Week 16 is a major week for teams around the league. If they couldn’t last week, it’s time to make a statement now. There’s no such thing as a lax game in the NFL, but if ever there was a lax game to be found, it wouldn’t be this week.
I’ll be honest here, the things I tell y’all to look out for are based on my own intuitions, not any expert analysis or stolen words from a pundit. They’re simply what I think will be the biggest factors in deciphering what the week brings and potentially provide an insight to the future.
So if you’re looking at these points and thinking to yourself, “Wow, this guy is a wack job with nothing to do during his Summer break, which is weird because I’m sitting here freezing my ass off in the snow. And he’s really not that funny,” then sit back and enjoy, while I respect your “intelligence”.
The Big Five
1) There might not be a bigger game than the San Francisco vs. Seattle game at CenturyLink Field.
If there’s one thing we’ve finally discovered nationwide, it’s this: Russell Wilson is already making his place amongst the best quarterbacks in the league. It’s not an opinion anymore, it’s a fact. Wilson leads the NFL in this stat ESPN keeps pushing to make a household number called “Total QBR”. It kind of works, but for our purposes, let’s just take it in stride and agree that, yes, Seattle’s rookie gun has steadily forced his way into the minds of people all around the league. This plays well into Seattle chances in this game against a 49er defense that held the great Tom Brady to a single touchdown pass and picked him off twice.
San Fran is coming off of a huge win in Foxborough against the declared-best team in the league. Right now, there isn’t a team that’s more dangerous than these guys, and they have a motor-run offense to match. Second-year QB Colin Kaepernick is rising the same way as Wilson, but at a quicker pace. He took the Patriots’ defense for a ride last week, throwing for four TD’s and surrendering only one sack. The team is looking as complete as the Houston Texans, maybe even better, which makes this match up worthy of prime time.
The last time these teams met, it was a defensive stalemate with the 49ers taking it 13-6. Seattle wasn’t able to muster up a single touchdown, but the team has become far more fearsome since then. They’ve won five of their last six games and steamrolled their last two opponents.
If the 49ers win, they’ll have locked up the NFC West with just the lowly Arizona Cardinals left to beat in Week 17, the second seed in the conference up for grabs, and the wild card race shaken up with Seattle falling to 9-6 in the division. If the opposite happens, Seattle will only be half a game behind the red and gold in the standings, essentially confirm their place as the fifth seed, and hope to God that San Fran lose to Arizona and have a chance to take the NFC West crown in the process.
This is why the NFL is ALWAYS interesting.
2) Oakland vs. Carolina is a more interesting game than you might think.
With Cam Newton having led the Panthers to wins in three of their last four, the team is ending strong and can potentially match or surpass by one game their 6-10 record from last season. It’s a not a huge accomplishment, considering Newton’s spectacular play last year and his Negative Ned face on the sidelines this season, but it’s better to end on high notes than 5-11. This game is going to be a nightmare for Oakland’s “defense”.
With the Raiders basically having given up on the season, Cam will have a huge day. That’s something coach Dennis Allen, if he is still employed on the Bay, will have to address with full attention in the off-season. For a defensive coordinator who supplied the backing punch in 2011 with the Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos, having a unit like this year’s is appalling. Yes, Oakland needs to upgrade at the quarterback position (if you still think that Carson Palmer is the answer, then please, start following Major League Baseball to see all 35 year-olds still making it big because late-30’s QB’s in the NFL are NOT the answer in this league unless you’re Peyton Manning), but it will make more sense to perfect the unit that your coach, who would lean to that side of the ball, is an expert in and produce at least one half-decent year to start building on.
I watched the movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, the other day, and I can see how hard it is to be a GM in any sport. But Reggie McKenzie and Allen need to come together and seriously plan how they’re going to fix this team. If they can’t win out this season and try to create some positive vibes, there may not be a rebuild to talk about this season.
As for the Panthers, Newton is still one of the brightest young players in the league, and has the potential to win against the best. He simply needs the pieces around him to make it all work. Ownership axed Marty Hurney as GM, so the new guy will have a player to build around. There’s hope.
3) My birdie senses are tingling…I feel a Cardinals upset over the Bears coming this week in Glendale. No, this isn’t an un-thought out reaction.
