2016 NFL Championship Preview: Arizona at Carolina

The NFL season is like a good season of television. Like the old standard for television shows, it takes place over 22 weeks, with one game (episode) per week. Throughout the season, and over many seasons, football fans are treated to great character development and consistently intriguing plots. The competition to win a Super Bowl, which only one team can be succeed at each year, often feels as epic as Game of Thrones, Scandalor Downton AbbeyI’m always surprised when I talk to non-sports fans who are themselves surprised that I think about football in terms of plot and characters. I don’t think I’m unique among sports fans for following sports in this way, although perhaps most people wouldn’t use those terms. In any case, at this point, with only two episodes and three games left, this year’s arcs feel a little less epic than most. One reason for that is that the last four teams alive in the playoffs are the top four seeds, ranked one and two in each of the two conferences, the AFC and NFC. By earning a top-two seed, these teams got a bye, which means they took the first week of the playoffs off. So, we don’t have a team this weekend that’s coming off two playoff wins, with at least one surprise win. On the other hand, we do have the four teams that played the best over the course of the regular season. We’re set up perfectly for things to get truly epic very soon.

In this post, we’ll preview the plot and characters of the second NFL Championship game, the NFC Championship between the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals. This game is in North Carolina on Sunday, January 24, 2016 at 6:40 p.m. ET on Fox.

What’s the Plot?

In the NFL these days, the offense almost always provides the most compelling characters who drive the plot of the game. That’s true in this game, but it’s worth admitting right up at the top that it’s defense which has driven both of these teams to the success they’ve had this year. Both teams have marvelous defenses, but because they’re evenly marvelous (Football Outsiders has Carolina as the second best defense in the league, Arizona the third,) they cancel each other out, plot-wise. When it comes to defense in this game, it’s safe to say, both teams will be great.

On the offensive side of the ball, we do have some wonderful contrasts. Carolina’s offense has a clear and unquestioned leader in quarterback Cam Newton. A dual running and passing threat, Newton is a young veteran at 26 who is having the best season of his career. He will almost definitely win the league Most Valuable Player award for his play this season. He probably would win the award even if he had had legendary supporting players, but it doesn’t hurt that most people think the other players on the offense are extremely average. Running back Jonathan Stewart has been around for a while, and shown promise before, but has always been brought down by one injury or another. The Panthers wide receivers are what turn Newton’s season from great to spectacular: Tedd Ginn Jr., Philly Brown, Devin Funchess, and Jerricho Cotchery are all totally unremarkable, below-average NFL wide receivers.

Arizona is almost the complete opposite. They’ve taken a very, very good but not great quarterback, Carson Palmer, and surrounded him with an extremely deep and talented bunch of players at wide receiver and running back. There are descriptions of most of these characters farther below, so I won’t go into them too deeply here, but it’s safe to say that any of Arizona’s top five wide receivers would be Carolina’s best or second best wide receiver if they switched teams. At running back, Arizona is actually using their third starter this year, but he may be their best. David Johnson is a rookie who played last year at the University of Northern Iowa. He’s looked completely at ease, and at times dominant, as a starting running back in the NFL. Impressive!

Arizona quarterback, Carson Palmer, is just slightly too good to turn this game into a referendum on whether it’s better in the NFL to have a great quarterback but nothing else on offense or an average quarterback surrounded by great skill players. Instead, let’s take the plot one step back from that dramatic precipice and simply say it’s a referendum on whether an absolutely great quarterback can elevate his supporting characters over a more well-rounded offense with better receivers and running backs but a slightly less dynamic quarterback.

Who are the main characters on the Arizona Cardinals?

Bruce Arians – Head Coach Bruce Arians is almost always the biggest character in the room. He’s an iconoclast who wears his weirdness literally on his head. He’s famous for wearing kangol hats. When it comes to football, he’s ready to try just about anything that might work but he has some clear preferences. On offense, he wants to throw the ball farther down the field more often than any other coach in the league. This high-risk, high-reward strategy asks a lot of the team’s quarterbacks and offensive linemen, which has been a problem in the last two years.

