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NFL 2012 Season — Week 16 Preview

NFL 2012 Week 16
Alex Trautwig, Patrick Smith / Getty Images

There are just two more weeks to go in the 2012 NFL season, and several teams can claim playoff berths with a victory this Sunday. Here’s a preview of all of this week’s action:

Saturday, December 22

Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions — 8:30 P.M.

Ford Field, Detroit
Atlanta (12-2) can clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win. Thanks to the potent combination of quarterback Matt Ryan and receiver Roddy White, the Falcons are fifth in the league in pass offense at 287.5 yards per game. The Lions’ defense gives up 27.1 points per game, tied with the Saints for most in the NFC. Detroit (4-10) receiver Calvin Johnson needs just 182 receiving yards in the next two games to break Jerry Rice’s NFL single-season record of 1,848. The Atlanta defense gives up just 18.5 points per game, the fourth-best average in the league.

Sunday, Dec. 23

New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys — 1 P.M.

Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas
Even in a disappointing season, NFL passing yardage leader Drew Brees has New Orleans (6-8) leading the NFC in scoring at 27.8 points per game. The Cowboys secondary can be inconsistent and has just seven interceptions on the season. Dallas (8-6) is locked in a three-way tie for the NFC East lead with the Redskins and Giants, but the Cowboys will be the division champs if they win their final two games. Quarterback Tony Romo has 12 touchdown passes and three interceptions in the past six games. The Saints rank at the bottom of the NFC in points allowed and have yielded the most yards in the NFL this season.

Tennessee Titans at Green Bay Packers — 1 P.M.

Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
Tennessee (5-9) is led by running back Chris Johnson, whose 1,159 yards are third in the AFC. The Packers’ defense likes to apply pressure on the quarterback. Their 39 sacks are tied for fifth-most in the NFL. NFL passer rating leader Aaron Rodgers has thrown 32 touchdowns against just eight interceptions for Green Bay (10-4). The Titans’ defense has picked off 16 passes, but it has also given up 28.3 points per game.

Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs — 1 P.M.

Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
Indianapolis (9-5) can clinch an AFC Wild Card spot with a victory or a Steelers’ loss. Quarterback Andrew Luck leads the offense, but he has been sacked 37 times this season. Colts’ center Samson Satele and right offensive tackle Winston Justice could both miss this week’s game. The Chiefs’ defense ranks seventh in the league against the pass. Brady Quinn is 1-5 as the starting quarterback for Kansas City (2-12). He suffered bruised ribs in last week’s loss to the Raiders. If Quinn can’t play Sunday, Ricky Stanzi could start in his place. The Colts allow 124.7 rushing yards per game, so Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles could have a big game.

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins — 1 P.M.

Sun Life Stadium, Miami
Running back C.J. Spiller is the most potent offensive weapon for Buffalo (5-9), but the Bills have played from behind so frequently that they haven’t been able to use him that often. The Dolphins’ defense ranks eighth in the league against the run, allowing 100.9 yards per game. Barely alive in the playoff hunt, Miami (6-8) may showcase running back Reggie Bush in their game plan against a Bills’ defense that ranks 30th in the NFL against the run, allowing 144.1 yards per game. Bush has 1,122 yards from scrimmage this season. The Dolphins beat the Bills, 19-14, in Week 11.

San Diego Chargers at N.Y. Jets — 1 P.M.

MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
San Diego (5-9) has the 28th-ranked offense in the league, averaging 308.8 yards per game. Chargers running back Ryan Mathews and wide receiver Malcom Floyd will each miss the game with injuries. The Jets defense is eighth in the NFL in total yards allowed with 329.8 yards per game, but their run defense is weak, ranking 29th overall. Now that they have been eliminated from playoff contention, New York (6-8) will start Greg McElroy at quarterback in place of the struggling Mark Sanchez. The Jets offense ranks 30th in the league in total yards per game. The Chargers defense ranks seventh in the league against the run, allowing just 97.0 yards per game.

Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles — 1 P.M.

Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Washington (8-6) can win the NFC East with victories in its final two games. Robert Griffin III should be back at quarterback for the Redskins, but Kirk Cousins is ready to start in case Griffin’s knee hasn’t mended. Washington is fifth in the league in scoring, averaging 27.2 points per game. Philadelphia (4-10) has improved on defense over the past two weeks, but the team’s turnover margin is minus-22. Running back LeSean McCoy, who suffered a concussion in a 31-6 loss to the Redskins in Week 11, could return for the Eagles.

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers — 1 P.M.

