It’s hard to think about, I know, but we’re entering the 4th quarter of the NFL season (is that a pun? I think it’s a pun), as each team already has 12 games in the books with 4 more to go. For a lot of these weekly articles this season, I’ve discussed at least one or two matchups where the biggest reason to watch the game is a story specific to one of those teams, regardless of whether or not it’s gonna have a huge impact on the rest of the league.
However, this week is so chock-full of fantastic games related to how the playoff picture will turn out that it’s gonna be one of the most fun weeks of the year. Week 14 will undoubtedly be really exciting, and here are the 5 games that will be exemplify that fact.
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons, Thursday, December 7 @ 8:25 EST
The NFC South has easily been the most exciting division in football this year, with 3 of its teams firmly in the playoff hunt (sorry, Bucs fans). Last week gave us the Saints versus the Panthers in one of the most important games of the year, and this week’s Saints-Falcons matchup won’t be much different. New Orleans has given us every reason to watch them every week this season, with arguably the most well-rounded offense in the NFL which is ranked only behind the Rams and Eagles in points scored this season. They’ve got everything working for them, with quarterback Drew Brees killing it and running back Mark Ingram having what seems to be his best season as a pro. However, their most impressive player has to be rookie running back Alvin Kamara, who proves week after week that he’s a superstar in the making. He’s capable of exploding for a huge play pretty much every time he touches the ball, forcing anyone who watches him to hold their breath as he makes defenders look stupid. The Saints are all but playoff locks at this point, but the Falcons are still fighting for a spot. At 7-5, they’re still very much in the playoff hunt, but this game is an absolute must-win. The NFC is so good this year that even a 10-6 might not make the postseason, so every week counts for Atlanta, this division matchup doubly so. They started slow out of the gates, at least by former division-champion standards, but have won 3 of their last 4 games and are starting to look like last year’s team again. However, the remainder of their season is really, really tough, facing the Saints twice and the Panthers once. So yeah, they need to win this game. Unfortunately for them, though, I think the Saints are just too much for them to overcome right now.
Predicted winner: Saints
Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers, Sunday, December 10 @ 1:00 pm EST
By the time this game is underway, it will have been over 2 months since the Vikings last lost a game. I’d say that’s pretty damn good for a team led by a backup quarterback and missing their starting running back. Quarterback Case Keenum has surpassed all expectations, and, while he probably won’t end up in the MVP question by season’s end with guys like Carson Wentz, Tom Brady, and Russell Wilson playing so well, he’s sure as hell making a good case for himself. Add in the fact that Minnesota’s defense has allowed the 2nd-least amount of points scored by their opponents and the emergence of Adam Thielen as one of the game’s top wide receivers and you’ve got a powerhouse in the NFC capable of beating any other team. The Panthers aren’t exactly pushovers, though. At 8-4 in the best division in the NFL, they’ve also proven themselves to be a powerhouse in the NFC. Earlier this year, I was pessimistic toward them due to the fact that they couldn’t seem to win without quarterback Cam Newton having a good performance each week. However, they’ve proven me wrong, as their offense become much more well-rounded through better wide receiver play (without Kelvin Benjamin, no less) and figuring out how to effectively use the different talents that running backs Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey bring to the table. In fact, they won each game from Week 8 through Week 12, with Newton surpassing 170 yards passing in only one of them. However, only one of those games was against a team with a positive record, so we’ll have to see if that success can continue against a team as good as the Vikings. How and if that will come to be is anyone’s guess, but it’s really tough for me to pick against a team who hasn’t lost a game in to months. Expect the Vikings to take this one and move one step closer to a playoff bye.
