NFL's Week 16 Early Game Previews


Photo Courtesy of Robert Robinson


Cincinnati Bengals (6-8) vs. Cleveland Browns (6-7-1)

Preview

The Cleveland Browns desperately need to win this Sunday in order to keep their very slim playoff hopes alive. After defeating the Denver Broncos on the road last week, the Browns now need to win their last two games. They also need the Titans and Colts to lose this week, then tie each other next week. The Bengals are officially out of the playoff hunt, and they are simply trying to evaluate their roster before the end of the year.


Players to watch

Baker Mayfield is clearly the player that everyone in the NFL will be watching in this match-up. The rookie quarterback is absolutely electrifying, and he has breathed life into the city of Cleveland once more. Nick Chubb will have to step up in the cold weather of Cleveland, and he could be asked to carry the ball over 25 times on Sunday. Jarvis Landry will have a distinct advantage on the outside given the fact that the Bengals’ secondary has been so bad recently. For the Bengals, they will have to get Joe Mixon involved in every facet of the game. He is the team’s best receiver at this point in the season as well due to injuries.


Keys to the game

Cincinnati Bengals

Get Joe Mixon the ball

Blitz Baker

Win the turnover battle


Cleveland Browns

Give Baker time to make plays

Establish the run

Make Driskel uncomfortable


Injury list

Cincinnati Bengals

Tyler Boyd, WR- Knee (Out)

Vontaze Burfict, LB- Concussion (Questionable)

Jordan Evans, LB- Ankle (Out)

Tony McRae, DB- Hamstring (Out)


Cleveland Browns

Larry Ogunjobi, DL- Biceps (Questionable)

J.C. Tretter, OL- Ankle (Questionable)

Austin Corbett, OL- Foot (Questionable)

Jabrill Peppers, DB- Neck (Questionable)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Baker Mayfield, QB (CLE)

Nick Chubb, RB (CLE)

Joe Mixon, RB (CIN)

Cleveland D/ST

Jarvis Landry, WR (CLE)


Prediction

The Cleveland Browns simply have more riding on this game than the Cincinnati Bengals. The Browns’ offense should have a field day against the putrid Bengals’ defense. I look for Baker Mayfield to exploit the Bengals’ weak secondary. The Bengals will have a little success offensively late in the game, but it will be well after the game has been decided on the scoreboard.


Final Score: Browns 31, Bengals 17


Written by: Jake Leicht



Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9) vs. Dallas Cowboys (8-6)

Preview

After seeing their five-game winning streak snapped in Indianapolis last week, Dallas comes back home in the same exact situation as a week ago; win and they’re in. Regardless of what happens with Washington or Philadelphia, all the Cowboys need to do is win either this week against the Buccaneers, or next week (at NYG), and they win the NFC East. Despite their record, Tampa boasts the top passing offense in the league in terms of yards per game (3rd in total offense). Dallas counters with a top-5 defense, providing a tough challenge for Jameis Winston and Co. The Bucs have struggled as of late, scoring 17 points or fewer in their last four games.


Players to watch

Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense have been under a microscope after being shut out a week ago, as they saw their redzone struggles continue against the Colts. They currently rank 31st in red zone offense, an area that has plagued them all season. Amari Cooper, however, has been a big play threat since coming to Dallas and has a great matchup vs a questionable Bucs secondary. For the visiting Bucs, Jason Pierre-Paul (11.5 sacks) is a familiar foe in Big D, presenting a big challenge to a Cowboys offensive line that has given up 51 sacks so far this season, second worst in the NFL. Offensively, Adam Humphries needs to continue his recent streak of production, especially with much of the attention going to Mike Evans on the outside against a tough Dallas secondary led by Byron Jones.


