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Phinsider Week 16 Game Previews and Predictions

Welcome to another edition of Justin Hier’s weekly Game Previews and Predictions!

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

There’s two weeks left of the NFL regular season, and that means things are heating up in the playoff picture both in the AFC and NFC. For some teams, that means gearing up for a deep run in the playoffs that will hopefully lead to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. For others, such as your Miami Dolphins, it means prepping for a long offseason of retooling and rebuilding that, if all goes well, will lead to that glorious playoff run in the near-future (that is, if the Dolphins don’t get extremely lucky and sneak in this season). What playoff scenarios could be affected by this week’s slate of contests? Find out that, and much more, below!

Each week of the NFL season, I’ll be giving you a sneak peak of the action ahead, as well as my own forecast for the outcome of every contest. Feel free to leave your own predictions and opinions in the comments below!

Week 15 prediction record: 13-3

2017 season prediction record: 143-79

Saturday

Indianapolis Colts (3-11) at Baltimore Ravens (8-6) - 4:30 PM ET on NFLN

NFL fans are being treated to even more Saturday football this week, and this Ravens v Colts showdown is our first taste of week 16 action. The Colts are all but guaranteed a top 5 draft pick in 2018, meaning they aren’t likely to be competitive in this matchup. The Colts’ offense, specifically the team’s offensive line, has been a mess all season long, a situation that does not bode well for a unit about to take on a ferocious Ravens front-seven. Expect a great deal of pressure for Colts QB Jacoby Brissett, especially if Indianapolis fails to establish the running game. Baltimore won’t be afraid to bring pressure and force Brissett to win through the air.

Score prediction: Baltimore 28 - Indianapolis 13

Minnesota Vikings (11-3) at Green Bay Packers (7-7) - 8:30 ET on NBC

There will be no “running the table” Christmas miracle for Aaron Rodgers and Co. With last week’s loss to Carolina, the Packers have been officially eliminated from playoff contention and wisely placed Rodgers on injured reserve, allowing him to fully heal from his collarbone injury in time for offseason activities heading into the 2018 season.

That development takes a lot of the sizzle that this game could have brought for Saturday night football. Instead, the storyline here will be whether Case Keenum can continue his surprisingly fantastic season and keep the Vikings stay in contention for the #1 seed in the NFC. It would be truly amazing to see the Vikings host all of their playoff games on the way to being the first NFL team to ever host a Super Bowl that they are participating in.

Score prediction: Minnesota 30 - Green Bay 17

Sunday

Detroit Lions (8-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-9) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

These two teams are boasting the worst two rushing attacks in the NFL, so we should see quite a bit of passing up in Cincinnati this week. Matthew Stafford and the Lions are clinging to fleeting playoff hopes and must win this week in order to remain in legitimate contention. That means the Bengals will be playing spoiler, but after getting thrashed by a far inferior NFC North opponent in the Chicago Bears last week, I don’t have much confidence in Marvin Lewis’ unit here.

Score prediction: Detroit 27 - Cincinnati 10

Miami Dolphins (6-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-6) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS

It is truly impossible to predict which version of the Dolphins will show up each week. One week, this team is finally putting three phases of good football together to beat the defending Super Bowl champions. The next, everything is falling apart against a shaky Buffalo Bills team. Based on last week’s performance and Jay Cutler’s inability to protect the football, I’m not expecting anything too impressive on the road against a Chiefs outfit that has finally regained its early season mojo.

Maybe Kenyan Drake puts up another stellar outing and keeps Miami competitive, but Andy Reid’s Chiefs are notorious for coming away with well-timed turnovers, something that doesn’t bode well for the erratic play of Cutler.

Score prediction: Kansas City 26 - Miami 20

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (11-3) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS

The last time these two teams played, Buffalo was able to keep the game close enough in the first half, but Tom Brady pulled New England away through the third and fourth quarter. This time, in Foxborough, I don’t think Buffalo will be afforded the luxury of starting slow. The Patriots almost always come out of the gate hot on their home turf and are coming off of an emotional victory in Pittsburgh.

