The NFL regular season will end in four weeks. Several teams already clinched their playoff spots while others already lost all hope, but many are still battling. There is only one team – the undefeated Carolina Panthers – who may already call themselves divisional champions. All the other divisions are up for grabs, or the leaders still need at least one more win to lock the title.
Week 14 started with the Thursday Night Football match amongst two teams who are both in the hunt for the divisional championship. Minnesota Vikings (8-4 record before the match) in Phoenix battled Arizona Cardinals (10-2). In the close match Cardinals stood their ground and defeated Vikings 23-20.
Vikings failed to stay in the NFC North 1st place, letting Green Bay Packers (also 8-5) reclaim their leading position. It seems that the champions of North will be decided in week 17 match between both these teams in Green Bay.
Meanwhile Cardinals improved to 11-2, and it was enough to clinch playoffs, but theoretically Seattle Seahawks (7-5) still have a slim chance to steal NFC West title. Thus Cardinals may clinch it this Sunday if the Seahawks will lose the away game against Baltimore Ravens.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5) @ Cincinnati Bengals (10-2)
There is no doubt – the central match of the week will take place in Ohio where the current AFC conference leader Bengals will examine the AFC North divisional rivals Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals already secured a spot in the playoffs, but a victory this Sunday would also grant them the name of the divisional champions.
The Bengals are the real deal. They are one of the most balanced teams in the whole league. Their quarterback Andy Dalton is playing his best career season yet - last weekend the surpassed 3,000 passing yards mark and became the second QB in league history to collect more than 3,000 passing yards in first five seasons of his NFL career. Before him, only Peyton Manning managed to do that.
Dalton have plenty of weapons. The star wideout A.J. Green played extraordinary football last month, however, their opponents should not forget about the other wide receivers - Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu - who are ready to make impact if Green is receiving double coverage. Tight end Tyler Eifert is leading NFL with 12 receiving touchdowns. And in the backfield, the Bengals have a solid choice between the tough runner Jeremy Hill and the versatile change-of-pace back Giovani Bernard.
Add solid offence to that and you will know the reason why the Bengals are currently leading the AFC conference. A victory against the rival Steelers, who are now 2nd in the division, would grant the AFC North champions title for the Bengals, but it will be easy.
Pittsburgh Steelers were battling multiple injuries the entire season. The QB Ben Roethlisberger was beaten again and again, and missed several games due to various injuries, but now he is ready to play. His tandem with the star WR Antonio Brown could be a deadly weapon against anyone. The Steelers are currently capable of at least the wild card spot in the playoffs, but their schedule is tough. A victory in Cincinnati would be a big step towards the postseason.
Prediction and pick: TonyBet is predicting the Bengals’ victory by 3 points. It seems a good guess this old AFC North rivalry always means close matches. The Bengals have one more chance to silence the critics by winning a prime time match.
New England Patriots (10-2) @ Houston Texans (6-6)
Several weeks ago the Patriots looked unstoppable at 10-0, but the QB Tom Brady lost most of his offensive weapons this season. The WR Julian Edelman and the RB Dion Lewis suffered serious injuries, and the WR Danny Amendola had to miss several matches. The Patriots also lost several key players on the defensive side of the ball. This resulted in two losses in a row, dropping to 10-2 and to the 3rd place in the AFC conference behind the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos.
But probably the most painful loss was suffered in the Week 12 match against Denver Broncos. The Patriots did not only lose the match - their superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski injured his knee and had to miss the Week 13 match against Philadelphia Eagles. Surprisingly, the Eagles found their way to the road victory and the Patriots are at the bottom point of their season now. It is unclear yet if Gronkowski will be able to help his team in Texas.
A victory against Texans would clinch the playoff spot for them, but it will be a hard task. The Houston team are anything but dead in the playoff race with the 6-6 record. Their defense has been playing solid football for the last month and a half. Last week they lost a road match against Buffalo Bills, but at home they are ready to challenge the defending champions.
Wideout DeAndre Hopkins is playing at a superstar level and he is making life a lot easier for the QB Brian Hoyer. But the real star in Texans is the defense - they allowed an average of only 9,66 points in the last three home matches.
Prediction and pick: TonyBet is predicting the Patriots’ win by 3 points. It will depend on the status of the TE Rob Gronkowski. If he will be healthy enough to play, then it will help the Patriots offense a ton. And if not – a 3rd loss in a row may come.
Washington Redskins (5-7) @ Chicago Bears (5-7)
This is a match of two teams who both suffered disappointing home loses last week. The Redskins had a chance to create a single victory gap between them and the closest divisional rivals, but they lost to Dallas Cowboys in the Nation's capital.
