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NFL's Week 14 schedule loaded with playoff implications

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There's a lot hanging on the NFL's Week 14 slate. Here's what this weekend's most important games mean for the playoff picture.

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The NFL Week 14 docket looks to be one of the best this season, and the results will have a reverberating effect on the playoffs picture down the stretch. Standings, seedings, and tiebreakers are still up for grabs, and there will be quite a few clubs scoreboard-watching this week. Ultimately though, we're still at a point where many teams can control their own destiny for the postseason.

Here are the games I'm most excited to watch, and I've listed teams along with their records and their spot in our weekly Power Rankings. I've also included playoff odds and some swing-percentages for this week's games as well. Simply put, it's crunch time in the NFL.

No. 14 Ravens (7-5) vs. No. 13 Dolphins (7-5)

This is a huge game for both teams. The Ravens will be without Haloti Ngata as he starts his four-game suspension for PEDs, and for Miami, Ryan Tannehill is starting to heat up. Over his last four games, he's completed an excellent 72.2 percent of his passes at 6.7 yards per attempt, while throwing nine touchdowns to only three interceptions. On the other side, Torrey Smith is probable for Sunday, which should give the Ravens a big boost, but the main question will be on Justin Forsett's status. The veteran is the NFL's fourth-leading rusher and he run for an average 109.5 yards per game over Baltimore's last four. They will need him against a tough Dolphins front.

The Ravens have now lost three of their last five games and head to Miami to play a Dolphins team with their backs getting closer to the wall each week. Baltimore is trying to keep pace in a division where every team is two games over .500, and the Dolphins face a similar quagmire of their own. With New England appearing to have a grapple hold on the AFC East for now, Miami will likely have to contend with not only the Ravens, but the Chargers, Bills, Browns, Steelers, Chiefs, and perhaps even the Texans for one of two AFC Wild Card spots.

Football Outsiders' DVOA has Miami with 47.3 percent odds for the postseason heading into Sunday. FiveThirtyEight's ELO metric is slightly lower at 46.2 percent. To understand the magnitude of importance this game represents for both teams, though, consider that per ELO, Miami's odds drop 32.3 percent all the way down to 13.9 percent with a loss. With a win, their odds improve to 68.7, a nearly 55 point swing*!

*Note: the outcomes of the other games on the schedule this week will slightly alter these odds.

For Baltimore, whose odds right now sit at 38.2 percent to make the playoffs per ELO, their odds would drop 20.5 points to 17.7 percent in defeat. A win would give put them at 67.6 percent for the postseason. That's a 50-point swing.

As far as NFL playoffs positioning is concerned, this is the biggest game of the week. A close second would be the Steelers-Bengals tilt.

No. 15 Steelers (7-5) vs. No. 8 Bengals (8-3-1)

After throwing six touchdowns each in back-to-back games in Week 8 and Week 9, Ben Roethlisberger has fallen to earth, failing to post a quarterback rating over 82 in each of the last three weeks. Not coincidentally, the Steelers have not played very well in those games, losing two of them and squeaking out a win against the lowly Titans. Now, there's a question as to whether Big Big's wrist is healthy going into a crucial matchup with the division-leading Bengals.

Right now, FiveThirtyEight has Pittsburgh with just 31 percent odds to make the playoffs, according to their ELO metric. Football Outsiders is right there with them, with their DVOA metric putting the Steelers' odds for the postseason at 34.1 percent. This isn't an "elimination" game, by any means, for the Steelers, but fall back to 7-6 and you're really putting yourself in a tough spot in probably the best division in football.

According to FiveThirtyEight, if Pittsburgh wins, their odds for the Playoffs increase 23.8 percent and would put them at 52 percent, but if they lose, their odds drop to around 13.9 percent. That's a 38-point percentage swing hanging on one game. Gulp.

Meanwhile, the Bengals have won five of their last six, including their last three. Importantly, Andy Dalton has shrugged off a stretch of bad outings from Week 7 through Week 10, including a Cleveland game in which he posted a QB rating of 2.0 (yes, 2, the single integer) after completing 10-of-33 passes for 86 yards and three picks. Over the last three games though, Dalton has rebounded by connecting on 70.4 percent of his passes at 7.49 yards per attempt while throwing five touchdowns to four interceptions. Also important is the fact that the Bengals' defense has picked up some slack, holding their last three opponents to an average of 12 points per game. That's big.

