Week 16: NFL Game Matchups

Derek Harper and Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


SPOTLIGHT GAME
N.Y. Giants (8-6) at Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
Sunday, 4:25 ET, FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
Last Meeting: The Giants won, 30-10, at home in 2008 with RB Brandon Jacobs scoring a pair of first-quarter touchdowns.
Streaking: Baltimore has a 12-game home winning streak against the NFC.
Giant swings: Giants coach Tom Coughlin acknowledged the Ravens have suffered significant defensive injuries, but repeatedly touted Baltimore's toughness on that side of the ball this week. He's looking for QB Eli Manning to be more focused in the face of that toughness and improve his consistency. It's a difficult task with teams often double-teaming WR Victor Cruz because Hakeem Nicks is less than 100 percent and RB Ahmad Bradshaw's status is also uncertain due to a knee injury. For any of it to come together, the offensive line has to rebound after getting pushed around in Atlanta last week.
Identity theft: The Ravens are still searching for their offensive rhythm with new coordinator Jim Caldwell taking over. Ideally, they're able to go more up-tempo, keep teams from substituting and capitalize on QB Joe Flacco's ability to stretch the field. However, WR Torrey Smith is uncertain as he recovers from a concussion and the strength of the Giants' defense lies with their pass rush. New York hasn't been as strong against the run, allowing 4.6 yards per carry and 123.7 yards per game. Baltimore wants to keep RB Ray Rice involved, even if that's as an outlet receiver should the ground game stall.
Need to know: Cruz needs one reception to reach 80 catches, 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns in consecutive seasons. No other Giant has done it even once. ... Rice averages 5.1 yards per carry against the NFC in his career.

Atlanta Falcons (12-2) at Detroit Lions (4-10)
Saturday, 8:30 ET, ESPN, Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
Gameplan: The Falcons have fallen to 29th in the NFL in rushing and use Michael Turner as more of a showpiece than featured component in what is QB Matt Ryan's offense. The Lions have gone seven weeks without a win but are a tough nut to crack at home. QB Matthew Stafford is taking the blame for an offense gone haywire recently with 202 pass attempts in the past four games. Detroit's secondary can't hold up in a shootout. The Falcons should be able to work the ball underneath with ease to set up deep strikes to WR Julio Jones.
Need to know: Lions WR Calvin Johnson has 65 catches for 1,029 yards (147-yard average) in his past seven games. ... The Falcons (plus-9) have a plus-18 turnover advantage over the Lions (minus-9).

Indianapolis Colts (9-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (2-12)
Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker
Gameplan: Asked about his team's 2-for-23 third-down conversion rate the past two weeks, Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel pointed out that they've all been third-and-seven or longer. A beleaguered offensive line isn't creating running lanes for Jamaal Charles and QB Brady Quinn's downfield firepower is, well, powerless without injured WR Dwayne Bowe. K.C. must find a way to be more productive on first and second down and control the ball because the Chiefs' defense can keep the game within reach. Colts QB Andrew Luck is piling up yards, but is still very much prone to mistakes under pressure that could create short fields for K.C.'s offense.
Need to know: Luck needs 74 passing yards to pass Cam Newton (4,051) for the most by a rookie in NFL history. ... The Chiefs have been held to single digits in scoring three times at home this season.

Washington Redskins (8-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-10)
Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin
Gameplan: The Redskins expect to have QB Robert Griffin III back from a sprained knee. That typically would affect the running scheme more than the passing game, but designed runs for RG3 might be curtailed a bit until he proves 100 percent. Philadelphia has scraped the Wide-9 defensive line sets and needs CBs Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to be aggressive in support against the league's top-ranked ground game. Eagles rookie QB Nick Foles struggled in his first career start against the Redskins five weeks ago. He has progressed quickly since, and will benefit from the return of RB LeSean McCoy. Exciting but fumble-prone rookie Bryce Brown will also figure into the backfield mix.
Need to know: RG3 became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to record a "perfect" passer rating of 158.3 in the first meeting. ... Foles needs 153 passing yards to break John Reaves' (1,508 in 1972) team rookie record.

San Diego Chargers (5-9) at N.Y. Jets (6-8)
Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Marv Albert, Rich Gannon
Gameplan: Jets QB Greg McElroy makes his first career start and is charged with doing what Mark Sanchez has proven incapable of - manage the game and avoid red-zone turnovers. New York will pound away with RBs Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell, attempt to control field position and wait for San Diego's offense to implode. The Chargers are without injured RB Ryan Mathews and QB Philip Rivers can't trust his protection enough to push the ball vertically. He'll need to be patient - which hasn't been a virtue this season - and largely dink and dunk his way down the field against an array of blitzes.
Need to know: Rivers is 24-5 (.828) in his career in December. ... Jets CB Antonio Cromartie was a first-round pick by the Chargers in 2006.

