Now that the NFL is heading into Week 14 of the regular season, playoffs are on the mind of almost every team in the league. However, in order to reach the postseason teams need to focus on their remaining 4 games, and the chance for either home field advantage, a division title, a wildcard spot, or even mere pride should be enough to motivate teams to perform at their highest possible level this week. This should result in a week full of suspenseful and intense games, especially considering that there are 4 games this week featuring two teams with a winning record. The playoff chase is on, and here is a preview of what to expect in each game this week.
HOUSTON TEXANS: 17 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: 23
Although the Jaguars have turned into the laughing stock of the NFL, they have actually played well recently and have even managed to win 3 of their last 4 games, including a 13-6 victory over the Texans. Maurice Jones-Drew is beginning to show glimpses of his old self in the last four games, scoring 4 touchdowns (1 passing) and averaging 83.5 YPG which looks phenomenal when compared to his previous 8 games in which he scored just twice and averaged 62.6 YPG. The Texans, on the other hand, are the only team in the AFC with a record worse than the Jaguars and just seem to always find a way to lose. The quarterback situation for the Texans is still abysmal, and aside from a 102 yard, 3 touchdown game from Ben Tate in their loss to the Patriots the Texans have found little to be happy about. Look for the Jaguars to stun the NFL with their 4th win this year, which is probably 4 more than anyone expected them to get.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: 20 CINCINNATI BENGALS: 30
Early in the season, the Colts were considered one of the best teams in the league after impressive wins against San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and the acquisition of RB Trent Richardson. However, recent headlines for the Colts include blowout losses (38-8 to the Rams, 40-11 to the Cardinals), untimely injuries (WR Reggie Wayne, DL Ricky Jean-Francois), atrocious offensive line play (Luck has been sacked 13 times in his last 4 games), and Trent Richardson’s lack of production (averaging 2.8 YPC and was recently benched in favor of RB Donald Brown). Although the Colts still have the AFC South in the bag, against the Cincinnati Bengals, who are top 6 in the NFL in scoring and total defense, the Colts should struggle yet again. Also, the two headed running back monster consisting of Giovanni Bernard and Benjarvus Green-Ellis has been on fire in recent weeks, averaging 154 total yards and 1 touchdown per game in their last 4 outings. The Colts rush defense, which is currently 28th in the NFL should continue to struggle in the potential loss to the Bengals, especially now that Jean-Francois is hurt.
ATLANTA FALCONS: 27 GREEN BAY PACKERS: 24
Before the season started, many envisioned this game to potentially play a huge role in determining seeds 1-4 in the NFC Playoffs. Now, however, it couldn’t be more obvious that this game means nothing. Both teams have dealt with plenty of impactful injuries this year, including RB Steven Jackson, WR Roddy White, and WR Julio Jones for the Falcons and QB Aaron Rodgers, RB Eddie Lacy, WR Randall Cobb, and TE Jermichael Finley for the Packers. And that’s just brushing the surface. Needless to say, both teams’ injuries have hampered their success. The Packers have yet to win a game without Aaron Rodgers, and the Falcons have had to survive the majority of the year without their best two wide receivers. Fortunately, Roddy White seemed to finally click with the offense last week, and Steven Jackson has put up 3 touchdowns and 150+ total yards in his past two games. While the Falcons are getting their swagger back despite their elimination from playoff contention, the Packers look absolutely terrible. A case could be made for Aaron Rodgers as MVP due to the lack of offensive production without him on the field. Even though they face the 26th ranked total defense and the 29th ranked scoring defense, their struggles should continue.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: 17 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: 38
Remember when the Browns were in the thick of the playoff race? Well that lasted a grand total of 1 week (granted they were in wild card contention with a meager 4-5 record). The Browns have since falling off the map, losing 3 games in a row, including an embarrassing one last week to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although no team has been able to find an answer for Josh Gordon, opposing defenses have been able to nullify his production by shutting down the rest of the offense and dominating the Cleveland defense. The biggest problem with the Browns offense is that they have been unable to get Jordan Cameron involved recently, who, after starting the year off hot, has averaged just 27 receiving YPG in his last 4 outings. The Patriots, on the other hand, have been on a roll. Whether it is Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen, or Brandon Bolden running the ball for the New England Patriots, they seem to always have a nice compliment for Tom Brady and the passing game. The Patriots have won 4 of their last 5 games, including impressive victories against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos. The Patriots should have an easy time this Sunday against the struggling Browns.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: 20 NEW YORK JETS: 7
Although the Jets are only a game behind the current 6th seed Baltimore Ravens, it seems next to impossible that the Jets make the playoffs. Geno Smith has now gone 4 straight games with less than 10 completions, the first starting quarterback to do so in this millennium. After benching Geno Smith for Matt Simms in the 2nd half of Sunday’s game, the Jets have shown that they have little faith in the rookie QB moving forward. Unfortunately, Simms wasn’t much better, throwing three passes that were dropped by defenders that should have been interceptions. The Jets are stuck with Geno for now, and based on his recent performances it seems highly unlikely that they will win any games with him under center. The Raiders also now have Darren McFadden fully healthy, and along with Rashad Jennings they may be able to find success against the number 1 ranked rush defense. Last time these two teams faced off on September 25th 2011, Darren McFadden tore apart the Jets’ defense for 171 yards on 19 carries along with 2 touchdowns to go along with 3 catches for 7 yards. If history repeats itself, Darren McFadden and the Raiders should walk all over the New York Jets on Sunday.
