Week 14 of the 2014 NFL season brought us closer to understanding the playoff picture in both conferences. From the San Francisco 49ers falling on the road against a previously one-win Oakland Raiders team to the Pittsburgh Steelers going into Cincinnati and defeating the first-place Bengals, there were some statements made around the league…good and bad.
More subtle were the performances of some first-place squads in an attempt to win their division. The Arizona Cardinals broke a two-game losing streak by defeating Kansas City. And remaining in the AFC West where the Chiefs have been eliminated from contention for the title, the Denver Broncos inched closer to a championship.
Here are 10 takeaways from Week 14 of the 2014 NFL season.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers Make a Big Time Statement
Pittsburgh needed that signature win in order to remain viable in the AFC North race. It came on the road against the first-place Bengals. In what has been an inconsistent season, the Steelers showed the best of what they have to offer on Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger completed 25-of-39 for 350 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. It was Big Ben’s fourth game with three-plus touchdowns and zero interceptions this season. It’s no coincidence that Pittsburgh has outscored its opponents by 55 points in those four games. If Big Ben plays well, the Steelers are going to win.
Now just a half game behind Cincinnati in the AFC North, Pittsburgh will earn the division title if it wins out.
2. Seattle Seahawks Act the Role of Road Warriors
One of the biggest knocks on the defending champs over the past few seasons has been their inability to show up and play well on the road. Seattle grabbed that monkey off its back and stomped on it last week against a suddenly bad San Francisco 49ers team. It then followed up that performance with a downright dominating outing against a first-place Philadelphia Eagles team on the road on Sunday.
All in all, it was another Seahawks-like performance in a 24-14 win that saw Pete Carroll’s squad control the time of possession battle in this outing by a two-to-one margin. That was helped by a running game that accumulated 188 yards on 46 attempts. Russell Wilson added over 300 total yards and played mistake-free football throughout the evening. Still just one game behind Arizona in the NFC West and with an upcoming home game against a free-falling 49ers team, the Seahawks remain in control of their own destiny in the NFC West.
3. Arizona Cardinals Right the Ship, Chiefs Pretty Much Done
Following an impressive performance against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, it appears that the Cardinals will be making a trip to the postseason. It wasn’t necessarily a great offensive output by Drew Stanton and Co. but Arizona picked up a much-needed win following a two-game losing streak. Stanton completed half of his passes, including a 26-yard touchdown to Jaron Brown to put the Cardinals ahead for good with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter. Arizona’s defense did the rest to maintain a one-game advantage over Seattle in the NFC West.
For the Chiefs, this was pretty much an elimination game. Now one game behind Baltimore, Pittsburgh and San Diego for two wild card spots, Andy Reid’s squad will need a whole lot of help to earn a postseason appearance. It was more about a lack of balance on offense in this one. While Jamaal Charles did miss some time with an ankle injury here, there is no logical explanation for the Chiefs dropping back to pass 44 times compared to just 17 rush attempts. At 7-6, this is a team on the verge of lacking relevance in the AFC Playoff Race.
4. New Orleans Saints Just Can’t Win at Home, Playoffs Now Less Likely
New Orleans has now lost four consecutive games at home. To put that into perspective, New Orleans lost as many games at home in the previous four seasons with Sean Payton as the head coach. This stinker came in the form of a 41-10 loss to a Carolina Panthers team that had won just one game since Week 2 heading into the Superdome.
Needless to say, this poor performance might have set in motion a scenario where the Saints won’t even win a horrible NFC South. Drew Brees was completely outplayed by Cam Newton throughout the game. He put up just 235 passing yards on 49 attempts, while Newton tallied three scores compared to zero interceptions. It’s this type of game that lends credence to the idea that New Orleans is nothing more than a shell of its former self. And now guaranteed to be in second place heading into Week 15, there isn’t much confidence that Brees and Co. will earn a playoff spot.
5. Rookie Quarterbacks Succeeding Big Time
Derek Carr had a coming out party of sorts against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. The statistics were dazzling, 22-of-28 passing for 254 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions, but that doesn’t even begin to tell the entire story here. Carr outplayed 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick throughout the afternoon, showing the former Super Bowl QB exactly what it means to progress through your reads naturally. He found ways to step up in the pocket, and hit open receivers in stride on a consistent basis. It was by far Carr’s best performance in what has been an impressive rookie campaign.
