NFL

Packers face Ravens battle as they close in on NFC North title

By Sports Desk December 17, 2021

The Green Bay Packers will clinch the NFC North title if they avoid defeat against the wounded Baltimore Ravens, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could win the NFC South in Week 15.

AFC North leaders Baltimore will be striving to avoid a third consecutive defeat when they face the Packers but have this week been managing quarterback Lamar Jackson's ankle sprain.

Tampa Bay can seal the division title provided they are not beaten at home by the New Orleans Saints on Monday, while the New England Patriots are among the teams looking to book a playoff spot ahead of their showdown with the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday.

Stats Perform previews the standout games and the best of the rest.

Green Bay Packers (10-3) @ Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

The Ravens have lost back-to-back games for the first time this season, losing by one point against the Pittsburgh Steelers and by two at the Cleveland Browns. It is the first time in franchise history the Ravens have lost consecutive games by two points or fewer.

Green Bay scored 45 points in a win over the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field last week, their highest scoring output since 2014 against the Philadelphia Eagles (53-20 win). The Packers are averaging 30.7 points per game at home but 20.6 points on the road, the third-largest differential in the NFL.

Aaron Rodgers threw four touchdowns and no interceptions against the Bears. It was his 28th career game with at least four TD passes and no interceptions, tied with Tom Brady for the most such games in NFL history including the postseason.

Davante Adams is Rodgers' top target and has gone over 100 receiving yards in three straight games. He is now tied with James Lofton for the most 100-yard receiving games in Packers history with 33.

New England Patriots (9-4) @ Indianapolis Colts (7-6)

The Patriots have conceded 13 or fewer points in each of their past five games. That is the longest such streak in Patriots history and the longest by any NFL team since 2008 (Pittsburgh, five games). 

Mac Jones and the Patriots attempted only three passes last time out in their 14-10 Week 13 win at Buffalo. Since 1950, there have been only two other instances of an NFL team attempting no more than three passes in one game: the Kansas City Chiefs (three) in a 24-10 win against the Oakland Raiders in 1968, and the Buffalo Bills (two) in a 16-12 victory over the New York Jets in 1974.

But Indianapolis know how to run the ball, too. They have gained 996 yards rushing over their previous five games, their highest total over a five-game span since gaining 1,024 in 1976. The Colts have scored 12 rushing TDs in the stretch, matching their best five-game total in the past 30 seasons. 

Through the air, Carson Wentz has had five interceptions from his 420 pass attempts this season. His interception rate (1.2 per cent) is the third-lowest among the 32 qualifying NFL quarterbacks. 

New Orleans Saints (6-7) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)

The Bucs have won four consecutive games and are due a victory over the Saints, having lost the past six clashes between the two teams.

Brady reached yet another landmark last week, with his 58-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman taking his tally of touchdown passes in the NFL to 700. The only other quarterback with at least 600 is former Saint Drew Brees (608).

Taysom Hill had multiple rushing touchdowns for the fourth time in his career last week and added 73 rushing yards. The only other Saints quarterback to rush for at least 50 yards and multiple TDs is Archie Manning (52 yards, 2 TDs on October 17, 1971 against the Dallas Cowboys).

Expect a fast start from Tampa. The Bucs have outscored opponents by 70 points in the first half of games this season, behind only Indianapolis (73) for the best mark in the league.

Elsewhere...

The Los Angeles Rams (9-4) are closing in on the playoffs and will have home advantage when they face the Seattle Seahawks (9-4). The Rams have won six of the past eight matchups between these teams, including a 26-17 win in Seattle in Week 5 this year.

Heinz Field will stage a battle between the Steelers (6-6-1) and a Tennessee Titans (9-4) side scenting the AFC South title. The Titans shut out an opponent for the second time in 20 seasons with a 20-0 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. 

The Cowboys (9-4) travel to lock horns with the New York Giants (4-9) with the NFC title within their grasp. Dak Prescott lost both of his starts against the Giants as a rookie in 2016 but is 8-0 in his starts against them since then. Ron Jaworksi, from 1977 to 1981, was the last QB to win nine starts in a row against the Giants.

Darrell Bevell has stepped in to take over as the Jaguars' interim head coach after Urban Meyer was fired on Wednesday. Jacksonville start life after Meyer attempting to avoid a record-breaking eighth consecutive loss to the Houston Texans, with both sides a dismal 2-11 this season.

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