Week 14 is here and we've got quite a few massive matchups from a playoff perspective. As the Counting Crows once said, it's a long December and it's about to be a long one for the NFL: there are 11 teams in each conference within one game of a playoff spot and 13 teams on both sides of the standings within two games of a playoff spot.
We're going to start getting some serious weather too -- the Lions-Bears game was trending toward insane weather this weekend but things shifted around a bit. Cleveland weather is going to be a touch gnarly over the weekend perhaps. We're seeing a bunch of low totals as a result.
Well ... that and the fact we're dealing with a ton of backup quarterbacks. By my count, a whopping 19 of 32 NFL teams have used a backup quarterback for serious action at some point this season. That's absurd and it's not slowing down at all with the level of injuries some of these starting quarterbacks have taken so far this season.
It's going to be dicey, so let's get hot down the stretch.
The Browns aren't in a great spot when it comes to the offense, but in this game they might have enough. We're expecting bad Cleveland weather to linger around -- some wind, plenty of cold, light precip, etc. The Jaguars are likely without Trevor Lawrence and C.J. Beathard is on the injury report as well. This is a banged-up offense for Jacksonville -- Travis Etienne has looked like he's battling through some stuff and Walker Little suffered an injury Monday as well -- going against the league's best defense. Cleveland is also getting Denzel Ward back and his addition to this defense shouldn't be undersold. Jacksonville's defense struggled against Joe Mixon on Monday and with a short week moving from Florida to Cleveland it's not hard to imagine them ceding some runs to Jerome Ford and Kareem Hunt. Anytime you can back Joe Flacco as a three-point home favorite in the year 2023 you have to do it.
While Cincy's evened things up at 6-6 after a surprising win as a huge underdog against the Jags, the Bengals defense wasn't exactly inspiring on Monday either. The Colts defense, on the other hand, has been ridiculous rushing the passer over the last month, tallying a total of 21 (!) sacks the last four games. The competition hasn't been strong, with the sacks coming against the Panthers, Pats, Bucs and Titans, but 21 sacks is 21 sacks. But they're drawing another backup quarterback in Jake Browning who is getting quite the bump here in terms of the point-spread movement off his historic performance against the Jags.
Jake Browning is the 10th QB in NFL history with a completion percentage of 85% and 350 Pass yards in a game— Doug Clawson (@doug_clawson) December 5, 2023
The other 9?
Tom Brady (twice)
Peyton Manning (twice)
Browning, who starred at Washington, is in rare company. But I'm not sure he's ready for another monster performance, even if he gets to play the Colts at home. The Bengals defense is concerning and the Colts offense is cooking a little bit here, especially with Michael Pittman starting to come alive.
If you've read me at any point over the last few years, you know this flies in the face of my #brand. I am the Rams guy, the Matthew Stafford guy. This is a massive number for the Ravens at home, a number that looks surprising given how well the Rams are playing lately. But the Ravens are a bad matchup, especially off the bye. Puka Nakua and Cooper Kupp are banged up and the Ravens will blitz aggressively. The Rams don't have the defensive personnel to keep up with this Baltimore offense, even with Mark Andrews missing. Baltimore's record against NFC teams when Lamar Jackson is under center is outrageous and the Ravens have destroyed teams at home this year, regardless of quality, but especially on the NFC end.
Panthers (+5.5) at Saints
"Oh [bleep] here we go again." Every week I find myself drawn toward the Panthers for some reason, despite their terrible record overall and generally terrible record against the spread. But this game is intriguing from a New Orleans quarterback perspective. The Saints are doing one of two things: 1) trotting out Derek Carr who is coming out of concussion protocol and dealing with a shoulder injury or 2) rolling out Jameis Winston. Jameis would be my preference for entertainment purposes, but for the Panthers keeping this within a field goal I'm not sure either one matters. The total here is 37.5, so no one is expecting a ton of points. If Carr is playing, the Saints are going to be a turtle on offense and he's going to be a Checkdown Charlie. If Jameis starts, there's insane upside for a Panthers defensive touchdown or a turnover to set up some points.
Pretty wild spread here! The Eagles are 10-2 and one of the most dominant teams in football and they're getting a full field goal against a division rival. The Cowboys have several huge advantages however. They're coming off a full 10 days of rest, beating the Seahawks at home last Thursday and now getting until the following Sunday night before playing. The Eagles' rest time is much shorter, after playing a late-afternoon game last Sunday against the 49ers. Philly also got beat up bad by San Francisco, an extremely physical team that took them to the woodshed. Jalen Hurts is banged up enough to generate some controversial takes about whether or not he should be playing. The Cowboys are 6-0 at home with a ridiculous +151 point differential on the season. They played the Eagles in a super tight game earlier in the year and should have won in Philly but for some bad late-game management. The Eagles defense has been struggling and Dak Prescott is playing outstanding, MVP-level football. That continues on Sunday night.
This is a BIG game coming on Sunday -- the Bills are 6-6 and on the verge of elimination, while the Chiefs are 8-4 and on the verge of losing a chance at gaining the No. 1 overall seed. So both teams are desperate for a win here. It's probably going to be a hard-fought, close game with both teams looking to run the heck out of the ball. Buffalo needs to slow down Isiah Pacheco, bracket Travis Kelce and force Patrick Mahomes' wide receivers to step up in this spot. An Andy Reid-Sean McDermott matchup (Reid once fired McDermott, people forget that!) is always spicy. I like the Bills coming off the bye to find a way to win this one and open up the chances of them making a playoff run.