The best matchup Week 14 has to offer will be played immediately, a Thursday night showcase that could wind up being a preview of this year’s NFC Championship. Let’s get right into it, followed by the other contests that help make up this week’s Top 10 NFL matchups:
Pro Football – Thursday
Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals: The Vikings were crushed in every phase of the game in Sunday’s 38-7 home loss to Seattle, so they’ll be looking to avoid consecutive losses for the first time this season. Minnesota carries a four-game road winning streak into Glendale and sit atop the NFC North with co-leaders Green Bay.
Adrian Peterson comes off his least productive game of the season due to the hole Minnesota dug for itself against the Seahawks, getting just eight carries and catching four passes for a grand total of 24 yards. Despite this, his 1,182 rushing yards remain tops in the NFL. Arizona’s run defense ranks fourth in the league in yards allowed and surrenders 19.3 points per game, tied with Minnesota for fourth overall.
Pro Football – Sunday
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals: Ben Roethlisberger tossed a season-high four TDs in Sunday night’s 45-10 win over Indianapolis, showing no effects of any concussion symptoms that had his status in doubt earlier in the week. Since a 16-10 home loss to these Bengals on Nov. 1, Roethlisberger has thrown for 1,533 yards in leading the Steelers to a 3-1 record, tossing 10 touchdowns and just three picks.
Pittsburgh remains three games behind the Bengals in the AFC North, which means the home team can clinch the division with a win here. The Bengals have surrendered 10 points or less in five of the last six games, a streak that started in Pittsburgh.
Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles: A road upset of the Patriots has the Eagles in contention in the putrid NFC East, snapping a three-game losing streak that featured lopsided losses to the Bucs and Lions. While Sam Bradford returned under center, Philadelphia’s offense still failed to move the ball well as most of the scoring came as a result of defense and special teams returns.
The Bills saved their own season with a 30-21 home win over Houston, getting three touchdown passes from Tyrod Taylor, who also ran for a score. The offense has really picked it up of late and should be even better if linemen Seantrel Henderson and John Miller, both of whom missed last week’s win, are able to return to the lineup.
Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers: After starting 5-0, the Falcons have dropped six of seven and find themselves on the outside looking in the NFC playoff picture. The latest collapse came as a result of being unable to tackle Jameis Winston on an eventual game-winning drive that allowed the Bucs to complete a season sweep in this series.
The Falcons are 0-3 inside the division and are only now getting their first look at the undefeated Panthers, who have already wrapped up the NFC South. Julio Jones questioned Atlanta’s red zone play-calling after Sunday’s loss after his fourth consecutive game without a touchdown.
Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars: Monitor Andrew Luck’s availability here. Although the Colts were shooting for him to come back in Week 15, Matt Hasselbeck injured his neck and shoulder in suffering his first loss as a starter against Pittsburgh on Sunday night. If neither Luck (kidney) or Hasselbeck can go, Indianapolis would be forced to turn to Charlie Whitehurst.
The Colts defeated the Jaguars behind Hasselbeck way back in Week 4 on Oct. 4, prevailing in OT after rookie kicker Jason Myers missed a pair of chances to win the game for visiting Jacksonville. Blake Bortles is 0-3 against the Colts, being outscored by an 83-33 margin.
Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens: The Seahawks are surging, owning a season-long three-game winning streak after dominating the Vikings. As a result, they’re sitting in sole possession of the final NFC playoff spot, which would spell trouble for whoever has the misfortune of drawing the two-time defending champs on Wild Card weekend.
Russell Wilson has dominated on this current run, throwing 11 touchdowns without an interception while adding a rushing TD. Doug Baldwin has caught 24 passes for 433 yards and six scores over the last four games. The depleted Ravens had their two-game winning streak snapped in a 15-13 loss in Miami.
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos: A disastrous fourth quarter prevented the Raiders from getting back to .500 against Kansas City, which means they’ll have to win out to have a realistic shot at the playoffs. Second-year QB Derek Carr committed costly turnovers as Oakland was outscored 20-0 by the Chiefs to wipe out a 20-14 lead.
The Broncos allow just 17.5 points, second-lowest in the league, and have registered 23 takeaways, tied with five others for the second-most in the NFL. No one has recovered more fumbles. Brock Osweiler is 3-0 as Denver’s starter and is in line to start for Peyton Manning once again. Denver has won the last eight games in this series, last losing in the 2011 season opener.
Dallas Cowboys at Green Bay Packers: Coming off a miracle win on Thursday night via Hail Mary, the Packers are hoping for a more complete performance than they managed at Detroit. There are still major issues due to a banged up offensive line and a depleted receiving corps, but Richard Rodgers grab of Aaron Rodgers’ 61-yard heave with time expired served as the ultimate bandage.
With extra time to prepare, the Packers now have a home game to get healthy with, facing a Tony Romo-less Cowboys team coming in off a short week after playing in Landover on Monday night. Rodgers has thrown 14 touchdowns and just three picks at Lambeau Field this season, but has been a part consecutive home losses to Detroit and Chicago, snapping a run of 13 straight wins on the friendly frozen tundra.
New England Patriots at Houston Texans: The Patriots have dropped two straight for the first time since September of 2012, but are hoping to get star tight end Rob Gronkowski back from his scary-looking knee injury to help aid the passing game. Tom Brady was picked off on multiple occasions for the first time all season in Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia and had massive issues with drops.
We’ll see how he fares against a Texans defense that is going to come after him after surrendering 30 points in a road loss to the Bills. Sacks leader J.J. Watt had helped Houston hold three of its last four opponents to six points prior to the loss in Buffalo, so expect them to aggressively get after Brady in this Sunday night showdown.
Pro Football – Monday
N.Y. Giants at Miami Dolphins: It’s not the most attractive matchup of the week, but the Monday night game does pack some intrigue. The Dolphins held off Baltimore at home to remain alive in the playoff hunt, but continue to bring up the rear in the AFC East. Meanwhile, New York blew yet another fourth-quarter lead in a dreadful loss to the Jets that make this a must-win considering it closes the season against Carolina, Minnesota and Philadelphia.
Eli Manning threw a costly red-zone interception in the fourth quarter but benefits from the presence of one of the game’s most productive receivers in Odell Beckham Jr., who has racked up double-digit targets in four consecutive games and has racked up over 100 yards in five straight.
Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Email: [email protected].