Two weeks remain in the NFL regular season and only four of the 12 playoff berths have been clinched. That leaves plenty of questions to get answered starting in Week 16, which as you would expect features a multitude of big games.
Looking ahead, all of these tight races point to an extremely exciting postseason because the teams that play the best over the next two weeks are going to earn a spot and then enter the playoffs riding a wave of momentum and confidence. But there's still work to be done for most contenders.
So let's take a look at the complete schedule for Week 16 and make predictions for each contest. The list of picks is followed by a breakdown of a trio of teams poised to step up in marquee games this week.
Week 16 Predictions
|Date||Road Team||Home Team||Pick|
Teams That Will Step Up
Exactly what the Panthers couldn't afford to let happen in their first matchup with the Saints happened. New Orleans' high-powered passing attack caught fire in the second quarter with a trio of Drew Brees touchdown passes en route to the easy victory.
Carolina simply doesn't have the passing game to win a shootout with the Saints, especially on the road. It needs to lean heavily on the run, use the clock and let the defense do the rest. It's a game plan that should be more effective at home, where the Panthers are 6-1.
By contrast, the Saints are 3-4 on the road and are coming off an 11-point loss to the St. Louis Rams. It presents a golden opportunity for Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly and Co. to avenge that earlier defeat and take control of the NFC South.
Quietly, the reigning champions have won four straight games and control their own playoff destiny. It hasn't been a case of finding championship form, but rather taking advantage of a weak stretch and capping it off with a win over the Detroit Lions.
Which of these teams would be most dangerous in the playoffs?
As the Ravens illustrated last season, anything can happen once a team secures a spot in the playoffs. They certainly aren't displaying the type of performances they used to make their run to the Super Bowl last season, but the offense is capable of turning things on down the stretch to change that.
The task in Week 16 is taking down a New England Patriots squad that definitely seemed vulnerable in a loss to the Miami Dolphins last week. Baltimore's seventh-ranked scoring defense should be able to slow down a Rob Gronkowski-less offense to move one step closer to the postseason.
The NFC East leaders let an opportunity slip away last week against the Minnesota Vikings. Much like the Eagles' Week 4 loss to the Denver Broncos, the secondary had an outing to forget and the offense couldn't keep up.
After that loss to the Broncos, however, the defense elevated its level of play. The Eagles didn't allow more than 21 points between the losses to Denver and Minnesota. And when you have as many weapons as Philadelphia, that's usually good enough.
Expect a similar bounce-back performance against a Chicago Bears team that's lost two of its last three games on the road and ranks last in run defense. That plays right into Philadelphia's hands and should allow the Eagles to maintain their edge atop the East.