By Ron Johnson
We have three weeks left in this edition of the NFL, and to this point, only a handful of teams have punched their ticket to the “Midwinter Madness” known as the NFL Playoffs. After the surprises of last week, what will we have in store when the postseason is on the line? This weekend, we will truly find out which teams have been naughty, and which have been nice.
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Thursday Night Football on Prime
Saints vs. Rams
When the Rams first migrated back to Los Angeles, they punched their ticket to the Super Bowl against the Patriots by defeating the Saints in controversial fashion (or Sports Karma depending on who you ask). This Thursday night, the rivalry gets renewed. But the stakes, as well as the players have changed drastically as Derek Carr looks to get the Saints back into playoff contention against Matthew Stafford and the Rams. For the Rams, their quest for the postseason is not over.
Currently the holders of the seventh and final playoff spot, LA needs to win this game to stay ahead of the Saints as well as the Seahawks. For the Saints, a win puts them neck and neck with the Buccaneers for the NFC South crown. The downside for the Rams? No Kyren Williams in the backfield as he went back on the IR after last week. The upside? They still got Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua and Demarcus Robinson in the absence of Tutu Atwell who is still nursing an injury.
Season’s Beatings Saturday Night
Bengals vs. Steelers
We did promise some beatings this holiday season, and this one will be no different. While the Bengals have found their glory in the hands of Jake Browning, the Steelers are finding it very hard to keep their fans happy this holiday season. After losing a pair of games to sub-.500 teams a few weeks ago, they lost a major one to the Colts last week. These losses start to pile up and could cost Mike Tomlin his job in Pittsburgh.
As for the Bengals, they found their golden goose in the form of Browning as he has the team thinking playoffs and possibly division crown. A win for the Bengals should punch their ticket to the postseason, while a Pittsburgh win should keep them alive for another week at least.
Bills vs. Chargers
The Buffalo Bills have started to come alive at the right time. They recovered just in time to stop the mighty Dallas Cowboys on a cold, rainy Sunday. Whoever made this Christmas Wish deserves to put someone through a snow-covered table this weekend. The Chargers are not only back to square one but also possibly courting the mind of Belichick as Los Angeles finally cut the cord with Brandon Staley.
A massive season’s beatdown by your division rival may help that along. While the Chargers are just trying to survive the remainder of the season, the Bills are trying to move up in the playoff standings and no longer be on the bubble but in the party.
NFL On Christmas Eve
Colts vs. Falcons
While one team is enjoying their backup quarterback, another is debating on whether they should go back to their backup. The Colts had a fun Saturday despite Michael Pittman getting decimated, and Gardner Minshew is having a fun time away from Jacksonville. The Falcons could not seem to get out of their way as they lost a shocker to the Panthers in a USFL like stadium (aka it was hella empty).
In any event, the Falcons are still in the weakest division in the NFL, so there really isn’t much reason to worry…yet. A loss for the Falcons could turn out the lights on a postseason berth, while a win could keep the lights on until at least the afternoon games. For the Colts, it is all about grabbing a wide open AFC South division that Jacksonville clearly does not want this year.
Packers vs. Panthers
The Packers lost a heartbreaker to the Bucs last week and put themselves on the deepest bubble in the process. The Panthers won in an empty stadium, but a win is a win, right? For Green Bay, they need to win this and hope for some help as they are trying to get back to their dominance, this time with Jordan Love. The Panthers won their second game of the year, and while they are not thinking the postseason, they can at least improve their chances of getting the top pick in next year’s draft.
Browns vs. Texans
Both teams grinded to huge wins last week as the Browns defeated the Bears (despite Joe Flacco), and the Texans managed to overcome the absence of CJ Stroud to get a win behind the arm of journeyman Case Keenum. Despite all this, the two former teammates will take the field looking to improve their standing in the playoff picture. For Joe Flacco, he has to earn his job every single week it appears. For Case Keenum, it is all about showing that he can still go, and if he goes the Baker Mayfield route, that gritty win over the Titans last week should help his case.
Lions vs. Vikings
Did anyone expect this game to be this intense? In fact, did they expect the records they got in this one? We all thought the Lions were destined to be good, but we didn’t expect them to be gelling this quickly. A win for them on Sunday should give them the North or lock up a playoff spot in the process. Standing in their way is a team that collapsed late last week in the loss to Cincinnati.
There is no telling which Vikings team will show up, and there is no telling if Justin Jefferson will return or not. But one thing is for sure: The Lions are hungry, and they still want those purple kneecaps. Will the Army of Skoal be cheering after the game ends or booing like last year’s late matchup with the Colts (up until the point when they came back and won in OT of course)?
Commanders vs. Jets
The Washington Commanders may be saying they’ll stick with Sam Howell, but Jacoby Brissett is the only reason they were able to comeback and make it a game against the Rams. Now they get to entertain the lowly Jets who have had the worst year of everybody. Despite the high hopes the organization had at the start of the season, the absence of Aaron Rodgers has left a dark cloud looming over the franchise.
