NFL Week 16 Cheat Sheet: Cardinals will recover without Honey Badger

It says a lot when an NFL coach, who’s built a career working with grown men, calls someone his "favorite" player and no one argues, no one winces, and no one has a problem with it.

The Arizona Cardinals lost coach Bruce Arians’ favorite player in Tyrann Mathieu Sunday night in the final moments of a blowout victory. It’s the stuff that rips your heart out. And for Arians, it’s the type of thing that can cause you to choke up. He did just that on Monday, telling reporters, "We have a little different bond, just because of where he came from, where I came from. I’ve just gotten real attached to him. I love the player but I love the person more."

Mathieu’s NFL journey has been well chronicled — a college standout who was dismissed from his LSU squad, labeled a "problem child," and removed by most teams’ draft boards — only to be taken in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft by Arizona. From there, it’s been a roller coaster. Tremendous highs. The lowest of lows. For every honor and award, there’s been a devastating setback that’s followed. A torn ACL and MCL in his left knee during his rookie season. Several games missed due to lingering effects in his second year in 2014. And now, an NFL Defensive Player of the Year-type campaign in what he described as his "savage season," railroaded by a torn ACL on a Week 15 Sunday night when most televisions around the country had already long turned the game off. 

"He set goals and he was attaining them," Arians said on Monday with a cracking voice. "I thought he should be right there with Pat (Peterson) for defensive player of the year. I don’t think there was any doubt. It’s a shame with two games left." 

The website ProFootballFocus.com, considered the Torah to those in the stats and analystics community, had Mathieu listed as both the top-rated cornerback in run defense and as a pass rusher this season. Of course, Arians considers him a safety. That type of versatility is a tremendous luxury, and will be sorely missed. 

Forget the energy and leadership Mathieu brings to the locker room (enough to garner him a roster spot in this league for 10 more seasons, in itself), and the Cardinals are losing one of the more dynamic players in the game, just as they hit the home stretch. 

Unfortunately, there is simply no time for tears and reflection for Arizona. The Cardinals need to rebound and recover. And they need to do it soon. The No. 1 seed in the NFC is still a possibility, and with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers coming to town with the hope of firming up their own playoff seed position, it’s time for the next men up. 

Those guys? Look for Jerraud Powers to step up and play the nickel, and look for Justin Bethel — a special teams demon — to fill in at corner. It’s not The Honey Badger, no. But it’s something. And those two players — neither stars — may be the key to getting the Cardinals to their first Super Bowl since 2009. 

If you’re looking for the Packers to shed a tear over Arizona’s loss of Mathieu, good luck. Green Bay lost their best receiver in Jordy Nelson this summer, and the offense hasn’t been the same since. That’s football, I suppose. 

The Cardinals have dealt with versions of this before. Carson Palmer. Drew Stanton. Chris Johnson. 

This one, from the top down, might just sting the most. 

Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week: Cam Newton is the fifth quarterback in NFL history with 3-plus games with 5-plus passing touchdowns in a season. The other four quarterbacks all started their NFL careers after 1997. Can you name those four players?

Now, on to the picks.  

***

Week 15 Record: 10-6

Overall Record: 113-112

THURSDAY NIGHT

San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders: Bob Iger! Carmen Policy! The Spanos family! Mark Davis! Stadium talk! Tax exemptions! Relocation fees! Backroom dealings and Boss Tweed politics! How’s that for an NFL Network promo? Tough to get too excited for this game, but when the alternative is sitting around a fire and discussing your job with Grandma on Christmas Eve, you’ll watch. Give me the Raiders. 

The Pick: Raiders 33, Chargers 23

SATURDAY NIGHT

Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles: A name you’re not hearing enough about is Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay. He’s just 29 years old and is the guy calling a lot of the shots for this suddenly resurgent Redskins offense. DeSean Jackson would love nothing more than to stroll into Philly and put a dagger into Chip Kelly’s Eagles’ hearts on a Saturday night with the nation watching. McVay will make sure he’ll get that opportunity. 

