Freitag, Dezember 19, 2008

Week 16 NFL Preview



It’s a two-game season.

September, October and November are long gone. Winter even starts this Sunday. If anything says “finality” in the NFL, that does. If you have playoff dreams, a loss this week or next can be dire.

“Time is running out,” says Denver Broncos cornerback DRE’ BLY. “We need to take care of business as fast as possible.”

Dre’ speaks for all 15 teams that are still in contention for the remaining eight playoff spots. Twelve out of this weekend’s 16 games play a role in tiebreaker scenarios. One of the biggest is the Carolina Panthers at New York Giants matchup on Sunday night (8:15 PM ET). These teams each have 11-3 records, the best in the NFC. So the winner Sunday night is the top seed in the conference.

“That’s the NFL,” says Panthers quarterback JAKE DELHOMME. “That’s what you want. You live to play in these situations.”

Some of those big “situations” in Week 16:

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (10-4) at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (5-9) (Thursday night, NFL Network, 8:00 PM ET)

STORYLINE: There is nothing the Jags would like to do more than put a crimp in the Colts’ playoff express.

These guys are big-time AFC South rivals. Jacksonville finished second to the division-winning Colts the past four years. Of course, that will not happen this season, but that does not mean the Jags will be anything but primed for the matchup. They come off a victory over Green Bay and went into Indianapolis in Week 3 to post a 23-21 win with RB MAURICE JONES-DREW accounting for 161 scrimmage yards.

Thing is, Jacksonville will be facing the hottest team in the NFL right now. The Colts – a win earns them a playoff berth -- have won seven in a row and look to be getting all their weapons together for playoff possibilities. Nothing says that more than the performance posted by Indy TE DALLAS CLARK last Sunday – a franchise tight-end record 12 catches for 142 yards and an acrobatic TD.

Favorite on the road: Colts RB JOSEPH ADDAI says his favorite away game is Jacksonville, “because hearing the band there is just like being back in college and the Jaguars always play us tough.”

BALTIMORE RAVENS (9-5) at DALLAS COWBOYS (9-5) (Saturday night, NFL Network, 8:00 PM ET)

STORYLINE: So long, Texas Stadium. But there’s some unfinished business to take care of.



THE FINAL SUNDAY OF THE 2008 NFL SEASON (December 28) will mark to the day the 50th anniversary of the “Greatest Game Ever Played,” the 1958 NFL Championship sudden-death overtime between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants.

LENNY MOORE, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who started at halfback for the Colts in the game, remembers the impact the day had even on those who played in it: “I wouldn’t have thought that it would have taken on the excitement that it has over the years. There were things that happened, like it being the first overtime game. It was also the advent of the two-minute drill that JOHNNY UNITAS perfected to a great degree. The more I looked at it, the more I started agreeing that this was quite a game.”


Yes, it’s the final regular-season game of the famed stadium with the hole in the roof – the home of Landry & Jimmy, Troy, Emmitt and Michael. There will be a postgame celebration in which all five-year Cowboys will be introduced to the fans with ceremonies to follow.

The game? It’s an important one, indeed. Both clubs are in the thick of the playoff hunt. With a win and other scenarios, the Cowboys are in the playoffs.

Two stellar defenses will be in action. The Ravens have not allowed a 100-yard rusher for an NFL current-best 33 consecutive games. The ’Boys have not allowed one in five straight. Where Dallas is excelling on defense right now is in getting to the passer. The Cowboys lead the league with 53 sacks, primarily from 2009 NFL All-Star LB DE MARCUS WARE (a league-leading 19.0 sacks). Ware’s double-teaming by opponents is opening up lanes for teammates.


STORYLINE: Going for the playoffs!

That’s the main thing for both 9-5 teams, but there are a lot of interesting subplots to this one. First, who will start at quarterback for Minnesota – the starter for most of the year, GUS FREROTTE, who missed last week with a back injury, or the man he replaced in Week 3, TARVARIS JACKSON? Jackson started for Frerotte last Sunday and impressed everybody with a career-high four touchdown passes.

Then there is Atlanta’s No. 1 NFL rush game against the league’s No. 1 rush defense. And the top two runners in the NFL – both ’09 All-Stars -- will be in action: Minnesota’s ADRIAN PETERSON (1,581 yards) and Atlanta’s MICHAEL TURNER (1,421).

With a win, the Vikings clinch their first division title since 2000. “The playoffs are right there for the taking,” says Minnesota TE VISANTHE SHIANCOE. “It’s in our control.”

CAROLINA PANTHERS (11-3) at NEW YORK GIANTS (11-3) (Sunday night, NBC, 8:15 PM ET)

STORYLINE: Top seed at stake!

Unless there’s a tie, the winner of this game claims the No. 1 seed in the NFC, which means, of course, a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s a heck of a prize.

One team – the Panthers – is hot with two weeks to go. The Giants have somewhat cooled off the past two weeks, losing their last two after winning seven in a row. But, of course, this is the NFL – things could reverse in a minute!

New York’s sixth-ranked defense will have to contend with the three-headed monster created by their former defensive coordinator/Panthers coach JOHN FOX. RBs DE ANGELO WILLIAMS (a league-leading 16 TDs) and rookie JONATHAN STEWART have combined for 1,980 yards – the highest-producing rush tandem in the NFL. But the Giants can’t concentrate on them alone, or All-Star WR STEVE SMITH (138.8 average in the past four games) can kill you.

That all said, these are the Super Bowl champs Carolina will be facing, with experience in weathering brief squalls. “I don’t worry about our confidence,” says Giants All-Star QB ELI MANNING. “This is a crazy sport. You go through periods where you struggle.”

GREEN BAY PACKERS (5-9) at CHICAGO BEARS (8-6) (Monday night, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET)

STORYLINE: Bears want to get to 10.

“Most teams that get 10 wins get into the playoffs,” says Chicago head coach LOVIE SMITH. “That’s the best we can do.”

The scenarios for a playoff berth are tough for the Bears. But they look like they have hit their stride at just the right time. They have won two in a row and three of their past four. In those four, the Bears have gotten a jump on their opponents by outscoring them in the first quarter, 38-3.

A big part of their offense, of course, has been the NFC’s leading rookie rusher MATT FORTÉ (1,115 yards), who tops all NFL rookie rushers in scrimmage yards (1,539) and rushing first downs (55).

But…this is the Bears’ biggest rival. The teams have played more – 175 times – than any other NFL clubs. The Packers handed Chicago its worst loss of the season on November 16, a 37-3 thrashing. “They did whip up on us pretty good last time,” says Bears WR-KR DEVIN HESTER. “We still have that in the back of our heads. We’re their rival team, so they’re probably going to make sure we don’t have a chance of making the playoffs.”

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