Lamar Jackson looks to finally beat a real defense, while Jared Goff hopes to get the Rams back on track. Breakout Live examines the top players poised for a breakout game in Week 16 in the NFL.
This week the talk has centered around whether Jackson can lead a team to victory vs. a Top 10 defense. The 5 defenses Jackson has seen since taking over as the starter currently rate 24th or lower. The Chargers rank 8th. It’s unconscionable in his 5 games Jackson hasn’t come close to 200 yards through the air with his high being just 178. Obviously, Jackson’s claim to fame is his legs yet he’s only rushed for over 100 yards in his debut vs. Cincy when nobody knew exactly what was coming. Why would I predict a breakout for him at Los Angeles on Saturday night? The Chargers are coming off an improbable win in Kansas City and are due for a letdown, much like their sleepwalking to a 26-21 win over the Bengals after the Sunday night win in Pittsburgh. Jackson knows it’s time for him to show out, and I think he will as he’ll offer a completely different challenge to the Chargers defense than Pat Mahomes.
It’s been well documented that Baker Mayfield didn’t care for Hue Jackson and has blossomed since Jackson’s firing. Nick Chubb may harbor similar feelings. In no game under Jackson did Nick Chubb see 20 carries. The 3 games following his ouster Chubb saw 20+ carries with a season-high 28 at Cincinnati which just so happens to be Week 16’s opponent. Not only did Chubb have a season high in carries, he cashed a score rushing and receiving and had his biggest output of his career as a receiver on 3 for 44. Of course, the biggest factor in Chubb’s breakout is the Cincinnati Bengals who rank 32nd/dead last in the NFL in defense. The weather calls for snow showers which should provide a snow-globe feel to Sunday’s game as Chubb dashes past, around and through Bengals defenders. Plus, it’s Chubb’s birthday on the 27th. Nothing better as a pre-Christmas and birthday gift than the Bengals defense in the snow at home.
With the surprising timing of Josh Gordon’s 5th NFL suspension, the Patriots have two weeks to figure out how to adjust before they make yet another run for their 6th Lombardi. Julian Edelman and James White will soak up some Gordon targets, but Chris Hogan once again becomes handy. Until last week at Pittsburgh, Hogan hadn’t found the end zone in 11 games. His season highs of 6 catches and 78 yards seem due for an adjustment upward. Hogan’s usage has really dropped after starring for New England in Edelman’s absence in 2017. Once he got hurt late in 2017, he never got back to where he was previously until the Super Bowl when he put up 128 yards and a touchdown. Once 2018 started and Edelman returned, Hogan disappeared. In the Steelers game the forgotten man, Hogan, scored on a 63-yard strike from Brady. Now Hogan faces his former team, the Buffalo Bills, as not just an auxiliary piece but a prime target.
While the Panthers’ razor thin playoff hopes remain, Cam Newton does not. Taylor Heinicke gets his first start Sunday at home against the Atlanta Falcons as Cam and his sore shoulder got shut down for the season earlier this week. You might be wondering who in the world is Taylor Heinicke? The most important thing is Heinicke is someone Panthers OC Norv Turner loves. Heinicke spent his first two NFL seasons in Minnesota under Turner. When Turner returned to coaching after 2017, he sought out Heinicke to join the Panthers. Heinicke played collegiately at Old Dominion, where he once threw for a then-record 730 yards as a sophomore. Taylor’s spent almost 4 years just watching and waiting for his opportunity. The Panthers offense is stocked with young talent and Atlanta’s 22nd ranked pass defense is far from a daunting task. It wouldn’t surprise me if Heinicke plays well enough that some start questioning if Cam Newton should be the Panthers guy going forward.
There’s no question Evan Engram has had a disappointing follow-up season to his fine rookie campaign. He’s over 300 yards and 4 TDs off the numbers he posted as a rookie. The good news for Engram is he’s produced his two biggest yardage totals of the season in back-to-back games including his 8-catch, 75-yard game against the Titans where the Giants got shut out last Sunday. Obviously, the absence of OBJ over the last two games has helped Eli rediscover his tight end. The news gets even better as the team he faces this Sunday, the Colts, have given up the most yards to the tight end position. So should OBJ miss his 3rd consecutive game, it only helps Engram; but even if OBJ returns the Colts still are the loosest team in the league when it comes to stopping the tight end, putting Engram in a smash spot in Indy.
