Week 14 features seven separate games featuring teams with winning records facing off. Big Ben plays for a playoff berth, Brian Hoyer fights for his job, Pete Carroll coaches against his former USC quarterback, and Tom Brady and Philip Rivers square off in what may prove to be a prelude to the postseason.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-3-1)
The Steelers really, really need to win this game to keep their playoff hopes alive.
One strategy that could help spearhead them to a win is a heavy dose of talented tailback Le’veon Bell against the 25th-ranked Bengals run defense. Bell is a rising star who is second in the NFL in rushing.
But then again a large helping of WR Antonio Brown, who leads the NFL in receiving yards, might not be a bad way to go either.
It would be far from a surprise to see the prideful Steelers go into Paul Brown Stadium and come out with a victory in the must-win game.
Indianapolis Colts (8-4) at Cleveland Browns (7-5)
This game is like the Super Bowl for Browns QB Brian Hoyer.
With the Sword of Manziel swinging over his head, Hoyer needs to lead the Browns to a win to keep his job with so many people clamoring for his backup, Johnny Football.
But he might have to put up a lot of points to do so, facing Andrew Luck and the NFL’s #1 offense. Luck comes off a five-touchdown performance in a win over Washington.
Hoyer has so much moxie, don’t be surprised if he figures out a way to stave off the beginning of the Manziel-era.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-10) at Detroit Lions (8-4)
You can almost forget the Buccaneers running in this game. They are ranked 29th in the league in rushing, and the Lions sport the NFL’s #1 rushing defense.
Teryl Austin has done a great job in his first year as Lions defensive coordinator, and could be setting himself up for a head coaching opportunity.
The old Lions might have lost a game like this, but coach Jim Caldwell has changed the culture, so expect them to take care of business.
Houston Texans (6-6) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
This will the 41st straight game the Jaguars enter as underdogs.
And they have earned that right.
While they did beat the lowly Giants last week, the Jaguars aren’t a very good team, with the NFL’s 31st ranked offense, and 28th-ranked defense.
Also, their quarterback, rookie Blake Bortles, has thrown an NFL-high 15 interceptions. And remember, he didn’t start the first two games of the season.
The Jaguars will be without starting right tackle Austin Pasztor, and J.J. Watt is coming to down.
Houston should win this game.
New York Jets (2-10) at Minnesota Vikings (5-7)
This is like an NFL Europe game, the old NFL developmental league.
Both of these teams are using 2014 games to as a learning tool for their young quarterbacks – the Jets’s Geno Smith and Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater. Winning seems secondary to these two clubs right now as they try to find a true answer at the NFL’s most important position.
And don’t expect a shootout. Both of these teams struggle throwing the football. The Jets are #32, and Vikings #30, through the air.
The Jets have a slight edge in this matchup because they are the better running team, coming off a 277-yard effort on the ground in a loss to Miami. The Vikings gave up 178 yards last week to the moribund Carolina Panthers.
New York Giants (3-9) at Tennessee Titans (2-10)
The Titans begin their New York-New York series as they host the Giants and then the Jets on back-to-back Sundays.
And how apropos, with the New York series about to begin, Titans owner Tommy Smith channeled his inner-George Steinbrenner this week.
“The roster is going to look a lot different next year,” Smith told the Tennessean about his 2-10 team. “Some players [have] multiyear contracts, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be here. I can assure you this: I am committed to making this thing right. This thing is going to get fixed.”
But it’s not going to get fixed until the off-season.
Even with their struggles, expect the Giants to prevail in this contest with a banged-up Titans team featuring a rookie QB.
St. Louis (5-7) at Washington Redskins (3-9)
The Rams visit the nation’s capital to play the Redskins. Will the “hands up, don’t shoot” quintet of Jared Cook, Kenny Britt, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Chris Givens be invited to the White House?
It looks like the Redskins might have found themselves a quarterback. In his first game back as the Redskins starter (after leading them to a pair of wins early this years), Colt McCoy threw for 392 yards, three touchdowns, and a 113 QB rating in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts last week.
If the Redskins can protect McCoy against the Rams ferocious pass rush, then they should be able to win this game.
Kansas City Chiefs (7-5) at Arizona Cardinals (9-3)
On paper, this matchup would favor the home-standing Cardinals.
But they have so many injuries, this could tilt the scales to the Chiefs.
Also, this is a bad matchup for the Cardinals’s pedestrian QB, Drew Stanton against the NFL’s #1 pass defense.
Buffalo Bills (7-5) at Denver Broncos (9-3)
Great matchup in the Mile High City between Peyton Manning and the NFL’s #3 defense.
It remains to seen if the Bronco re-constructed offensive line can deal with the Bills’ robust defensive line, perhaps the best in the NFL.
Don’t be surprised if the spunky Bills make this game close, but expect the Broncos to prevail at end. Remember, the Bills recently lost starting cornerback Leodis McKelvin for the season, not a good thing when facing Peyton Manning, who has thrown 36 touchdowns this season.
San Francisco 49ers (7-5) at Oakland Raiders (1-11)
This is an awful matchup for the Raiders.
First of all, expect a lot of 49ers fans to travel across the San Mateo Bridge to attend this game. Raiders tickets aren’t hard to get.
Secondly, the Raiders have pass-protection issues, giving up six sacks last week against St. Louis, and now they face a very good 49ers pass rush, with a rookie at QB, who doesn’t make quick decisions.
The 49ers should win this game.
Seattle Seahawks (8-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-3)
What a great matchup – Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense against the Seahawks defense, allowing the least amount of yards per game.
Mark Sanchez has four wins, but against bad and average defenses. The Seahawks are a different story.
The Eagles rush defense faces quite a challenge in this game against the NFL’s top rushing quarterback (Russell Wilson) and running back Marshawn Lynch, who leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns.
Expect Seattle coach Pete Carroll to get the best of his former USC QB, and for the road team to prevail.
New England Patriots (9-3) at San Diego Chargers (8-4)
Over the last seven years, the Patriots have lost just three games in December.
The Chargers upset Baltimore last week, but the Ravens have perhaps the worst cornerback situation in the league. The Patriots might have the best.
If center Chris Watt can’t play, the Chargers will be starting their fifth different center this year.
This contest favors the road team.
Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at Miami Dolphins (7-5)
Expect the Ravens to give a heavy workload to running back Justin Forsett, after the Dolphins were gashed the last two weeks on the ground by the Denver Broncos and New York Jets.
The Dolphins upstart QB Ryan Tannehill has 20 touchdowns on this season, and should add a few more this week against Baltimore’s ravaged secondary.
Also, the Dolphins should be able to run against the Ravens with the suspension of nose tackle Haloti Ngata due to Adderall use.
This game is a toss-up.