Carson Palmer – The guy throwing the ball down the field for Arians is Carson Palmer. Palmer has had one of the most long-lasting tragic careers in sports. Early in his career, he was seen as being on track to be one of the truly great quarterbacks of his generation. Then, on the first throw of his first playoff game, he completed a beautiful, long pass to receiver Chris Henry (who has since died, so this is a doubly tragic play in retrospect,) and was hit low by an opposing linemen and tore his ACL. The injury was not a career ending injury (clearly) but it altered his path significantly. He’s now seen as a very good player whose greatness was robbed from him, not once, but several times thanks to other injuries. At 36, this isn’t his last shot to reclaim that greatness, but it may be his best shot. It’s hard not to root for Palmer.

Larry Fitzgerald / John Brown / Michael Floyd / Jaron Brown / J.J. Nelson – This is the best set of five wide receivers that any NFL team has ever had. Other teams (including the Pittsburgh Steelers this year) might have had a better top three, but I don’t think any team was as good and as deep as the Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald (who remains the best football player I’ve ever seen in person. I had the unfortunate pleasure of watching him go for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half against Rutgers in 2003.) is the old man of the bunch. A sensational player who has transitioned into being the world’s best possession receiver, capable of picking up 8 yards whenever his team needs him to. The other four are different varieties of deep threat — insanely fast dudes who are good at running past their defenders and catching the ball. If they start getting it going, just watch and marvel at them.

Who are the main characters on the Carolina Panthers?

Cam Newton – Quarterback Cam Newton is, and always has been a lightning rod for controversy. In college, he won a national championship with Auburn, and it was an even more open secret than with most high profile college players that he had taken fairly large sums of money under the table for playing there. In the NFL, he’s been the subject of years of criticism for being too self-impressed, too brash, both criticisms that have suspiciously racial overtones. From a strictly football standpoint, he’s been an amazing success. He’s a combination of one of the top ten pure passers in the league with a top ten running back in a single body. Newton ran for over 600 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. This makes him an unusual double-threat for opposing defenses to fret about, especially when the Panthers get close to the goal line.

Josh Norman – If you had surveyed a group of football fans a year ago today about who corner back Josh Norman was, you would probably have gotten a lot of blank stares. Now, after the season he had this year, he’s a household name. Norman is one of the rarest commodities in football, a shutdown corner. He will line up opposite a team’s best wide receiver and basically erase him from the game. Quarterbacks have learned that throwing to a player guarded by Norman is close to a no-win situation and it can be a giant loss if Norman gets his hands on the ball. One thing that Norman doesn’t normally do though, is move into the slot (when there are three or more wide receivers on the field, the slot refers to wide receivers that are not one of the ones on the outside edge of the formation,) so he probably won’t be shadowing Larry Fitzgerald.

Luke Kuechly – Middle linebacker, Luke Kuechly is literally at the center of the Panthers defense and he’s figuratively its heart. He’ll be wearing the green dot on his helmet which signifies that he is the only defensive player who gets the play calls radioed in from the coach and it’s his job to communicate them out to the rest of his teammates. Experiment for a few plays and just watch him — he wears number 59 — and marvel at how quickly he figures out what the offense is going to do and gets himself into a position to help stop them from doing it.

Who is going to win?

The obvious choice here is Carolina. They are playing at home and their home field, which will be wet, cold, and in bad shape after a snow storm, should favor their more physical run-laden attack. They also came very close to going undefeated this year and n their first playoff game last week, went up 31-0 against the Seattle Seahawks in the first half, one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen. Compared to that, Arizona looked downright shaky in their first game. Carson Palmer barely played well enough to win, and the team needed overtime and extraordinary heroics from Larry Fitzgerald just to beat the Green Bay Packers, a team not nearly as good as Carolina. Despite all that, or maybe even because of it, I’m going to guess that Arizona wins this game. Both teams’ defenses will pose real problems for the opposition’s offense. I think it’s possible that at home, with all the expectations of being the number one seed and almost going undefeated, there’s a chance this seriously frustrates the Panthers. The Cardinals have struggled before, as recently as last week, and have more recent memories of overcoming. A bad start on offense won’t knock them out of whack, but it might derail the Panthers.

How to Watch the World Cup Round of 16: USA vs. Colombia

Tonight, Monday, June 22, 2015, the United States women’s national soccer team will play in their World Cup Round of 16 game against Colombia. The game starts at 8 p.m. ET (regardless of what television stations that want you to watch their pre-game shows tell you) and it will be televised on Fox Sports 1. Whether you’re jumping on the band wagon now or have been there for the ride from the start, here’s some useful background information about the game.

