Friday Five, Week 16

Ravens rivalry with Bengals could be the key to future of the AFC North

Merry Christmas! Tomorrow is Christmas Day, which features a return of NFL games. We also have a full schedule on Sunday and, as of now, things haven’t moved. But you never know… That was the fun of Week 15 and with COVID still lurking, we have to keep our heads on a swivel when it comes to the NFL schedule. There are three weeks left in the NFL season and plenty of intrigue about who will be in the NFL Playoffs and where they’ll be seeded. Which brings me to this week’s Friday Five. Below are the five games on the Sunday slate I’ll be watching most closely.

Sunday Early Games

Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-6)
It all comes down to this. Maybe not, but it’s certainly how it feels. The Ravens have been atop the AFC North for a while but three straight losses dropped them to second in the division and out of the playoffs entirely—if they started today, anyway. The Bengals, meanwhile, are trying to be the latest team to move from worst to first in one year’s time. Cincinnati sits in first place after a huge win over the Broncos in Week 15. The Bengals also beat the Ravens the first time they clashed. The Ravens are 1-3 in the AFC North to this point and if that trend continues, the Ravens won’t make the playoffs. Can Baltimore even the season series and reclaim first place? A lot is riding on this matchup.

Los Angeles Rams (10-4) at Minnesota Vikings (7-7)
Another crucial matchup for the playoffs, which features a Rams team fighting for the NFC West title—and a top conference seed—against a Vikings team just trying to make it into the playoffs. The Vikings are back to .500 and have a chance in the crowded pack competing for the seventh slot, while the Rams have caught the Cardinals, with whom they split the season series. The Cardinals face a stiff test from the red-hot Indianapolis Colts, so if the Rams can get the win they could vault into sole possession of First Place in the NFC West. Either way, the outcome here will shape the playoff picture in the NFC.

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (9-5)
The Patriots were one of the NFL’s hottest teams, heading into Week 15 as the top seed in the AFC. A tough loss to the Colts set them back, but the Patriots and rookie quarterback Mac Jones still sit atop the AFC East. Last season’s champs, the Buffalo Bills, would love to change that. When the teams met in Week 13 it was a windy affair that the Bills lost at home. Jones only threw three passes, but the Patriots dominated on the ground. Since then, the Bills have gone 1-1, but still sit just one game behind the Patriots. If New England wins on Sunday, the race in the AFC East is all but over with the Patriots earning a season sweep. If the Bills win, the race in the East will be wide open with two weeks left in the season. Not to mention the 7-7 Dolphins are lurking…

Sunday Late Games

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)
A battle between the Steelers and Chiefs is always fun, but this one has some extra intensity. After surviving a battle with the Chargers in Week 15, the Chiefs are comfortably in front in the AFC West and also now find themselves as the top seed in the AFC. It’s the outcome many expected in August but it’s taken a strange route to get there. The Chiefs have won seven straight and are looking for more. The Steelers, meanwhile, have struggled with consistency and scoring all season. At 7-6-1 they’re only a half game out of first in the AFC North but out of the Top 7 in the AFC currently. To get into the playoffs in the tight-packed conference, the Steelers need wins. The stakes are high for this one, which is the premier game of the late game slate on Sunday.

Sunday Night Game

Washington Football Team (6-8) at Dallas Cowboys (10-4)
Last season the NFC East couldn’t get a team back to .500. This year, the Cowboys have been killing it this season thanks to a talented offense and a play-making defense. The Cowboys are not only comfortably in front in the NFC East, but they’re also vying for a top seed in the NFC. In fact, there’s a chance the Cowboys could still end up with the top seed. And, with a win Sunday night, the Cowboys will win the NFC East. But Washington is hanging in there. Washington is fighting for a playoff spot but got dealt a blow with a Tuesday loss to the Eagles. Washington is battling injuries and inconsistency, having lost to the Cowboys a few weeks ago. A loss here will be a huge blow to Washington’s post-season aspirations. Can Washington do enough to turn the tables on the Cowboys at home, or will it be Dallas making playoff plans the day after Christmas?

Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.

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