Week 14 kicked off Thursday night in Oakland as the Raiders hosted the AFC West champion Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning threw for 310 yards and a touchdown as the Broncos beat the Raiders 26-13, extending their winning streak to eight games.
With the win the Broncos sit at 10-3 and currently hold the second seed in the AFC. That means both the Patriots, who face the Texans Monday night, and the Ravens, who face the Redskins, need wins in order to keep pace.
After next week’s game against the Ravens, Denver closes out the season against the Browns and the Chiefs. With a schedule like that, an 11-game winning streak to close out the regular season is not out of the question for Manning and the Broncos with the way they’re playing right now.
Let’s take a look at the remaining match-ups for Week 14.
Watching the film of Russell Wilson’s game-winning drive is enough to make the Bears defence feel queasy. What Adrian Peterson has been doing lately is bound to make them fell downright ill. The Vikings don’t have a receiver like Brandon Marshall or a quarterback like Jay Cutler, but they do have Peterson.
Peterson has six-straight 100-yard rushing games and leads the NFL with a remarkable 1,446 yards in just 12 games. Now the Bears defence will be missing leader and linebacker Brian Urlacher with a hamstring injury for at least the next two weeks so the challenge of stopping Peterson just got even greater.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has enough to worry about after getting the news that receiver Percy Harvin is done for the rest of the season with an ankle injury. That leaves tight end Kyle Rudolph as Christian Ponder’s go-to receiver.
The Bears beat the Vikings in Week 12 largely because Jay Cutler had enough time to complete 12 passes to Marshall. Winning in Minnesota is never easy and Cutler will need his offensive line to keep Jared Allen out of his face long enough to make some throws downfield to Marshall. Even though it has seen better days, Mall of America Field is still one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL and is sure to be rocking on Sunday. If Peterson takes off on one of his patented long runs the place will sound like an airbus during takeoff.
There are two things working in the Packers favour for this game: they’re at Lambeau Field and they don’t have to face Adrian Peterson. However, there are two things working against the Packers this week: they still have a ton of injuries and they have to face Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.
Led by Megatron, the Lions have no problems racking up big yards and scoring points. Their problem is playing defence and holding onto a lead in the fourth quarter. With a forecast that calls for a mix of snow and rain, Lambeau Field will have a real “old school” feel about it.
Speaking of “old school”, the Packers welcomed back running back Ryan Grant this week after the team was hit with another round of injuries.
Due to all the injuries throughout the Packers lineup, you could make a strong case that this has been Aaron Rodgers finest hour. Rodgers has been the one constant in the Packers offence and is a major reason why they’re in a position to win the NFC North at all.
Packers’ safety Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews, who has been out since November 4, will both miss yet another game.
The dream of a .500 season lives on for the Bills after last week’s win against the Jaguars. One of the key plays against the Jaguars took place when Ryan Fitzpatrick hit rookie receiver T.J. Graham on a 51-yard bomb.
As Graham explains, that wasn’t even the original play call in the huddle: “We checked to that play because of the coverage. (Ryan Fitzpatrick) had control to change the play based on what he saw. Because of the coverage they played, we checked to the 51-yard play.”
Graham also admits it was a play he wouldn’t have been able to make at the earlier in the season.
“The beginning of the year I would just run full speed down the field. Now I can kind of look out there and glance and I can kind of look out of the corner of my eye and (Fitz and I) see this and we’re good to go.”
Injuries have forced Bills coach Chan Gailey to make a number of adjustments throughout his lineup, especially along the offensive line with season-ending injuries to centre Eric Wood and right tackle Chris Hairston. That means a make-shift offensive line will be asked to keep defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn out of Fitzpatrick’s face.
Due the issues along the offensive line, establishing a solid running game with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller will have to be a top priority for the Bills.
With five sacks in his last three games Mario Williams and a much more efficient Bills defence will be facing Sam Bradford and a Rams’ offence that only scores an average of 18.4 points per game. The Bills will have all they can handle facing the Rams. The Rams have won two-straight games and since Jeff Fisher took over they’ve earned a reputation as a tough team that will scrap until the final whistle.
The battle of the Beltway takes on a whole new meaning this year due to the presence of Robert Griffin III. In three short weeks RG3 has revitalized the Redskins season and re-energized their dormant fan base. RG3′s skill set demands a lot from opposing defences and the Ravens’ defensive squad are coming off of a physical game against the Steelers.
Already dealing with injuries, linebacker Terrell Suggs suffered a torn bicep against the Steelers and is questionable for Sunday. Alfred Morris rounds out a Redskins offence that is ranked number one in the NFL in rushing. The Ravens are ranked 23rd against the run, so John Harbaugh’s team will be hard-pressed to prevent their first two-game losing streak of the year.
The Ravens would stand a much better chance this week if Joe Flacco stepped up and had a big game. In his past six games Flacco has had a quarterback rating over 100 just once and that came against the Raiders. To put that into perspective, RG3 has had a quarterback rating over 100 his past three games, all wins for the Redskins and all against division rivals.