DETROIT LIONS: 34 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: 38
This game might have the biggest playoff implications of the week, with Detroit looking to seal the NFC North and Philadelphia aiming to seize the division from the Cowboys or even the Wildcard from the 49ers. Matt Stafford has had an amazing year thus far, although turnovers continue to be an issue. Matt Stafford is on pace to throw 19 interceptions, which would be the worst in his career since his rookie season. Also, Detroit has not been able to hold onto the football, resulting in 11 fumbles lost. Currently, the Lions have a -8 turnover differential, which is the worst among all teams with a winning record. This game also pits two of the worst pass defenses in the league against each other, with the Lions ranking 26th and the Eagles 32nd. And while Detroit has a much better rush defense led by D-linemen Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, the Eagles are just unstoppable right now. Nick Foles is now being considered as an MVP candidate, and his recent performances back this up. During the Eagles current 4 game win streak, Foles is averaging 292.25 passing YPG, 3.25 touchdowns per game, and 0 interceptions. Foles is also getting a lot of help from LeSean McCoy, who has averaged 126.5 total YPG during this win streak. The Lions have dropped two of their last three, and have only beaten one team with a winning record this year (Dallas Cowboys). The Eagles should win this one in a shootout.
MIAMI DOLPHINS: 26 PITTSBURGH STEELERS: 17
After Pittsburgh’s heart-breaking defeat to the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving, it seems nearly impossible for the Steelers to make the playoffs at this point. The Dolphins, on the other hand, are currently tied with the Ravens for the 6th seed in the playoffs. Motivational factors will play a huge role in this game, and while Miami is pumped up for the playoffs and fresh off a blowout victory against the Jets, the Steelers are sullen after essentially being knocked out of playoff contention due to being one game behind and a lack of tiebreaker victories over several teams. While these teams are very similar in offensive and defensive rankings, the Miami Dolphins are just 1 interception behind Tampa Bay for the league lead. Also, the Dolphins are 5th in the league in sacks, which helps when you’re playing one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Cameron Wake has been on a torrent this year, leading a dominant front 7. While the Steelers have experienced success in the passing game recently, particularly to WR Antonio Brown and WR Jerricho Cotchery, the Miami secondary led by CB Brent Grimes has allowed just one receiving touchdown to wide receivers all year. Even if RB Le’Veon Bell does play for Pittsburgh, they will have a hard time getting any sort of offense going against Miami on Sunday.
BUFFALO BILLS: 20 TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: 23
Although both of these teams are essentially eliminated from playoff contention, there is still a lot both teams have to play for. While E.J. Manuel is trying to prove to the Buffalo administration that he is the quarterback of the future, Greg Schiano is trying to maintain his job as head coach. E.J. Manuel has been inconsistent at best this year, although he has managed to keep his interceptions to a minimum. Unfortunately, he has also kept his wins to a minimum as well, as the Bills have won just 3 out of the 8 games Manuel has started this year. Also, with C.J. Spiller, the Bills’ most explosive and dynamic weapon, being limited this season due to injuries, the Bills’ offense has struggled to find success. Luckily, the defense for the Bills have been phenomenal, ranking first in the NFL in sacks and 2nd in interceptions. Ironically, the Buccaneers are very much the same team. They too are experimenting with a rookie quarterback, dealing with injuries at the running back position, but are still managing to have quite an exceptional defense. The X-Factor in this game is Vincent Jackson, as he is the only top tier receiver that will play in Sunday’s matchup. Jackson should lead the Bucs to victory, potentially their 4th of the year.