Bob Leverone/Associated Press
A thrilling Week 13 is now in the books and playoff races around the league are heating up for the stretch run.
Week 14 should be just as exciting, as we’ll be treated to multiple games between teams in the thick of the playoff race.
It’s still early, and as injury news trickles in throughout the week some projections may change, but here’s an early look at predictions for each of the Week 14 matchups, followed by a breakdown of three games with the biggest playoff implications. The projected winners are highlighted in bold.
Week 14 Games
Saints at Falcons
Colts at Bills
Packers at Browns
Bears at Bengals
Raiders at Chiefs
Cowboys at Giants
Lions at Buccaneers
Vikings at Panthers
49ers at Texans
Jets at Broncos
Titans at Cardinals
Redskins at Chargers
Eagles at Rams
Seahawks at Jaguars
Ravens at Steelers
Patriots at Dolphins
Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
Bill Feig/Associated Press
After a shaky start to the season the Panthers have rebounded to win four of their last five games, and they are in good position to earn one of the wild-card spots in the NFC. However, there are still plenty of reasons to doubt the Panthers’ ability to contend given their inconsistency on offense.
Carolina is 6-0 against teams that rank in the bottom 10 of the league in total defense this season, but they’re just 2-4 against everyone else.
In Week 14, Carolina will get its toughest test of the season from the Vikings defense, which ranks second in the NFL in total defense this year.
In the six games against the better defenses, Cam Newton has particularly struggled, tossing eight interceptions with just seven touchdowns—compared to nine touchdowns and three interceptions against bottom-10 defenses.
Fortunately for Carolina, tight end Greg Olsen may return this weekend. According to ESPN’s David Newton, coach Ron Rivera is optimistic about Olsen’s availability due to the Panthers playing at home on grass:
David Newton @DNewtonespn
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the foot soreness Greg Olsen experienced the week before hadn’t gone away and the staff decided it wouldn’t be wise to play him on artificial turf. Rivera looks forward to three straight home games on grass. https://t.co/CRT83AeB5j
Injuries have limited Olsen to just four catches in three games this season, which could explain some of the Panthers struggles against good defenses. With Olsen back on the field, it’s possible Carolina’s offense will return to form against Minnesota.
Prediction: Vikings 24, Panthers 17
Seattle Seahawks at Jacksonville Jaguars
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
The Seahawks defense proved they could play without Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman when they held the Eagles to a season-low 10 points on Sunday Night Football. Now the question is: Can they play at that level on a week-to-week basis without those two leaders in their secondary?
Jacksonville’s offense doesn’t pose nearly the same threat as the Eagles, but quarterback Blake Bortles has learned to play efficiently now that he’s supported by a strong running game. Over his last six games—during which the Jaguars are 5-1—Bortles has tossed just three interceptions.
When Bortles can protect the football, Jacksonville’s defense typically does the rest. In the six games in which Bortles has avoided an interception, the Jaguars are 6-0.
Avoiding the turnovers against Seattle is easier said than done, however. Only three quarterbacks (Marcus Mariota, Matt Ryan and Drew Stanton) have avoided a turnover against the Seahawks this season.
The turnover battle will likely decide this game, and that gives an edge to the Jaguars who are second in the league with a +12 turnover margin.
Prediction: Jaguars 20, Seahawks 17
Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
Julie Jacobson/Associated Press
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what has gone wrong for the Chiefs in recent weeks. In Week 11, it was the offense that sputtered in a 12-9 loss to the Giants. Then two weeks later it was the defense that couldn’t hold up it’s end of the bargain in a 38-31 loss to the Jets.
The one constant, however, has been their inability to get the running game going.
Through the first five weeks of the season, during which the Chiefs were 5-0, Kansas City racked up 781 yards on the ground, the second-highest mark in the league.
Since Week 6, however, the Chiefs have been held to just 570 rushing yards and haven’t scored a single rushing touchdown in that span.
Maybe the Raiders defense is what the Chiefs need to get the running game back on track. In their first meeting, Kareem Hunt picked up 87 yards on 18 carries, an average of 4.87 yards per rush.
If Hunt can get rolling against the Raiders, the Chiefs can reclaim control of the AFC West. Another loss, however, might turn this into a lost season for Kansas City.
Prediction: Chiefs 27, Raiders 23