Sunday Morning Under the Helmet: What to Watch for in NFL Week 14

Alex JohnsonCorrespondent IDecember 13, 2009

DENVER - OCTOBER 15:  Defensive End Elvis Dumervil #92 of the Denver Broncos celebrates a sack on quarterback Andrew Walter of the Oakland Raiders with linebacker Ian Gold #52 in the first quarter on October 15, 2006 at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver, Colorado.  The Broncos lead 10-0 in the second quarter.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

It's another great day for football! Here's a look at what to watch for in Week 14.

Matchup of the Week: San Diego Chargers (9-3) at  Dallas Cowboys (8-4)

Last week we asked the question: can the Dallas Cowboys find a way to win in December? But, as they have done often in the final month since 2006, the Cowboys lost.

Today the Cowboys host the 9-3 San Diego Chargers who are 15-0 in December since '06, the longest such streak in NFL history. Since starting this season 2-3, the Chargers have won seven in a row and are one of the league's hottest teams.

Both teams are trying to remain first in their respective divisions as the Cowboys have the 8-4 Eagles breathing down their necks and the Bolts have the 8-4 Denver Broncos knocking on their door.

The play of Phillip Rivers could be the biggest factor in each team's quest at holding onto first place.

Rivers, who is experiencing an MVP caliber season so far for the Chargers, has thrown for 3,311 yards with 21 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He has a quarterback rating of 104.9 which is third behind the Saints' Drew Brees and Brett Favre of the Vikings.

Rivers has thrown for 300+ yards and two touchdowns in each of his last two games. He has a completion percentage of 72.0 percent or higher in each of his last four games.

His top two targets, Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, are also playing very well right now.

Gates leads the team in receptions and receiving yards with 67 and 994, respectively, he also has four touchdown catches.

Jackson has 51 catches for 869 yards and a team high seven receiving touchdowns.

But the high powered Chargers offense (3rd in points per game with 28.5) have been pretty one-dimensional this season.

San Diego ranks sixth in passing but 30th in rushing yards. They're averaging just 88.7 yards per game on the ground and at times are predictable.

The Cowboys are a bit more balanced. They rank seventh in passing and eighth in rushing yards. They also rank 11th in points per game with 23.2.

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo is having a Pro Bowl season himself. Through 12 games, Romo has thrown for 3,325 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has a rating of 96.3.

But it will be the running game that will be the key to the 'Boys' late season success (or lack thereof).

Marion Barber leads the team with 669 rushing yards but has only topped 100 yards once this season and that was all the way back in Week Two. Barber, along with Felix Jones and Tashard Choice, have to find a way to run the ball better if they're going to win in the final month of the season and into the play-offs.

Keys to the game

-Rivers and Romo

-Which team can run the ball better?

-Quarterback protection

Prediction: Chargers win 38-27.

Small Names, Big Games

Here we will take a look at three non-superstars who will post big numbers in Week 14.

Fred Jackson (RB, Buffalo)

Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch have shared the starting running back job for the Buffalo Bills all season long. But despite Lynch's success in past seasons, Jackson has seen the majority of the carries and has had a few big games to show for it.

Jackson is averaging 4.1 yards per carry and has totalled 919 yards from scrimmage this season.

This week the Bills go against the Chiefs who rank 27th against the run.

Look for Jackson to have another big game both rushing and receiving this afternoon.

Davone Bess (WR, Miami)

Second year receiver Davone Bess leads the Miami Dolphins in receptions and receiving yards thus far in 2009.

Last week in Miami's 22-21 victory over New England, Bess caught 10 passes for 117 yards, both career highs. He also had a 13 yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.

Today, Bess and the Dolphins head to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars who rank 24th against the pass. Bess could have another big performance this week.

Quinton Ganther (RB, Washington)

With all the injuries in the Redskins backfield, running back Quinton Ganther is expected to make his first career start this afternoon against the Raiders.

Ganther has carried the ball 19 times for 88 yards so far this season including eight rushes for 46 yards in last week's loss to the Saints.

Ganther, an Oakland native, will replace Rock Cartwright atop the 'Skins depth chart and could have some success. The Raiders rank 30th against the run and are allowing an average of 158.7 yards per game to opposing rushing attacks.

Don't be surprised if Ganther makes a few big plays in the run game this afternoon.

To Watch: Chris Brown (RB, Houston), Ray Rice (RB, Baltimore), J.P. Foschi (TE, Cincinnati)

Upset Alert!: Denver (8-4) over Indianapolis (12-0)???

For the third consecutive week the Indianapolis Colts are featured in this section, but in the previous two weeks have found ways to win despite the predictions. Is the third time the charm?

The Colts are attempting to break the record for longest regular season winning streak in NFL history. They're currently tied with the '06-'08 Patriots with 21. (However, the '03-'04 Pats still comfortably hold the longest winning streak, including playoffs, in league history)

The Broncos have a good chance to finally put an end to that streak today.

But to do so, Denver will have to stop the Colts' best weapon: Peyton Manning.

Manning leads the NFL in passing yards with 3,685 yards. He also has thrown for 25 touchdowns. He has a quarterback rating of 101.9.

Manning's top receiver, Reggie Wayne, is third in the NFL with 83 catches and sixth with 1,035 yards.

Dallas Clark, the team's tight end, is fifth in catches with 77, tops for his position.

So how do the Denver Broncos counter the Manning-Wayne-Clark trio?

Elvis Dumervil.

Dumervil leads the NFL with 15.0 sacks. He has dominated all season long.

Dumervil is just one sack away from tying the franchise record of 16 set by Simon Fletcher in 1992. Dumervil is on pace for 20 sacks and could possibly break Michael Strahan's record of 22.5.

The Colts will have to find a way to stop Dumervil, especially on third downs. Dumervil is one short of the NFL record for sacks on third downs. He currently has 10.

The Broncos also boast the league's third ranked defense. They've held opponents to just 16.8 points per game. They're also second against the pass and third in total yards allowed.

The keys to stopping Manning have always been to get pressure and take away his top targets. As cited above, Denver has that dominant pass rusher, and with Champ Bailey having a great season at cornerback, they've got that shut down defensive back. So maybe, just maybe, this defense will be able to put a stop to Manning.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Broncos will likely try to attack the Colts' weak secondary. Indy is 19th against the pass and have injuries in their defensive backfield.

Kyle Orton and Brandon Marshall could have their way in the passing attack.

The Broncos will also need to win the time of possession battle. Running a lot with rookie Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter could make that possible.

Keys for DEN

-Put pressure on Peyton Manning

-Shut down Wayne and Clark

-Control time of possession

-Stretch the field with Brandon Marshall

Prediction: Broncos win 30-21


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