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Week 14 NFL Preview: Could Patrick Mahomes Expose the Patriots Defense?

All season, fans have said New England beat up on bad teams and shrank against quality competition. We’ll know more after the Pats play the Chiefs. Plus, the injuries, point spreads, and story lines you need to know for every game.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There are three weeks until Christmas and only one division is wrapped. The New Orleans Saints clinched the NFC South in November and Baltimore can clinch the AFC North as soon as this week. The rest of the playoff picture is a Yankee swap. Three division leaders hold slim leads with games left to play against their division’s second-place team. The NFC West has two 10-2 teams, the first time any division has had two such teams since at least 1990.

Plan Your Weekend Around

Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) @ New England Patriots (10-2)

Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter)
Opening line: New England -4
Over/under: 50.5

Key Chiefs injuries and absences: Running back Damien Williams (ribs), running back Darrel Williams (hamstring), defensive end Frank Clark (shoulder), cornerback Morris Claiborne (shoulder)

Key Patriots injuries and absences: Center Ted Karras (knee), tackle Marcus Cannon (illness), receiver Julian Edelman (shoulder), receiver Mohamed Sanu (ankle), cornerback Jason McCourty (groin), safety Patrick Chung (heel)

What to watch: Whether the Patriots defense is legit

In 20 seasons under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have given up 40 or more points seven times. Three of those seven were against Andy Reid’s Chiefs. If the fourth comes on Sunday, it will answer the question the Patriots defense has faced all year: Can it handle the league’s best offenses or just the bottom-feeders?

The Patriots outscored their first seven opponents by the largest margin in a century. If you subtract extra points and field goals, the Patriots defense itself outscored their opponents 20-18 in their first seven games. This historic stretch came against a schedule that included the Dolphins, Giants, Washington, and two games against the Jets. Since the Patriots’ schedule got harder, they haven’t been as dominant. The Ravens steamrolled them 37-20 in Week 9. The Pats held Dallas to just nine points in Week 12—impressive considering the Cowboys lead the league with 6.5 yards per play—but that game took place in sideways rain. Last week, the Houston Texans beat the Patriots 28-22 and threw four touchdown passes, the same number New England had allowed the rest of the season combined, but many members of New England’s defense had the flu and had to take a separate plane to Texas. It’s still unclear how good the Pats defense is against the league’s best offenses, and this game will be the best referendum yet.

In the first meeting between Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady last season, Kansas City fell 43-40 in a game that exceeded its absurd hype. They met again in the AFC championship game, and the Pats held Mahomes to his worst half of professional football. The Chiefs roared back with 31 second-half points, including 24 in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots won the overtime coin toss and scored a touchdown on their first and final drive to keep Mahomes off the field. The Patriots may have to try to keep Mahomes on the sideline again to win on Sunday. The Chiefs offense does not have the same gaudy overall numbers as it did last season, but Mahomes is playing almost as well as he did in 2018 after injuring his ankle in Week 1 and dislocating his kneecap in Week 7. The biggest question for the Chiefs offense is whether their defense can get enough stops to give them the ball.

New England won that AFC championship game with an overtime drive that included three third-and-10 conversions, plus a fourth-quarter offside penalty on defensive end Dee Ford that nullified a Tom Brady interception. The Chiefs fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton after that game and hired Steve Spagnuolo. (He probably mentioned in his job interview that he coordinated the Giants defense that held the 18-0 Patriots to 14 points in Super Bowl XLII.) If Spagnuolo was brought on board to defeat one team, it’s New England. Ditto for defensive end Frank Clark, whom the team acquired after trading Ford to the 49ers. Kansas City’s defense was abysmal earlier in the year, especially against the run when the defensive line was ransacked by injuries. That unit is slightly healthier now and the pass defense has improved from last season. In 2018, the Chiefs were the 26th-most-efficient defense according to Football Outsiders. This year under Spagnuolo, they are no. 15—and no. 6 in pass defense. Kansas City’s defense is improving just as the Patriots offense is declining. Brady does not have a receiver he trusts outside of Julian Edelman. New England’s passing game is mediocre, and the power running game—the best way to attack the Chiefs—has been anything but consistent. If there was ever a week to try more two-tight-end sets, it’s this one.

