We’re in Week 14 of the NFL season, and only the Bears and Texans have been eliminated from playoff contention. So 30 teams still have hopes of making the postseason tournament, and three of those teams can clinch playoff spots Sunday.
Here’s a closer look at this week’s playoff-clinching scenarios:
- The Chiefs can clinch the AFC West division title with a win at Denver and a loss by the Chargers.
- The Vikings can clinch the NFC North with a win or tie against the Lions.
- The Eagles can clinch a playoff berth with a win or tie at the Giants, plus losses by the 49ers and Seahawks.
So there are plenty of big games to focus on this week, and Albert and Conor will take you through Sunday’s slate, noting the best matchups and the story lines they’ll be watching.
Games of the week
Jets (7–5) at Bills (9–3), 1 p.m. ET Sunday: Beating the Bills twice in one season would have been considered unthinkable for Robert Saleh and the Jets a year ago. And now it could be a reality. The Jets’ season has shifted so drastically from plucky up-and-comers to talented and seasoned, which means the expectations have shifted with it. Mike White remains their best option at quarterback for now, though in a tenuous, week-to-week situation. So we’ll see whether he’s able to do enough the rest of the season to put to bed questions about Zach Wilson for good. —Conor Orr
Vikings (10–2) at Lions (5–7), 1 p.m. ET Sunday: Would you believe the Lions are … favored in this one? And that seems bananas, given that Minnesota can clinch the NFC North with a month left in the season, and the recent history of both teams. But the Lions are 4–1 in their last five games, and played the Vikings to a near standstill in the teams’ first meeting in September—Detroit was up by 10 with less than 10 minutes left, and the Vikings needed a 28-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to K.J. Osborn in the final minute to beat their rivals at home. This one should be fun. —Albert Breer
Eagles (11–1) at Giants (7-4-1), 1 p.m. ET Sunday: Brian Daboll confidently listed his big-game résumé before fielding questions about whether this Sunday’s divisional matchup with the Eagles is a big deal. That has been the one nice aspect of his coaching staff, which is made up largely of Bills, Chiefs and Ravens coaches: Nothing is too big for them. They’ve all coached and played in big games. As for Daboll’s tenure as a head coach, this game is the most significant by a wide margin. Beating the division-rival Eagles would put the Giants back on a playoff path and would send shockwaves throughout the NFC East. — C.0.
Buccaneers (6–6) at 49ers (8–4), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday: The 49ers are endlessly interesting. And their next chapter will show how far a rookie seventh-round quarterback can take perhaps the best roster in football. How confident are the Niners in Brock Purdy? My understanding is they didn’t much consider claiming Baker Mayfield—they didn’t think his tape from the past two years was any good—in part because of their confidence that they’d get really solid play from the new guy. And this week will test that confidence, with an aggressive, complex Tampa Bay defense coming to the Bay Area. —A.B.
Dolphins (8–4) at Chargers (6–6), 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday: The Chargers end the season with the Colts, Rams and Broncos, so while they are not on life support after this week if they lose, they are leaving absolutely no margin for error down the stretch. It’s surprising a team this talented (albeit injured) is this frantic despite possessing the necessary tools to contend in the AFC West. I would be wary of the Chargers’ trying to defend this hammering run offense from Miami, which is going to try to reestablish itself as a physical beast of a team after getting pushed around by the rival 49ers a week ago. —C.O.
Fantasy bold prediction of the week
Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott will combine for 200 total yards vs. Houston. Is this my being a Cowboys homer? Probably a little, yes. But is it also within the realm of possibility? Yup. The Texans’ defense has been better against the position in its past two games, but it’s still allowing an average of 172.7 total yards per game to opposing running backs. In what should be an absolute blowout, look for Pollard and Elliott to make a massive impact when fantasy fans are pushing for a postseason berth. — Michael Fabiano
What is your one big prediction for Week 14?
Orr: The Giants beat the Eagles. Why the hell not? Wink Martindale, defensive coordinator extraordinaire, will flood the backfield, Saquon Barkley will help control the ball on the ground and Daniel Jones plays a borderline-spicy, mistake-free football game. Philadelphia still has a few sloppy, turnover-prone games in their system to get rid of before the playoffs.
Breer: Both Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard will rush for 100 yards. Pollard’s topped 100 yards three times this year, while Elliott’s yet to hit that marker (though he’s been over 70 five times). And so both getting there in the same game would be a serious outlier. And really unlikely, until you consider they’re at home, the offensive line’s come together, and that the 1-10-1 Texans have the league’s worst run defense and not much to play for. Start your Dallas running backs this week, fantasy owners.
Which team most needs a win in Week 14?
Orr: The Chargers. As we noted before, dropping to 6–7 would be an absolute horror show of stress for coach Brandon Staley. While I still maintain he’s as good as they come, he needs help from the offensive staff and the injury Gods.
Breer: The Patriots. Player complaints about the offense have now gone public, and New England’s lost two in a row. A loss would put it at 6–7, having to face a rested Raiders team (they played Thursday night) on a short week, with the Bengals on the other side of that. So being able to take care of business against a struggling Arizona team is pretty important for the Patriots this week. This looks like a fork in the road for the team’s season, with New England planning to spend the days after the game in Tucson ahead of the game next Sunday in Las Vegas.
