December 19, 2018 - by Seth Trachtman
With NFL Week 16 kicking off on Saturday, here’s a stats-driven preview of three of this week’s biggest games.
Baltimore and Los Angeles have a lot riding on this Saturday’s matchup. The Ravens are a half-game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North and currently sit as the No. 6 seed in the AFC. The Chargers have the No. 5 seed but could ascend to No. 1 if they win out and Kansas City loses a game. The Ravens are now 4-1 with rookie QB Lamar Jackson starting under center, and have become the most run-heavy team in the league with the former Heisman Trophy winner starting. Over the last five games, the team has turned back the clock on NFL offense, averaging 43.6 rush attempts per game, mostly with the work of Jackson and fellow rookie RB Gus Edwards. The Chargers have done a satisfactory job stopping the run, allowing only 4.3 yards per carry (13th best), but the Ravens’ run-heavy offense should be able to keep the Chargers pass rush honest, which has improved recently with the return of DE Joey Bosa from a foot injury.
The Chargers are riding high after pulling out a miraculous victory at Kansas City last week, just two weeks after closing a 23-7 halftime deficit to win at Pittsburgh in Week 13. However, it’s worth noting that two of their three losses this season have come at home, and the Chargers got a scare two weeks ago at home vs. Cincinnati, winning 26-21. The Chargers hope to get star RB Melvin Gordon back from a knee injury on Saturday, but now top wideout Keenan Allen (hip) is a game-time decision. The offense has averaged 28.2 points per game due in large part to QB Philip Rivers, and they also rank second in the league with 6.6 yards per play. Baltimore will be a unique challenge for Rivers and company, as the Ravens boast the best defense in the league — allowing only 18.1 points and 290.1 yards per game.
Head to Head: The teams have gone back and forth over the last six matchups dating back to 2007, with the Ravens winning the most recent game 29-26 in 2015.
Point Spread on Wednesday: Chargers -4.5
Pittsburgh picked up a huge win vs. New England last week, but they still have more work to do before sealing a fifth straight playoff appearance. They visit the Saints this week, who escaped with a 12-9 victory at Carolina on Monday night. The Steelers ended a three-game skid with their win over the Patriots. At just 3-3 on the road, they’ll face a Saints team that has won five straight games at home. Pittsburgh is hoping that James Conner (ankle) is able to return this week, but backup RB Jaylen Samuels was able to run well against New England, finishing with 19 carries for 142 yards. Running the ball will be more difficult against the Saints, who are averaging only 3.7 yards allowed per carry. QB Ben Roethlisberger is hoping to take advantage of the Saints leaky pass defense, which is allowing 7.5 yards per pass attempt and 262.5 yards per game (fifth worst). The Steelers are the most pass-heavy team in the NFL this year (66.7% of plays), which could wreak havoc on the Saints defense.
The Saints would clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win, but there are major concerns based on how their offense has fared recently. QB Drew Brees struggled last week with only 203 yards passing and one interception, and New Orleans has averaged less than 17 points per game over the last three games. However, all three of those games were on the road, and Brees’ Passer Rating is almost 40 points higher at home this year. The key to Pittsburgh’s defense is getting pressure on the quarterback. They have the second best sack rate in the NFL (8.4%), but but will need to contend with a Saints offensive line that has allowed sacks on only 3.4% of dropbacks (third best).
Head to Head: The Saints have won the last two head-to-head matchups. The most recent game was a 35-32 win by the Saints in 2014.
Point Spread on Wednesday: Saints -5.5 (opened at -6.0)
Another game with big playoff implications features two teams coming off disappointing division losses. The Chiefs remain the No. 1 seed in the AFC and still control their own destiny, but a loss could drop them to the No. 5 seed in the conference. Seattle is fighting for a Wild Card spot in the NFC after a shocking loss at San Francisco last week. Kansas City continues to be the top offense in football, ranking No. 1 in points per game (35.6), yards per game (427.2), and yards per play (6.8). The status of RB Spencer Ware (hamstring) is unclear for this week, but backup Damien Williams did a great job last week and could retain the starting job even if Ware is available. Seattle’s defense has some bright spots but isn’t nearly at the level it’s been in previous years. The Seahawks defense is currently allowing 4.9 yards per rush (fifth worst) and 7.3 yards per pass (seventh worst). Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes and top weapons WR Tyreek Hill and TE Travis Kelce could be in for a big game.
The Seattle offense should also be in for a big day against Kansas City’s struggling defense. The most run-heavy offense in the league at 52.2%, the Seahawks face a Chiefs defense that’s allowing a league-worst 5.0 yards per carry. KC was able to remedy some of those issues in the first half of last week’s game with the return of All-Pro safety Eric Berry, who is likely to see even more snaps this week. They’ll need Berry after the defense folded late in last week’s game without him on the field. QB Russell Wilson has also been extremely efficient, leading to an NFL-best 0.7 turnovers per game. This will be key against a Chiefs team that’s forcing 1.6 takeaways per contest (eighth best).
Head to Head: KC has won the last three matchups. The most recent was a 24-20 win at Arrowhead Stadium in 2014.
Point Spread on Tuesday: Kansas City -2.5
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