Respect is a funny thing.
Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself to get it, even if you've done far more than enough to earn it.
Playoff-hopeful teams -- shoot, even teams that have already punched their postseason tickets -- are no different in this regard. These last two weeks of the regular season are crucial for everyone, including those who've enjoyed a campaign long on success and short on failure. Look no further than the Chiefs, who have been an arcade game on offense all season and sport one of the best records in the NFL. Yet, if they falter Sunday night in Seattle, Patrick Mahomes and Co. could free-fall from the No. 1 seed to No. 5. Or how about the Rams? If they slip up against division opponents this week or next, they could lose their bye after spending much of the season as league darlings.
The above also holds true for a number of teams that have accomplished plenty but won't get much props at all if they can't emerge from this weekend victorious. Take the game in Philly: The Eagles won the Super Bowl last season, but if they fall at home to the Texans, they might not even have an opportunity to defend their crown in January. Houston has won 10 of 11, yet hasn't garnered too much acclaim because of the level of competition. The Texans can knock that perception down a notch with a road win against a desperate team.
And on the respect front, I know where some is due ...
Love Baldy's Breakdowns. Every week. Though the Patriots just encountered another issue, with news breaking Thursday morning that Josh Gordon's stepping away from the team and has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL. And speaking of teams facing issues ...
Don't think so. And get this: The Jags went from No. 31 to No. 2 last year -- the exact opposite trek!
Elliot Harrison went 10-6 on his predictions for Week 15, bringing his record for the season to 148-74-2. How will he fare in Week 16? His picks are below.
SUNDAY, DEC. 23
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)
Ah, another classic division showdown that has featured downright crazy games over the years. My favorite era was the Esiason-Kosar catalogue, back when the old AFC Central was a constant dogfight between the Bengals, Browns, Oilers and Steelers. This year, neither Cincinnati nor Cleveland is vying for the division title, although the latter has the tiniest chance at making the postseason. Baker Mayfield and friends will need much help from their non-friends, starting with the Redskins, Chargers and Giants winning their games against the Browns' wild-card competition. Yes, they could be eliminated with a Titans or Ravens victory on Saturday. Still: Cleveland had better not look past Cincy, even at home, as Jeff Driskel is extremely viable, and Marvin Lewis' locker room has proven it isn't laying down for any team. Nick Chubb might find tougher sledding against the Bengals than you would've thought a month ago, too, as the Bengals have allowed less than 90 yards on the ground in three of their last four contests.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
The Buccaneers are out of the playoff race, but their ability to play spoiler in Dallas could be relevant to Dirk Koetter and/or Jameis Winston keeping their posts next year. The unexpected element of Indianapolis' devastation of the Cowboys' defense last week? How easily Marlon Mack found holes. Can Tampa's offensive line replicate that success? Can Lavonte David play like a man possessed -- as he did in Baltimore last week -- and keep Ezekiel Elliott in check? The deciding matchup: Mike Evans vs. Byron Jones. Shut Evans down, Dallas wins. Evans: 1,328 yards, despite musical chairs at QB.
Historical note: The Bucs and Cowboys faced each other in the playoffs in back-to-back years (1981-82). The first meeting was a 38-0 blowout by Dallas, the second a much closer affair in which Doug Williams was plagued by drops. It would turn out to be Williams' last game in Tampa, as then-owner Hugh Culverhouse didn't want to pay him. The strong-armed quarterback entered the USFL, before landing back in the NFL with the Redskins in 1986. The next season, Williams was standing on a field in San Diego, having just won Super Bowl MVP.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Ford Field (Detroit)
A central theme to Week 16 is the large amount of classic division matchups. In fact, Vikings-Lions dates back to the creation of the NFC Central during the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. That first year, Minnesota won the division and Detroit managed to make the playoffs as a wild card, but that was the Lions' last playoff appearance until 1982, while the Vikes took eight of the next 10 NFC Central titles. Mike Zimmer is trying to build the same legacy that Bud Grant was able to forge in Minnesota back then, but despite having a superior squad on paper, he's hanging on to wild-card hopes at 7-6-1. The Redskins and Eagles are nipping at the heels of the Viking playoff ship, so consider this weekend's game in Detroit a must-win for Minnesota. You might recall that Dalvin Cook returned against the Lions back in Week 9 after missing a month due to injury and ripped off that 70-yard run. Yeah, well, Snacks Harrison wasn't on the field for that play. Rushing yards might be harder to come by, which means Kirk Cousins must pull himself out of this November/December slump. He's really only balled out once during that time frame (the home win over the Packers).
