Dec 15 2016

NFL 2016 Week 15 Gameplan

With three weeks left in the 2016 NFL season, there are only six teams eliminated from the playoff picture. More importantly, there are 18 teams with winning records – and all of them are either in the top-6 of their respective conferences or no more than a game out of the final Wild Card spots.

But let me turn your attention to something a bit more pressing – big play defense! And I don’t like what I see from the Detroit Lions or Dallas Cowboys, two teams that would get Wild Card byes if the season ended today:

As for me, I can tank the rest of the season after going a season-best 13-3 in Week 14. With 48 games left, I’ve clinched a record over .500 for the 2016 season! But as I always do, I have a few I’d like to have back, so let’s discuss:

– The Dolphins defeated the Arizona Cardinals 26-23 despite losing QB Ryan Tannehill to a sprained knee. Before leaving, Tannehill had 3 TD, 1 INT and a 124.0 passer rating. Backup QB Matt Moore led a game-winning drive that ended with a FG by Andrew Franks.

– The Titans beat up on the Denver Broncos, collecting 10 QB hits and 3 sacks on their way to a 13-10 home win. The game was marred by a hit by Tennessee WR Harry Douglas on Denver CB Chris Harris, something that the Broncos are usually on the other side of:

– The Packers embarrassed Seattle QB Russell Wilson, intercepting him five times. But Green Bay’s offensive line was even better, allowing only 1 sack and 3 QB hits despite QB Aaron Rodgers dealing with leg issues. Rodgers was 18/23 for 246 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT, and a 150.8 passer rating in Green Bay’s 38-10 home win.

We’re running out of interconference games! We have a couple of good ones involving teams fighting for their playoff lives. I have the home teams winning both:

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks: For the first time ever, a team fired their head coach before a Thursday game! And of course the Rams would let Jeff Fisher go before he had the ignominy of owning the most losses in NFL history record to himself. Oh well. Seattle still has to figure out how to beat the Rams, a team that they have lost three in a row to and a team that always beats up on Seattle QB Russell Wilson. But Los Angeles rookie QB Jared Goff and interim head coach John Fassel are being thrown in a very difficult situation

Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: This game is on a Saturday night, so let it shape your viewing habits for Christmas Eve, when there are 12 games scheduled for that Saturday. Due to Ryan Tannehill’s injury, QB Matt Moore will be starting his first game since Week 17, 2011. His opponent that day was the New York Jets, and his (interim) head coach was current Jets head coach Todd Bowles! For Bowles’ sake, his team needs to avoid the dumb mistakes and poor special teams execution that torpedoed New York in their Week 9 loss at Miami.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys: This is the Game of the Week, and it was flexed with the Cincinnati game to make it on Sunday Night Football. When these teams played last season in Tampa Bay, both teams were under .500 and the Buccaneers held RB Darren McFadden (the NFL’s 4th-leading rusher in 2015) to 32 yards on 17 rushes. Now, the Buccaneers are hot, winning five in a row for the first time since 2002, the year they won Super Bowl XXXVII. Tampa Bay’s pass defense is a big reason for the improvement, turning completely around from midseason, but they will be challenged by Dallas rookie RB Ezekiel Elliott. We’ll see if Tampa Bay RB Doug Martin (NFL’s 2nd-leading rusher in 2015) can finally put a productive game together against a Dallas run defense that is now 2nd in rushing yards per game allowed.

Carolina Panthers at Washington Redskins: Josh Norman revenge game! Carolina dropped off in pass defense this season, going from a 73.5 passer rating allowed in 2015 (best in NFL) to a 92.5 passer rating this season (20th in NFL). Now, Washington isn’t much better defending the pass with Norman. They went from a 96.1 passer rating allowed in 2015 (22nd in NFL) to a 94.2 passer rating allowed in 2016 (still 22nd in NFL). Looking at how Washington QB Kirk Cousins (100.3 passer rating this season, 6th in NFL) has outplayed Carolina QB and reigning MVP Cam Newton (78.9 passer rating this season, 28th in NFL), expect Washington to take advantage of Carolina’s declining pass defense more effectively than the Panthers can exploit Washington’s secondary.

Last year in Tampa, Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston scored a game-winning rushing TD against the Cowboys. Can he do it again in Texas and in primetime? (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

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