Oakland Raiders (4-10) at Carolina Panthers (5-9)
Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Spero Dedes, Steve Beuerlein
Gameplan: The Raiders have had the same offensive line for the past five games and RB Darren McFadden is healthy, having logged 34 touches last week. That allowed QB Carson Palmer to be more of a game manager last week, which is a better winning strategy again for Oakland on the road. However, the Raiders can't settle for five field goals as they did last week and hope to compete. Quietly, few quarterbacks are playing better than Carolina's Cam Newton. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and no interceptions over the past five weeks, and despite last week's shutout Oakland's defense is still very vulnerable against the run and the pass.
Need to know: Raiders PK Sebastian Janikowski has missed on three field-goal attempts this season - from 51, 61 and 64 yards. ... Newton has not thrown an interception in any of his 11 career victories.

Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Gameplan: Both teams control their own destiny, setting the stage for a drag-down battle. Bengals QB Andy Dalton is 0-3 against the Steelers while completing 40 of 82 passes for 410 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. He suffered through his worst game of the year in the first meeting, a 24-17 Oct. 21 home loss, and has appeared indecisive in the pocket trying to diagnose Pittsburgh's scheme. While RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis has been the engine of the offense of late, Cincinnati hasn't had a 100-yard rusher against Pittsburgh since 2004 and Dalton must be effective attacking a beat up secondary. The Steelers need to move the ball effectively against the league's 11th-ranked run defense to prevent the offensive line from having its back against the wall with the Bengals entering the game with 40 sacks. Pittsburgh rushed for 167 yards in the first meeting.
Need to know: The Bengals are 5-2 on the road and have posted two straight road winning seasons for the first time since 1975-76. ... The Steelers have won 10 of the past 12 meetings.

Buffalo Bills (5-9) at Miami Dolphins (6-8)
Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Don Criqui, Randy Cross
Gameplan: The Dolphins don't generate many turnovers (minus-12 differential), but the defense is quietly playing extremely well against the run (3.9 yards per carry). Buffalo has a lot of no gains and negative runs, but must keep shoveling carries to RB C.J. Spiller until he pops a few big plays. Teams have been committing defenders to blowing up Buffalo's screen game and the Bills lack reliable deep speed downfield, so Miami's safeties will be aggressive in attacking the ball in front of them. The Dolphins are pleased with the development of QB Ryan Tannehill, who not surprisingly has been far more efficient when receiving support from the ground game. Buffalo allowed just 2.5 yards per carry in the first meeting, but suffered from repeated assignment breakdowns in last week's blowout loss to Seattle.
Need to know: The Dolphins tied a franchise record low with only 19 turnovers each of the past two seasons and have only 12 through 14 games this year.

Tennessee Titans (5-9) at Green Bay Packers (10-4)
Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
Gameplan: The Packers have their sites set on the No. 2 seed in the NFC and aren't likely to suffer a mental lapse. They still have key injuries on both sides of the ball and pass protection is an issue, but QB Aaron Rodgers should be able to move the ball with ease by peppering Tennessee's average secondary with quick passes and allowing his receivers to make plays after the catch. The keys for Tennessee are getting to Rogers quickly to force a few turnovers and buckling down in the red zone to stay within reach. The Titans also must get a few big runs from RB Chris Johnson. The depleted offensive line doesn't allow much time for QB Jake Locker to look downfield, and he often tucks it and runs when his first read isn't open.
Need to know: Johnson had a 94-yard run last week, but just 28 yards on his other 20 carries. ... The Packers have not lost their regular-season home finale under head coach Mike McCarthy (2006).

New Orleans Saints (6-8) at Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnson, Tony Siragusa
Gameplan: The Cowboys see one way to win this game -- on the edges. OLB DeMarcus Ware has four sacks and two forced fumbles in the past three games against QB Drew Brees and the Saints, who'll also have to contend with vice grips coverage from CBs Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. The soft spot in the Dallas defense is up the middle, and RB Darren Sproles and TE Jimmy Graham are programmed to exploit that weakness. The Cowboys can't become shootout-minded. When RB DeMarco Murray has 18-plus carries, Dallas is 9-0.
Need to know: Brees has an NFL-record 17 career games with 300-plus yards and four-plus TDs. ... Cowboys WR Dez Bryant has a touchdown catch in six consecutive games.