If the Chiefs offense records its fourth 40-point game against the Patriots, the people shouting from the rooftops that the Patriots defense just bullied bad teams in the first half will be proved right. But if the Chiefs play well but the Patriots win because Belichick managed the clock better than Reid, we will learn that nothing has changed.

First-Round Bye Problems

San Francisco 49ers (10-2) @ New Orleans Saints (10-2)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (sideline reporter)
Opening line: New Orleans -3
Over/under: 45.5

Key 49ers injuries and absences: Tight end George Kittle (knee/ankle), left tackle Joe Staley (finger), defensive end Dee Ford (quad/hamstring), cornerback Richard Sherman (knee), safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs)

Key Saints injuries and absences: Left tackle Terron Armstead (ankle), left guard Andrus Peat (forearm), linebacker Kiko Alonso (thigh), linebacker A.J. Klein (knee)

What to watch: New Orleans’s defense

San Francisco is facing the final batter of the murderers’ row section of its schedule. The Niners played the 8-2 Packers and the 9-2 Ravens in the past two weeks and now get the 10-2 Saints. This stretch is the first time a team has played three opponents with that high of a winning percentage (.800 or better) this late in the season in the Super Bowl era. Escaping that stretch 2-1 would earn the 49ers a lot more than just respect.

The 49ers and Seahawks are both 10-2, the first time two teams from the same division have started 10-2 since the 12-team playoff format was introduced in 1990. San Francisco lost to Seattle in their first head-to-head matchup, so the 49ers are in the bizarre situation of being tied for the best record in the NFL while also being the no. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs if the season ended today. Winning the West would likely get them home-field advantage and a first-round bye. Losing the division, even if they go 13-3, would send them to Dallas or Philadelphia in the wild-card round. That makes this week essential. A win over the Saints would keep San Francisco apace with the Seahawks in the division and give them the tiebreaker for the no. 1 seed with New Orleans if they finish with the same record.

The 49ers rightfully get a lot of attention, and it will be fascinating to see how the league’s best pass rush attacks Drew Brees, one of the hardest QBs to sack. But we may learn more about the team’s other side. San Francisco’s rushing offense has been almost unflappable, but there are questions about Jimmy Garoppolo’s late-game performance. The Saints defense has been fantastic lately, ranking as the seventh-most-efficient defense by Football Outsiders and in the top 10 against both the pass and the run. New Orleans is one of five teams with 40 sacks this year, pressures quarterbacks at the fifth-highest rate in the league, and is tied for the second-fewest missed tackles. Defensive end Cameron Jordan’s 13.5 sacks rank second in the NFL, and whether he can get to Garoppolo will go a long way in this game.

Baltimore Ravens (10-2) @ Buffalo Bills (9-3)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Baltimore -7
Over/under: 43

Key Ravens injuries and absences: Tight end Nick Boyle (illness), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle)

Key Bills injuries and absences: Tackle Ty Nsekhe (ankle), guard Quinton Spain (illness)

What to watch: A rushing quarterback game manager vs. Lamar Jackson

Lamar Jackson has 977 rushing yards this season, already the second most of all time for a quarterback. Jackson is averaging 81.4 rushing yards per game and he needs just 63 yards to pass Michael Vick for the single-season record. He could pass Vick this week, but he is not the only quarterback in this game challenging Vick’s career highs. Buffalo’s Josh Allen leads all quarterbacks with eight rushing touchdowns this year, and one more will tie Vick’s career high. Combined, Allen and Jackson have 1,407 rushing yards in 2019, the highest number two quarterbacks have ever had entering a game.

If Buffalo prevails, the AFC will get more fun. If that happens and New England loses to the Chiefs, the Bills could be in position to win the AFC East for the first time since 1995, though their path would be difficult. They play the Steelers and Patriots in Week 15 and Week 16. But it’s not inconceivable that we could live in a world where the Buffalo Bills are the no. 1 seed in the AFC.

Buffalo Bills v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

AFC Wild-Card Race

The Buffalo Bills have a healthy lead for the first AFC wild-card spot. The second is a race between four teams who are all either 7-5 or 6-6. Sunday could separate the contenders from the pretenders, starting with ...

