By BARRY WILNER
Now this is a week NFL fans can truly celebrate.
First off, it appears the league will complete the 2020 portion of the schedule on time and with no cancellations. Secondly, there are only two games in Week 16 that have no postseason implications.
Plus, there’s pro football on four straight days, starting with Minnesota’s trip to New Orleans late on Christmas afternoon. The weekend concludes with the AFC East champion Bills — how sweet that must sound in Western New York — getting a chance to stomp on their tormentors, the Patriots on Monday night.
“This week is what all of that’s about,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says. “It’s to get to this point, being a championship opportunity, continuing to pose each game that we play as a championship opportunity so we’re practicing that mentality so that when we get here, we do exactly that again. So hopefully, all of the lessons stick, and we carry on.”
Los Angeles Rams (9-5) at Seattle (10-4)
The Seahawks will clinch their first NFC West title since 2016 with a victory. It would be the fifth division title for Seattle since Carroll’s arrival in 2010.
“We have finished well in our season,” he says. “We finished with a lot of good wins at the end of the year, and this is another opportunity to demonstrate that we get it and we know what we’re doing. Philosophically, we’re tight and connected, and that we can go out and perform like we’re capable against a really great football team. So nothing changes.”
The Rams have won five of their past six against Seattle while averaging nearly 32 points per game, and would clinch a third playoff berth in four seasons under Sean McVay with a win. But they come off a stinker of a loss to the Jets.
Indianapolis (10-4) at Pittsburgh (11-3)
Lots riding here, too.
The Steelers, the first team to lose three straight following an 11-0 start since the 1969 Rams, still win the AFC North by beating the Colts or a loss by Cleveland to the Jets. Pittsburgh has won six in a row in this series, but these Steelers are reeling. They do have a sack in an NFL-record 71 straight games and have sacked Philip Rivers 15 times during seven games while he played for the Chargers.
Indianapolis has won five of six and can earn a postseason berth with a victory and a loss by either Baltimore or Miami. Rivers needs one touchdown pass to tie Dan Marino (420) for fifth on the career list. Rivers has had two or more TD passes in five straight games.
Tennessee (10-4) at Green Bay (11-3)
The Titans need a win to clinch a playoff berth for a third time in four seasons. Tennessee also can clinch with a loss by either Baltimore or Miami. The Titans grab their first AFC South title since 2008 with a win and a loss by the Colts.
Tennessee is 3-0 against the NFC North this season. In NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry, it has a prime weapon. Henry has a career-high 1,679 yards rushing and 15 touchdown runs. He’s the fourth player in NFL history to run for 1,500 yards and 15 TDs in back-to-back seasons.
The Packers already have clinched the NFC North and earn the conference’s top seed and only bye with a win while the Rams beat or tie Seattle. Aaron Rodgers has thrown an NFL-leading 40 TD passes with only four picks, while his main target, Davante Adams, has 14 TD catches.
Atlanta (4-10) at Kansas City (13-1)
Not only are the Chiefs division champs for the fifth successive season, they could match the Packers (2011) for the best regular season by a reigning Super Bowl champion. A win gives them the coveted AFC opening-round bye.
The Chiefs also could tie the longest regular-season win streak in franchise history with their 10th straight. Kansas City has never won 14 games in a season.
While Matt Ryan completed passes to 11 receivers against the Bucs, his main target with Julio Jones hobbled is Calvin Ridley. He had career bests of 10 catches for 163 yards last week, and Ridley’s seven 100-yard games lead the NFL.
Minnesota (6-8) at New Orleans (10-4), Friday
The Saints can celebrate on Christmas night with a victory that gives them the NFC South title. A Tampa Bay loss Saturday also does that.
Drew Brees returned from a four-game absence (rib and lung) last week and passed for three TDs. Brees needs 154 yards passing to become the first quarterback with 80,000.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook leads the NFL with 1,833 yards from scrimmage. Wideout Justin Jefferson leads all rookies with 73 receptions and 1,182 receiving yards.
Tampa Bay (9-5) at Detroit (5-9), Saturday
Tom Brady is accustomed to this scenario even as his current team is in uncharted waters since 2007. The Bucs need a win or a Chicago loss to clinch their first postseason berth since then. Tampa Bay’s 13-year playoff drought is the NFL’s second-longest string behind Cleveland’s 18-year run that is about to end.
As for Brady, well, he does have those six Super Bowl rings from his time in New England. Only once while he was healthy and the full-time starter there (2002) did the Patriots not make the playoffs.
