Separating the boys from the men...that's what Week 14 of the 2011 NFL season is all about.
Are the San Francisco 49ers for real, or will they be exposed and passed by the New Orleans Saints for the No. 2 seed in the NFC? Are the Baltimore Ravens ready to take their place atop the AFC, or can the Houston Texans hold on with their third-string quarterback?
The biggest question surrounds the Green Bay Packers. Will the Packers finally lose this week?
Find out who will win, who will lose and what each team must do to secure a victory in Week 14.
When Atlanta Has the Ball
The Falcons have struggled to run the ball this year. This should be the week Michael Turner breaks out and carries the Atlanta offense on his back.
With two rookies at defensive tackle and two starters missing at linebacker, the Carolina secondary has a giant hole in the middle of the field. Atlanta will let Turner lose behind Joe Hawley and co. on the inside of the Falcon offensive line.
Carolina has to find a way to get ahead and force Atlanta into passing situations. If the Panthers can force the ball into Matt Ryan's hands, they have the talent to pressure him in the backfield. If they cannot stop Turner, though, the game will be lost.
When Carolina Has the Ball
The Carolina Panthers are an exciting offensive team to watch. Whether it's an option run with Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams or a bomb to Steve Smith, the Panthers are fun to watch with the football.
Fun and games have their place, but to win games the Panthers must learn to get a lead and then control the clock and pace of the game with a power run game. Too often the Panthers have found themselves playing from behind, which allows them to unleash Newton's rocket arm. It doesn't result in wins, though, and at the end of the day that's what matters.
Atlanta will bring the heat off the edge, especially if Ray Edwards is back this week. The Atlanta linebackers are fast enough to spy Newton, but they'll have to play double duty in covering tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen. If Newton can hit his tight ends early and get the Atlanta safeties creeping up, he'll have his shots downfield.
Prediction: Atlanta 34, Carolina 23
When Jacksonville Has the Ball
The Jacksonville Jaguars should ask their fans to spend a little extra time in prayer for rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert this week.
The Jaguars know they will have to throw the football this week. The secondary for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is their weak link defensively, and they can be picked apart by a solid zone passing game. That actually favors the strength of Gabbert, who does well in a shotgun set at throwing underneath.
The bad news is that the Tampa strength of late is its ability to rush the quarterback. The Jaguars have an underrated offensive line, but they do not have an answer for Adrian Clayborn or Da'Quan Bowers' recent play.
When Tampa Bay Has the Ball
Tampa Bay needs big games from its 2010 playmakers Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Mike Williams. The trio has been disappointing this season, and the Tampa offense has limped through the season waiting for consistency from its young stars.
The Bucs' strength is their passing game, but they do not have the players to match up with a fast, aggressive Jaguar defense. They'll need to play mistake-free football to win this one.
The Jaguars will want to pin back their ears and go after whomever is in at quarterback for Tampa. Getting past Donald Penn won't be easy, but the rest of this offensive line is beatable.
Prediction: Tampa 17, Jacksonville 14
When Cleveland Has the Ball
No elite wide receivers. Nothing much at tight end. The Browns offense will struggle again this week.
Colt McCoy couldn't buy help right now, and at some point you start to worry about the regression in his game. Even if McCoy was playing like an early Joe Montana, with no talent around him, it wouldn't matter.
I don't expect many points in this game from the away team.
When Pittsburgh Has the Ball
Some weeks, you're just feeling it and everything breaks your way. A fumble bounces into the arms of a wide receiver with nothing but daylight in front of him, every block is executed to perfection and your pass protection is flawless. That's what the Pittsburgh Steelers are up against this week. They're feeling it.
Cleveland's scrappy defense is better than most think, but it is no match for the complete unit of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The game plan for the Steelers should be to turn and hand the ball to Rashard Mendenhall as much as possible.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 35, Cleveland 17
When Philadelphia Has the Ball
Forget about Michael Vick. Forget about Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson and Steve Smith. Write this name down: LeSean McCoy.
How do the Eagles end their slump and start living up to expectations? By ignoring the Andy Reid offense of the last five seasons and pounding the rock with their most talented offensive player. Yes, that's McCoy, not Vick.
Vick should be a complementary factor in the Philadelphia offense, not the focus. That's what should happen. No one can predict what Reid will actually do.
The Miami defense has been stingy, but it can be run on if the Eagles get an early lead and commit to bounding the rock.
