With just two weeks left in the regular season, every gridiron battle matters even more.
The Showstopper breaks down the angles for Chiefs vs. Bengals and Rams vs. Ravens in an action-packed weekend. Can the Bengals clinch their first AFC North title since 2015?
We’ll also take a look at an NBA matchup between the Bulls and Wizards in the Eastern Conference. Can DeMar DeRozan keep Chicago’s hot streak alive?
Chicago Bulls vs. Washington Wizards
Saturday, January 1 | TV: NBC Sports / NBA League Pass
The Bulls charged off to a great start in December, winning eight of their last 10 games, including 130-point showings against the Rockets and Hawks. Their offense is really firing on all cylinders, led by the All-Star combo of Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, who are both averaging around 30 points per game over that stretch. Bradley Beal, Montrezl Harrell and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are all in the league’s health and safety protocols, which means the Wizards could be short-handed for this game, depending on how quickly they can get cleared for action. Rui Hachimura, who is very close to making his season debut, also was placed on the protocols list, so keep a close eye on any updates.
The Bulls, on the other hand, are relatively healthy, with Lonzo Ball being the only notable name in protocols. If Ball remains out, look for Colby White to pick up the slack at point guard. The Bulls and Wizards have similarly racked up their points without a ton of long-distance shooting. The Wiz rank dead-last with 10.1 3-pointers made per game. These squads have been solid defensively in limiting opponents’ total points per game, but if Harrell can’t return, the Wizards’ rim protection will be lacking against a Bulls team that attacks the paint.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, January 2 | TV: CBS
The Bengals control their own future and need to win just one of their final two games to capture the AFC North division title. Pulling that off against the surging Chiefs will be no easy task, however. Kansas City is riding an eight-game winning streak, during which quarterback Patrick Mahomes has thrown 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions. The Chiefs’ defense is also much improved, having held the Cowboys, Packers, Broncos, Raiders and Steelers all to 10 points or less. The Chiefs no longer have anyone on Covid-19 reserves, though they will likely play without running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who injured his collarbone in last week’s dominant win over the Steelers.
This showdown is shaping up to be one of the highest-scoring games on the slate, and for good reason. Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow torched the Ravens defense for 525 passing yards and four touchdowns last week and running back Joe Mixon has totaled a career-high 13 rushing touchdowns this season. They’ll need to rely on a balanced attack if they hope to hang with the Chiefs, who struggled to stop the Chargers on the ground, allowing 192 total rushing yards in that overtime victory a couple weeks ago. Still, the Bengals’ Achilles’ heel has been their offensive line during an up-and-down season in pass blocking for Burrow.
Los Angeles Rams vs. Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, January 2 | TV: FOX
All eyes are on the status of quarterback Lamar Jackson as the Ravens head into a tough must-win game on their home turf. Jackson has missed the last two games with an ankle injury but returned to practice this week on a limited basis. Without him under center, the Ravens have still managed to put points on the board with backups Tyler Huntley and Josh Johnson. It’s their secondary that has been the biggest problem. After allowing seven passing touchdowns combined between Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow, the Ravens will now have to face Matthew Stafford and his formidable Rams offense. Stafford is due for a bounce-back game after a rough three-interception performance against the Vikings.
With Rams running back Darrell Henderson on injured reserve, Sony Michel will be heavily relied upon down the stretch. Michel has topped the 100-yard mark in two of his last four games. Baltimore has allowed the most passing yards per game, but the fewest rushing yards, so the Rams’ best game plan is through the air. The good times should roll for wideouts Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. Amazingly, Kupp is on pace to break Calvin Johnson’s all-time single-season receiving record (1,964 yards) by one yard. And a strange but interesting stat worth noting: The Rams are 8-2 in East Coast games played at 1 p.m. ET.