Historical note: After the Lions made the playoffs in 1970, they were eliminated at the Cotton Bowl by one of the weirdest scores ever -- 5-0. It wasn't Mickey Lolich's turn in the rotation that day.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Mass.)
This AFC East clash is steeped in history, as these are two original AFL franchises. The Bills have upset the Patriots a time or three during the Belichick/Brady era, and certainly in the 59-year history of this rivalry. Not seeing it this week. Not sure if Tom Brady is hearing the proverbial whispers, but he certainly has watched the tape of last Sunday's underwhelming performance at Heinz. So has Buffalo's Sean McDermott, who will undoubtedly want DC Leslie Frazier to dial up a gaggle of blitz schemes to rattle the veteran quarterback. I don't anticipate the Bills playing the numbers game all the time in the secondary, solely relying on the front four to create pressure. The missing man in New England's offense who could play a huge role this week: James White, who has averaged 6.5 touches the last two games after getting 12.5 per game over the first 12 weeks. Brady will need to lean on his multi-talented back, especially with Josh Gordon suddenly out of the mix. Looking forward to seeing how the Patriots approach Josh Allen, who was quiet on the ground against the Lions last week. NE: Clinch AFC East with a win.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
Well, we will all find out together as a family unit if the Packers are mailing it in to close out the season. Green Bay faces a Todd Bowles production that gave the Texans all they could handle last Saturday (despite missing extra points and a grand opportunity to play spoiler). Not liking the Packers in this game. With no Aaron Jones, and with Aaron Rodgers and his wideouts clearly misconnecting, the Jets will close the deal this week. In order to do that, though, they cannot kill drives with the same dumb penalties they suffered last week (nine of those beauties versus Houston). Gang Green also must do a better job providing Sam Darnold time in the fourth quarter. Of course, the Packers aren't exactly trotting J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney out there, either.
Historical note: Last time these teams met at the Big Snoopy, Green Bay won 9-0. #Sanchize
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia)
Juicy interconference tilt, spiked with playoff spice: The Texans are trying to pack away the AFC South from those annoying Colts, while the Eagles' stunning win over the Rams -- coupled with an equally-surprising Seahawks loss to the 49ers -- puts the defending champs back in the running for an NFC wild-card slot. If Philadelphia's offensive line kicks ass like it did at the Coliseum, opening a few lanes for Josh Adams while providing Nick Foles ample time to find someone besidesZach Ertz, it's "Rocky" theme song time. Not an easy task, as the Texans' front four took over in the waning moments against the Jets. The Eagles must double DeAndre Hopkins and make someone else beat them. Not trusting Houston's offensive line to be the difference in this stiff road challenge, especially if Lamar Miller's a no-go.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) | Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, N.C.)
A game that appeared to be quite an attractive NFC South matchup when the schedules were released has lost its luster. The Panthers are not completely out of playoff contention, but they will need a helluva lot of help to make it into the postseason tournament. Not to mention, what chance does a team that's dropped six straight have of winning two in a row at this point -- *without* its franchise quarterback? The offense was already quite Christian McCaffrey-centric of late, given Cam Newton's arm issues over the past couple months -- what will this attack look like with Taylor Heinicke under center? Atlanta has firepower on paper, but Steve Sarkisian's group has been a shell of itself on the road, with Atlanta averaging a bland 20 points per game away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Hitting deep balls over the top has been the ticket against the Panthers, but Matt Ryan has been ineffective going deep lately ...
