NFL Sunday Preview: Panthers-Bucs, Jets-Seahawks, and Steelers-Ravens highlight a New Year’s Day full of playoff implications

Nov 27, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets quarterback Mike White (5) looks to pass against the Chicago Bears during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Sunday Preview: Panthers-Bucs, Jets-Seahawks, and Steelers-Ravens highlight a New Year’s Day full of playoff implications

Arizona Cardinals (4-11) at Atlanta Falcons (5-10)

Time/TV: noon CT/FOX

With just two weeks left in the 2022 regular season, both the Arizona Cardinals and Atlanta Falcons know they are not playoff-bound. Arizona will turn to its fourth different quarterback this season. With Kyler Murray out for the season and Colt McCoy still dealing with concussion symptoms, the Cardinals are foregoing Trace McSorley in favor of David Blough under center to see if he can spark the team’s frustrated offense. Blough hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular-season NFL pass since 2020 and went 0-5 while filling in for the Detroit Lions when Matthew Stafford was hurt in 2019. Desmond Ridder will start his third game for Atlanta, hoping to improve on two poor offensive showings against New Orleans and Baltimore. Ridder improved from 97 passing yards versus the Saints to 218 at the Ravens and also avoided turning the ball over in his second start. Hosting the Cardinals will give Ridder a better opportunity to show what he is capable of against one of the NFL’s weaker pass defenses. Arizona hopes to snap a five-game losing streak, while Atlanta hopes to snap a four-game slide.

Chicago Bears (3-12) at Detroit Lions (7-8)

Time/TV: noon CT/FOX

The Detroit Lions’ playoff chances are hanging in the balance after last week’s embarrassing loss at Carolina, and their division rivals from Chicago would love nothing more than to spoil the Lions’ late-season surge. Detroit’s glaring issue versus the Panthers last Saturday was its run defense, which allowed 320 yards in the 37-23 loss. The Bears are as capable as any offense in the NFL at punishing the Lions if that problem isn’t fixed – Chicago leads the NFL with an average of 179 rush yards per game. The Bears are on an eight-game losing streak, one of which was a heartbreaking collapse against these Lions when the teams met in Chicago on Nov. 13. Chicago led that game 24-10 before Detroit’s late surge, a momentum shift catalyzed by Jeff Okudah’s interception returned for a touchdown. Despite its rushing prowess, Chicago has been victimized defensively all season. The Bears and Lions allow the most and second-most points in the NFL, so it was not surprising that their first matchup finished 31-30. Detroit’s offense can be especially lethal at home, where it averages 32.1 points per game.

Denver Broncos (4-11) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-3)

Time/TV: noon CT/CBS

The Denver Broncos have long since departed the AFC playoffs conversation, but are looking to turn over a new leaf Sunday afternoon at Kansas City. The team fired head coach Nathaniel Hackett following their embarrassing 51-14 loss to the Rams on Christmas Day. The Broncos’ trip to Kansas City is an opportunity to play spoiler, if nothing else, against a Chiefs team in the running for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. The Broncos gave Kansas City all it could handle when the teams met in Denver, pulling within six points after trailing by as many as 27. That game was Broncos’ quarterback Russell Wilson’s best of the season statistically and his only three-touchdown performance of the season. Kansas City enters Sunday on a three-game winning streak, having shut down the Seahawks’ offense on a frigid day at Arrowhead Stadium last weekend. While the Chiefs know that a win keeps them in the running for the conference’s top seed, they’re also focused on staying healthy as the calendar turns to January.

Miami Dolphins (8-7) at New England Patriots (7-8)

Time/TV: noon CT/CBS

The Miami Dolphins’ trip to New England to battle the Patriots is everything a late-season AFC East clash ought to be – both teams are on the cusp of playoff spots and extremely motivated to win. Unfortunately for Miami, it will be without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who finds himself in concussion protocol once again. Teddy Bridgewater will start for the Dolphins at quarterback, and it would seem that his primary assignment Sunday afternoon is to avoid turnovers. The Patriots win football games when they take the football away, control time of possession, and lean on their kicker, Nick Folk. New England’s offense has been a disappointment, especially in recent weeks. Mac Jones has just nine touchdown passes and eight interceptions this season, and the Patriots’ offense ranks outside the NFL’s top 20 in both rushing and passing yardage. New England scored just seven points in the season opener on the road in Miami, losing by two touchdowns as its offense turned the football over three times. If the Patriots want their Week 18 game in Buffalo to be meaningful, they’ll need to flip the script Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

