There are some weeks where the NFL scheduling gods give us such a poor slate that it feels like we're only watching out of weird loyalty and to avoid all forms of human interaction. The Week 14 schedule is not one of those unfortunate situations.
With Week 13 wrapping up with a stellar matchup between Seattle and New Orleans, Monday Night Football will serve as a prelude of what's to come. Looking down the line, I've counted about seven or eight contests I wouldn't totally hate to watch in prime time, a few potential playoff matchups and 16 games better than that time ESPN was stuck with airing Miami-Tampa Bay.
Spoiler alert: There are only 16 games on the schedule.
This is the type of schedule with enough games where you can spend all your watercooler B.S. time discussing just one game per day. It's like the NFL heard it was conference championship week in college football and wanted to throw one big bash of its own.
Roger Goodell, scheduling one-upper.
But alas, the best games are still nearly a week away, so that leaves us to do the next-best thing: predictions. The early lines have been placed for nearly every game, so let's take a look around the league and predict the Week 14 outcomes.
|Houston at Jacksonville||HOU -2.5||Jaguars|
|NY Giants at San Diego||SD -3||Giants|
|Indianapolis at Cincinnati||CIN -5.5||Colts|
|Atlanta at Green Bay||N/A||Packers (win)|
|Cleveland at New England||NE -11.5||Patriots|
|Oakland at NY Jets||NYJ -3||Raiders|
|Detroit at Philadelphia||PHI -2.5||Lions|
|Miami at Pittsburgh||PIT -3||Steelers|
|Buffalo at Tampa Bay||TB -2.5||Buccaneers|
|Kansas City at Washington||KC -2.5||Chiefs|
|Minnesota at Baltimore||BAL -7||Ravens|
|Tennessee at Denver||DEN -12.5||Broncos|
|St. Louis at Arizona||ARI -6.5||Cardinals|
|Seattle at San Francisco||SF -2.5||49ers|
|Carolina at New Orleans||NO -4||Saints|
|Dallas at Chicago||CHI -1.5||Cowboys|
Games of the Week
Early Games: Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5)
Good luck finding a better combination of enigmatic contenders than these two. Oh, the Colts and Bengals play this week, too? Welp. OK, then. Fair enough. But these two are pretty enigmatic in their own right.
The Lions have almost every tool necessary for Super Bowl contention. Matthew Stafford, if not one of the league's five best quarterbacks, is certainly within the top dozen signal-callers. Mid-career Reggie Bush is quietly being used better than he ever has been in Detroit and might wind up making the Pro Bowl. Calvin Johnson's godliness is perhaps only matched by Josh Gordon. Ndamukong Suh is arguably the best defensive tackle on the planet.
This is a good football team. Only it's one that loves getting in its own way more often than any squad this side of Jerry World. The Lions have made a habit of playing hot-potato with the lead with their opponent, tossing it back and forth like an unwanted pair of old gym shorts. Nine of their 12 games this season have been decided by 10 or fewer points, seven of which came within one score.
Sure, Detroit drove poor Matt Flynn through the Spanish announcers' table in its 40-10 victory over Green Bay last week. But your guess is as good as mine when those performances are coming; the Lions are about as predictable as Miley Cyrus' next move.
The Eagles, meanwhile, have started developing a bit of a questionable pattern. Against both the Redskins and the Cardinals they jumped out to three-score leads only to sweat out the final seconds as their opponent came roaring back. Whether defenses simply adjust their schemes over the halftime break or if Chip Kelly's emphasis on speed drains his players is mostly irrelevant. What matters is that Philadelphia is nearly as bad at keeping leads as it is good at gaining them in the first place.
Either way, this should make for an interesting watch. Stafford and Megatron shouldn't see much resistance from a Philadelphia secondary that gets torched for more than 300 passing yards per week, and Foles is #PassGod until he throws a pick. Both teams have just enough cracks to allow the other to stay in and satiate the need for fantasy goodness.
I'll go with the Lions to pull off the road win simply because of their talent. You could talk me into any number of scenarios, though.
