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ProCanes NFL Preview: Week 16

With two games remaining, there’s little room for error.

Indianapolis Colts v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

And then there was two. Today’s slate of games marks the penultimate weekend in the NFL’s regular season. Some teams are well out of the playoff race, while a handful of teams jockey to put themselves in a position to extend their season. The potential playoff field features more than a few ProCanes looking to make a run at the Super Bowl. Can Frank Gore and the Phins make it into the postseason? Are the Patriots once again flying under everyone’s radar? The scenarios for each team are dwindling — and, by the end of today, we’ll have our answers.

With the Hurricanes set to head up to New York City for the 2018 Pinstripe Bowl, taking on the Wisconsin Badgers at Yankee Stadium this Thursday, SOTU will dive into what the bowl game will mean for those players taking part. With the underclassmen deadline for NFL declarations set for January 19th, the path to the draft continues to run through the Gables.

However, before we get into all of that, lets go over the games of the weekend.

Game Previews

Cincinnati Bengals (6-8) vs Cleveland Browns (6-7-1) 1PM EDT

The final battle of Ohio in 2018 will not have playoff implications, but the fact that it almost did is a huge improvement. After going winless a season ago, the Browns are on the cusp of playoff contention — a sign that the franchise is on an upward trajectory. Where there’s positive momentum, there should be some ProCanes around.

RB Duke Johnson Jr continues to thrive as the change-of-pace option for Cleveland. With rookie RB Nick Chubb assuming a feature role at the position, Johnson is displaying his versatility on offense once again. We’ve talked about how Duke’s carries in 2018 have plummeted to a career-low, yet the RB has established himself as a threat in Cleveland’s short-to-intermediate passing game. 18 of Johnson’s 40 receptions have come from 10 yards or less. Duke is a luxurious option for Browns’ rookie QB Baker Mayfield to have at his disposal in the passing game.

You could split that ‘productive’ superlative with Cleveland TE David Njoku. Njoku’s production is feast or famine on a given week. With 50 receptions, 504 receiving yards and three touchdowns, the TE has the talent to put up even larger numbers. Njoku has been playing with a nagging knee injury that may have slowed him down a tad, but there’s no reason why Njoku can’t elevate his game to the next tier of TEs in the NFL. Against a Bengals’ defense that ranks 29th in the league in pass defense, allowing 270.6 passing yards-per-game, we could see that elevation begin this afternoon.

New York Giants (5-9) vs Indianapolis Colts (8-6) 1PM EDT

The Giants have been eliminated from the playoff race for some time now, yet the team has not quit on the disappointing season. Rookie DT RJ McIntosh has seen action over the last three weeks, overcoming an illness that caused him to miss all of training camp and the preseason. After getting the green light to practice with the team, the Giants have been gradually increasing his workload as the season progresses, with positive results.

NFL: Chicago Bears at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Fellow ProCane defensive lineman Olivier Vernon is all about getting positive results. Since returning from an ankle injury that forced him to miss the first five games of the year, the DE has come on strong for the G-Men. With multiple sacks in two of his last three games, the 28-year-old edge rusher seems to have found his stride since his return to the line up. With the Giants facing a Colts’ offense that sits eighth in the league in total offense, with hopes of keeping their playoff aspirations alive, Big Blue is going to need their star DE to apply all kinds of pressure on Andrew Luck this afternoon.

The other ProCane DE in this game is Al-Quadin Muhammad for the Colts. After being an afterthought with the Saints, the second-year pro has caught on well with the Colts. The numbers didn’t earn him a look at a Pro Bowl, yet Indy’s defense collectively has flown under the radar as a vastly improved unit from 2017 to now. The Giants’ offense has centered lately around the production of rookie RB Saquon Barkley, who has rushed for 569 yards in the last five weeks with four TDs. If the Colts hope to keep their dreams alive, they’ll have to figure out a way to slow down the league’s most dynamic offensive weapon.

Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) vs Miami Dolphins (7-7) 1PM EDT

Who could’ve imagined that in this battle of the Sunshine State it’s the Dolphins who are playing for their postseason lives, as opposed the Jaguars? Yes, the Phins are still in contention for a wildcard spot. They need to take care of business this week and get some help from across the league, but cue it up…

Miami needs to beat a Jaguars’ team that has dropped most of their opportunities this season, one year removed from falling a game short of making the Super Bowl. The tide has certainly turned in Duval County, but the Jags are still competing to close out the season with some respect. DE Calais Campbell did not put up the same kind of numbers he did when he was a Pro Bowler and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2017, yet the 32-year-old vet has put together a respectable season in spite of the Jaguars’ regression in 2018. Campbell has put together a 62 total tackle, eight sacks and 17 QB hits season so far, with two games left.