Tennessee Titans (7-5) @ Oakland Raiders (6-6)

Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Melanie Collins (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Pick ’em
Over/under: 46.5

Key Titans injuries and absences: Running back Derrick Henry (hamstring), receiver Adam Humphries (ankle), center Ben Jones (thumb), linebacker Daren Bates (shoulder), cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (foot), cornerback LeShaun Sims (ankle)

Key Raiders injuries and absences: Running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder), receiver Hunter Renfrow (ribs/lung), tackle Trent Brown (pectoral), center Rodney Hudson (ankle), guard Gabe Jackson (knee), safety Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring)

What to watch: Two teams heading in opposite directions.

The Raiders have the better offense by just about any season-long metric. Season-long metrics are dirty, filthy liars. Since Ryan Tannehill took over as Tennessee’s starting quarterback in Week 7, the Titans are third in points per game (29.7), second in rushing yards per attempt (5.6), and no. 1 in yards per play (6.5). Tennessee is 5-1 in this stretch, and in their past three games against the Chiefs, Jaguars, and Colts, the Titans went 3-0 with a combined score of 108-69. Meanwhile, the Raiders are 1-2 in their past three games with a combined score of 29-84. They barely beat Cincinnati three weeks ago, were crushed by the Jets 34-3 in Week 12, and stomped by the Chiefs 40-9 last week. While the Titans have the third-most points of any team in their past six games, the Raiders have the sixth fewest. If Oakland beats the Titans, they’ll each be 7-6 and the Raiders will move ahead of them in the wild-card race, but everything we’ve seen over the past six weeks suggests that won’t happen.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) @ Arizona Cardinals (3-8-1)

Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton, Amanda Balionis (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Pick ’em (Now Steelers -2.5)
Over/under: 45.5

Key Steelers injuries and absences: Running back James Conner (shoulder), receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee)

Key Cardinals injuries and absences: Offensive lineman J.R. Sweezy (illness), safety Jalen Thompson (concussion), defensive end Jonathan Bullard (hamstring)

What to watch: T.J. Watt making Kyler Murray reflect

If the season ended today, Pittsburgh would be the final AFC wild-card team. That’s astonishing considering two months ago the Steelers were 1-4 and down to their fourth-string quarterback. This is one of the finest coaching jobs of Mike Tomlin’s career, and one more win will continue his streak of never having coached a losing season. Duck Hodges gets a lot of love, but the Steelers defense led by Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler is dragging this team toward the playoffs. Pittsburgh’s offense has scored more than 20 points just once since October. Luckily the Steelers are holding opponents to 18.8 points per game, the sixth-lowest mark in the NFL. The Steelers defense is third in sacks, first in quarterback hits, and fourth in passes defended. Defensive end T.J. Watt is tied for the league lead in quarterback hits (28) and fourth in sacks (12.5), and he was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month in November. With Minkah Fitzpatrick and cornerback Joe Haden, the Steelers secondary is the best it’s been since Troy Polamalu was doing this.

Tomlin and Butler know they need to win ugly, and ugly has been the theme for Arizona this year. Arizona’s Kyler Murray has lost more football games this season than in the rest of his life combined, but last week’s 34-7 loss against the Rams was, by his account, the worst of his life. Pittsburgh’s defense won’t be much easier.

Indianapolis Colts (6-6) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-7)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta (analyst)
Opening line: Tampa Bay -1
Over/under: 50.5

Key Colts injuries and absences: Running back Marlon Mack (hand), wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf), wide receiver Parris Campbell (hand), safety Malik Hooker (foot), kicker Adam Vinatieri (knee)

Key Bucs injuries and absences: Guard Alex Cappa (elbow), linebacker Anthony Nelson (hamstring), outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul (knee), defensive back M.J. Stewart (knee)

What to watch: Not Adam Vinatieri

The Colts are 6-6, but they’d likely be 8-4 and tied for the AFC South lead if Adam Vinatieri had not cost them two wins earlier this year. Vinatieri, who turns 47 at the end of this month, is the oldest player in the league. He signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in June 1996, about a year before Indianapolis’s Parris Campbell was born. Vinatieri has been in the NFL so long his Colts tenure now dwarfs his time in New England. The Colts have stuck by Vinatieri through a tumultuous season out of loyalty and a lack of alternatives, but that may come to an end this week. Vinatieri showed up on the injury report this week with a knee injury, and the Colts claimed kicker Chase McLaughlin off waivers. McLaughlin kicked for both the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers earlier this season. He is 13-for-17 on kicks and 15-of-15 on extra point attempts in 2019. Vinatieri is 17-of-25 on field goal attempts and 22-of-28 on extra points.

