NFL Week 14 has the potential be one of the better ones of the 2016 NFL season, featuring great divisional rivalry games and non-division rivalry games alike.
We also have a few games that match up two teams riding hot streaks. Naturally, they both can’t stay hot? So, which teams are going to lose?
Who’s more vulnerable when the Ravens and Patriots play in Foxborough? What about when the Seahawks and Packers square off at Lambeau Field? Can the Giants beat the Cowboys for a second time this season?
Which hot teams enter NFL Week 14 in danger of turning cold?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Admittedly, Tampa has a lot working in its favor entering Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.
The Bucs are playing at home, riding a four-game winning streak and realistically are playing for much more than the Saints. We can expect Jamies Winston and his Tampa team to run roughshod over Drew Brees and New Orleans. Right?
It’s not quite that simple.
Recent history suggests that these teams will play a close game against each other. All four games between the two since their second game of the 2013 season (a 42-17 Saints win) have been decided by seven points or less.
Additionally, while New Orleans traditionally struggles on the road — especially in outdoor stadiums — its recent history in Tampa is strong. The Saints are riding a four-game winning streak at Raymond James Stadium.
Lastly, while the Saints enter Week 14 at 5-7, they’ve generally been competitive in all of their games. Even Week 13’s 28-13 loss to the Detroit remained competitive until the final minutes.
This game certainly favors the Buccaneers and they may well win. But Tampa Bay certainly enters Week 14 vulnerable to being picked off.
The Broncos head to Nashville at 8-4, having won four of their last six games. But as formidable as they are, the champs will have their hands full against the Tennessee Titans and their red hot quarterback, Marcus Mariota.
Marcus Mariota past eight starts: 67.4 completion, 2,314 total yards, 23 TD, 2 INT, 119.4 rating pic.twitter.com/4O5TN0YqvN
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) December 5, 2016
During the team’s recent eight-game stretch, the Titans have averaged just a shade under 31 points per game. If Tennessee is anywhere near 31 points on Sunday, Denver is in a lot of trouble.
Over the same eight-game period that saw the Titans average 31 a game, the Broncos have averaged just under 22. The offense figures to get something of a jolt with the return of Trevor Siemian but the fact remains that this team is just not scoring points.
Against a well-rested Tennessee team, the Denver defense will need to be extraordinary. If the Broncos’ defense simply has a good day, the team will be in a lot of trouble.
To look at why the Cowboys are vulnerable against the New York Giants, we first have to look back five years to the last game of the 2011 NFL season. New York defeated Dallas 31-14 to win the NFC East. Five Sunday’s later, the Giants were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. So, why should a game that took place five years ago make any difference right now?
Since then, the two teams have played nine times. Every one of those games has been decided by seven points. The Giants and Cowboys are not always great teams, but they have one of the most competitive rivalries in the NFL. Whenever they play, both teams are vulnerable — the games are just too close to say anything else.
At 11-1, Dallas has the NFL’s best record. The Cowboys have clearly been the NFL’s best team throughout 2016. But we can’t make that point without also saying that Dallas’ lone blemish came against New York.
Additionally, while the Cowboys are a good team, they are vulnerable in some spots. Dallas is tied for 16th in passing touchdowns allowed, is 28th in passing yards allowed, 29th in opponent’s passer rating and 31st in completion percentage against.
Objectively, we have to say that the Cowboys are the better, more talented roster. But there is a realistic scenario where Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., and Victor Cruz all have huge days against the Dallas secondary.
That does put Dallas on upset alert.
As the Seahawks head to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers, we can look at a few things that suggest Seattle is, at least, vulnerable.
One, from 2013-2015, the Seahawks did a lot to dispel the notion that they can’t play well away from CenturyLink Field. Even with an impressive road win against the New England Patriots, 2016 has done a lot to bring that notion back to life.
Can the Seahawks be trusted away from Seattle? This season's results say no. pic.twitter.com/Z7Vj4bh74T
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) December 6, 2016
A second problem surrounds where they’re playing, Lambeau Field. Granted, this group of Seattle players has enjoyed a lot of success against Green Bay. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, nearly all of that success has occurred in Seattle.
The Seahawks haven’t won in Green Bay since 1999. The Packers have won the last six meetings between the two teams at Lambeau Field by an average score of 35-17. Included in that was a 27-17 Green Bay win during the 2015 season. So, if Seattle is going to win this game, it’s going to have to break a rather significant trend.
Lastly, we have to look at the improved play of Aaron Rodgers. For most of the 2016 season, Rodgers has played well below his normal standard. But over his last three games, Rodgers has completed 69 percent of his passes for 873 yards, seven touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 113.9 passer rating.
There’s no good time to lose Earl Thomas for the season. But the timing couldn’t be much worse than heading into a game on the road against a hot Rodgers.
We’ll close Week 14 on Monday with one of the NFL’s better non-divisional rivalries that matches up two hot teams. In truth, both the Ravens and Patriots enter this game as vulnerable hot teams.
So, why is Baltimore getting our vote to go cold?
The Ravens have won four of their last five games, but they have averaged just under 25 points per game during that stretch. Prior to Week 13’s 38-6 demolition of the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore was averaging only slightly more than 21 points per game over its prior four contests.
That begs the question: Are the Ravens going to hold Tom Brady and New England to 24 or less? The Patriots are far from a perfect team, but they have scored 24 or more in all but one of Brady’s starts this season.
If New England can put up 24 or more, it’s going to be up to Joe Flacco to match Brady point for point.
Flacco was fantastic in Week 13 but has been mediocre for most of the season. He enters Week 14 with 15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 84.1 passer rating. In four fewer games, Brady has 19 touchdowns, 1 interception and a 113.1 rating.
The history of these two teams suggests that this will be a close game, so both teams are certainly vulnerable. But New England has a slight edge over Baltimore, making the Ravens the more vulnerable team on Monday night.