Houston Texans (10-4) vs Philadelphia Eagles (7-7) 1 PM EDT

Early in week 15’s win over the New York Jets, Houston Texans’ RB Lamar Miller suffered an ankle injury that forced him to miss the remainder of the contest. Miller was on a hot streak, scoring a TD or surpassing the 100 yard rushing mark in three of his last four games. With two games left, Miller needs just 83 rushing yards to surpass the 1,000 yard single-season mark, a feat he hasn’t accomplished since 2016. Miller has been ruled out for the game. Meaning RB Alford Blue will be the next man up for the Texans. Fortunately for the Texans, the Eagles’ defense has been a porous unit overall, allowing 385.6 yards-per-game and struggling to find continuity with a rash of injuries on that side of the ball.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1) vs New Orleans Saints (12-2) 4:25PM EDT

The Steelers’ playoff chances are hanging by a thread at this point. After blowing chances against the Broncos and Raiders, they went up against a Patriots’ team that’s had their number of late. Pittsburgh is 0.5 game up against their AFC rivals, the Baltimore Ravens, but they’ll need to forget about that when they take on the most balanced offense in the NFL — the Saints. New Orleans ranks near or at the top of every imaginable offensive category and have NFC South and a top seed for the playoff sewed up. So what’s the motivation to beat the Steelers in week 16?

Perhaps they’re like DeeJay Dallas and built to crush dreams. LB Anthony Chickillo and the Pittsburgh defense are going to have a hell of a time generating pressure on Saints’ Qb Drew Brees, let alone disrupting the timing of the offense. I could throw rankings, averages and ratings at you for this game, but this game boils down to pride. The Steelers have let their foot off the gas, and are now hoping they have enough left in the tank to make it home. The Saints are cruising with the roof down and a playlist of bangers underscoring their epic ride towards playoff football. A Steelers loss opens doors for a bunch of teams, so it’ll be up to some ProCanes to put on their capes to save the season.

ProCanes Fantasy Player of the Week

David Njoku

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Cleveland Browns Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

With an ideal matchup against the Bengals today, let this ProCane TE help guide you to the winner’s circle in what for many is championship weekend across many Fantasy Football leagues.

News and Notes

Chad Thomas’ Commercial Debut

Browns’ rookie defensive end Chad Thomas has not seen the field a whole lot, yet the burgeoning star continues to deliver hits away from the field. Under his rap name Major Nine, Thomas’ following is growing to cult status. Recently, the ProCane rapper was featured in a Microsoft ad, spotlighting his love for both sport and music.

Frank Gore Finished for the 2018 Season

The record-breaking season for Dolphins RB came to an abrupt end. After suffering a foot injury in the Dolphins week 15 loss to the Vikings, Gore was ruled placed on injured reserve with a foot injury. The good news for Gore, is that he does not require surgery and should be healthy entering next season. Gore, who currently sits fourth on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, is just 521 yards behind Barry Sanders. Unfortunately, Gore will finish his first season in the NFL without having scored a rushing TD.

Frank Gore will be a unrestricted free agent this coming offseason, however, sources at ESPN have reported that Gore would like to remain with the Dolphins for his 15th season.

Kendrick Norton Back in the 305

NCAA Football: Russell Athletic Bowl-West Virginia vs Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Rookie DT Kendrick Norton was a member of the Carolina Panthers practice squad after being selected in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Earlier this week, the Miami Dolphins signed Norton to their 53-man roster. Coincidentally, Norton is filling the roster spot of fellow ProCane RB Frank Gore, who was placed on injured reserve with a foot ailment. Norton enters today’s game with a questionable tag, as he deals with an ankle injury.

Greg Olsen Undergoes Surgery

The 33-year-old tight end for the Carolina Panthers underwent foot surgery this past week. After initially suffering the injury in the early portion of the season, the TE ruptured his plantar fascia in his right foot in a week 13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Olsen finished 2018 with 27 catches for, 291 receiving yards and four touchdowns.