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Milt Northrop's Saturday Playbook: Some stats meaningless for success

Is it defense or offense that determines who plays for championships in the National Football League? Or is some other factor?
Entering Week 16 of the NFL season, there is no clear picture of what has determined championship level NFL teams this season.
Consider this:
At least four (Minnesota, Arizona, Jacksonville and Chicago) of the top 10 teams in NFL defensive statistics probably won't make the playoffs. So will three (New Orleans, Washington and Arizona) of the top 10 in offense. On the other hand, three of the bottom 10 (Kansas City, Houston and New York Giants) in offense are in or very much alive for the postseason. Same with five of bottom 10 in defense (Tampa Bay, Miami, Atlanta,  Kansas City and Oakland).
 A better statistical guide to who makes it and doesn't may lie in the turnover statistics. Only Minnesota and Buffalo are among the top 10 in takeaway/giveaway differential and are doubtful candidates for the postseason tournament.
Pittsburgh, Oakland, and Atlanta can clinch divisional titles this weekend. First-round byes can be obtainable for Seattle and Oakland. Dallas, by virtue of the Giants' loss Thursday, has home field throughout the NFC playoffs. New England already has a first-round bye in AFC and can wrap up home field advantage with a win over the New York Jets.
Game of the week
Ravens (8-6) at Steelers (9-5)
TV: NFLN, Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
The line: Steelers (-5).
The scoop: Steelers clinch division with win. They've won their last five.  Baltimore can't clinch with a win, but would be in control because it can wrap up division with win at Cincinnati next week ... Baltimore won first game of season series, 21-14, on Nov. 6, getting one TD on blocked punt return another on 95-yard Mike Wallace reception. ... Steelers had to come from 20-9 halftime deficit to win over Bengals last week. That one was in Cincinnati, this one will be at Heinz Field where Steelers are 4-2.
Outlook: Steelers and Roethlisberger wont slip up at home, but Ravens won't go easily. Pittsburgh, 23-21.
Top attractions
Lions (9-5) at Cowboys (12-2)
TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Cowboys (-7).
The scoop:  Dallas has clinched division and home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs. So what do the Cowboys have to play for? Even if Lions win, they would need a Green Bay loss or tie to wrap up first division title since 1993, the Wayne Fontes era. ... Matthew Stafford's finger injury seemed to hurt his accuracy in loss at Giants last week when offense could not produce a touchdown.
Outlook: Even with little incentive, Cowboys coast, 21-7.
Broncos (8-6) at Chiefs (10-4)
TV: NBC, Sunday 8:30 p.m.
The line: Chiefs (-4 1/2).
The scoop: Chiefs clinch playoff berth with win. Teams staged memorable overtime game on Thanksgiving weekend in Denver when Chiefs won on field goal in OT. It was Tyreek Hill's coming out party when rookie scored touchdowns rushing, receiving and 86-yard kickoff return. ... Denver QB Trevor Siemian passed for 368 yards and three TDs in that game, but couldn't get team to end zone in 16-3 loss at home to Patriots last week. ... Kansas City has 10-game winning streak going within AFC West.
Outlook: KC ends any chance of Denver Super Bowl repeat. Chiefs, 20-13.
Colts (7-7) at Raiders (11-3)
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: Raiders (-3 1/2).
The scoop: Raiders can clinch division and first-round bye with win and Kansas City loss. Oakland already has a playoff berth set. ... Colts are mathematically alive for playoffs, mathematically that's all, despite rout over Minnesota last week on road. ... Teams have not met since 2013, but Indy has won last four. ... Could this be Raiders' last game in Oakland?
Outlook: Colts, who have allowed 40 sacks, won't be able to keep Kahlil Mack and Co. off Andrew Luck. Raiders, 31-21.
Buccaneers (8-6) at Saints (6-8)
TV: Fox, 4:25 p.m.
The line: Saints (-3).
The scoop: Bucs need win and losses by Green Bay, Washington and Detroit to clinch playoff berth. Saints haven't been eliminated from playoffs yet but its real long shot. ... Bucs kept Saints out of end zone in 16-11 win in Tampa two weeks ago. They almost produced a huge win at Dallas last week  before falling, 26-20. ... New Orleans broke out of offensive slump with 48-41 win at Arizona.
Outlook: Tampa was NFL's most improved team second half of season. Bucs, 34-30.
Falcons (9-5) at Panthers (6-8)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Falcons (-3)
The scoop: Atlanta can clinch NFC South with win a loss by Tampa Bay and can clinch playoff berth with a win and a Detroit or Green Bay loss but if Falcons win out they get division title. Both Falcons and Panthers have won their last two. ... Carolina coming off home win over Washington. ...Matt Ryan passed for four TDs, 503 yards in Atlanta's 48-33 win first time around. Ryan leads NFL with 114.8 passer rating. Falcons WR Julio Jones lead league with 1,253 receiving yards and is supposed to return from injury.
Outlook: Just when they looked dead, Panthers rose up and seem to enjoy spoiler's role. Carolina, 30-24.
Vikings (7-7) at Packers (8-6)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Packers (-6 1/2).