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis)
This could get gnarly awfully fast. The Giants played like dog-, er, poorly against Houston last week in front of their home crowd, despite the fact that they were still in the running for a playoff spot. The Colts did the exact opposite, imposing their will at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball against Dallas. The offensive line kept Andrew Luck's royal blue jersey nice and mint while plowing holes through a talented Cowboys front seven en route to 178 yards rushing. If Odell Beckham Jr. is absent again, Big Blue will be in 0-17 trouble again. (UPDATE: The Giants announced on Friday that Beckham won't play on Sunday.) The Colts didn't bottle up Ezekiel Elliott last week, but they performed viably enough to not let an elite RB1 beat them by making stops late in drives. A repeat job is in order with the baddest rookie running back in the league coming to town.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) | Hard Rock Stadium (Miami Gardens, Fla.)
Not gonna mislead you: This matchup could produce the fugliest offensive football display in years. Second prediction: Dolphins win. As awful as the Miami offense has been over the last month, the Jags' offense has been worse. Jacksonville has scored one offensive touchdown over the last three games, and even that was in garbage time against the Titans. The bright side for one of these unprolific attacks is the new running back Adam Gase unearthed last week in Minnesota, Kalen Ballage. The Arizona State product made the most of his first extended period of NFL action, piling up 123 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries. Play well, Kalen -- you are the universe's only hope. (For touchdowns in this game, anyway.) Dolphins' playoff outlook: Need to win both of their final games, then wait for the cavalry to arrive (Chargers and Redskins must win this week, for starters).
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) | State Farm Stadium (Glendale, Ariz.)
So, the Rams must be all angles of pissed off after the way they've played the last three weeks. The Cardinals are coming off a 40-14 loss that wasn't even that close, against a team that had dropped its previous five games. Oh, boy. Maybe Jared Goff continues his December doldrums and Arizona stays with the division bully. Or maybe Todd Gurley runs wild, Goff hits a few of his patented skinny-post bullets, and this NFC West "battle" is 30-nothin' at half. If the Cards are to carry even a semblance of a chance, OC Byron Leftwich must find a way to create a running game while fully knowing defenses aren't respecting the Josh Rosen-fueled passing game. The Cards' rushing yards over their last four games: 62, 182, 61 and 60. The anomaly there is from the win in Green Bay. Wins are anomalies in the desert these days.
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) | Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Nick Mullens has created his own legend in a city full of 'em at his position. OK, maybe that's a tad rich, but his play has surely exceeded not only fans' expectations, but, I'm guessing, those of his own coaching staff, as well. The kid rocked it last week in San Francisco more than Journey ever did. OK, maybe that's going a little far, too. Forgive the enthusiasm, though, for a first-year quarterback (afterthought) who is averaging nearly 300 yards passing during his six starts, winning three of them. His yards-per-attempt mark is an outstanding 8.6. His numbers are certainly commensurate with Jimmy Garoppolo's six-game showcase last year. Now, Mullens has yet to face a defense like this Bears group coming to town. As a whole, the Chicago defense is tops in the league in forcing three-and-outs, big plays allowed (20 or more yards), takeaways, points off turnovers and looking cool. Speaking of, Bears road whites at 49ers home reds is one of the most underrated uni matchups in football.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) | Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)
Another of Week 16's fun matchups, with the Steelers seeking to lock up another AFC North title. The division is theirs if they prevail in New Orleans and the Ravens fall against the Chargers. Pittsburgh's task will be quite tough, though, with the Saints looking to clinch home-field advantage. Drew Brees and the offense were slowed the last three weeks on the road, but should be more capable of returning to the 30-points-per-game threshold now that they are playing at the friendly confines. Pittsburgh had better not get off to the slow starts that have plagued Mike Tomlin's group during the second half of the season. To review, the Steelers have scored all of 20 points in the first quarter over their last five games. Meanwhile, the Saints are allowing a touch over 12 points per game over their last six.
