Philip Rivers looks to lead the Chargers to their fifth consecutive AFC West division title.
What a wild one Week 14 was!
I had the privilege of attending the Monday night game in Detroit between the New York Giants and the Minnesota Vikings, witnessing history as Favre's regular season consecutive starts streak came to an end at a staggering 297 games.
But as big of a moment as that was, it's now time to look ahead to a crucial Week 15. I'll attempt to make some predictions in a season that has been anything but predictable.
San Diego Chargers @ San Francisco 49ers
They're doing it again. The Bolts are making their late season run to the playoffs. It seems like year after year, the Chargers either dominate the regular season, or all the right pieces fall into place and allow them to sneak into the playoffs as AFC West champions. This year has been a mix of both, with the Chargers owning the league's highest ranked offense and defense, but also a mediocre record.
The Niners are still clinging to playoff hopes in a very winnable NFC West. They're heavy on talent, but have been low on luck. A loss on Thursday night would almost eliminate them from contention. However, even at what would be nine losses, they would not be mathematically out of it just yet.
San Francisco is a good team, but the Chargers are surging. They know they need to run the table in order to win their division for the fifth year in a row.
Chargers 38, 49ers 10
Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins
All of the sudden, the Dolphins are in the playoff picture. They need the Jets or Ravens to implode in order to make it, but the picture is at least a little more interesting now.
Buffalo came away with a well-earned victory against Cleveland last week, and they are playing the 'Fins' in Miami, where they don't play nearly as well as they do on the road. The key will be the Dolphins' running game, which is at times one of the best in the league.
Dolphins 17, Bills 14
Detroit Lions @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Lions' victory over Green Bay in Week 14 was huge. It was a big confidence booster, as the Lions have won more games this season than they had the past two seasons combined. It also may have very well eliminated the Packers from the postseason, a moral victory of sorts for Detroit.
So now the question is; can Detroit win one on the road? This may prove to be their best shot at snapping their 26-game road losing streak.
Tampa Bay has been a nice story this year. They are the youngest team in the league, and are performing above expectations for the season. Their wins have all come against teams at .500 or below, and out of the playoff picture (with the exception of the entire NFC West.)
Detroit will be looking to ride some momentum into the 2011 season. A big win over the Bucs would go a long way towards doing just that.
Lions 24, Buccaneers 17
Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers
Unbelievable. The Cardinals are still in the playoff picture.
And they have the easiest schedule among their NFC West peers.
They should improve to 5-9 this week.
Never say never.
Cardinals 13, Panthers 10
New Orleans Saints @ Baltimore Ravens
This is one of the biggest games of the entire week. Both of these teams are fighting for a Wild Card spot. The Saints seem to be a bit more of a lock at this point, but the Ravens have a little breathing room in the AFC.
Baltimore was lucky to come away with a win against Houston. While a lot of the talk has been about the Texans' late game heroics, a little less attention has been given to the Ravens' defensive collapse in the 4th quarter. If that happens against New Orleans, the Ravens are toast.
The Saints offense is just as explosive as Houston's, only they also have the ability to close football games. If their was a defense in the league that could slow down Drew Brees, it would be the Ravens.
Saints 24, Ravens 17
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Indianapolis Colts
Winner take all.
Most people would not have guessed at the beginning of the season that this matchup would determine the winner of the AFC South. But that's where we're at.
The Jaguars continue to win games. They are 5-1 in their last six. The Colts just barely hung on against a crippled Titans team this past Thursday. It's the Jaguars' division to lose.
Even if the Colts do win, they could still end up missing the playoffs if they were to lose one of their remaining two games with the Jags winning out. But if the Colts lose on Sunday, their season is over.
You had a nice run, Indianapolis.
Jaguars 24, Colts 21
Philadelphia Eagles @ New York Giants
Following a convincing win against Minnesota in Detroit, the Giants find themselves right in the thick of the NFC playoff race. The Eagles nearly gave one away in Dallas this past week. These two 9-4 teams will now compete for division supremacy.
The Giants have one of the most aggressive and stingiest defenses in the NFL. They attack the quarterback, and have placed many play-callers on the shelf already this season. It could be a tough day for Michael Vick if the offensive line isn't at the top of its game.
The Eagles make use of the big play. It's something the Giants will have to contend with. They may give up a big score or two, but if their running game is in gear, it should open things up for Eli Manning to take full advantage of the play-action pass.
Giants 27, Eagles 21
Cleveland Browns @ Cincinnati Bengals
It's been a fairly decent season for the Browns, highlighted with a huge upset of the dominant New England Patriots. That victory, one of only two Pats losses on the season so far, shows exactly what Cleveland is truly capable of.
The Bengals have been the biggest disappointment of the year by far. They've had little to be happy about. They should have beaten many teams this season, including the Colts, but costly turnovers have let victory after victory slip away.
