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Your NFL Week 14 Matchup Guide: It’s Officially Crunch Time in the Playoff Race

Steelers-Bills, Vikings-Bucs, Colts-Raiders, and more all have massive postseason implications. Which teams will advance their causes, and which will fall out of the race all together?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Week 14 brings the rarest of traits to the NFL calendar: balance. After weeks of games being postponed and rescheduled to Wednesday afternoons and Tuesday nights, we finally get a day where things look somewhat traditional. There are seven games in the 1 p.m. ET slate and six in the 4 p.m. slate. But we start with the best game of the week, which is conveniently scheduled for Sunday Night Football.

Sunday Night Football

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) @ Buffalo Bills (9-3)

Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Channel: NBC
Opening point spread: Steelers -2.5
Over/under: 47.5

The Steelers dropped the ball in their 23-17 loss to Washington last week. That’s not a metaphor: Pittsburgh’s pass-catchers dropped six passes on Monday, marking the team’s second straight game with at least five drops. Prior to this year, the Steelers had dropped five passes in a game just twice in the previous 15 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Info. The loss was also just the second time Pittsburgh blew a 14-point lead since the franchise drafted Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

Now, the Steelers are in a tough spot as their excellent defense is getting more and more injured by the week. After losing inside linebacker Devin Bush earlier this season, his backup, Robert Spillane, also suffered an injury last week. Vince Williams, another Steelers inside linebacker, is now on the COVID-19 list. Defensive end Bud Dupree is out for the season with a torn ACL. Cornerback Joe Haden is in concussion protocol, and star defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick got banged up before halftime of Monday’s game but eventually returned to the field.

The stakes are high in this game, both because the winner clinches a playoff spot, and also because the Steelers are tied with the Chiefs for the best record in the AFC. If the Chiefs beat the Dolphins in the afternoon, then a Steelers loss would drop them to no. 2 in the standings. This is the first year the NFL is only giving one team from each conference a first-round bye, so getting the top seed is particularly important. On the Bills’ side, a win would nearly lock up the AFC East for Buffalo for the first time in a quarter century.

Early Slate

Minnesota Vikings (6-6) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-5)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Bucs -6.5
Over/under: 45.5

Both of these teams are competing for an NFC wild-card spot, so this game has massive playoff implications. If the Buccaneers win, they have a 97 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. A loss brings them down to roughly 62 percent. The Vikings, meanwhile, have an even larger swing on the line. A win gives them a 71 percent chance of making the playoffs, while a loss drops them below 25 percent.

The Buccaneers are coming off of their bye week and have the advantage of preparation. Tom Brady and head coach Bruce Arians have had a strange season thus far, and Brady hasn’t always looked comfortable in this system, but they’ve had two weeks to iron out their wrinkles. Now they’re going up against a Vikings team that doesn’t have a strong pass rush. Brady has been one of the league’s best quarterbacks this season without pressure, but he’s been one of the worst with a rusher in his face (largely because he is older than some statues and cannot escape from anyone). Minnesota will need head coach Mike Zimmer to cook up some fancy blitz packages to get to Brady.

Arizona Cardinals (6-6) @ New York Giants (5-7)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Cardinals -3
Over/under: 45.

The Giants’ stunning upset over Seattle last Sunday showed that they may not be a postseason pushover if they win the NFC East. New York rocked Russell Wilson, sacking him five times and forcing him into one of the worst games of his last few seasons.

“Just not letting him out of the pocket, not letting him run around freely, doing whatever he wants,” defensive end Leonard Williams told NBC’s Peter King when asked about the Giants’ plan to contain Wilson. “Get some hits on him. Make him uncomfortable. Don’t let him scramble too much.”

The Giants might employ a similar strategy on Sunday against Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, who has been a devastating scrambler this season with 10 rushing touchdowns. Murray has not been quite as prolific the last few weeks as he’s been dealing with an injury to his throwing shoulder—his passing numbers have declined, and his rushing numbers went from 67 yards per game in the first nine games of the season to 61 rushing yards total over the last three weeks—but the Cardinals need a win. With a 6-6 record, a win would give them a better than 50 percent chance at making the playoffs, while a loss drops them to less than 20 percent.

Kansas City Chiefs (11-1) @ Miami Dolphins (8-4)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Chiefs -7.5
Over/under: 45.5

The Chiefs had trouble scoring in the red zone against a weak Broncos team on Sunday, but they still managed to win 22-16 and clinch a playoff berth in the process. Another win this week would give them the AFC West title, but they’ll first have to get past a feisty Dolphins squad that has been playing excellent defense.

Miami’s offense is the unit that could surprise in this game. Last week, the Dolphins used plenty of no-huddle offense in the second half with zero running backs in the backfield, and rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looked about as good as he has in the NFL so far (167 passing yards and a touchdown in the third quarter alone). Still, this might be the toughest test the Dolphins have had so far under head coach Brian Flores.

