NFL Christmas Eve Preview: A close look at every game on Saturday’s frigid NFL slate

Nov 20, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt (90) before playing the Cincinnati Bengals at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Christmas Eve Preview: A close look at every game on Saturday’s frigid NFL slate

Buffalo Bills (11-3) at Chicago Bears (3-11)

Time/TV: noon CT/CBS

The Buffalo Bills enter Week 16 fresh off a massive win over the Miami Dolphins in the snow at home last week, but they’ll find themselves in an even colder stadium for this week’s battle with the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Chicago is expecting to see wind chills of more than 20 degrees below zero this weekend, one of the coldest of many cities dealing with high winds and frigid temperatures. Both teams are well-equipped to deal with cold weather relative to most of the NFL. Chicago runs the football at an extremely high rate, ranking No. 1 in the NFL with an average of 186 rushing yards per game. Buffalo’s defense ranks sixth in the NFL against the run, which could make the lives of quarterback Justin Fields and running back David Montgomery difficult as they try to make plays out of Chicago’s backfield. Josh Allen and the Bills showed just a week ago how effective their offense can remain in difficult conditions, braving the snow for a 32-29 win over the Dolphins. Against Chicago’s 30th-ranked scoring defense, Buffalo will have success if there’s any success to be had in the extreme wind and cold. The Bills are in complete control of the AFC East but have plenty still to play for with a No. 1 seed, home-field advantage, and the coveted first-round playoff bye in their sights.

New Orleans Saints (6-8) at Cleveland Browns (6-8)

Time/TV: noon CT/CBS

In what is also expected to be a ridiculously cold affair at FirstEnergy Stadium, the New Orleans Saints will pay the Cleveland Browns a visit in a matchup between 6-8 teams. Both teams are clinging to microscopic playoff hopes, unable to afford another loss if they want to play meaningful football beyond this weekend. The Browns were led by their defense in Week 15’s win, holding the Lamar Jackson-less Ravens to just three points while doing just enough on offense. In high winds, it is difficult to imagine either Andy Dalton or Deshaun Watson having a ton of success throwing the football. This game is likely to come down to two elite running backs, Cleveland’s Nick Chubb and New Orleans’ Alvin Kamara, each of whom is taking on a bottom-10 rush defense in the NFL. For New Orleans to have a chance in any game, avoiding turnovers is a must – the Saints have turned the ball over more often than all but the Texans and Colts in 2022. With sustained wins over 30 miles per hour and potential snow in the forecast, even kicking might not be an option Saturday afternoon in Cleveland. A single impactful run play could potentially be the difference in a game played in the single digits or teens.

Seattle Seahawks (7-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-3)

Time/TV: noon CT/FOX

In what should be one of the milder weather games on Saturday’s schedule, temperatures are expected to hover in the teens without a ton of wind as the Seattle Seahawks visit the Kansas City Chiefs. Seattle’s playoff chances are on life support after losing four of its last five, and the Seahawks’ injury report does not look promising. Seattle already knows it will be without star wide receiver Tyler Lockett, and it may also be missing tight end, Noah Fant. Running back Kenneth Walker III is banged up as well but appears likely to play. Quarterback Geno Smith, who was just named to his first Pro Bowl, will need to establish a strong connection with DK Metcalf for the Seahawks to keep things close. Kansas City barely escaped with a win against the one-win Houston Texans last Sunday in overtime and struggled to win a close game over the last-place Broncos the week before. Despite playing four one-score games in the previous five weeks, the Chiefs have won seven of their last eight and carry the No. 1 passing and scoring offense into Saturday’s game against a struggling Seahawks’ defense. A Chiefs’ win would continue to apply pressure on the Buffalo Bills, who currently hold the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.

New York Giants (8-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (11-3)

Time/TV: noon CT/FOX

Overachievers will battle indoors at U.S. Bank Stadium Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis when the New York Giants take on the Minnesota Vikings in a possible NFC playoff preview. The Giants and Vikings have won a combined 19 games this season, and a remarkable 18 of those wins have come by just one score. Minnesota’s last win was particularly absurd, a game in which it trailed 33-0 to Indianapolis before completing the NFL’s largest-ever comeback. New York staved off a last-second threat at Washington last week, making great defensive plays while also benefiting from a friendly whistle in the final seconds. Minnesota has already clinched the NFC North, and chances of the Vikings passing the Eagles for the NFC’s top seed appear slim. For the Giants, Saturday’s game could ultimately be the difference between making the playoffs or spending January wondering what could have been. New York’s offense goes as its running game goes, led by talented running back Saquon Barkley. Minnesota’s middling run defense and 28th-ranked scoring defense ought to give the Giants ample opportunity to put up points, but winning on the road in Minneapolis is no easy task.