Keys to the game

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Get after Dak

Keep the Cowboys’ defense honest

Be aggressive early/avoid getting in a hole


Dallas Cowboys

Convert in the redzone

Take care of the ball

Don’t let Mike Evans beat you


Injury list

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

DeSean Jackson, WR - Thumb (Questionable)


Dallas Cowboys

David Irving, DT - Ankle (Out)

Geoff Swaim, TE - Wrist (Out)

Tavon Austin, WR - Groin (Questionable)

Anthony Brown, CB - Hand (Questionable)

Sean Lee, LB - Hamstring (Questionable)

Zack Martin, OG - Knee (Questionable)

Top 5 Fantasy Players

Ezekiel Elliott, RB (DAL)

Amari Cooper, WR (DAL)

Mike Evans, WR (TB)

Dak Prescott, QB (DAL)

Adam Humphries, WR (TB)

Prediction

The Cowboys were a no-show in Indy last week, but expect them to be refocused after hearing the criticism all week long. Although the Buccaneers come into town with a respectable offense, particularly through the air, the Cowboys’ defense should match up well. Both defensive lines have the chance for a big game when it comes to getting after the opposing quarterback, but the difference lies in the ground attack for each team. Ezekiel Elliott is in position to have a strong game against the 27th ranked rushing defense in the league. Unless Tampa can get off to a strong start and force Dallas to go to the air early and often, expect Dallas to get back to their comfort zone of controlling the clock and wearing the defense down with a lot of Zeke.


Final Score: Cowboys 27, Buccaneers 17


Written by: Greg Lehr



Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) vs. Detroit Lions (5-9)


Preview

The Lions come into this match up with an opportunity to spoil their division rivals’ playoff hopes. The Vikings currently stand as the #6 seed in the NFC playoffs and can clinch a berth with a win and losses by the Eagles and Redskins. If the Vikings start scoreboard watching (as Philadelphia plays at 1pm also), Matthew Stafford and the Lions could look for an upset victory to try to close their season on a high note.


Players to watch

In last week’s loss to the Bills, Kenny Golladay racked up 146 receiving yards against a stingy Buffalo pass defense. Another difficult matchup awaits him in the form of Xavier Rhoades and the Minnesota secondary. Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota offense exploded for 41 points last week against a struggling Miami defense and will look to continue their dominance against a Detroit defense that gives up the fourth-most yards per carry in the NFL which bodes well for Dalvin Cook and the offensive line.


Keys to the game

Minnesota Vikings

Lock down Golladay

Stay away from Darius Slay

Stick to the ground game


Detroit Lions

Sellout to stop Cook

Pressure Cousins

Pick your poison: Diggs or Thielen


Injury list

Minnesota Vikings

Eric Kendricks, LB - Hamstring (Out)


Detroit Lions

Jamal Agnew, CB - Knee (Questionable)

LeGarrette Blount, RB - Calf (Questionable)

Bruce Ellington, WR - Hamstring (Out)

Kenny Golladay, WR - Chest (Questionable)

Damon Harrison, DT - Ankle (Questionable)

Devon Kennard, LB - Hip (Questionable)

Matthew Stafford, QB - Back (Questionable)

Charles Washington, S - Hamstring (Out)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Dalvin Cook, RB (MIN)

Stefon Diggs, WR (MIN)

Adam Thielen, WR (MIN)

Kenny Golladay, WR (DET)

Kirk Cousins, QB (MIN)

Prediction

The Vikings will be hard-pressed to cement their playoff status with a win in Detroit. While I do believe the Lions will put up as much fight as they can, without Kerryon Johnson and a consistent running game, Matthew Stafford will be forced to face a defense with the highest sack rate in the league and that bodes very badly for Detroit. Dalvin Cook will run all over the Lions’ defense and Kirk Cousins will do enough in the passing game to get by.


Final Score: Vikings 24, Lions 17


Written by: Rusty Miller



Buffalo Bills (5-9) vs. New England Patriots (9-5)

Preview

The Patriots are 6-0 in Gillette stadium this season, and look to make it 7-0 against the Buffalo Bills this weekend. The Patriots are coming off of a devastating loss against the Steelers which exploited the Patriots weaknesses on offense and a surprising lack of discipline with 14 penalties called-a Belichick era high. The Patriots had no issue beating the Bills in their last matchup, 25-6. But Josh Allen was sidelined with an elbow injury in their last bout. Allen recently pulled off a close win against the Lions and has been playing some inspiring football as of late. The strength of Buffalo is still in their defense, who ranks top in the league in a myriad of categories. Which should help against a Tom Brady led offense. It should be much closer than last time in this one.