Lions interim coach Darrell Bevell will miss the game because of COVID-19 contact tracing. Wide receivers coach Robert Prince will run the team.
San Francisco (5-9) at Arizona (8-6), Saturday
An NFL first: The game will air nationally exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, Twitch and Amazon’s other services. The game will also be broadcast in Arizona’s and San Francisco’s home markets.
Arizona is trying for its fifth season sweep over San Francisco in the past six seasons, as well as holding on to the final NFC wild-card spot.
The Niners are playing a road game at their temporary home in Arizona after being forced out of their home stadium because of coronavirus rules. San Francisco lost its two home games at State Farm Stadium.
Miami (9-5) at Las Vegas (7-7), Saturday
As the Raiders have plunged almost out of playoff contention, Miami has compiled some impressive numbers. Last year the Dolphins allowed an NFL-worst 30.9 points per game. This season they’re allowing 18.4 per game, the league’s lowest average. The Dolphins have a takeaway in 20 consecutive games, the NFL’s longest active streak. Cornerback Xavien Howard leads the league with nine interceptions, more than nine teams, and Miami has allowed 16 TDs passing after giving up a league-high 39 last year.
The Raiders are 2-5 at home in their first year in Las Vegas and can tie a franchise record for home losses in a season with a sixth. They’ve lost four of five following a 6-3 start and will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss or a Ravens win.
Cleveland (10-4) at New York Jets (1-13)
Now that the Jets have their victory, and presumably blew their chance for the top overall draft pick, can they pull off another mammoth upset? Cleveland, which won at the Meadowlands last Sunday vs. the Giants, has numerous scenarios to get into the postseason on Sunday, but must win.
The Browns are on the verge of their first playoff appearance since 2002, the NFL’s current longest drought. Their 10 wins under first-year coach Kevin Stefanski match the franchise’s most since its 1999 expansion return.
New York Giants (5-9) at Baltimore (9-5)
The Giants barely hang on to playoff hopes, and Baltimore likely needs to win out — and still might be left out. Look for the Ravens to run the ball, having rushed for at least 100 yards in 37 straight games, tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history, and to be ballhawks: Baltimore leads the league with 25 forced fumbles and ranks second with 12 fumble recoveries.
New York hopes to have Daniel Jones back at quarterback.
Carolina (4-10) at Washington (6-8)
A win in his first game coaching against the team he led to the 2015 NFC title — and which fired him in 2019 — would give Washington’s Ron Rivera the NFC East crown if the Giants lose to Baltimore. But the headlines rarely have been good out of D.C., and this week quarterback Dwayne Haskins was fined $40,000 and stripped of his captaincy for violating league COVID-19 protocols.
The Panthers have lost eight of their past nine. On Monday, they fired general manager Marty Hurney, who could wind up in Washington.
Philadelphia (4-9-1) at Dallas (5-9)
Both NFC East teams are hanging on in hopes Washington slumps, though the loser here can’t make the postseason —which, given their records shouldn’t even be in the conversation.
A Cowboys loss will mean their first losing record in NFC East games since 2011. Eagles rookie QB Jalen Hurts has given the offense a boost in his two starts.
Buffalo (11-3) at New England (6-8), Monday night
The division-champion Bills can be the first AFC East foe to sweep New England in a season since the Jets and Dolphins did it in 2000. The 19 straight seasons without losing both games to a divisional opponent is an NFL record. The Bills last swept the Patriots in 1999.
“To go against a division opponent and be able to beat them both times, that’s a big deal,” Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White said. “I guess this year’s the year of breaking streaks or whatever. So I hope that’s the case.”
Chicago (7-7) at Jacksonville (1-13)
Jacksonville has lost 13 in a row, tying the longest skid in team history. The Jaguars have allowed at least 24 points in each of those 13 games, an NFL record.
While the Jaguars now are in position for the top overall draft pick (Trevor Lawrence?), the Bears still can make the postseason. They need help, specifically Arizona losing.
Denver (5-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-9)
Not much to recommend this game except the opportunity to watch Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. LA has won two in a row and Herbert’s rapid maturing on the NFL level is encouraging.
Denver has had one of the most injured rosters all season, and now gets to see former star defensive back Chris Harris Jr on the other side.
Cincinnati (3-10-1) at Houston (4-10)
The Bengals looked like a professional team in handling Pittsburgh on Monday night after losing five straight. Unfortunately, the development of top overall draft pick Joe Burrow was curtailed by his midseason knee injury, but the future looks less stark than in Houston.
While QB Deshaun Watson is having a solid enough season, the Texans are one of the NFL’s biggest disappointments and are searching for a new head coach.