NFL takeaways, Week 14: Snow, blowouts and surprises

Larry French

Weather impacted games around the NFL, while the playoff picture became a little clearer in the NFC.

Week 14 is in the books, and the sprint to the playoffs is underway. The NFC is coming into focus, while only Houston has been eliminated in the AFC. It's set to be a wild ending to the season.

Baltimore Ravens 29, Minnesota Vikings 26
  • Good luck finding a more dramatic two minutes of football than the end of this game, because you won't. The Ravens had their backs to the wall, and had to win on Sunday to keep their playoffs hopes alive. This is a very different team than iterations of Baltimore in the past. The defense isn't always reliable, often allowing big plays -- but the offense and special teams are capable of mitigating some of the problems. This isn't as talented a unit as 2012's, but the Ravens are still capable of making a push.
  • Cordarrelle Patterson broke out on an afternoon when Adrian Peterson was injured. He diversified the team's offense and almost turned Matt Cassel into a game-winning quarterback. The old adage is there are no moral victories, but fans should be excited about their rookie wide receiver -- especially with a new quarterback around the corner.
Cincinnati Bengals 42, Indianapolis Colts 28
  • The Cincinnati Bengals might not be elite from top to bottom, but they're one of the league's most even-keeled teams across all three phases. They run the ball well, play good defense and can be an elite passing team when Andy Dalton is on point. Complete football allowed them to defeat Indianapolis, and this could allow them to shock more one-dimensional teams in the playoffs -- provided Dalton stays hot.
  • Andrew Luck led the Colts in rushing, and he had two attempts. That says it all, really. The team's inability to run the ball is killing the good it does in the passing game. The passing numbers were extremely impressive, but the Colts finished 2-of-10 on third down. They'll make the playoffs because the AFC South is terrible, and likely be a first-round exit until they can get more help.
Green Bay Packers 22, Atlanta Falcons 21
  • Things just got very interesting for the Packers. Detroit was handled in Philadelphia, and if the Chicago Bears lose on Monday Night Football they stand a chance. Pair this with Aaron Rodgers returning to practice and the result could be extremely dangerous if they hit the playoffs. Injuries have decimated Green Bay, but it's a veteran team and with Rodgers at the helm, the Packers always stand a chance.
  • There wasn't anything more the Falcons could do. Credit to head coach Mike Smith, who has Atlanta still playing strong -- but the game on Sunday is an example of how far the team has fallen. Steven Jackson ran the ball well, the defense got a lot of pressure and it didn't make a difference against a backup quarterback and injured team.
New England Patriots 27, Cleveland Browns 26
  • Tom Brady threw for over 400 yards and the Patriots won, but it's impossible to see this team making a deep playoff run without Rob Gronkowski -- who was lost with a reported ACL tear. He allowed New England to get to the point where it could secure a playoff spot, but this team reverts to a host of unreliable weapons when he's off the field. It took everything to get past Cleveland, and that won't be enough in a few weeks.
  • The rage for the Browns has been to mock a quarterback to them in 2014, but Jason Campbell can't be overlooked. He's a perennially underrated player who consistently finds himself on rebuilding teams, but at some point Campbell deserves a long-term opportunity. He was sensational against the Patriots, throwing for 391 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. The future is important, but if Cleveland can't get a top-five pick, the best move could be to wait another year and give him a chance.
New York Jets 37, Oakland Raiders 27
  • Geno Smith desperately needed a good game, and he was mostly solid. Smith finished with 219 yards passing and a touchdown, but most importantly limited his turnovers to one. The lack of receivers on the Jets roster is clear, and that needs to be corrected. It's very difficult to properly evaluate the rookie right now because of offensive breakdowns, but if nothing else, New York made the right move by sticking with him and letting him succeed and fail rather than making knee-jerk moves.
  • Matt McGloin had another good start, and it creates some interesting questions moving forward. At this point the organization has committed to him over Terrelle Pryor, but is it enough to commit to him over a potential draft pick? McGloin did better against the Jets defense than a lot of players have, finishing with a 91.5 passer rating and finding six different receivers. Oakland will have an offseason to watch.
Philadelphia Eagles 34, Detroit Lions 20
  • This was the strangest game of Week 14, hands down. The snow made everything random, and Philadelphia better handled the wackiness by putting everything on LeSean McCoy's shoulders. It was a dominant fourth quarter that resulted in one of the best rushing performances of 2013. Nick Foles and McCoy are good enough to beat most of the league's defenses, and that makes them an unpredictable team if they can make the playoffs.
  • Matthew Stafford was awful on Sunday, and without Reggie Bush, the offense was dead. Much is made of Calvin Johnson's dominance, but the quiet undertone has been that this team has won just two games when Bush doesn't touch the ball at least 20 times. There's no question Johnson is the team's MVP, but Stafford needs an outlet when he's covered.
Miami Dolphins 34, Pittsburgh Steelers 28
  • Charles Clay is the most valuable fullback in the NFL to his team. There are a lot of players who lead block or serve as a short-yardage back -- but Clay is a dynamic receiver who makes life easier for Ryan Tannehill. Clay finished with 97 yards receiving and two touchdowns. He's a huge mismatch for teams without strong tackling linebackers, and the projected AFC playoff teams don't have defensive backs capable of bringing him down in the second level.