Predicted winner: Vikings
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, December 10 @ 1:00 pm EST
Moving to the AFC, this game features one team who will take the lead of the AFC West (or tie the Chargers if they beat the Redskins), so we’ve got huge playoff implications here. It’s been a tale of two halves for both of these teams, with the Raiders going 2-4 through Weeks 1 to 6 and 4-2 through Week 7 to 13 and the Chiefs going 5-1 and 1-5 through those same respective timeframes. A huge reason for Oakland’s recent success has been quarterback Derek Carr’s seriously elevated performance, averaging 301 passing yards per game during the latter half of his team’s 12 games so far after averaging 184 passing yards per game during the first half (taking away the one game in which he didn’t play). Kansas City started off red hot and appeared to be the team to beat in the AFC, but their skid over the second half of their 12 games has shown a great amount of weaknesses. Quarterback Alex Smith no longer looks even remotely like the MVP candidate he was earlier in the season and rookie running back Kareem Hunt hasn’t come close to replicating his amazing numbers during that span. Considering that those two players were the ones carrying the Chiefs to their early success, KC will not be able to bounce back from this skid without them both picking their games back up. I used to say that it was hard to pick against the Chiefs, but now I can’t help but hesitate to predict them to win at all. I think that continues this week and Oakland passes them in the AFC West standings.
Predicted winner: Raiders
Seattle Seahawks at Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, December 10 @ 4:25 EST
It looks like Seattle can succeed just fine without the Legion of Boom in full swing, defeating the Eagles last week despite Philly having the best record in football at the time. Seattle’s defense held potential MVP quarterback Carson Wentz and the rest of the Eagles’ highflying offense (that’s definitely a pun) to a mere 10 points in Week 13, making Wentz seem uncomfortable for all 60 minutes. Seattle’s own MVP candidate quarterback Russell Wilson expanded on what is arguably the best season of his young and excellent NFL career so far by accounting for all 3 of Seattle’s touchdowns, proving that he can be his team’s entire offense without any support from his run-game or a decent offensive line. Wilson has looked amazing this year and has been consistently shredding defenses all season, but he faces his toughest test yet against the Jaguars, who have allowed the least amount of points to opposing offenses of any team in the NFL this season, and by a huge margin of 26 less points allowed than the 2nd-ranked Vikings defense. That’s the largest such margin of any two teams ranked next to each other in that category, which makes their first place ranking even more impressive. Their offense is no joke as well, ranking 7th in the league in points scored behind a solid season by quarterback Blake Bortles and the stellar rookie campaign of running back Leonard Fournette. Both teams are 8-4 and can either take or tie for the lead in their respective divisions with a win this week, so expect both squads to be playing their hearts out. I’m thinking that this matchup will be a close one, but Russell Wilson will power the Seahawks just barely past the Jags’ excellent defensive attack and make an even stronger case for the MVP this year.
Predicted winner: Seahawks
Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, December 10 @ 8:30 pm EST
I’m so, so happy that this game is in primetime, because I’d be crazy bummed to miss a matchup between the league’s two highest scoring offenses. Who wouldn’t be? At 30.1 points scored per game this season each, both of these teams have been shooting fireworks off all year long, thanks in no small part to the first two overall picks from the 2016 draft. Philly quarterback Carson Wentz is making as strong a case for the MVP this season, leading his offense to scoring 20 or more points in every single game this season other than last week against Seattle (in which he still had 348 passing yards, a rather ironic season-high). A defense ranked 3rd in the NFL in points allowed doesn’t exactly hurt their chances either. While Wentz has been the focal point of his team’s offense, the Rams are more well-rounded. The elevated play of quarterback Jared Goff relative to his disastrous rookie season has allowed running back Todd Gurley II to become one of the most dominant offensive players in the NFL, as he’s currently sitting at 2nd place among running backs in both rushing and receiving yards while tied for the league lead in touchdowns scored with Alvin Kamara. First-year head coach Sean McVay has turned out to be exactly what this team needed, helping the Rams become one of the most exciting teams in the NFL and led them to their first winning record since 2003. This game could very well be the highest scoring matchup of the season, so if you’re into watching lots and lots of players making it into the endzone (and honestly, who isn’t?), you’re gonna love all 60 minutes. It’s bound to be a shoot out that either team can win, but I’m gonna give the edge to Philly.
Predicted winner: Eagles