Which team is your wild-card sleeper?
Breer: The Lions in the NFC. I think the AFC’s more locked in. The Bills and Chiefs are making the playoffs. I think the Bengals and Ravens get there, too, and the Titans will win the South. That leaves two spots and seven teams with five or more wins, and four with six or more wins, to fight over them. And the five-win teams are the Browns (I’m not seeing it), Steelers and Raiders (would hardly be shockers). That leaves a five-win team two games out of the last spot in the NFC, so Detroit is my sleeper. It’s certainly possible the NFC East will cannibalize one another in the coming weeks to swing the door open for Dan Campbell’s bunch, which has real identity and has continued to get better over the past month.
Orr: I agree with Albert, though I have to say the Raiders are also worth keeping an eye on. Despite my burying Josh McDaniels a few weeks ago after the team bottomed out against the Colts, the Raiders stayed the course and started playing like a legitimately competitive football team. A three-game winning streak against the very beatable Rams, Patriots and Steelers would give them a better than 50% chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Where do you see Jimmy Garoppolo playing in 2023?
Breer: The Jets. I don’t think GM Joe Douglas and Saleh want to mess around with another developmental year for a quarterback with a rising young roster, and bringing Garoppolo in would be a pretty declarative statement that they believe they’re ready to compete for a championship. Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur were with Garoppolo for three and a half seasons in San Francisco, so the projection would be minimal for those guys in considering the veteran quarterback for their offense. Now, if Wilson reenters the lineup over the next month and shows progress, we’re talking about something else. Absent that, I think this would be on the table.
Orr: I think Albert makes a strong case here. My other options would be the Patriots, Texans, Dolphins or Panthers depending on who Houston and Carolina hire as their full-time coaches. Remember, almost every situation is a fluid one. Injuries can happen, needs can arise at any moment. That’s why the 49ers held on to Garoppolo in the first place.
The 49ers’ starting quarterback in 2023 will be …
Orr: Lamar Jackson. Just kidding, he’ll be playing for the Giants. I think it’s Brock Purdy. Garoppolo will have worked himself onto another team, and Trey Lance may still require some time to recover from his ankle injury. And, really, if Purdy leads this team deep into the playoffs, how do you tell him his place is back on the bench?
Breer: Lance. I really wanted to put Tom Brady here. And I think his availability this offseason, should he decide to keep playing, will give the Niners pause. But they invested a lot into Lance, and so I think they owe it to themselves to see the project through.
Speaking of quarterbacks, which college signal-callers do you expect to go high in the draft?
Orr: It’s Bryce Young and Will Levis for me, with Anthony Richardson being a wild card. I think Richardson could put together a very strong offseason and pro day, which may vault him in the eyes of evaluators. There is so much raw talent for Richardson that, if honed the right way, we could see him rocked up teams’ boards.
Breer: I’d put four guys in the first-round category—Alabama’s Bryce Young, Kentucky’s Will Levis, Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Florida’s Anthony Richardson. Tentatively, I’d leave them in that order, though, this particular group could go in almost any order (all four are talented, and it’ll be about whose flaws you’re most comfortable with). And for now, that makes Young the leader in the clubhouse to go first, with a couple of months of debating the 2021 Heisman winner’s size to come.
Sunday Night Football best bet
Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert will forever be connected after being selected with back-to-back picks in the 2020 draft. They met once during their rookie season, with the Dolphins winning 29–21. They both had two touchdowns, Herbert had an interception and Tagovailoa had a better yards-per-attempt average. Fast forward two years, the Chargers sit at 6–6, the Dolphins are 8–4 and are currently the sixth seed in the AFC playoff race and very much in the running to win the AFC East. Tagovailoa leads the NFL in yards per pass (8.1), while Herbert ranks 21st (6.2). The Dolphins’ defense ranks 13th in that category, while the Chargers rank 24th.
Los Angeles is a 3.5-point home underdog for this prime-time showdown, and the over-under (51.5) is tied for the highest implied total of the week. Miami is 1–2 as an away favorite, and the Chargers covered the spread in that one outing where they were listed as a home underdog.
Both teams lost in Week 13, but the Chargers have a much better bounce-back record against the spread, covering in three of their five games after a loss. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are 0–3 ATS after a loss. Grab the points, root, root, root for the home team and don’t be surprised when the Chargers win outright.
Orr: I’m ready for some Desmond Ridder action. Anybody else? Also, today on this website, we have the story of Purdy, which includes this big idea: What if we can elevate pretty good collegiate quarterbacks into capable managers of offenses? Ridder steps into the fold with Drake London and, next year, Kyle Pitts. He has plenty of talent around him. If the offense is well structured and he gets the ball where he’s supposed to, he could nestle himself into a nice, full-time job in Atlanta.
Breer: It’ll be interesting to see how Cincinnati receives Deshaun Watson this week. Last week’s crowd in Houston had complicating factors—the state of the Texans kept the stands more than half empty, and allowed Browns fans in, and, of course, Watson’s history in Houston made it more personal for those Texans fans who did show up. This week, I think, will be more indicative of what Watson, and the Browns, will be facing on the road through the end of this year and probably into next year, too.