The scoop: Green Bay controls own destiny. Will win NFC North win Saturday and a win next week over Detroit. Packers also can clinch playoff berth with help. Packers have won last four, longest streak going in NFC. ... Viking won first meeting, 17-14, on Sept. 18. ... Although still alive for postseason, Vikings did not look it in getting routed at home by so-so Colts last week. ... Adrian Peterson returned to Vikings last week but may not play in this one. ... Ty Montgomery now leads Packers in rushing with 390 yards after 162-yard game last week versus Bears.
Outlook: Hard to go against Aaron Rodgers and Pack in meaningful game at Lambeau late in season. Packers, 27-13.
Best of the rest
Dolphins (9-5) at Bills (7-7)
TV: CBS, 1 p.m.
The line: Bills (-4 1/2).
The scoop: A win plus a Denver loss puts Miami in playoffs. Bills are still alive. Miami won first meeting, 28-25, with Jay Ajayi rushing for 214 yards. ... Ryan Tannehill of Dolphins has struggled in Orchard Park, but Matt Moore starts this one. ... Dolphins haven't beaten Bills on road since 2011. Before that it was 2003. ... Bills haven't forgotten cheap shot laid on Aaron Williams by Jarvis Landry in first game, but they have so many distractions around them this week with Rex Ryan-Tyrod Taylor situations.
Outlook: Bills absorb body blows from Jay Ajayi for 20-14 win.
Titans (8-6) at Jaguars (2-12)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Titans (-6).
The scoop: If Tennessee and Houston both win Saturday, their meeting next week will decided AFC South title.  ... Titans had huge win at Kansas City last week. ... Titans have won last three.  Marcus Mariota of Titans had 148.1 rating in 36-22 victory over Jags on Oct. 27.
Outlook: Three of Jags' six home losses by four or less. With interim head coach Doug Marrone running things, they keep it close. Tennessee, 27-24.
Redskins (7-6-1) at Bears (3-11)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Redskins (-3).
The scoop: These old-line NFL teams have met only 42 times, but some have been historic, including Chicago's 73-0 romp in 1941 championship game. Redskins still alive for playoffs, but loss at Carolina last week really hurt. ... Matt Barkley of Bears passed for three TDs against Packers last week but also had three INTs.
Outlook: Even Bears, at home, can dent Redskins' defense. Chicago, 20-16.
Chargers (5-9) at Browns (0-14)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Chargers (-6 1/2).
The scoop: Chargers have lost last three. Browns have dropped 17 in a row dating back to 2015 season. ... It's last home game of miserable season for Browns, who head to Pittsburgh next week. ... Chargers made a good try but couldn't hang on in 19-16 loss at Oakland last week while Browns ran out of gas against Bills.
Outlook: Undermanned Browns throw scare into Bolts. San Diego, 16-13.
Jets (4-10) at Patriots (12-2)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Patriots (-16 1/2).
The scoop: New England, which has won its last five, is in control of top seed in AFC. When teams met last month at MetLife, Patriots won, but by only 22-17. ... Believe it or not Jets, have defeated New England two of last three visits, both in overtime including 26-20 last season.
Outlook: Unless they've mailed it in, Jets can stay inside spread. New England, 28-20.
Cardinals (5-8-1) at Seahawks (9-4-1)
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Seahawks (-8).
The scoop: Seattle, which plays at San Francisco next week, is in control for first-round bye. Arizona defense was embarrassed at home by Drew Brees and Saints last week to the tune of 48 points. ... When schedule came out this one was expected to be showdown with division title at stake, but Cardinals have been NFL's biggest disappointment. ... First meeting was 6-6 tie.
Outlook: With all their weapons, had to believe Cards have won only five. Seattle, 27-21.
Bengals (5-8-1) at Texans (8-6)
TV: NFLN, 8:25 p.m.
The line: Pick 'em.
The scoop: Texans are in control for AFC South title check if they top Cincy and win at Tennessee next week. ... Texans moved up to No. 1 in total defense after limiting Jaguars to 150 yards in 21-20 win last week. However, Houston offense has produced only 20 TDs (14 passing, 6 rushing). Fewer than even Cleveland.  That's why they turned to Tom Savage at QB in middle of last week's 21-20 win over Jacksonville.  Savage still looking for his first NFL passing TD. ... Cincy led Pittsburgh, 20-6, in first half last week but lost.
Outlook: Defense keeps Houston going. Texans, 20-13.
Dog of the week
49ers (1-13) at Rams (4-10)
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Rams (-3 1/2).
The scoop: Niners opened season with 28-0 rout of Rams and have dropped 13 since. L.A. was held to 185 yards in that one. Niners have given up average of 443 in 13 games since. ... After facing Patriots, Falcons and Seahawks, Rams rookie QB Jared Goff gets a break.
Outlook: Rams first season back in L.A. ends on good note. Rams, 21-10.
Last week's results: 10-4 outright; 5-8-1 versus spread.
Season's record: 129-75-2 outright; 100-96-10 versus spread.
email: mnorthrop@buffnews.com
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