They still managed to stay in the NFC East top spot somehow, but Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants share the same 5-7 record, and the 4-8 Cowboys are just one victory behind. The NFC North is a complete mess, and there is a big chance that we will only know the name of the divisional champion after the Week 17.
Still, every victory is really important for the Redskins. The Washington team is solid on the defense, but they are struggling on the offensive side of the ball. Team's best receivers DeSean Jackson and TE Jordan Reed were struggling to stay healthy, but they must be on the field in Chicago this Sunday. It is the right time to make a playoff claim for the Washington team.
Chicago Bears were horrible at the start of the season. Then they rebounded in November, winning three out of the four last matches. However, the last week team suffered a demoralizing loss in a home match against the unimpressive San Francisco 49ers. The Bears seriously damaged their chances of reaching postseason, but the hope is still alive and they must win the home match against the Redskins to stay in the race.
Prediction and pick: TonyBet is predicting the Bears’ victory by 3-4 points, but we are not so sure. The Redskins have a real chance to win the NFC East division, so they will be highly motivated while the Bears’ chances of making playoffs are slim. We would bet on the visiting team there.
Other week 14 matches:
Atlanta Falcons (6-6) @ Carolina Panthers (12-0) – The Panthers are currently the best team in the NFL and their QB Cam Newton is the number 1 candidate for the league's MVP. It seems like a hundred years ago when Falcons started the season 5-0. Since then they became 1-6. It is hard to imagine how they can challenge the Panthers in Charlotte. The Carolina team must stay undefeated after the Week 14.
Seattle Seahawks (7-5) @ Baltimore Ravens (4-8) - Seattle Seahawks is the force to be reckoned with once again. After the unstable start of the season, the Seahawks found their way to the victory lately, mainly because of the impressive play by the QB Russell Wilson. And the Ravens are just bad. It should be an easy win for the Seattle team.
San Francisco 49ers (4-8) @ Cleveland Browns (2-10) – The Browns are the worst team in NFL right now, but the 49ers are not that far ahead of them. The controversial QB Johnny Manziel was given one more chance and he will have a lot of personal motivation to lead the Browns to a victory. On the other hand, the Cleveland team is currently on the pace for the 1st pick in the next year's NFL draft, which may also influence the outcome of this match.
Indianapolis Colts (6-6) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8) - In the battle of the AFC South divisional rivals, the Colts are considered favorites even on the road. And yet, the veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck will be once again under the center, while the Indianapolis team is expecting their starting QB Andrew Luck to be back for the Week 15 match only. The Jaguars may surprise their opponents this time, as the QB Blake Bortles and the WR Allen Robinson duo is working extremely well together.
San Diego Chargers (3-9) @ Kansas City Chiefs (7-5) - One more divisional rivalry, but with a lot less intrigue. Mark my words – the Chiefs will be in the playoffs. After the 1-5 start, they have won six matches in a row, and their remaining schedule is as soft as it can be in the NFL. And the Chargers are struggling on the both sides of the ball.
Tennessee Titans (3-9) @ New York Jets (7-5) – The Jets are in the hunt of the AFC wildcard, and if they want to compete in the postseason, they simply can't lose home matches against such weak teams as the Titans.
Buffalo Bills (6-6) @ Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) - Two teams whose playoff hopes are still alive. Last week, the Eagles on the road knocked down New England Patriots, and this victory may add confidence together with the fact that despite the negative 5-7 record, they are tied for the 1st place in the NFC East. Still, the Bills are a solid team, so we can expect an interesting match.
Detroit Lions (4-8) @ St.Louis Rams (4-8) - At the start of the season, the Rams were looking good and the rookie RB Todd Gurley exploded in October matches. But lately the hype has dissipated, and even Gurley is struggling because of the weak play of the Rams O-Line. The Lions are far from being stable, but they have proven many times that they can surprise anyone.
New Orleans Saints (4-8) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-6) – A NFC South divisional match between old rivals. The Buccaneers were the worst team last season, but the no. 1 pick QB Jameis Winston surpassed everyone’s expectations. The rookie playmaker has kept their playoff hopes alive this late in the season, but they must win the home match against the Saints if they hope to make it to the postseason. And the Saints’ defense is close to nonexistent.
Oakland Raiders (5-7) @ Denver Broncos (10-2) - There is no hope for the Raiders in this AFC South divisional road game. The Broncos are solid with the QB Brock Osweiler under the center. It seems that despite a few strong games at the start of the season, the Raiders will continue their streak without the playoffs for at least one more season. And the Broncos are among the Super Bowl contenders.
New York Giants (5-7) @ Miami Dolphins (5-7) - Monday Night Football match between the Giants and the Dolphins will close the Week 14. The Giants are in the hunt for the divisional title, so they will be highly motivated to win even on the road against the unimpressive Dolphins.