The playoff picture is becoming clearer as NFL Week 13 action winds down, but some crucial battles will also be decided in Week 14 as well.
The Carolina Panthers clinched a playoff berth Sunday with a thrilling win over the New Orleans Saints, and the Cincinnati Bengals currently control the AFC playoff race with their 37-3 win over the Cleveland Browns and the New England Patriots' loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Let's break down the Week 14 slate of games, predict the winner of each one and preview three must-watch matchups with playoff implications on the table.
|NFL Week 14 Picks|
|Minnesota Vikings||Arizona Cardinals||Cardinals|
|Buffalo Bills||Philadelphia Eagles||Bills|
|Seattle Seahawks||Baltimore Ravens||Seahawks|
|San Francisco 49ers||Cleveland Browns||49ers|
|Detroit Lions||St. Louis Rams||Lions|
|Tennessee Titans||New York Jets||Jets|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Cincinnati Bengals||Bengals|
|Indianapolis Colts||Jacksonville Jaguars||Colts|
|San Diego Chargers||Kansas City Chiefs||Chiefs|
|Washington Redskins||Chicago Bears||Bears|
|Atlanta Falcons||Carolina Panthers||Panthers|
|New Orleans Saints||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Buccaneers|
|Oakland Raiders||Denver Broncos||Broncos|
|Dallas Cowboys||Green Bay Packers||Packers|
|New England Patriots||Houston Texans||Patriots|
|New York Giants||Miami Dolphins||Giants|
|Michelle Bruton's picks|
Must-Watch Matchups in Week 14
Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals
With their surprising 38-7 drubbing by the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings lost their foothold atop the NFC North and fell into second place in the division.
Both the Vikings and the first-place Green Bay Packers will have to face surging Arizona before facing each other at the end of the season, so whichever team can come away with a win against the Cardinals will put itself in much better position to win the division.
What went wrong for Minnesota on Sunday?
On offense, they were unable to establish any balance, given that top rusher Adrian Peterson was limited by Seattle's defense to just 18 yards on eight carries.
That allowed Seattle to pick apart Teddy Bridgewater, who barely cracked 100 passing yards and threw one interception to zero touchdowns.
The Vikings defense was hamstrung by a handful of injuries, as linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith left the game with groin and hamstring injuries, respectively, as Mark Craig of the Star Tribune reported.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, soared over the St. Louis Rams, handily defeating their NFC West opponents 27-3.
They looked good in all phases of the game doing it, too: Carson Palmer threw for 356 yards and two touchdowns; the defense had five passes defensed, seven quarterback hits and, of course, limited St. Louis to three points; and special teams play was essentially perfect on the day.
With the Cardinals coming into form entering the final quarter of the season and the Vikings dropping two of their last three games, Minnesota has a tough task ahead to come out of Week 14 with a win.
Oh, yeah—and they have to do it on a short week.
Prediction: Cardinals 31, Vikings 24
New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The New Orleans Saints put up a surprising fight against the Carolina Panthers Sunday, going up 14-0 in the first quarter before Carolina had a chance to respond.
But Cam Newton and the Panthers had the final say in the close and thrilling 41-38 decision.
Still, the Saints' heroics had to have been difficult for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—who defeated division-rival Atlanta 23-19 Sunday—to watch.
While the Saints remain at the bottom of the NFC South, both the Buccaneers and Falcons are still in the wild-card hunt behind the Panthers, as each team hopes to finish second in the division.
Tampa Bay is doing everything in its power to get there, but if the Saints come into Week 14 looking to spoil their chances, they could be knocked out of the race altogether.
New Orleans' 38 points against Carolina suggests that the offense was playing at an elite level, but the Saints' effort was truly a team one. Drew Brees had a relatively modest day, with 282 passing yards and a completion rate of 57 percent, but his three touchdowns kept New Orleans in the hunt.
Saints linebacker Stephone Anthony also contributed to the scoring, returning a fumble for a touchdown and returning a blocked extra-point attempt for two points.
With Dennis Allen as its defensive coordinator, the Saints offense has showed marked improvement. But can it limit Jameis Winston and the Buccaneers in Week 14?
Winston had just one touchdown and 227 passing yards in Tampa Bay's win over Atlanta Sunday, but he added another rushing score. The Saints will struggle to contain his mobility and ability to make explosive plays.
Ultimately, Tampa Bay's motivation and push for a wild card can be counted on to lift the team over New Orleans, but it should be an exciting game.
Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Saints 20
Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles
This matchup, and its potential playoff implications, just became a lot more interesting after the Eagles' shocking 35-28 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Rising to 5-7 on the season, the Eagles are just one game out of first place behind Washington in the NFC East heading into Monday night.
Now they look to keep that momentum going against another AFC East team, the Buffalo Bills, who are very much still in the playoff discussion themselves at 6-6.
But Eagles coach Chip Kelly isn't focusing on the playoff picture just yet, per Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Zach Berman @ZBerm
Chip: “It’s just wasted energy to talk about the playoff picture." Said Eagles will pick their heads up on Jan. 3 and see where they are.2015-12-7 01:49:26
The Eagles had to lean on all three phases of their team to outscore the Patriots, but every unit delivered. Sam Bradford contributed two touchdowns and didn't throw an interception, which at this point is all you can really ask of him.
On special teams, Najee Goode scored on a blocked punt and then Darren Sproles returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown.
As for the defense, Malcolm Jenkins' 99-yard interception returned for a touchdown added another six points to the scoreboard.
The Bills didn't look too bad themselves in their 30-21 win over the Houston Texans, but if Philadelphia can throw scoring prowess in all three phases of the game against them in Week 14, even Buffalo's solid defense could be tested.
Ultimately, it's hard to imagine that Buffalo drops this game, especially given that Philadelphia's success in Week 13 isn't exactly something it can easily replicate...but expect it to be a close one.
Prediction: Bills 24, Eagles 17