Week 14 is already here. One way to look at that is to be sad that the season is more than halfway over. Another is to realize that, though we are past the halfway mark in games played, we are not in terms of deciding the champion. Eight more weeks, mostly filled with good games that you can find, followed by the playoffs.
This is the week that has just the right mix of hope (hey, the Texans were still alive for the playoffs until last night!) and clarity to give us plenty of playoff drama. Most teams have just a little of the former, while not having too much of the latter. No one can, as of Sunday, dream of resting starters because they know their fate, or consider sitting wounded but capable veterans because they are out of contention.
It is also the first week post-bye weeks and post-Thanksgiving, so it marks a return to a full schedule of games on a Sunday afternoon for the first time since September. The schedule makers were also kind enough to put Houston and Jacksonville out of the way early. As it turns out, there are also several key matchups that should make Sunday appointment viewing from opening kickoff at lunch time, until the Sunday Night game concludes. Here are the five biggest games that will shape the final four weeks.
On the Line: likely sealing the #3 seed and remaining in contention for a bye. The loser will most likely slot into the 4 seed and get Kansas City at home. Both should win their divisions, though Cincinnati’s road to the AFC North becomes a little murkier with a home loss here. Indianapolis would have to have a major collapse to not win the AFC South, and it would require Tennessee to win out.
The Colts’ offense has been struggling since Reggie Wayne was lost for the season. They have looked flat ugly at times. They have also surprised on many occasions in spots where people counted them out.
Detroit at Philadelphia (1 p.m.)
On the Line: Both are chasing respective division titles, and need to keep winning. The winner will have the tiebreaker in case they both are in the playoffs. We don’t know how much of an advantage that will be because the 5 and 6 seeds are going to be strong in the NFC. This should be an offensive fans’ dream, with Detroit and their ability to get big chunks going against Nick Foles’ amazing run leading Chip Kelly’s offense.
[RELATED: Nick Foles of a Thousand Days]
Miami at Pittsburgh (1 p.m.)
On the Line: It’s too simple to say that the winner will be the 6 seed (Baltimore will have something to say) but it will go a long way to setting one of these teams on a good track. With the Ravens’ tough closing schedule after Sunday’s home game against the Vikings, the winner is in pretty good shape.
Seattle at San Francisco (4:25 p.m.)
On the Line: The NFC West title and the #1 seed, if Seattle can win on the road and get the sweep. As for San Francisco, a home win would give them a puncher’s chance to still win the division, but just as importantly, keep space between themselves and Arizona, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Chicago.
Carolina at New Orleans (8:30 p.m.)
On the Line: A lot. This is part I of a two part showdown over the final four games, with these teams tied at 9-3. The division winner gets a 2 seed. The runner up has to go on the road to someone like Detroit or Philadelphia, and then if they win, will likely have to go to Seattle in the divisional round. Carolina has won eight consecutive games, but might need this one to win the division. Right now, the Saints would win the tiebreaker. The teams are equal on the first three tiebreakers (both 3-0 against Atlanta/Tampa Bay in division, and equal in common games). Because two of the Saints’ losses are to the AFC East, though, they would win the conference tiebreaker.