If the Bills want to stand a chance here and keep their playoff hopes alive, they must get their offense moving early, and that means riding LeSean McCoy often. Shady is the engine in Buffalo’s attack, and Tyrod Taylor can’t carry the offense on his own. The recipe for beating the Patriots is clear, keep the ball out of Brady’s hands, and that means establishing a running game.

Score prediction: New England 33 - Buffalo 23

Cleveland Browns (0-14) at Chicago Bears (4-10) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS

I would love to predict a Cleveland win here, but I simply can’t. The Browns have lost any semblance of that spark from early in the year that kept their games close. The team simply got blown out of the water at home against a division rival. And now, heading into Chicago to play a Bears team that took care of its business last week by absolutely dominating the Bengals, I don’t see Cleveland coming out with a win. Maybe DeShone Kizer outplays Mitch Trubisky, and maybe the Browns keep it competitive, but Chicago’s defense will keep Hue Jackson’s offense at bay just enough to pull away at the end.

Score prediction: Chicago 19 - Cleveland 13

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-10) at Carolina Panthers (10-4) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

The Carolina Panthers are 10-4 and don’t really look to be slowing down to me. Carolina took down the team I see as the best in the NFC last week, and did so with style. The facet of this Panthers team that worries me is the team’s heavy reliance on Cam Newton. Now sure, every NFL team relies heavily on its quarterback, but for the Panthers, that reliance is even stronger because of how integral the super-star QB is in the offense’s game plan, but in the air and on the ground. Newton’s ability to run the ball helps the team immensely in keeping defenses honest, but his erratic consistency is something defenses can take advantage of.

When Newton is hit repeatedly behind the line of scrimmage or after he throws a few errant passes, he gets frustrated and his game suffers as a result. That doesn’t take away from the fact that when he’s on target and gets some running space, he’s one of the most dangers quarterbacks in the league, but that scattershot accuracy and inability to keep his composure could be the team’s downfall when the playoffs roll around.

Score prediction: Carolina 27 - Tampa Bay 16

Atlanta Falcons (9-5) at New Orleans Saints (10-4) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

It’s a bit unfortunate that the best game of the week won’t be played in primetime, but that won’t take away from how entertaining this contest should be. Two of the most explosive offenses in the league will face off in what should be Sunday’s highest scoring affair. This game is chalk full of playoff implications as both teams are battling to remain in the hunt for the NFC South crown.

The matchup to keep track of here is Julio Jones v Marshon Lattimore. When these two squared off two weeks ago, Jones came away with five receptions on eleven targets to the tune of 98 yards. Who takes the win this week? I’m giving it to Jones in the individual category, but the Saints in the team contest.

Score prediction: New Orleans 35 - Atlanta 27

Denver Broncos (5-9) at Washington Redskins (6-8) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS

While both of these squads have underwhelmed this season, they’ve done so for drastically different reasons. Washington’s mediocrity can’t really be traced to any particular aspect of the team, as each unit ranks somewhere in the middle statistically. Kirk Cousins and Co. just haven’t been able to scrounge up the Ws.

Denver, however, is sitting at 5-9 solely because the offense just can’t stay on the field. Vance Joseph has done a poor job of handling the Broncos’ offensive woes in his first year at the helm, as the team has failed to convert key third downs and put up points. Head hancho John Elway will have some decisions to make in both the personnel and coaching departments, though drastic changes don’t seem imminent at this point.

Score prediction: Washington 20 - Denver 13

Los Angeles Rams (10-4) at Tennessee Titans (8-6) - 1:00 PM ET on FOX

How the Titans have reached a record of 8-6 is beyond me. Mike Mularkey simply isn’t fielding a good football team this late in the season, and I’d be surprised if they reached the playoffs playing the caliber of football they’ve been displaying over the past few weeks. Losing to a white-hot Rams team seems all but guaranteed ahead of Sunday’s showdown given that Marcus Mariota has been off and the play of Tennessee’s secondary has been poor. I’m expecting Jared Goff to carve up the Titans’ defensive backfield while Todd Gurley continues his epic 2017 campaign on the ground. Aaron Donald and the rest of Los Angeles’ defense should go to work as well.

