First of all, I suggest checking out my Week 15 Facts, with which you can dazzle your friends with knowledge for every game you are watching. That being said, here are 10 things to watch this weekend:
1. Will T.J. Yates struggle now, in the playoffs or never? He’s been between effective and pretty good since he took over but he is probably the most suspect quarterback on a playoff team this year, save for Tim Tebow. The Texans and their 4th-ranked defense (16 PPG) and face the Panthers at 1 ET at Reliant Stadium without defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. The defense could end up playing off emotion or could end up suffering from their less-seasoned new play-caller linebackers coach Reggie Herring. Their 36 sacks are second only to the Ravens, who have 43.
2. James Harrison is out with suspension. Will the Steelers defense rally and take advantage of a recently-leaky 49ers O-line? The Cardinals put a hurt on the 49ers offense (5 sacks, 1 TD, 4 FG allowed), and their coordinator Ray Horton came from the Steelers. This Monday night game likely will effect seeding more than whether or not the Steelers will make the playoffs, as they hold a 2-game lead in the wild card.
3. Two interim coaches make their debut. Will the teams rally behind Romeo Crennel and Todd Bowles or maybe behind the reality that they could be the next to be fired? In 2008, the 49ers under Mike Singletary were 5-4. Last year, when Eric Studesville, Leslie Frazier and Jason Garrett took over, they were 1-3, 3-3 and 5-3 respectively. This year, Mel Tucker’s Jacksonville group lost to the Chargers, then bounced back vibrantly, 41-17 against the Buccaneers.
4. 3 teams can clinch this weekend. Patriots AFC East division title: a win or a Jets loss. Patriots playoff spot: tie or get either a Bengals loss or tie, a Raiders loss or tie, or a Titans loss or tie. Ravens playoff spot: a win over the Chargers. Or, they need a Jets loss and a Raiders loss or tie, or they need a Jets loss and a Titans loss or tie, or they need a Raiders loss or tie and a Titans loss or tie. Steelers playoff spot: A win or tie against the 49ers, a Raiders loss or tie, a Titans loss or tie, a Broncos loss, OR a Jets loss.
5. Sunday night could have major playoff implications, and career implications.The Ravens want to win the Pagano Bowl (they won the Harbaugh Bowl) because they will clinch a playoff berth and stay the #1 seed in the playoff race. A loss would leave the Chargers at 6-8, and could be the loss that gets Norv Turner fired.
6. Lions @ Raiders may have major implications. Some would call the Lions Raiders East, but one of these teams will increase their wild card possibilities by winning Sunday. The Packers are in a unique situation of having a virtual lock on the #1 seed and having a chance to play spoiler to both of their division foes, the Lions and Bears.
7. Patriots @ Broncos is over-hyped but meaningful for both teams. The Patriots secondary is one of the worst in the NFL. Vince Young, Dan Orlovsky and Rex Grossman each had at least 289 net yards passing and their teams each scored at least 20 points against the Patriots. The Patriots will be able to outscore the Broncos, and – as this happens – we’ll see if the Raiders are able to tie Denver for the best record in the West.
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