NFL Week 16 storylines: RGIII's return, plus the playoff race heats up
Robert Griffin III has delivered a plethora of impressive performances during his groundbreaking rookie season, but his near-perfect showing against Philadelphia in Week 11 stands alone.
In that game, a 31-6 Washington rout, Griffin threw for four touchdowns and 200 yards on just 15 passes. He completed 14 of them (a success rate of 93.3) and added 84 yards rushing.
The victory was the first of three straight for the Redskins within the NFC East, and the first of four straight overall, a run that has propelled Griffin's team to the top of the division with two weeks left. Sunday, Griffin should get his second crack at the Eagles, one week after sitting out a Washington win over Cleveland because of a knee injury.
Rookie backup Kirk Cousins held down the fort admirably against the Browns, firing a pair of touchdown passes. The Redskins, though, would much prefer to have RGIII running the show in Weeks 16 and 17.
Thanks to that four-game win streak, the Redskins control their destiny in the NFC East -- win twice, and they'll capture the division crown, plus secure a home playoff game. Based on his one and only showing against Philadelphia, Griffin gives Washington a terrific chance to notch the first of two must-have victories.
What else is on the docket for Week 16? A quick rundown of the storylines for Saturday and Sunday:
• Bad blood brewing in Atlanta-Detroit matchup?
Atlanta scored a 23-16 win in Detroit last season. Following the game, several Falcons accused the Lions -- particularly Cliff Avril and Ndamukong Suh -- of taunting Matt Ryan after Ryan suffered an ankle injury. The Lions denied those claims at the time, and the Falcons said this week that they've moved past it.
Still, if you're looking for an intriguing subplot for Saturday night's matchup between two teams separated by eight wins, this might be the ticket.
Atlanta (12-2) can lock up the NFC's No. 1 seed with a victory; Detroit (4-8), no strangers to riling up their foes, has not had much to crow about this season.
• The Sean Payton Bowl
Despite still having a miniscule chance to reach the playoffs if they finish 8-8, the Saints no doubt are thinking ahead to this offseason. Their biggest challenge once it arrives: convincing Sean Payton to stay and coach in New Orleans.
Payton figures to have multiple options on the table once his year-long suspension ends, with Dallas potentially at the top of the list. Of course, the Cowboys currently have a coach in Jason Garrett, and he has his team on the verge of the postseason thanks to three consecutive wins.
But should the Cowboys fall short, Jerry Jones might decide it's time for a change ... and Payton, who reportedly bought a house in Dallas earlier this year, has long been rumored to be on Jones' short list.
• Will any NFL records fall in Week 16?
More on which NFL marks could be topped this season from this post earlier in the week, but the two at the forefront are Eric Dickerson's single-season yards rushing and Jerry Rice's single-season yards receiving marks. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson needs 294 yards to top the former; Calvin Johnson a mere 181 to surpass the latter.
With the Lions long gone from playoff contention, getting Johnson's name carved in the record books may be priority number one in the Motor City from here on out. Peterson faces a tougher task: games against Houston and Green Bay, with the playoffs on the line.
• Attempting to settle the AFC North
This will mark the third straight week that the Ravens can clinch the AFC North simply by winning. They're 0-2 so far.
The task does not get any easier in Week 16, either, with the Giants visiting Baltimore. That game sits in one of Sunday's late-afternoon slots. Earlier in the day, Cincinnati travels to Pittsburgh for another key AFC North contest. A win by the Bengals simultaneously nails down for them a playoff spot and eliminates the Steelers.
No matter who claims that Cincinnati-Pittsburgh struggle, a third straight Baltimore loss would leave the AFC North undecided until the season's final week.
• Defending champs on the ropes
A little more on the Giants, before we move on out of Baltimore. Despite matching Washington and Dallas at 8-6, the Giants currently sit third in the NFC East pecking order and ninth overall in the conference, thanks to tiebreakers.
That said, the Giants do still control their own destiny. Should they finish 2-0, with wins over Baltimore and Philadelphia, they would make the playoffs -- Dallas and Washington meet in Week 17, meaning one team has to lose (or both have to tie), and a 10-6 New York team would leapfrog back over Chicago and Minnesota in the tiebreakers.
• Can San Francisco clinch the NFC West in Seattle?
The Seahawks, as the NFC's lone 9-5 team, sit in pretty solid shape in the wild-card race. That will be true regardless of the outcome of Sunday's San Francisco-Seattle showdown, but the Seahawks would prefer to win and punch their playoff ticket.
A San Francisco triumph, however, would make the 49ers NFC West champions and move them within a whisker of a first-round bye (they could clinch a bye with a win plus a Green Bay loss earlier Sunday).
San Francisco landed the first blow in this season series, with a 13-6 home win back on a Thursday night in October. Seattle, however, has yet to drop a home game this season -- the Seahawks are a perfect 6-0 in front of the 12th man.
• Win and they're in
Pittsburgh, Miami, St. Louis, New Orleans and the Giants all could be eliminated from the playoff race on Sunday. The situation is much rosier for Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Seattle, all of which could claim playoff spots with victories. (Complete playoff scenarios here)
The Redskins and Giants have clinching scenarios on the table for Week 16 as well, but the situation is much more complicated in the competitive NFC East.
• Byes up for grabs, too
While very little has been sorted out in the wild-card portion of the AFC and NFC races, the top halves of those draws could be more or less settled by Sunday night.
Wins by Atlanta and Houston would help clear the picture, as those results would clinch the NFC and AFC No. 1 seed, respectively. Denver, the No. 2 in the AFC, and San Francisco, the No. 2 in the NFC, could have first-round byes in their back pockets by the end of this week as well. The Broncos and 49ers need to win and get a little help. Only New England (AFC) and Green Bay (NFC) could jump up and reorganize the top two spots in their conferences -- the current No. 4 seeds, Baltimore and Washington, are mathematically eliminated from receiving byes.