We are in store for a big week in the NFL with some marquee matchups headlining the slate on Sunday, as well as a very good Monday Night Football matchup. With many playoff spots still up for grabs late in the season, let’s look at 10 things for you, the fan, to pay attention to heading into the final quarter of the season.
1. Who grabs a hold of the AFC South?
It is a huge week for the three AFC South teams in the division hunt. The Texans visit the Colts in what could be a big tiebreaker come the final week of the season. The Texans found a way to come back in an improbable victory over Indy last time around, and now the Texans will travel away from home yet again, where they don’t seem to find success. If they do pull off a win, they gain a sweep of the Colts nearly seal the division based on record. The Colts can make things very interesting with a win, and would take a game lead over Houston. Meanwhile, the Titans visit Denver in hopes of helping the Broncos slide into their skid while keeping themselves afloat in the playoff race. It will take a full team effort to keep pace with the winner of the Houston-Indy game.
2. Will Kirk Cousins earn his franchise tender?
Kirk Cousins is trying to earn a new contract, and how the team finishes the season out could determine how much leverage he has. In a loss to Arizona last week, Cousins had a chance to go down and force overtime, but a bad throw ended in a Patrick Peterson interception. Now, Cousins and the Redskins are in the thick of the NFC playoff picture. A road game against Philly is on the slate this week. Cousins has the chance to go out and will the Redskins to a playoff berth. If they do and win a playoff game, Cousins will have much more leverage to make as much as Brees, Rodgers, and Flacco do per year. If he fails to make the playoffs, a franchise tag might again be in the cards.
3. Trench Battles to Watch
There are many battles to watch this week when it comes to the trenches. Early on, Tennessee travels to Denver to fight for their playoff lives. Tennessee will need to keep Mariota upright and suppress the pass rush that Von Miller, Shane Ray, and DeMarcus Ware can bring. It’ll be up to Taylor Lewan and Jack Conklin to help find holes for Murray and Henry, and also to help Mariota have time for plays to develop. In the late games, Seattle travels to Lambeau in what should be spectacular. The snow is falling already, so the passing game could be a struggle. It’ll be up to Green Bay to run the ball effectively against Seattle’s front. In the late game, the Giants have a chance to upset the Cowboys, but will have to do so without JPP. They will need to get to Dak Prescott to throw off the Cowboy rhythm.
4. How will Dak continue to respond as the games get tougher?
Like I just mentioned, Dallas travels to East Rutherford tonight to take on the only team that has beaten them this season: the New York Giants. The Giants are without Jason Pierre-Paul tonight, so the ability to get pressure on Dak Prescott and stop the run will be tougher. But, with how well Olivier Vernon can play the run, I feel as though Dak Prescott will be given more opportunities to move the Boys down the field. In those situations, the fearsome front of the GMen will be evident, even without JPP. Dak will have to continue his growth down the stretch if Dallas is to win in the postseason. He has been excellent so far, but each game gets tougher from here.
5. How will the Patriots handle a top defense without Gronk?
The Monday Night game is as good as there has been this season. The Ravens travel to Foxboro as extreme underdogs, but their defense could prove a tough challenge for Belichick and Brady. Even though the Pats love to use the short pass game, which will handle how the Ravens run their scheme, the offense seems to lack a reliable deep threat to sustain drives. Brady has plenty of good route runners and RAC players, but the pass rush on third downs could be difficult for the Patriots to handle. A Ravens victory is my upset of the week.
Colts 24, Texans 17
Broncos 22, Titans 19
Redskins 26, Eagles 21
Dolphins 20, Cardinals 16
Chargers 28, Panthers 27
Bengals 24, Browns 21
Lions 24, Bears 14
Steelers 30, Bills 23
Vikings 17, Jaguars 13
49ers 21, Jets 17
Falcons 25, Rams 20
Packers 23, Seahawks 20
Saints 34, Buccaneers 30
Cowboys 27, Giants 23
Ravens 21, Patriots 17
Enjoy Week 14 everybody!