The Pick: Redskins 34, Eagles 23

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons surprised some folks (me) with a win over the Jaguars last week. If you’re expecting the Panthers to look past them this weekend, don’t. Carolina’s been tested in New Orleans and New York, knows the nation’s watching, and has absolutely owned these Falcons the last two years. I see Carolina in another walk. 

The Pick: Panthers 33, Falcons 16

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens weren’t beating the Chiefs the second they walked on to the field in yellow pants. They’re not beating the Steelers, regardless of what color they’re wearing. These two teams usually get the best of one another and finish in a one score game. This isn’t one of those Ravens teams. Jimmy Clausen — home, away, neutral field — will never beat Ben Roethlisberger in a football game. Sorry. 

The Pick: Steelers 30, Ravens 16

Dallas Cowboys at Buffalo Bills: Back in April, I went through the NFL schedule and circled this one as one of the five games I was most looking forward to. We’re a few days away and I can’t exactly say I’m doing flips over the start of the Kellen Moore era. I think the Cowboys could end up drafting a quarterback with a top-10 pick in April’s NFL Draft, too, even if that means backing up Tony Romo for a season or two. The Bills’ defense was worse with Rex Ryan calling the shots than Jim Schwartz last year. That’s a problem. They should look great against Moore on Sunday, though. 

The Pick: Bills 23, Cowboys 13

San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions: The 49ers offense has been ineffective the past two weeks, resulting in two losses and a poor finish to a forgettable year. The worst way for President and CEO Jed York’s 2015 campaign to end? With the Seahawks playing in a Super Bowl held in Levi’s Stadium. It’s possible. 

The Pick: Lions 21, 49ers 10

Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs: Take a pen out. Grab a piece of paper. Try to rank the best quarterbacks in the AFC right now. Healthy ones, only. If Alex Smith isn’t No. 3 behind Brady and Big Ben, you’re kidding yourself. He’s having a Pro Bowl season and could be the first Chiefs quarterback to win a playoff game since Joe Montana did it in 1993. A lesser team takes the foot off the gas on Sunday. Kansas City’s not a lesser team. 

The Pick: Chiefs 34, Browns 20

Indianapolis Colts at Miami Dolphins: Dan Campbell’s likely coaching his final two games as the head coach, but from everyone I speak to, he’s got a bright future as an NFL head coach. Chuck Pagano does, too. If he’s let go at the end of the season, I’m told there will be several teams who’ll want to speak with him. Maybe it’s not right to talk about the head coaches’ next jobs before Week 16, but I’m not sure there’s many more compelling storylines for these two teams at the moment. 

The Pick: Dolphins 19, Colts 13

Jacksonville Jaguars at New Orleans Saints: Just as I was getting my fishing rod and a bunch of teal shirts and pants for the next month of the year, the Jaguars laid an egg against the Falcons last week, making me look foolish. I talked up the Jaguars last week, went big on Blake Bortles, and was rewarded with a forgettable performance from the quarterback, his star wideouts and a young Jaguars team that just can’t seem to put it together. After losing that one — with the playoffs still a very real possibility — I can’t see them traveling to the Big Easy and winning on the road. 

The Pick: Saints 30, Jaguars 23

New England Patriots at New York Jets: I like the 2015 New York Jets. I really do. I just think this season could end up in the greatest form of disappointment — an 11-5 squad that watches the postseason from home. The Jets gave the Patriots a battle the first time they played this year in Foxborough (30-23 loss), and I think they are built to beat them on Sunday. It all could be for naught, though. They need lots of help from teams that aren’t very good. Todd Bowles isn’t getting much attention, but he’s a Coach of the Year candidate in my book. This one would make his name pop. 

The Pick: Jets 24, Patriots 20

Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I’ll be working the sidelines for this one on FOX, and think the big storyline is Lovie Smith coaching his first game against Chicago in Tampa since he was fired by the organization three years ago. Things didn’t end as smoothly as both sides would have hoped, but rarely do those situations go well. Smith’s team isn’t playing well of late, but they’ve got a lot of love for their head coach. I can’t see them giving anything but the maximum effort and finding a way. 

