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The players you need to watch this week in the NFL

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)
Expert
13th December, 2018
0

And so to the fabulous 15th week of the regular season in this man’s National Football League, and clutch hit-outs abound.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-2) vs Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) – Friday December 14, 12:15pm AEDT, ESPN

With both AFC West squads jockeying for a first week bye in post-season play-off action.

The Chiefs will look to their quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the leather-flinger has been in white-hot form of late and looks an MVP-in-waiting.

The numbers don’t lie: Mahomes has thrown 43 touchdowns for 4,300 yards. Yet there’s been magic, too. While leading a last minute surge against the Ravens last start – fourth down, nine to get – Mahomes threw a ridiculous 48-yard pass across his body.

There was also a no-look bullet in the second quarter that won his team 16 yards – and Mahomes a ton of press.

Scrambling with the Ravens D bearing down upon him, Mahomes looked downfield to draw defenders in and threw a sensational no-look pass to Demarcus Robinson. If Mahomes can continue to rip off passes without looking, his receivers will run free like the buffalo.

Mahomes’ favoured wide receiver is Tyreek Hill, who’s averaging 17 yards per reception and has celebrated 11 touchdowns.

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Hill suffered a heel injury last week against the Ravens – that he self-diagnosed by saying “My foot’s bad” – but he ran about at training on Tuesday and the Chiefs wouldn’t risk a man who once clocked 9.98 for 100 metres. Hill’s also been practicing touchdown celebrations at practice. You’d suggest he plays.

The Chargers, meanwhile, know a win at Arrowhead would see them draw equal atop the AFC West table. Both teams are after the saloon passage of a week off, first week of the post-season. It appears advantage home side. The Chargers’ star receivers – Name Name, Name Name – are under an injury cloud.

Hard-charging Chargers lineman Joey Bosa has also had an injury-affected season, but is back and fighting fit. He’s sacked the quarterback in each of his last four games. He’s 6-5 and 280 pounds (in the metric system, “a lot”), and looks the man most likely to upset Mahomes’ apple cart.

New York Jets (4-9) vs Houston Texans (9-4) – Sunday December 16, 8:30 AM AEDT, ESPN

JJ Watt of the Houston Texans

JJ Watt of the Houston Texans. (Jeffrey Beall / Wikimedia Commons)

The locals are effectively thinking next season. The visitors lost last week for the first time in two months and nine straight games.

The Texans lead the AFC South, yet their D-line has given up the second-most sacks in the league. Excuses include: said line being porous; receivers offering nothing up field, quarterback Deshaun Watson hanging on to the ball too long. The truth is in there somewhere. Watson was sacked five times last week against Idianapolis Colts.

That would rattle Tom Brady.

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Yet the Texans have been doing plenty right. Defensive ends JJ Watt and Jadevon Clowney have 19.5 sacks between them. DeAndre Hopkins because the second-youngest player in NFL history to notch 7000 yards. Watson has thrown a touchdown pass in 18 straight games. When the Texans reach the red zone, they convert.

The Jets quarterback, 21-year-old rookie Sam Darnold, is having a standout year, despite his team running fourth-of-four in the AFC East. Keep an eye out for the Jets punter, 26-year-old Lachlan Edwards, once of Dandenong Stingrays and North Ballarat football clubs.

Denver Broncos (6-7) vs Cleveland Browns (5-7-1) – Sunday December 16, 12:15 PM AEDT, ESPN

Quarterback Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns walks onto the field during a training camp.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns walks onto the field during a training camp. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)

The Broncos host the Browns at the important-sounding Sports Authority Field, also known as Mile High Stadium because it’s 5280 feet above sea level, roughly the elevation of Mount Ossa in the Central Highlands region of Tasmania.

Both sides will be desperate for the win.

The visiting Browns need a win to stay in touch with the two leaders of the AFC North. The Broncos are 6-7 and must keep winning to remain in touch with the wildcard race.

Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield will be key for Cleveland.

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The college football sensation and the Browns’ first overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft – is completing two-thirds of his passes this season, which places him in rare air – only 42 quarterbacks have done so since 1999.

Denver coach Vance Joseph once wanted to sign Mayfield and remains a fan. “He’s got a neat personality,” said Joseph. “It’s kind of a — it’s loose, but it’s tight. Very, very intelligent, but a very, very confident person.”

According to ESPN’s Pat Mcmanamon, “Mayfield’s next touchdown pass would tie him with Dan Marino for the most touchdown passes in a rookie’s first 12 games (since the AFL-NFL merger).”

The Broncos have been inconsistent. Their quarterback Case Keenum needs to lift his side into some points.

“We’re at that point in the season where we’ve got to make plays and we’ve got to score points,” said Keenum. “I think that’s our best defence, us going out there and scoring points … that’s a good mindset to have. I think being smart with the ball, continuing to be smart with the ball, but giving guys chances when we feel like it’s a good matchup or advantageous time to take a shot or take a chance down the field.”

Both sides are well served by rookie running backs.

Cleveland’s RB Nick Chubb has eight touchdowns and leads his team for yards (760) and carries (144). Broncos’ RB Phillip Lindsay has nine touchdowns and 967 yards. Expect plenty of touches and charges from both in a hard-fought affair.

Los Angeles Rams (11-2) vs Pittsburgh Eagles (6-7) – Monday, 12:15 AEDT ESPN

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Most are tipping the Rams to run riot at home.

Their D-line is responsible for 34 sacks this season, with 16.5 of them recorded against the name of one man – Aaron Donald, the league-leader in quarterback hassle. All-American at college, first round draft pick in 2014, more Kodiak Bear than man, Donald looms as a wildcard for the NFL’s MVP, and would be just the third defensive tackle to achieve the honour.

The Eagles will likely be missing quarterback Carson Wentz and with him one would assume hope of any kind. In the last five games they’ve given up 2169 yards total yards, a league high. Yet in replacement QB Nick Foles the Eagles can call on a man who won a SuperBowl MVP.

Meanwhile in Monday Night Football (Tuesday 12:15pm AEDT on ESPN) the high-flying New Orleans Saints (11-2) will look to bury the aspirations of the Carolina Panthers (6-7).

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