With NFL Week 16 upon us, we are certainly in crunch time. But a few teams that seem headed in the right direction are actually vulnerable.
Can we safely assume the Buccaneers will pick right up where they left off before losing to the Cowboys? Will the Raiders knock out a hot Colts team? Why are the Chiefs and Steelers vulnerable in division showdowns against the Broncos and Ravens? Who is more vulnerable when the Lions and Cowboys play?
Which five hot teams could go cold in NFL Week 16?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs have won five of six, with the lone loss coming in a close road game against the 12-2 Cowboys. So, getting back on track against the 6-8 New Orleans Saints seems like a given.
Unfortunately for Tampa, this win is anything but guaranteed.
The two teams played only two weeks ago. In that game, Drew Brees threw three interceptions and no touchdowns. The Saints also rushed for a grand total of 31 yards. New Orleans lost the turnover battle 3-0.
Yet, despite that and the fact that the game was at home, the Bucs couldn’t put the game away until its final minute.
Drew Brees is PICKED OFF…
— NFL (@NFL) December 12, 2016
The New Orleans offense is generally quite prolific in the Superdome. In 2016, the Saints have averaged better than 36 points per game at home.
That doesn’t mean that Tampa can’t win this game. But expect the Buccaneers to be in a fight that comes down to the final few possessions. Tampa could well win a game like that, but it will be vulnerable until the final minutes.
The Colts have won four of six. Indianapolis’ last two victories have come by a combined 75-16 margin. But with a road game against the Oakland Raiders, this upcoming game figures to be a completely different animal.
Despite being 11-3 and having a playoff appearance clinched, the Raiders still have a lot to play for. Oakland currently holds the AFC’s No. 2 seed but is also in play for the top spot. Still, a slip up from the Raiders could mean a wild card spot and no home games in the playoffs. They’re going to be focused.
To win this game, Indianapolis is going to have to top Oakland in a shootout. With Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton going against a shaky secondary, that’s certainly not impossible. But the Raiders are adept at winning high-scoring games, too. Oakland has scored 26.9 points per game, trailing only the Saints and Atlanta Falcons.
The Raiders will also be going against a Colts’ defense that is 27th in passing yards allowed, 24th in yards allowed per attempt and 25th in opponent’s passer rating. So, while Luck and Hilton figure to have big days, don’t expect Derek Carr and Amari Cooper to be shut down.
This game figures to be high scoring, and with that, neither defense is likely to have a great day. So, the defense that can make a few big plays figures to be the difference maker. Given that Oakland is at home and has Khalil Mack, the Raiders defense gets a sizable edge coming in, especially against a poor Indianapolis offensive line.
The Colts are still alive in the playoff picture, but their chances are remote. Maintaining that hope will be an uphill battle on Saturday.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Denver Broncos can finish the season 2-0 and still miss the playoffs, and a Sunday night loss to Kansas City would end their season. An animal is often most dangerous when its wounded.
The Chiefs have won eight of 10, losing only two 19-17 games. They’re certainly a hot team but are not unbeatable.
Only two of those wins — both against the Raiders — were terribly convincing. One of those wins came in Week 12 against the Broncos. In that game, Kansas City needed to score a last second touchdown (and two-point conversion) to force overtime. Then, Cairo Santos narrowly made a game winning field goal to keep the game from finishing in a tie.
We are pretty sure he called the bank shot before he kicked it! https://t.co/HVTo4dWlTf
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) November 28, 2016
So, the Broncos have already established that they’re about even with the Chiefs.
Denver’s offense has struggled throughout the year. Really, there’s no reason to think that Trevor Siemian and company are going to break out in a big way.
But Von Miller and the Broncos’ defense will keep the game close. That unit has been stellar all year. Expect to see more of that on Sunday, and realistically, Denver’s defense could well make enough plays to lead the Broncos to a much needed win.
Over the last five games, Le’Veon Bell has been spectacular. He has carried the ball 141 times, rushing for 713 yards — or five yards per carry — with five touchdowns. Realistically, no defense can completely shut him down.
But the Baltimore Ravens do have a run defense that can keep Bell from going too crazy. They rank second in both total rushing yards allowed (1,150) and yards per attempt (3.5).
A sound strategy for the Ravens would be to make Ben Roethlisberger beat them.
The Steelers are on a five-game winning streak. But Ben Roethlisberger hasn't been terribly sharp. pic.twitter.com/ejhqM6Tj9d
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) December 20, 2016
Even a cold Big Ben is more than capable of putting points on the board. That’s undeniable. But the Baltimore pass defense is no joke, either. It ranks 10th in yards allowed (3,227), fifth in yards per attempt (6.7) and 11th in opponent’s passer rating (85.1).
It also can’t be ignored that the Ravens have beaten the Steelers four times in a row.
Now, does that make Pittsburgh due for a win? Maybe.
But this Christmas Day game figures to be an absolute slugfest. The Steelers may win, but they’ll have to grind out a victory. That certainly makes their five-game winning streak quite vulnerable.
On November 6, the Cowboys went on the road and handled the Cleveland Browns 35-10. It was their seventh win in a row. Dallas is 5-1 since that game, so we can’t exactly say that Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and company have completely cooled down. We can’t say that the Cowboys have been unbeatable, either.
All but one of Dallas’ wins in the current 5-1 stretch have been by six points or fewer. Not including the one loss, the Cowboys have outscored their opponents by 28 points, or 5.6 points per win. They’re very good, but are not dominating. A good team can beat Dallas.
The Detroit Lions are a good team. In fact, the Lions are similar the Cowboys. Detroit is 9-5. Only two of those games (one win, one loss) have been decided by more than seven points.
So, what are the chances that these two teams will play a game that results in a blowout? It sure doesn’t seem that likely.
If we can learn anything at all from the seasons that these two teams have had, it’s that a game between them will be close. Like so many games these teams play, this contest will likely be decided late. It could well come down to the team that has the ball last.
Someone is going to win it, but both teams are vulnerable. Dallas should have its guard up. The Cowboys are on upset alert.