Viewer's guide: Week 16


Around The NFL's Kevin Patra fills you in on the key storylines for each matchup. Here's your guide as you settle into your couch for all the NFL action.

Joe Flacco has been sacked just 16 times all season while he continues to impress under Gary Kubiak's tutelage. That sack stat will be tested against J.J. Watt, who leads all defensive linemen in sacks (16.5), tackles for loss (22), QB hits (43), passes defensed (10) and total TDs (five). The Texans have also forced a turnover in 15 straight games dating back to last season, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. If Flacco gets protection from Watt and doesn't turn it over, the Ravens' offense should be able to move the ball Sunday with ease.

The big question is who will start at quarterback for the Texans, Thad Lewis or Case Keenum. (Our choice is Keenum, because, well, Thad Lewis? Really?) Whoever get's the start will lean on Arian Foster and an offensive line that has allowed one or fewer sacks in 10 straight games. The Ravens' secondary is exploitable if the quarterback gets time to throw. However, facing a Ravens line that has helped lead to 40 sacks in their past nine game, led by Elvis Dumervil (17.0) and Terrell Suggs (11.0) -- who have combined for the most sacks among any duo in the NFL -- will be a daunting task.

Pregame reading material
Wesseling: J.J. Watt is NFL's top defender
Breaking down the AFC Playoff Picture
Ravens place Lorenzo Taliaferro on injured reserve

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Ravens.

Aaron Rodgers didn't throw a touchdown pass last week. The Packers' quarterback has started only eight career games in which he threw at least five passes and failed to throw a TD. In each of the previous four instances, Rodgers threw three-plus TD passes in the next game. He's got a great chance to make it five instances facing a Bucs defense that is giving up 250 passing yards per game. It's worth noting that Eddie Lacy looked beasty early last week -- even though Mike McCarthy steered away from the running back later -- and has 95-plus yards in three of his last four games (seven TDs in last five).

Tampa needs to get Doug Martin -- zero 100-yard rushing games since Week 2, 2013 -- going early against a Packers defense that is allowing 128.0 rushing yards per game (26th). With a terrible offensive line the Bucs need to use the treat of play action to avoid Josh McCown getting walloped every snap. Tampa Bay must also use the ground game to keep Rodgers off the field if they are to keep the score close.

Pregame reading material
Rodgers frustrated by 'stinker' vs. Bills
What's the Bucs current spot in draft order?
Packers' loss adds intrigue to top NFC playoff spot

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Packers.

Crazy stat of the week: The entire Chiefs receiver group has been slightly less productive than Antonio Brown this season. With 110 receptions, KC's WRs (Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Junior Hemingway, A.J. Jenkins, Albert Wilson, Frankie Hammond Jr. and Jason Avant) have five fewer catches than Brown, whose 1,498 receiving yards are 128 yards more than KC's WRs. Brown's 11 TDs are 11 more than the KC WRs. The rookie, Wilson, showed some promise last week, and the Chiefs will face a Pittsburgh defense allowing 55.2 percent of 20-plus air yard passes to be completed this season (highest in the NFL). Alex Smith, however, has completed just 31.8 percent of 20-plus air yard passes this season (T-26th best among 39 qualifying QBs). He might have some chances to up that number Sunday. That would be doubly necessary if Jamaal Charles can't get going. The running back has just 12 rush attempts or fewer in three straight games.

The Brown-Ben Roethlisberger combo has been deadly and doesn't get enough hype. Brown has 115 receptions, which is 19 more than any other player. Nineteen! Big Ben, meanwhile, has thrown for 350-plus pass yards in three straight games and has 340-plus pass yards in six of his last seven games. He'll face a Kansas City defense that has not allowed a team to breach the 30-point plateau this season. Led by Justin Houston -- tied for NFL lead with 17.0 sacks (Dumervil) -- the defense could harass Big Ben into making crucial mistakes, which has been the Steelers' downfall in their swoons this season.

Pregame reading material
Who can clinch a playoff spot this weekend?
Grading the first-round rookie defenders
Three things to look for in Week 16

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Steelers.

