AFC Week 16: Playoffs Around the Corner

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Denver gets off the hook, somewhat, as they regained control of their own destiny for the first seed and home-field advantage. They head to Houston to face a Texans team that is likely to have the first pick in the draft. The Broncos might be without receiver Wes Welker again, recovering from his second concussion of the season. The key is running back Ben Tate’s ability to find holes against a friendly Broncos defense, in effort to chew the clock and keep MVP candidate Peyton Manning watching from the sidelines. Houston is the third-ranked defense and second against the pass, although Denver’s highest-scoring offense gets the benefit of the doubt in a dome. Expect both teams to take care of business. Denver has to keep Kansas City at bay for the AFC West crown, which means they have to keep them and New England off their back for the top seed.

Manning has struggled in first halves of games against his former foes in the AFC South. Expect Denver to pull away in the second half.

New England travels to Baltimore for a fist fight, with AFC East and AFC North titles are on the line. Neither team can afford to lose. The Patriots clinch the division with a win, which also keeps them in the picture for a a top two seed and a bye. The Ravens control their destiny as well, but have to take care of business first this week. They can still catch Cincinnati for the division, while leading the wildcard hunt for the sixth and final spot. As for the actual game matchups, the Patriots have to find balance on offense. Quarterback Tom Brady got hit early and often last week. The time he was given in the pocket resulted in 130+ yards for both starting receivers, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The Ravens kicked six field goals last week, so they need to find a way to reach the endzone. They are tied with Miami for the last seed with San Diego lingering a game behind.

This game won’t be pretty, and is actually unpredictable because it can turn into a slug fest or a shootout. The quarterbacks are going to get hit, roll with Brady because he has more weapons and Joe Flacco was horrendous on MNF.

The Colts visit the Chiefs, a tough place to win. This is a huge matchup between two playoff teams trying to get higher seeds. Kansas City is currently a wildcard team, losing the tie-breaker to Denver in the AFC West, for home-field advantage, and a bye. It took a team effort to scorch Oakland for 56 points a week ago, whereas Indianapolis was shut down the Texans to a mere field goal. Running back Trent Richardson is coming on in the nick of time, but quarterback Andrew Luck his targets to get open consistently. Counterpart, Alex Smith, has been as efficient as anyone in football as year long, and it must be nice utilizing MVP candidate Jamaal Charles as much as possible. Charles has been matchup proof, the defense has dropped off since the bye week but should get the job done in a must-win for both squads.

These teams will probably feel each other out in the first half, but the Chiefs defense is flat out better. Luck has to win the game for them and might turn the ball over doing so, while Charles does his thing against a cover-2 that won’t contain him.

Cincinnati is coming off a disappointing loss, but they have to put that behind them with Minnesota coming to town. The Bengals have an outside chance at getting a first-round bye, but they have to seal the Ravens’ fate in terms of the AFC North with a win. They are currently the third seed ahead of the Colts, both are jockeying for position. The Vikings are playing with a lot of fight and for their jobs. Last week they blew the Eagles out of the building with 48 points, that was without MVP running back Adrian Peterson who might play in this one. Quarterback Andy Dalton is playing at a high level, and receiver A.J. Green has a favorable matchup. Recently, Minnesota held the Bears Brandon Marshall in check while allowing Alshon Jeffrey to go off, and last week Desean Jackson put on a  clinic. The Bengals defense is certainly better than Philadelphia’s, they should win the AFC North this week against a team proud to be spoilers.

The Bengals are a resilient team under-the-radar, and are simply better on both sides of the football. Matt Cassel should keep this one interesting, hovering around the 30s in a tug-of-war affair. Edge, Bengals.

Miami heads to Buffalo to face their rival. Coming off a three straight victories (5 of 7), the Dolphins defense has kept opponents in front of them for the most part. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has gotten into rhythm for a few 300-yard outputs. The Bills would love nothing more than to play the spoiler role, a struggling team that notched a win last week. Just looking at the way these teams have played, Miami is playing good football at the right time while Buffalo is still searching for answers. Miami needs to extend their winning streak to keep afloat in the wildcard hunt, and will be scoreboard watching as they have an outside chance to steal the division from New England. They have to do their part and worry about the scores later, they should get the “W” because both sides of the ball are bringing it.

E.J. Manuel has struggled since returning from injury, and the rushing attack will face a stacked box. Tannehill has elevated his play and his supporting cast is making plays. They’ll find another way to win by single digits, rivalries are usually close games.

San Diego awaits Oakland, a rival that beat them at the beginning of the season. The Chargers were victories in three of their last four games, with the defense stepping up in a big way. The linebacker core is finally healthy, as is the offensive line. Getting a boost at the right time, the fourth-ranked offense is third in time of possession as well. They are just behind the Ravens and Dolphins for the final wildcard seed, so this is a must-win for them. The Raiders have played through a quarterback carousel this season, finding minimal success in dropping four straight games (lost 6 of 8). The defense plays an aggressive style to push the pocket, however the inconsistency has the Bolts offense licking their chops. The Chargers need help, but all else fails if they don’t find a way to win against a team they should beat.

San Diego is really feeling themselves after taking down Denver. Philip Rivers will be efficient so long as he remains patient, leaning on the backfield duo of Ryan Mathews and Dany Woodhead. It won’t be a blowout by any means, but  a convincing win.

The Jets host the Browns this weekend. New York tends to run while Cleveland favors the pass. Both defenses have had extended moments this year. We know that quarterback Geno Smith will be around next year, but will he start over Mark Sanchez or anybody else they bring in? Will head coach Rex Ryan come back? Quarterback Jason Campbell is getting his opportunity to enter the offseason competition at the helm. Standouts, receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron, should be interesting to watch a the very least.

Out of the playoff picture, they pride themselves in defense so expect turnovers. Browns have big play ability and probably steal one in NY, both scoring in the 20s.

Again, there are no meaningless games in the NFL. Titans at Jaguars features division rivals focusing on the future. Will running back Chris Johnson stay in Tennessee? Is running back Jordan Todman going to replace pending free agent, Maurice Jones-Drew? We know that both quarterbacks, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chad Henne, will head into next year as backup quarterbacks. Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley has the defense playing better, and the team overall since their week 9 bye, winning four of their last six contests. Tennessee lost three in a row (5 of 6) but showed grit last week by coming back from 17 points, forcing overtime at Arizona.

Two non-playoff teams will treat this like a playoff game, it being a rival matchup and all. Last time they played, it was close and they scored just under 30 points. Expect s a similar game in great weather.