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NFL Week 14: Headlines and Matchup Notes

Cam highlights the top NFL matchup notes prior to the Week 14 Sunday games.

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - DECEMBER 07: Tight end Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots catches a touchdown in the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on December 07, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

We’re entering Week 14 and just about every game has at least one team still jockeying for a berth in the playoffs. There are only three games where both teams are currently outside the playoffs, and even in those games, the majority of teams can still play themselves in.

On Thursday we saw a team with truly nothing to play for put up their best game of the year. The Patriots went into Pittsburgh and defeated the Steelers. It was the second week in a row that the Steelers lost at home against against a two win team. The Steelers had everything to play for and the Patriots were playing for nothing more than pride. Pride won out. 

QB Bailey Zappe is now 3-1 as a starter for his career, and does show flashes. The team seems to play better around him and they all seem to play with more energy. He’s probably not the answer beyond this season , with the Pats most likely taking a QB in the draft, but it’s becoming more and more evident that Zappe can play in this league.

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The Steelers now find themselves at 7-6. HC Mike Tomlin has never had a losing record, but after losing to Arizona and New England, that streak is in jeopardy. They were 7-4 with the Cardinals and Pats at home, staring at a 9-4 record on the heels of the Ravens. Now they find themselves on the outside looking in, fighting for their football lives.

One of the more intriguing matchups this week is between two more teams on the outside looking in, the Packers at the Giants. The Packers were 3-6 and looked like they were in a growing year, having the youngest team in the league. They have now won three in a row and are back to .500 with a 6-6 record. They are tied with the Rams, Seahawks and Vikings who are all bunched together. And they find themselves three games behind the Lions in the NFC North. Realistically they are battling for one of the final Wild Card spots, but I’m here to tell you that they still have a shot at the division.

If we take a peek at their final five games, they are all winnable. They face the Giants this week at the Meadowlands. Then Tampa Bay at home, followed by the Panthers and Vikings on the road. And they end the year at home against the Bears. None of those opponents have a winning record, with only the Vikings at .500. The Packers have won three in a row and may end the year 11-6 with an eight game win streak. The Lions would have to end the year 2-3 to only equal that 11 win mark. Realistically, they’ll do better than that, but they are a young team that have not figured out how to win yet, while the Packers have winning in their DNA. 

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In their last five games, they do play the Cowboys on the road which is a tough draw. They have the Vikings twice in a three week stretch, and it’s always tough to sweep divisional matchups, so if they split those games that gives them two more losses. They have the Bears this week on the road, and even though it’s in Chicago they should win. Their other game, in Week 15, is at home against Denver. Much will depend on whether or not the Broncos are still fighting for a playoff spot. 

As of right now, the Broncos are on the outside looking in. They are sitting at .500 and have the Chargers this week in Los Angeles. If they win it will create a much more intriguing matchup against the Lions, because they’ll be entering the game 7-6 knowing they have the Patriots in Denver the following week. If they can string a couple of wins together, that will get them to 8-6 with a likely win against the Pats, which would bring them to 9-6. 

In a week that has the Cowboys playing the Eagles in an important divisional tilt, there are so many of games that have as much if not more playoff intrigue. This is yet another huge test for the Cowboys, to see if they are FINALLY ready to break through to be mentioned with those top tier Super Bowl contending teams, or if they will still be relegated to a Wild Card team, albeit a very solid Wild Card. The reality is that their road is so much harder if they can’t get over the hump and win the division.

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The Texans have a very winnable road game against the Jets. It is even more important now, coming off of their big win against the Broncos, and the Jaguars’ loss to the Bengals. Trevor Lawrence’s ankle injury has added an extra layer into the mix. It was reported to be a high ankle sprain but he did practice during the week. Even if he can play, he will most likely not be at full strength. A loss against the Browns in Cleveland, combined with a Texans win and they will be tied.

Another intriguing game this week is in Kansas City, where the Chiefs will host the Buffalo Bills. All year, the Bills have been underperformers, even losing to the lowly New England Patriots. They are sitting at 6-6 and desperately need this game. But Kansas City is coming off a loss, and cannot afford to lose back to back games. It seems implausible that the Bills will win in such a hostile environment, versus a motivated opponent coming off a loss.

One thing is certain, after this week, a ton of questions will be answered…replaced by a whole new set of questions. But as Rowdy Roddy Piper famously said, “Just when you had all the answers, I change the questions.”

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