We have reached the penultimate week of the NFL regular season. Similar to the penultimate episode of the television program, the second-to-last episode tends to be more exciting than the season finale. While there are teams that have secured their spot in the postseason, where those teams ultimately get seeded still remains a mystery. Plus, there are still some last-minute shoppers who are hoping to get the gift of that playoff spot before Christmas morning. So with your playoff scenarios, as well as off-season look ahead, let’s get into SOTU’s week 16 preview.
*Keep in mind there is a Christmas double-header this year, as the NFL will give you two Monday Night Football games for the price of one.
Miami Dolphins vs. Kansas City Chiefs 1PM EDT
It appeared that the Chiefs were content to let anyone else in the AFC West grab the leash and take the division lead. However, it looks like the slumbering giant has awoken after obliterating division rival, the Los Angeles Chargers, last weekend. They’re poised to capitalize on a weak division, so Kansas City just needs a win today to lock up the AFC West. The Chiefs are currently in the fourth seed in the AFC playoff picture.
For the lone Kansas City ProCane, Allen Bailey, the season has been a long haul. After missing most of last season due to injury, Bailey overcame yet another setback after dealing with a knee ailment, hence why he plays with a brace. With two sacks this season, the defensive end tends to go unnoticed when the Chiefs’ defense is brought up, ceding the conversation to CB Marcus Peters, DL Chris Jones and LB Justin Houston. While his two sacks this season are not the high numbers that bring attention, Bailey’s ability to stifle blockers at the point of attack and create pile-ups near the line of scrimmage are invaluable assets to the Chiefs.
The intrigue in this game will be if the Dolphins are able to establish a ground game against KC, especially with RB Kenyan Drake establishing himself as perhaps the running back of the future for the franchise. Each time Drake has gotten double-digit carries this season, he has managed to surpass 100 rushing yards. Only one RB has gone over the century mark against KC this season. It was Le’Veon Bell in week six, rushing for 179 yards on 32 carries.
Miami is still alive in the playoff hunt, yet are in the unenviable position of needing chaos on many levels to make it into the postseason. A combination of winning against KC and Buffalo and Tennessee both losing sets up the chance for the ’Phins to host a defacto play-in game against the Bills next week at Hard Rock Stadium. It’s a longshot—however, tis the season for miracles.
Buffalo Bills vs. New England Patriots 1PM EDT
Perhaps not one of the more attractive games of the day, this AFC East rivalry has plenty of playoff implications for either side. With last weekend's 27–24 win at Pittsburgh, the Patriots are in control of the top seed in the AFC, with a win guaranteeing that the playoffs go through Foxboro, Massachusetts. For Buffalo, they’re clinging to the sixth and final playoff spot, needing to win (or hope the Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers all lose) to stay at the big kid’s table over the holidays.
The once number one overall recruit coming out of high school, tackle Seantrel Henderson is now the sixth offensive lineman for the Bills—in a season where he has moonlighted as a starting right tackle and backup left tackle. Regardless of who is blocking, Buffalo’s run game spearheaded by RB LeSean McCoy and Qb Tyrod Taylor has been potent since the temperature took a dip along the upper northeast of the country. In their last meeting in week 13, Buffalo was once again defeated by a Patriots team that has owned the rivalry for over a decade. If the Bills hope to awaken from the NFL’s longest postseason slump when they last made the playoffs in 1999, they’re going to need to exorcise their Brady and Gronk demons.
Patriots’ WR Phillip Dorsett continues to be used sparingly by the squad with plenty of receivers ahead of him in the depth chart, including newly acquired WR Kenny Britt. However, working in practice with QB Tom Brady and learning from receivers such as Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks could payoff down the road for Dorsett when the opportunity arises.
Cleveland Browns vs. Chicago Bears 1PM EDT
This is it. Each week I try to put a positive light on the plight that is the Cleveland Browns who have gone 0–14. With two games left in what has been too many close calls and mind-numbing stumbles, this is very best chance the young Browns have of avoiding the Detroit Lions’ legacy of losing every single game in a season.
With that big fat zero in the win column, it tends to overshadow the personal achievement. So spotting a smile on Duke Johnson’s face after getting what was his third touchdown of the season last week against the Ravens is unlikely. The third-year running back is having as good of a season as any player could have with this Browns group. Johnson’s six total touchdowns on the season (three rushing, three receiving) are career highs for a man from Miami Norland Senior High School.