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
Cincinnati (8-6) can clinch a playoff berth—and eliminate the Steelers—with a victory. Quarterback Andy Dalton leads a Bengals offense that averages 25.4 points per game. The Steelers have the NFL’s top-ranked overall defense, but they’ll be without cornerback Ike Taylor, who has missed the past two games with a fractured ankle. Pittsburgh (7-7) beat Cincinnati, 24-17, in Week 7. The Steelers can make the playoffs if they win their final two games. Running back Rashard Mendenhall returns for Pittsburgh, The Steelers will need a better rushing attack to keep Geno Atkins and the top-ranked Bengals pass rush from swarming after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

St. Louis Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 1 P.M.

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
St. Louis (6-7-1) ranks 27th in scoring, with 18.4 points per game. Rams’ running back Steven Jackson has been the best offensive performer on his team this season. He needs just 91 rushing yards to reach the 1,000-yard mark. The Buccaneers possess the league’s top-ranked run defense, allowing just 83.3 yards per game. Tampa Bay (6-8) has lost four consecutive games. Quarterback Josh Freeman has completed just 51.3 percent of his passes and committed six turnovers in those games. St. Louis leads the NFC in sacks with 41.

Oakland Raiders at Carolina Panthers — 1 P.M.

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Thanks to quarterback Carson Palmer, Oakland (4-10) has the league’s seventh-ranked pass offense, averaging 270.9 passing yards per game. The Panthers rank 10th in pass defense, but they have just nine interceptions on the season. Cam Newton is the focal point of the offense for Carolina (5-9), but the Panthers have the league’s ninth-ranked rushing attack at 121.6 yards per game. The Raiders’ suspect defense will be hard pressed to repeat its performance last Sunday, when it held the Chiefs to just 10 yards rushing.

New England Patriots at Jacksonville Jaguars — 1 P.M.

EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
New England (10-4) is still in the hunt for a first-round playoff bye, but they’ll need help. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been nearly flawless while guiding the NFL’s highest-scoring offense to a 36.1 points per game average. The Jaguars yield 394.1 total yards per game, the most in the AFC. Jacksonville (2-12) has been more consistent with Chad Henne at quarterback, but the Jaguars still average just 15.6 points and 284.1 total yards per game, both totals rank next-to-last in the NFL. The Patriots run defense ranks 11th in the league, but its pass defense is the AFC’s worst, yielding 270.4 yards per game.

Minnesota Vikings at Houston Texans — 1 P.M.

Reliant Stadium, Houston
Houston (12-2) can clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win or a loss from both the Broncos and the Patriots. Thanks to Arian Foster, the Texans have the AFC’s best rushing offense, averaging 142 yards per game. The Vikings defense must cut drives short; Houston leads the league in average time-of-possession at 34.44 minutes per game. Adrian Peterson supplies the offense for Minnesota (8-6). The NFL’s leading rusher needs 294 rushing yards in the final two weeks to break the NFL’s single-season mark of 2,105 set by Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams in 1984. The Texans rank seventh overall in team defense, but they have been more vulnerable to the pass, than the run.

Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos — 4:05 P.M.

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has thrown five interceptions in his last four games for Cleveland (5-9). The Browns’ offense has struggled to score this season, topping 30 points just twice. Broncos’ linebacker Von Miller is second in the AFC with 16 sacks. Denver (11-3) can clinch a first-round bye with a win and a Patriots’ loss. Quarterback Peyton Manning has had another MVP-level season, with an AFC-best 31 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions. The Browns have the NFL’s 25th-ranked pass defense.

Chicago Bears at Arizona Cardinals — 4:25 P.M.

U of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Chicago (8-6) has lost five of six games, but remains in playoff contention. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has thrown four interceptions in his last four games. The Cardinals have the NFL’s fourth-ranked pass defense. Their 22 interceptions lead the league. Arizona (5-9) has the lowest scoring offense in the NFC at 16.0 points per game. They average a league-low 80.0 rushing yards per game. Chicago has the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense, allowing just 319.6 total yards per game.

N.Y. Giants at Baltimore Ravens — 4:25 P.M.

M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
New York (8-6) can make the playoffs by winning their final two games. Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning has been woefully inconsistent for the Giants this season. He has 20 touchdown passes and 20 turnovers. The Ravens defense is ranked 26th overall in the league, but it could benefit from the return of injured linebacker Ray Lewis this Sunday. Baltimore (9-5) can clinch the AFC North with a win. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has 18 turnovers this season, including six in his last four games. With Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora leading the way, the Giants pass rush has recorded 32 sacks this season.

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks — 8:20 P.M.

CenturyLink Field, Seattle
San Francisco (10-3-1) can wrap up the NFC West title with a victory. The 49ers offense is much less predictable with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. He’ll face a Seahawks defense that is tied with San Francisco for fewest average points allowed (15.6) and third-overall in total yards allowed per game. Seattle (9-5) can clinch an NFC playoff berth with a victory. The Seahawks have scored more than 50 points in consecutive weeks. The 49ers pass rush will try to rattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. San Francisco beat the Seahawks, 13-6, in Week 7.

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