What’s the plot?

The Round of 16 is where things start to get real in the World Cup. No more ties, no more advancing on points, this is single elimination. Win and move on. Lose and go home. The United States was expected to win their group, and they did, with wins over Australia and Nigeria, and a scoreless tie against Sweden. Although fans have to be happy with the result so far, by and large, they have not been impressed with how the U.S. team has played. Colombian fans, on the other hand, are delighted despite the team’s third place finish in Group F. Colombia scored the tournament’s biggest upset so far when they beat France, 2-0, in Moncton.

Colombia might have preferred to see a less highly regarded team than the United States in this round of the tournament, but if so, they are hiding it well behind a campaign of bluster and accusation. In the days leading up to the game, Colombian players have said they were happy to be playing the United States, accused the U.S. team of taking them lightly, made veiled accusations about the U.S. team being a dirty, trash-talking team, and guaranteed a victory. On the U.S. side, the players have remained calm and utterly bland in their press appearances. The two teams do have a heated history though. In the group stage of the 2012 Olympics, the United States beat the Colombian team 3-0 but not without controversy. During the game, a Colombian player, Lady Andrade, punched Abby Wambach in the face. Although the ref didn’t penalize her during the game, she was later given a two game suspension by FIFA. Wambach, black eye and all, scored later that game. Then she scored the next game… and the game after that… and the game after that. The U.S. won the gold medal. 3-0 was also the score of the last World Cup match these teams played, in 2011, also in favor of the United States.

As a small historic bonus, this is also the 21st anniversary of the United States men’s national team upsetting Colombia 2-1 in the 1994 World Cup. Famous at the time as a feel-good story about an under-powered host team playing over their talent level, it became infamous only a few weeks later when Colombian player, Andres Escobar, was murdered in a killing that was at least partially motivated by his own-goal blunder against the United States.

Who are the characters?

Lady Andrade – Set up to be a villain by her punch to Abby Wambach’s eye, Lady Andrade seems determined to be not just a henchwoman but the main boss-level bad gal. She’s Colombia’s striker and best player. She scored the goal that propelled Colombia to their victory over France and was their best field player throughout the game. At 5’8″, Andrade is a thoroughbred striker, high-strung, athletic, and extremely skilled on the ball.

Sandra Sepulveda – Colombia’s goalie started the World Cup on the bench but after teammate Stefany Castano struggled in the first game, Sepulveda was called on and didn’t disappoint. During the team’s upset against France, Sepulveda had six saves, and was extremely strong in net. Colombia will need her to have a repeat performance if they hope to beat the United States.

Carli Lloyd – The hardest working woman on the U.S. team, Lloyd has been conspicuously inconspicuous through the team’s first three games. It may be that like her male counterpart, Michael Bradley, in last year’s men’s World Cup, Lloyd is being asked to take on so many defensive responsibilities that she’s unable to show up offensively. It’s time for her to show up and I think she’ll come through. Watch for a few long-distance blasts from Lloyd this game.

The defense – while team’s attack has left something to be desired, it’s hard to complain about the back line. Made up of wing backs, Meghan Klingenberg and Ali Krieger and center backs, Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston, the defense has been rock solid. They have a big job in stymying the Colombian attack but I think they’re up to the task.

Alex Morgan – Injured coming into the tournament, Morgan has slowly reclaimed her position as the core non-Wambachian U.S. striker. What she hasn’t done yet is score. I expect she’ll start up front with Wambach and show us something. If she can’t, she might not be able to hold off Sydney Leroux, who has been playing inspired soccer, for the rest of the tournament.

If you’re interesting in meeting the rest of the United States team, here are our profiles of all 23 of them.

Who’s going to win?

The United States should win this game. It’s easy to be swayed by Colombia’s masterful play against France and the United States’ modest play in the Group stage and think this should be a very close call. It shouldn’t be. The folks at Five Thirty Eight have the U.S. a 95% favorite to advance. In the FIFA rankings, the U.S. is second, Colombia 28th. Colombia is clearly capable of having a big game against a good team but if even a hint of the team that tied Mexico and lost to England shows up, they won’t have a chance. It would be very easy to argue that having survived the “Group of Death,” this should be the easiest game yet for the United States.

