Written/Ranked by Jonnie Carlyle
1. Kansas City vs. Cleveland
You want easy in Week 16, right? Well, it doesn’t get much easier than slotting Kansas City into your lineups on Sunday. The Chiefs defense has scored four defensive touchdowns in their last five, have created at least two turnovers in eight of their last nine and have allowed just 13 points per game during that same stretch. Sack master Justin Houston won’t be in uniform on Sunday, but Kansas City has still accumulated 11 sacks in the last three games without him and those numbers likely balloon against a putrid Cleveland offensive squad. Only Tennessee and San Francisco have allowed more sacks than the Browns’ 46, including 19 sacks in Johnny Manziel’s six extended appearances, and have more turnovers than touchdowns in their last three (five to two, respectively).
2. Carolina at Atlanta
38-0. No, that’s not my most recent Madden ’16 score against my 16-month old son; that’s what the real Panthers did to the real Falcons two weeks ago in Charlotte. And that’s likely all you need to know about this lopsided matchup. I used to think “Matty Ice” was annoyingly thrown around because of that old cliché about having ice in one’s veins, but I’m learning it’s actually because he’s the quarterback version of “Natural Ice” (the barley pop that makes Old Milwaukee taste like your finest local craft beer). Only Peyton Manning has thrown more interceptions than Ryan this season, which sounds like a good thing until you remember it’s not 2004 anymore. It’s possible Ryan takes that top spot over this Sunday too, as the Panthers have at least one interception in every game but one (they lead the league with 22) and are two weeks removed from forcing the Falcon quarterback into throwing two picks. The Panthers have also forced the most fumbles (13) and have the 4th-most sacks (40), including two of the former and five of the latter in their last meeting with Atlanta.
3. Denver vs. Cincinnati
As if Denver wasn’t already enough of a slam dunk, they get a severely undermanned Cincinnati offense that has to travel to Mile High in primetime in what is shaping up to be a must-win for the Broncos. The Bengals will be without Andy Dalton, potentially Tyler Eifert who is still recovering from a concussion and AJ Green’s status is up in the air after having to leave last Sunday’s game early due to a back issue. The Denver defensive front is likely salivating at the idea of AJ McCarron under center after he’s taken seven sacks in the last two games, including four last Sunday despite the Bengals only attempting 21 passes. Only New England has more sacks than the Broncos, who’ve had at least three in four straight and are averaging more than three per game at home.
4. Seattle vs. St. Louis
We all know how tough it can be to go into Seattle for any offense, but I don’t know if you’ll find any team that’s struggled nearly as much as St. Louis has. Dating back to 2007, the Rams have played the Seahawks eight times in the Puget Sound and they’ve scored a total of 66 points. Eight points per game. Yikes. They’ve not reached the end zone more than once in any of the meetings and in five of them, St. Louis didn’t breach the goal line at all. Come Sunday, I am not sure those numbers look much different this year either. Only Pittsburgh, Arizona and Carolina (three of the top four scoring offenses) have scored more than one touchdown at Century Link and the Seahawks have allowed just 26 points in their last three games combined. Only the 49ers are averaging fewer points than the Rams and only Buffalo has fewer trips into the red zone. St. Louis has thrown just 11 interceptions this season, but 10 of them have come in games where they’ve had to drop back at least 28 times and that’ll likely be required on Sunday given Seattle is averaging 34 points over their last six games. The Seahawk defense has certainly been fickle about forcing turnovers, but they do have seven interceptions in their last four games and have at least one in each of those games.
5. New England at New York Jets
Things Ryan Fitzpatrick hates:
2) facing the New England Patriots
Dude’s beard look boss as f***, but unfortunately that overtly thick monstrosity of manliness that would make Paul Bunyan green with envy can’t protect the football for him when he faces New England. Eight times he faced the Pats and #Fitzmagic has gone 1-7 and turned the ball over 22 times. The Patriots are surprisingly average in total turnover numbers, but they’ve only had one game in 2015 where they didn’t force at least one turnover and that likely arises from all the pressure they create in the opposition’s backfield. New England leads the league in sacks (47) and has yet to have a game this season where they didn’t register at least one. They’ve allowed the 6th-fewest points and in two of their last three have held the opposition well below 300 total yards.