Both Johnson and teammate TE David Njoku are in store for a difficult afternoon against a Bears’ defense that ranks in the top 10 in the league in total defense, allowing a miniscule 107.6 yard per game. Njoku will look to make last week’s zero reception effort an anomaly.
Njoku could find himself working against fellow ProCane and Bears safety, Deon Bush, who is pegged to start the game because of injuries to S Chris Prosinski and S Adrian Amos. Bush has been used sparingly all season, seeing most of his snaps on special teams.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. San Francisco 49ers 4:05PM EDT
What more can you say about Jacksonville? The Achilles heel was supposed to be QB Blake Bortles, but after passing for 300 yards for the second time in the last three games, it appears that the rougher edges of the Jaguars’ offense has smoothed themselves out. Credit should go to the man Bortles lines up behind, C Brandon Linder, but when it comes to praise of offensive lines, you have to praise the unit as a whole. That said, Pro Football Focus has Linder graded as the seventh ranked center in the league, with a grade of 77, reflecting on Linder’s ability to protect Bortles from being pressured or hurried in the pocket. Not bad for a player that has been pass protected for 417 of his 779 total snaps. If Linder had not of missed games earlier in the season due to a still mysterious ailment, who knows—he may have joined a couple ProCanes at the Pro Bowl. Guess a run at the Super Bowl will have to suffice.
Our apologies for writing this much before mentioning the ‘Great’ Calais Campbell. What more can really be said? By any measure, Campbell is having the single best defensive season of any defensive lineman not named JJ Watt. As mentioned in SOTU’s article highlighting his accomplishment of making the Pro Bowl, Campbell is having an outstanding season. While he is one of the favorites to take home the Defensive Player of the Year trophy in a couple months, is it fair to ask, “Should Calais be in the conversation for MVP?” Likely not, based on the talent in the secondary as well as his brothers in the trenches. Considering that the last defensive player to win league MVP was Lawrence Taylor for his performance in the 1986 season, let’s just be content with Campbell taking a win on the defensive side.
Back to the preview: it’s not going to be an easy test for the Jags as they travel across the country to play the Niners. Niners’ QB Jimmy Garoppolo has been the catalyst behind what was a once fledgling team now being winners of four of their last fives games. Jacksonville will easily be the best defense the Niners play all season, setting up for a good test before the Jags enter postseason competition. Campbell is just half a sack behind Chandler Jones for the league lead in sacks with 14.5 sacks on the season.
CB Adrian Colbert was placed in concussion protocol after last week’s game against the Titans when he showed symptoms Sunday night into Monday morning. As of this posting, it is unknown if Colbert will be available for the game. However, Colbert cleared the league-mandated concussion protocol on Friday. Meaning he should be lurking in the secondary, looking to unload on those who cross his path.
Jacksonville, who currently occupy the third seed in the AFC, could move up to the number one seed should they win this game and next week against the Tennessee Titans.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Dallas Cowboys 4:25PM EDT
When you’re hot, you’re untouchable; yet when you’re on a cold streak, nothing seems to come together. After scoring nine touchdowns in eight games, TE Jimmy Graham has been unable to find his rhythm in the endzone or anywhere else on the field, to be specific. Over the last two games, the former hardwood star at the University of Miami has one reception for a grand total of 1 yard. Both Graham and Seattle need to turn their fortunes around, especially on offense, if they want to keep a berth in the postseason alive. Dallas enters this afternoon’s contest with the same mentality—their only hope is a wildcard berth with the Eagles having clinched the division as the number one seed in the NFC. The Cowboys will also receive a boost with the return of RB Ezekiel Elliott from his six-game suspension.