The Pick: Buccaneers 23, Bears 20

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans: I look at these final two weeks of the 2015 Titans season as a chance for Zach Mettenberger to show what he’s got. Three of Mettenberger’s eight career starts have come against the Texans, and that includes JJ Watt busting his chops last year for taking odd selfie photos before the game. I love Mettenberger’s arm and think he can get the last laugh on Sunday. Houston desperately needs this one; I like Tennessee.

The Pick: Titans 27, Texans 23

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals: It’s the game of the week and a chance for the Cardinals to keep it rolling. I think they do, even without The Honey Badger. Keep an eye on what Larry Fitzgerald does on Sunday. If Sam Shields, a very capable cornerback, misses his second straight week, it looks like rookie Damarious Randall will have to square up against Fitzgerald. No disrespect to the rookie, but that’s not a good matchup for the young man. The Cardinals veteran is third in the league in receptions with 99. Expect another 10 and a score in this one. 

The Pick: Cardinals 35, Packers 21

St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks: St. Louis has won two straight, but they haven’t played a team like the Seahawks. Russell Wilson’s getting a ton of love and it’s all deserved. Last week’s win over Cleveland was a dominant one. So dominant that Cleveland only touched the ball seven times. That’s unheard of. Todd Gurley’s going to get his early, but this one shouldn’t be much of a game. 

The Pick: Seahawks 27, Rams 13

New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings: This will likely be the last game played at TCF Bank Stadium, and it will be played at night on Dec. 27. The Giants haven’t been to the playoffs in four years and by Sunday afternoon, they should have a good idea as to whether those postseason dreams are still alive or not. Odell Beckham, Jr. got all the headlines, but the Giants showed a lot of heart last weekend. I don’t see all the heart in the world getting them a win on Sunday night. 

The Pick: Vikings 27, Giants 20

MONDAY NIGHT

Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos: Last year it was Andy Dalton and Peyton Manning on a cold Monday night in Cincinnati. It’ll be AJ McCarron vs. Brock Osweiler in Denver this year, and though they’re underdogs in Las Vegas for this one, I actually like AJ and the Bengals to find a way. McCarron wasn’t lights out against the 49ers, but he didn’t hurt the Bengals either. If there’s one mistake people are making about this Cincinnati team, it’s that they think Andy Dalton is the whole squad. This is the best roster — top to bottom — in the NFL. And they’ll show America they can win a big one without their leader on Monday. 

NFL WEEK 17

The Pick: Bengals 23, Broncos 20

Reader Email of the Week

Peter, 

Can I call you Schrags? Schrags, how the hell haven’t you seen "Star Wars" before? What country did you grow up in? I have friends who haven’t seen the "Rocky" movies or "The Godfather," but "Star Wars?" No. Not acceptable, dude. Don’t mention that to many people. 

Vince, Manasquan, New Jersey

Vince,

Can I call you Vinny?  I know. It’s bizarre. I’d like to say the reason I didn’t see "Star Wars" was because I was making out with girls and dunking basketballs in high school. But that’s not true, either. Was it on television a lot? I see "The Departed" on HBO all the time and I watch it every single time. That movie "Just Friends" with Ryan Reynolds? It’s on loop. Seen it 40 times in the last year. When is "Star Wars" ever on television? Is there a marathon on FX I just miss every year? I’m certainly not buying DVDs at this point. The weird thing is that I’ve seen "Spaceballs" a million times and know all the "Star Wars" references, characters, and lines. Just haven’t seen the movie. The franchise is doing just fine without me, though. I assure you. I’m thinking I get together with my FOXSports.com colleague Jimmy Traina — another "Never seen Star Wars" guy — and watch "Star Wars," "Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" in one sitting this winter. I assure you we’ll live Tweet the whole thing. After the Super Bowl, of course. 

Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer of the Week: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Daunte Culpepper are the four other quarterbacks who had 3+ games with 5+ passing touchdowns in a single season.