Stanley Cup Playoff Companion, April 16, 2015

The playoffs are a wonderful time in sports but they can be hard to follow, even for the most die-hard fan of a playoff team. They’re virtually impossible for a non-fan or casual observer! No matter who you are, Dear Sports Fan’s Playoff Companion can help. Sign up to get text updates each day for your favorite team or teams or just for the team or teams you feel you need to know about in order to be able to have a decent conversation with your wife, husband, son, daughter, parent, colleague, or friend.

New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins — Game 1, 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network — Series is 0-0

New York Rangers fans – Better record, deeper team, more reliable goalie. No need for cockiness but lots of reasons for confidence.
New York Rangers interested parties – The Penguins have the two best players in the series, but the Rangers may have the next ten. In hockey, the better team should win.

Pittsburgh Penguins fans – After years of cruising into the playoffs only to come crashing down, maybe backing into them is going to be good luck?
Pittsburgh Penguins interested parties – These Penguins are not like the Penguins of the last five years. They’re a distinct underdog in this series.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings — Game 1, 7:30 p.m. ET on CNBC — Series is 0-0

Tampa Bay Lightning fans – Don’t get spooked by seeing the winged wheel. Our team won seven more games than the Red Wings this season. We’re better.
Tampa Bay Lightning interested parties – Tampa Bay has had some history of success but nothing approaching the traditionally powerful Detroit Red Wings. This year though, the Lightning have the better team.

Detroit Red Wings fans – Mrazek over Howard. In Babcock we trust.
Detroit Red Wings interested parties – The biggest story coming into the playoffs is the coach’s decision to start 23 year-old goalie Petr Mrazek over veteran Jimmy Howard.

St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild — Game 1, 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports — Series is 0-0

St. Louis Blues fans – Dubnyk has been unbelievable for the Wild… but he used to be on the Oilers, how tough could he be?
St. Louis Blues interested parties – The Blues have had one of the most complete teams for the past five years but have never won the cup. Could this be their year? It starts tonight.

Minnesota Wild fans – The Blues are an intimidating opponent but I think we can get to their goalie. At least it’s not the Blackhawks.
Minnesota Wild interested parties – The Wild are a good team but they can’t match up player for player with the Blues and not come out looking worse, except at goalie, which is the most important position… so they have a shot.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Winnipeg Jets — Game 1, 10:30 p.m. ET on CNBC — Series is 0-0

Anaheim Ducks fans – Games 1 and 2 at home are almost must wins because Winnipeg is going to be CRAZY for 3 and 4.
Anaheim Ducks interested parties – The Ducks are in the unenviable position of playing against the sentimental favorite Winnipeg Jets, who haven’t made the playoffs in 19 years.

Winnipeg Jets fans – Yes! YES! ARRRGHH*#%#@!!!!
Winnipeg Jets interested parties – Yes! YES! ARRRGHH*#%#@!!!!

Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators — Rest Day — Series is 1-0

Montreal Canadiens fans – It wasn’t pretty but it doesn’t have to be. Game 2 is on Friday, let’s hope Subban doesn’t get suspended before then.
Montreal Canadiens interested parties – The Canadiens won the first game, so today’s a time to nervously celebrate and relax… a little.

Ottawa Senators fans – Stone. Microfracture. Okay, so we’re not going to win, but let’s kill them all.
Ottawa Senators interested parties – Montreal’s strategy seemed to be to injure the Senators best players and it worked. News just broke that Mark Stone, an important forward has a broken wrist.

Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders — Rest Day — Series is 0-1

Washington Capitals fans – Oh no, not again. I know it’s just one game, but it feels like another collapse is coming. Ughhhghgh.
Washington Capitals interested parties – The Capitals are notorious for collapsing in the playoffs, so Caps fans quite reasonably, may assume the worst after game one.

New York Islanders fans – Home ice advantage gained. Mission accomplished. Game two is all gravy.
New York Islanders interested parties – After a win in game one, the Islanders now have the advantage.

Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks — Rest Day — Series is 0-1

Nashville Predators fans – Get through it. Overtime happens. And when it happens again, it could happen for us.
Nashville Predators interested parties – Game one went into double overtime before the Predators lost. Today would be a good day to get your Predators fan an extra cup of coffee and a smile.

Chicago Blackhawks fans – And THAT’S how the playoffs work!
Chicago Blackhawks interested parties – Winning a game in double-overtime has some luck to it but also experience and determination, both qualities the Blackhawks have in large quantity.

Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames — Rest Day — Series is 0-1

Vancouver Canucks fans – Slow and steady wins the race. Game one wasn’t what we wanted but the Flames will sputter the longer the series goes.
Vancouver Canucks interested parties – The Canucks lost game one but there’s no reason to panic yet.

Calgary Flames fans – The Canucks can’t hang with us! Keep the Sedins off the scoreboard and we’ll keep winning.
Calgary Flames interested parties – Winning your first playoff game in six years is worth a celebration. Enjoy the moment with the Flames fan in your life!

Stanley Cup Playoff Companion, April 15, 2015

The playoffs are a wonderful time in sports but they can be hard to follow, even for the most die-hard fan of a playoff team. They’re virtually impossible for a non-fan or casual observer! No matter who you are, Dear Sports Fan’s Playoff Companion can help. Sign up to get text updates each day for your favorite team or teams or just for the team or teams you feel you need to know about in order to be able to have a decent conversation with your wife, husband, son, daughter, parent, colleague, or friend.

Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators — Game 1, 7 p.m. ET on CBC — Series is 0-0

Montreal Canadiens fans – Time to beat the Senators soundly in game one and show them that what works in the regular season doesn’t always fly in the playoffs.
Montreal Canadiens interested parties – On paper, the Canadiens should be favored over the Ottawa Senators but the Senators have seemed magical on their run to the playoffs in the past two months. Nervous times before the first game.

Ottawa Senators fans – All you need to win in the playoffs is a hot goalie and there’s no one hotter than the Hamburgler. We got this.
Ottawa Senators interested parties – The Senators are an unlikely playoff team, having been way at the bottom of the standings just a couple of months ago. They made the playoffs thanks to an amazing run of wins and now their fans are hungry for more success.

Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders — Game 1, 7 p.m. ET on USA — Series is 0-0

Washington Capitals fans – Shoot high on Halak, shoot high.
Washington Capitals interested parties – Caps fans may be wary after a string of playoff disappointments but they should feel confident going into this series against the New York Islanders.

New York Islanders fans – Steal one of the first two and then come back to home, sweet home, Nassau Coliseum.
New York Islanders interested parties – When your team starts on the road, like the Islanders do, the goal is always to win one of the first two games.

Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks — Game 1, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports — Series is 0-0

Nashville Predators fans – Score one and hope for Rinne. Game one, we can do this.
Nashville Predators interested parties – Despite finishing with a better record than their opponents, most Predators fans are probably justified in feeling their team is modestly out-gunned by their opponents, the Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago Blackhawks fans – Of course Kane is back, he’s a hockey player. Let’s go Hawks!
Chicago Blackhawks interested parties – Blackhawks fans are excited to get the playoffs started, especially now that they know one of the team’s best players, Patrick Kane, will be returning from his broken collar-bone to play in tonight’s game.

Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames — Game 1, 10 p.m. ET on USA — Series is 0-0

Vancouver Canucks fans – Youth plays in the regular season, experience wins in the playoffs.
Vancouver Canucks interested parties – In years past, Canucks fans might have expected to win in the playoffs. Now that the team is a little older, fans are mostly happy just to have made it.

Calgary Flames fans – Argh. If the Flames were playing anyone but the Canucks, it would be easier to worry less about the result and simply enjoy the experience.
Calgary Flames interested parties – The Flames have been one of the most pleasantly surprising teams this year. They’re young and young teams don’t often win in the playoffs but this team could be older than its years.

NFL Week 17 Good Cop, Bad Cop Precaps

The NFL season has started but how do you know which games to watch and which to skip? Ask our favorite police duo with their good cop, bad cop precaps of all the matchups in the National Football League this weekend. To see which games will be televised in your area, check out 506sports.com’s essential NFL maps.

Week 17

Sunday, December 28, at 1:00 p.m. ET

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots

Good cop: The Bills can almost make up for their terrible loss last week that kicked them out of playoff contention by finishing the season with a win in New England!

Bad cop: The Patriots have already clinched home-field advantage throughout the entire playoffs. They don’t need to win this game at all. Knowing Bill Bellichick, they might just spend the game practicing some very avante-garde offensive strategy, just in case.

Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens

Good cop: The Ravens will make the playoffs if they win this game and San Diego loses to Kansas City!

