Week 16 means no Thursday Night Football, which is a huge sigh of relief. Week 16 also means nearly half of the NFL is fighting for its playoff live, which translates to questions like: Is Blake Bortles a franchise quarterback? Can anyone stop Jimmy Garoppolo? Can Atlanta maintain the NFC’s sixth seed with a tough road game in New Orleans?
Let’s jump into this week’s five bold predictions.
Mike Evans gets 15 targets versus Carolina
Evans has been Mr. Jekyll and Hyde (he recently had a two-game stretch of four catches for 57 yards), but last week he made a contested, 42-yard touchdown catch with two defenders draped all over him. It was a sensational grab would that have made Jerry Rice proud. Jameis Winston has also struggled at times this season, but the former No. 1 overall pick was excellent in Monday night’s 24-21 defeat to Atlanta. Look for him and Evans to once again forge the connection in a big way against division foe Carolina and its 11th-ranked passing defense.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo comes back down to Earth against Jacksonville
Jimmy “GQ” Garoppolo has been brilliant, most recently leading the 49ers on a seven-play, 48-yard drive ending in a Robbie Gould field goal to break the Titans’ hearts. If you have not yet seen or heard him mic’ed up, do yourself a favor and check it out. Garappolo is that special and his laser execution of the two-minute drill is a sight to behold. However, the Jags defense is a different animal, even on the road. They have lights out speed and athleticism in the secondary — the Jags passing defense (168.9 yards per game) is best the league — thanks to Pro Bowl cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Additionally, they tackle extremely well and they’re disciplined. There is also the matter of the NFL’s most devastating pass rush, aka “Sacksonville.” With 51 sacks, no team has more. The bottom line is the Jaguars would love nothing more than to earn a first-round bye (they currently hold the three seed), and slowing Garoppolo would go a long way toward those efforts.
Blake Bortles has more passing TDs than Matt Ryan, fewer INTs than Russell Wilson, a better QBR than Cam Newton, more rushing yards than Marcus Mariota, more passing yards than Derek Carr and a higher completion percentage than Carson Wentz. Conclusion: 2017 is insane. #Jaguars
— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) December 21, 2017
3. Blake Bortles lights up the San Francisco 49ers
Bortles hasn’t just been good of late — he’s been excellent. In his past three games — all wins — the former No. 3 overall pick leads the NFL in yards per attempt (9.9), TD-INT ratio (7-0) and total QBR (85). In fact, Bortles has been so impressive that he’s inserted himself into the Comeback Player of the Year conversation. (Could Nick Foles be next?) Meanwhile, the 49ers rank 19th in passing defense, and are surrendering a 97.5 QBR to opposing quarterbacks, which is 27th worst in the league.
4. Tyrod Taylor goes back to being Tyrod Taylor
Buffalo needs this game to sustain its playoff hopes. The Pats need this game to sustain their hopes of the AFC’s top seed and home field advantage. Taylor was solid against the Jets last week, compiling 262 yards of total offense, along with two touchdowns and one interception. And, despite the fact that New England is highly flawed in the secondary, keep in mind that Bills wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin — a top red-zone threat — did not practice Wednesday and was limited Thursday. This feels like a LeSean McCoy grind it out game more than anything else, coupled with too many forced Taylor throws as Buffalo gets down early in Foxborough.
5. Atlanta Falcons upset the New Orleans Saints
We’ve had some hits and misses here, that is for sure. Winners of five of six games, the Falcons are surging, and must continue doing so to emerge from the rugged NFC. (Seattle missed this message, as did Green Bay, despite the return of Aaron Rodgers.) As I wrote earlier this week, they are certainly not perfect, but the running prowess of Devanta Freeman will power Atlanta through this massive NFC South game. Expect Matt Ryan to do just enough — think 250 yards and a couple scores — mainly because Julio Jones will once again punish the Saints. Jones went for 11 catches and 98 yards in a 20-17 Week 14 over New Orleans.
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Jordan Schultz is an NFL, NBA and NCAAB insider/analyst for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at Jordan.Schultz@Oath.com.