Last weekend was a big one in determining the playoff structure of the NFL heading into the last quarter of the season. This week, the match-ups are equally important. Surprisingly, with just four weeks to go, five divisions stand in a three-team (or even more) race. The AFC alone has 8 of their 16 teams still vying for Wild Card spots. 8 teams all with a better record than both the Falcons and the Saints, who currently sit atop the NFC South.
That being said, there has been a bit of a shakeup in the Wayniac Nation Power 5 this week. The Green Bay Packers proved they are the top team in the land by holding off last week’s number 2 team in what many called a Super Bowl preview. The Broncos put the Chiefs back in their place with an impressive offensive showing despite struggling with big injuries. The reigning champs have made their presence felt, and have returned to elite status. Here is your Week 14 Power 5:
The Wayniac Nation Power 5: 1. Green Bay Packers (9-3) 2. New England Patriots (9-3) 3. Denver Broncos (9-3) 4. Seattle Seahawks (8-4) 5. Philadelphia Eagles (9-3) On the cusp: Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
So what’s in store for Week 14? Two Top 5 teams go head-to-head for NFC supremacy and there is a huge showdown for the top of the AFC North. And Monday Night Football somehow pits two first place teams against each other.
BIG GAMES FOR WEEK 14
1. Iron City or Queen City?
The Pittsburgh Steelers head to Cincinnati this weekend for their first show down with the Bengals this season. The two teams are separated by a game and a half. Yea, that thrilling Bengals’ tie earlier this season is really paying dividends.
This is a story of two inconsistent teams. When Andy Dalton plays like an NFL quarterback, the Bengals are scary. When he puts up an 86-yard, three pick performance like he did against the Browns, the Bengals are… well, even scarier. They have stars on both sides of the ball, but this game is on Dalton and A.J. Green. Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard combine to be one potent running back, but this game comes down to Dalton.
It’s hard to believe that the Steelers have the 11th best defense in the NFL. They also have the third best offense in the NFL. So how is this team 7-5? Ben Roethlisberger is the main reason. The same guy who will throw for 12 touchdowns and no picks over a two week span against two playoff contenders, will come out and lay a dud against the Jets. Big Ben has arguably the fastest receiving core he has ever had. Antonio Brown is quickly becoming the best wide receiver in the NFL and Le’Veon Bell, who is simply amazing at running back, is also one of the best receivers in the game with 643 yards out of the backfield already this season. This offense is too explosive to lose this division. The Steelers go into very hostile territory this weekend, but it is a must-win situation. I think they rise up and do it.
2. How good are the Bills?
You wouldn’t think that a Bills and Broncos match-up this late in the season would mean anything, but it does. The Bills are hot on the Wild Card trail and the Broncos have to worry about the Chargers and Chiefs who are right behind them. This is a huge match-up for both teams.
The past two weeks, while the Broncos offense has dealt with big injuries to their running game and Julius Thomas, Peyton Manning has seemingly transformed from the greatest gunslinger alive to a game manager of a high-powered running attack. C.J. Anderson has back-to-back 160-plus yard games and Manning didn’t even eclipse the 200 yard passing mark last week.
Enter the Bills, the fifth best defense in football. The have the fifth best pass defense and the seventh best run defense. This squad can hang with anyone and you can be sure they plan on it. C.J. Spiller may make his return this week, and that just gives them an extra boost. Kyle Orton is doing a fine job managing this team and Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins are becoming a very good wide receiving duo. The Broncos face off against two playoff bound teams after the Bills, if they look past this game, don’t be surprised by the upset.
3. How do the Patriots respond out West?
The Patriots were rolling. They were the hottest team in football until they rolled into Lambeau last weekend. It’s not like they played a bad game. They didn’t turn the ball over, they kept Eddie Lacy in check for the most part and the kept the Pack under 30 points at home, a feat no one has accomplished this season. Simply put, the Packers just played better.
Now they travel out West for a huge Sunday Night showdown. The Chargers are not only in the playoff hunt, but a mere one game out of first place behind the Broncos whom they host next week. Philip Rivers, who had been struggling of late, got his groove back in the very tough environs of Baltimore. He went off for 383 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner to Eddie Royal with under a minute left. The Super Chargers are for real. Everyone knows that Belichick will have his team amped and ready to avoid back-to-back losses. With two electric offenses, this may come down to whoever has the ball last.
Game of the Week: The Battle for the NFC
The Seahawks looked as if they lost that swagger that won them last year’s Super Bowl. Leave it to Colin Kaepernick to get it back for them. The Seahawks look like the 2013 incarnation of themselves and that is dangerous for the NFC. Richard Sherman clearly brought momentum back to the Legion of Boom with his two pick day, and they completely dismantled the 49ers and, although their record says otherwise, they completely eliminated the 49ers from serious playoff contention.
The Eagles are pretty darn good. Any offense that can make Mark Sanchez MVP material is an electrifying one for certain. The big factor last week was that LeSean McCoy looked like Shady again. His line is finally healthy and if he can take some of the pressure off of Sanchez, that makes Sanchez (and Darren Sproles when he changes the pace at running back) that more dangerous. The Seahawks have struggled on the road but this is their chance to show they are completely back. If they beat the Eagles on their home turf, the Seahawks may be poised to make another Super Bowl run.
Other big things to keep an eye on:
What will reigning AFC Player of the Week Ryan Fitzpatrick, DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt do for an encore against a meager Jaguars team?
Can the Cardinals right the ship against the sinking Chiefs, or will the Chiefs find that moxie against a slipping Cardinals team?
How bad are the New York Jets?
Can the Falcons pull off the upset and remain in first place in the NFC South? No seriously, folks, that’s not a typo.