The NFL’s regular season is just weeks away from drawing to a close and there is still plenty to be decided over the next two weeks, with conference titles, playoff spots and the draft order for 2019 still up in the air as we head into the penultimate weekend.
Four playoff spots and five division titles are still there to be fought for, while as many as five franchises are involved in the fight for the first pick of the 2019 draft. We’ve gathered up all of the stories below in our in-depth weekly preview.
Washington Redskins (7-7) @ Tennessee Titans (8-6) (Saturday, 21:30 GMT)
Both currently 8th seed in their respective conferences, Saturday evening’s clash between the Redskins and the Titans is likely to have a huge impact on the playoff picture. Having lost four in a row before narrowly edging the Jaguars 16-13 last time out, Washington have plenty to prove if they are to book their spot in the latter stages.
Tennessee, winning their last three, will certainly be the more optimistic of the two sides. Ranked fifth in rushing in the NFL and boasting the seventh-best defence, the Titans should have enough in their locker to seal what could be a crucial victory.
Baltimore Ravens (8-6) @ Los Angeles Chargers (11-3) (Sunday, 01:20 GMT)
Boasting the best defence in the NFL and sitting 2nd in the rushing stats, the Ravens have shown they have the capability to be contenders in the playoffs but there is still work to be done. If results go against Baltimore this weekend, they could see the Steelers clinch the AFC North.
However, it will not be easy for the Ravens in their trip to LA as they clash with one of the most well-rounded sides in the NFL. The Chargers, having already sealed their spot in the playoffs, boast a top ten offence and defence, sit eighth in the passing statistics and 12th in rushing.
Final injury report:
TE Nick Boyle (concussion), OLB Matthew Judon (knee), LB/DB Anthony Levine (toe/ankle) and G Alex Lewis (shoulder) are all questionable to play Saturday vs. Chargers.
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 20, 2018
Cincinnati Bengals (6-8) @ Cleveland Browns (6-7-1) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
The Bengals brought a five-match losing streak to an end last weekend by sweeping aside the Raiders but things still do not look that great for a side who has the worst defensive record in the NFL. While the Battle of Ohio has been in Cincinnati’s favour in recent years, they did lose in the reverse fixture earlier this year.
Led by Baker Mayfield, the Browns have shown progression this year and are still in the playoff picture – although it would be a miracle of Cleveland was to advance into the post-season. Regardless, the Browns have a platform to build upon – although it could not really get any worse after a 0-16 campaign in 2017.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9) @ Dallas Cowboys (8-6) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
Boasting the third-best offence in the NFL and leading the passing statistics, Tampa Bay are arguably the best side to have already been eliminated from the playoff picture but they travel to Dallas this weekend on the back of defeats against the Saints and the Ravens.
With home-field advantage, Dallas will be confident of sealing their spot in the playoffs and know that they will seal the NFC East title if they emerge victorious. With Ezequiel Elliott in their Arsenal, who leads the NFL for rushing yards this season, the Cowboys are in a strong position.
Minnesota Vikings (7-6-1) @ Detroit Lions (5-9) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
The Vikings head to Detroit knowing that their spot in the playoffs could be sealed in results go their way this weekend, which would require a victory for Minnesota, a loss for the Redskins and a winless game for the Eagles. With the fourth-ranked defence and sat 10th in the passing stats, they are a capable side but critics will argue they are one dimensional as they sit 29th for rushing yards.
Meanwhile, the Lions were narrowly defeated by the Bills last time out and sit bottom of the NFC North as a result. While Detroit edges the series in the 2010s era 9-8, they have suffered defeat in the last two clashes – including a 24-9 loss in November.
Buffalo Bills (5-9) @ New England Patriots (9-5) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
The Bills have built a rather formidable outfit this year, boasting the second-best defence in the NFL, but New England have historically got the better of them in the big AFC East rivalry – as Buffalo have won just one of the last nine meetings, losing 25-6 earlier this season.
Defeat to the Steelers last weekend saw the Patriots miss the chance to seal the AFC East title but they will be expected to secure that objective this weekend and seal their spot in the playoffs. Should they make it, their attacking players will lead the way. New England have the fifth-best offence in the league and rank 6th in passing stats.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) December 20, 2018
Green Bay Packers (5-8-1) @ New York Jets (4-10) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
Another playoff-less season beckons for the Packers, although there is at least some positives to build upon as Green Bay rank 10th overall for offence and sit ninth in the passing stats. However, defeat to the Bears last weekend means the Packers have won just one of their last five.
They should be optimistic heading to New York to face the Jets though, who are one of three sides who hold a 4-10 record and are amongst the contenders to earn the #1 draft pick in 2019. The issue, however, is that the Jets do not sit in the top 20 for anything this year so there is plenty of problems to be resolved.
Houston Texans (10-4) @ Philadelphia Eagles (7-7) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
One of the bigger games of the weekend, the Texans head to Philadelphia knowing a win will seal the AFC South title and a spot in the playoffs. Either way, the Texans spot in the post-season is pretty much assured and they are certain to face a stern test.