Players to watch

Brady will have trouble finding Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman in this one. The Tre’davious White led Bills defensive backfield has stifled quarterbacks and wide receivers all season. Sony Michel and James White will have some trouble as well against Trumaine Edmunds and Pro-Bowler Kyle Williams. Josh Allen will need to use his feet against the slow patriots linebackers like Donta Hightower and Kyle Van Noy in this one, because they won’t generate offense any other way in this one, LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory are banged up in this one, so the ground game won’t work. While Stephon Gilmore will stifle the less than inspiring Robert Foster and Zay Jones in this one. This could be a grind for both teams.


Keys to the game

Buffalo Bills

Keep Josh Allen in the pocket

Establish the running game

Utilize play action

Sack the quarterback


New England Patriots

Pressure Brady through the middle

Control the clock with the run

Shut down the patriots running game

Let Josh Allen use his feet


Injury list

Buffalo Bills

Ryan Lewis, CB - Concussion (Out)

Chris Ivory, RB - Shoulder (Questionable)


New England Patriots

Brandon King, LB - Knee (Questionable)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Tom Brady, QB (NE)

Sony Michel, RB (NE)

Josh Allen, QB (BUF)

Rob Gronkowski, QB (NE)

LeSean McCoy, RB (BUF)

Prediction

While I love what Josh Allen has been doing lately, I cannot see him pulling off a win in this one. It’s unfathomable to think that the Patriots coming off of two straight losses will drop a third at home. Their defense and offense should do just enough in this one to score points and limit the only offensive weapon the Bills have in Josh Allen. Tom Brady and Bill will not let another win slip by then, the Patriots will take this one.


Final Score: Patriots 23, Bills 13


Written by: George Haraktsis



Green Bay Packers (5-8-1) vs. New York Jets (4-10)

Preview

The Jets and Packers will meet in MetLife stadium this Sunday in a matchup that has two teams pitted against each other with nothing to play for. Last week was not kind to both franchises, with each one coming away with a loss. The Jets with a close loss to the Texans and the Packers with a close one against the Bears. The packers have had trouble on the road all year, not winning a single game away from Lambeau. Much of this can be put on the offense and Aaron Rodgers, who has not being able to get the offense going at all when away. The bears game is a great example, where he completed under 60% of his passes and threw one interception to no touchdowns. There’s good and bad news for the Jets for this one, Darnold is coming off arguably his best game as a pro, but the Jets are 2-5 at home this season. He showed that he could get the offense going, but can he sustain that two weeks in a row? This one should be a very interesting matchup.


Players to watch

The Packers best bet to win this game does not rest on the shoulders of Aaron Rodgers for once. Yes, he and Davante Adams will get their fill, but the Jets have been gashed against the run this year. Which means Jamaal Williams, who is replacing Aaron Jones, will have to step up in a big way if the Packers plan on winning this one. Avery Williamson and Leonard Williams should have their hands full. As for the Jets, the offense is mostly on the shoulders of Sam Darnold. He will have to avoid Mike Daniels and Clay Matthews all day and try to find Robby Anderson against a soft Packers secondary. He will need a bit of help from running backs Elijah McGuire, who is filling in for Crowell, but Blake Martinez will try to put an end to that.


