NFL Preview: Pats-Jets, Steelers-Ravens, Cards-Pack Highlight Stacked Sunday

Carson Palmer
The Associated Press

So much remains at stake in Week 16 with many playoff spots still undecided. Let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s NFL action . . .

Carolina Panthers (14-0) at Atlanta Falcons (7-7)

Jon Stewart is out at “The Daily Show” and for the Panthers. The latter, an outstanding running back, sits with a foot injury. He helped spearhead a Panthers blowout win over Atlanta two weeks ago.

Expect a much closer game this time around than the 38-0 Carolina win on December 13. And expect a much better defensive game plan from Falcons coach Dan Quinn, a Pete Carroll-disciple. Also, the Falcons should be able to get more done passing. The Giants’ Eli Manning tossed four TD’s against this Panthers secondary last week. That game film will come in handy for the Falcons.

Don’t be shocked if Atlanta pulls an upset here.

Chicago Bears (5-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)

Two injured-ravaged teams out of the playoff hunt—if it wasn’t for Las Vegas sports books, not many would care about this game.

Tampa Bay competes without three starters: WR Vincent Jackson, DT Akeem Spence, and S Chris Conte. Chicago rides a three-game losing streak into this game.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Cleveland Browns (3-11) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-5)

One the Browns’ best pass rushers didn’t make the trip. Linebacker Armonty Bryant was arrested on Saturday along with a practice squad player.

Browns owner Jimmy Haslem, owner of Pilot Truck Stops, will likely be looking for new pilots (head coach and GM) for his football team after the season.

Look for the Chiefs to win their ninth straight game.

Dallas Cowboys (4-10) at Buffalo Bills (6-8)

Former Boise State star Kellen Moore starts at quarterback for the Cowboys. “Not great size, not a great arm, but he knows how to play quarterback,” CBS Sports analyst Phil Simms said about Moore.

The Bills are coming apart at the seams. Several Bills players criticized Rex Ryan’s defense in the press.

The Cowboys’ resurgent pass rush, led by DeMarcus Lawrence, should give the Bills’ line a lot of problems. Don’t be surprised if the spunky Moore leads the Cowboys to an upset.

Green Bay Packers (10-4) at Arizona Cardinals (12-2)

The Packers have a big problem. Due to injuries, they might start two rookie cornerbacks (Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins) against the NFC’s best passing attack.

If the Cardinals win, they would clinch the No. 2 playoff seed and a first-round bye. Expect them to do that.

Houston Texans (7-7) at Tennessee Titans (3-11)

The Texans will be starting their fourth quarterback of 2015—Brandon Weeden. The Titans will be starting backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger for the injured Marcus Mariota.

By beating the Indianapolis Colts last week, the Texans took a one-game lead over the Colts in the NFC Central.

With more at stake, expect the hungrier Texans to eke out a win.

Indianapolis Colts (6-8) at Miami Dolphins (5-9)

Colts wide receiver T.Y Hilton might be a good fit in Buffalo. He went to the media to complain about the team’s play-calling. “Donte [Moncrief], me, Phil [Phillip Dorsett], we’re fast guys, and we’re not going down the field like how we’re supposed to be,” Hilton said.

Hey T.Y., it’s hard to throw down field when your pass protection is awful. Deep passes take longer to develop.

“I don’t think anybody should air our dirty laundry outside this building, to be quite frank and honest with you,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said about Hilton.

The Colts playoff chances are on life-support after dropping three consecutive games. The Dolphins have lost four of their past five games. This battle of the demoralized is tough to call.

Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) at New Orleans Saints (5-9)

The Jaguars’ pass defense is horrendous—not ideal traveling to New Orleans to play the Saints. The Saints aren’t a great team, but it’s not because of their passing offense.

So if Saints star QB Drew Brees is able to play on a bad foot, the Saints should win. If not, Jacksonville should win.

Pittsburgh Steelers (9-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-10)

Ravens coach John Harbaugh made his bitter rival prepare for three quarterbacks—Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen, and Ryan Mallet.

Harbaugh claimed all week any of the three could start, making the hated-Steelers prepare for all of them. From a coaching standpoint (film study, practice prep), this is a tremendous amount of work. It’s tedious.

The Steelers have scored at least 30 points in six straight games, so it might be hard for any Ravens QB to keep up on the scoreboard.

San Francisco 49ers (4-10) at Detroit Lions (5-9)

The 49ers are beat-up on the offensive line with guard Alex Boone and center Marcus Martin out. This is bad news for QB Blaine Gabbert against a talented Detroit Lions front.

The 49ers have struggled to score all season, and with the line issues, this should continue. Also, the Lions’ loaded passing offense should be able to take advantage of the 49ers’ struggling secondary.

Expect a Lions win.

St. Louis Rams (6-8) at Seattle Seahawks (9-5)

Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is playing on a very high level. So is the Seahawks’ defense. In the last three games, Seattle has allowed just one offensive touchdown.

Seeing a unicorn is probably more likely than Rams win in Seattle.

New York Giants (6-8) at Minnesota Vikings (9-5)

The Giants will be without their most talented player, wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., due to a league suspension.

They are also down three defensive starters due to injury: DT Markus Kuhn, LB Derek Kennard, and S Cooper Taylor.

The Vikings are very healthy, and playing for a shot at the NFC North title. Minnesota should win this game, but any team with Eli Manning at quarterback always has a puncher’s chance.

New England Patriots (12-2) at New York Jets (9-5)

The Patriots are the better team. The Jets are much healthier.

The Patriots will be without four key starters: both starting receivers (Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola) and safeties (Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung).

The Jets at home, and with more at stake trying to stay-alive in the AFC wild-card race, should win this game.