It can't be worse than last week for Johnny Manziel, right? His scatter-shot 80-yard, two-interception, 27.3-passer rating day was a train wreck from the start. After the humbling start it will be interesting to see how the rookie bounces back. He faces a Panthers defense that is just 22nd in sacks (31st) and has already surrendered 38 touchdowns this season (tied for seventh most).

Cam Newton is on track to play Sunday, per coach Ron Rivera. With or without SuperCam, expect Jonathan Stewart to have another good week. The running back has 75-plus scrimmage yards in three straight games and is averaging 5.8 yards per rush over that span (54 rushes, 313 yards). Stewart faces a Browns defense allowing 137.6 rushing yards per game this season (second most in the NFL). Last week Cleveland let up 244 rushing yards and three touchdowns. If Stewart can duplicate that production, the Panthers could remain in the playoff hunt.

Pregame reading material
Manziel must show Browns potential for development
Cosell rips Manziel's arm, skills in pocket
Can Panthers actually make the playoffs?

Who will win? Four of five Around The NFL writers pick the Panthers.

Jimmy Clausen!!!!!! Wouldn't it be just so Lionsy if Detroit traveled to Soldier Field and laid an egg against a backup quarterback with a 1-9 record to cripple their playoff hopes? (All of Detroit, sadly, nods along.) Luckily for the Lions their No. 1 scoring defense has been more consistent than any other time this millennium. Expect the Bears to lean on Matt Forte on the ground and in the passing game against Detroit's No. 1 rushing defense. Forte had just five carries on Thanksgiving. With Clausen under center, however, the Bears will need to lean on the ground game, which plays right into Detroit's hands.

Matthew Stafford hasn't thrown an interception in three games, which is tied for the longest stretch of his career (so, he's due, right?). The quarterback has thrown for 300-plus yards in two of the past three games, including 390 on Thanksgiving. The Bears couldn't cover Calvin Johnson that day and Chicago will need to improve its press coverage off the line of scrimmage to stop a repeat performance in Chicago.

Pregame reading material
Looking at potential destinations for Cutler in 2015
Lions return to playoffs with win over Bears
Suh, Levy crack top 10 list of defenders in 2014

Who will win? All five of the Around The NFL writers pick the Lions.

After going without a TD pass in his first three games, Teddy Bridgewater has thrown one or more touchdown passes in eight straight games. The rookie has also completed 70-plus percent of his passes in three straight games. The Vikings' quick passing attack has shown precision and could take advantage of a Dolphins defense that has allowed 28-plus points in three of its last four games. It will be interesting to see how Norv Turner utilizes his running back rotation against Miami, which has allowed 180-plus rushing yards in four straight games.

The Ryan Tannehill-led offense has scored 16 points or fewer in three straight games, while rushing for less than 100 yards in four straight. Why Bill Lazor abandons the run in close games is mystifying. On first down, the Dolphins gain 4-plus yards on 54.2 percent of rushing plays, which is the highest percentage in the NFL. The struggling Dolphins' offense will face a Mike Zimmer defense allowing fewer than 255 passing yards in four straight games.

Pregame reading material
Sessler gives Anthony Barr's rookie season an A-minus
Predict the Dolphins' path to the playoffs
What positions should Vikings target in draft?

Who will win? Four out of five Around The NFL writers pick the Dolphins.

Holy offense! Sunday's matchup pits the two statistically worst defenses in the NFL. The Saints are 31st in total defense (390.1 YPG), while the Falcons are last in the league (409.9 YPG).

In Week 1 the Falcons had 568 total yards of offense and 445 yard passing, both team records. If Matt Ryan gets time to throw the ball he could pick apart the Saints for the second time this season. Of course this all assumes that Julio Jones is back. The wideout remained out of practice with a hip injury. If he can't go, the advantage shifts away from the Falcons' offense.

Drew Brees would need to average 321.0 yards per game to get to 5,000 passing yards. Brees already has four of the eight 5,000-yard seasons in NFL history and is the only player with multiple 5,000-yard passing seasons. With the running game struggling in recent weeks, Brees might have to reach those numbers for the Saints to make the playoffs. The quarterback has limited the mistakes recently and has looked more in rhythm. Against a Falcons team with no pass rush, Brees should be able to pick apart the Atlanta secondary.

