Week 14 NFL Picks: Teams Sure to Crack Under Pressure in Must-Win Matchups
For the vast majority of NFL teams with playoff aspirations in 2012, the pressure is as high as it's ever been.
Welcome to Week 14, where wins and losses become far more important than they have been at any point this season.
While four teams have already assured themselves of a place in the postseason––the Baltimore Ravens, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans––there are still eight spots up for grabs and more than a handful of teams battling for position.
Faced with a full slate of NFL action, some of those teams are bound to lose games that they cannot afford to in Week 14.
Let's take a look at who some of those teams are.
New York Giants
It's going to be a high-scoring affair on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium when two of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, Drew Brees and Eli Manning, go head-to-head in what is a must-win game for each of their respective clubs.
The Giants might sit atop the NFC East with a 7-5 record, but they have lost three of their last four games. This allowed both the Washington Redskins (who beat New York in Week 13) and Dallas Cowboys to creep within a game of the division lead at 6-6.
New York welcomes a 5-7 New Orleans Saints squad who has lost two games in a row and is desperately trying to avoid picking up their eighth loss of the season—a number that likely would eliminate them from the postseason picture in the NFC.
Brees has never lost to the Giants, emerging victorious in each of his four career games against them.
When you look at his career numbers against Big Blue, it's easy to see why.
Brees has completed nearly 65 percent of his passes (79-of-122) for 1,055 yards and 11 touchdowns against the Giants––and he's yet to throw an interception.
Eli, on the other hand, has completed less than 55 percent of his passes against the Saints (69-of-127) for 823 yards. He also has only five touchdowns and has thrown three interceptions in his four career games against New Orleans—a team he's only beaten once.
Neither team has been great against the pass this year––the Giants rank 22nd in the NFL, while the Saints rank 30th––but it's clear that Brees has the Giants' number.
Coupled with New York's inability to get after the quarterback despite having one of the most talented front fours in the entire league, Brees is going to make it five wins in five attempts against the Giants, keeping the Saints' playoff hopes alive.
It's a battle of hot teams in Cincinnati on Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys (6-6)—winners of three of their last four games—take on the Cincinnati Bengals (7-5), who are in the midst of a four-game winning streak.
Both teams currently find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, and need to at least keep pace with the teams in front of them, hoping for some help from elsewhere in the league.
Cincinnati has dropped four of their last six games against the Cowboys, but they've been inhospitable hosts the last two times that Dallas traveled to Paul Brown Stadium, beating the Cowboys both times.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton has completed 62.5 percent of his passes (59-of-97) for 651 yards, six touchdowns and only two interceptions (both which came last week against the Chargers) during the team's winning streak, adding two rushing touchdowns for good measure.
Dalton's hot hand and Tony Romo's penchant for coming up short in big games will allow the Bengals to make it five wins in a row, sending the Cowboys into the danger zone––where the ire of owner Jerry Jones is known to consume entire coaching staffs in the blink of an eye.
New York Jets
There's no logical reason for Mark Sanchez to be starting against the Jaguars, yet here we are, with Rex Ryan's golden boy under center. Even owner Woody Johnson wants third-stringer Greg McElroy under center when the Jets travel to Jacksonville on Sunday (h/t New York Daily News).
The Jets remain playoff contenders despite being two games out of a playoff spot, but they absolutely cannot afford another loss.
Both teams have wildly inconsistent running attacks, highly questionable play at QB and defenses that aren't anywhere near as good as people expected them to be entering the season.
Were McElroy making his first career start, I'd like the Jets' chances in this one. That's how low Mark Sanchez has sunk this season––someone who has yet to make a start in the NFL gives the Jets a better chance to win against a team with only two victories on the season than a first-round pick.
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