NFL

NFL Talking Point: Which matchups will decide the biggest games of Week 16?

By Sports Desk December 23, 2022

We are firmly in the business end of the 2022 NFL season.

Seven teams have already clinched their place in the postseason and a further seven will join them in the final three weeks of the campaign.

This is the time of year when room for error is diminished in games that have a huge bearing on how the final playoff field shakes out.

As such, festive feeling will be thin on the ground for those teams playing in such encounters during this weekend's Christmas schedule who come up short.

So often, though, these contests are decided by the game within the game, and here Stats Perform looks at three of the most important Week 16 clashes and the personnel matchups that could decide them.

New England Patriots @ Cincinnati Bengals

Win Probability: Patriots 52.0 per cent

Key Matchup: Matthew Judon and Josh Uche vs. Bengals offensive line

The Patriots' hopes of claiming a Wild Card berth took a massive blow in bizarre circumstances last week as Jakobi Meyers' inexplicable last-second lateral landed in the grateful arms of Las Vegas Raiders pass rusher Chandler Jones, who stiff-armed Mac Jones into the turf and raced into the endzone to deny New England a chance of an overtime win.

At 7-7, they are still just a game behind the Miami Dolphins and must climb off the mat, though they are this week tasked with doing so against one of the hottest teams in football.

The 10-4 Bengals have a one-game edge over the Baltimore Ravens in the race for the AFC North division title, yet there is a matchup the Patriots can look to exploit in this one.

While Cincinnati's offensive line has improved in terms of preventing pressure on Joe Burrow, it remains in the bottom half of the NFL in pass block win rate, in which the Bengals rank 24th.

In Judon and Uche, the Patriots possess a pair of pass rushers who can cause the Cincinnati O-Line huge problems. Judon is second in the NFL in sacks (14.5), behind only Nick Bosa of the San Francisco 49ers, while Uche has 10.5, all of which have come across his last seven games.

Both Judon (40.08 per cent) and Uche (42.38 per cent) possess pass rush win rates way above the average for edge players of 28.74 per cent, and if they are at their best, they could help eradicate the advantage the Bengals have at quarterback and tilt the game in New England's favour.

Seattle Seahawks @ Kansas City Chiefs

Win Probability: Chiefs 80.4 per cent

Key Matchup: Seattle defensive backs vs. Chiefs receivers

Like the Patriots, the Seahawks' prospects of reaching the postseason are in significant jeopardy.

Their hopes of winning the NFC West are gone after the 49ers clinched the division title in Seattle by completing their first sweep of the Seahawks since 2011 in Week 15.

That leaves Seattle fighting for a Wild Card, and the odds are very much against them in this one against a Chiefs team who are in a battle for the AFC's one seed with the Buffalo Bills.

Part of the reason why the Seahawks are still in the mix is the play of their young but talented secondary, which ranks 13th in the NFL in pass coverage win rate according to Stats Perform's matchup data.

Rookie cornerback Tariq Woolen has enjoyed an outstanding first season for Seattle, with his combined open percentage allowed across man and zone coverage of 22.75 the seventh-best among corners with at least 100 total matchups.

The Chiefs' pass-catchers are 13th in terms of winning their coverage matchups in 2022, a year in which the loss of Tyreek Hill has undoubtedly had an impact.

Yet with 82.1 per cent of Patrick Mahomes' throws this season going to an open target, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid continues to excel at scheming receivers into space.

For the Seahawks to have any hope of pulling off a sizeable upset, their secondary must limit the chances for the Chiefs' receivers to enjoy such freedom.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys

Win Probability: Cowboys 59 per cent

Key Matchup: Eagles offensive line vs. Cowboys pass rush

This NFC East matchup may have lost some of its lustre with the Eagles needing a meltdown to surrender the division title to the Cowboys and Jalen Hurts out because of a shoulder injury.

But that should not take away from the true heavyweight fight this game provides in the trenches.

Micah Parsons may be losing ground in the Defensive Player of the Year race, but he remains the headline act for a defense that is first in the NFL in pass rush win rate.

That would normally give the Cowboys a clear edge in a matchup with every offensive line, but not with this one.

Philadelphia's O-line leads the league in pass block win rate, with the Eagles allowing a pressure rate of 32.9 per cent that is the fourth-best in the NFL.

The Eagles maintaining their strength up front against Parsons and Co. will obviously be critical to Philadelphia as they seek to overcome the absence of Hurts.

There is no substitute for the value Hurts brings in the run game, but the Cowboys' defense has shown enough vulnerability to suggest backup quarterback Gardner Minshew can have success against Dallas, provided the offensive line wins the battle up front and allows the Eagles to stay on schedule.

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