NFL Week 14 preview
Texans @ Bears
The Bears coughed up a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter against the Lions last week, leading to Chicago's sixth straight loss. Questions are now arising on the job security of several staff members. The Chicago offense ranks near the bottom of the NFL, but so does the Houston defense. The Texans also may be short-handed in the defensive secondary. On the other side, Chicago has one of the best defenses and faces an offense that has been inconsistent. There is no question that Houston QB Dashaun Watson is one of the top young QBs in the NFL, but he doesn't have the same weapons around him as he used to. Will Fuller is suspended, and Brandin Cooks and Keke Coutee are beat up, so Houston may have to dig deep for offense.
Cowboys @ Bengals
A healthy Bengals team would have a big game this week, but they aren't entirely healthy. Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon are huge components of the Cincinnati offense. While this isn't a good Dallas defense, they can certainly make things somewhat difficult on backup quarterbacks. Plus, Cincinnati doesn't have another running back of Mixon's caliber. The Cowboys' offense looked better against Baltimore, and a similar performance here should give them a rare win. Of course, we have to see how the short week impacts them.
Chiefs @ Dolphins
This one is intriguing because it involves the best offense in football against one of the up-and-coming defenses. It is also the first time we will get to see superstar quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Tua Tagovailoa face each other. While Tua has played well for Miami, the Dolphins have had success this year because of their defense. Miami has the second best scoring defense in the NFL, allowing just 17.7 points per game. In contrast, the Chiefs have the second highest scoring offense in the league. Kansas City's defense is also much improved from a year ago, allowing just over 21 points per game and tied for the NFL lead in turnover margin (+11). Miami can hold down the KC offense for a bit, but the Dolphins just don't have the offense required in this one yet.
Cardinals @ Giants
Arizona is trying to snap a three game losing streak in New York. Meanwhile, the Giants have won four in a row. New York has a surprisingly good defense that was able to stifle Seattle's potent offense last week and will get another test against another of league's top units on Sunday. New York doesn't have the best offense, but Arizona's defense has not played well enough lately. The better the New York defense plays, the better chance the Giants have.
Vikings @ Buccaneers
These two teams currently sit in the last two NFC playoff spots. The Vikings have rebounded from a slow start to get to 6-6. They play well against good teams but tend to allow worse teams to hang around. The Buccaneers haven't been as good as most thought but have been playing better lately. Minnesota has found success when leaning on the running game to set up the pass. However, that will be more difficult in this game, since Tampa only allows just 3.3 yards per carry to opposing backs. The Buccaneers also have a top ten passing defense, which should make things difficult for a Minnesota offense that struggles with consistency. The Vikings' defense is nowhere near what it used to be, which should be great news for Tom Brady.
Broncos @ Panthers
I thought the Broncos could give some teams trouble down the stretch, and that has been true when they have an actual quarterback. In its last two games with a quarterback, Denver has beaten Miami and taken Kansas City down to the wire. Last week, they held the Chiefs to just 22 points. The Panthers, similarly, took the Chiefs down to the finals seconds earlier this season. Teddy Bridgewater has played well this year, and Carolina's offense has been better than many expected. Christian McCaffrey was supposed to return this week, but a tweak in workouts may sideline him yet again. Although neither of these two teams will be in the playoffs, they are two of the more intriguing young teams to watch in the league.
Titans @ Jaguars
Tennessee followed a big win against Indianapolis with a slow start against Cleveland. The Titans were able to battle back in the second half, but they need to avoid those going forward. Jacksonville is 1-11 but has nothing to lose. Playing a team like that is always dangerous because they're willing to do anything. While no one expects Jacksonville to win this game, Tennessee needs to be on the lookout against a divisional foe. The game also has playoff implications for the Titans.
