NFL Week 14: Biggest Takeaways from Sunday's Games

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonContributor IDecember 12, 2022

NFL Week 14: Biggest Takeaways from Sunday's Games

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    Brock Purdy
    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    In Week 14, we saw the first NFL team punch its ticket to the playoffs, and that squad looks like its peaked at the right time.

    Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport broke down the Philadelphia Eagles' significant win over the New York Giants, and we'll discuss some of the teams chasing them in the standings.

    Philadelphia isn't the only club on a hot streak lately.

    The Cincinnati Bengals cleared an important division obstacle en route to their fifth consecutive victory, and the Buffalo Bills have tightened their grip on a division lead. Both teams are in the mix for a first-round playoff bye on the AFC side of the postseason bracket.

    On the other hand, a few playoff contenders have lost some momentum or head into the final four weeks of the season with glaring defensive weaknesses, which raised our concerns.

    Lastly, a rookie quarterback had a strong debut as a starter for a playoff contender. With his calm demeanor and solid play, he seems built to lead his squad down a crucial stretch into the postseason.

    Let's dive into the biggest takeaways from Sunday's games.

Brock Purdy Has Gone from Mr. Irrelevant to Mr. Right Now For the 49ers

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    Brock Purdy
    Michael Owens/Getty Images

    Rookie seventh-rounder Brock Purdy helped lead the San Francisco 49ers to a blowout 35-7 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He looked poised in the pocket and had an efficient day, completing 16 out of 21 pass attempts for 185 yards and two touchdowns.

    While Purdy did his part, the 49ers defense provided significant help, limiting the Buccaneers to 4.4 yards per play. Safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. and linebacker Dre Greenlaw picked off quarterback Tom Brady, who finished with a 63.7 passer rating.

    As usual, head coach Kyle Shanahan aided his quarterback with an effective ground attack that racked up 209 rushing yards and three touchdowns, which included Purdy's two carries for three yards and a score. Christian McCaffrey rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

    On an unfortunate note, following a rush attempt up the middle, Deebo Samuel exited the game with an ankle injury. Hall of Famer Jerry Rice didn't like the play call. Shanahan thinks the versatile wideout suffered a high ankle sprain, but he doesn't have an official word on the injury.

    Despite Samuel's uncertain status, the 49ers should feel optimistic about their offense with Purdy under center. In his first NFL start, he didn't seem overwhelmed by the speed of the pro game.

    For the most part, the Iowa State product threw an accurate ball, though wideout Brandon Aiyuk had to slow down for his touchdown pass. With the help around him, he's capable of leading San Francisco to a division title.

    Shanahan has turned the last pick of the 2022 draft into a viable starter under short notice, which is a testament to the team's coaching staff and Purdy's ability to run the offense without much experience.

Panthers Are the Biggest Threat to the Buccaneers in the NFC South

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    Sam Darnold
    Jane Gershovich/Getty Images

    A lot of prognosticators wrote off the Carolina Panthers after they fired head coach Matt Rhule following a 37-15 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 5. However, they've shown some fight over the past month, with victories in three of their last four contests, including Sunday's 30-24 victory at Seattle.

    Because the Panthers (5-8) play in a weak division with all four teams below .500, they have a crucial final four-game stretch. In the next two weeks, Carolina will host the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions, then go on the road to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints. They've beaten the latter two teams this season.

    The Buccaneers (6-7) lead the NFC South, but they haven't looked impressive. Tampa Bay needed a late fourth-quarter comeback to top the Saints 17-16 in Week 13, and the squad lost 35-7 to the 49ers on Sunday.

    Believe it or not, Steve Wilks could follow in Rich Bisaccia's footsteps as an interim head coach to lead his team to the playoffs. The former could redeem himself after a 3-13 one-and-done head-coaching stint with the Arizona Cardinals in 2018.

    Furthermore, quarterback Sam Darnold, who went No. 3 overall to the New York Jets in the 2018 draft, has an opportunity to showcase himself in some big games with his second team. After two months on injured reserve with a high ankle sprain, he's only played in two games this season.

    With that said about Darnold, Carolina has a run-first offensive identity with running backs D'Onta Foreman and Chuba Hubbard in the backfield—the two combined for 148 yards on 35 carries against the Seahawks. The Panthers also present challenges with their defense, allowing an average of 15.5 points and forcing six turnovers over their past four games.

    Wilks, Darnold and a forgotten Panthers squad could shock a lot of people in a push to host a playoff game.

Bills Avenge Loss to Jets, Stay in Control of AFC East

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    Greg Rousseau
    Elsa/Getty Images

    In the middle of the season, the Buffalo Bills hit a rough patch with back-to-back losses to the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings as quarterback Josh Allen struggled with turnovers (six interceptions and a lost fumble between Weeks 8 and 10), but they're back on track after a 20-12 win over Gang Green.

    On Sunday, the Bills had a gritty snow game with the Jets. While they didn't put together an offensive masterpiece, the defense limited New York to one end-zone trip.

    Without edge-rusher Von Miller (torn ACL), Buffalo can still win low-scoring games thanks to a strong front seven that features Greg Rousseau, Ed Oliver, Shaq Lawson, DaQuan Jones, Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano. The Bills recorded four sacks and five tackles for loss Sunday.

    Allen only completed 16 out of 27 pass attempts for 147 yards and a touchdown, but he also ran for 47 yards and a score to propel his team to victory.

    Still in the running for the AFC's No. 1 seed, the Bills can beat their opponents in multiple ways, which is the mark of a quality playoff contender.