Over in Minnesota, Vikings signal caller Teddy Bridgewater put up yet another solid outing. He connected on 19-of-27 passes for over 300 yards with two touchdowns and one score in the overtime victory. More than that, Bridgewater started to show much better command of the offense in Minnesota. Overall, it’s just a continuation of what we have seen from the rookie first-round pick recently. Over the course of his last six games, Bridgewater has thrown nine touchdowns compared to three interceptions while completing well over 60 percent of his passes. He also has Minnesota flirting with a surprise .500 record.
The idea behind starting a rookie quarterback is to give him the ability to progress throughout the season. It now appears that both Carr and Bridgewater are in the process of doing that. Continued good play by both signal callers will only enable their franchises to gain trust and confidence heading into the offseason. And to be honest, that’s all Oakland and Minnesota are looking for right now.
6. Johnny Manziel Time in Cleveland
With Cleveland pretty much out of playoff contention, it’s highly likely that we will see Manziel start next week against the Cincinnati Bengals. Brian Hoyer put up another substandard performance in a one-point loss to the Colts on Sunday. With a chance to keep pace against other AFC North teams, Hoyer completed just 14-of-31 passes for 140 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. That brings Hoyer’s five-game total to one touchdown compared to eight interceptions since Week 9.
And while Browns head coach Mike Pettine should have made the move in time for the Colts game on Sunday, he’s not really going to have much of a choice from here on out. Simply put, Manziel needs to be given the opportunity to close out the season, especially with the Browns now highly unlikely to earn a playoff spot.
7. 49ers Season Now Over, Dysfunction Got the Best of the Team
It’s over. The San Francisco 49ers are now two games out of the final wild card spot with three games left following a disastrous 24-13 loss to a previously one-win Oakland Raiders team. I am actually not even too sure where to start here. Did San Francisco just give up and quit on a suddenly lame-duck Jim Harbaugh? What has happened to Colin Kaepernick under center? Is the coaching staff continually putting the team behind the proverbial eight ball with bad in-game strategy?
The answers to these questions will not come anytime soon. Instead, San Francisco is now forced to play out the stretch and hope for the best. Unfortunately, it’s no longer up to this team on the field. Harbaugh and Co. need a whole heck of a lot to happen even for its final regular season game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium in Week 17 to matter. The issues are vast, and the answers are unlikely to come this season. Unfortunately for fans in San Francisco, this likely means wholesale changes in the offseason. It’s just not acceptable for a team with this much talent to be 7-6 and closer to last place than first place heading into Week 15. Someone will have to pay the proverbial piper here. And it’s likely going to be Harbaugh.
8. Mark Sanchez is Mark Sanchez After all
Granted Sanchez was going up against an elite Seattle Seahawks defense, but he regressed to the point on Sunday where it seemed that the former Jets first-round pick was actually suiting up for his old team in New Jersey. Overall, Sanchez completed 10-of-20 passes for less than 100 yards on the afternoon. Philadelphia ran 24 plays in the second half, and only three of them went for over four yards. As it relates to Sanchez, he completed just three passes before the intermission and had only three passes go for more than 10 yards.
Now tied with Dallas for first in the NFC East and with a matchup against Tony Romo’s boys coming up next week, Sanchez needs to find it in himself to rebound big time. If not, the Eagles are looking at a potential one-game deficit in the division heading into Week 16.
As it is, this team put up less than 90 passing yards in a game that saw Seattle’s Legion of Boom dominate throughout. And while the Cowboys defense doesn’t pose the same threat, Philadelphia needs to get the ship righted on offense immediately.
9. Something is Happening in St. Louis, and It’s Mighty Impressive
Dominating Washington’s offense throughout, the Rams got to Redskins quarterbacks a total of seven times in a 24-0 victory. It represented the second consecutive game that the Rams have shutout their opponent, which means that they outscored Oakland and Washington by a combined total of 76-0. And while it might be too late for Jeff Fisher and Co. to earn a playoff spot, this could give the team a ton of momentum heading into the offseason.
10. AFC North is Now a Three-Team Race
Following Pittsburgh’s victory over Cincinnati on Sunday, only a half game separates three of the four teams in the division. Baltimore took care of business with a convincing 28-13 win over Miami, as the team put up 447 total yards of offense and 26 first downs against a damn good Dolphins defense.
With a ton of divisional matchups remaining between the four teams in the AFC North, a lot has yet to be decided. Week 17 is surely going to be pretty darn exciting around these parts.