Last season’s Superbowl champions remain in the hunt for a spot in the playoffs but their dreams are hanging by a thread. Anything other than a victory is unlikely to be good enough for the Eagles, who will have to hope that the Vikings and the Redskins slip.
Atlanta Falcons (5-9) @ Carolina Panthers (6-8) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
The Falcons have been a Jekyll and Hyde team in 2018, boasting the fifth best passing statistics in the NFL and the ninth overall offence but sitting second last in rushing yards. While it does provide some positives for Atlanta, fans will wonder how this season would have looked if it wasn’t for their recent five-game winless streak – which came to an end last weekend.
Meanwhile, the Panthers, with the third-most rushing yards in the NFL, are another side who see their playoff hopes hanging by a thread. Anything less than a win over Atlanta would surely bring an end to their dreams and even that might not be enough as they have the Redskins, Eagles, Vikings, Seahawks and Cowboys ahead of them.
New York Giants (5-9) @ Indianapolis Colts (8-6) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
After hitting over 30 points in each of their last two games heading into last weekend’s clash with the Texans, the Giants will be furious to have been whitewashed. They now look likely to finish rock-bottom of the NFC East and will miss out on the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.
Meanwhile, the Colts are pretty much neck-and-neck with the Ravens and the Titans heading into the weekend and know a slip could prove to be costly. If they are to avoid a four-year absence of playoff football, a victory is required to keep their hopes alive.
Keep making history, Maniac. 😈 pic.twitter.com/rFkKTy5dw7
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) December 19, 2018
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) @ Miami Dolphins (7-7) (Sunday, 18:00 GMT)
The Jaguars are one of the sides that stand amongst the contenders to earn the #1 draft pick in 2019 and it is clear they need assistance in the offence, while their defence has stood strong and stands as the sixth-best in the NFL. Still, they will endure an absence of playoff football for the 10th time in 11th season.
That may not be the case for the Dolphins, who are fighting for a spot in the playoffs. That is incredibly surprising considering they have the 29th-ranked offence, 30th ranked defence, sit 18th in rushing yards and 29th in passing stats – hardly something that should rally a cry as contenders.
Los Angeles Rams (11-3) @ Arizona Cardinals (3-11) (Sunday, 21:05 GMT)
The Rams are home and dry but have experienced a wake-up call in recent weeks, losing back-to-back games and seeing all three of their defeats this season coming in the last six. With the playoffs right around the corner, it is certainly not the time for the wheels to fall off the wagon.
If you were to select the ideal opponent to rekindle some form though, you would probably select the Cardinals. Arizona look the most likely to earn the #1 draft pick, 84% likely in fact, but even that won’t solve all their problems. Currently, they have the worst offence in the NFL and also sit rock-bottom of the rankings for both passing and rushing yards.
Chicago Bears (10-4) @ San Francisco 49ers (4-10) (Sunday, 21:05 GMT)
The Bears, boasting a strong defence, sealed their spot in the playoffs with last weekend’s victory over the Packers and secured their division title in the process. They will now hope that the Rams’ decline continues so they can secure 2nd seed in the AFC.
A few weeks ago you would have this down as an easy win for Chicago but the 49ers seem to have found their bite in recent weeks, securing back-to-back victories over the Broncos and the Seahawks – the latter ending a woeful run against their division rivals.
Pittsburgh Steelers (8-5-1) @ New Orleans Saints (12-2) (Sunday, 21:05 GMT)
The best on-field battle in the NFL this weekend may be set to be witnessed in New Orleans, where the playoff-chasing Steelers tackle the Saints. With a top-ten offence and defence, the Steelers have a strong core and could secure their division title this weekend if they win and the Ravens lose.
Overcoming the Saints, who sit as the AFC’s #1 seed, will certainly not be an easy task though. Since the opening weekend, New Orleans have suffered just one defeat and have a huge chance of playing in the Superbowl for the first time since 2009 and only the second time in their history.
Thomas Morstead is the highest graded punter in the NFL so far this season. pic.twitter.com/QzEMbMStEG
— PFF (@PFF) December 20, 2018
Kansas City Chiefs (11-3) @ Seattle Seahawks (8-6) (Monday, 01:20 GMT)
We could be set to see a high-scoring affair in Seattle this weekend as the Chiefs, the best offence in the NFL, tackle a Seahawks defence that was woeful against the 49ers last week – and the fact they have the second-best passing stats in the league provides another boost.
However, the Chiefs also possess the second-worst defence in the division and that will be encouraging for a Seahawks side led by Russell Wilson. Pete Carroll’s side are chasing a spot in the playoffs, which would be their sixth in a row, and have gone back to their roots by establishing the most rushing yards in the league.
Denver Broncos (6-8) @ Oakland Raiders (3-11) (Tuesday, 01:15 GMT)
The late offerings of the weekend do not have much riding on them unfortunately as both the Broncos and the Raiders are eliminated from the playoff picture. However, bragging rights are up for grabs as the AFC West rivals lock horns.
Denver secured a narrow victory over the Raiders earlier this season and the home side may hope for revenge. However, Oakland are one of the sides in contention for an early draft pick in 2019 and their squad is desperately crying out for an injection of additional talent.