Weekend Preview - Week 16

by SumerSports|December 21, 2023

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Welcome to the Weekend Preview!

This year at SumerSports.com, we are excited to bring you an analytical look at the NFL twice a week. In this preview of another football weekend, we will be laying out which games you should consider watching, what a win or a loss could mean for your team’s playoff chances, and more.

Be sure to check out the SumerSports podcast feed, follow us on Twitter @SumerSports, and sign up for our newsletter for more content like this. Also, take a look at our new customizable data tables that include teams, players, and more!

Playoff Leverage

As we get closer to the end of the season, the playoff picture is shaping up. Last week there were teams like the Buccaneers and Bengals that saw a big increase while the Packers and Falcons saw a similarly sized decrease.

The game with the most playoff leverage of the week is occurring on Amazon Prime’s Thursday Night Football between the Saints and Rams. Both teams sit at 7-7, and if the Saints win they jump up to a 64.8% chance to make the playoffs (43.0% chance to make it by winning the division, 21.8% to make it as a Wild Card). A Rams win would put them right around a coin flip to make it as they close out the season with the Giants and 49ers.

Staying in the NFC, Seattle’s big win last Monday puts them back in the driver’s seat for one of the Wild Card spots as a win over the Titans would give them a 73.8% chance to make the postseason with that number only increasing if the Rams lose on Thursday Night. Since the Vikings have the head to head tiebreaker over the Saints, they’d be well off with a win and a Saints win.

The AFC South as a whole has a lot on the line in Week 16 as the Texans, Jaguars, and Colts all have a greater than 50% chance to make the playoffs while the Texans and Colts are looking to chase down the Jaguars for the division. If the Jaguars lose to the Buccaneers, they will drop down to just a 40% chance to host a home playoff game (while still having a 62% chance of making the playoffs as a Wild Card).

Games to Watch

As we look ahead to Week 16, we can use a combination of team strength (using Elo), spread, projected points, and quarterback play to see which games we could be watching during the full slate.

Week 16 features more games on Saturday as the game of the day is the red hot Cincinnati Bengals traveling to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers in what should be a classic AFC North matchup.

On Sunday, there appears to be some interesting matchups in the early slate as both Colts-Falcons and Lions-Vikings should feature a lot of points while Browns-Texans has backup quarterbacks but a lot of playoff leverage on the line.

The game of the week is on Sunday as the Cowboys take on the Dolphins in the game that has the highest point total of the weekend. On Monday, we get 3 games as Ravens-49ers in the headliner between two high end teams with the spread leaning in San Francisco’s direction.

Dallas Cowboys @ Miami Dolphins

Despite last week’s letdown, the Cowboys still come into this matchup ranking highly in most offensive categories. They are top 10 in both EPA/pass and EPA/rush and have the 3rd best offense in football overall. However, they have a tough test in a Dolphins defense that ranks 4th in EPA/play allowed on the season and has had the best defense in the league since Jalen Ramsey has returned from injury. 

The Dolphins are led by their defensive line as they have the highest pressure rate and sack rate when sending 4 pass rushers. Last week, the Bills were able to slow down the Cowboys offense with quick pressure so if Bradley Chubb (11.6% pressure rate, 12th best in the NFL) and Andrew Van Ginkel (11.1% pressure rate, 21st best in the NFL) can get home in under 2.5 seconds, the Dolphins defense can do the same. If they are not able to, the Cowboys should be able to get back to their potent passing attack. If they do get matched up, CeeDee Lamb vs. Jalen Ramsey will be a great matchup to watch as CeeDee Lamb is 2nd in EPA when targeted this season while Jalen Ramsey has a -9.3% CPOE when targeted – 10th best among corners.

When the Dolphins have the ball on offense, we can expect a lean on the run game, much like the Bills did last week, as the Cowboys defense has forced opposing offenses to have a -2.7% PROE against them this season. The Cowboys have the worst rushing success rate against while the Dolphins have the 5th best rushing success rate in the NFL with De’Von Achane ranking 1st and Raheem Mostert ranking 5th. When the Dolphins drop back to pass, they will likely target the middle of the field as they have the best EPA/pass over the middle of the field while the Cowboys rank 23rd at defending those passes. 

Big games will be needed from standout corners Stephon Gilmore and Daron Bland who have been targeted on 34% of opposing offense’s pass plays but have a -9.3% and -9.8% CPOE when targeted respectively – which shows they’ve done a great job defending the ball. The Cowboys path to slow down the Dolphins offense also involves quick pressure as the Dolphins have the quickest time to throw in the league, and the Cowboys increase their pressure rate from 32.4% to 38.9% when going from 4 to 5 pass rushers.

Baltimore Ravens @ San Francisco 49ers

Kyle Shanahan and Mike MacDonald have both been top end play callers on their respective sides of the ball and that shows up in the stats in this game. The 49ers rank 1st in EPA/play and top 3 in both EPA/pass and EPA/rush. The Ravens rank 2nd in EPA/play allowed and are top 12 at stopping both the pass and the run. Shanahan often has hyper specific game plans targeted around the weak link and for a Baltimore defense that has been sound across the board this year, the only one he might find is Patrick Queen, who has a +12.2% CPOE when targeted. Brandon Aiyuk is the most commonly targeted player in the middle of the field for the 49ers so he could be in for a big game. If the Ravens decide to blitz to counter this, they will have to be creative as Brock Purdy has the highest EPA/play when blitzed of any quarterback this season. In the ground game, Kyle Van Noy and Jadeveon Clowney will be key in setting the edge on McCaffrey’s runs outside as the 49ers have a +0.14 EPA/rush when running left behind Trent Williams, the 3rd best of any team.

When the Ravens are on offense, it’ll again center around Lamar Jackson and his play making ability. Jackson has a 14% scramble rate this season, the highest rate in the league and also of his career. The 49ers defense, however, is the 2nd best defense at success rate allowed per scramble in large part due to their high-end linebacker play. If that is taken away from the Ravens, it will have to be a big game for Odell Beckham and Zay Flowers who are both above average in yards per route run on the season. With both Mark Andrews and Keaton Mitchell injured, the Ravens will likely up the 11 personnel usage, which is needed against the 49ers with how well they have defended 12 and 21 personnel this season.

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