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NFL Week 14: Ten Things You Need To Know

Crunch time is now here in the NFL, the end of Week 14 will see just three regular season games remaining. For the San Francisco 49ers, Tenn


Crunch time is now here in the NFL, the end of Week 14 will see just three regular season games remaining. For the San Francisco 49ers, Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions, Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers, they join the Cleveland Browns as the eliminated teams from playoff contention. But what about at the top end of the NFL tree? Let’s take a look at how the playoff picture is shaping up after Sunday’s games: 1. The Cincinnati Bengals could have confirmed their appearance in the playoffs by beating AFC North foes the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday. However, a 33-20 loss was the least of their concerns. Both quarterback Andy Dalton and tight end Tyler Eifert were ruled out of the game, with Dalton seemingly having a fracture to his throwing thumb, and he was seen in a hard cast on the sideline. The playoffs are almost confirmed, but their ambitions hinge massively on the availability of Dalton, who has been a revelation this season. With the loss to the Steelers, the AFC North is not quite as secure as it was, either. Bengals fans, if there is a time to be nervy, it is now. 2. With all the hype surrounding the Denver defense, it was Oakland‘s defense that stole the plaudits in the on Sunday, and one man in particular stood out. Khalil Mack had his best game of his two-year NFL career, compiling an NFL game-best five sacks, including a strip-sack for a safety, as the Raiders ran out 15-12 winners in Denver. The loss marked the first time the Broncos had dropped a game under quarterback Brock Osweiler, who was kept quiet in the second half by a ferocious pass rush and hampered by several drops from receivers. The Raiders actually had -12 yards of offense in the first half, but was able to to get ahead thanks to a Derek Carr pass to Mychal Rivera. Although they bizarrely, and unsuccessfully, went for a two-point conversion when leading by 3, the Raiders hung on to prevent the Broncos from claiming the provisional number 1 seeding in the AFC. 3. Meanwhile, the other AFC South contenders Indianapolis and Jacksonville squared off, and it wasn’t even close. The Jaguars scored 42 second half points as they romped the Colts 51-16, while keeping themselves right in the mix to win the AFC South. While the Colts slip to 6-7, the Jaguars move to 5-8 to put even more pressure on the Colts and Texans. Blake Bortles remained interception-free for the second straight week, finding his usual targets of the Allen’s, Hurns and Robinson, and Julius Thomas for a touch down each, as well a rushing touchdown for himself. With Andrew Luck still not fully on the mend, Bortles represents the most competent starter at quarterback in the AFC South, and that could be crucial in the final few games of the season. 4. On a day where everything went right for the New England Patriots, they held up their end of the bargain by beating the Houston Texans 27-6 to claim their first win in three games and wrap up a confirmed playoff birth. Those losses now seem insignificant, with the Patriots reclaiming the number 1 seeding in the AFC, and despite their raft of injuries, seem to have the main thing in place over their nearest contenders that will keep them there: an established quarterback. Tom Brady welcomed back Rob Gronkowski from injury last night, and should have Julian Edelman return in the not so distant future. Meanwhile, the Texans failed to claim a game lead in the AFC South, as they fall to a 6-7 record to remain tied with the Colts, while they both simultaneously let Jacksonville back into the AFC South party. 5. There might not be a better quarterback playing right now than the Seattle Seahawks‘ Russell Wilson. In his past four games, he has 16 touchdown throws to no interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 139.6. On Sunday, Wilson had five touchdown passes, including three to wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who has eight touchdown grabs in his last three games, to lift the Seattle Seahawks 35-6 over the Baltimore Ravens. Expect Wilson’s name to be mentioned in the NFL MVP race along with Cam Newton. With the Arizona Cardinals all but confirmed to win the NFC West, the Seahawks will be the team to avoid in the NFC wild card picture come January. One concern: running back Thomas Rawls left the game in the first quarter with a broken ankle, ending his season. Already missing Marshawn Lynch, the Seahawks are down to Fred Jackson and DeJuan Harris at that position. 6. Speaking of Cam Newton, he had 265 passing yards and three touchdowns in a blowout of the Atlanta Falcons 38-0. The game was so comfortable for Carolina that Derek Anderson relieved Newton twice during the course of the game, including for the entire fourth quarter. That victory was good enough to send the Panthers to 13-0, and guarantee them a first round bye in the playoffs. There were some injury scares for the Panthers, with Newton and tight end Greg Olsen receiving extended treatment and missing plays, as well as running back Jonathan Stewart having to leave the game early, but they are healthy, rolling and undefeated entering Week 15. 7. James Starks scored two touchdowns as the Green Bay Packers may have finally put the nails in the Dallas Cowboys‘ coffin, with a 28-7 victory at Lambeau Field. Thanks to wins for the Redskins and the Eagles, and with the Giants still to play on Monday, the Cowboys needed to win to stay in contention in the NFC East. However, a Green Boy offense that handed the play calling duties back to head coach Mike McCarthy managed to wear down a resilient Dallas defense to lift Packers to victory. Running back Eddy Lacy also had a score and 24 carries for 124 yards, season best marks in an improved ground effort. Matt Cassel and the Cowboys’ offense struggled to move the ball all game, and it’s fair to say that the absence of starting quarterback Tony Romo for the majority of the season put paid to Dallas’ playoff hopes, long before their fate was sealed on Sunday. 8. The New York Jets have turned it around after their midseason wobble, beating the Tennessee Titans 30-8 on Sunday to win their third straight game for the first time since 2011. They have been led through the stretch by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw for three touchdowns to no interceptions, taking his tally to nine touchdowns without a pick in his past three games. A veteran signal caller has been something that the Jets has sorely lacked in their past few season, and Fitzpatrick has shown the smarts and the playmaking ability to guide Gang Green to a competitive state in the AFC. He has been helped by the play of his top two wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Decker has a touchdown grab in every home game this season, while Marshall went over 100 receiving yards for the eight time this year. 9. The LeSean McCoy/Chip Kelly Bowl ended well for the latter, as the Philadelphia Eagles squeaked past the Buffalo Bills 23-20. McCoy had 109 total yards of offense, but ended up scoreless as a Tyrod Taylor interception, his first since Week 4, ended the game for the Bills, and most probably their playoff hopes too. The Eagles’ victory gave them back-to-back wins and gave them a share of the lead in the NFC East, following the the Redskins’ win over the Chicago Bears. The New York Giants can make it a three-way-tie on Monday night if they beat the Miami Dolphins. 10. Johnny Manziel guided the Cleveland Browns to only their third win of the season, as they beat the San Francisco 49ers 24-10. Johnny Football went 21-31 and had a touchdown pass to tight end Gary Barnidge, while displaying the same kind of confidence and better decision making that has helped his game in his second year. Two of the Browns’ three wins now have come courtesy of the former Texans A&M Heisman Trophy winner, and despite Josh McCown being capable if fragile in 2015, it does beg the question of why wasn’t Manziel played more in 2015? Off the field issues aside, the experience would have been valuable to the progression of not only Manziel, but also making the future at the quarterback position clearer in Cleveland.


NFL Week 14: Ten Things You Need To Know

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