By Don Banks
December 19, 2013
Sunday will mark the fourth meeting between the Ravens (8-6) and Patriots (10-4) since the 2011 AFC title game.
John Biever/SI
Last week: 8-8; Season 146-77
Sunday, Dec. 22
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Miami Dolphins (8-6) at Buffalo Bills (5-9)
If you're the Dolphins, you couldn't have really asked for more than this, needing to only beat the last-place Bills and the third-place Jets in the next two weeks in order to clinch a wild-card berth and the franchise's first postseason trip in five years. Once upon a time, a December game in Buffalo would have given the Dolphins the chills, but Joe Philbin's club won in Week 13 at the Jets and Week 14 at Pittsburgh and seems to have ice-water in its veins. Miami's one of the best stories going in the NFL right now, and look at what Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito missed out on.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) New Orleans Saints (10-4) at Carolina Panthers (10-4)
My theory on the Saints' road woes is their home dome gives them entirely too much of a comfort zone, making them struggle to adjust without it when they're the visitors. Maybe they need to crank down the volume and ratchet back the energy just a bit at home, hopefully creating less of a drop-off effect when they lose their home-field advantage. I realize this may be a counterproductive measure and entirely flawed as theories go, but I thought it was worth a hearing, because nothing the Saints have tried is working all that well.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Dallas Cowboys (7-7) at Washington Redskins (3-11)
Fun times in D.C. and Big D. Somebody get a picture of Mike Shanahan and Jason Garrett together in the pregame, because you just don't know if they'll both be around for another installment in this once-storied NFC East rivalry.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) at St. Louis Rams (6-8)
If the Rams play like they played last week at home against the Saints, they can beat anybody. The problem is, this Rams team can also turn around and lose to the likes of Tennessee at home. Which is why St. Louis has to be one of the most puzzling teams in the NFL to root for.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Cleveland Browns (4-10) at New York Jets (6-8)
I see that the league, for the first time in its history, might finish with more than half of its kickoffs going unreturned, as a touchback. Three years after the NFL moved the kickoff spot from the 30 to the 35, in an effort to limit the number of high-speed collisions on the always dangerous play, I suppose that means the rule has brought forth the intended consequences. I strategically saved this nugget for the Browns-Jets capsule, because I have run out of semi-intelligent observations to offer when it comes to these two also-rans.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Indianapolis Colts (9-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)
These two AFC foes seem destined to meet again in two weeks in Indianapolis, in the first round of the playoffs, with the No. 5 Chiefs visiting the No. 4 Colts. So you would think neither club wants to use too much of its playbook, and help the opponent in the scouting process in the postseason. But then again, the Chiefs are tied with Denver atop the AFC West at 11-3 (albeit losing the head-to-head tiebreaker), and Kansas City would still win the division and the AFC's top playoff seed if it wins out and the Broncos should happen to stub their toes at either Houston or Oakland. So the Chiefs can't afford to completely shadow-box their way through this one.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Minnesota Vikings (4-9-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-5)
The Bengals just don't believe in making things easy on themselves, and now they've gone and turned this AFC North race into a nail-biter. The Matt Cassel-led Vikings have done some impressive damage in the past month, and Cincy should be very wary after watching what happened to the red-hot Eagles last week in the Metrodome. But the Bengals are unbeaten at home this year, and Marvin Lewis should now have his team's full attention and focus as the playoffs threaten to slip away.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Denver Broncos (11-3) at Houston Texans (2-12)
Peyton Manning versus Matt Schaub might be the biggest mismatch of Week 16. Or the entire season. With Miami knocking off New England last week, the Broncos got the break they needed to climb back into the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They won't waste that opportunity for a second time.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Tennessee Titans (5-9) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10)
Unless you really care about the battle for second place in the weakest division in the league, there's virtually nothing that compels interest in this game. Sorry, but it's Week 16 and I'm keeping it real.
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) Arizona Cardinals (9-5) at Seattle Seahawks (12-2)
Much respect to Bruce Arians for the under-appreciated work he has done in keeping the Cardinals in the NFC West race as their first-year head coach. But nine wins looks like the ceiling for Arizona, with a trip to Seattle this week and San Francisco coming to Glendale next week. I would imagine the Cardinals are going to be a chic playoff pick next year by many, but the Seahawks and 49ers aren't going anywhere and will still be the division's top two clubs.
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) New York Giants (5-9) at Detroit Lions (7-7)
Let's see if all the air went out of the Lions' balloon with the dagger of that Monday night loss to Baltimore, or if Detroit takes out its frustrations on the anemic Giants. The Lions need to make short work of New York, then settle in to root for the Steelers to beat the Packers at Lambeau. Then if Green Bay wins at Chicago next week, and the Lions take care of the Vikings in the Metrodome, Jim Schwartz will have saved his job, and pulled a rare Detroit division title out of thin air in the season's final two weeks.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) New England Patriots (10-4) at Baltimore Ravens (8-6)
They're doing it again, those plucky, resilient Ravens. I'm not sure why any of us ever count them out of the playoff picture, because all they do is make us look like lemmings every time we disbelieve. Baltimore is playing its best ball of the season right now, and it's one of the few teams that to a degree seem to have New England's number. This will be the fourth meeting between the Patriots and Ravens since January 2012, with Baltimore winning the last two games and coming a Lee Evans reception away from taking all three.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) Oakland Raiders (4-10) at San Diego Chargers (7-7)
Feels like too little too late for the Chargers, but perhaps it portends true playoff contention returning to San Diego in Year 2 of the Mike McCoy coaching era. The Raiders ran out of gas a few weeks back and are merely crossing days off the calendar at this point, a ritual they are quite familiar with.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8) at Green Bay Packers (7-6-1)
I can't see the Packers wasting the reprieve they won for themselves at Dallas, with a loss at home to the streaky Steelers. In a Super Bowl rematch of three seasons back, I still like the guys in green.
8:30 p.m. ET (NBC) Chicago Bears (8-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
Suddenly The Linc is an advantage for the Eagles, who have won their past three home games after the misery of that 10-game home losing streak. The Eagles have already beaten Green Bay and Detroit in the NFC North, but Minnesota gave them fits last week. They'll be a couple plays better than the Bears, unless Dallas wins at Washington early in the day and Philly decides to pull some of its key regulars off the field in the second half Sunday night.
Monday, Dec. 23
8:40 p.m. ET (ESPN) Atlanta Falcons (4-10) at San Francisco 49ers (10-4)
As sentimental farewells go, the all-but-certain final 49ers game at Candlestick Park will lack both a big-game atmosphere (thanks to the 4-10 Falcons) and the waves of nostalgia produced by a beloved ballpark's passing into history. I don't think I know anybody who considers The Stick "beloved." True, the 49ers made a lot of great memories there from 1971 on, but the place is a bit of a dump, and I'd be surprised if there's a great display of public mourning on display Monday night.
BURKE: Seahawks still on top in Week 15 Power Rankings
BENOIT: Under Arians, Cardinals are NFL's best coached
FARRAR: Super Bowl Monday? NFL has contigency plan in place
JENKINS: Why Peyton is SI's 2013 Sportsman of th Year
BELLER: Player-by-player fantasy projections for Week 16

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