We're still a little bit over a month away from the NFL playoffs getting underway, but much of the Week 14 slate feels like it could be played in January.
There are four matchups between near-guaranteed playoff squads, including two (Seattle vs. San Francisco and New Orleans vs. Carolina) that may wind up being conference championship previews. It's hard to top that slate, especially after we've had quite a few snoozers thrown in there of late. Just because Jaguars-Browns came down to the final seconds doesn't mean anyone wants to watch it, Mr. Scheduling God.
But alas, we put up with the shrug-worthy slates to get to ones like this. In fact, there will probably be so much attention paid to those games with mammoth connotations that others will get obscured. Looking down the line, there are quite a few games that would even be showcase worthy had Roger Goodell not been an evil genius and tried to blow college football's conference championship week out of the water.
Kidding. I think. [Ponders the thought again.] OK, yeah. Definitely kidding.
With that in mind, let's take a quick look at selections for the entire Week 14 schedule around the NFL, highlighting some of those woebegone games that won't get the bright light of the media spotlight.
|Houston at Jacksonville||HOU -3||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 -2.5||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 -3.5||Chiefs|
|Minnesota at Baltimore||BAL -7||Ravens|
|Tennessee at Denver||DEN -12||Broncos|
|St. Louis at Arizona||ARI -6||Cardinals|
|Seattle at San Francisco||SF -3||49ers|
|Carolina at New Orleans||NO -3.5||Saints|
|Dallas at Chicago||PK||Cowboys|
Most Underrated Games on Week 14 Slate
Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) at Washington Redskins (3-9)
When: 1 p.m. ET
Where: FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
Quick. Don't think. No Googling. Which of these two teams has won a game more recently? OK, time's up. If you answered "trick question, they last won on the same date," I'll give you a cookie someday whenever we meet.
While a bit unfair of a comparison—Kansas City had a bye thrown in—the Chiefs and Redskins are a combined 0-7 since their Week 9 victories. Washington has watched on as its quarterback has undergone ever-increasing scrutiny and its playoff hopes have been bludgeoned to death, while Kansas City has almost certainly locked itself into a road playoff game thanks to a three-game skid.
Now, here is where I transform into talking-head mode and tell you all losses aren't created equal. The Chiefs have played AFC championship favorite Denver close twice, and they lost to the Chargers in a game where both their top pass-rushers left with injury. Justin Houston was out of the lineup last week against Denver, and Tamba Hali was obviously limited as the Chiefs failed to sack Peyton Manning for the second straight game.
The Redskins are just pretty much terrible. Three of their last four losses have come by one possession, sure, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Washington was taken to the woodshed in the second half by both Minnesota and the Giants, and fell behind by three scores to Philadelphia before mounting a torrid comeback.
We're all sick of hearing about the struggles of Robert Griffin III at this point. Griffin hasn't been as good as he was a season ago, but as Grantland's Bill Barnwell pointed out this week, his rate of success was unsustainable to begin with. Unless you're completely irrational—which, of course, is about 75 percent of sports fandom—it's hard to fault Griffin for regressing to the mean, especially when he's coming off a catastrophic knee injury.
Instead, let us talk about the other factors. How about Washington receivers tying for the fifth-highest drop rate in football? Or having the third-worst defensive rating or second-worst pass coverage rating, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required)? The reality is that the Redskins are flawed, as they were last season when Griffin soared and the defense propped itself up down the stretch.
I'm no Alex Smith fan by any means, but he should be able to torch DeAngelo Hall and Co. enough to end the skid for Kansas City.
Score: Chiefs 24, Redskins 14
Indianapolis Colts (8-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-4)
When: 1 p.m. ET
Where: Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati
Welcome to the battle of likely AFC division winners that not one team will bat an eyelash about playing in the playoffs.
You all will have to explain to me what in the hell is going on in Indianapolis. The Colts are without Reggie Wayne, sure, but even a future Hall of Famer surely isn't enough to turn the only team to defeat Seattle, Denver and San Francisco into a middling snorefest. Over the past four weeks—a quarter of their season, mind you—Indianapolis has lost a combined 78-19 to Arizona and St. Louis and barely beat a terrible Tennessee team twice.
The Bengals, sadly, have seen their Super Bowl hopes ravaged by defensive injuries and Andy Dalton's return to Andy Daltonism. The defense has stayed tough despite losing Leon Hall and Geno Atkins to season-ending injuries, but it's being held together in large parts by hopes and prayers; Cincy can't expect top-five defense going forward.
And Andy. Poor, unsuspecting, red-headed Andy. It's been four weeks since he's had a QBR of higher than 50, and that is not doing his level of putridity justice. In November, Dalton completed only 47.4 percent of his passes, threw five touchdowns against as many picks and had a quarterback rating of 55.9. His recovery game—if you can call it that—on Sunday featured Dalton throwing for 190 yards with one touchdown and a pick against a Chargers defense that ranks dead last in defensive DVOA.
Again, if anyone can properly explain why Indy is nearly a touchdown underdog to this team, I'll be listening intently. Neither of the these two teams are indenturing much confidence at this point. This should have been a three-point line, which is the standard base for a home team for the Vegas oddsmakers.
The Colts should be an easy tease this week.
Score: Colts 24, Bengals 21
Dallas Cowboys (7-5) at Chicago Bears (6-6)
When: 8:30 p.m. (Monday night)
Where: Soldier Field in Chicago
This is your "Aww Here It Goes" game of the week. Barring something unforeseen and spooky, San Francisco and the loser of the New Orleans/Carolina battle are going to be the NFC Wild Card teams. You could talk most people into any of those three winning the Super Bowl, and it'd be an utter shock to see any of them finish below the 10-6 mark.
That leaves the Chicagos and Dallases of the world—two teams that in other seasons might be battling down to the final week for wild-card supremacy—in must-win mode in Week 14.
The Cowboys are currently tied with the Eagles atop the NFC East and hold the season tiebreaker thus far by virtue of their Week 7 victory in Philadelphia. The two teams don't play again until Week 17, but it seems plausible that Dallas will be playing for its playoff life on the final day of the season for a second straight year.
Meanwhile, Chicago is a bit of a mess but is somehow hanging in the NFC North race that no one wants to win. The Bears were pummeled by a beatable Rams team two weeks ago and blew a totally winnable game in Minnesota last Sunday. Detroit, the North's most talented team, has managed to lose games to Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh in the past three weeks, which leaves the Bears just a game out of the division race.
It's frankly hard to trust either one of these teams. Dallas ranks dead last in total defense, No. 27 in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric and essentially has four pieces of cardboard in its secondary. Or five. It all depends on the defensive alignment.
Tony Romo has again been brilliant this season, consigned to the same no-win situations in fourth quarters that have plagued his career. November Romo usually responds in kind with a game-winning drive. And we've all become accustomed to December Romo ducking and covering after three stellar quarters of football.
On the other side of the field, Josh McCown just continues to get his Rich Gannon on, flashing remarkable competency after a decade of being indistinguishable from his brother Luke. Only Peyton Manning has a higher QBR than McCown among qualifying quarterbacks, leading some to call for the 34-year-old to become the team's long-term starter.
Oh boy. This is gonna be good. Because the reality of the situation is that neither of these teams can be trusted, I'm going to put my heart in Vegas' hands. The line has moved from Chicago being favored by 1.5 points all the way to a pick 'em.
December Tony might come out to play, but midnight has to strike on McCown eventually, right?
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