There is still much to be decided with regard to the playoffs entering Week 14's NFL action, but many teams are faced with must-win scenarios. Some of them in particular stand out as viable candidates to come through in these desperation situations.
Whether it's recent form, intangible advantages or simply a favorable matchup across the board, a trio of clubs on the fringe of the playoff picture will be able to give their 2013 campaigns new life on Sunday.
Here is a look at some of the teams that will win with their postseason hopes on the brink, along with a complete list of picks for Week 14.
New York Giants (5-7) over San Diego Chargers (5-7)
It's all about turnovers for both of these teams. The Giants seemed allergic to holding onto the football in the beginning of the season during a 0-6 start and have a minus-11 turnover differential to show for it.
But San Diego's isn't much better at minus-five, and New York's defense has improved immensely since its horrendous beginning to 2013. The Chargers have just over half the takeaways (11) that the Giants have produced this season (20).
What has aided the Giants' turnaround is that Eli Manning isn't forcing as many throws, and now a backfield tandem featuring Andre Brown and Peyton Hillis gives New York some serious physicality. It might be the heaviest duo in the league.
The Chargers are leaky against both phases of the game on defense and were manhandled by the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 13's 17-10 loss in which Cincinnati ran it 36 times with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Gio Bernard.
A similar strategy could be deployed to keep quarterback Philip Rivers and San Diego's explosive offense off the field, allowing the Giants to come away from Qualcomm Stadium with a huge win.
Should Dallas and Philadelphia falter in their respective games against playoff-caliber teams, the G-Men would suddenly be just one game behind in the NFC East.
Prediction: Giants 34, Chargers 27
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7) over Miami Dolphins (6-6)
If Mike Tomlin's 5-7 Steelers are meant to make a run and qualify for the postseason, it has to start here. While snagging the No. 6 seed in the AFC is still a remote possibility at 8-8, this is essentially a do-or-die situation for Pittsburgh after a 22-20 loss to Baltimore on Thanksgiving.
The Steelers' vaunted defense does get to go up against a still-developing second-year signal-caller in Ryan Tannehill, who has shown signs of progression but has also thrown an interception in each of the last four games.
With the exotic looks defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau can throw at Tannehill, it should be tough sledding for the young quarterback.
Plus, Miami is 6-6, with the same record as the Ravens—the current No. 6 seed in the AFC. A win over the Dolphins would be a key head-to-head tiebreaker for Pittsburgh too.
Ben Roethlisberger and this Steelers nucleus of veterans have been together for years, with ample experience in these types of crossroads games. They've fought so hard to get off the mat from a 0-4 start, and it's hard to imagine them folding in this contest.
Rookie running back Le'Veon Bell should find some room to roam on the Dolphins' 25th-ranked rush defense, allowing Pittsburgh to stay balanced and help drive it to victory at Heinz Field.
Prediction: Steelers 31, Dolphins 17
Arizona Cardinals (7-5) over St. Louis Rams (5-7)
The NFC wild-card chase requires an extraordinary effort the rest of the way from those in contention. A tie in the NFC South division will be broken on Sunday between Carolina or New Orleans—both of which are 9-3.
Combine that with the fact that Arizona is featured in the same NFC West division as Seattle (11-1) and a surging San Francisco (8-4), and there isn't much room for error in the final four weeks.
Which team is likelier to make the NFL playoffs?
In Week 1, St. Louis squeezed out a 27-24 victory and looked like a trendy pick as a playoff team. Now the tables have turned somewhat, although the Rams have played better in recent weeks to give themselves a glimmer of hope for the postseason.
As terrifying as the pass-rushing tandem of Robert Quinn and Chris Long is for Arizona to deal with, it has the weapons on the outside in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts to combat it.
Plus, the Cardinals can shut down the run—they yield only 83.3 yards per game on the ground—and force Kellen Clemens to beat them through the air.
That's not a surefire strategy for success for St. Louis.
Prediction: Cardinals 24, Rams 16
|Away Team||Home Team||Winner|
|Houston Texans||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jaguars|
|Indianapolis Colts||Cincinnati Bengals||Bengals|
|Atlanta Falcons||Green Bay Packers||Packers|
|Cleveland Browns||New England Patriots||Patriots|
|Oakland Raiders||New York Jets||Raiders|
|Detroit Lions||Philadelphia Eagles||Eagles|
|Miami Dolphins||Pittsburgh Steelers||Steelers|
|Buffalo Bills||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Bills|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Washington Redskins||Chiefs|
|Minnesota Vikings||Baltimore Ravens||Vikings|
|Tennessee Titans||Denver Broncos||Broncos|
|St. Louis Rams||Arizona Cardinals||Cardinals|
|New York Giants||San Diego Chargers||Giants|
|Seattle Seahawks||San Francisco 49ers||Seahawks|
|Carolina Panthers||New Orleans Saints||Panthers|
|Dallas Cowboys||Chicago Bears||Bears|
Picks are strictly opinion