How did Chicago go from potential Super Bowl contender at 7-1, to possibly out of the playoffs at 8-6??? It’s crazy that, even with Jay Cutler, their record is Back to the Future, 2011 style. The team is dropping like a rock with injuries across the board and an offense that’s being exposed as too reliant on their defense for too long. Their defense is hurting with key players missing from the lineup such as LB Brian Urlacher and CB Tim Jennings; they haven’t been the same, ball-hawking defense that they were to start out the season. And their offense is run through Brandon Marshall, that is not a well-kept secret, and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson is going to be all over him. No, that doesn’t mean that they’re as bad as losing to Arizona. Just wait a sec.
The Cardinals suck. I mean, it’s as simple as that. There’s nothing really good about them. When you are blown out by your division rival in one of the most lopsided results in NFL history, there’s not much else to speculate on. This team has no real quarterback, a legendary receiver not adding to his legend any more in Larry Fitzgerald, and a defense that doesn’t get the respect it deserves because the offense isn’t really helping by keeping them on the field, with 3-and-out after 3-and-out.
Two teams that are lacking in effectiveness and success recently. But here’s the thing: Arizona has the run game with RB Beanie Wells, who has been a bulldozer since he came back from injury, to be the first dimension offensive option and keep the pressure off of Ryan Lindley (or whoever might start against the Bears, and don’t be surprised if the Equipment Manager suits up). And I know Ken Wisenhunt is smart enough that he would have addressed how crucial it is to get Fitzgerald the ball. This is a time in the team’s season when there’s nothing holding them back from doing something crazy and ACTUALLY GIVING THEIR BEST PLAYER THE FREAKING BALL. I mean, I still remember Fitz’s 62-yard TD catch in Super Bowl XLIII; that was all him. Even the Bears will never stop the best receiver in the game. This is a team with nothing to lose against one rocking on their back heels.
Keep an eye out for some anger and face-saving.
4) Washington may or may not have the most dangerous quarterback tandem in the league.
Ever heard the word “tandem” used for quarterbacks? One thing I’ve always wanted to see and happen, but probably won’t, is for a team to create offensive quarterback packages, wherein a team with two capable quarterbacks interchange under center the way running backs do in the backfield. That opens up huge opportunities for coaches to get plays to their signal-callers without wait, keep defenses on their heels, and keep fresh eyes on the field. Plus, quarterbacks with different skill sets could make the offense more versatile and expand on the ability of their skill position players. But I digress.
This is something the Redskins have: two capable quarterbacks who can lead this Redskins team to wins. With Rookie of the Year-candidate QB Robert Griffin III out with an MCL sprain last week, other rookie Kirk Cousins came into the game in relief against a rejuvenated Browns team and won with 2 TD’s, 300+ yards, and only one INT to boot.
I’m not saying the Redskins are going to do what I say (no one does anything I say, and the world might be a better place without the implementation of a few of my theories), but they know they either have a legitimate, growing back-up for RG3 in Cousins, or a potential poker chip to trade for draft picks or personnel. It creates some Matt Flynn-like mystery surrounding Cousins and his potential as a starting quarterback in the league. Yeah, after one game, who know what the hell is going on? But if RG3 can’t recover quickly enough and get back to dazzling his opponents right away, Cousins will get his number called over and over again and potentially pad his value.
5) Watching this week’s match-up between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh may be hazardous to your health.
I mean, we’re talking about two teams with, as of late, the hardest hitting defenses in the league. Cincinnati may be riding its high octane, Andy Dalton-A.J. Green led offense to success, but the only reason they have a chance every week is the D. Mike Zimmer, despite a slow start to this season, has always found a way to make the pieces on this unit work. And in Pittsburgh, the Dick LeBeau is…well, come on…he’s f*** Dick LeBeau. The mastermind of the zone-blitz has the Steelers at the number one spot on the defense. It’s not hard to see that this game will be a black-and-blue game reflecting the likes of Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh. Potentially a low-scoring affair, this is a crucial game to the wild card health of these teams.
The win, they’re in. Plain and simple. And also, there’s an opportunity to overtake the Baltimore Ravens for the division lead if the latter can’t win out. The Big Purple Army has been laying down lately, losing three of their last four, and one at home against the Steelers themselves. They’re hemorrhaging at the worst time for a team that had Super Bowl aspirations to begin the season and for eleven weeks after that.
If the either the Steelers or Bengals win, with a Baltimore loss, the victor could potentially wind up at home for the first game in the playoffs. This will be a major shakeup in the AFC lower-seed rankings at the tail end of the season.
Let’s hope Week 16 is everything we’re hoping for, and more!