Colts @ Raiders
These are two of the teams fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, so a win gives that team a leg up on the loser. Both quarterbacks, Philip Rivers and Derek Carr, have been inconsistent throughout recent seasons. Rivers is near the end of his career and is probably more of a smart game manager now. That's a good fit for a Colts offense that has to be more strategic than skilled in its approach. Its been the Indy defense that has carried the Colts most of the season, although the offense has shown that it is capable of picking up some slack should the defense struggle. Carr and the Raiders offense have carried the team this season. As we saw in Atlanta, the Raiders will go as far as the offense takes them because the defense isn't there yet. The Colts defense should make things difficult on Vegas but will need the offense to play well.
Jets @ Seahawks
The Jets may have won last week, if not for a bad call by ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. This week, it is unlikely they will be in the same position. Seattle is just way more talented and will put up too many points for the Jets to keep up.
Saints @ Eagles
Drew Brees won't be back for the Saints, but this is a Philly defense that still can't defend the pass. The Saints have plenty of weapons to run away with this one. The Eagles will be turning to rookie Jalen Hurts at quarterback, and let's just say there are many other defenses I'd rather face in my first start. The key will be turnovers. Carson Wentz cost the Eagles some games with poor decisions and untimely turnovers. One of the best way to describe Saints teams under Sean Payton is "opportunistic." They will make you pay for mistakes, and the Eagles tend to make several of those.
Packers @ Lions
The Packers can clinch the NFC North with a win and a Vikings' loss. These two teams last played in Week 2 in a game where Aaron Jones ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns on the dreadful Detroit run defense. He also added 68 receiving yards and a touchdown catch. Aaron Rodgers was kept quiet (by his standards) in that game with just 240 passing yards. Detroit was actually competitive in the first half of that game and even had a big lead early. There seems to be a better mood on the Lions team these days, so I don't expect them to quit when it gets tough this time around.
Falcons @ Chargers
Two teams that have good offenses (usually) but not good defenses. The Chargers are coming off a 45-0 drubbing against New England-- a game in which QB Justin Herbert and the special teams really struggled. New England had two interceptions in the game and also scored on a punt return and a blocked field goal. The only team to beat Atlanta in the past month is New Orleans, I've mentioned the job interim coach Raheem Morris has done with this team, and that has continued each week. It is clear the Falcons have the talent on offense on paper, but the key against the Chargers will be the play of the secondary, which has struggled all year. Atlanta will also be missing WR Julio Jones.
Washington @ 49ers
Washington has surprised lately winning three straight, including a victory over the previously undefeated Steelers on Monday night. Washington is now tied for first place in the NFC East and seems to be clicking at the right time. The defense has made it difficult for opposing offenses to execute, and Alex Smith is running the offense well along with a fewer surprising playmakers. The Washington offense may be without rookie phenom Antonio Gibson at running back, but JD McKissic has shown he is a capable fill-in. After a let down against Buffalo, the 49ers' defense will be looking for a rebound. The defense has been great for San Francisco this year, but the offensive injuries have given the Niners much to overcome. With so many backups playing against this Washington defense, it could be a rough day. The fact that San Francisco had to move its operations to Arizona for the time being may also be a big factor.
Steelers @ Bills
This should be one of the best games of the week. Pittsburgh is coming off of its first loss of the season. The Steelers offense struggled in the second half against Washington. The Bills defense isn't quite as good, but the Buffalo offense will force you to have to score points in bunches. The Bills have scored at least 30 points in three of their last four games. I wouldn't expect that kind of explosion against Pittsburgh's defense, but these two are pretty evenly matched.
Ravens @ Browns
These teams are heading in opposite directions. The Ravens started 5-1 and are now just 7-5. They were even locked in a close one with Dallas but found enough offense in the second half to run away. Cleveland has won four in a row and seems to be hitting its stride on offense. The Browns have had a solid defense for a few years, and an offensive awakening is just what they needed to reach toward their potential. Be cautious though Browns fans; the last time they scored over 35 points in a game they followed it up with just six against a lousy Las Vegas defense. The Ravens may be a it down, but it will still take a better effort than that to beat them.