While it’s always tempting to back Kareem Hunt to find the end zone, facing a Tennessee Titans defence that allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns all season may not be the smartest move. There’s no doubt Kansas City possess some serious offensive dynamite, but for the Chiefs, it’s all about limiting Tennessee’s ground game – something they’ve failed to do all season. Kansas City allowed the eighth most rushing yards during the regular season, and with the Titans missing star running back DeMarco Murray, quarterback Marcus Mariota will be forced to scramble early and often. The Chiefs defence was revered earlier in the season, but they finished the year ranked 25th in overall defence against the run, a stat that never bodes well entering January. Mariota put up five rushing touchdowns this season, and with the Titans receiving game looking, well, average, Tennessee will look to Mariota to make the big plays happen in the red zone.
The Rams head into Sunday’s game as firm $1.37 favourites, but it could easily be a quiet day for one of the NFL’s top MVP candidates. Running back Todd Gurley has been lethal all season, but he’s faced with a tough match up against the Falcons – linebacker Deion Jones. Allowing just nine touchdowns all year, Atlanta’s defence has been strong against the run, but they’ve also faired nicely against the pass in recent weeks. Jones has been a contributing factor to that success, quickly developing into one of the better zone coverage linebackers, particularly against screen routes. Unfortunately for the Rams, sending their star running back out on screens is a big part of their game, and with Jones patrolling the middle of the field, it could not only see Gurley’s role reduced, but it could also force Jared Goff into some deep throws.
Let’s address the elephant in the room: Jacksonville will need to run the football if they want to win this game. There’s no doubt the NFL is a quarterback-driven league, but a great defence certainly goes a long way towards a championship. That’s what the Jaguars have going for them this season, and given Blake Bortles ended the year on a low note, Leonard Fournette could be receiving a career high in carries on Monday. The good news here is, the Bills’ defence allowed the most touchdowns to opposing running backs last season (17) and since they tend to be quite composed against the pass, the Jaguars’ game plan will be to run it wherever and whenever possible.
It’s a do-or-die match up between two of the strongest teams to come out of the NFC. The last time these two met the Saints walked away 31-21 winners, but this divisional rivalry welcomes back a familiar face on Monday: tight end Greg Olsen. Having missed most of the season with a foot injury, Olsen is a welcome inclusion for a Panthers side in desperate need of receiving options. Wide receiver Devin Funchess may see a limited role this week as he nurses a shoulder injury, and fortunately for Olsen, this should equal more targets. The 10-year veteran is likely to draw Saints safety Vonn Bell for much of the game. Bell led all Saints defenders in yards allowed to opposing tight ends last season (106), and since New Orleans also allowed six total touchdowns to the position, it’s a favourable match up to watch. The chemistry between Cam Newton and his tight end is a thing of beauty – Olsen has dropped just two catches over the last two seasons. If the two are on the same page on Monday, it could spell points.