6. Houston at Tennessee
With Marcus Mariota out at least one week with a knee sprain, in steps Zach Mettenberger and his propensity to give the ball to the opposition. Don’t believe me? No, I get it; it’s not a lack of belief but moreso you don’t care. Fair, but humor me because it’s Week 16 and I am making suggestions for your teams while all but one of mine have been eliminated. Mettenberger has appeared in 11 games and in those 11 games he has 12 interceptions and seven fumbles, including at least one interception in every start and only one appearance (where he threw the ball just eight times) without an throwing a pick. Who does this guy think he is, Kirk Cousins? He also gets sacked, a lot. On his 287 career attempts Mettenberger is getting dropped a little more than once per 10 passes. Zach Mettenberger? More like SACK Mettenberger! Amirite?! That’s bad news considering broken-right-hand-but-not-from-watching-the-Victoria’s-Secret-show JJ Watt is coming to town. Speaking of that awful Victoria’s Secret thing, anyone know what time and channel it is on so I can make sure to definitely not watch that show? The Texans faced Mettenberger in Week 8 and mauled him. Tennessee scored just six points, had just 211 yards of offense, turned the ball over three times and piled up seven sacks. Houston may not be the elite defense we all thought they’d be, but their struggles have come when facing some of the league’s best offenses. In other words, not the Titans.
7. Pittsburgh at Baltimore
The Ravens quarterback situation is like game of Russian roulette, but instead of just one bullet amidst mostly empty chambers they accidentally misread the instructions and put a bullet in every single chamber. Is it going to be the Jimmy Clausen chamber? He has twice as many interceptions as touchdowns in his career and has only thrown for more than 200 yards twice (in 21 appearances). Maybe the spin takes us to Matt Schaub? We could be so lucky! Schaub has as many touchdown passes to the defense in his last 12 appearances (7) as Clausen has touchdowns (the good kind) passes in his career. Of course it could be recent signee Ryan Mallett, who was not only beaten out by Brian Hoyer, twice, in one half season but was such a cancer the Texans felt better about giving the ball to Brandon Weeden than the guy who spent the whole offseason with the team. Whoever it ends up being, expect it to be a disaster for the purple guys (and I am not just talking about those pants). The Steelers have 18 sacks in their last five games and the most turnovers created in the last three weeks (6).
8. Arizona vs. Green Bay
Any time a team loses a player of Tyrann Mathieu’s caliber it’ll never be viewed as anything but a negative. He leads the team in interceptions and is tremendously versatile, but I don’t know if we’ll see an immediate drop-off for the Cardinal’s defense on Sunday. For one, the matchup is not nearly as scary as it once was. Aaron Rodgers is averaging just 222 passing yards (despite averaging 37 attempts) in his last five games and has thrown an interception in three of his last four (something he hasn’t done since 2012). Even with the loss of Mathieu, don’t expect the Arizona turnovers to just evaporate either. Only Carolina has created more and even if you were to take away Mathieu’s interceptions, the Cardinals would still be amongst the top-10 in turnovers this season. Since Week 13, no team has turned the opposition over more than Arizona, including five fumble recoveries and they’ve also given up the 3rd-fewest points during that stretch.
9. Cincinnati at Denver
Has there been a quietly better defense than the Cincinnati Bengals? I say no. They’ve allowed the fewest points this season, only Kansas City and Carolina have more interceptions and they have at least three sacks in more than half their games. Unfortunately for Bengal owners it looks like they won’t be reaping the inevitable benefits of a Peyton Manning return, but I don’t think I’d sleep on Osweiler’s ability to turn the ball over either (five in six appearances). Sure it’s not Peyton Manning levels, but Osweiler has more than tried to make up for it in sacks taken. Despite throwing the ball 108 fewer times than Manning, Osweiler has been sacked 19 times to Manning’s 15, including two games where he was dropped five times.
10. Oakland vs. San Diego
With the surprisingly emotional farewell to Qualcomm out of the way, it’s probably safe to assume the Chargers return to their old form on Thursday night and that’s good news for Oakland. San Diego has more games with no touchdowns (3) than games with touchdowns in their last five, they’ve turned the ball over eight times and Rivers has been sacked 15 times. The Raiders are young, so they’ve been inconsistent at times but their talent has really started to shine through of late. No team has more sacks in the last five weeks than Oakland (17) and they’ve forced two turnovers in four straight.
11. Detroit vs. San Francisco
Question, can anyone confirm or deny if Blaine Gabbert has begun growing his hair out again a la his days in Jacksonville? I only ask because the guy we watched shrivel up more than an Eskimo’s scrotum in Jacksonville hadn’t shown his face in Santa Clara yet. Well, that was until last week. Jim Tomsula and his moustache put an unreasonable amount of faith in Gabbert to the tune of 50 passes and the offense paid dearly for it. Gabbert threw three interceptions and was sacked four times, which was merely par for the course as Gabbert’s been sacked 21 times in his last five starts. If the Lions do anything well, it’s get after the quarterback. Detroit has at least one sack in every game this season and 13 sacks in their last three home games. It’s well documented how pitiful the 49ers defense is on the road suggesting their offense is likely chasing points and well, when your quarterback is Blaine Gabbert that’s not a good thing.
