Posted on December 8, 2022
No, not that it’s Christmas time or that the World Cup Finals are quickly approaching. It means that the NFL playoff races are heating up as the season nears its end.
And while the AFC and NFC west divisions are certainly not as wild, wild as many expected them to be this season, it doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting.
All eight teams are still technically in the hunt for playoff spots, although it seems unlikely that the Rams, Broncos, or Cardinals reel off the requisite wins to earn a postseason berth. But those teams will be looking to play spoiler.
In the last five weeks of the season, there are 11 games between two west teams. Not all of them will have playoff implications, but several of them will.
Those last five weeks, or the final 27.8 percent of the season as some like to call it, start this week. From a Thursday night tilt between two west squads to a Monday night matchup featuring the rested and rejuvenated Cardinals, this week has the makings of being an eventful one in the west.
So, here is a quick preview for all six of the matchups featuring west teams this week.
Raiders (5-7-0) vs Rams(3-9-0)
Thursday, Dec. 8
5:15 p.m. PT, Prime Video
The Raiders have won three games in a row, including two impressive wins against the Seahawks and Chargers. The Rams, on the other hand, have dropped six straight games.
These teams do have some similarities, though, the biggest one being struggling defenses. Both squads are in the bottom 12 in points allowed, with the Raiders and Rams giving up 24.7 and 23.3 points per game, respectively.
But what will make the difference in this game is which offense can best take advantage of the struggling defense across the line of scrimmage from them.
Las Vegas is much better positioned to do so, with an offense averaging 24.3 points per game, which is ninth-best in the league.
Star players such as wide receiver Davante Adams and running back Josh Jacobs are performing well and doing enough to carry this team offensively.
The Rams do not have the same luck.
Their star players, quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp, and even wide receiver Allen Robinson, are all injured. They’re averaging 16.8 points per game, making them the fourth-worst offense in the league.
That places a heavy burden on the newly acquired quarterback Baker Mayfield who, if he does start, will be thrust into an inefficient offense.
And if quarterback John Wolford remains the starter, then things probably stay the same and the offense fails to produce once again, especially with Raiders’ defensive end Maxx Crosby feasting on a banged-up offensive line.
The name of the game is technically football, but unofficially it’s called points because that is how the game is won. And in a game where both teams are very prone to giving up points, the better offense will likely emerge victorious.
Chiefs (9-3-0) at Broncos (3-9-0)
Sunday, Dec. 11
1:05 p.m. PT, CBS
The Chiefs are leading the way in offensive proficiency this year, averaging 29.2 points per game while the Broncos are bringing up the rear with 13.8 points per game.
By that logic, the Broncos could play 120 minutes of football and still wouldn’t outscore the average Chiefs game.
That presents the Broncos with an uphill battle as they will have to exceed their best offensive output of the season, 23 points, to even approach the Chiefs’ average.
Kansas City has reached 23 points in 75 percent of the games it has played, but it has yet to face this stout Denver defense.
The Broncos are second in the league in scoring defense, allowing just 17 points per game. But the team that is first on that list, the 49ers, gave up 44 points to the Chiefs, so stopping them is no easy task.
It will be an interesting matchup with star quarterback, and presumptive MVP frontrunner, Patrick Mahomes leading the league’s best passing attack, 306.5 yards per game, against the league’s staunchest pass defense, just 5.9 yards per attempt allowed by the Broncos.
Denver features great players in the secondary such as safety Justin Simmons and cornerback Patrick Surtain but Kansas City can match that star power with tight end Travis Kelce and a stable of talented wide receivers.
It’s hard to envision a close game with the way the Broncos have been performing, or more appropriately not performing.
Unless the Denver defense has an all-time performance on Sunday, Mahomes and the Chiefs will likely outplay and outscore their divisional counterparts.
Seahawks (7-5-0) vs Panthers (4-8-0)
Sunday, Dec. 11
1:25 p.m. PT, FOX
Luckily for them, the opportunity for such a game is present against the Panthers. Carolina is 4-8 and hasn’t beaten a team all year that currently possesses a winning record.
But Seattle may not be at its best on Sunday, and not just because it has struggled the past few weeks. Rookie running back Kenneth Walker, who was among the favorites for Offensive Rookie of the Year, left the game with a foot injury last week and it remains unclear whether he will play this week or not.
That would leave running back DeeJay Dallas as the lead man against a Carolina defense that gives up the ninth-most yards per carry and the eighth-most yards per game.
The ground game would have likely been the Seahawks’ plan of attack given the favorable matchup but without Walker, they may be forced to go after a surprisingly strong Carolina pass defense that is top-10 in yards per attempt and QB rating allowed.
Quarterback Geno Smith has led an admirably potent offense all season and there is no reason to expect that to stop this week.
He’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, hence his number two spot in NFC quarterback Pro Bowl voting, and has the benefit of throwing to two elite wide receivers in D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
On defense, the Seahawks have not been as impressive, giving up the fifth-most points per game. But it may not matter as much in a matchup against a Panthers’ offense that has been shuffling quarterbacks and running backs more than a bad Spotify playlist.