”I don’t have an answer,” Vinatieri told ESPN’s Mike Wells on Thursday about whether he’ll play again in 2019. “I don’t know. We’ll see how it feels tomorrow and the next day and the next day.”

Indianapolis likely has to win its next four games to sniff the playoffs, and for the first time since 2005 it’ll probably have to do so without Vinatieri.

Green Bay Packers v New York Giants Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Are You for Real or Not?

The Packers, Texans, and Vikings have looked like both Super Bowl contenders and pretenders at various points this season. (Sometimes in back-to-back weeks.) Each is heavily favored in their games this week. Losing won’t derail their playoff chances, but it will make it harder to take their championship aspirations seriously if these games come down to the final few minutes.

Washington (3-9) @ Green Bay Packers (9-3)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Lindsay Czarniak (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Green Bay -14.5
Over/under: 42

Key Washington injuries and absences: Wide receiver Trey Quinn (concussion), wide receiver Paul Richardson Jr. (hamstring), offensive tackle Morgan Moses (back), guard Brandon Scherff (shoulder), linebacker Montez Sweat (quad)

Key Packers injuries and absences: Tight end Jimmy Graham (calf/wrist), tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee), cornerback Kevin King (shoulder), wide receiver Davante Adams (toe)

What to watch: Aaron Rodgers execute Matt LaFleur’s offense

This game, along with next week’s against Chicago, are must wins for the Packers to stay on top of the NFC North, but it’s also essential for the Packers offense to get back on track. Green Bay was wrecked by San Francisco and scored just 17 points against the lowly Giants defense through three quarters before pulling away. The Packers are favored by 14.5 in this game, but Washington’s defense is better than New York’s. Washington is on a two-game win streak, but if they even come close to dispatching the Packers, it will spell trouble in Wisconsin.

Detroit Lions (3-8-1) @ Minnesota Vikings (8-4)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Minnesota -14
Over/under: 42.5

Key Lions injuries and absences: Quarterback Matthew Stafford (hip, back), cornerback Jamal Agnew (ankle), punter Sam Martin (abdomen), cornerback Rashaan Melvin (ribs), defensive end Austin Bryant (hip)

Key Vikings injuries and absences: Tackle Riley Reiff (concussion), receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring), tackle Linval Joseph (knee), running back Dalvin Cook (chest), defensive end Everson Griffen (knee), defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (knee)

What to watch: The Vikings’ playoff hopes

If the Vikings had beaten the Seahawks last week, they’d be 9-3 and in position to overtake the Packers for the NFC North title when they meet on Monday Night Football in Week 16. Instead, Minnesota lost and holds a tenuous grip on the final wild-card spot in the NFC. The Rams have looked like a dumpster fire for large parts of 2019, but they are just one game behind Minnesota for that last playoff spot. Even if the Vikings keep that spot, they would likely have to go on the road to play the no. 3 seed, which could be the Packers. But if the Vikings win out, they could win the division and instead host the Packers in Minnesota.

Minnesota Vikings v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Denver Broncos (4-8) @ Houston Texans (8-4)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, AJ Ross (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Houston -7.5
Over/under: 42.5

Key Broncos injuries and absences: Guard Ron Leary (concussion), safety Will Parks (hand), linebacker Malik Reed (ankle, shoulder), running back Royce Freeman (ribs), edge rusher Von Miller (knee), guard Connor McGovern (back), tackle Ja’Wuan James (knee)

Key Texans injuries and absences: Wide receiver Will Fuller (hamstring), cornerback Gareon Conley (hip) cornerback Bradley Roby (hamstring, toe), defensive end Carlos Watkins (hamstring)

What to watch: The Brock Osweiler Memorial Bowl

The Texans are long removed from starting Brock Osweiler at quarterback. The Broncos are not. Denver has had seven starting quarterbacks in the past three seasons. Osweiler, Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch, Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, and Brandon Allen have come and been benched or exiled. Second-round pick Drew Lock will make his second career start against the Texans on Sunday. He likely won’t enjoy playing against the SWAT team (and in case you’re confused why the Texans dressed like that, watch this).

