- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
- 0 Shares
Editor's note: ESPN senior NFL writer John Clayton's weekly "First And 10" column takes you around the league with a look at the best game of the week followed by primers for 10 other games. Here's his look at Week 16.
First ... Kansas City Chiefs at Minnesota Vikings: Perhaps the biggest highlight of the NFL training camp tour was a two-day stop in River Falls, Wis. The Chiefs were hosting the Vikings in a two-day scrimmage.
Both teams were on the rise, and both teams showed their strengths and weaknesses. Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper put on a great deep passing display, hitting Randy Moss, Kelly Campbell and others. Chiefs quarterback Trent Green picked apart the Vikings pass defense with an array or short and intermediate passes.
This looks like an old American Football League game. It should be an offensive show and it could be a defensive coach's nightmare.
The Vikings rank first in the NFL offensively. They average 391.6 yards a game. Culpepper has 21 touchdown passes and a 95.9 quarterback rating. He's averaging 7.6 yards an attempt. As a team, the Vikings average 25.9 points a game. Few in football are as successful at completing long passes without interceptions than Culpepper.
But the Chiefs might be the NFL's best offensive show. Green is a surgeon at quarterback, carving up defenses by spreading passes to his many offensive weapons. The Chiefs lead the league with a 30.9 scoring average. Priest Holmes has rushed for 22 touchdowns.
The two teams have different styles but similar results.
And defensively, each team doesn't match up well against the other. The Chiefs, who have struggled against the run of late, have major problems covering deep passes with their cornerbacks. The Chiefs rank 28th on defense, giving up 356.9 yards a game. They've allowed 16 touchdown passes and their secondary is giving up 211 yards a game.
Their big challenge is containing Moss in the Vikings' most important game in a couple of years. The Vikings face the possible embarrassment of being only the second team to start 6-0 and not make the playoffs. They need to get to 10 wins to secure the NFC North division title because the Packers are in a good position to win their final two.
Two weeks ago, the Vikings stuffed the Seahawks, 34-7, in the Metrodome. The defense contained the potent Seahawks offense with well-timed, effective blitzes.
The Chiefs won't be as easy to control. Green is a master of picking up the blitz and getting the ball to Holmes.
Defensively, the Vikings have problems although they have only surrendered 20 points in their past two games. The Chiefs need this game to make sure they have at least a playoff bye week and keep alive their chances to get home-field advantage during the playoffs.
Expect a high-scoring shootout.
And 10. Cincinnati Bengals at St. Louis Rams: Months ago, no one imagined that this game would have any magnitude. For the Bengals, beating the Rams could be a defining moment in team history. It would put them in the driver's seat as far as winning the AFC North over Baltimore because they currently hold a tie-breaker. A home win against the Browns in the final week of the season would give them an amazing 10th win. Here's the problem. Does anyone think that the Bengals can break up the 13-game home winning streak of the Rams? Probably not. Sure, Marc Bulger is going through some growing pains as the Rams starter. He occasionally gets blind-sided against the blitz. Mike Martz recently had to work on his mechanics dropping back to pass. But Bulger wins. He's 17-3 as a starter and the team seems to have more and more confidence in him during the final minutes of games. He's won five games in the past two years after trailing in the fourth quarter. This is an interesting matchup for the Rams defense. The Rams have added more 4-1-6 schemes after losing middle linebacker Robert Thomas. That matches up well against the Bengals three-receiver unit.
9. Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts: Mike Shanahan needs Clinton Portis. Portis' 38th carry last Sunday against the Browns might have been a complete disaster. He sprained an ankle and a knee trying to squeeze out one meaningless carry during a game-winning drive in overtime that ended with a field goal. Portis is the Broncos offense. He's rushed for 1,591 yards. He's scored 14 touchdowns. He's averaging 5.5 yards a carry. Most people, except the confident Portis, believe he will miss this Sunday night game and could be absent in the season-finale against the Packers. The weird part of this game is that if the Broncos make the playoffs as the sixth seed, they could have to come back to Indianapolis during the first week of the playoffs. Without Portis, the Broncos can manage a satisfactory running attack with Mike Anderson, but the offense won't have the same kind of explosive threat that Portis provides. And to play the Colts, teams need explosive long plays. Peyton Manning is staking his claim on the MVP award. He's hot. He leads the NFL with 28 touchdown passes. He's completing 67.5 percent of his passes. With 3,901 passing yards, Manning is on pace for his fifth consecutive 4,000-yard season. The Colts weakness at the moment is stopping the run. That won't be as much of a problem if Portis isn't available.
8. Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: Dave Wannstedt might have lost his reign as head coach by losing the Monday night game to the Eagles, but he vows that this team won't quit. Still, the Dolphins can't avoid that December fade tag. They are now 0-2 in December this year, and even winning their last two games won't give them a winning record in December. Still, beating the Bills on the road and the Jets at home next week, will at least give the Dolphins a long-shot chance at making the playoffs. The Dolphins know that they have to get to 10 wins to secure the last wild-card spot and that might not be enough if the Broncos win another game. The Dolphins lose to the Broncos based on tie-breakers. This game is sort of a downer emotionally. The Dolphins are down because of their poor defensive performance against the Eagles, surrendering an uncharacteristic 34 points. The Bills are down because they are 6-8 and have clearly underachieved. Gregg Williams may have lost a late bid to keep his head coaching job by blowing an 11-point lead last week against the Titans. The Bills defense has been very good this season. It ranks second in the league, allowing 273.1 yards a game and it is allowing only 16.3 points a game. But the killer for the Bills has been an offense that isn't getting the job down. The Bills are only scoring 17.1 points a game, and Drew Bledsoe has had a horrible year. He's completing less than 60 percent of his passes and his quarterback rating is 77.3.
7. Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns: Jamal Lewis set an NFL single-game record against the Browns with 295 yards. Lewis needs 253 yards to get 2,000. Historically, though, the odds are against Lewis having a big game. Corey Dillon had only 34 yards in his next game against the Broncos after rushing for 278 yards. Walter Payton gained only 58 yards against the Broncos after having a 275 yards against them. The problem for the Browns team this year is it's hard to predict how their defense will respond. It ranks 13th and has had three games in which it didn't allow a touchdown. But hot running backs can run over the Browns. Clinton Portis did that last week, and Lewis figures to do the same this Sunday. Lewis is overpowering and is feeling reasonably healthy despite having 338 carries. The Ravens need a solid rushing game to keep the pressure off quarterback Anthony Wright. For the Ravens, this game is vital in terms of staying ahead of the Bengals. Coach Brian Billick is encouraging his offense to get Lewis to the 2,000-yard plateau. If the Browns defense has a bad game, Lewis could be within 100 yards of that number heading into the final week of the season.
6. San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles: The 49ers have little to play for other than pride -- and getting their first road win of the year. The Eagles know that they are playing for home-field advantage. What seems to be lost in the somewhat average offensive stats of the Eagles is that they are getting better and better each week. In the past five games, they have averaged 31 points a game. Three times they have exceeded 30 points during that stretch, and they have done that against some pretty good defenses -- Dallas, Miami and New Orleans. They've had 13 touchdown dives in the past four games. There are a couple interesting elements going for the 49ers. Jeff Garcia has put together back-to-back good games. Kevan Barlow has taken over as the starting halfback for a banged up Garrison Hearst and has rushed for 239 yards in two starts. But the 49ers are on the road where bad things usually happen. Garcia's strong game against the Bengals in a 41-38 loss ended a five-game road streak in which the offense didn't score 20 or more points in a game. An Eagle win helps put the team in a good spot to clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs.
5. Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders: Brett Favre has clearance by the doctors to take the wrap off his broken right thumb, but he plans to keep it on. Maybe he needs it for good luck. The Packers know they are heading into a potentially dangerous situation in Oakland. It's Monday night football, and even though the Raiders have stunk this season, they have a lot of prideful veterans on a national stage. It's not like the Packers are a great road team. They lost to the Cardinals and Lions on the road, and they had to come from behind in the fourth quarter last Sunday to beat the lowly Chargers. Ahman Green should have a good day because the Raiders are so bad stopping the run. Green has 1,538 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Raiders give up a staggering 149 yards a game rushing. It's pretty easy to see that the Packers will try to come into this game with a simple play-action passing game and get out with a quick victory.
4. Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans: The salary cap has left the Titans with limited options at quarterback. Steve McNair must play even if his ankle isn't healthy. Their cap was so tight that they couldn't bring in Neil O'Donnell as the backup quarterback, leaving Jason Gesser as the only quarterback to work with the offense during Wednesday's and Thursday's practice. Billy Volek was lost for the season after he lacerated his spleen in a third-quarter play during last Sunday's come-from-behind victory over the Bills. The cap should be clear enough Monday to allow O'Donnell to sign. Gesser is an undrafted free agent from Washington State, who clearly isn't ready to handle an NFL start. Though talented and a good leader, Gesser would have to rely on a running attack to win, and the Titans don't have that type of a power running attack any more. Eddie George is averaging only 3.2 yards a carry, and the Texans 3-4 defense will stack the line to stop the run if McNair can't play. Regardless, McNair will find a way to get on the field and lock up the top wild-card spot in the AFC for the Titans.
3. New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys: Jim Fassel vowed that his team will be under his strict control for the final two games even though he's going to be fired after the season. That's interesting because the Giants have been out of control during their recent five-game losing streak. The Giants are down their top three cornerbacks, and their offensive line is a mess. It's just the kind of team the Cowboys need to lock up a playoff spot. Bill Parcells took advantage of a disinterested Redskins team last Sunday in Washington and blew them out 27-0. This could be a similar type of game. Though the Cowboys whipped the Redskins on the ground, they may try to be a little more adventurous through the air. That could be a boost to the confidence of quarterback Quincy Carter, who has 18 interceptions and 15 touchdown passes. The Giants are giving up 217.8 yards a game through the air and they have been beaten for 23 touchdown passes.
2. New Orleans Saints at Jacksonville Jaguars: Has anyone noticed the Jaguars are actually becoming a pretty good defense under first-year coach Jack Del Rio? They've moved up to No. 6 in the NFL, and they are almost impossible to run against. That poses a big problem for the Saints and halfback Deuce McAllister, who has 1,542 yards. The problem for the Jags is that they can't score a lot of points because their offense is still trying to get used to a rookie quarterback, Byron Leftwich. The big stir is the $30,000 fine given to wide receiver Joe Horn, who pulled out a cell phone after scoring a touchdown Sunday. The NFL will suspend him if he repeats the incident. The Saints might do the same. The problem facing the Saints in this game is whether they can get Horn into the end zone.
1. Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks: Bad things happen to the Seahawks when they stray away from their stadium. The good news is that they have a chance to conclude an 8-0 home record and give themselves an outside chance to make the playoffs next Saturday if they can beat the 49ers at Candlestick. For the Cardinals, they are playing out the string. Dave McGinnis expects to join Dan Reeves and Jim Fassel on the NFL firing line after the season. The Cardinals are giving Josh McCown playing time as the starting quarterback, but there is a growing possibility Eli Manning could be in their sights next spring. The Cardinals have a chance to conclude an 0-8 road record with this game.
John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.