Most weeks, it takes a decent amount of points to beat the Seahawks and their explosive offense.
The Panthers don’t seem capable of scoring too many points, so unless they can turn this game into a low-scoring battle, most likely through the run game, then it will be hard for them to pull off the upset.
49ers (8-4-0) vs Buccaneers (6-6-0)
Sunday, Dec. 11
1:25 p.m. PT, FOX
Other weeks we get Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, against Brock Purdy, perhaps the greatest Mr. Irrelevant of all time (the competition is not that stiff).
While this may not be the most intriguing game ever in terms of play under center, there are still plenty of reasons to look forward to this game.
For one, it features two elite defenses. Sure, defense isn’t the most entertaining thing to grace your television screen on Sundays (that would be White Lotus in case anyone is wondering), but it can make for some good football.
The 49ers are allowing a league-best 15.8 points per game while the Buccaneers aren’t too far behind with 18.3 points per game. With some of the best defensive players in the league on the field, points will be at a premium in this one.
Then the question is, which team is better positioned to score said points?
Last week, that answer would have been the 49ers. They’re outscoring the Buccaneers by over five points on average this season, 23.5 points per game to 18.1 points per game. But things can change a lot in a week.
San Francisco now is forced to start Purdy after quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a foot injury that will keep him out for the rest of the regular season.
The 49ers may be hard-pressed to reach 23 points against a tough Buccaneers defense with Purdy leading the way. It will likely take massive performances from offensive stars such as running back Christian McCaffrey and wide receiver Deebo Samuel.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay still has its quarterback in Brady, who is also surrounded by fantastic playmakers. Wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and the running back duo of Leonard Fournette and rookie Rachaad White will be faced with challenging matchups but are good enough to produce regardless.
This game may come down to Purdy unless San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan can craft a perfect gameplan for his inexperienced quarterback.
It likely won’t take too many points to earn the win in this matchup but it will take Purdy playing better than a typical seventh-round rookie draft pick in order to get the job done.
Chargers (6-6-0) vs Dolphins (8-4-0)
Sunday, Dec. 11
5:20 p.m. PT, NBC
The Chargers are underperforming in regard to much of the preseason expectations for them. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are having a better season than almost anyone predicted, thanks largely due to the emergence of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
If there is one thing that is certain about this game, it’s that the ball will be traveling through the air more than a flight attendant.
These two squads both rank in the top six in passing yards per game this season and have combined for an average of 557 passing yards per game.
But that’s no surprise given the presence of Tagovailoa and Chargers’ quarterback Justin Herbert, two of the brightest young stars in the league that were drafted back-to-back in 2020.
And to make these teams’ reliance on the pass even more apparent, each ranks in the bottom five in rushing yards per game as well.
Neither team seems to have the advantage in stopping the pass either.
The Dolphins have the advantage in yards per attempt, allowing just seven to the Chargers’ 7.4, but the Chargers hold slight advantages in yards per game, 220.1 allowed to 233.5, and opponent’s QB rating, 93.6 to 95.7.
Unlike some of the previously previewed contests, there figures to be plenty of points scored in this game.
So, the pressure will be on the defenses to try to prevent their opponent from scoring more points (that is in fact how football works).
Both teams like to give up points, the Chargers are second in points allowed per game and the Dolphins are eighth, so that may end up being fairly difficult.
If one of the defenses plays better than expected then that team will probably be the one to get the victory. But if both defenses play per usual, then it will be up to the offenses, and that should be a wildly entertaining affair.
Cardinals (4-8-0) vs Patriots (6-6-0)
Monday, Dec. 12
5:15 p.m. PT, ESPN
Arizona is hoping to turn things around following its bye week, but a date with Bill Belichick and the New England defense is not the most welcoming sight after an off week.
Belichick is a defensive wizard and probably the greatest coach of all time and has the Patriots in the top 10 in several defensive stats.
The Cardinals have actually had their fair amount of struggles on offense, which is surprising given the talent of that unit.
Quarterback Kyler Murray is no stranger to ups and downs but leading an offense ranking last in the league in yards per attempt is a shock.
And considering the Patriots are allowing the ninth-fewest passing yards per attempt and the second-lowest completion percentage, this matchup does not look favorable for the Cardinals.
Arizona also doesn’t have a favorable matchup on defense, where it’s allowing the second-most points in the league.
New England hasn’t exactly been lighting the league on fire on offense, though, as it has been dealing with inconsistency, especially at quarterback.
The Patriots will be better off testing the Cardinals on the ground with breakout running back Rhamondre Stevenson.
The Cardinals are allowing 4.6 yards per carry, a bottom-10 mark in the league. If there is any game for the Patriots’ rushing attack to get back on track, it would be this one.
Arizona is going to have to be incredibly sound on both sides of the ball because the well-coached Patriots certainly will be.
Unfortunately, that has not exactly been a strength of the Cardinals this year so they may not be able to leave the game Monday with a win.
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