12. Tennessee vs. Houston
You won’t see me trying to start the Titans in any of my playoff matchups, but given the nature of Houston’s quarterback situation there certainly are worse starts. Brian Hoyer is still sleeping after New England gave him multiple doses of Unisack, I mean Unisom. TJ Yates left his ACL in Indianapolis, which is not good because the rest of him went back to Houston. That means the Texans will likely be on their 3rd-string quarterback and that guy is on his 2nd team this season after losing his job to a guy that just his job to a guy who’s never taken an NFL snap. You get all that? Short story shorter, Houston we have a problem. No one needs a rundown of Weeden’s many issues, but suffice to say Weeden’s best quality may be the fact he’s somehow figured out how to cram his bulbous baby face into an extra small helmet. He’s started three games this season, but has thrown just one touchdown to two interceptions and has been sacked eight times in those three starts (i.e., when the opposition has had a chance to game plan for him). The Titans are as exciting of a defense as a Marcus Mariota press conference, but they do have the 6th-most sacks and have forced six turnovers in their last five games.
13. Minnesota vs. New York Giants
The New York Giants have scored 39 total touchdowns in 2015 and averaging 270 yards through the air. Odell Beckham, Jr. has 13 touchdowns and is averaging 100 yards receiving per game. Maybe you’ve heard, I don’t know it’s been pretty underreported, but Beckham has been suspended one game for some shenanigans between he and Josh Norman last Sunday. So do you want the defense facing the arguably the league’s worst rushing attack and a passing game fronted by Reuben Randle? You’re damn right you do. Manning’s always good for a few interceptions, he’s had five in his last four games, and the offense as a whole has seven during that same stretch. There’s also a chance the Viking defense could be at full strength on Sunday night after Mike Zimmer suggested it was a “good possibility” Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr and Harrison Smith could all return to action. The three of them have combined for four sacks, five forced fumbles and one interception.
14. Philadelphia vs. Washington
On a scale of 1-10, Kirk Cousins is a Rick Mirer when he leaves the nation’s capital. Okay, so maybe he’s not that bad, but he is undoubtedly a much worse quarterback. In 11 career road games, Cousins has 19 interceptions and has never not thrown at least one interception playing outside Washington. That’s just what a shaky Philadelphia defense needs in an uber-important divisional game on Saturday night. The Eagles have forced the 6th-most turnovers and have forced at least two in four of their seven home games. They’ve posted at least one sack in every game this season and the majority of those have come at Lincoln Financial Field. Washington’s been one of the better teams at protecting their quarterback this season, but in their last two games on the road Cousins has been sacked eight times.
15. Buffalo vs. Dallas
The Bills don’t have their best interior defensive lineman, Mario Williams seems to have decided his time in Buffalo ended six weeks ago, their best corner was just lost for the season along with their best safety and players give so little fudges they are calling the coaches out, publicly. So what gives, well Dallas quarterbacks for one. In their last four games, the Dallas quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than seven other quarterbacks (with at least 300 attempts) have thrown all season (8). If you could combine them into one singular unit only the Denver and Cleveland quarterbacks have more interceptions this season than the Cowboys’ 19. You won’t find a bigger Kellen Moore fan outside of maybe his immediate family than me, but that doesn’t take away from the fact this offense (the passing offense specifically) just isn’t functioning. Dallas quarterbacks can’t even throw the ball away with any sort of success. How often do you see an intentional grounding penalty and an interception in the same hilariously boneheaded play? According to football nerd Ed Werder, never, as in he said that’s the first time he’s ever seen that happen. Buffalo doesn’t exactly do much well defensively, but average might be enough given they’ll be facing a guy making his first NFL start for a team that officially has nothing to play for. Moore will be better than most expect, but maybe not good enough to overcome what has very clearly been a cursed season in Dallas.
New York Giants at Minnesota
Hail Mary time, folks. Sure the Giants give up the 8th-most points in the NFL and have just four more sacks than sack leader Khalil Mack, but if you’re scratching around down here you need ceiling. If the Giants have anything, it’s that. They have the 3rd-most defensive touchdowns (4) and if we’re including special teams touchdowns, they top the league with six. The Vikings are scoring just 21 points per game, so I am not sure we have to worry about them piling up the points on Sunday night and there’s also a chance (albeit slim) Adrian Peterson is slowed after sustaining an ankle injury last week. I know it doesn’t look good, in the championship/semifinals no less, but sometimes you just gotta throw it up and hope for a Christmas miracle.