Indianapolis Colts (4-10-1) at New York Giants (8-6-1)

Time/TV: noon CT/CBS

The Indianapolis Colts were embarrassed by the Los Angeles Chargers in Nick Foles’ first start of the season on Monday night, scoring just three points and managing only 10 first downs. The Colts now travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the New York Giants, who have infinitely more to play for than the struggling Colts. New York can clinch its first playoff appearance since 2016 with a win. The Giants have won just once in their last six games after a heartbreaker last Saturday in Minneapolis – and with a trip to 13-2 Philadelphia on deck to finish the season next week, it would behoove New York to find a way to win against the bottom-feeding Colts. Expect the Giants to lean on star running back Saquon Barkley against Indianapolis’ struggling run defense, wearing down a Colts team that struggles late in games. Since Jeff Saturday took over as Indianapolis’ head coach, the Colts have been outscored 90-9 in the fourth quarter of games. Giants’ defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is sure to cook up countless blitzes against the struggling Colts and quarterback Nick Foles, who was sacked seven times Monday night by the Chargers.

New Orleans Saints (6-9) at Philadelphia Eagles (13-2)

Time/TV: noon CT/FOX

New Orleans kept its very slim playoff hopes alive with last Saturday’s win at Cleveland, leaning on its ground game in subzero temperatures. The Saints’ defense led the way in that one, holding Cleveland scoreless for the majority of the game while recovering from a 10-0 deficit to win by a touchdown. The Saints need a lot of things to go right if they’re going to sneak into the playoff field, the first of which would be an upset win over the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday afternoon on the road. If there is one factor working in New Orleans’ favor, it is that the Eagles are likely without starting quarterback Jalen Hurts once again. Backup quarterback Gardner Minshew led Philadelphia to a double-digit lead last Sunday in Dallas, but the Eagles were eventually undone by four turnovers in the 40-34 loss. Still, Nick Sirianni’s team has to feel encouraged by the offense’s output despite Hurts’ absence. However, Philadelphia will also be without star offensive tackle Lane Johnson this week, potentially hampering the Eagles’ run game and pass protection. In games Johnson has missed since 2020, the Eagles are 3-10. Philadelphia can clinch the NFC East title and the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a win over the Saints.

Carolina Panthers (6-9) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-8)

Time/TV: noon CT/FOX

When the Carolina Panthers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet Sunday afternoon in Tampa, they will likely play for the NFC South title and the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs. Carolina dominated the first meeting between the two teams back on Oct. 23, a game it entered as a massive underdog with a 1-5 record. The Panthers’ defense stifled the Buccaneers’ offense all afternoon in that one, holding Tampa scoreless until the fourth quarter. While the Bucs’ offense has continued to struggle (17.7 points per game, 25th in the NFL), Tampa has remained atop the NFC South all season. Nothing has come easy for the Buccaneers in their wins, and they’ve often looked hapless in losses. They needed late double-digit comebacks against the Cardinals and Saints and scored with just three seconds on the clock in their win over the Rams. Tampa has scored more than 22 points in a game just once all season. If Carolina is to upset the Buccaneers for a second time, it will likely need to do so in a way it isn’t comfortable – through the air. Tampa’s run defense is notoriously stingy, and the Panthers rank just 29th in passing offense this season.

Cleveland Browns (6-9) at Washington Commanders (7-7-1)

Time/TV: noon CT/FOX

The Washington Commanders need to win on Sunday as badly as any team in the NFL and are turning back to quarterback Carson Wentz as their starter. Wentz broke a finger on Oct. 13 in Chicago, and he appeared to have lost his starting job entirely with Taylor Heinicke’s success in his first few games as the starter. With Heinicke’s struggles in recent games, head coach Ron Rivera feels Washington’s best option is to return to its original plan on offense. For the Cleveland Browns, the story of the 2022 season was always about keeping their playoff chances afloat until Deshaun Watson could return at quarterback in Week 13. Watson’s first start at Houston was a win for the Browns, but the offense did not produce any touchdowns in that game and hasn’t found its footing since. Cleveland has since been eliminated from playoff contention and is instead focused on establishing a rhythm on offense with Deshaun Watson ahead of next season.

