As the Cowboys take their long week off after consecutive Thursday games the Redskins, Giants, Eagles, and other wild card contenders are in action. Here is Tandler’s weekly Redskins-centric spin around the NFL.
—The Giants are on a six-game winning streak and while that’s not easy to do against any level of competition it needs to be pointed out that their slate was squishy-soft with the last five wins coming against teams that currently have losing records. Now things get real with a trip to play the Steelers and a home date against the Cowboys. I’m not really sure how good the Giants are but if they split these two games I’ll be more impressed with them than I am now.
—The 5-6 Eagles travel to play the Bengals, who are just about out of contention for a sixth straight playoff appearance at 3-7-1. In fact, the Eagles might be just about out of it, too. Their big problem is 3-6 conference record, which puts them behind several other wild card contenders in this tiebreaker. It’s important because that is the second tiebreaker behind head to head. It’s better for the Redskins if the Bengals win but it probably won’t matter much. The consensus in Philadelphia seems to be that the Eagles are a rebuilding team that got off to a hot start, kindling some unrealistic hopes and expectations for the rest of 2016.
—The team is the hottest pursuit of the Redskins is the Buccaneers, who travel to San Diego to play a game that starts at the same time as Washington-Arizona. The Chargers are 5-6 but they are buried in last in the tough AFC West. This game is a coin flip. Redskins fans should root for the Chargers. If the Bucs lose, the Redskins would still hold the second wild card at the end of the day even if they should lose to the Cardinals.
—The 5-6 Saints are on the fringes of the wild card picture. They host the Lions, who are leading the NFC North by a game and a half over the Vikings and two games over the Packers. It’s probably best if the Lions win, which would just about eliminate the Saints. Still, there is a scenario where the Lions go into a minor tailspin, lose the division to either the Packers or Vikings but have a good enough record to take the second wild card. So like with most games within the NFC until the dust settles some more, there is some upside and some downside no matter which team wins.
—That scenario where the Lions fade from the division lead become a whole lot less likely if the Texans can go to Green Bay and beat the Packers. This is an interconference game so it’s an easy call to pull for Houston.
—Seattle, with a three-game lead in the NFC West, hosts the Panthers, who are on the outer fringe of the wild card race at 4-7. Another loss likely would ensure that Carolina won’t be able to defend its NFC title. This isn’t a pivotal game but probably better if the Seahawks win to end it for the wounded but potentially dangerous Panthers.
—My one loss last week was the Seahawks giving 5.5 on the road to the Bucs. I won with the Saints over the Rams and the Falcons over the Cardinals. This week I’m giving the Seahawks another go, giving 7 to the Panthers, and I’m taking the Patriots -13.5 against the Rams (the loss of Gronk doesn’t do much to equalize these teams) and the Saints giving 6 to the Lions.
MORE REDSKINS: Betting on the Redskins' playoff chances
What: Dolphins (7-4) at Ravens (6-5)
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
Where: M&T Bank Stadium
OUT – TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), G Alex Lewis (ankle), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh).
DOUBTFUL – RB Buck Allen (non-football issue).
QUESTIONABLE – WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle).
OUT – C Maurkice Pouncey (hip).
DOUBTFUL – CB Xavien Howard (knee).
QUESTIONABLE – OT Branden Albert (wrist), LB Kiko Alonso (hamstring), G Jermon Bushrod (calf), RB Kenyen Drake (knee); LB Jelani Jenkins (knee/hand); DT Earl Mitchell (back); WR DeVante Parker (back); G/T Laremy Tunsil (shoulder).
Five questions you should ask:
1. Are the Dolphins ready to win a big road game in December?
Despite their six-game winning streak, the Dolphins are just 2-3 away from home. Now you’re asking them to win at M&T Bank Stadium, where the Dolphins are 0-2 all-time? We’ll see. The Dolphins will gain credibility as an AFC playoff threat if they win this game.
2. Can the Ravens put together a complete offensive performance?
Quarterback Joe Flacco wasn’t satisfied with the Ravens’ 19-14 win over the Bengals in Week 12. Actually, he hasn’t been satisfied with the offense all season.
“When you have a team 16-3, you would like to choke them out and get it over with,” Flacco said.
He knows the Ravens have to play better offensively to go on a December run. And part of that improvement starts with Flacco.
3. Can the Ravens’ offensive line handle Cameron Wake (8½ sacks) and Ndamukong Suh (five sacks)?
The Dolphins’ defensive line has the ability to make Flacco’s day miserable. The Ravens’ offensive line will need one of its better performances.
4. Which team’s running game will be most effective?
This could be the key to victory, because both teams want to run and utilize play-action passing. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (847 yards, 5.3 yards per carry) is a load, but the Ravens have the NFL’s top-ranked run defense. Ravens rookie running back Kenneth Dixon is coming off his best game (13 carries, 49 yards), and looks ready to share more carries with Terrance West (600 yards).
5. Can the Ravens get enough pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill?
Tannehill has nine touchdown passes and just one interception during the Dolphins’ six-game winning streak. The Dolphins like to get Tannehill outside the pocket and take advantage of his ability to throw accurately on the move. Tannehill’s game has grown under new head coach Adam Gase. If the Ravens don’t throw Tannehill off his rhythm, he will make plays.
Prediction: Expect a typical close Ravens game, but I see them squeezing out a critical victory, on the strength of Justin Tucker’s leg.
Ravens 20, Dolphins 17
MORE RAVENS: How Ravens could still win AFC North