Cincinnati Bengals (10-4) at New England Patriots (7-7)

Time/TV: noon CT/CBS

The Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots both made impressive second-half comebacks last weekend, but only one of the two managed to finish the job and score a huge road win. New England battled back from a 17-3 halftime deficit for a 24-17 lead within the game’s last minute – but after a complete unraveling over the final 32 seconds left jaws dropped across the country, a 30-24 loss in Las Vegas dealt a huge blow to the Pats’ playoff hopes. The Bengals outscored Tampa Bay 34-6 in the second half of Sunday’s game after trailing 17-0, capping off an impressive road win behind four forced turnovers by their defense. Cincinnati has now won six in a row and, at 10-4, is in complete control of the AFC North. New England has struggled in recent weeks to put together a complete performance, sometimes undone by offensive incompetence and at other times unable to keep the opposition out of the end zone. The Pats’ offense looked great at Minnesota, but their defense allowed 33 points in the loss. While New England’s defense held a dynamic Las Vegas attack in check during the second half last week, Mac Jones completed just 13 of 31 passes for 112 yards. Bill Belichick’s team will need to put it all together soon because a home loss to Cincinnati could be the final blow to the Patriots’ 2022 playoff chances.

Detroit Lions (7-7) at Carolina Panthers (5-9)

Time/TV: noon CT/FOX

The Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers will meet on a frigid Saturday afternoon in Charlotte, and both teams have legitimate chances to make the NFC Playoffs. Detroit has remarkably won six of its last seven games, including each of its last three games away from home. A win Saturday in Carolina would be another massive step for a Lions’ team that believes it can cause problems for anyone in a playoff setting, but the Panthers have plenty to play for as well. Positioned just one game behind Tampa Bay with an opportunity to host the Buccaneers next weekend, a win Saturday afternoon would give Carolina an opportunity to lead the NFC South by the time New Year’s Day concludes. On the field, Detroit versus Carolina is a battle of strength against strength when Detroit possesses the football and weakness against weakness when Carolina has it. The Panthers are certainly hoping to drag the Lions into a low-scoring, potentially sloppy game – but if Detroit has its way on offense early, Sam Darnold and Carolina could struggle to climb uphill.

Atlanta Falcons (5-9) at Baltimore Ravens (9-5)

Time/TV: noon CT/FOX

The Atlanta Falcons play in the NFC South, meaning they are still very much in contention by virtue of the division-leading Buccaneers being just 6-8. Atlanta will still get one more shot at the Bucs at home in Week 18, but winning this Saturday in Baltimore would go a long way in making that game as significant as the Falcons would like it to be. The Ravens, still dealing with the absence of star quarterback Lamar Jackson, have now fallen behind the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North race. Baltimore will once again turn to Tyler Huntley at quarterback, who has led dismal offensive performances each of the last two weeks. The Falcons enter Sunday’s game having lost three in a row, including rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder’s first career start last weekend in New Orleans. If nothing else, Atlanta is seemingly keeping every game close – only two of the Falcons’ nine losses have come by double digits. Given both teams’ clear intent to run the football all afternoon, it’s difficult to imagine that this matchup sees many points on the scoreboard. Saturday’s game may come down to the performances of elite kickers Justin Tucker and Younghoe Koo more than any player on either offense.

Washington Commanders (7-6-1) at San Francisco 49ers (10-4)

Time/TV: 3:05 p.m. CT/CBS

The Washington Commanders travel across the country to battle the San Francisco 49ers after last Sunday night’s crushing loss to New York. Washington came painfully close to tying the Giants in the game’s final seconds to force a second overtime battle in three weeks – instead, the loss leaves the Commanders in desperate need of a road win. If nothing else, Washington will be greeted in Santa Clara, California, with the only decent outdoor conditions of any Week 16 game. The good news for the Commanders is that they need Saturday’s game infinitely more than San Francisco, who has already clinched the NFC West and is, for all intents and purposes, out of the running for the NFC’s top seed. Still, the 49ers present a challenge under any circumstances. San Francisco boasts the NFL’s No. 1 scoring defense, a top-10 scoring offense, and a potentially angry running back in Christian McCaffrey, who just found out he was a shocking snub from this year’s Pro Bowl. One major boost for Washington is the return of former No. 2 overall draft pick Chase Young at defensive end. He’ll join an intimidating front seven that will be relied on to create havoc if the Commanders are to pull off the upset.

Las Vegas Raiders (6-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-8)

Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. CT/NFL Network

The Las Vegas Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers will meet for Saturday night’s final game, a frigid showdown between two teams holding onto slim playoff hopes. With wind chills expected to create a subzero degree environment at Acrisure Stadium, winning Saturday night’s game could be a matter of will more than skill. Raiders’ quarterback Derek Carr, a California native, is 0-5 in his career in games played at temperatures below 37 degrees – but he’s also 3-0 versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have quietly won three of their last four, leaning on elite defensive performances. Pittsburgh hasn’t allowed a team to score more than 17 points in over a month. Las Vegas brings an offense capable of scoring plenty of points and has had a flair for the dramatic while winning four of five. If the Raiders can force Pittsburgh into a high-scoring affair, it becomes harder to imagine the Steelers keeping pace – but if there was ever an environment where such a game would be difficult to create, a blustery night in western Pennsylvania fits the bill. Pittsburgh’s offense gets back quarterback Kenny Pickett, who missed last week’s game while in the NFL’s concussion protocol and now takes on a Raiders’ defense ranking in the league’s bottom-10 against the pass.

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