At this point in the season, Seattle has tried to manufacture a run game with a plethora of backs, with QB Russell Wilson being the best option in that regard. Don’t expect that to change against Dallas on Sunday, even though JD McKissic is an interesting matchup piece coming out of the backfield. That said, the best matchup Seattle has in their favor is Graham, who has scored one touchdown in his five career games against Dallas. Considering that Graham is set to become an unrestricted free agent in the off-season, a strong finish would be in his best interest.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Houston Texans 4:30PM MONDAY
Well that was a great touchdown late-game TD catch by the Steelers to take control of the AFC division. Apparently we still need to have a conversation about what constitutes a catch in the NFL. Ben Roethlisberger did his best 1994 Dan Marino impression, trying to recreate the fake spike and go for the glory; however, the results did not go as planned. The Steelers still can finish as the number two seed in the AFC, and on Christmas get to feast upon the carcass of the Houston Texans.
CB Artie Burns was in control of his matchup against the speedy WR Brandin Cooks last week, but it was Pittsburgh’s inability to stop ‘The Gronk’ that led to their downfall, aside from the TD that wasn’t. This week’s challenge is WR DeAndre Hopkins, the best option in Houston’s passing game. Hopkins, who is averaging 13 targets in a four-game stretch, will continue to see a steady volume of targets, regardless of who is in coverage. Burns and the rest of the secondary could open a gift on Monday in the form of CB Joe Haden returning from a broken fibula injury.
Texans’ RB Lamar Miller was hardly noticeable a week ago. His nine carries were the lowest total of the season, to go along with a career low 3.6 yards-per-carry. Last week’s game got away from the Texans and they were forced to play catch up, but this has been a woeful season for Miller after coming to Houston with the opportunity to be a feature back in 2016. Against a Pittsburgh defense that will be fueled after the disappointment in week 15, the end of the 2017 season can’t come soon enough for Miller and the rest of the Texans.
ProCanes Fantasy Player of the Week
If you didn’t already play Frank Gore yesterday, the best ProCane fantasy player is honestly the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Defense/Special Teams. The Niners’ 42 sacks allowed is the eighth most in the league. ‘Sacksonville’ leads the NFL with 51 sacks. Rest easy knowing that you have the best fantasy defense at your disposal.
The ProCanes TD Streak has now stretched to six straight weeks! (Thanks to Frank Gore’s TD yesterday afternoon) Lets see it continue even further.
Mark Walton’s Pro Potential
Many a Hurricane fan were not impressed when they heard that Walton declared for the 2018 NFL Draft. The comparison that has become prevalent is between Walton and former backfield mate RB Joseph Yearby. However, there is tangible information that Walton is a coveted prospect as draft season commences. Check out what Matt Miller of Bleacher Report had to say about the junior tailback.
“A junior entry into the draft, Walton hurt his ankle in early October and missed the Hurricanes' electric run through the second half of the season. NFL scouts I've spoken to love Walton's game and the punch he packs in his 5'9", 195-pound frame. He might be labeled as a change-of-pace guy, but his quickness and balance will give him a chance to start in the pros early on. He's a top-50 player for me.”
- Carolina Panthers TE Greg Olsen moved into 56th spot on the NFL’s all-time receptions list. He has 635 career receptions over his 10-year career.
- Chargers LB Denzel Perryman is considered week-to-week with a hamstring strain. He is out for today’s game against the Jets.
- Rayshawn Jenkins has been part of the Chargers’ rotation at safety. He could start this weekend should S Adrian Phillips be unable to go.
- CB Tracy Howard was signed by the Miami Dolphins on Thursday. He now forms a trio or ProCanes for the Phins with wide receivers Malcolm Lewis and Rashawn Scott.
- Al-Quadin Muhammad was active for the second time this season, receiving 17 snaps at right defensive end last week against the Jets.
- With LB Jon Bostic on injured reserve with a knee injury, LB Jermaine Grace should get an increase in snaps in the final two weeks of the season.
- Jaguars WR Allen Hurns could return today. He practiced throughout the week and is listed as questionable after suffering an ankle injury in week 10.
- Vikings’ WR Stacy Coley was a healthy scratch for the sixth straight game in week 15. Barring injury, that trend could continue.
- Cardinals’ DT Olsen Pierre has 4.5 sacks, two passes defensed and started six of 12 games that he has been activated. Pierre is said to be dealing with the flu this week.
- FB Marquez Williams was signed to the Browns practice squad on Saturday. Williams was a seventh round selection of the Jaguars in the 2017 NFL Draft.
- Broncos’ S Jamal Carter Sr and Colts RB Frank Gore provided a gift in the form of the still image from week 15.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!