When Miami Has the Ball
The Dolphins have to scheme to protect Matt Moore from the outside pass rush. Both Trent Cole and Jason Babin are dangerous, with Babin having another Pro Bowl season. A failure to account for them will result in negative plays in the backfield.
The Eagles should feel confident putting their cornerbacks on an island this week and loading the box to stop the Miami run game. If they can get pressure on Moore, they can beat him, but they'll have to stop the run and get points on the board if they want to force Miami into passing situations.
Prediction: Miami 27, Philadelphia 21
When Houston Has the Ball
Expect to see a lot of Arian Foster and Ben Tate in this one.
The Cincinnati defense is stout, but the Texans sport a run game unlike any other team in the NFL. With rookie T.J. Yates taking the reins at quarterback, Houston will rely on the run game to get the points they need this week.
Cincinnati's banged up in the secondary, but its front seven is lethal. They have the speed and power to cause problems for Houston's one-two punch at running back.
When Cincinnati Has the Ball
The Bengals need a mistake-free game from rookie quarterback Andy Dalton if they are to win this week. A heavy dose of Dalton and A.J. Green may be needed this week, as the Texans are able to shut down even the best run games in the NFL.
This will be a tough week for the Cincinnati offense, but it shouldn't have to score much to overcome a Houston team running with its third-string quarterback in the lineup.
The Texans need to get Connor Barwin pressing left tackle Andrew Whitworth early. Whitworth has struggled with speed rushers, and Barwin has been on a tear lately.
Prediction: Cincinnati 17, Houston 13
When Indianapolis Has the Ball
Watch out for the Dan Orlovksy express!
The Colts looked as good Sunday afternoon as they have all season—and while that's not saying much, it's still something. The Colts are in tatters, but the play of Orlovsky against a patchwork New England Patriot secondary was at least a small silver lining on a very dark cloud of a season.
The Colts should hope to leave this game injury free. Points will be at an all-time low in this one. At least for the Colts.
When Baltimore Has the Ball
Ray Rice is coming off an awesome 204-yard game against the Cleveland Browns. He can expect a big workload again this week against the NFL's third-worst rushing defense. The game plan is simple—run Rice to victory.
There's not much you can say about the Colts' chances on defense this week. Middle linebacker Pat Angerer has been good, but he alone won't be able to step up and stop the Raven run game.
Indianapolis fans can hope for turnovers and a few points that would force Baltimore into passing situations. It's their only hope.
Prediction: Baltimore 42, Indianapolis 10
When Tennessee Has the Ball
The Tennessee game plan will center on getting the ball to Chris Johnson and Javon Ringer between the tackles against a New Orleans Saints defensive line that's giving up chunks of yards in the trenches.
Johnson flashed the burst and speed of his previous seasons last week; this could be the big week we've all been waiting for from Johnson this season. If he fails to get it done, Ringer is more than capable of coming in to carry the load.
When New Orleans Has the Ball
The New Orleans offense is tough to match up against, even for the best teams. If you commit to stopping the run, you leave Jimmy Graham in one-on-one situations against overmatched safeties or linebackers. If you try to bracket Graham, you take a player out of run support. It's a never-ending battle.
The Titans have a good defense full of athletic, young players. What they lack in star power they make up for in sound, technical football. Tennessee will likely use Michael Griffin on Graham, which is a great move, but it'll need its two rookie linebackers—Akeem Ayers and Colin McCarthy—to fill gaps to shut down the run game.
Prediction: New Orleans 31, Tennessee 20
When New England Has the Ball
If ever Bill Belichick had a game where he should hand the ball off to his stable of running backs, this is it. Trust BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley this week and the Patriots win. Guaranteed.
Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan will force Tom Brady to make mistakes if the run game isn't set up. While the Redskins' coverage can be shaky, they do not have anyone who can limit Wes Welker in this game while taking away Rob Gronkowski. LaRon Landry will be a busy man this week.
Keeping Brady clean is the key, and if Nate Solder's play last week is any indication, they need to run the ball to make that happen.
When Washington Has the Ball
I am running out of nice things to say about the Washington Redskins offense. The front office decided to not pursue a quarterback this summer, and it is now paying for its bad decision.
Rex Grossman is maddeningly bad at times, and even against a secondary that started a wide receiver at safety last week, Grossman will find ways to mess up. Guaranteed.