Brian Daboll's Big Blue Magic Is Wearing Off

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    Brian Daboll
    Al Bello/Getty Images

    The New York Giants had a 7-2 record at one point, but they've dropped three of their last four games and tied with the Washington Commanders in Week 13. Big Blue then ran into a buzzsaw in the Philadelphia Eagles, who beat them 48-22 at MetLife Stadium in New York.

    Early in the season, the head coach Brian Daboll and offensive coordinator Mike Kafka did a lot with an uninspiring group of skill players. Running back Saquon Barkley carried an offense that featured Darius Slayton as the lone consistent playmaker at wide receiver. The former leads the team in catches (42), while the latter has racked up the most receiving yards for the club (608).

    However, Barkley's production has taken a nosedive over the previous four games. Since Week 11, he's racked up 216 scrimmage yards. For comparison, the Giants running back accumulated 135-plus scrimmage yards in four games between Weeks 1 and 10.

    Barkley went into Sunday's game with the questionable tag because of a neck issue. With his recent struggles coupled with an injury, he's not a reliable workhorse for the Giants offense, which raises doubt about the team's playoff hopes.

    New York will finish its season with three of its last four games on the road, facing the Commanders (7-5-1), Minnesota Vikings (10-3) and Eagles (12-1) in those contests.

    Daboll and his coaching staff will have to work miracles to lead Big Blue into the postseason with that tough slate.

Lions Further Exposed Vikings' Troubling Defensive Issues

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    Cameron Dantzler Sr. gives up a touchdown to DJ Chark.
    AP Photo/Paul Sancya

    Somewhat lost in the Minnesota Vikings' 10-3 record are their major defensive issues up front and in the secondary. The Vikings have allowed 120-plus rushing yards in five of their last six contests while giving up 307-plus passing yards in five consecutive outings.

    The Detroit Lions contributed to those streaks, racking up 34 points and 464 yards of offense in a 34-23 win over Minnesota on Sunday, but we should've seen this coming a mile away.

    In Week 11, the Dallas Cowboys shredded the Vikings defense for 458 total yards and 40 points, but Minnesota rebounded with a couple of wins over the New England Patriots and New York Jets.

    With that said, those AFC East clubs went into Week 14 with offenses that rank 18th or worse in yards and points per game, yet both squads recorded 22-plus points and 409-plus yards against the Vikings.

    Even with the return of defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson last week and cornerback Cameron Dantzler Sr. on Sunday, defensive coordinator Ed Donatell has to make some tweaks to the game plan or his personnel for better results.

    Fortunately for the Vikings, they won't play a top-18 scoring offense for the remainder of the season, but if the Patriots and Jets had success moving the ball with bottom-half-ranked offensive attacks, Minnesota's defense could face tough challenges as the team tries to close out the year with an NFC North title.

Titans' Midseason Turbulence Raises Questions About Their Playoff Vitality

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    Derrick Henry
    AP Photo/Chris Szagola

    What's happened to the Tennessee Titans? They're usually a well-coaching competitive team under lead skipper Mike Vrabel, but the club has lost three consecutive games with back-to-back 14-plus-point defeats.

    Early this week, the Titans fired their general manager, Jon Robinson, which raised eyebrows around the league with the season in progress and the team's lead in the AFC South division.

    Per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, Titans brass had a problem with the team's direction even though the club gave him an extension back in February. Tennessee's top decision-makers may have an even bigger problem with the squad's recent struggles.

    Even though running back Derrick Henry eclipsed 87 rushing yards for the first time since Week 9, his 121 yards on the ground didn't help the Titans keep pace with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who scored 29 unanswered points between the second and fourth quarters.

    Like the Minnesota Vikings, the Titans' have had alarming defensive lapses. Tennessee has allowed at least 414 total yards in four games (including Sunday) this season. Though the Titans field a stout top-three run defense, they went into Week 14 with the 31st-ranked pass defense.

    Looking ahead, the Titans will face the Los Angeles Chargers, who have the sixth-ranked passing attack, a Dallas Cowboys squad that can score in flurries with quarterback Dak Prescott healthy and the Jaguars in the season finale.

    All of the sudden, Tennessee doesn't seem like a lock to win the AFC South with a two-game lead over Jacksonville. If the Jaguars string together a late-season win streak, they'll make the Titans uncomfortable in a race for the division title.

Joe Burrow Clears Division Hurdle as Bengals Stay Hot

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    Joe Burrow
    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Typically, the team that lost in the previous Super Bowl has to shake off a football "hangover," but the Cincinnati Bengals look like they'll have a chance to extend their AFC title reign.

    The Bengals' Super Bowl stupor lasted about two weeks, but after an 0-2 start, Cincinnati has gone 9-2, and it avenged one of those losses on Sunday with a 23-10 win over the Cleveland Browns.

    Cincinnati controlled the contest from start to finish and didn't trail Cleveland at any point in the game. Quarterback Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase lit up the Browns' defense on 10 completions for 119 yards and a touchdown.

    The Bengals attacked their division rival with a balanced approach, rushing for 136 yards and a score on the ground. Cincinnati's defense only allowed one touchdown on three red-zone trips.

    While the Bengals should beat a Browns squad that's well below .500 (5-8), Burrow earned his first win over Cleveland. Now, the third-year quarterback can put that mental hurdle behind him as Cincinnati remains tied with the Baltimore Ravens atop the AFC North division.

    In Week 18, the Bengals will have an opportunity to even their season series with the Ravens, who have two injured quarterbacks in Lamar Jackson (PCL) and Tyler Huntley (concussion protocol). If Baltimore loses some momentum in the coming weeks, Cincinnati may host the Ravens with the division lead.

    Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.