NFL Gameday preview: Patriots at Ravens, Bears at Eagles highlight Week 16 slate


After blowing an opportunity to maintain the top seed in the AFC with a loss in Miami, Tom Brady and the Patriots regroup to face the Ravens in Baltimore. (Stephan Savoia/Associated Press)
December 20, 2013
TV Games
Patriots (10-4) at Ravens (8-6)

Time (TV): 4:25 p.m. (CBS).

Line: Baltimore by 2.

Notable: With two weeks left in the season and 19 teams still in playoff contention, the NFL is set for a finish that’ll have fans chewing through the nails on their foam fingers. Of course, no squad has more recent experience with crazy endings than Baltimore, whose past three games have culminated in near-miraculous victories, including Justin Tucker’s kickstravaganza last week at Detroit. The Ravens are riding a league-best four-game win streak (tied with the 49ers) that has given them a clear path to the AFC North title. The Patriots are even better positioned in their division — a win here, and the AFC East is theirs, or a Dolphins loss would also do the trick. But even without all these ramifications, this matchup would have a playoff feel, considering that the Ravens and Pats have met in the past two AFC championship games. Those were played in Foxborough, Mass., though, so the Ravens certainly hope to use home field to their advantage and turn the Pats into Charm City charcoal.

Fantasy hot seat: With all the upheaval in New England’s receiving corps, someone was bound to come out of the woodwork, and over the past four weeks, that someone has been Julian Edelman. At this point, he looks like a solid WR2, especially in PPR leagues, but there has to be concern that he might not be in the Pats’ ever-changing game plan.

Bears (8-6) at Eagles (8-6)

Time (TV): 8:30 p.m. (NBC).

Line: Philadelphia by 3.

Notable: With some playoff implications and a ton of offensive weapons — the Bears and Eagles are the only two teams in the NFL with both a 1,200-yard rusher and receiver (Matt Forte/Alshon Jeffery and LeSean McCoy/DeSean Jackson, respectively) — this should be a fun one. Philadelphia is coming off a surprising loss at Minnesota, which leads us to ...

Fantasy hot seat: Chip Kelly says he won’t rest his starters even if Dallas wins earlier in the day, which would render this game somewhat irrelevant for his Eagles. As a McCoy owner, I say to Kelly: You better be telling the truth.

Falcons (4-10) at 49ers (10-4)

Time (TV): 8:40 p.m, Monday (ESPN).

Line: San Francisco by 12.

Notable: Just as with Pats-Ravens, this is a rematch of the conference title game, and months ago, this must have seemed like a terrific fit for both the last Monday night game of the year and the final scheduled game ever at Candlestick Park. But then Atlanta cratered, and if the Seahawks beat the Cardinals, the 49ers will have little at stake.

Fantasy hot seat: This is likely to be the last we speak of Tony Gonzalez in fantasy football terms. So wouldn’t it be great if he could overcome a nagging toe injury and continue his three-game TD streak? His owners certainly think so.

Other games
Colts (9-5) at Chiefs (11-3)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Kansas City by 6.

Notable: Since its Week 8 bye, Indianapolis has traded wins and losses, with all four wins coming against woeful Houston and Tennessee and the losses being of the lopsided variety. Its most recent game was a win, so the Colts would love to break the good-bad trend and re-establish themselves as a legitimate threat.

Fantasy hot seat: Hey, Jamaal Charles, that was great. So . . . what will you do for us now, when it really counts? Owners can’t be that greedy, but given Charles’s consistency, they can expect a lot of help from 2014’s presumptive No. 1 pick (more on that next week).

Saints (10-4) at Panthers (10-4)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Carolina by 3.

Notable: Oh, that complacency-hatin’ Sean Payton! Despite soundly beating Carolina two weeks ago, the New Orleans coach has shaken things up in advance of the teams’ humongous rematch (the NFC’s No. 2 seed is at stake). Not only did Payton replace his kicker, but he’ll start a rookie at left tackle.

Fantasy hot seat: Given how thin the TE position is, if you have Greg Olsen, you’re almost certainly playing him. Which means you’re almost certainly praying that Olsen gets his first score this month, against a Saints defense tough on TEs.

Dolphins (8-6) at Bills (5-9)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Miami by 3.

Notable: Winning on the road in December is a pretty good way to make a playoff push, and Miami has a chance to sweep its road games in this month for the first time since 2008. A discerning reader such as yourself won’t be shocked to learn that, as it happens, 2008 was the last time Miami made the playoffs.

Fantasy hot seat: I’ll go with . . . me. I’m on the hot seat because I really want to mention a Bill in this space, but, man, is it hard. I mean, who would anyone want to start? Thad Lewis? Not C.J. Spiller, I hope, after last week’s dud. Let’s just move on.

Vikings (4-9-1) at Bengals (9-5)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Cincinnati by 7.

Notable: V is for victory, and Cincinnati could use one, so they’d very much like to vanquish the visiting Vikings. Victimize them, if you will. Pound them like a piece of — you guessed it — veal. But with their lead in the AFC North all but vanished, and Minny vying for the upset, the Bengals must be vigilant.