Robby Anderson and Elijah McGuire
Let’s double-dip on the Jets this week as the Packers, who are 0-7 and have never been in this position with Aaron Rodgers as their starter since his rookie season, come to town. First, McGuire has seen 35 carries over the last two games since Isaiah Crowell relinquished the top spot to McGuire, with his toe injury that finds him on IR. The Packers are without Kenny Clark and Mike Daniels, after losing Mo Wilkerson early in the season. The DL is patchwork at best and the Packers LB corps leaves a lot to be desired. Robby Anderson is the Jets’ main receiving threat. His speed and shiftiness should be problematic for whomever sees him in coverage, even if it’s star rookie Jaire Alexander. Anderson is on a late season tear with far from the best QB situation. He’s put up 11-172-2 over his last two and, again, a demoralized Packers team with nothing to play for that’s shooting for a “perfect” 0-8 season on the road offers little resistance and a shot at huge numbers.
Nobody is saying much about the fact that it’s JJSS that just might be the Steelers best wide receiver and not Antonio Brown. JJSS leads the Steelers in catches and yards while Brown leads in touchdowns and targets. The Steelers need this game desperately and the Saints are the Grinch of NFL defenses against the run. Plus, Pittsburgh is unlikely to have James Conner available, so this one is going to fall squarely on the passing game. The Saints are likely to have their best corner Marshon Lattimore shadow Antonio Brown, leaving Eli Apple to try and contain JJSS. Apple is PFF’s 65th rated CB this season. Cam Jordan just insulted Ben Roethlisberger in saying Eli Manning deserved to be in the Top 5 quarterbacks of this era more than Ben. Eli Apple might want to skip the Christmas card for teammate Jordan as Ben will be fired up and looking to exploit the most enticing matchup, and that’s the sub-par Apple vs. the dynamic JJSS.
In Weeks 7-11 Jared Goff was literally carving up the NFL and posted 5 straight games with a passer rating of 111 or higher… then came the bye week after the incredible showdown with Mahomes. Since Goff’s return off the bye, here are his passer ratings in order: 68.6, 19.1, and 75.9 against the Lions, Bears and Eagles… the worst in the NFL of quarterbacks with 50 attempts or more. He also leads in interceptions with 7. Now he gets the Cardinals in Arizona. The word is this is a Gurley-game because nobody gives up more yards to the RB position than abysmal Arizona, but Gurley’s been injured and McVay is on record stating that Gurley being healthy for the playoffs is a priority over him playing these last two games. This has to be a “get right” game for Goff or the Rams are done. If anyone can figure this out, it’s Sean McVay. The Rams have to block Chandler Jones and get Goff back in rhythm, and with Gurley in question it’s too hard believing they won’t.
If you happened to catch the Texans last trip out east just last Saturday, something glaring had to stand out to you. The Texans line couldn’t block Henry Anderson. “The” Henry Anderson with 6 career sacks before meeting the sieve known as the Texans offensive line. No quarterback has been sacked more than Deshaun Watson’s 52 pastings in 2018. This week Houston flies back east to the City of Brotherly Love and faces a legitimate NFL front that won’t offer Watson much love on Sunday. Fletcher Cox leads the unit with 7.5 sacks and figures to be twice the nightmare Henry Anderson was. The Eagles defense is now playing the disrespect card and are on verge of bringing out the dog masks of 2017. Foles is back and this feels all too familiar. Cox should be the driving force in positioning the Eagles to potentially find their way back for another run, while complicating Deshaun Watson and the Texans path.
The last time a quarterback walked in to face the 12th man at CenturyLink, he walked away with just 75 yards passing. The SNF matchup of Chiefs at Seahawks sets up as the most intriguing matchup of the Week 16 slate. For as incredible as Patrick Mahomes has been this season, he’s 0-3 in big games in prime time with losses at New England, Los Angeles and the Chargers at home. While unfair to lay this at the feet of Mahomes, who is backed by one of the worst NFL defensive units, a national talk show host made issue of his 0-3 record this week. If you thought Cameron Jordan used words that fired up Big Ben, I can’t imagine how “Showtime” reacted when he learned of Colin Cowherd’s critique. By the time Mahomes is done taking out his wrath, Seattle is going to look to its fans and wonder why there wasn’t a 13th man, because even the 12th man won’t be enough to slow down Mahomes and the Chiefs, who may need to win to stay atop the AFCW and protect the 1-seed should the Chargers beat the Ravens.