Desperate Times

Carolina Panthers (5-7) @ Atlanta Falcons (3-9)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Atlanta -1
Over/under: 48.5

Key Panthers injuries and absences: Tackle Greg Little (ankle), defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle, knee), tight end Greg Olsen (concussion), safety Eric Reid (ankle), linebacker Shaq Thompson (ankle), cornerback Donte Jackson (knee)

Key Falcons injuries and absences: Wide receiver Julio Jones (shoulder), wide receiver Calvin Ridley (toe), cornerback Desmond Trufant (toe), safety Ricardo Allen (knee, oblique), tight end Austin Hooper (knee), tackle Ty Sambrailo (hamstring)

What to watch: Desperate measures

The Panthers fired head coach Ron Rivera this week, which makes it easier for Carolina to find its next coach and easier for Rivera to find his next job. It won’t be easy for Rivera’s players to cope with his departure. By all accounts, Rivera was revered in the locker room during his nine-year tenure. “This is as bad a day I’ve been apart of in the NFL,” Panthers tight end Greg Olsen told reporters.

Atlanta’s Dan Quinn may be the next coach fired, though Falcons owner Arthur Blank will probably wait until the end of the season to make a similar move. Quinn and Rivera lost Super Bowls in back-to-back seasons. As Quinn sees Panthers interim head coach Perry Fewell on the opposing sideline, it may be impossible for him not to wonder how much time he has left running a team constructed to win now.

Cincinnati Bengals (1-11) @ Cleveland Browns (5-7)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Beth Mowins, Tiki Barber (analyst)
Opening line: Cleveland -10.5
Over/under: 43

Key Bengals injuries and absences: Receiver A.J. Green (ankle), defensive end Sam Hubbard (knee), linebacker Nick Vigil (ankle), safety Shawn Williams (ankle)

Key Browns injuries and absences: Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (groin), wide receiver Jarvis Landry (hip), tackle Chris Hubbard (knee), defensive end Olivier Vernon (knee), cornerback Greedy Williams (shoulder), linebacker Mack Wilson (chest/ribs)

What to watch: The Ohio Bowl

This line opened with the Browns as 10.5-point favorites, tied for the largest Cleveland point spread against the Bengals since at least 1970. The Browns don’t deserve to be 10.5-point favorites over anyone, and it’s already moved to a touchdown.

Miami Dolphins (3-9) @ New York Jets (4-8)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Tom McCarthy, Jay Feely, Otis Livingston (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Jets -7.5
Over/under: 44

Key Dolphins injuries and absences: Linebacker Jerome Baker (chest), defensive back Steven Parker (groin), cornerback Nik Needham (groin)

Key Jets injuries and absences: Safety Jamal Adams (ankle), tackle Chuma Edoga (knee), cornerback Brian Poole (concussion), tackle Kelvin Beachum (ankles), wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (hamstring), guard Alex Lewis (elbow)

What to watch: Will Adam Gase strike out?

When Jets head coach Adam Gase had his opportunity to get revenge on the team that fired him in Week 9, the Jets instead became the first team to lose to Miami this year. Strike one. A month later, they became the first team to lose to the Cincinnati Bengals. Strike two. This week, another loss to the Dolphins would make Gase 0-2 against the team that decided it would be better off without him and drop the Jets to last place in the AFC East. If that happens, he might be out.

Los Angeles Chargers (4-8) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8)

Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth, Jennifer Hale (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Chargers -1
Over/under: 44.5

Key Chargers injuries and absences: Wide receiver Mike Williams (knee)

Key Jaguars injuries and absences: Wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. (back), cornerback A.J. Bouye (calf), cornerback D.J. Hayden (neck), cornerback Tre Herndon (shoulder), linebacker Donald Payne (ankle), center Brandon Linder (knee), defensive lineman Calais Campbell (back)

What to watch: Minshewmania II.0

Gardner Minshew II is back. Nick Foles returned from his broken collarbone in Week 11, but the Jaguars lost his first three starts by two or more touchdowns, and Foles was benched for Minshew at halftime last week. Minshew skips, hops, and shimmies around pass rushers like he’s playing Dance Dance Revolution in the pocket, and extending plays has been crucial behind Jacksonville’s shoddy offensive line.

Foles was benched after four turnovers in his two-and-a-half games. Philip Rivers has eight turnovers in his past three. The Chargers dropped three consecutive games against three divisional opponents by a combined 12 points in a stretch that effectively ended their playoff hopes and added to their gallery of inexplicable heartbreaking losses.