New York Jets (7-8) at Seattle Seahawks (7-8)

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

The New York Jets and Seattle Seahawks will clash Sunday afternoon in a game between teams in desperate need of a win to help their respective playoff hopes. The Jets’ visit to Seattle will also give Seahawks’ quarterback Geno Smith a shot at the team that cast him away in 2016, a revenge angle Smith has downplayed publicly this week. Seattle has struggled mightily over the last six games, beating only the Rams during that span. The Seahawks have been especially disappointing on defense, allowing 21 or more points in seven straight. They now rank 29th in the NFL in points allowed per game and are running into a Jets team getting healthier under center. Mike White returns Sunday afternoon for New York after missing two games, and anyone who watched Zach Wilson’s performances while White was out understands how much of an upgrade White is for the Jets’ offense. The key for the Jets all season has been their defense, which is only allowing 18.8 points per game on the season.

San Francisco 49ers (11-4) at Las Vegas Raiders (6-9)

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

The Las Vegas Raiders made headlines this week when they decided to bench quarterback Derek Carr in favor of backup Jarrett Stidham, a move that signals the franchise’s intentions to move on from Carr during the coming offseason. It is also a move that signifies Las Vegas waving the white flag on its season, despite having a minuscule chance of still reaching the playoffs. Las Vegas hosts the San Francisco 49ers Sunday afternoon at Allegiant Stadium, a team that has repeatedly bludgeoned opponents since trading for Christian McCaffrey. The 49ers have won eight in a row, six of which have come by double digits. Somehow, it does not seem to matter that San Francisco is without its top two quarterbacks and star wide receiver Deebo Samuel – the 49ers have scored 33 or more points in four of their last six games. San Francisco has clinched at least the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs and still has a chance to pass Minnesota for the No. 2 seed if things break its way.

Los Angeles Rams (5-10) at Los Angeles Chargers (6-9)

Time/TV: 3:25 p.m./CBS

The Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers share a home field at SoFi Stadium, where they will meet this Sunday for the first time during the regular season since it opened. After last season ended with heartbreak for the Chargers and triumph for the Rams, the script has flipped in 2022. The Chargers are 9-6 after clinching a spot in the playoffs with a win over the Colts on Monday night, but still have plenty to play for with a chance at the No. 5 seed – and a trip to Jacksonville or Tennessee instead of Cincinnati or Kansas City – well within reach. On the other sideline, the Los Angeles Rams have made it clear with their effort level on the field that they remain engaged with winning games despite being out of playoff contention. Sean McVay’s team has won two of their last three, most recently thrashing the Denver Broncos while scoring 51 points on Christmas Day. The Rams have two opportunities to play spoiler as the season winds to a close with the Chargers on Sunday and a trip to Seattle next week.

Minnesota Vikings (12-3) at Green Bay Packers (7-8)

Time/TV: 3:25 p.m. CT/CBS

The Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers last met Week 1 in Minnesota, a game dominated on the scoreboard by the Vikings. That win was Minnesota’s only by more than one score this season, despite the Packers and Vikings finishing the afternoon with similar offensive numbers. The difference in the game was the Packers’ two turnovers. Detractors of the Vikings will point to their 11-0 record in one-score games as unsustainable, but it’s becoming more difficult by the week to argue that winning close games is anything other than part of Minnesota’s DNA. The Green Bay Packers team that awaits them at Lambeau Field this Sunday afternoon is motivated by their late-season push for the playoffs and its recent streak of better results. The Packers have won three in a row, and know that they control their own destiny with two games at home to go. Green Bay’s top priority is trying to contain Vikings’ wide receiver Justin Jefferson on Sunday, who caught nine passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1 when the teams met in Minneapolis. The Packers’ pass defense has improved dramatically since, ranking No. 3 in the NFL in yards allowed per game.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) at Baltimore Ravens (10-5)

Time/TV: 7:20 p.m. CT/NBC

The Pittsburgh Steelers kept their playoff hopes alive with a prime-time win over the Las Vegas Raiders last Sunday. The win also keeps alive the possibility that head coach Mike Tomlin can avoid a losing season for the 16th consecutive year, but the Steelers cannot afford another loss. Pittsburgh now travels to Baltimore this Sunday for a rivalry rematch with the Ravens. Baltimore won the first matchup 16-14 despite being without quarterback Lamar Jackson, who is also expected to miss this Sunday’s game as he tries to heal up before the playoffs. The Steelers were undone in that game by backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s three interceptions, but will have Kenny Pickett back under center for the first time in this rivalry Sunday night in Baltimore. The Ravens have already qualified for a playoff spot but have higher hopes than that. With a win this week versus Pittsburgh, Baltimore would be a road win at Cincinnati away from stealing back the AFC North title.

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