Even if the Steelers are trailing in the fourth quarter, they shouldn’t be too worried because Philip Rivers and the Chargers will find a way to screw it up. The Steelers return home after an emotional and hard-fought win over the Ravens. After Charlie Batch kept the Steelers playoff hopes alive with an inspiring performance against the Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger makes his return from shoulder and rib injuries to get the start Sunday.
Obviously with Ben back, the Steelers offensive line will have to be extra sound in their pass protection. Mike Tomlin might worry about Ben’s health but he doesn’t worry about his defence, which is tops in the NFL in total yards allowed. The Chargers haven’t won a game in Pittsburgh since January 1995 when they upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.
Before the start of the season, some Las Vegas sports books pegged the odds of the Colts winning the Super Bowl at 100 to 1. Going into Week 14, those odds have fallen to as low as 50 to 1.
It has been that kind of season for super-rookie Andrew Luck and the 8-4 Colts. Along with fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton, Luck has made the Colts a playoff contender far faster than anyone could have possibly imagined. Luck and the Colts will attempt to move one step closer to locking up a playoff spot when they take on the slumping Titans.
Defensively the Titans are a mess. Tennessee is ranked 25th against the pass, 27th against the run and have allowed a staggering 359 points, second worst in the league.
The Cowboys will enter Sunday’s game with heavy hearts after linebacker Jerry Brown was killed in a car accident Saturday morning and fellow teammate Josh Brent was charged with intoxication manslaughter.
Meanwhile, the Bengals come into this game riding the quietest four-game winning streak in the NFL.
With so much focus in the on AFC teams like the Texans, Broncos and Patriots, not many people have noticed how well the Bengals have played over the past month. A win over the Cowboys and the 7-5 Bengals will keep pressure on the Steelers and the Colts in the race for the two AFC Wild Card spots.
As well as Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have played the last three weeks, the real bright spot for the Bengals has been the play of running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. The man they call ‘the Law Firm’ has three-straight 100 rushing yard games and is averaging five yards a carry during the Bengals winning streak.
Hampered by injuries, the Cowboys defence has allowed 71 points in their past two games. A bigger concern for Jason Garrett is what to do with the Bengals pass rush. Led by their outstanding defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the Bengals lead the NFL with 39 sacks.
On the opposite side of the ball, Tony Romo has been hit 20 times in the past two weeks. It all adds up to a potentially rough day for Romo and the Cowboys passing game. Dallas will need a big game from running back DeMarco Murray to keep the Bengals pass rush honest and keep Romo out of third-and-long situations.
You will be hard pressed to find two teams going in a more opposite direction than the Cardinals and the Seahawks.
Led by over-matched rookie Ryan Lindley, the Cards were 0-15 in third-down conversions in last week’s 7-6 loss to the Jets. That makes eight-straight losses for the Cardinals and the prospect of ending the season on a 12-game losing streak is a definite possibility for a team with such poor play from the quarterback position. Ken Whisenhunt decided he couldn’t take the sight of Lindley running the Cardinals offence anymore, which means John Skelton is back as their starting quarterback.
Coming off of their overtime win on the road against the Bears, the Seahawks don’t have the same issues with their rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. In fact, Wilson and the Seahawks are a perfect 5-0 at home, beating even the Patriots at CenturyLink Field. The bad news for Pete Carroll is that cornerback Brandon Browner has started serving his four-game suspension for violating the league’s drug policy and will miss Sunday’s game. Fellow cornerback Richard Sherman is also staring down a four-game suspension but will play Sunday as his appeal is slated to take place on December 14.
Coming off his first loss as a starter, Colin Kaepernick will look to bounce back this week against the Dolphins. One thing Kaepernick will learn is that great quarterbacks don’t dwell on losses; they deal with it and move on.
The Dolphins have lost four of their past five games and left tackle Jake Long is out with a torn triceps. That’s bad news for Ryan Tannehill, as he faces the stingiest defence in the NFL. On average the 49ers allow a miniscule 14.3 points per game, which is not good news for a Dolphins offence that only scores an average of 18.9 points a game. The Dolphins biggest strength is in their run defence, which is ranked eighth in the league. That’s a good thing as the 49ers love to pound the ball and have the second-best running attack in the NFL. With road games coming up in New England and in Seattle, the Niners know they need this win to hold onto first place in the NFC West.
Not only have the Saints lost their last two games, but Drew Brees has thrown seven interceptions combined in those two losses. Brees is amazing but not perfect, and few teams can have a chance to win when their quarterback throws the ball away that much.
After chasing RG3 around FedEx Field last week, the Giants are thrilled to be back in their own stadium and facing a more conventional quarterback. With the Redskins charging hard and the Cowboys still alive, the Giants have lost three of their past four games and are in danger of losing their lead in the NFC East.
While they are less porous then they were earlier in the season, the Saints defence can still be taken advantage of so there should be no reason that Eli Manning and the Giants can’t put up enough points to give them a chance to win.
Ultimately, this game will come down to whether or not the Giants defence can contain Drew Brees and force him to make the kind of mistakes we’ve seen the last two weeks.
Lastly, Rex Ryan has decided to go with Mark Sanchez as his starting quarterback when the Jets take on the Jaguars in Jacksonville. The less said about Sanchez and the Jets right now the better.