Breakdowns

NFL Week 16 Matchups to Watch

Here are five matchups we’ve got our eyes on in the NFL this weekend:

This game is going to be won up front. Pittsburgh, understandably, hasn’t been the same on defense without Bud Dupree and Devin Bush, but they still have some pressure players, most notably T.J. Watt. With the offense struggling, the Steelers need to be much better on defense. They need to pressure Philip Rivers, who has struggled with pressure.

The numbers don’t always bear that out: Of quarterbacks this season with 100-plus dropbacks under pressure, Rivers has taken the third-fewest sacks (15) with the seventh-highest yards per attempt (6.6). Watt and company need to alter those numbers if Pittsburgh is going to win.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh needs to be somewhat more productive in the run game — enough to set up play action. The field is so compressed right now. When defenses don’t have to worry about the run game, safeties can focus all their attention on keeping the ball in front of them. That’s what allowed Vonn Bell to blow up JuJu Smith-Schuster Monday night, and that will keep happening until Pittsburgh starts running the ball.

This is a big game for the Rams to get back to where they were on offense. They’ve been extremely inconsistent, and this matchup against a weak Seahawks defense could be the remedy. Karlos Dunlop has helped Seattle’s defense, but not enough.

The Rams are coming off a shocking loss to the Jets. But keep in mind the Jets rank eighth in the NFL in EPA allowed per rush. Seattle ranks 20th in EPA allowed per play.

On the other side, Aaron Donald against the Seattle offensive line will be a critical matchup. Seattle has allowed 41 sacks this season, sixth-most in the league. Donald and Robert Quinn could both have big days.

Tennessee has really struggled defensively, so this should be a tough matchup against the explosive Green Bay offense. The key to this game will be to what extent Derrick Henry can control time of possession and keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense off he field. When you think about it, this game is something of a dress rehearsal for what Tennessee needs to do to get past the Chiefs in the AFC playoffs.

The Packers’ run defense has improved somewhat. They’ve held the likes of Dalvin Cook and Todd Gurley to under 60 yards, but stopping Henry is another story. Green Bay ranks 23rd in EPA allowed per rush.

It will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick defends Josh Allen. I would expect he’ll play a lot of Cover-2 – don’t get beat over the top, force Allen to check down and make Buffalo run the ball. According to PFF, the Bills complete 73.1% against Cover-2, but have only 2 TDs against 3 INTs. While Josh Allen’s accuracy has improved greatly, he’s only completing 45.8% of his passes that travel 20 yards or more in the air.

Now that the Patriots are officially out of playoff contention, what can we expect to see on offense? Will we see Jarrett Stidham at quarterback? New England has had its problems on offense, but WR Damiere Byrd continues to develop and could be a factor.

Believe it or not, the winner of this game will have a shot at winning the NFC East.

All eyes will be on Eagles rookie QB Jalen Hurts. What will Dallas defensive coordinator Mike Nolan do to keep him in the pocket? While Hurts is off to an impressive start to his career, he’s only completing 55.1% of his passes and is only averaging 7.27 yards per attempt, which is 20th in the league.

When Dallas has the ball, it will be interesting to see how Tony Pollard continues to develop. He’s played really well in Ezekiel Elliott’s absence, and Elliott has remained limited in practice this week. In seven career games with 10-plus rushing attempts, Pollard has three games averaging 3.5 yards per carry or less, and three games with 5.5 yards per carry or more. The Eagles rank 24th in rushing yards allowed.

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