Six NFL games that matter most in Week 14

By Rachel Wold

Featuring plenty of captivating matchups that will impact the current NFL playoff picture, Week 14 should be packed full of drama.

Will the Houston Texans deal the New England Patriots their third loss in a row? Or can the Dallas Cowboys upset the Green Bay Packers in a revenge match?

With the Cincinnati Bengals, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers sitting comfortably atop of their respective conferences, many other teams will continue slugging it out to gain headway in their divisions.

These are the games that mean the most as the playoffs creep ever closer here in Week 14.

Buffalo Bills (6-6) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)

Running back LeSean McCoy will be reunited with his former team that shockingly shipped him away to the Buffalo Bills last offseason.

Chip KellyAfter spontaneously being traded, McCoy is sure to arrive with a major chip on his shoulder to face Chip Kelly who months later addressed how poorly he handled the trade.

“It wasn’t handled the right way with LeSean and I understand why he’s not happy about it. And he should not be happy about it.”

Besides McCoy’s bruised ego and Kelly’s too little, too late explanation, both teams are playing for major stakes in Week 14.

McCoy and the Bills are very much in the running for a Wild Card spot, especially if the Jets lose to Tennessee. The AFC East rivals are one game apart in the standings and could be competing for the same spot in the postseason.

Kelly’s Eagles, if they manage a win, combined with a Washington and New York Giants loss, then they would assume the No. 1 slot in the NFC East, which has been a crap shoot all season. A team many wrote off as recently as a couple of games back, the Eagles just pulled off a stunning win over the New England Patriots.

With tensions high and both teams in must-win positions, this Week 14 matchup should be a thriller.

Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (10-2)

Courtesy of Benny Sieu, USA Today Sports

Ben Roethlisberger and his gang of high-flying receivers have a challenging divisional road game against the Cincinnati Bengals, who own the top seed in the AFC. A win would help keep the team in the hunt for a Wild Card slot, and a loss could be devastating.

Additionally, a win for Pittsburgh and losses for the 7-5 Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets would even further advance the Steelers’ status as Wild Card contender.

Pittsburgh brings the No. 2-ranked offense to the table in Week 14 against the Bengals. Big Ben and Co. have been averaging a staggering 409.1 yards per game, along with 25.9 points on average per outing. They’re virtually unstoppable.

Unfortunately though, Pittsburgh’s pass defense is terribly porous and has ceded on average 304 passing yards per game. Therefore, it’s going to be a tall task to contain vastly improved Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and the gang through the air.

This game has high-scoring and barn-burner written all over it. The Bengals will be fighting to retain their No. 1 spot in the AFC while Pittsburgh will be hammering it out to not slip down the rankings.

Washington Redskins (5-7) vs. Chicago Bears (5-7)

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Both teams share the same record, though due to the shameful status of the NFC East, Washington is riding the top spot in that division. This means the Chicago Bears are poised to play spoilers when they host Washington.

The hot-cold Washington team will be looking to notch a win to remain ahead of the 5-7 Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. Should Washington lose and Philadelphia and New York win, Philadelphia would assume the lead. And, let’s not forget those Dallas Cowboys who sit only one win behind in the chase.

This Sunday, Kirk Cousins and the offense must perform better than the field goal-only, pathetic performance they just put up Monday night in a loss to Dallas. So perhaps they’ll have a shot against a Bears secondary that has given up 338.8 yards on average per game.

Though, Washington’s 21st-ranked defense has seen better days, so Jay Cutler and the Bears could do some damage if they bring their “A” game. Additionally, Chicago will also be looking to save face and improve its long-shot status in the NFC North.

Dallas Cowboys (4-8) vs. Green Bay Packers (8-4)

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Speaking of the ‘Boys, Dallas’ pass defense has been a force to be reckoned as of late, and the Green Bay Packers have disturbingly lost to some quite suspect teams this season.

Therefore, a win for the Packers is not necessarily in the bag against a Cowboys team that should not be counted out. Since starting for Green Bay in 2008, Aaron Rodgers is completing his lowest percentage of passes (61 percent) this season. Furthermore, the Packers lagging run game led by a “beefier” Eddie Lacy isn’t what it used to be.

On the Cowboys side of the field, their offense, starring kicker Dan Bailey as the MVP, is certainly nothing to write home about.  Therefore, Dallas talented and fifth-ranked pass defense will have to shoulder the load and apply the pressure to Rodgers who has been vulnerable at times this season.

A win for the Packers put them essentially a game-and-a-half ahead of Minnesota in the NFC North, which lost on Thursday night. And a win for Dallas could see the whole putrid division at 5-8 heading into the final three games, should their three divisional foes lose their respective games.

The last time the two teams met, Dallas lost in the divisional playoffs largely due to the controversial Dez Bryant “catch.”

New England Patriots (10-2) vs. Houston Texans (6-6)

David Butler II, USA Today Sports

Entering Week 14, the New England Patriots cannot afford to flush any more games down the toilet with a sneaky New York Jets team at 7-5, three games back in the AFC East.

And, the Houston Texans will be trying to oust the the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South with a win and a hopeful Colts loss to Jacksonville.

Therefore, this matchup is heavily important to both sides not to lose ground. Regarding the Texans, they’ll try to exploit the Patriots’ questionable secondary with a heavy dose of touchdown-machine, DeAndre Hopkins. Plus, the Texans will hope that the NFL’s No. 1 sack leader J.J. Watt, who broke his hand in practice, rattle Tom Brady in style.

For the Patriots, a huge plus approaching Week 14 is that tight end Rob Gronkowski is back to practicing. Questionable to play, Brady needs Gronk more than ever. With the recent injuries to the Patriots offense, Brady has been left with a paper-thin and sub-par supporting cast that has caused him to falter.

Odds would favor the Patriots to come out on top, though after a head-scratching loss to the Eagles last week, there are no sure bets.

Just for fun: San Francisco 49ers (4-8) versus Cleveland Browns (2-10)

Courtesy of USA Today Images

Because neither of these teams is going anywhere at this point in the season, both teams (and a couple key players) are playing purely to prove themselves to their front offices and fans. That said, this game means plenty for both teams and could be quite entertaining.

The Browns will start Johnny Manziel, whom fans have been clamoring for all season. Many fans don’t care about Manziel’s unsavory frat-boy behavior, but they do care about trying to build a winning team with consistency at the quarterback position.

Being that Manziel has another chance to prove himself in what could be his last season in Cleveland, we should expect some great effort on his part.

The 49ers enter Week 14 coming off an exhilarating overtime win that featured a new-and-improved Blaine Gabbert, who appears to have new life with the club.

Both teams sport terrible defenses that have allowed an average of nearly 400 yards per game. Hopefully, Cleveland’s 26th-ranked offense and San Francisco’s offense that ranks dead-last can do some damage to at least make Sunday’s game worth watching.

If it’s just a bunch of three-and-outs or field goals, viewers will certainly move on to more important things, such as organizing the garage.