Bad cop: The Browns will make the playoffs when California falls into the ocean.

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

Good cop: Of all the meaningless (to playoff qualification or seeding) Week 17 games, this could be the best! It’s two rival teams that are going in opposite directions! 

Bad cop: Yes… Minnesota is struggling to climb out of the dumpster while Chicago is hanging out in the landfill… 

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins

Good cop: Washington eliminated one divisional rival, the Philadelphia Eagles, last week! This week they have a chance to keep a first round playoff bye away from another divisional rival, the Dallas Cowboys, if they can win this game!

Bad cop: If there’s anything Washington D.C. is good at, it’s ruining the hopes of people throughout the country. Ha.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Houston Texans

Good cop: The Texans are the longest of long shots to make the playoffs — they have to win and they need the Ravens and Chargers to lose! But they also have the easiest opponent this week! The Jaguars are not good and that’s good for the Houston Texans!

Bad cop: I love how you just managed to say a team was bad, something you’re normally loath to admit, but you still found a way to make that a good thing. The Jaguars are bad and the Texans are not really that much better. They don’t deserve a playoff spot and they won’t get one.

Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans

Good cop: I’m fascinated by this game! Who better for the struggling, yet playoff bound Colts to play than the 2-13 Titans?

Bad cop: Beating a team whose incentives are all lined up for losing won’t prove anything positive about the Colts.

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

Good cop: This is virtually a playoff game! Both teams need to win this game to make the playoffs! The Chargers could get in even if they lose, but if the Chiefs lose, they are out!

Bad cop: Too bad that Chiefs starting quarterback, Alex Smith, is out with a lacerated spleen. It takes a little of the drama away from this game.

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins

Good cop: The Jets have been an entertaining mess for years under head-coach Rex Ryan! This might be the last game of an era!

Bad cop: An era defined by dysfunction and mediocrity? Oh, I can’t wait to watch one last game in THAT era. 

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Good cop: These two teams have had disappointing seasons but they’ll look to close the year out with a win!

Bad cop: Your lack of cynicism drives me crazy. You think the Buccaneers don’t know they might get the first pick of next year’s draft if they lose? They know. 

Philadelphia Eagles at New York Giants

Good cop: Grudge match!

Bad cop: Consolation match.

SUNDAY, December 28, AT 4:05 and 4:25 P.M. ET

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons

Good cop: This game is for all the marbles in the NFC South! Win and you make the playoffs! Lose and you go home!

Bad cop: Dramatic and ultimately futile. Winning a division and making the playoffs with a losing record is a damn shame.

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos

Good cop: This may seem like a meaningless game, but it’s not! The Broncos can clinch a bye week with a win and there’s no player who would appreciate a week off more than 38 year-old Peyton Manning!

Bad cop: And no team easier to beat than the Oakland Raiders.

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers

Good cop: Both teams have clinched a playoff spot but now they play each other for the NFC North division title and playoff positioning!

Bad cop: It’s hard, even for me, to find something bad to say about this game. It’ll probably stink.

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers

Good cop: Down to their third quarterback, the Cardinals are the most compelling playoff team! I can’t wait to see if they can overcome their quarterback play to make a deep run this year!

Bad cop: I can save you the suspense. They won’t.

St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks

Good cop: It’s such a shame that the Rams are stuck in a division with the Seahawks, Cardinals, and (not this year but for the last few years) the 49ers! Otherwise, they’d probably be a playoff team! They’re not bad!

Bad cop: “They’re not bad.” Heck of a rallying cry.

SUNDAY, December 21, AT 8:30 P.M. ET

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers

Good cop: The AFC North division, with the Bengals, Steelers, Ravens, and Browns, has been the best division from 1-4 all season! This game will finally decide who the winner is!

Bad cop: Yeah, yeah. It doesn’t really matter though. Both teams are in the playoffs for sure and neither one are likely to get a first round bye.

NFL Week 15 Good Cop, Bad Cop Precaps

The NFL season has started but how do you know which games to watch and which to skip? Ask our favorite police duo with their good cop, bad cop precaps of all the matchups in the National Football League this weekend. To see which games will be televised in your area, check out 506sports.com’s essential NFL maps.

Week 15

Sunday, December 14, at 1:00 p.m. ET

Green Bay Packers at Buffalo Bills

Good cop: The Buffalo fans are consistently among the best in the league! They’re going to find a way to help their team in this must-win game against the mighty Packers!

