Itching to watch an underdog try to overcome the odds or triumph against adversity? Simply looking to pass the time reading another NFL.com article while stuck in your cube? Nick Shook offers a bead on four us-against-the-world scenarios to track entering Week 16 of the 2022 NFL season. The order below is determined by confidence rankings, from No. 1 (most confident) to No. 3 (least confident).
We're in the final stretch of the regular season. The haves and have-nots, while not yet confirmed, are entering their final period of separation.
Plenty is on the line in Week 16. Desperation runs rampant.
Our Week 16 underdogs include four teams still fighting to stay alive in the playoff race. The other two are battling for bragging rights that matter just about as much as a postseason berth.
It's going to be cold in many NFL cities this weekend. Bundle up and prepare for harsh conditions.
Here are the three underdogs I believe in most to pull off the upset in Week 16.
The lines below provided by DraftKings were current as of 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Dec. 21 unless otherwise noted below.
- WHERE: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.)
- WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET on Thursday | Prime Video
- MONEYLINE: Jaguars: -110 | Jets: -110
- SPREAD: Jaguars +1
The Jets are officially playing for their playoff lives. New York fell in a heartbreaker last weekend to the white-hot Lions, losing for the fourth time in their last five games and dropping to 7-7 in a rugged AFC East that could produce three playoff teams if the Jets get back on track before it's too late.
Such an effort begins against another team making an unexpected, late-season postseason push. Much like last week's Jets-Lions matchup, this is a tale of two teams trending in opposite directions. Jacksonville has turned around its season and possibly its future in the last month and a half, winning three of its last four games and four of its last six. Trevor Lawrence has a whole lot to do with it, blossoming into the franchise quarterback Jacksonville hoped it was selecting first overall in 2021.
Thanks to his recent run of success, Lawrence has improved his passer rating by nearly 25 points from 2021 to 2022, the largest increase in that span for any quarterback in the NFL. He's transformed from an overwhelmed, inexperienced signal-caller into one who's clearly capable of throwing the Jaguars to victory, even if it requires a major comeback (just ask Dallas and Baltimore).
Right now, the Jaguars are simply playing better football, flying high after an upset win over the Cowboys last week, and nipping at the heels of the Titans in the AFC South standings. Two paths to the postseason exist, but they must keep winning.
On the Jets' side of things, there's something to be said about a prevailing sense of urgency and its effects on a young team. New York essentially can't afford another loss if it wants to put its 6-3 start -- which feels like ages ago -- to good use. The Jets need to win just to keep pace with the Dolphins, a division rival above them in the standings, and to prove that first-half record wasn't a fluke.
After throwing for a couple of touchdowns in a losing effort, Zach Wilson will make a second straight start for the Jets. He's far from reliable, but he also owns a 1-0 record over Lawrence in head-to-head matchups.
That record doesn't matter much to me. What's more important is what I've seen from the Jaguars since the start of November. This is a team that is not only starting to figure out how to win but also believes it can win, no matter the odds.
A clash of Jacksonville's explosive offense (sixth in total offense) and New York's stingy defense (third in total defense) is sure to produce some sparks. New York is going to need those sparks to light a fire under Wilson and Co. in order to keep up with the blazing Jaguars.
With no remaining room for error, the time is now to finish the season strong. I'm envisioning another exciting win for the Jaguars, who got hot at the perfect time and could ride the blaze into a stunning playoff berth.
- WHERE: AT&T Stadium (Arlington, Texas)
- WHEN: 4:25 p.m. ET on Saturday | FOX
- MONEYLINE: Eagles: +170 | Cowboys: -200
- SPREAD: Eagles +4.5
This spread would favor the Eagles if Jalen Hurts was guaranteed to play this weekend, but a shoulder injury has thrown his status into doubt.
Enter Gardner Minshew, the former Washington State quarterback who earned the admiration of thousands with his play as a Jacksonville Jaguar early in his career. He's since been relegated to backup duty in Philadelphia, where he's watched Hurts lead the Eagles to a league-best 13-1 record through 15 weeks.
It will be up to him to complete a season sweep of Dallas, a team Philadelphia fans revile more than any other. The pressure is on Minshew to replace a quarterback who is playing at an MVP level, ranking fourth or better in overall record, passing yards per attempt (8.2), touchdown-to-interception ratio (22:5), passer rating (104.6) and rushing touchdowns (13). He can do it all, meaning it will not be an easy task for Minshew.
The last time Minshew replaced an injured Hurts, he led the Eagles to a win over the then-lowly Jets in Week 13 of 2021. A lot has changed since then, and the stakes are much higher now.
Dallas ranks in the top nine in total offense and defense, and its biggest weakness is stopping the run. Eliminating Hurts' threat to run should make things easier for the Cowboys, who survived a close call against Houston before collapsing in an overtime loss to Jacksonville.
The Cowboys should be better suited to defeat the Eagles in their second meeting of the season -- after losing 26-17 in Week 6 with Cooper Rush filling in for an injured Dak Prescott. But I'm siding with Philadelphia because of how complete this team is. The Eagles can beat you in a number of ways offensively, and we shouldn't ignore their second-ranked defense. If we learned anything from last week, it's that all a team needs is to force a couple of Prescott interceptions to give itself a chance to win.
The Eagles are certainly capable of doing so. This season has told us they'll play well enough to be in every game; we'll see if some Minshew magic is enough to get them over the hump in Arlington.
- WHERE: Acrisure Stadium (Pittsburgh)
- WHEN: 8:15 p.m. ET on Saturday | NFL Network
- MONEYLINE: Raiders: +115 | Steelers: -135
- SPREAD: Raiders +2.5
Oh, look, it's another pair of 6-8 teams fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Las Vegas is coming off a wild, unbelievable win over the Patriots that required New England to make a couple of the most inexplicable decisions in recent memory at the worst possible time. The victory was fitting for the Raiders, who have found just about every imaginable way to lose a game this season but have come away on the winning side in some crazy games of late.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is doing enough to take down beatable teams, and is welcoming back its best signal-caller this week. The return of Kenny Pickett explains why the Steelers are favored in this one, if we're looking to take the easy route.
But I don't think it's quite that simple. Las Vegas has very much been a first-half team for most of this season, finding offensive success in the first two quarters before watching the unit devolve into an unproductive, frustrating group. That changed last week with a frantic scoring drive that tied the game and set up the crazy finish.
Have the Raiders turned a corner? Probably not. But the Steelers aren't exactly the most polished team in the league, and they still have their own offensive issues to overcome.
If I'm choosing between the cleaner of the two teams, I'm going with Pittsburgh on most weekends. However, the Steelers did show signs of some sloppiness when it came to committing penalties last week, including one that wiped out a sack and gave the Panthers a fresh set of downs (though, they didn't end up mattering much). I'm inclined to believe the Raiders have a better chance of capitalizing on such a mistake than the Panthers.
If that is the difference, then I'm siding with Derek Carr, Davante Adams and Josh Jacobs against a defense that has been better, but also gave up a ton of yards to J.K. Dobbins two weeks ago and allowed a combination of Tyler Huntley and Anthony Brown to beat them in its own house.
The Steelers should be proud of the fact they've gotten to 6-8 in a season of transition. The Raiders are still attempting to avoid finishing as a massive disappointment. One of those teams should be more desperate than the other. I'll take the Raiders in a close one, sending Mike Tomlin to his first losing season as a head coach in his career.
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