For the Browns, it's all about building for a playoff run next season. For Cincinnati, it may be all about the No. 1 draft pick.
Browns 17, Bengals 15
Houston Texans @ Tennessee Titans
The Texans put together one of the most impressive comebacks in the history of football, only to throw it away, literally, against Baltimore in overtime.
The Titans are riding one of the longest losing streaks in the NFL. They were a couple missed tackles away from stealing a win away from their division rival Colts this past Thursday.
For these two teams, it's all about pride this week, as the playoffs are out of the question. It's now a matter of who is going to spend the offseason in the basement of the AFC South.
This was supposed to be Houston's breakout season. Tennessee seemed ready to challenge for the top spot in the division. None of that happened. At least now one of these teams will get a victory, barring a tie of course.
Texans 24, Titans 13
Washington Redskins @ Dallas Cowboys
Another divisional game between two teams who have had seasons to forget. The two biggest questions surrounding these two NFC East rivals are who will be coaching in Dallas next season, and who will be the quarterback in Washington.
Cowboys 21, Redskins 20
Kansas City Chiefs @ St Louis Rams
With Matt Cassel likely out for the second week in a row, this game is a golden opportunity for the Rams to pick up a big win.
The Chiefs have been one of the top three rushing teams in the NFL this season, but without their No. 1 quarterback on the field, Kansas City looked a lot more like it has for the last few seasons and was destroyed by the Chargers this past week.
The Rams could very well win the NFC West with seven victories.
Rams 17, Chiefs 9
Atlanta Falcons @ Seattle Seahawks
Matt Ryan. He's the next Tom Brady.
Falcons clinch a playoff spot.
Falcons 27, Seahawks 14
New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Without question, the Jets have been the biggest frauds in the league this year. The skid will continue this week.
The Jets won close games that they really shouldn't have against Cleveland, Detroit and Houston. But were also blanked by the Packers and dominated by the Patriots. Now they've been straight up beaten by the Dolphins in a game that was really a battle for field position.
The Steelers have done better than most anticipated. And the big reason for that is Troy Polamalu and the Steelers' defense.
If it comes to making the big play late in the game, Ben Rothlisburger is a much better player to have running the offense than Mark Sanchez. Pittsburgh can clinch a playoff spot with a win here.
Steelers 17, Jets 6
Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders
The Broncos should really have more wins on the season than they do. Kyle Orton is one of the most accurate passers in the league, but their defense has let them down this year.
The Raiders, meanwhile, have owned their AFC West rivals this year. But they have been unable to find much success elsewhere. They will be looking to improve to 5-0 in their division this year, and keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Denver will be hoping to play spoiler, and could all but eliminate Oakland with a win here.
Broncos 21, Raiders 17
Green Bay Packers @ New England Patriots
Looking at this game on the schedule at the beginning of the season, it would have had potential to be the game of the year, and a possible Super Bowl preview.
Then the Patriots went on a mission to absolutely demolish every team they face, and have succeeded in doing so. New England has been absolutely savage, battering opponents into humiliating defeats. They have won their last two games by a total of 81-10.
They have beaten the Chargers, Colts, Jets, Steelers and Ravens, taking care of all the competition in the AFC, and have dominated the NFC for the past decade. Tom Brady has thrown 29 touchdowns this season against only four interceptions, and he hasn't thrown a pick in the past six games.
Meanwhile, the Packers have fallen short of expectations this year. Their offensive line cannot block against even the worst of defenses, they have no running game and now quarterback Aaron Rodgers is a big question mark for this week's game, having suffered his second concussion on the season.
So much for game of the year.
The New England steamroller moves on, as Brady and the Patriots continue their march toward a fourth Super Bowl victory.
Patriots 38, Packers 10
Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings
Now that the location has been settled on (University of Minnesota's outdoor TCF Bank Stadium), the Bears will look to get back on track with a win against a struggling Vikings team. With the pressure now off Brett Favre, the team can start to build towards the future. The Bears, meanwhile, will be building towards a division title, their first in five years.
Who should be MVP this year?
Following two embarrassing loses, with a combined total of three points scored between both teams, there's nowhere to go but up.
Bears 14, Vikings 10
Projected Standings After Week 15
1. New England Patriots 12-2
2. Pittsburgh Steelers 11-3
3. Jacksonville Jaguars 9-5
4. San Diego Chargers 8-6
Wild Card Teams
5. Baltimore Ravens 9-5
6. New York Jets 9-5
1. Atlanta Falcons 12-2
2. New York Giants 10-4
3. Chicago Bears 10-4
4. St Louis Rams 7-7
Wild Card Teams
5. New Orleans Saints 11-3
6. Philadelphia Eagles 9-5