Score prediction: Los Angeles 31 - Tennessee 14

Los Angeles Chargers (7-7) at New York Jets (5-9) - 1:00 PM ET on CBS

This game would be interesting if Josh McCown were still playing, but with Bryce Petty under center, I don’t think the Jets have a shot. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are going to give the underwhelming passer fits all afternoon, while Philip Rivers will look to get back on track after and ugly outing against the Chiefs last week. The Chargers are truly on the borderline of being a playoff team, and while they’re currently on the outside looking in, they could nab a wild card spot if they receive some help over the next two weeks. The first step will come in the Meadowlands this Sunday.

Score prediction: Los Angeles 26 - New York 17

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-4) at San Francisco 49ers (4-10) - 4:05 PM ET on CBS

You’ve got to hand it to John Lynch and the rest of San Francisco’s font office, snagging Jimmy Garoppolo for a second-round draft pick is looking like a genuine steal at this point. The former Patriot is showing all of the attributes teams covet in a franchise quarterback and he’s doing so while delivering wins to a fan base that has been starved of them lately. If the 49ers can build a half-decent team around the 26-year old passer, the team could be challenging for a playoff spot as early as next season.

Unfortunately for the newly minted 49er under center, I don’t seem him having the same success this week that he’s had over his first three starts in red and gold. Jacksonville’s defense is on an entirely other level compared to the defenses Garoppolo has faced thus far (Titans, Texans, and Bears), and the Jaguars should be able to keep him in check.

Score prediction: Jacksonville 23 - San Francisco 20

Seattle Seahawks (8-6) at Dallas Cowboys (8-6) - 4:25 PM ET on FOX

Ladies and gentleman, it’s a win-or-go-home showdown between two of the NFC’s most entertaining franchises. In this contest, we’ll be seeing a whole new Cowboys’ offense compared to the one we’ve been watching over the past six weeks. Ezekiel Elliott is back, and the uber-talented Cowboys running back will be looking to victimize a sturdy Seattle front-seven.

Yes, despite Todd Gurley running wild around the Seahawks last week, this team is still boasting one of the most talented defensive fronts in football, and finding running room will be no cake walk for Elliott. Despite Elliott’s six week absence, I foresee Jason Garrett deploying a heavy dose of the well-rested runner to get his feet wet as quick as possible. This matchup should be a exciting, and the winner will remain in the wild-card hunt, for now.

Score prediction: Dallas 28 - Seattle 24

New York Giants (2-12) at Arizona Cardinals (6-8) - 4:25 PM ET on FOX

The 2017 season has not gone as planned for either of these bottom tier teams, and each is just begging for the offseason to arrive to gain a reprieve from the bad luck both have endured. The Giants lost two of their most talented offensive playmakers to injury early in the season, while the same fate befell the Cardinals with both David Johnson and Carson Palmer. With offenses that can’t put up points, each team’s highly touted defense has been unable to keep opponents from scoring up and down the field. In what’s shaping up to be one of the least exciting games of the week, I’ll take Eli Manning and the Giants, who nearly pulled off an upset last week against one of the top outfits in the NFL.

Score prediction: New York 19 - Arizona 13

Monday

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) at Houston Texans (4-10) - 4:30 PM ET on NBC/NFLN

Pittsburgh fans endured a tough blow with a controversial loss to the Patriots last week, and an emotional and angry Steelers team will travel to Houston looking for a satisfying win against a floundering opponent, Even sans Antonio Brown, the Steelers have more than enough playmakers on offense to put up some serious production here, both in yards and points. While Pittsburgh’s defense hasn’t been the same since losing Ryan Shazier, Texans backup QB T.J. Yates doesn’t pose much of a threat to anybody. The Steelers win this one in dominating fashion.

Score prediction: Pittsburgh 30 - Houston 14

Oakland Raiders (6-8) at Philadelphia Eagles (12-2) - 8:30 PM ET on ESPN

Can Nick Foles lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl? That’s the question in Philadelphia these days as the former third-round pick lit up the division rival Giants last week with four touchdown passes and 237 yards. At just 28-years old, the former Eagle, Ram, Chief, and Eagle once more has the ability to keep a good team in contention, and beating up on a understaffed Raiders secondary will be his next test. Piloting an offense loaded to the brim with talent, this is Foles’ turn to tell the league that he still has what it takes to be a starter in the NFL.

Score prediction: Philadelphia 27 - Oakland 19