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2022 NFL season: Six things to watch for in Colts-Vikings, Ravens-Browns, Dolphins-Bills on NFL Network

Indianapolis Colts
2022 · 4-8-1
Minnesota Vikings
2022 · 10-3-0
  • WHERE: U.S. Bank Stadium (Minneapolis)
  • WHEN: 1 p.m. ET | NFL Network, NFL+

  1. Can the Vikings get their defensive issues sorted out? Minnesota is 10-3, but owns a negative point differential. The Vikings haven't lost often, but when they have, it's been ugly. This fact does not bode well for Minnesota's chances of winning against fellow playoff teams come January, and there isn't a whole lot of time for defensive coordinator Ed Donatell to get things dialed in. Indianapolis might present the Vikings with an ideal opportunity because of the Colts' tendency to turn it over, perhaps providing Minnesota with an on-ramp to play better down the stretch. It's not a question of whether the Vikings will make the playoffs; It's what kind of shape they'll be in when they get there. No matter what Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson and Dalvin Cook do, the Vikings won't have a great chance if their defense can't carry its share of the load. It doesn't have to be an even share; it just needs to be better than its current state, which is the worst in the NFL and 26th in big plays allowed. That's simply not championship material.
  2. Can the Colts score a second win for Jeff Saturday in a disappointing season? The Colts began their unusual stint with Saturday as interim head coach by scoring an unlikely win over the Raiders, but since then, it's been tough. Indianapolis lost its next two games by one possession each, then saw a close contest turn into a laughingstock in Dallas on the prime-time stage. Saturday has had an extra week to prepare for Minnesota, thanks to the bye, and has a defense that is good enough to keep the game within striking range. The issue is whether the Colts can avoid committing back-breaking mistakes. Most importantly, the Colts need a win -- no, Saturday needs a win. That hire is starting to look as bad as the football world initially believed it to be, and with one month left, the first-time head coach can't afford to lose out if he has any hope of keeping the job beyond the interim.

Baltimore Ravens
2022 · 9-4-0
Cleveland Browns
2022 · 5-8-0
  • WHERE: FirstEnergy Stadium (Cleveland)
  • WHEN: 4:30 p.m. ET | NFL Network, NFL+

  1. Was J.K. Dobbins' Week 14 outburst a fluke, or a sign of things to come? Because of injuries, Baltimore was forced to play both its second- and third-string quarterbacks in Week 14, yet it didn't end up mattering all that much thanks to the return of Dobbins, who rushed for 120 yards and scored a touchdown in his first game back since Week 6. The question now is whether this was just a product of a few long runs and a Steelers defense that was playing below expectation, or if Dobbins is truly ready to power Baltimore's running game. He has a nice matchup in front of him in the form of Cleveland's inconsistent, 22nd-ranked rush defense, which should give us our answer. If he rips off another 100-plus-yard game and leads Baltimore to victory, it will teach us two things: first, the Ravens are more than just their electrifying starting quarterback, and secondly, they might be better than people think as we near the playoffs. Oh, and Baltimore kind of needs this win, too, considering they're in a dead heat with Cincinnati for the AFC North title.
  2. Will Deshaun Watson take another step toward reclaiming his star abilities? The Browns' season essentially ended last weekend in Cincinnati, but Watson showed signs of improvement, which should be encouraging and could serve as a silver lining for Cleveland as it heads into a cold, disappointing winter. The main reason to pay attention in this final month for Cleveland fans is to continue to see if Watson improves. He will get a quality test in Baltimore's 12th-ranked defense and could find room to make a difference because of the disparity between the Ravens' effectiveness against the run (ranked second) versus the pass (26th). What's most important for the Browns, though, is whether coach Kevin Stefanski can figure out how to properly deploy Watson within his offense. Their partnership was extremely awkward in Watson's first game and only slightly better in his second outing, with Watson doing more of the work by extending the play with his feet than Stefanski providing fantastic calls. This has to come closer to even for the Browns to feel confident about Watson in the long run. He'll get four more opportunities to get better, starting with Saturday.
Miami Dolphins
2022 · 8-5-0
Buffalo Bills
2022 · 10-3-0
  • WHERE: Highmark Stadium (Orchard Park, N.Y.)
  • WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET | NFL Network, NFL+

  1. Can Tua Tagovailoa get back on track? Considering how the Dolphins have played in each of the last two weeks, Miami's five-game winning streak feels like it was a dream. In that stretch of success, the Dolphins looked like the most explosive offense in the NFL, while Tagovailoa played like an MVP candidate. Since then, it's been nothing but disappointment from Tagovailoa and the Dolphins offense, which has scored just 17 points in each of its last two games after averaging over 30 per contest during its winning streak. Tagovailoa's passer rating has fallen off a cliff, dropping from 115.7 in his first nine starts to 73.1 in his last two. At 8-5 overall, Miami currently holds the sixth seed in the AFC, which is far too low for a team many believed had the stuff of a Super Bowl contender. Tagovailoa's road back to success begins in Orchard Park, where temperatures are forecast to land in the 20s and snow is all but guaranteed. Tagovailoa has never played in a snow game in his NFL career, but he'll have to adjust quickly because it's starting to get urgent, if not desperate for these Dolphins. Can Tagovailoa figure it out and regain his accuracy that saw him lead the league in passer rating earlier this season? Or will the snow and Buffalo's defense send his Dolphins to a third-straight, pressure-raising defeat?
  2. Will the Bills finish the regular season on a hot streak? Buffalo's lull ended at just the right time: Right after a massive snowstorm buried western New York. Since residents and the Bills alike dug themselves out, Buffalo has enjoyed nothing but smooth sailing, winning four straight over a variety of opponents. The stingiest portion of their schedule since October awaits them, starting with the division-rival Dolphins. Buffalo will have the home-climate advantage this weekend and is meeting a Dolphins team that doesn't appear to be quite as strong as it was in their first meeting way back in Week 3. The Bills are seeking revenge for that 21-19 loss in Miami, and they're also looking to regain the explosiveness that has escaped them at times this season. This seems like a good place to start. A dominant showing against the Dolphins would be worth more than just one win, and would all but secure the AFC East title with a few games left to play. Now it's just about going out and getting the job done.

FollowNick Shookon Twitter.

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