Houston Texans at Oakland Raiders, 8:30p.m. EST
On the surface, this game doesn’t look like much. The recent history of each team hasn’t been much to talk about, I understand. These days though, both teams are up and coming and could be the future of the NFL, as hard as that may be to believe. Brock Osweiler and Derek Carr have the talent and the tools to be franchise QBs for the next decade. This game will tell us who’s ready now.
Keys to the Game
Houston is going to want to get J.J. Watt freed up to chase Derek Carr around all game long. Between Clowney and Watt, the Texans will want one of them pestering Carr every single time he drops back to pass. I’m not sure Houston has the secondary to keep tabs on Amari Cooper, so their best bet will be making sure Carr doesn’t have the time to get it to him. They’ll need to rely on Lamar Miller to run well and keep Khalil Mack off their own QB as well.
The fate of their offense will rely on how well they’re able to keep J.J. Watt out of the backfield. Quick hitting passes underneath and the running game will be very important pieces of the game plan to take Watt out of the picture. They will have to focus on staying out of third and long situations where Watt and Clowney will be rushing with reckless abandon. Using the run game to set up play action will go a long way in getting Amari Cooper open down the field as well.
Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins, 8:30p.m. EST
The Redskins revenge. Green Bay ended Washington’s playoff party shortly after it got started with a solid whooping. Don’t think Washington has forgotten that just because it’s a new year. Captain Kirk and the boys will be out for revenge as they try to win a second straight NFC East title.
Keys to the Game
Don’t underestimate Kirk Cousins. The QB’s name doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of opponents like Aaron Rodgers, but he’s very capable of leading his team to victory and getting things done in crunch time — especially with a new weapon in Josh Doctson on the outside. The Packers should respect the run game, but look to contain the pass as a way to leave Washington with a W.
Losing Terrance Knighton on the inside will make them slightly more vulnerable to the bruising running style of Eddie Lacy, but the key will be Aaron Rodgers. Not that you need me to spell that out. The Redskins will attempt to slow down Rodgers, but the best way for them to do that is to simply keep him on the sideline. A balanced attack that dominates time of possession is the best way for them to send the Packers home with a loss. If it turns into a shootout, Washington will be in trouble.
Philadelphia Eagles at Seattle Seahawks, 4:25p.m. EST
Battle of the birds. This game will be a good barometer of Sam Bradford’s leash in Philly. Get clobbered by the Seahawks and it might be his last start. Go toe to toe with one of the NFC’s best and add some zeroes to that contract from another team in the offseason. Bradford has a lot on the line and new coach Doug Pederson wants to prove his worth — Seattle will have their hands full.
Keys to the Game
The Eagles are going to need Sam Bradford’s best if they want to steal a victory at the Twelfth Man. You can bet that Richard Sherman will shut down half the field, so Bradford will need to pick his spots and make good decisions to keep the ball in his hands and give the running game room. If Bradford is ineffective, the Seahawks will be able to load the box and pound the Eagles into oblivion with Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks don’t have as much to gain from a win here, but they have a lot to lose should they fall to the Eagles at home. Philly doesn’t necessarily have a superstar to key on during the game, knocking Bradford off his game will ensure a victory for Seattle. Bradford is prone to turning the ball over and the Seahawks still have a defense to take advantage of that despite some offseason losses. Avoid big mistakes against an all-or-nothing Eagles D and this game will be in the bag.
Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings, 1p.m. EST
Kick off your Sunday with this stellar matchup between a pair of 2015 playoff teams. Their offensive styles couldn’t be further apart, but they both know how to rack up W’s. This game doubles as a potential battle for a wildcard playoff spot, depending on how division races shake out, and as a playoff matchup preview. We were one Vikings field goal away from seeing this matchup last year.
Keys to the Game
The Vikings bring a strong running game to the table with hall of famer Adrian Peterson as well as super athletic backup Jerick McKinnon. Arizona’s best chance to beat Minnesota will involve slowing down that running game. If they’re able to keep the Vikings in second and third and long all day, it will force Teddy Bridgewater to throw the ball and giving Arizona a chance to bring the heat with Chandler Jones. Arizona’s pass rush and talented secondary pose problems for Bridgewater.
Containing the Cardinals’ explosive offense is going to prove difficult. The Vikings will need to take advantage of opportunities to force turnovers and protect the ball on offense. They won’t survive if they give Arizona extra possessions. Couple that with a running game that can dominate time of possession and keep the Arizona offense on the sidelines and the VIkings will have a recipe for success. Arizona can’t score if they don’t have the ball.