Keys to the game

Green Bay Packers

Protect Rodgers

Establish Williams

Pressure Darnold

Score early


New York Jets

Keep the game close

Establish the run to help Darnold

Keep Darnold protected

Control the clock


Injury list

Green Bay Packers

Kenny Clark, DL - Elbow (Out)

Will Redmond, CB - Shoulder (Out)

Randall Cobb, WR - Concussion (Doubtful)

Jason Spriggs, OT - Concussion (Doubtful)

Jake Kumerow, WR - Hand (Questionable)


New York Jets

Quincy Enunwa, WR - Ankle (Out)

Kevin Pierre-Lewis, LB - Shoulder (Doubtful)

Darryl Roberts, DB - Toe (Questionable)

Jordan Jenkins, OLB - Ankle (Questionable)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Aaron Rodgers, QB (GB)

Davante Adams, WR (GB)

Jamaal Williams, RB (GB)

Sam Darnold, QB (NYJ)

Robby Anderson, RB (NYJ)

Prediction

This is much more of a toss up than most people think. The Packers are 0-9 on the road dating to last season, and cannot seem to get their feet under them away from Lambeau. This should be the game that snaps that streak. The Jets are just far too poor of a team and turnover the ball too much for the Packers not to take advantage of that. New York has given away the ball 27 times this season, third worst in the NFL. The Packers defense should be able to force Darnold into turnovers, and Rodgers should be able to take advantage of short fields.


Final Score: Packers 27 Jets 17


Written by: George Haraktsis



Houston Texans (10-4) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (7-7)

Preview

A huge matchup with playoff implications will go down in Philadelphia on Sunday. Houston can clinch their division with a win but could also clinch a playoff berth with losses by either Baltimore or Pittsburgh and can clinch a first-round bye with a win and a New England loss. The Eagles on-the-other-hand can help their playoff chances by getting a win and having Minnesota lose in Detroit.


Players to watch

Nick Foles returned to the lineup last week as Carson Wentz is likely done for the season with his fractured back. He performed well aside from the one turnover and got the win against a good Rams team in Los Angeles. He will look to continue his chemistry with Alshon Jeffery against a stout Texans defense. DeAndre Hopkins torched the Jets defense last week with 170 yards and 2 TDs and has a juicy matchup against a banged up Eagles secondary.


Keys to the game

Houston Texans

Feed Hopkins

Slow down the Philly pass rush

Pressure Foles


Philadelphia Eagles

Establish the run

Key on Watt

Run the “Foles” offense


Injury list

Houston Texans

Keke Coutee, WR - Hamstring (Questionable)

Brandon Dunn, NT - Ankle (Questionable)

DeAndre Hopkins, WR - Ankle (Questionable)

Johnathan Joseph, CB - Hip (Questionable)

Senio Kelemete, G - Elbow/Rib (Questionable)

Lamar Miller, RB - Ankle (Questionable)

Mike Tyson, S - Concussion (Out)


Philadelphia Eagles

D.J. Alexander, LB - Hamstring (Questionable)

Michael Bennett, DE - Foot (Questionable)

Tim Jernigan, DT - Back (Questionable)

Sidney Jones, CB - Hamstring (Out)

Cre’Von LeBlanc, CB - Hamstring (Questionable)

Isaac Seumalo, G - Pectoral (Out)

Carson Wentz, QB - Back (Out)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

DeAndre Hopkins, WR (HOU)

Zach Ertz, TE (PHI)

Deshaun Watson, QB (HOU)

Demaryius Thomas, WR (HOU)

Alshon Jeffery, WR (PHI)

Prediction

The Texans want to try to secure the first-round bye for the playoffs by putting as much distance between themselves and the Patriots, however there is just something about Nick Foles this time of year. Foles already took down one of the top teams in the NFC and now looks to do the same with a top team from the AFC. If the Philadelphia pass rush can ramp up and protect its secondary, Deshaun Watson may not be able to find Hopkins as much as he wants the Eagles could continue their push toward a playoff berth in front of the raucous crowd at home.


Final Score: Eagles 28, Texans 17


Written by: Rusty Miller


Atlanta Falcons (5-9) vs. Carolina Panthers (6-8)

Preview

What appeared to be an early season pick to potentially decide the best division in football has now been reduced to two teams fighting for their honor in Charlotte. The Panthers are coming off a dismal performance against the division rival Saints Monday night, and are in the midst of a six-game losing streak. Not only that, but they recently shut down Cam Newton, and that might prove beneficial for 2019. Atlanta, meanwhile, just thwacked the lowly Cardinals on Sunday, but still have questions remaining about their coordinator positions and draft location. That said, when talking about both coordinators being axed, remember this: Marquand Manuel had all the pieces there last year and fielded a top 10 defense; losing both safeties and the middle linebacker along with various members of the defensive line for extended periods of time can prove costly, but he should remain for at least one more season.


