19.8 points allowed per game. The Ravens are also 6-1 at M&T Bank Stadium this year, whereas the Patriots are just 3-4 away from home.
The New England offense has once again reverted to its ugly early-season form after the loss of Gronkowski. That, along with the knowledge an AFC North crown awaits with two more wins, will propel the Ravens to a victory and put the league on notice that the defending champions are still very much alive.
Prediction: Ravens 21, Patriots 20