Houston Texans (4-8) @ Chicago Bears (5-7)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Texans -1.5
Over/under: 45.5

Chicago infamously picked Mitchell Trubisky ahead of Deshaun Watson in the 2017 draft, and with Trubisky’s contract up at the end of this season, this might be the last time the two ever play each other. It might also be the last time these two players are coming into a game with something in common: Both lost last week after late fumbles.

With Houston just 2 yards away from the game-winning touchdown last week against the Colts, Watson fumbled a bad snap and the Texans lost 26-20. The Bears, meanwhile, handed the Lions a game-winning opportunity when Trubisky got stripsacked just 9 yards from his own end zone. Detroit scored two plays later and won the game 34-30.

But for all those similarities, these teams are trending in opposite directions. The Bears started 5-1 and have since gone 0-6 while fielding perhaps the league’s most pathetic offense. The Texans, on the other hand, started 0-4 but have gone 4-4 under interim coach Romeo Crennel.

Dallas Cowboys (3-9) @ Cincinnati Bengals (2-9-1)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Dallas -3.5
Over/under: 43.5

Welcome to the Andy Dalton revenge game! Though that assumes Andy Dalton feels emotions, and we cannot prove that. What should be a Dalton vs. Joe Burrow game is now a Dalton vs. Ryan Finley game, which just doesn’t have the same ring to it (and the original ring wasn’t that great to begin with). The Cowboys don’t have much of a ring to their name either after an embarrassing loss to Baltimore on Tuesday. Dallas fans aren’t angry—they’re just disappointed. As Troy Aikman said during the broadcast (in the tone of a sad father), “I just don’t know where this organization, where they go. There are just so many things that have to be addressed this offseason.”

Denver Broncos (4-8) @ Carolina Panthers (4-8)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Panthers -4
Over/under: 45.5

Running back Christian McCaffrey is now dealing with a quad injury after missing time with a shoulder injury and a sprained ankle this season. He is questionable to play against the Broncos, his hometown team, and the franchise where his dad, Ed, won two Super Bowls.

McCaffrey is not the only player who could miss this game. Carolina placed eight players on the COVID-19 list this week, including two of their top three receivers in D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel. The Panthers only have three wide receivers this season with more than six catches, and Samuel and Moore are two of them. It is unclear whether they’ll be available to play on Sunday.

Tennessee Titans (8-4) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (1-11)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Titans -9.5
Over/under: 53.5

The Titans are coleading the AFC South, but this is the easiest game left on their schedule. The Jaguars are rolling with Mike Glennon at quarterback over Gardner “that guy with the mustache” Minshew, but they likely are facing a housecleaning at the end of the season. This should be a game where Derrick Henry romps.

Late Slate

Indianapolis Colts (8-4) @ Las Vegas Raiders (7-5)

Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Colts -2.5
Over/under: 52

The Raiders are coming off one of the luckiest wins in recent history, having beaten the Jets on a last-ditch Hail Mary that got Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams fired. But the fact that the Raiders were even in position to lose to the Jets is pathetic, especially since that game came just one week after they lost to the Falcons by almost 40 points. But life finds a way, and despite those poor performances, this contest carries massive playoff implications. The AFC has seven postseason spots, and right now the Colts are in seventh place and the Raiders are in eighth. A Raiders win would give them a nearly 70 percent chance of making the playoffs, while a loss drops them to roughly 25 percent.

On the other sideline is the Colts, who have a defense that’s slightly better than New York’s. That unit is led by dominant defensive tackle DeForest Buckner and inside linebacker Darius Leonard, who should disrupt Derek Carr’s business all day long.

New York Jets (0-12) @ Seattle Seahawks (8-4)

Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Opening point spread: Seahawks -15
Over/under: 47

The New York Giants beat Seattle last week. Are the Seahawks going to lose to both New York teams in two weeks?

No. No they are not. Gregg Williams was fired for allowing a game-losing Hail Mary last week against the Raiders, but the Jets will need more than prayer to win this game.

Green Bay Packers (9-3) @ Detroit Lions (5-7)

Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Packers -7
Over/under: 45.5 (now 55)

Aaron Rodgers’s Packers are heavily favored over the Lions. It’s nice to know some things have not changed in 2020. One difference, though, is that Matt Patricia is no longer coaching the Lions, and Detroit’s offense performed against the Bears than it had with the defensive coach running the show. Detroit returned the aggressive downfield passing attack it used in 2019, and subsequently Matthew Stafford threw for more than 400 yards. More normalcy for 2020.

New Orleans Saints (10-2) @ Philadelphia Eagles (3-8-1)

Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Eagles -6.5
Over/under: 45.5

The Eagles announced this week that they’re benching Carson Wentz for second-round rookie Jalen Hurts, a move that requires some guts from the coaching staff and puts the team in short- and medium-term chaos. Wentz signed a contract extension last year guaranteeing him more than $100 million, and that money has not even kicked in yet. Benching him is a drastic move, but Wentz’s play required drastic action.