Pregame reading material
Falcons brush aside 'funeral' trash talk by Saints
Mike Smith: Julio will play vs. Saints
Are the Saints the favorite to win the NFC South?

Who will win? Four out of five Around The NFL writers pick the Saints.

Rob Gronkowski has fueled the Patriots during their last 10 games. Since Week 5, with New England going 9-1 while scoring 36.2 points per game, Gronk has averaged 6.3 receptions per game and 94.6 receiving YPG. The Jets have zero players to even attempt to cover Gronk, which means Rex Ryan will have to scheme to shut down the tight end. That should open up other receivers on the outside for Tom Brady against a secondary allowing a passer rating of 104.6 this season (second worst in NFL).

The Jets' offense averages 168.9 pass YPG, worst in the NFL and the worst by any team since 2011, when both the Broncos and Jaguars struggled to pass. That season, Tim Tebow (11 starts) and Kyle Orton (5 starts) combined to average 152.1 pass YPG for Denver, while Blaine Gabbert (14 starts) and Luke McCown (two starts) struggled to 136.2 YPG for Jacksonville. Yikes. Like they did in Week 7, the Jets will try to pound the ball. Gang Green gobbled up 218 yards while almost pulling an upset. However the Patriots have defended the run much better since that game and currently rank 10th in the NFL, allowing 103.5 yards per game.

Pregame reading material
Revis coy about his future with Patriots
Rex not worried about possibly losing out on top pick
Finnegan knocks Brady's plan to play into 40s

Who will win? All five Around The NFL writers pick the Patriots.

Eli Manning and Shaun Hill should be ready to duck and cover. New York has 22 sacks since Week 13 (most in NFL), while the Rams have 14 sacks since Week 13 (third-most in NFL). That's a lot of QB pressure.

Odell Beckham became the first rookie in NFL history with 12-plus receptions, 140-plus receiving yards and three-plus TDs in a single game last week. With the Rams often preferring to leave their young cornerbacks on islands, the dynamic rookie will be a handful for Janoris Jenkins and E.J. Gaines. Expect some big plays from Eli Manning to ODB: The Rams blitz on 45.7 percent of opponent's pass plays (highest pct in NFL), while Manning has a passer rating of 89.4 versus the blitz (17th best in NFL).

Tre Mason had just 11 carries for 33 yards and a fumble in last week's loss. The Rams are 4-0 when Mason gets 18-plus rush attempts. While those sorts of stats are deceiving, the point remains that the Rams' offense cannot function without a ground game leading the way. Facing a Giants defense ranked 30th against the run, allowing 135.1 yards per game, we should see a lot of Mason Sunday.

Pregame reading material
Odell Beckham's greatness, by the numbers
Rosenthal on Eli's quiet rebound season in New York
Will Aaron Donald win Defensive Rookie of the Year?

Who will win? Four out of five Around The NFL writers pick the Rams.

Andrew Luck needs to get his mojo back after earning a league-low 48.3 completion percentage over the last two games with four turnovers. Luck has thrown at least one interception in 10 of 14 games this season. With Reggie Wayne struggling through a torn triceps injury and T.Y. Hilton dealing with a hamstring injury, Luck might have to lean on rookie Donte Moncrief, perennial underachiever Hakeem Nicks and the tight end duo of Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. Luckily the quarterback is facing a defense that has just 23 sacks this season (28th in NFL) and is allowing 5.9 yards per play (27th in NFL).

This game will feature a matchup of one of the NFL's top receivers and cornerbacks. Dez Bryant leads the NFL with 13 TD receptions. Vontae Davis has allowed a 36.7 passer rating in coverage, which is the second best such rating in the NFL this season. Davis has fared extremely well against some of the league's better receivers this season, limiting DeAndre Hopkins, Pierre Garcon, Julian Edelman, Odell Beckham Jr. and Demaryius Thomas to zero receptions during the 12 plays he has been targeted in coverage. Bryant, on the other hand, has a size, speed combo few in the NFL can match.

