The final month of the NFL season is only for the strong. After 13 weeks, virtually every player is dealing with some sort of injury, but the playoffs are on the horizon, and it's time to step up for the stretch run.
This weekend's slate is full of high-profile matchups and contests with major postseason implications. Let's take a look at the entire Week 14 schedule followed by some analysis of the top teams that will go head-to-head.
|NFL Week 14 Picks|
|Indianapolis Colts||Cincinnati Bengals||Bengals|
|Cleveland Browns||New England Patriots||Patriots|
|Oakland Raiders||New York Jets||Raiders|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Washington Redskins||Chiefs|
|Minnesota Vikings||Baltimore Ravens||Ravens|
|Atlanta Falcons||Green Bay Packers||Packers|
|Buffalo Bills||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Buccaneers|
|Miami Dolphins||Pittsburgh Steelers||Steelers|
|Detroit Lions||Philadelphia Eagles||Eagles|
|Tennessee Titans||Denver Broncos||Broncos|
|St. Louis Rams||Arizona Cardinals||Cardinals|
|Seattle Seahawks||San Francisco 49ers||Seahawks|
|New York Giants||San Diego Chargers||Giants|
|Carolina Panthers||New Orleans Saints||Panthers|
|Dallas Cowboys||Chicago Bears||Bears|
|Houston Texans||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jaguars 27-20|
|Alex Espinoza's Picks|
Detroit Lions (7-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-5)
Two of the league's most entertaining offenses will be on display in Philadelphia when the Lions and Eagles clash on Sunday.
Nick Foles has put together a remarkable run since taking over as Philadelphia's quarterback in Week 5 for an injured Michael Vick. Foles has a 6-1 record in games when he's played major minutes this year, tossing for 1,791 yards, 19 touchdowns and no interceptions along the way.
DeSean Jackson (61 catches, 1,021 yards, seven TDs) and Riley Cooper (34 receptions, 640 yards, seven TDs) have been Foles' favorite targets, while rookie tight end Zach Ertz broke out with two touchdowns in last week's 24-21 win vs. the Arizona Cardinals. Meanwhile, running back LeSean McCoy ranks second in the NFL with 1,088 rushing yards to go along with his 49 catches, 435 receiving yards and six total touchdowns.
But the Lions have an even more potent offense that ranks fourth in points scored (27.2 per game), led by quarterback Matthew Stafford (3,825 passing yards, 27 TDs, 14 INTs). It's no surprise that Calvin Johnson is the league's top receiver with 72 catches, 1,299 yards and 12 TDs, but the biggest difference-maker has been Reggie Bush, who has 1,302 yards from scrimmage and five total touchdowns.
Trey Wingo of ESPN noted Bush's impact on the team's success this season:
These two teams come in with similarly ranked defenses, as the Eagles have given up 23.4 points per game (16th), and the Lions have given up 23.9 points per contest (18th). But Philadelphia has clamped down during the team's current four-game win streak, allowing an average of just 17.5 points, and its defense could be the difference-maker in this game that should come down to the wire.
Prediction: Eagles win 38-35
Carolina Panthers (9-3) at New Orleans Saints (9-3)
These two teams have established themselves as two of the elite powers in their conference, and now they're battling for the NFC South crown.
This matchup in the Superdome will feature a Carolina team that is riding an NFL-best eight-game winning streak, and a New Orleans squad that is coming off of a deflating 34-7 road loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
The Panthers have forged a defensive identity this year under third-year coach "Riverboat" Ron Rivera, and it was on display in last week's 27-6 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Carolina now has the top scoring defense in the league (13.1 points per game allowed) and the second-best total defense (289.8 yards per game allowed).
The Panthers will face an explosive New Orleans attack that was grounded last week in Seattle, per Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune:
While most of the focus on this matchup will be on the battle between the Saints offense and Panthers defense, Cam Newton will have his hands full with a New Orleans defense that ranks sixth in points allowed per game (19.2).
Even though the Saints may be more well-rounded, the offense is in a recent funk, averaging just 15.7 points per game in its past three. Facing a stiff Carolina defense won't help, and the Panthers should roll on to their ninth straight win in a close contest.
Prediction: Panthers win 27-21
Seattle Seahawks (11-1) at San Francisco 49ers (8-4)
Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers have reigned over the NFC West each of the past two seasons, but Pete Carroll and the Seahawks can bring the division crown back to Seattle with a victory on Sunday.
Russell Wilson outdueled Colin Kaepernick in Seattle's 27-3 victory in the first meeting between these clubs in Week 2. But the contest will be at Candlestick Park this time around, and the home team has won each game since the start of the 2011 season.
The 49ers benefited from the return of receiver Michael Crabtree from offseason Achilles surgery last week, as Kaepernick went 19-of-28 for 275 yards and a touchdown in a sound 23-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams. San Francisco's passing game figures to progress now that it's at full strength, but the same can't be said about the offensive line.
Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley went down early with a knee injury last week, but he's optimistic he'll play on Sunday, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. The same can't be said about talented left guard Mike Iupati, per Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group:
And while Seattle's secondary is dealing with Walter Thurmond's suspension and possibly a suspension for Brandon Browner, Byron Maxwell performed well in his first career start in last week's 34-7 win against the Saints.
Both of these teams are banged up, and it's always a physical battle when they meet. While the 49ers looked like an improved team on offense last week, Seattle has been rolling along during its seven-game win streak with dominating efforts on both sides of the ball.
The Seahawks look poised to bruise their way to their first division title of the Carroll era, and it's fitting that it could take place against the 49ers on their home turf.
Prediction: Seahawks win 28-20