Players to watch

Matt Ryan is still playing at a high level this season, so despite the team’s dismal record, he’s still a Top 10 QB in this league. He’ll be relying on Tevin Coleman and Brian Hill to get the running attack going with Ito Smith on IR. His receiving core is still elite, with Julio Jones leading the league with over 1,500 yards along with six touchdowns. Taylor Heineke is getting the nod with Cam Newton out, so the deep ball will be an interesting sight. Christian McCaffrey should expect to be fed early and often to get Atlanta’s defense off, opening the passing attack up. And on defense, look for Luke Kuechly to continue showing why he’s arguably the best middle linebacker in the game.


Keys to the game

Atlanta Falcons

Shut down McCaffrey

Pressure Heineke consistently

Get the offense rolling

Win the turnover battle


Carolina Panthers

Protect the backup QB

Let McCaffrey run loose

Pressure Matt Ryan

Shut down running attack


Injury list

Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones, WR - Hip (Questionable)


Carolina Panthers

Cam Newton, QB - Shoulder (Out)

Kawann Short, DT - Calf (Questionable)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Matt Ryan, QB (ATL)

Tevin Coleman, RB (ATL)

Julio Jones, WR (ATL)

Austin Hooper, TE (ATL)

Christian McCaffrey, RB (CAR)

Prediction

It’s unfortunate that the two wild card teams from last season are in these kind of predicaments right now, but that’s what football is all about. Atlanta still has that high powered offense in its repertoire, and they should be looking to sweep the Panthers for the second time in three years. Because Cam is out, it’s hard to see the Panthers being anything other than one-dimensional, so if Atlanta can shut down McCaffrey, this could be an easy win. However, if anyone knows the Falcons, they’ll always play down to their competition, which explains why they sometimes lose to those most don’t expect. I believe Atlanta will emerge victorious, but not as big as everyone else thinks.


Final Score: Falcons 27, Panthers 20


Written by: Joe Carlino



New York Giants (5-9) vs. Indianapolis Colts (8-6)

Preview

The Giants and Colts matchup features one team that has had an underwhelming season while the other has been one of the few surprises in 2018. New York is out of the playoff race but will look to end the season strong to give hope to 2019. Indianapolis is sitting right outside the playoff picture and need to win out to give themselves the best chance to get in. The Giants offense struggled to find the endzone last week and will be facing a Colts defense who just shutout the Cowboys. The Indianapolis offensive line dominated last week and if they can continue it then the offense will be able to move the ball easily against the Giants.


Players to watch

Saquon Barkley is coming off one of his worst games of his stellar rookie season and will face tough Indy run defense who haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. Olivier Vernon needs to find a way to get to Andrew Luck as much as possible if the Giants want a chance to pull of the upset. Marlon Mack is coming off a big game against Dallas and has a chance to go off versus a weak Giants run defense. Darius Leonard will be the key to helping contain Barkley and make sure he doesn’t have a memorable performance against the Colts defense.


Keys to the game

New York Giants

Establish the run

Protect Eli

Pressure Luck


Indianapolis Colts

Put up points early

Pressure Manning into mistakes

Contain Barkley


Injury list

New York Giants

Odell Beckham Jr., WR - Quad (Out)

Alec Ogletree, LB - Concussion (Out)

Spencer Pulley, C - Calf (Out)

Russell Shepard, WR - Ankle (Out)

Kerry Wynn, DE - Thumb (Questionable)


Indianapolis Colts

Clayton Geathers, S - Knee (Out)

Mark Glowinski, OG - Ankle (Questionable)

T.Y. Hilton, WR - Ankle (Questionable)