Bad cop: How? What if one of them transformed the world into a cartoon and then the other 71,856 threw banana peels at Aaron Rodgers? That might work. Maybe.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens

Good cop: What luck for the Ravens who are fighting for a playoff spot and their division lead! They play the woeful Jaguars while the Browns and Bengals play each other and the Steelers play the dangerous Falcons!

Bad cop: The “dangerous falcons?” You must be mistaken — the Steelers are playing the Atlanta Falcons football team, not a flock of predatory birds. The football team is not dangerous.

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals

Good cop: Finally! Finally, we’ll get to see the most talked about rookie quarterback, Johnny Manziel, start a game for the Cleveland Browns!

Bad cop: Yes… Manziel is so exciting that his coaches waited until their team was basically eliminated from playoff contention to start him. Exciting like a rusty roller coaster is exciting.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers

Good cop: With their quarterback sidelined after a scary looking car accident that luckily ended with only a couple small broken bones in his back, the Panthers turn to journeyman Derek Anderson who beat the Buccaneers earlier this year! Even at 4-8-1, the Panthers’ playoff hopes are still alive!

Bad cop: The only small broken bones are ones other people have. The only hope the Panthers have for the playoffs are mathematical.

Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

Good cop: The Texans are only game out of a wild card spot and I think this is the week they finally break through their division rivals, Indianapolis Colts! If anyone can outsmart and outbeard Andrew Luck, it’s the Texans erudite wildman Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick!

Bad cop: I don’t care about all that. When it’s December and cold, windy, and snowing across larger parts of the United States, the last thing I want to watch is a mediocre football game inside a dome. I want weather.

Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs

Good cop: Just a month ago, the Chiefs were 7-3 and looked like they could stroll into the playoffs this year! Then they played the winless Raiders on Thursday, lost, lost their next two games, and are on the outside looking in! That Raiders loss really derailed their season and I’m interested to see them get their revenge!

Bad cop: “My name is Alex Smith, you defeated my football team, prepare to lose.” Not exactly the thing legends are made of.

Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots

Good cop: It’s another divisional revenge game! The Patriots don’t really need to win this game, but that’s never stopped Brady and Bellichick for looking to destroy a team that beat them the last time they played!

Bad cop: Brady, Bellichick, Brady, Bellichick. I’m getting bored with those two. Can we swap them out for the characters from True Detective? Then you’d have an interesting football team — okay Gronkowski, on this play I want you to run a flat circle and then I’ll throw you the ball…

Washington Redskins at New York Giants

Good cop: HEY! After this game, we’ll only have to se– I mean get to see these teams two more times!

Bad cop: [quietly nods]

Pittsburgh Steelers at Atlanta Falcons

Good cop: Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for six touchdowns in two games this year! I expect he’ll come close to that again this Sunday against the Falcons “pass defense!”

Bad cop: [quietly nods proudly]

SUNDAY, December 14, AT 4:05 and 4:25 P.M. ET

Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers

Good cop: Doesn’t it seem like the Broncos always have to go through the Chargers on their way through the playoffs?!!

Bad cop: Yep — and they always beat them, every time, so where’s the drama?

New York Jets at Tennessee Titans

Good cop: It’s the only head to head matchup this week among the five teams tied at the bottom of the schedule at 2-11! Whoever wins this game gets bragging rights!

Bad cop: And loses an important chance to grab the first overall draft pick next year.

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions

Good cop: Don’t sleep on the Vikings! They’ve won their last two games and are sneaking closer and closer to .500! Not bad for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s first year!

Bad cop: I would never sleep on a Viking. Too spiky.

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

Good cop: A rematch of the Thanksgiving night game! A rematch of last year’s NFC Championship!

Bad cop: Since last year’s NFC Championship, the 49ers are 7-6. Since Thanksgiving, they’ve lost to the Raiders. Not interested.

SUNDAY, December 14, AT 8:30 P.M. ET

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

Good cop: I’m basically speechless! A division rivalry! Both teams are 9-4! Drama! Action!

Bad cop: Expectations lead to disappointment.

MONDAY, December 15, AT 8:30 P.M. ET

New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears

Good cop: It’s a matchup between two of the most surprising teams of the season!

Bad cop: Yep — even I have been surprised at how terrible these teams are.