New England has to focus on rushing the passer this week. The right side of the Washington offensive line is very beatable, and the Patriots should find ways to get Andre Carter working opposite Trent Williams this week.
Prediction: New England 38, Washington 26
When New York Has the Ball
Mark Sanchez has to play mistake-free football this week, which is something quarterbacks have struggled to do against Kansas City this season. The Chiefs defense is coming together at the right time, getting great play from Derrick Johnson and Brandon Flowers.
The Jets do not want to make this game about Mark Sanchez. A recipe of heavy running between the tackles, coupled with smart defense and special teams play, should be enough for a win.
If the Chiefs want to win this one, they will need to score points on defense and/or special teams. Their offense won't bail them out. Justin Houston could be in for a big day coming off the right side, and the secondary will have chances against Sanchez.
When Kansas City Has the Ball
As of Monday night there's no clear word on if Tyler Palko or Kyle Orton will start this week, but logic would indicate Orton is the starter if healthy.
The Chiefs are technically still in the playoff race, which means they need to lay everything out on the table this week in their quest for a win. Getting the ball to their playmakers on offense is key. Dwayne Bowe, Jonathan Baldwin and Dexter McCluster have to get touches this week.
The Jets will want to pressure the quarterback, no matter who is in, into making mistakes. Both Palko and Orton are inexperienced in this offense.
Prediction: New York 21, Kansas City 13
When Buffalo Has the Ball
If there was ever a week when the Buffalo Bills needed a big-play player opposite Steve Johnson, this is it.
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills have been so close to a win over the last several weeks. I have a good feeling about Week 14 if Fitzpatrick and Johnson can get going. Without Fred Jackson to bail them out, the Bills will rely heavily on Fitzpatrick to lead them.
I like the matchup of Johnson against the San Diego secondary, but can Fitzpatrick find secondary targets to keep the Charger defense honest?
When San Diego Has the Ball
The Chargers must worry about the potential danger Marcell Dareus can bring to the interior of their offensive line. The Bills aren't a threat with an outside pass rush, but Dareus could bring down the middle of the line himself.
San Diego needs another week from the "good" Philip Rivers and Ryan Mathews. Granted, the duo looked great against Jacksonville; it's promising to see the two producing together at the same time. It also helps that San Diego has Malcom Floyd and Vincent Jackson back healthy.
The Bills will need to find some way to generate pressure off the edge while keeping Dareus at nose tackle if they hope to shut down the Chargers.
Prediction: Buffalo 24, San Diego 17
When Oakland Has the Ball
The Oakland Raider offense has been an enigma all season. Carson Palmer has run hot and cold; this week he's scheduled to be "hot."
The Raiders have the speed to push the Green Bay secondary, especially if Charles Woodson is unable to go (concussion). Without Woodson, the Packers are even more vulnerable in the backfield and will have to scramble to keep up with the speedy Raider receivers.
Green Bay's strength on defense is its ability to force turnovers and create sacks. Clay Matthews will have a tough go against a very smart Raider offensive line, but Palmer is known for his penchant for interceptions. Green Bay should be able to create turnovers this week.
When Green Bay Has the Ball
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
That's the motto in Green Bay this week, where the Packers have won 18 straight games and look unbeatable.
Aaron Rodgers is on pace to have the best season of any quarterback who has ever played the game, and with his five receivers and athletic tight end, the offense is always dangerous.
The Raiders have a good pass rush, especially off the edge, and they'll pressure a bad left tackle in Marshall Newhouse. Rodgers has an unbelievably quick delivery, and he'll need it this week as the Raiders pressure his blind side.
Prediction: Green Bay 42, Oakland 31
When Denver Has the Ball
Tim Tebow's evolution as a passer is somewhere between the "cell" and "cave man" stage, but he's improving nonetheless. Even if his ability as a passer isn't up to par, Tebow isn't preventing wins.
Chicago has the speed, discipline and tenacity to hound a run-first offense from the Denver Broncos. This may be the first time in the last five weeks that a defense really steps up to punch this option scheme in the mouth.
When Chicago Has the Ball
It will be interesting to see what the Chicago Bears do without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte this week. Finding players to fill those shoes will not be easy. The job goes to Caleb Hanie and Marion Barber to lead the team.
Chicago's defense will keep them in this game, but the offensive line of the Bears will face constant pressure from Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil off the edges. That pass-rushing combination will be enough to frustrate Hanie into more interceptions.