Mike Mitchell, S - Calf (Questionable)

George Odum, S - Knee (Questionable)

Anthony Walker, LB - Shoulder (Questionable)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Saquon Barkley, RB (NYG)

T.Y. Hilton, WR (IND)

Marlon Mack, RB (IND)

Eric Ebron, TE (IND)

Andrew Luck, QB (IND)

Prediction

The Colts are coming off of a blow out of the red hot Cowboys, and have the playoffs to play for. New York has all types of injuries they are dealing with and their seasons is two weeks from being over. Indy should be able to come out and get out to a big lead to make the Giants one-dimensional. As long as the Colts defense doesn’t allow Barkley to have a career day then this should be an easy win for Indianapolis as they look to keep their playoff hopes alive.


Final Score: Colts 31, Giants 17


Written by: Cody Manning



Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) vs. Miami Dolphins (7-7)

Preview

The Dolphins could not muster a miracle in Minnesota, losing to the Vikings 41-17 after coming of their shocking last second win against the Patriots. The team could get nothing going through the air or on the ground, suffice from a huge Kalen Ballage touchdown, all game long. The team scored half of their touchdowns on defense, but looked lost without star corner Xavien Howard. They will look to bounce back against the Jaguars after this humiliating loss. As for Jacksonville, they look completely rudderless on offense. Cody Kessler could only muster 57 passing yards on the day against the Redskins last week, and now may be without star running back Leonard Fournette who injured his foot. With the teams defense not playing like they did last year, this team looks devoid of any hope. Can these two teams step it up? Or will we have to sit through a torturous 60 minutes of football?


Players to watch

Cody Kessler will be under center during this game, but it does not mean he’ll have much impact on the Jaguars offense. It’ll all be on Leonard Fournette’s shoulders in this one. The nicked-up back will have to take advantage of the 30th ranked run defense in the league (144.7 yards per game) led by Kiko Alonso if they stand any chance in this one. If he’s out then the combination of Hyde and Yeldon will have to do it. If not then the team might have to lean on Dede Westbrook, but I don’t like his chances against pro bowler Xavien Howard. The Dolphins will have their work cut out for them in this one. Tannehill has played better at home and will need that against a Jalen Ramsey led defense. He will have trouble doing so, but will need to spread the ball around to Kenny Stills and Danny Amendola. The key might be to haha the Jaguars on the ground, who have been just average against the run. This will be tough with Frank Gore out and both Kalen Ballage and Drake replacing him, but if Telvin Smith and Myles Jack aren’t up for the task then this could be the winning formula.


Keys to the game

Jacksonville Jaguars

Protect Kessler

Run the ball down their throats

Control the clock

Attack Tannehill


Miami Dolphins

Establish the run early and often

Attack Kessler and make him move

Protect Tannehill

Pull away early


Injury list

Jacksonville Jaguars

D.J. Chark, WR - Quad (Out)

Ronnie Harrison, S - Knee (Out)

Josh Lambo, K - Groin (Out)

Jermey Parnell, OL - Knee (Out)


Miami Dolphins

T.J. McDonald, S - Ankle (Doubtful)

Kiko Alonso, LB - Knee/Hamstring (Questionable)

Ziggy Hood, DT - Hamstring (Questionable)

Xavien Howard, CB - Knee (Questionable)

Kendrick Norton, DT - Ankle (Questionable)


Top 5 Fantasy Players

Ryan Tannehill, QB (MIA)

Kalen Ballage, RB (MIA)

Leonard Fournette, RB (JAX)

Miami D/ST (MIA)

Jacksonville D/ST (JAX)

Prediction

This game is going to be brutal to watch. Both of these teams have their woes on offense, and have not looked great in their last two games. The only thing going for the Dolphins in this one is that they play much better at home. If they can get the offense going and the Jaguars are dealing with a less than 100% Fournette in this one then the Fins should pull this one off easy. But even if the dolphins win, don’t expect a good game!!


Final Score: Dolphins 17, Jaguars 10


Written by: George Haraktsis