Arizona Cardinals vs Washington Redskins
Sunday 17th December, 6pm (UK time)
- Winner: Cardinals 15/8, Redskins 4/9
It’s been a tough year for fans of both teams, due to injuries absolutely ravaging both rosters. The Cardinals lost starting quarterback Carson Palmer early in the season before star running back David Johnson went down with a wrist injury. If you take away a team’s top two offensive powers, they are always going to struggle! The Redskins have lost players throughout the entire team, putting five starters on injured reserve and seeing their weekly injury report frequently rise into double digits.
Still, the season must go on and it’s down to the coaches and players to find a way to win. The Cardinals, sitting at 6-7, must be relatively happy with how the season has gone considering all that has happened. There is no doubt the team had playoff ambitions before the campaign began, but playing in one of the toughest divisions in the NFL doesn’t exactly help when you aren’t at 100% each week.
All bar one of their losses this season have come at the hands of teams either in the playoffs or sitting one game back, and their marginal success only comes from a defence that is stout against the run forcing turnovers in the passing game through star defensive backs Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu.
The Redskins should have done better this year after scoring some good victories last season they would have hoped to have built on. This team also had playoff ambitions, but the overall standard in the NFC is too strong this year, to the point where its looking like you will need to win ten games just to get a wildcard spot.
That was never going to happen for a team losing its starting wide receiver, running back and tight end. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has been the talk of each free agency due to the Redskins not offering him a long-term contract, and if this season is anything to go by, he won’t want to sign one even if it is eventually offered.
This game will come down to which offence can get going the fastest. The Cardinals defence ranks 25th in points allowed whilst the Redskins are bottom of the league, allowing 26.5 per game. Offensively the Redskins have the advantage, posting 21.9 points per game (18th in NFL) whilst the Cardinals only score 17.8.
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New England Patriots vs Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday 17th December, 9:25pm (UK time)
- Winner: Patriots 4/6, Steelers 6/5
Before the season even began, people were pencilling these two teams in for a repeat of last year in the AFC championship game. The Patriots clinched that encounter before going on to win the Super Bowl, and the Steelers players openly admitted they have been looking forward to a rematch ever since the final whistle went. The teams currently sit at the top two spots in the conference, so this game is easily the biggest of the week.
The Patriots come into this game off a poor performance against the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. They were beaten off the ball on nearly every play and just looked too slow to even compete, and that will not be good enough against this high-flying Pittsburgh team.
Tom Brady is playing an incredibly high standard of football considering he is into his 40s, but if the team is to have any chance this week, the offensive line needs to buy him time to actually make reads of the defensive scheme. Gronkowski returns after a one week suspension, which will benefit the team tremendously. Since 2007 Brady has flat out torn the Steelers zone defence to pieces, averaging 324.7 yards per game along with 22 total touchdowns and no interceptions.
If the Patriots are the big boys of the AFC then the Steelers are their little brother. They have the power to compete behind Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown, but the three just never come together for big performances in the games that truly matter. This year, the Steelers finally have a defence to rave about, ranking in the top ten for every major category.
Star linebacker and captain of the defence Ryan Shazier was lost for the season after a horrific back injury that could have left him paralysed, so it will be up to other players to take the load for now. The team as a whole has won three very intense games in a row by a combined margin of seven points, so they will need to keep up that level of performance if they are to have any chance in this crucial match up.
The Steelers can clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win this week, whilst a Patriots win would set them up to secure that same feat two weeks later. Home field advantage means so much to both these teams that its almost like we are being treated to playoff football in early December.
Sports.net Top Tip
|First Half Winner and Over 26.5 First Half Points||