With five weeks to go until playoff spots are finalised, every game takes on extra significance, unless you’re the Oakland Raiders or the Arizona Cardinals, that is.
The Cardinals face the ailing Green Bay Packers this weekend in the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. And while something is not quite right about the Packers’ offense, Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy, Green Bay are only two games out of a Wild Card place with Arizona, Atlanta, NY Jets and Detroit (combined win total of 13) and the 8-3 Bears to play.
Rodgers said this week that his side “might as well let it all hang out” and expect him to do just that against the hapless Cardinals. After a 45-10 shellacking by the Chargers last time out, first-year Arizona head coach Steve Wilks sent a message, cutting two starters in tackle Andre Smith and cornerback Bene Benwikere.
“If you’re not doing it our way, if you’re not giving us the best opportunity to win football games, you won’t be on the field,” said the Cards boss. “If it gets to that point, we’ll move on. And that’s what we did.”
The win against San Francisco in Week 8 feels like a long time ago in the desert, and after this week’s loss to Green Bay, the rookie coach will be feeling the heat.
Baltimore are currently the team in possession of the AFC’s second Wild Card berth but it’s a tenuous grip, with Indy breathing down their neck and four teams within a game of them
"We know who we are. We know what we're capable of. We know what we're all about."
Coach Harbaugh discusses Sunday's matchup with Atlanta.
The Ravens bird-off with the Falcons is a must-win for John Harbaugh’s side. Lamar Jackson gets his third start for the Ravens, having breathed life and legs into the offense since his first start in Week 11.
With Joe Flacco at the helm, Baltimore’s offense had looked listless as they dropped three straight to go from 4-2 to 4-5. The rookie Jackson is 2-0 since and is getting it done on the ground. Against Cincinnati two weeks ago the youngster out of Louisville became the first quarterback since 2016 to top 100 yards rushing in a game with 117 yards.
That was the second most by a rookie QB since 1970 – a mark set by his back-up Robert Griffin III – and a Ravens single-game mark. A week ago, against the Raiders, Jackson ran for a score and threw for another as he led a run-heavy victory over Oakland.
This week he faces an Atlanta defense shorn of Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen, who are both on injured reserve while star linebacker Deoin Jones makes his return having been out since Week 1. The Ravens defense – Terrell Suggs ran back a fumble 43 yards against Oakland – should be robust enough to keep the Falcons out of the end zone, so Jackson will get his third win.
At times this year, Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers have looked like the side that rolled to 15-1 and a Super Bowl appearance in 2015. At others, they’ve almost lost to the Giants and been crushed by the Steelers. They’re on a three-game losing tear and get the remedy in Tampa Bay. In Week 9, Carolina built a 35-7 lead over the Bucs before Ryan Fitzpatrick worked his Fitzmagic and brought his side back to 28-35. Newton then calmly led the Panthers 75 yards for a score to ice the game.
As the Panthers snapped their 10-game home winning streak against Seattle last week, Christian McCaffrey became the first player in franchise history to rush and receive for over 100 yards. His 237 scrimmage yards – 125 on the ground, 112 through the air – topped Jonathan Stewart’s record of 222. He’ll see the ball early and often as Carolina look to repeat their victory over the Bucs earlier in the season.
It’s hard to know what to make of Mike Vrabel’s Titans. They’ve beaten up Tom Brady and the Patriots, stuffed Dallas and beaten the Super Bowl champion Eagles. They’ve also been outclassed in the last two weeks by Indy and Houston – divisional rivals – and fallen to Buffalo. This week though, they host the wingless NY Jets, who are basically on a five-game countdown to a new head coach.
Todd Bowles looks out of answers in the Big Apple and will be out of a job at season’s end. Tennessee meanwhile will keep pace with the chasing pack for a Wild Card spot.
The Titans’ divisional rival Jaguars have hit rock-bottom after last week’s 21-24 meltdown in Buffalo. Offensive co-ordinator had a call from head coach Doug Marrone on Monday, thinking it was about making a change at quarterback.
It was Marrone giving him his marching orders. The QB change took place too, with Cody Kessler, proud owner of a career 86.5 passer rating and and 0-8 winning record, stepping into Blake Bortles starting role. Kessler won’t have the luxury of running back Leonard Fournette behind him on Sunday. The second-year rusher was thrown out of the Buffalo game for trading punches with Shaq Lawson and suspended for this weekend’s game. The defense could also be missing a key piece, with Jalen Ramsey missing Wednesday and Thursday practice and being limited in Friday’s. Expect Andrew Luck and his surging Colts to have his way with the formerly vaunted Jags D and make it six wins on the bounce in Duval this week.
Packers over Cardinals
Ravens over Falcons
Panthers over Buccaneers
Colts over Jaguars
Titans over Jets