The Playbook: Previewing Panthers-Saints, Seahawks-49ers, more Week 14 games
Detroit (7-5) at Philadelphia (7-5) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: These teams have two of the game’s best passing attacks, but the real story here is that both defenses have turned things around. Billy Davis is making his hybrid defense work in Philly, and Detroit’s front seven features DeAndre Levy, who’s on pace to become the first linebacker ever to lead the NFL in interceptions. – DF
Minnesota (3-8-1) at Baltimore (6-6) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Ravens have recovered from a 3-5 start to move into playoff position in the AFC. A brutal closing stretch (at Detroit, New England, at Cincinnati) awaits, though, so this feels like a must-win. Despite tying the Packers and upsetting the Bears, Minnesota ranks 32nd in points allowed, so Joe Flacco and Baltimore’s middling run game should have opportunities. That offense has not topped 22 points in the past six games. – CB
Miami (6-6) at Pittsburgh (5-7) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Now that the league has meted out punishment to Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin for his Thanksgiving night sideline gaffe, Pittsburgh needs to focus on its slim remaining playoff chances. Both Pittsburgh and Miami are spackling their offensive lines together, and that favors Miami at this point, because the Steelers defense has not resembled the great units of old this season. – DF
Kansas City (9-3) at Washington (3-9) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: After their 9-0 start, the Chiefs have looked quite average in three straight losses. A matchup with the downtrodden Redskins could cure their ills — or send K.C. fans spiraling into a full panic. Washington can draw on its last victory, back in Week 9 over San Diego. That’s the same Chargers team that hung 41 points on the Chiefs on Nov. 24. – CB
Tennessee (5-7) at Denver (10-2) — 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: Denver receiver Eric Decker won AFC Offensive Player of the Week after his four-touchdown performance against the Chiefs’ sputtering defense, but the Titans are a different story. Cornerback Alterraun Verner’s 30.2 quarterback rating allowed is more than 10 points lower than anyone else’s, and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is just about unblockable. Peyton Manning’s high-grade offense is going to have to earn this one. – DF
St. Louis (5-7) at Arizona (7-5) — 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: Had either of these teams won in Week 13, this game would have taken on added importance in the playoff race. Instead, only the Cardinals really have life – and it’s dwindling after a 24-21 setback in Philadelphia. The Rams won the first meeting of the season between these teams, an entertaining 27-24 contest. Both teams have improved since then, with Arizona’s top-10 defense leading a major resurgence there. – CB
Only For The Faithful
Oakland (4-8) at NY Jets (5-7) – 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Rex Ryan will keep Geno Smith as his starting quarterback this week, though he may want to trade for Raiders undrafted rookie Matt McGloin by the second quarter if Smith plays as he recently has. As always, the Jets will have to win with defense. – DF
Atlanta (3-9) at Green Bay (5-6-1) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Count this as a do-or-die game for the Packers, who appear as if they’ll have to find a way to win without Aaron Rodgers — they’re 0-4-1 since he injured his collarbone. Atlanta’s offense is coming off its best showing of the year, a 34-point outburst to beat the Bills. – CB
Cleveland (4-8) at New England (9-3) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Browns receiver Josh Gordon doesn’t get enough national praise, but you can bet that Bill Belichick will have Aqib Talib shadowing Gordon all day — despite Cleveland’s travails at the quarterback position this season, Gordon is just about uncoverable when he’s on. – DF
Buffalo (4-8) at Tampa Bay (3-9) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: A rather meaningless game in the standings gets buoyed by two angles — one, that the Buccaneers might be saving Greg Schiano’s job with their improved play; and two, EJ Manuel vs. Mike Glennon brings some rookie-QB intrigue. – CB
(Unless otherwise indicated, all metrics come from our friends at Pro Football Focus).
• Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles has been just as impressive on the spreadsheets as he has been on the field, and his deep passing metrics are worth pointing out. Foles has thrown the ball 20 or more yards in the air just 34 times this season, but no quarterback has more deep touchdowns than his 12. Drew Brees ranks second with 11, and it’s taken him 59 passing attempts to get that done.