  • The season is effectively over for Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger did a great job pulling the team back from the brink, and fought through rumors and reports to almost push for a playoff spot. Getting back an offensive line will allow this team to compete in 2014, and it will be fascinating to see how Le'Veon Bell runs behind a real interior line, because he has been very solid despite the problems.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27, Buffalo Bills 6
  • This was supposed to be a showcase of Mike Glennon and E.J. Manuel, but both quarterbacks really struggled. Glennon completed less than 50 percent of his passes, Manuel threw four interceptions -- it was an ugly game from top to bottom. The Buccaneers won on the back of their defensive line, but neither team will be very happy with this result.
Kansas City Chiefs 45, Washington Redskins 10
  • It feels strange to call Kansas City "built for the playoffs" after 10 wins this season, but the Chiefs might be a team better poised to shock in a postseason run, rather than a game on a schedule. Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles allow the Chiefs to compete, but defense and special teams cause them to win. The league's top teams all share dominant pass-rushing units, which gives them a chance to shock -- provided they don't play Denver.
  • The Redskins are a mess. It's unclear who will start at quarterback in Week 15, Robert Griffin III is getting upset with the media and Mike Shanahan is on the hot seat. The team is imploding more with every loss and the right move might be to keep RGIII healthy, let Kirk Cousins play out the season and start over in 2014.
Denver Broncos 51, Tennessee Titans 28
  • It took 59 throws, but Peyton Manning prevailed again. The big issue for Denver is a lack of pass rush. Against the Titans, the Broncos managed just two sacks, and didn't pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick near enough. They won, which is all well and good -- but if the Broncos face a dominant quarterback and good pass rush, it's unclear how they will fare. To their advantage, there isn't really an AFC team that fits the bill, meaning it might be the Super Bowl before they face a team capable of beating them again.
  • Reports indicate the Tennessee Titans are on the verge of a full-scale rebuild, and while they played hard, the deficiencies are obvious. This is a team with a passing offense and run-blocking offensive line that tries two things, and does neither very well. The plan appears to center on parting ways with Chris Johnson and not retaining Jake Locker, and it's hard to argue with either decision. The offense is going to take time, but there are some bright spots on defense.
Arizona Cardinals 30, St. Louis Rams 10
  • This is starting to feel an awful lot like 2008. That was a 9-7 team without a running game, but had an aggressive defense and overwhelming pass offense that allowed the Cardinals to make it all the way to the Super Bowl. Carson Palmer is getting hot at the right time and channeling his inner Kurt Warner. Palmer isn't as good, that's clear -- but the defense is better. If Arizona can hit the playoffs, it will be an exceptionally dangerous team, but getting there is the hard part.
  • St. Louis lives and dies by its defense, and that's something to build on next year. Offensively, the Rams are a mess, and it still feels like Tavon Austin is being used incorrectly. The rookie receiver injured his ankle in the loss, but there's still an inability to find him in space. It will take a creative offensive mind to put him in positions, and Brian Schottenheimer isn't that man.
San Diego Chargers 37, New York Giants 14
  • Philip Rivers is playing extremely well this season, but he's also spreading the ball around at a rate we haven't seen in the past. Six different receivers caught three passes or more, while Ryan Mathews ran fairly efficiently. Reports are buzzing that teams could be looking at offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, and if the Chargers can't make the playoffs this year, it will be fascinating to see how they cope without him -- should he leave.
  • Will the Giants retain Hakeem Nicks? It's been a question throughout the season, ranging from possibility to improbability, all the way to trade rumor. Nicks is the team's most reliable receiver, even if he lacks the big pop. Victor Cruz can be up and down, and it's unclear if Rueben Randle can be a long-term replacement. It's going to be a tumultuous offseason in New York.
San Francisco 49ers 19, Seattle Seahawks 17
  • Frank Gore proved the vaunted Seahawks defensive line can be beaten. It feels like this was more momentous for team confidence, rather than just getting a win. It allowed the 49ers to get the monkey off their backs, showing they could matchup with Seattle in the trenches even when Colin Kaepernick struggled. It's unclear whether the 49ers can push into the playoffs without Kaepernick playing like he did in 2012, but there's a chance.
  • Seattle and San Francisco were neck-and-neck for much of the game, but the devil's in the details. Marshawn Lynch didn't run quite as well, the Seahawks had more penalties and receivers didn't step up -- it was that simple. There's not a lot for Pete Carroll's team to be concerned with, but the Seahawks just didn't play up to their potential. That won't happen again, especially when the playoffs are poised to move through Seattle.
New Orleans Saints 31, Carolina Panthers 13
  • Drew Brees is almost impossible to beat at home, which will serve the Saints well unless they meet Seattle again in the playoffs. A win in Week 15 will ensure an NFC South victory, and this could be the best Saints team ever -- including the Super Bowl team. The 2013 iteration is the most complete, especially on defense. Rob Ryan's scheme suits the team perfectly and aggressiveness in all three phases will allow New Orleans to beat most teams in the playoffs.
  • Carolina became media darlings, but the team wasn't quite ready. The Panthers are too inexperienced in the secondary, and the offense isn't built to work in shootouts. Sunday night was a matchup nightmare for Carolina, but there aren't many teams like the Saints in the NFL. It's no surprise the other team that gave the Panthers trouble was Arizona, who they could still see in the playoffs.

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