Pregame reading material
Watch: Luck compliments defender's big hits
Battista: Cowboys prove mettle in win over Eagles
How can the Cowboys secure a playoff spot this weekend?

Who will win? Three out of five Around The NFL writers pick the Cowboys.

Look for Fred Jackson to carry the load again this week. In Week 15 Jackson went for 71 yards on 20 carries and dashed for two rushes of 10-plus yards. The running back had just two rushes of 10-plus yards in the previous six games. The Raiders are giving up 125.4 yards per game on the ground, which benefits Jackson and the rest of the Bills' ground attack -- just avoid Khalil Mack's side of the field.

Derek Carr has been protected well this season, being sacked just 24 times, eighth in the NFL. However Sunday he'll face a different monster in a Bills front that is the most disruptive in the NFL, compiling an NFL-leading 49 sacks. Buffalo's front forces quarterbacks to get rid of the ball early -- as it did with Aaron Rodgers last week -- and discombobulates the offense. The Bills' defense allows opponent to score on just 27 percent of drives this season (best in the NFL), while Carr's Raiders score on just 22.2 percent of their drives, lowest in the league. The stats don't look good for Oakland's offense having a fun day. (Hope for some Latavius Murray bust-out runs.)

Pregame reading material
Carr endorses Sparano as Raiders' head coach
Bills 'expected' to shut down Manning, Rodgers
Can Bills sneak into the AFC playoffs?

Who will win? Four out of five Around The NFL writers pick the Bills.

In the last four games Arizona's offense has averaged 12.5 points with 293.3 yards, including 197.5 passing yards per game. Meanwhile the Seahawks' defense has given up a measly 6.8 points per game, 188 yards with just 106.8 passing yards per. Those stats are ominous for the Cards, who will start third-stringer Ryan Lindley. Among all QBs since 2000 with a minimum of 170 pass attempts, only Ryan Leaf has a worse career passer rating entering a start than Lindley's 46.8.

On the flip side the Cards' D has held 12 of 14 opponents to 20 points or fewer and just 90.4 yards per game on the ground. They have been especially tough at home. Todd Bowles' defense will need to stiffen again against the NFL's No. 1 rushing offense, averaging 168.8 yards per game on the ground (best in franchise history) and 5.2 yards per rushing play (first in NFL). Arizona's defense must find a way to turn Russell Wilson over -- not an easy task -- and set up Lindley with short fields, or it could be a long day in the desert for the red birds.

Pregame reading material
Arians pumps up vital NFC West showdown
Cardinals not worried about Lindley at QB
Carroll, Harbaugh 'had a moment' Sunday

Who will win? All five of the Around The NFL writers pick the Seahawks.

Peyton Manning is second in the NFL with 37 TD passes (Andrew Luck -- 38). But the Broncos have gone three consecutive games with more rush attempts than pass attempts and three in a row with fewer than 250 passing yards. In Manning's 16-year career, he has never had four consecutive games in a single season with fewer than 250 passing yards. He'll face a Bengals defense that has allowed a league-low 14 pass TD this season (tied with Buffalo). Given that the Bengals allow 124.8 rushing yards per game, expect the run-heavy approach again this week for Manning's crew.

The world is gifted with another Andy Dalton primetime show. The Bengals' quarterback has been terrible again this season under the bright lights. His last one was a stinker against the Browns in which he had a 2.0 passer rating, which followed a terrible night against the Patriots in Week 5. Given the quarterback's proclivity for self-destruction, expect a lot of Jeremy Hill on Monday night. The rookie rewarded Hue Jackson's faith in making him the workhorse with 148 yards and two touchdowns last week. The sledding will be mountains tougher for Hill this week against the NFL's No. 2 ranked run defense (71.6 YPG). The Broncos have allowed 100-plus rushing yards once in last 11 games.

Pregame reading material
Knighton on Super Bowl: ' We're hoisting that trophy'
Broncos lose LB Trevathan for rest of season
Breaking down the AFC Playoff Picture

Who will win? All five of the Around The NFL writers pick the Broncos.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews every Week 16 game and recaps the Jaguars' win over the Titans. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.