Score: Lions 31, Eagles 27
Late Afternoon: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-2.5)
Who would have ever thought the Seahawks-49ers would be the second-best game on the Week 14 slate in the preseason? These two teams were supposed to be far and away the class of the NFC, to the point where some literally deemed the 14 other squads irrelevant. It was NFC West or bust, baby!
Well, that hasn't happened. We'll be getting to the game that usurps this contest once you hit that little scrolly thing on your browser, but I'm pretty sure we can all agree that Cam vs. Drew > Russell vs. Colin.
Which, of course, is not to say Seattle-San Francisco won't be super awesome. Because it totally will be—assuming the two sides avoid hitting the repeat button on their first matchup, perhaps the biggest letdown of the 2013 season.
Hyped up as a possible NFC Championship Game preview, the Seahawks kneecapped the 49ers 29-3 at CenturyLink Field and began what would become a season-long questioning of Colin Kaepernick. Three different Seattle defensive backs picked Kaepernick off, luckily none of the ones currently suspended for violations of the substance abuse policy.
While Wilson didn't have his best game either, the Seahawks controlled the tempo from the outset and have now outscored their biggest rival by 55 points in their last two meetings.
Still, it's worth noting that both those contests came in Seattle. The home-road splits aren't as bad for Pete Carroll's squad as they were a year ago, but they're still worth highlighting. The Seahawks have a plus-42 scoring differential on the road and a plus-85 differential at CenturyLink Field. So even if you don't think San Francisco should be favored—a totally fair assessment, by the way—we could probably rationally rule out an all-out beatdown.
It's also difficult to write about this game without knowing what happens for the Seahawks on Monday night. Unforeseen injuries can always play a role, but hopefully that won't happen.
Essentially, I like the 49ers here for simplistic reasons. Michael Crabtree was back in the starting lineup on Sunday, and even if he wasn't 100 percent quite yet, Kaepernick looked more comfortable passing the ball than at any point since Week 1. Kind of amazing that the field opens up when you're not overly reliant on a 33-year-old receiver who even in his prime wasn't the fleetest of foot, no?
Couple Manningham's return with the short week and gauntlet back-to-back opponents for Seattle, and San Francisco should be catching Seattle at a good time. If not, perhaps it's time to start looking at both teams in a different light.
Score: 49ers 20, Seahawks 17
Prime Time: Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-4)
A season ago, these two teams sported matching 7-9 records that left bitter tastes in their fanbases' mouths. Suffice it to say things taste a whole lot sweeter in Charlotte and New Orleans at the Thanksgiving table in 2013.
Like Seattle-San Francisco, it's hard to delve too deep into the trends of this matchup without, like, seeing both sides play. We'll get a much better sense of this matchup when we know Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and Co. are in one piece.
We do know, however, that the Saints will be getting a Panthers squad that may be the hottest in football. Riverboat Ron has led Carolina to a franchise-record and NFL-high eight-game winning streak, getting solid play from Cam Newton and crafting a defense that can stand up against the best in the world.
Luke Kuechly and Buffalo's Kiko Alonso seem destined to battle at the top of the linebacker totem pole for the next decade. Star Lotulelei has proved all his pre-draft concerns moot, quietly competing with Alonso and others for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The former Utah standout is just one player on a stellar defensive line rotation that also includes Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, et al.
While the Carolina secondary still lacks a bit in talent, the line has been so good that it's almost entirely obscured that fact.
That might not work against Brees, unfortunately. The Saints signal-caller makes his money with quick-read strikes and short swing passes out of the backfield, leading to the inevitable stake-drive to the heart to either Jimmy Graham or Marques Colston. Great pass rushes bother Brees but not in the same way as they even do a Robert Griffin III.
Not only is Brees adept at reading where the weaknesses in his protection are going to be, he's gifted with a ton of solid skill-position players and one of the most accurate arms in the league.
We're separating these two teams with a sifter here. Rob Ryan has been a miracle worker with the Saints' once-sorry defensive unit, leaving Carolina without a massive advantage on that side of the ball, either. When it comes down to it, the prediction game is going with whom you trust most. It's still Brees and Sean Payton over Comeback Cam and Riverboat Ron.
Score: Saints 27, Panthers 21
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