Prediction: Denver 17, Chicago 6
When San Francisco Has the Ball
Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are becoming a great one-two punch for the San Francisco offense. With the Arizona Cardinals' strength being their pass rush, look for Jim Harbaugh to work his two backs early and often with plenty of misdirections and delays to throw off the timing of the Arizona front seven.
Alex Smith should be reminded to avoid cornerback Patrick Peterson this week, as this will be a close game and Peterson's knack for taking the ball to the end zone should have Smith playing smart football.
Arizona will get to Smith, especially with Sam Acho crashing the edge, but stopping the run will be too much to handle.
When Arizona Has the Ball
The Arizona Cardinals have played better than their record would indicate, especially over the last three weeks.
With John Skelton at quarterback, the team struggled offensively but managed to win. It looked even better with Kevin Kolb this past week against Dallas.
To beat the San Francisco 49ers, the Cardinals will need a big day from Kolb and Larry Fitzgerald, as the 49er defense will eliminate Chris Wells.
San Francisco hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 34 straight games. That's a streak that will not end this week, even if Patrick Willis misses the game.
Prediction: San Francisco 31, Arizona 20
When St. Louis Has the Ball
The St. Louis Rams offense hasn't been much to pay attention to this season, but there is talent here. With a healthy Sam Bradford getting more comfortable with wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, there's potential to make plays.
Unfortunately, Bradford is out—as is his backup, A.J. Feeley. It could be ugly for the Rams this week with Tom Brandstater under center.
The Seahawk defense has been one of the surprises of the season, and it'll have no trouble shutting down the Rams—even if Bradford were playing.
When Seattle Has the Ball
Somebody get Marshawn Lynch some Skittles. He's about to go off this week.
The St. Louis defense is ranked dead last against the run. It'll be ill-prepared for the power running of Lynch. Mix in improved play from Tarvaris Jackson and the Seahawks could be a juggernaut waiting to happen. OK, maybe not a juggernaut, but they can easily beat the St. Louis Rams.
Prediction: Seattle 30, St. Louis 10
When Minnesota Has the Ball
As of Monday night, it's unknown if Adrian Peterson will be back by this week's game. The ability of Peterson to go will make a big impact on the outcome of this game. Without Peterson, the Vikings become more of a passing team, even if Toby Gerhart is proving his worth in Peterson's absence.
Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder is improving each week, and unlike a rookie quarterback in Jacksonville, he has the front office excited about the future, but he's not quite ready to take over a ballgame on his own accord just yet.
Detroit would love to pressure Minnesota into making this a shootout, where it can pressure Ponder with a very good pass rush. With Ndamukong Suh still out due to suspension, the Lions will need to find a pass rush from the outside—something they struggled to do in Week 13.
When Detroit Has the Ball
It has been four games since Calvin Johnson went over 100 yards receiving. Either something is seriously wrong with Matthew Stafford's hand or the Lions are afraid to test the double-team being thrown at Johnson.
The key for the Lions this week isn't about blocking or catching; it's about keeping their cool. If they can avoid penalties and simply execute their game plan, they have the talent to beat the Vikings without getting tricky.
Prediction: Detroit 30, Minnesota 17
When New York Has the Ball
When planning to attack the Dallas Cowboys defense, the first thing you do is circle No. 94. That's DeMarcus Ware. Whatever you do, go away from him.
The Giants will need a big day from the left side of their line, a side that's been torn apart by injury, if they plan to stop Ware. No one player in this game will more heavily dictate the outcome than the pass-rusher who will give Eli Manning nightmares for the next week.
New York should attempt to run the ball early, which may lull Ware into a mistake. That's when it can try to strike deep to Hakeem Nicks or Victor Cruz. The last thing New York wants is to make this a shootout.
When Dallas Has the Ball
Tony Romo will be able to empathize with Eli Manning this week—he will be having his own pass-rusher nightmares, starring Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck.
Romo has the benefit of a much better offensive line, a healthy No. 1 running back in DeMarco Murray and a tight end in Jason Witten who excels at sitting in zones when Romo is pressured—and he'll be pressured plenty this week.
The Giants will want to get to Romo and hit him early, as he is known to fall apart mentally when hit frequently. The speed is there for New York to do this, but the secondary of the Giants is also overmatched against the Dallas receivers.
Prediction: Dallas 31, New York 23