Wentz seems to have the pocket yips. Pocket issues are not as visible as, say, Chuck Knoblauch failing to throw to second base or Markelle Fultz hitching as he shoots free throws. But for a quarterback, seeing and feeling a pass rush is a skill, and Wentz has completely lost it. He is seeing ghosts out there, and it has disrupted his entire game. Yes, Wentz’s teammates have been decimated by injury, especially along the offensive line, and he’s without former offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who was in charge when Wentz thrived in 2017. But the QB looked perfectly fine last year when the Eagles offense was similarly injured, and Reich wasn’t around then either.

This season, Wentz has simply sucked. There are theories floating around that Philly drafting Hurts in the second round broke Wentz’s confidence—not an outlandish idea, considering the Eagles have a statue of Wentz’s former backup Nick Foles outside the stadium. But whether this is really the problem or not, the Eagles’ insurance policy is about to pay off (though maybe it was not an insurance policy as much as a self-fulfilling prophecy).

Ironically, Hurts understands Wentz’s situation. In college, Hurts led Alabama to an 11-1 regular season record as a sophomore. But Hurts was benched at halftime of the national championship game for Tua Tagovailoa, who led the team to a spectacular come-from-behind win that earned him the starting job the following season. Hurts basically got Wentz’d before Wentz did. But he also has the pedigree to make an impression.

Hurts had one of the best college football careers of all time. He was the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Nick Saban at Alabama. He won two SEC titles and one national championship before transferring to Oklahoma. There, he came in second in Heisman voting in 2019 and made another College Football Playoff appearance. Now, Hurts is taking on the Saints in his first NFL start.

New Orleans is playing some of the best defense in the NFL, led by defensive ends Cam Jordan and Trey Hendrickson. But the Saints have their own QB drama. Drew Brees is eligible to come off of injured reserve this week after fracturing 11 ribs and suffering a punctured lung. But Taysom Hill is likely to start this game, setting off a matchup between two improbable quarterbacks who’ve taken strange paths to the NFL.

Atlanta Falcons (4-8) @ Los Angeles Chargers (3-9)

Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: Pick ’em (now Falcons -2.5)
Over/under: 49.5

For everyone who has watched Justin Herbert this year and grown fond of this Chargers team, last week’s 45-0 drubbing by New England was sobering. The only reason to tune into this game is to see whether the Chargers can put that loss behind them quickly, or if they’ll just roll over.

Washington Football Team (5-7) @ San Francisco 49ers (5-7)

Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Opening point spread: 49ers -4.5
Over/under: 43.5

This game is the Ghost of Christmas Past vs. the Ghost of Christmas Future, but instead of Christmas, it’s defense. The 49ers made the Super Bowl last year largely because of a defensive line that sported five first-round draft picks. Washington has largely copied that strategy, building a group around no. 2 draft pick Chase Young.

Coming into this matchup, the 49ers are nowhere near healthy. Nick Bosa is out with an ACL tear and defensive end Dee Ford is unlikely to return this season from a back injury. But Washington’s defense is peaking. They just knocked off the undefeated Steelers, and their defensive line dominated Pittsburgh’s offensive line, highlighted by a five-play goal line stand. Despite San Francisco’s pedigree, Washington is the team with better playoff odds since they can compete in the NFC East. What a strange present.

Monday Night Football

Baltimore Ravens (7-5) @ Cleveland Browns (9-3)

Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Opening point spread: Ravens -3
Over/under: 48

Of all the surprises this season, the Browns being two games ahead of Baltimore in December might be at the tippity top of the list. It’s even more shocking considering Baltimore wiped the floor with Cleveland, 38-6, in the opening game of the year. But Cleveland is now 9-3, the franchise’s best record since before Baker Mayfield was born. A win this week does not technically clinch the Browns a playoff spot, but it would put their odds of making the playoffs higher than 99 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight. It would be Cleveland’s first playoff appearance since 2002.

Still, if the Browns want to prove they belong, they have to start by standing up to the bullies who’ve been beating them up for years. The Ravens have won 21 of 25 games against the Browns (84 percent) since Baltimore hired head coach John Harbaugh in 2008. A win over Baltimore to all but guarantee a Browns playoff berth would be the rare victory for the underdog in 2020.

The Ravens, meanwhile, are trying to regain their form after looking lost for the first three-quarters of the year. Baltimore had its best rushing performance of the season last week against Dallas, running for 294 yards in a dominant 34-17 win. But Dallas’s defense is laughable, and the game was overshadowed by Ravens receiver Dez Bryant being pulled off the field before warmups for a positive COVID-19 test. This followed an outbreak that led to half of Baltimore’s starters being placed on the COVID-19 list just a couple weeks earlier. This time, though, Bryant was the only player to sit out. “I made the final determination that there were no high-risk close contacts to the case, so there was no need to remove anyone else,” NFL medical director Allen Sills told reporters on Wednesday.

Assuming this game gets played as scheduled, it will be consequential for the playoffs. A Ravens win would give them a roughly 85 percent chance of making the postseason, but a loss drops them to roughly 33 percent. Baltimore has long been able to beat the Browns, but now they need to do it when it matters most.