NFL Week 14 Preview: Playoff Berths Are On the Line
The Raiders (!), Seahawks and Patriots can all clinch playoff berths this week. Here’s a preview of what to expect in Week 14 of the 2016 NFL season:
Thursday, December 8
The AFC West Could Be All But Decided This Week
Oakland at Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on NBC
The AFC West-leading Raiders (let that settle) visit the Chiefs this week with hopes of avenging the only divisional/conference loss they suffered this season. Kansas City (9–3) beat up on Oakland (10–2) by a 26-10 score on October 16. Led by Spencer Ware, the Chiefs offense ran over the Raiders defense that day, something that could happen again this Thursday night in a loud Arrowhead Stadium.
K.C. will need to use a ball control offense to keep Oakland’s high-scoring unit off the field. If the Chiefs can’t get to Derek Carr, the Raiders’ MVP candidate has shown that he can make a defense pay dearly. Either way, the winner of this game will have the inside track to the AFC West title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. Oakland can clinch a playoff berth this week with a win and a loss by Miami or Denver.
Sunday, December 11
The AFC South Is a Three-Way Fight
Denver at Tennessee | Nissan Stadium, Nashville; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Houston at Indianapolis | Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Tennessee (6–6), Indianapolis (6–6) and Houston (6–6) are all tied atop the mediocre — but competitive — AFC South. The Titans host the Broncos this Sunday, while the Colts and Texans face each other in Indy. One of these teams will win the division title and advance to the postseason, but the others seem likely to be playing golf in January.
Houston has the best talent and the easiest schedule, but quarterback Brock Osweiler, who ranks a dismal 31st in passer rating, has been a colossal free agent bust. If he can’t engineer wins in three of these last four games against leaky defenses, like the Colts 28th-ranked unit, the Texans are toast in 2016.
Indianapolis has won three of four games, but the Colts haven’t shown they can beat a quality opponent, even with a healthy Andrew Luck under center. They still have to face the Vikings and Raiders, too.
Tennessee has the brightest future among these teams. The Titans offensive line is one of the league’s best, and it will need to be again this weekend against Denver (8–4), which hopes to pressure blossoming young quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Are the Packers Back? The Seahawks Will Tell Us.
Seattle at Green Bay | Lambeau Field, Green Bay; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Green Bay (6–6) looked lifeless while losing four consecutive games from October 30 through November 20. The Packers then beat the middling Eagles and Texans to climb back into the NFC North/Wild Card picture. Is the Pack back? We’ll know by Sunday night.
The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West title with a win or tie and an Arizona loss to Miami. Seattle (8–3–1) rebounded from an embarrassing loss to Tampa Bay in Week 12 to crush Carolina last week and reassert themselves as one of the NFC’s best teams. They did lose safety Earl Thomas to a broken leg, something Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is sure to have noticed. If Rodgers can lead his offense past the vaunted Seattle defense, Green Bay will stay in the playoff and divisional title mix. If not, they won’t.
The Cowboys Can Clinch the NFC East
Dallas at N.Y. Giants | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC
As those obnoxious Cowboys fans whom you haven’t heard from in years have told you on Facebook, Dallas (11–1) has already clinched an NFC playoff berth. The Cowboys, who can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, have played better than any other team this season … any other team except the Giants, of course.
Wait … WHAT? Well, it’s technically true. New York (8–4) did beat Dallas 20-19 in Week 1. The Cowboys haven’t lost since, while the Giants have stumbled a few times, specifically against the Vikings, Packers, Redskins and Steelers. Teams with high-powered passing offenses can beat Big Blue. New York does have the league’s fifth-best run defense, which could challenge the dominant Dallas running attack.
If the Giants are able to stuff stud rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will have to lead his team to victory. At this point, don’t doubt Dak. A Dallas win plus a Detroit loss or tie or a Seattle loss would give the Cowboys a first-round bye. If Dallas wins and the Lions and Seahawks both lose, the Cowboys clinch home-field advantage through the NFC title game.
Monday, December 12
The Patriots Are ThisClose to the Playoffs. Again.
Baltimore at New England | Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
Hate them all you want, but New England (10–2) is an AFC juggernaut. Even in a year when future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season, the Patriots have played like the Super Bowl contenders they always seem to be. If Brady can find a way to beat (or tie) AFC North-leading Baltimore (7–5) and Miami loses to Arizona, the Pats will clinch their eighth consecutive AFC East title.
The Ravens have the NFL’s best defense, but they may have a hard time stopping Brady. Baltimore’s bigger question is whether or not last week’s offensive outburst against the Dolphins was a fluke. If the Ravens attack is putting up points, they may make this game — and the AFC playoff picture — very interesting.
Sunday, December 11
Pittsburgh at Buffalo | New Era Field, Buffalo, N.Y.; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Washington at Philadelphia | Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Arizona at Miami | Hard Rock Stadium, Miami; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
San Diego at Carolina | Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Cincinnati at Cleveland | FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Chicago at Detroit | Ford Field, Detroit; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Minnesota at Jacksonville | EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
N.Y. Jets at San Francisco | Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on CBS
New Orleans at Tampa Bay | Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Atlanta at Los Angeles | Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on FOX