But that dark cloud is looming over Washington as well as many are expecting Ron Rivera to be given his walking papers soon as well. Either way, this is going to be one of those games that one can bypass if they have something else to do.
Seahawks vs. Titans
The Titans could not survive overtime against the Texans, and because of this, they are all but eliminated from playoff contention. But that doesn’t mean they don’t feel like playing spoiler. In this game, they face a Seahawks team coming off a shocking win over the Eagles on Monday night.
Drew Lock has stepped up in his time with Seattle to lead them in their hunt for the postseason, but Will Levis is stepping up as well. A win for the Seahawks keeps the pressure on the Rams and everyone else trying to fight for that seventh spot. But a loss could prove consequential for Seattle’s chances at returning to the postseason.
Jaguars vs. Buccaneers
Will the real Jacksonville Jaguars please stand up? In fact, will they please show up? After getting a lot of cheers after their London adventure, the Jags are no longer in charge of the AFC South. In fact, that less-than-lackluster performance on Monday night is living proof that there is a problem in AEW Country. As for the Bucs, they now have control of the NFC South for now.
A win for Baker and Co. could lead them to the postseason once again, which in turn should shut Tom Brady up for at least a few minutes. The Jags need a win in this game because they now have Indy and Houston breathing down their necks, and either team could overtake them for the top spot by the end of the week.
Cardinals vs. Bears
The Cardinals are bad, but they also know that they will be Top 10 in the NFL Draft in the spring. They need more help than normal which is why they could be wheeling and dealing between now and Draft Day. The Bears are trying to turn it around, but they still consistently find ways to shoot themselves in the foot. In this edition of Season’s Beatings, these two teams will most likely beat each other up so bad that for once, the points won’t matter.
Cowboys vs. Dolphins
One lifetime ago, the Miami Dolphins defeated the Dallas Cowboys…on Thanksgiving…in the snow…in Irving, Texas. Yes, that was a fun game and a quiet dinner at the Bloodline Household. This time around, the stakes couldn’t be any higher. After getting decimated by Buffalo last week, Dallas looks to right the ship. After tearing apart the Jets piece by piece, the Dolphins look to move closer to that elusive top spot currently held by Baltimore.
If Dallas wants to prove that they are playoff ready, they will have to find a way to beat the games that count on the road. Miami will have to utilize Jalen Waddle once again, and he’s good with that. But above all else, Dallas needs this win in an effort to finally get Micah Parsons to shut his piehole long enough to enjoy a win.
Sunday Night Football
Patriots vs. Broncos
The Patriots survived a dogfight with the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite taking the loss, the Pats at least made it look like they have high hopes for their first season without Bill Belichick. The Broncos? Well, they didn’t even bother showing up on Saturday, and the big story of that game was the fact that Sean Payton spent more time yelling at Russell Wilson than not.
While the loss sent the Broncos to the bubble, they are not out of the hunt just yet. A win over the Patriots could keep things interesting as the three teams above them (Colts, Texans and Bills) could easily lose on Sunday. Who will get the W on this foggy Christmas Eve in the Mile High City??
Monday Night Christmas
Raiders vs. Chiefs
The Raiders stepped their game up and became the Grinch in the Chargers’ Christmas Story. But they also became Santa as they gifted LA the pink slip for Brandon Staley. So I guess they won as did the Chargers? On the other side of it, you got the Chiefs who will look to utilize their own version of Rudolph and try to stay on the winning track en route to defending their World Championship. The Raiders may be in theory out of the playoff race, but as we’ve seen over the years, anything is possible in the Black Hole…just too bad that this one will be played on a potential snowy Christmas morning in Arrowhead.
Giants vs. Eagles
The Giants were riding high with Tommy DeVito under center, but after a trip to the Bayou, they are hoping that he will still be whole enough to help them not have nightmares of Season’s Past. Every time these two teams meet, there’s always moments being brought to forefront. Philly is on a three-game losing streak and needs a win in the worst way.
Even though they have clinched a playoff spot, the Eagles do not want to relinquish the NFC East to the Cowboys. And while both teams split the season series, this is a division that could come down to the end of the season…where two of the Eagles final three games happen to be against these very same Giants.
Monday Night Football
Ravens vs. 49ers
In yet another Super Bowl rematch, we have the craziest Super Bowl of the modern era. After Beyonce rocked the party, there was nothing but pure darkness for a good chunk of time. After the lights came on, Colin Kaepernick and the Niners made it a fight with the Ravens, who were playing their last Super Bowl with Ray Lewis and first with Joe Flacco.
This time around, we have Lamar Jackson and Brock Purdy. Both quarterbacks have something to prove to themselves and the critics as this game could potentially be a Super Bowl Preview. The Ravens have been flying high all season, while the Niners have started getting their footing at the right time. Baltimore has to win this to keep Miami and KC at bay as well as the Browns and Bengals in their own division.
San Francisco has to win to keep Dallas, Philly and Detroit at bay. With so much on the line and so many teams looking to overtake their spot, who will be acknowledged as the Tribal Chief at the next Holiday Cookout? Who will get the better gift from Santa this go-around?