Fantasy hot seat: Adrian Peterson is expected to play, but as far as his owners are concerned, he was expected to deliver monster numbers this season, too, and that hasn’t really happened. Still, they’d be thrilled to see him on the field.

Broncos (11-3) at Texans (2-12)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Denver by 10.

Notable: Two Thursdays ago, Denver got humbled at home by San Diego, but things have been looking up ever since. New England lost the following Sunday, then Champ Bailey returned from a foot injury to help fortify the defense. And now the Broncos get a team that’s done nothing but lose since Week 3.

Fantasy hot seat: Matt Schaub replaces the injured Case Keenum at QB for the Texans, but it’s hard to know what that means for Andre Johnson. However, after posting a mere 18 yards on four catches last week, a likely blowout bodes well for A.J.

Buccaneers (4-10) at Rams (6-8)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: St. Louis by 5.

Notable: These are the two NFC teams that have gone the longest without making the playoffs, and their droughts will last at least one more year. But St. Louis has three wins in its past five games, and is coming off a surprisingly dominant victory over the Saints, and Tampa Bay has won four of its past six.

Fantasy hot seat: Not since Week 11 has Vincent Jackson gone for major yardage, but he has helped owners in the playoffs by scoring a touchdown in each of the past two games. Now he gets a nice matchup with the Rams’ 27th-ranked pass defense.

Browns (4-10) at Jets (6-8)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: New York by 2.

Notable: This could be Rex Ryan’s last home game as coach of the Jets, and he didn’t exactly make a stirring case to be retained. Ryan proclaimed to the media, “Look, I’m a competent guy, even though I know that will be questioned a zillion ways forwards and backwards.” Paging Herm Edwards — your services are needed.

Fantasy hot seat: New York is favored in this game, but not by much, so Chris Ivory owners will have to decide how confident they are that the Jets won’t find themselves losing. Ivory averages 4.5 yards per carry, but rarely gets the ball enough to pile up stats.

Titans (5-9) at Jaguars (4-10)

Time: 1 p.m.

Line: Tennessee by 5.

Notable: The AFC South is probably the worst division in the NFL, which makes it all the more embarrassing that Tennessee can’t beat any of its rivals. The Titans are 1-9 against divisional foes since the start of the 2012 season, including losing to the then-winless Jags in Week 10.

Fantasy hot seat: Maurice Jones-Drew sat out last week, and Jordan Todman looked good in his place, piling up 153 yards on 29 touches. MoJo again appears to be a no-go, making Todman more than a so-so option as an RB2, and a terrific flex.

Giants (5-9) at Lions (7-7)

Time: 4:05 p.m.

Line: Detroit by 9.

Notable: Detroit needs to swing things back in a positive direction right away, and who should come strolling into Ford Field but bedraggled New York, ready to oblige. Eli Manning’s salsa-dancing security blanket, Victor Cruz, is done for the year, so there’s no telling how many picks Manning might throw.

Fantasy hot seat: Even with a poor performance against the Ravens, Calvin Johnson came away with six catches for 98 yards, so it’s hard to complain. But Megatron has scored just once in his past four games, which seems gripe-worthy.

Cardinals (9-5) at Seahawks (12-2)

Time: 4:05 p.m.

Line: Seattle by 10.

Notable: You remember the only coach in Cardinals history who had more wins in his first season than Bruce Arians, right? Yup, it was good ol’ Norm Barry. I know, I know — hard to believe that was 88 years ago! Bringing things back to the present, a Seattle win gives it home-field advantage for the NFC playoffs.

Fantasy hot seat: You, sir or ma’am, are on the hot seat if you’re having to play any Cardinals at Seattle. You should have looked ahead a little bit on the schedule and come up with a Plan B for Week 16. Or maybe you never thought you’d get this far?

Steelers (6-8) at Packers (7-6-1)

Time: 4:25 p.m.

Line: none.

Notable: With a pair of one-point, come-from-behind wins and control of its playoff destiny, things are looking up for Green Bay. But the team has ruled out a return by Aaron Rodgers this week, which dampens the optimism a tad. However, backup Matt Flynn has played effectively of late.

Fantasy hot seat: Pittsburgh jumped to such a large, early lead last week that Ben Roethlisberger didn’t have to do much. But he’ll likely be forced to sling it more at Green Bay, and the last time he played the Packers, in 2009, he threw for 503 yards.

Raiders (4-10) at Chargers (7-7)

Time: 4:25 p.m.

Line: San Diego by 10.

Notable: San Diego needs help to get into the playoffs, and it will probably get some from Oakland’s defense, which has allowed 124 points in its past three games. Meanwhile, the Chargers’ defense is coming off an extremely impressive showing at mighty Denver, but it shouldn’t discount the Raiders’ attack.

Fantasy hot seat: Weird fact of the day: Darren McFadden is expected to play football. Really, that’s true, you can look it up. But Rashad Jennings should still get most of the carries, and with two TDs in each of his past two games, he’s an RB2.

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