Sunday Night Football/NFC Wild-Card Race

Seattle Seahawks (10-2) @ Los Angeles Rams (7-5)

Kickoff time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Seattle -3
Over/under: 46.5

Key Seahawks injuries and absences: Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (core), defensive end Ziggy Ansah (neck), guard Mike Iupati (neck), tight end Jacob Hollister (quadriceps), linebacker Mychal Kendricks (hamstring), tackle Duane Brown (biceps, knee)

Key Rams injuries and absences: Tackle Rob Havenstein (knee), tight end Gerald Everett (knee)

What to watch: Tyler Lockett

The last time these teams played, the Seahawks glided to a 30-29 win. In that game, the Seahawks made perhaps the throw and catch of the year when Russell Wilson found Tyler Lockett on the side of the end zone.

Lockett and Wilson’s connection is outrageously good. Last year they were the first quarterback-receiver combo to have a perfect passer rating on more than 15 targets (they had 70). This year they haven’t been perfect, but they’ve been damn good—until the last month when Lockett suffered a leg injury against the 49ers. Wilson has not had more than 240 passing yards in a game since Lockett’s injury, and last week Lockett was held without a catch on just three targets. Moving the ball has been harder for Seattle with Lockett less than 100 percent, and they’re catching the Rams at a pivotal point in L.A.’s season.

The Rams are basically Pittsburgh West. Their offense has been a disaster this year, but their defense has been good enough to drag them to 7-5 and a chance at a wild-card berth. L.A. under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is one of the five most efficient defenses along with the Patriots, 49ers, Steelers, and Ravens, according to Football Outsiders. Remove the 45-point defenestration by the Ravens two weeks ago and the Rams have allowed less than 12 points per game to their last six opponents. Before the Ravens game, the last time the Rams gave up more than 20 points to an opponent was against … the Seahawks, who beat them 30-29 on Thursday Night Football in Week 5.

The difference between Pittsburgh and the Rams is that the Rams offense has a hope of taking flight (no offense to Duck Hodges). They just defeathered the Cardinals in a 34-7 win last week that was their best of 2019. Most importantly, Todd Gurley looked like himself again. We’ll see whether the Rams offense is back or it was a one-week blip against Arizona’s bottom-five defense by efficiency.

We’ll also see whether the road to the Super Bowl runs through Seattle. If the Seahawks win, they will remain in first place in the NFC West, in line for a first-round bye, and keep a chance at home-field advantage through the playoffs. Seattle’s CenturyLink Field is perhaps the toughest stadium in the NFL to play in, and the other five NFC playoff teams might prefer anywhere else—even New Orleans’s Superdome. If the Rams win, they will stay in position to usurp the Minnesota Vikings for the final NFC wild-card spot. Whatever happens, it’s likely to be close. Of Seattle’s 12 games, 10 have been within one score and Seattle is 9-1 in those games.

Monday Night Football/NFC East Is Sad

New York Giants (2-10) @ Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)

Kickoff time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Philadelphia -8
Over/under: 46.5

Key Giants injuries and absences: Quarterback Daniel Jones (ankle), safety Jabrill Peppers (back), tackle Nate Solder (ankle), tight end Evan Engram (foot)

Key Eagles injuries and absences: Receiver Nelson Agholor (knee), defensive end Derek Barnett (ankle), running back Jordan Howard (shoulder)

What to watch: Eli Manning’s John Wick Tour

New York’s Daniel Jones is missing this contest with an ankle injury, and Eli Manning is about to go on a revenge tour. …

OK, maybe not. Eli Manning is 10-20 against the Eagles in his career, which is absolutely brutal. But Giants fans will embrace Manning’s return to action like Tim Robbins embracing Morgan Freeman at the end of The Shawshank Redemption. We never thought we’d see him again, but a small part of us always hoped we’d be wrong.

The NFC East is hot garbage. The Cowboys have failed to put team after team away this season, the Eagles have face-planted their way into second place, and the Giants and Washington could both get top-three draft picks. Manning going out in a blaze of glory might make the Giants’ draft stock worse, but it would be viscerally satisfying if Manning beat the Eagles and Washington on his way out of town. If the Giants can’t have a winning record, nobody in the NFC East can.