New England Patriots (10-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots
Gameplan: Tom Brady is sizzling and he owns the Jaguars -- 3-0 career, seven touchdowns, zero picks, 118.4 rating -- and Jacksonville is out of its league in this matchup unless RB Maurice Jones-Drew (foot) fights his way onto the field for the first time in two months. The Jaguars can't win with ball control, they'll need to be aggressive in trying to find weak spots against a reeling New England secondary. QB Chad Henne, then with the Dolphins, had 416 yards passing the last time he faced the Patriots.
Need to know: The Patriots are the only team in NFL history with four 500-point seasons. ... Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts needs 75 yards to reach 1,000. The last Jacksonville receiver to do so was Jimmy Smith in 2005.

Minnesota Vikings (8-6) at Houston Texans (12-2)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX, Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jaime Maggio
Gameplan: The Texans aren't prone to self-inflicted wounds, are second in the NFL with a plus-15 turnover margin and thrive with ball-control, field-position football. Houston is fifth in the NFL against the run, but Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's record pace has been ramped up the past two months games -- 1,313 rush yards (164.1 per game), the most in an eight-game span in NFL history. He has 1,812 rush yards on the season, and only three players in NFL history had more through team's first 14 games -- will be Houston's toughest test. Minnesota's pass rush will have to get home on QB Matt Schaub or he'll carve up a green secondary. The Vikings allow only 4.0 yards per carry and need to force the Texans into third-and-long situations.
Need to know: Peterson leads the NFL with 8,564 rushing yards since 2007. ... Texans RB Arian Foster leads the NFL in rushing yards (4,153) since 2010.

St. Louis Rams (6-7-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX, Ron Pitts, Mike Martz, Kristina Pink
Gameplan: The last set of cornerbacks QB Josh Freeman wants to see coming off of a five-turnover game is Rams cling-on cover men Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins. St. Louis can rev up the pass rush with its front four and most of its big plays allowed have come on long-developing plays where a lack of discipline appeared. Freeman has been struggling with his accuracy, and the red-zone play-calling has been head-scratching of late. The Rams aren't as explosive offensively as Tampa, but QB Sam Bradford has raised the play of WR Brandon Gibson as a strong second option to Danny Amendola. That's enough to test the Buccaneers' leaky defensive backfield.
Need to know: Gibson has 12 catches and two touchdowns in the past two games. ... Bucs rookie RB Doug Martin is third in the NFL with 1,647 yards from scrimmage.

Cleveland Browns (5-9) at Denver Broncos (11-3)
Sunday, 4:05 ET, CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Gameplan: After the Browns were picked apart by unheralded rookie QB Kirk Cousins last week, head coach Pat Shurmur wants the defense to stay aggressive against Peyton Manning. That will include attempting to disguise some packages - no easy task against Manning, especially with RB Knowshon Moreno coming off consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Cleveland isn't getting many big runs out of RB Trent Richardson, but it does need production on first and second down so Broncos pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller don't "wreck the game," as Shurmur said.
Need to know: Richardson has set Browns rookie records with 11 rushing touchdowns, 12 total touchdowns and 72 points. ... Manning aims for his ninth consecutive season with at least 12 regular-season wins. The next longest such streak in NFL history is six (Tom Brady, Brett Favre).

Chicago Bears (8-6) at Arizona Cardinals (5-9)
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jennifer Hale
Gameplan: The Bears prey on turnovers to find points as the offense continues to lag and show only modest potency in fits and starts. Arizona has 29 giveaways, but the Cardinals are able to counter by getting the ball back. They lead the NFL with 22 interceptions, and with enough push from the Cardinals' front seven can cause Bears QB Jay Cutler to throw them the ball. Arizona has offensive line issues even more significant than Chicago's and will need a huge effort from RB Beanie Wells to hold up to the Bears' athletic defensive line.
Need to know: Cutler has 615 passing yards with five touchdowns in two games vs. the Cardinals. ... Cardinals LB Daryl Washington has 10 sacks in his past 15 games and leads the team with 115 tackles.

San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) at Seattle Seahawks (9-5)
Sunday, 8:20 ET, NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Gameplan: Since completing just nine passes in a 13-6 loss at San Francisco on Oct. 18, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has thrown 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He is increasingly using his legs to make plays with defenses overplaying to contain RB Marshawn Lynch, and Seattle is sprinkling in the read-option to give opponents another dimension to account for. Wilson quickly bounces outside the pocket when his first read isn't open. The 49ers have the edge rushers to hem him in, but Wilson's development has included the ability to step up inside the pocket and escape. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick has a 104.4 passer rating through five starts, and has been particularly good in primetime road games at Chicago and New England. San Francisco will set the table with RB Frank Gore, who gashed Seattle between the tackles in the first meeting. Kaepernick can then attack man coverage against a secondary likely to be minus three of its top four corners.
Need to know: The 49ers have a .733 winning percentage on the road under head coach Jim Harbaugh. ... The Seahawks are the first team since 1950 to score 50-plus points in consecutive games.

--By Derek Harper and Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange

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