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Three weeks are what separates us from now and the NFL playoffs.

Of course, very little has yet been decided. The 49ers have won the NFC West. The Cowboys, Eagles and Ravens have punched their tickets. That’s it.

There are still seven divisions and 10 playoff spots to be decided, with a few likely being sewn up this weekend.

But who takes control of their respective races and who falls further toward draft season? We break down the 15 upcoming games and look at one under-the-radar matchup in each that could sway the outcomes.

Cincinnati Bengals (8–6) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (7–7)

Key matchup: Steelers’ blitz vs. Jake Browning

Pittsburgh is a very aggressive defense. The Steelers rank fourth in blitz rate, sending extra pressure 36.3% of the time.

Browning struggled his first go-round against Pittsburgh, being sacked four times in a 16-10 loss. Can Cincinnati do a better job of protecting its backup this time?

Buffalo Bills (8–6) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (5–9)

Key matchup: Josh Allen vs. Chargers’ secondary

Allen has been uneven at times this year, but he’s drawing a great matchup this weekend against the hapless Chargers.

Buffalo’s quarterback spearheads an attack that ranks second in on-target throws (75.9%) while Los Angeles sits 30th in pass defense, allowing 261.4 yards per game. Should be a huge day for the Bills in the air.

Indianapolis Colts (8–6) vs. Atlanta Falcons (6–8)

Key matchup: Taylor Heinicke vs. Colts’ front seven

Heinicke is coming back in as Atlanta’s starting quarterback after Desmond Ridder led the Falcons to seven points against the Panthers last weekend.

Drawing the Colts won’t be a fun assignment. Indianapolis has the lowest blitz rate in football (15.4%) but is tied for third with 46 sacks. Look out.

Seattle Seahawks (7–7) vs. Tennessee Titans (5–9)

Key matchup: Seattle’s offense vs. Tennessee’s red-zone defense

The Seahawks have talented playmakers on offense, but they’ve struggled inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, ranking tied for 26th in the metric at 47.7%.

Conversely, the Titans have been stalwarts defensively near their goal line, only allowing touchdowns on 37.3% of red-zone trips, best in football.

Detroit Lions (10–4) vs. Minnesota Vikings (7–7)

Key matchup: Vikings’ pressure vs. Jared Goff’s immobility

Minnesota is the most blitz-heavy team in the league by a wide margin under coordinator Brian Flores, bringing extra rushers on 47.7% of snaps.

If the Vikings get home, it’s a problem for the Lions. Nobody scrambles less than Detroit’s quarterbacks, with Jared Goff only getting out of the pocket and away from pressure a league-low seven times this year.

Washington Commanders (5–9) vs. New York Jets (5–9)

Key matchup: Jets offensive line vs. Commanders front four

New York has been a sieve up front this season, regardless of who the quarterback is under center. To that end, the Jets have allowed an NFL-worst 27.9% pressure rate on dropbacks.

However, Washington has struggled to get home. The Commanders are just 26th in pressure rate at 19%.

Green Bay Packers (6–8) vs. Carolina Panthers (2–12)

Key matchup: Packers playmakers vs. Panthers’ secondary

The Panthers have obviously struggled in most areas this season, but they’re terrific preventing yards after the catch. Carolina has allowed just 1,174 such yards this season, fewest in the NFL.

Green Bay’s offense comes into Sunday ranking a middling 19th in yards after catch. The Packers will need to create some plays to break its two-game skid.

Cleveland Browns (9–5) vs. Houston Texans (8–6)

Key matchup: Texans’ passing offense vs. Browns’ pass defense

Case Keenum found a way to beat the Titans, but he might find a tougher challenge with the Browns coming to town.

Cleveland has allowed the fewest passing yards per game at only 158.9. For the Texans to win, Keenum must be at his best.

Jacksonville Jaguars (8–6) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7–7)

Key matchup: Baker Mayfield vs. Jaguars’ secondary

Mayfield posted a perfect rating of 158.3 last week in a win over the Packers. This weekend, he draws Jacksonville’s rancid pass defense, which checks in 29th overall, permitting 256.6 passing yards per game.

Tampa Bay only ranks 19th in passing at 224.3 yards per game, but with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, can it create explosive plays to win a fourth straight?

Arizona Cardinals (3–11) vs. Chicago Bears (5–9)

Key matchup: Cardinals’ red-zone offense vs. Bears’ defense

Arizona has struggled mightily throughout the year, but it’s excellent in the red zone. The Cardinals check in sixth at 61.8%, cashing in when the opportunity arrives.

As for the Bears, they are dead last in defensive red-zone efficiency, allowing touchdowns 71.8% of the time.

Dallas Cowboys (10–4) vs. Miami Dolphins (10–4)

Key matchup: Miami’s rushing attack vs. Dallas’ front seven

The Dolphins have been able to gash teams on the ground throughout the season, ranking tops in the NFL with 5.1 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys’ defense ranks tied for 18th at 4.3 YPC against, and the unit was run over in Buffalo last weekend for 269 ground yards. Can Dallas bounce back?

New England Patriots (3–11) vs. Denver Broncos (7–7)

Key matchup: Denver’s rushing attack vs. Patriots’ front seven

The Broncos have relied on a short passing game and a solid ground effort to score. Denver ranks tied for 10th in yards per carry at 4.2.

Against the Patriots, that could prove problematic. New England isn’t good at much this year, but it is tops against the run on a per carry basis, giving up only 3.1 yards.

Las Vegas Raiders (6–8) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (9–5)

Key matchup: Chiefs’ pass rush vs. Raiders front wall

Kansas City leads the league with an impressive 27.7% pressure rate, while also ranking tied for third in sacks with 46.

Yet the Raiders have permitted an NFL-low 14.5% pressure rate on dropbacks. When the two played in November, Aidan O’Connell was hit just four times and sacked once.

New York Giants (5–9) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (10–4)

Key matchup: Giants’ third-down offense vs. Eagles’ defense

New York has struggled mightily on third down, converting only 29.4% of its opportunities. Only the Jets have been worse.

Yet the Eagles might be the perfect tonic for the issue. Philadelphia’s defense is dead last on third down, allowing conversions 47.7% of the time.

Baltimore Ravens (11–3) vs. San Francisco 49ers (11–3)

Key matchup: 49ers’ pass-catchers vs. Ravens’ tacklers

San Francisco is phenomenal in a slew of offensive categories, and yards after the catch is one of them. The 49ers rank fourth with 1,860 after the catch yards.

However, Baltimore’s defense has been stingy in this regard. The Ravens have only surrendered 1,407 yards after catch, checking in ninth.

Source: https://www.si.com/nfl/2023/12/21/matchups-stats-week-16-ravens-49ers

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Seerat Fatima

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