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) | CenturyLink Field (Seattle)
This used to be such an enjoyable AFC West matchup. The single-game sack record was set during a Seahawks-Chiefs bout at Arrowhead Stadium, when Derrick Thomas grounded Seattle quarterback Dave Krieg seven times. Kansas City got to Philip Rivers repeatedly last week, but not when it counted, as the Chargers mounted two late touchdown drives to pull even atop the division. The Seahawks weren't any more clutch last week, falling to the 49ers and blowing a chance to all but guarantee a playoff spot. This will be the closest Patrick Mahomes will come to feeling what his counterparts deal with when they're calling signals at throaty Arrowhead. Although Mahomes played in Seattle during the preseason, when much of the country got an opportunity to see his rubber arm for the first time (his debut in 2017 came in Week 17, with hardly anyone outside of K.C. paying a whole lot of attention). The question here: How many drives will Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense receive to produce points, much less showcase the sophomore QB's arm talent? The Seahawks lead the NFL in rushing, putting the spotlight on an area of Kansas City's defense that has been downright terrible. The Chiefs allow 5 yards per carry and would be 32nd in rushing yards allowed if opponents weren't forced to throw so much to keep pace with Andy Reid's scoring machine.
MONDAY, DEC. 24
8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN) | Oakland Coliseum (Oakland, Calif.)
The Monday night crowd won't be getting a gem this week, although last week's Saints-Panthers matchup hardly registered as the Game of the Year. The Broncos rendered themselves as non-playoff contenders in losing at home to the Browns last week. Thus, there are no postseason ramifications resting on this outcome, only draft implications. On that note, the Raiders have proven they are not just playing for a top-five pick. In order to garner their fourth win of the season, the late James Garner's favorite team can't accumulate 90 yards worth of penalties like it did in Cincy. Nor can Jon Gruden ignore the run game, which has gained 55 and 68 yards in successive weeks. Going the other way: Phillip Lindsay has been held down as of late: 54 rushing yards total his last two times out. Maybe he's hit the rookie wall, or maybe he's going to bust out for 150 yards on this poor Oakland run defense. Hey, opponents have attempted just 416 passes against the Raiders, the least in the league. Hmm. Wonder why?
4:30 p.m. ET (NFL Network) | Nissan Stadium (Nashville, Tenn.)
Intriguing matchup in Nashville on the Saturday before Christmas. The season of giving came early for the Redskins' newly minted QB1, Josh Johnson, who was given his first start in seven years last weekend and regifted it in the form of a win for Jay Gruden and Co. Regifting: The spirit of the holidays. The 'Skins are fighting for their playoff lives, as are the Titans, who still have a small chance of winning the AFC South. The key for Washington will be Johnson's continued assimilation of the playbook on a short week, and whether Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen clog running lanes. Derrick Henry has rumbled for over four bills over the last two weeks, providing the grease for a stagnant passing game and a Tennessee defense that takes advantage of the added rest.
8:20 p.m. ET (NFL Network) | ROKiT Field at StubHub Center (Carson, Calif.)
Great game out west, all the way around. The Chargers' uber-aggressive edge defenders had better stay home more often than not, with Lamar Jackson back there for Baltimore. The Ravens got off to a slow start last week before piling up 165 rushing yards in the second half to steal the Bucs' booty. In order to steal this road game and stay in front in the wild-card race (if not jump to the top of the AFC North), the Ravens must chew up yards and clock on the ground, and not let Philip Rivers get hot. The beauty of limiting the opposition to, say, eight possessions: If the Bolts come out sluggish, they will lack the drives to get in gear. Doubly important, considering Rivers' backfield mates are banged up (although Melvin Gordon's returning to action this week). When the Chargers do mount a drive, don't think Baltimore has a corner who can box up Mike Williams in the red zone, other than maybe Jimmy Smith -- who will presumably be manning Keenan Allen. However it plays out, love this matchup.