It's getting cold outside, which means the NFL season is heating up in a major way as Week 14 approaches. As is the case every year, the level of competition rises significantly in conjunction with days growing shorter and nights colder and longer.
Getting things kicked off in Week 14, Thursday night's matchup pitting the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars could be tough to stomach. Two bad teams playing one another on a short week of rest could result in a comedy of errors.
Thankfully, there are some fantastic matchups brewing for Sunday's and Monday's action. Here's a look at the entire television schedule for Week 14:
|THU, DEC 5||TIME (ET)||TV||LOCATION|
|Houston at Jacksonville||8:25 p.m.||NFL||EverBank Field|
|SUN, DEC 8||TIME (ET)||TV||LOCATION|
|Indianapolis at Cincinnati||1 p.m.||CBS||Paul Brown Stadium|
|Atlanta at Green Bay||1 p.m.||Fox||Lambeau Field|
|Cleveland at New England||1 p.m.||CBS||Gillette Stadium|
|Oakland at NY Jets||1 p.m.||CBS||MetLife Stadium|
|Detroit at Philadelphia||1 p.m.||Fox||Lincoln Financial Field|
|Miami at Pittsburgh||1 p.m.||CBS||Heinz Field|
|Buffalo at Tampa Bay||1 p.m.||CBS||Raymond James Stadium|
|Kansas City at Washington||1 p.m.||CBS||FedEx Field|
|Minnesota at Baltimore||1 p.m.||Fox||M&T Bank Stadium|
|Tennessee at Denver||4:05 p.m.||CBS||Sports Authority Field at Mile High|
|St. Louis at Arizona||4:25 p.m.||Fox||U of Phoenix Stadium|
|NY Giants at San Diego||4:25 p.m.||Fox||Qualcomm Stadium|
|Seattle at San Francisco||4:25 p.m.||Fox||Candlestick Park|
|Carolina at New Orleans||8:30 p.m.||NBC||Mercedes-Benz Superdome|
|MON, DEC 9||TIME (ET)||TV||LOCATION|
|Dallas at Chicago||8:30 p.m.||ESPN||Soldier Field|
Some of these games could be playoff previews, and there are more than a few with notable playoff implications. With that in mind, here's a closer look at a few of the biggest upcoming games.
Indianapolis at Cincinnati
The Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals will both likely make it into the playoffs as division winners, and Sunday's game could well be a playoff preview.
Which team has the best chance to win the Super Bowl?
However, the two teams appear to be headed in different directions as the postseason looms.
Cincinnati has won six of its last eight games and two in a row heading into Week 14. Both losses were brutal overtime affairs in which the Bengals had a chance to win.
Conversely, Indianapolis is limping into the playoffs, winning two of four in November. Two of their last five wins have come against Tennessee, which recently lost to Jacksonville.
The Bengals come into the game with the No. 8 rank on defense against the run and pass. Led by Vontaze Burfict and Carlos Dunlap, the front seven attacks the line of scrimmage relentlessly, leading to 36 sacks.
Andrew Luck hasn't been getting great protection of late, absorbing 10 sacks in his last four starts. He'll be under constant pressure in Cincinnati, which will likely result in a turnover or two.
The second-year quarterback hasn't been the same since losing Reggie Wayne to a season-ending ACL injury. Darrius Heyward-Bey hasn't been able to replicate Wayne's production, as Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders so eloquently states:
For Andrew Luck, going from Wayne to Heyward-Bey is like taking a baby's bottle and giving it a dirty syringe.— Scott Kacsmar (@FO_ScottKacsmar) December 4, 2013
The biggest wild card for the Bengals in this game is quarterback Andy Dalton, who has been wildly inconsistent this year. He's thrown three-plus touchdowns four times this year, which is the same amount of times he's tossed two or more interceptions.
Indy's defense recently gave up 78 points to the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams, however, and the Bengals will be able to move the ball at will at home against a struggling opponent searching for answers.
Projected Score: Bengals win 31-24
Detroit at Philadelphia
While the Colts and Bengals are treating fans to a potential AFC playoff preview, the Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles will be doing the same over on the NFC side.
Detroit currently leads the NFC North by one game over the Chicago Bears with a record of 7-5, while Philadelphia enters the game nipping at the heels of the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East lead (thanks to a loss to Dallas in Week 7) with the same record.
Halfway through the season, the Eagles appeared to be destined for a top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft with a record of 3-5. However, defensive coordinator Billy Davis has his guys playing much better in the second half (17 points allowed per game in the last six) and Nick Foles has rescued the team's offense in stunning fashion.
The second-year quarterback out of Arizona has emerged as one of the league's top signal-callers, passing for 1,791 yards with 19 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
He'll need to be sharp again this weekend to keep up with the high-powered Lions, though.
Which team will win?
Detroit dropped 40 points on Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day, featuring a potent rushing attack and a dominating defensive effort up front.
And as good as Philly's defense has played of late, the team's pass defense is still the league's worst, allowing 296.8 yards per game. The last elite receiver it faced—Dez Bryant—went off for eight catches and 110 yards.
Calvin Johnson will have a field day against Philadelphia's porous secondary, and the Lions will take down the Eagles in Philly.
Projected Score: Lions win 38-35
Carolina at New Orleans
Sean Payton has a tall task ahead of him to get his team ready for the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night after the Seattle Seahawks wiped the floor with the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football in Week 13.
Seattle dominated every aspect of the game, winning 34-7, and the loss dropped New Orleans into a tie with the Panthers for the NFC South lead with a record of 9-3. The winner of this upcoming game will be in the driver's seat to win the division with three games remaining.
The Saints haven't lost at home yet this year, but that streak is in jeopardy of being snapped. Carolina comes into the game with a franchise-record eight-game winning streak, and may be the second-best team in the NFC behind Seattle:
Carolina extends franchise record winning streak to eight with big victory over Tampa Bay: http://t.co/lPWRmxt3tW— Carolina Panthers (@Panthers) December 2, 2013
Cam Newton has emerged as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league the past few years, and this season he's also emerged as a true leader for the Panthers. Displaying more poise and focus than he did in his first two seasons, Newton is maturing before our eyes.
Which team will win the NFC South?
He's also putting up impressive numbers, accounting for 25 total touchdowns this year.
Carolina's top-ranked scoring defense (13.1 points allowed per game) will give Drew Brees fits, much like what we saw in Seattle when the Seahawks harassed the All-Pro quarterback into—by far—his worst performance of the year.
The Panthers will continue asserting themselves as an NFC powerhouse with a stunning road victory over their NFC South rivals.
Projected Score: Panthers win 24-21
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