No surprise, then, that DeSean Jackson is tied with Cincinnati’s A.J. Green for the NFL lead in deep touchdowns with six. Both receivers have 13 deep catches, and Green has outgained Jackson on those plays, 504 yards to 483.
• Joe Flacco, on the other hand, has an unusual deep percentage. He’s thrown 63 deep passes this year (tied for second with Andy Dalton, behind Matthew Stafford’s 65), and he has just one deep touchdown with five interceptions. Last season, Flacco had 92 passes of 20 yards or more, and he racked up 11 touchdowns against no interceptions. Torrey Smith leads the league in deep targets with 33, but he has no scores to show for it — and he had five in 2012.
• When it comes to protection stats, we spend too much time focusing on the linemen allowing the most quarterback pressures, so let’s turn that around and praise San Francisco left tackle Joe Staley. On 337 pass-blocking snaps — and with a mobile quarterback who sometimes runs himself into trouble — Staley has just 12 total pressures allowed. Two sacks, one hit and nine hurries. Staley is unlikely to play against Seattle with a sprained MCL suffered against the Rams last Sunday, and the 49ers would turn to guard Alex Boone against the Seahawks. The good news is that Boone has allowed just 15 pressures of his own, though at a different position.
• You may not have heard of New York Jets defensive tackle Damon Harrison, but opposing running backs certainly know his name. The 6-foot-3, 350-pound second-year undrafted free agent from William Penn has 26 stops (plays for zero or negative yardage) in just 203 run snaps, ranking him second in the NFL behind Buffalo’s Marcel Dareus, who has 32 stops in 268 run snaps. – DF
• Matchup to Watch: Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake vs. Kelvin Beachum/Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert.
The Dolphins have recorded 37 sacks this season, with Vernon (10) and Wake (6.5) leading the way. For a banged-up Steelers offensive line that has struggled to protect Ben Roethlisberger, this stands as a tough draw.
Beachum has hung in there admirably on Roethlisberger’s blindside, but he dinged his knee Thanksgiving night in Baltimore. (The Steelers also lost starting center Fernando Velasco, Maurkice Pouncey’s replacement at center, to a season-ending injury in that game.) If Beachum cannot go, underachieving Mike Adams likely would slide back into the starting rotation. He and Gilbert would be primarily responsible for keeping the edges clean against Vernon and Wake.
If Roethlisberger’s under constant pressure, the Dolphins will be in prime position to score a huge road victory.
• This Week’s Sleeper: Joseph Randle, RB, Cowboys.
DeMarco Murray will handle the majority of Dallas’ duties in the run game on Monday, and Randle has averaged a mere 2.5 yards per carry this season. So, the upside may not be through the roof here.
Still, when the Cowboys opt to give Murray a breather Sunday, either Randle or Phillip Tanner will have the spotlight. In Chicago’s loss to St. Louis, both Benny Cunningham and Zac Stacy found a groove, rushing for a combined 196 yards combined.
• Pressure’s On …: Matt Flynn, QB, Packers.
If Flynn cannot bounce back from a brutal Thanksgiving Day showing in Detroit and get the Packers a win vs. Atlanta, well … he might be starting the rest of the season, because Green Bay could shut down Aaron Rodgers at that point. At 5-6-1 through 12 games, the Packers likely need to win out to have any shot at the NFC North crown — the possibility of a wild-card berth is long gone.
• Rookie Spotlight: Montee Ball, RB, Broncos. – CB
It took 13 weeks, but Ball finally broke loose last week against the Chiefs. Aided by a 45-yard run, Ball posted 117 yards on 13 carries, his first game up and over the century mark in his rookie season. Ball has moved into Denver’s No. 2 RB role behind Knowshon Moreno, and the Broncos would love to see him keep his momentum going this Sunday. – CB
• New Orleans: A loss Sunday to the Panthers, with a rematch set two weeks from now in Carolina, would put the Saints in serious jeopardy of falling to the edge of the playoff race. This team has to defend its home turf. – CB
• Green Bay. The Packers are 0-4-1 since Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, and if they lose to the Falcons, it might be time to shut Rodgers down for the rest of the season as a pre-emptive move — a measure which would open up all kinds of questions about the franchise’s personnel acumen in recent years. – DF