An exciting Sunday slate wraps up with a potential Super Bowl preview
It's hard to understate the playoff implications of "Sunday Night Football" when the Tennessee Titans come to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers. Both teams enter Sunday's game atop their division with perilous leads.
The Titans and Colts both enter Week 16 at 10-4 with the former carrying the tiebreaker. But Tenessee ends the season on the road against the Packers and Texans, while the Colts are at Pittsburgh and host the hapless Jaguars. The division might not get sewn up this weekend, but the Titans can at least clinch a playoff spot.
Green Bay, meanwhile, has already clinched its division but holds just a one-game lead over the Saints and Seahawks for the top seed in the NFC, which comes with the only first-round bye. The Packers already have a tiebreaker over New Orleans because of their Week 3 win but would likely lose it to the Seahawks due to strength of victory.
All of this means that both teams — while in good shape for the playoffs — have plenty on the line on top of this being a potential Super Bowl preview. And there's plenty of familiarity, as Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was the Titans' offensive coordinator and play-caller in 2018 before heading north. It should make for a great Saturday nightcap.
Sunday Night Football: Tennessee at Green Bay
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 27 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Spread: Packers -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. King Henry's quest for 2,000
Plenty of people, including yours truly, scoffed at the idea of paying a running back $50 million over four years with $25.5 million guaranteed, but Derrick Henry has been nearly unstoppable this season. Through 14 games, he's already smashed his previous career-high in rushing yards and is leading the league in carries (321), rushing yards (1,679), and rushing touchdowns (15) for the second straight campaign.
Henry has a chance to become the seventh player — and first since Adrian Peterson in 2012 to break the 2,000-yard mark. Getting 321 yards over the final two games is doable. After all, he's racked up 362 yards in his past two games.
Of course, those performances came against the Lions and Jaguars, who rank 29th and 30th against the run, but Henry has been excellent against stout defensive fronts too. Green Bay ranks 11th in rush defense, and Henry has averaged 122.3 yards in his four games against top-10 units — falling below the century mark only once (75 yards vs. Pittsburgh). And that's not just a function of volume; his 5.2 yards per carry in those games equal his season average.
Henry has been an especially big problem late in games. His yards per carry has increased from 3.8 in the first quarter to 7.1 in the fourth. If the Packers can jump out to a lead and force the Titans to make their comeback through the air, that may be their best opportunity to slow this unstoppable force.
2. Can Green Bay ride play-action to victory?
One of the key ways that Matt LaFleur's arrival in Green Bay has revitalized the Packers offense is by moving back to play-action, where Aaron Rodgers thrived early in his career and essentially every NFL team has found success. The Packers increased their usage from 20.1 percent in Mike McCarthy's final year to 26.1 percent last season, and it has continued to climb in Year Two under LaFleur.
That will be especially important on Sunday night, as the Titans are one of the worst teams in the NFL against play-action. They've been burned several times this season by it, memorably against the Browns in their only loss of the last five weeks, and haven't been particularly great against the pass in general either. They rank 29th in yards per game (276.0), 12th in yards per attempt (7.0), 20th in completion rate (66.0 percent), and 18th in passer rating allowed (93.9).
LaFleur's scheme should be nothing new to the Titans, who have plenty of holdovers from two years ago, but nearly every team has had trouble stopping the Packers' play-action game. In particular, Green Bay has leaned on it in the red zone. Rodgers has eight touchdowns on play-action inside the 3-yard line this season, the most in the NFL.
3. Can any other Packer pass catcher step up?
This is seemingly the burning question for every Packers game, potentially for the last few years too. Davante Adams' production is a given but Green Bay has not been able to develop a second wide receiver.
Marques Valdez-Scantling has shown flashes as a deep threat but has been far too inconsistent. He has as many games with a touchdown as he does with no receptions (four), three of which have come in the last four weeks. And yet he's second on the team with 60 targets.
Robert Tonyan has been a pleasant surprise at tight end, but he has more than 50 yards just three times this season — and has yet to reach 100. Allen Lazard's return also has been welcomed, but he has just 166 yards in five games after missing time due to a core-muscle injury.
The Packers' search this week will be harder than expected a few weeks ago with the return of Titans cornerback Adoree' Jackson, as well. The 2017 first-rounder missed the first 13 games of the season with a knee injury and eased back into action last week when he allowed just two completions for 13 yards on three targets.
The NFC race looks wide open with flaws in nearly every team, but the Packers have to be considered the favorites, especially if they hang onto the first-round bye. Sticking to their play-action game plan and keeping the ball out of Derrick Henry's hands will go a long way towards securing that. This game should be a fascinating clash of styles and may look different if these teams meet again in February away from Lambeau Field.
Prediction: Packers 31, Titans 30