FiveThirtyEight's ELO is high on Cincy, and puts them at 80.3 percent odds to make the playoffs. Football Outsiders isn't as bullish, giving them just 65.3 percent odds. Regardless, they'll need steady play from the defense and Dalton down the homestretch to hold off the Ravens, Steelers, and Browns in their division. No matter how you cut it, this game is a big one -- per ELO, Cincy's odds for the Playoffs would go to 92.2 percent with a win but drop to 60.5 percent with a loss -- a huge 31.8-percent swing.

Buckle up.

No. 12 Chiefs (7-5) vs. No. 7 Cardinals (9-3)

This is a battle between two reeling teams, as Arizona and Kansas City have now both lost two in a row. Kansas City will hope to capitalize on what appears to be a demoralized Cardinals team that's trying to rely on backup QB Drew Stanton to keep their division championship hopes alive. In Arizona's last two losses, Carson Palmer's replacement has completed just 58 percent of his passes at 6.82 yards per attempt while throwing three picks to just one touchdown. The Cardinals' ground game hasn't been much better. Even more concerning for Arizona, the defense hasn't been as suffocating, and Atlanta managed to put 500 yards up on them last week.

The Chiefs' offense is decidedly not the same style as that of the Falcons, but after the Cards gave up 100-plus yards to a running back (Steven Jackson) last week for the first time since Week 6 -- of last year -- I'd expect Kansas City to try to do the same with their star, Jamaal Charles. Of course, the Chiefs don't have Matt Ryan or Julio Jones, so you can expect Arizona to load up to stop Charles in particular.

In a tough AFC Playoffs landscape, the Chiefs' backs are definitely getting close to that proverbial wall. Football Outsiders' DVOA has them at 54.8 percent for the postseason, but ELO is slightly less optimistic, putting their playoff odds at 43.6 percent. However, ELO says that if KC wins this weekend, those odds improve to 61 percent. If they lose, however, those odds drop to 28.6, a 32.4 percent swing. So, this is a big game for Kansas City. It's big for Arizona too -- their playoff odds would drop to about 70 percent with another loss.

No. 4 Patriots (9-3) vs. No. 9 Chargers (8-4)

This should be a really fun game, with two great quarterbacks duking it out. Tom Brady has been just stupid in the Patriots' last eight -- seven of which they've won -- and in those games, he's completed 67.3 percent of his passes, averaging 306.5 yards per game, with a 24:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 110.7 passer rating over that span. Remember when people were wondering if he'd get benched?

Meanwhile, Philip Rivers is doing all he can to keep the Chargers in contention. In the Chargers' last three games -- all wins -- he's completed 74.5 percent of his passes for a 5:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, 7.61 yards per pass and a 103.2 rating. However, his defense hasn't fared as well, and has given up 57 points in two weeks.

Football Outsiders like the Chiefs more than the Chargers -- probably because San Diego has the 28th ranked defense per their DVOA metric -- and puts Phil Rivers' squad at 37.8 percent for the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight's ELO is similar, giving the Chargers 41 percent odds at the moment. However, a win this weekend would give San Diego an enormous 20-point boost, which would get them over 60 percent odds for the playoffs.

San Diego's secondary better bring their A-game.

No. 5 Seahawks (8-4) vs. No. 2 Eagles (9-3)

This may not be the game of the week as far as playoff seeding implications are concerned, but it might be the game of the week as far as the game of football goes. The Eagles are coming off of a big win over the Cowboys and the Seahawks have now won two convincing games in a row. It pits two former Pac-12 innovators in Chip Kelly and Pete Carroll. The explosive, intriguing Kelly offense against the suffocating, old-school defense of Carroll. Who will flinch?

Philly has enjoyed Mark Sanchez's career renaissance of sorts -- and the former USC Trojan and New York Jet has completed 63 percent of his throws for 8.03 yards per attempt while connecting for eight touchdowns to six picks in five games. More importantly, the Eagles have scored 30-plus points in four of those five games, are 4-1 under Sanchez, and don't seem fazed by having to soldier on with the backup quarterback leading the way.

Meanwhile, Seattle hasn't given up a touchdown in the past two weeks -- six total points, to be exact -- and their defense isn't the only one that seems to be heating up. Russell Wilson has an efficient 68 percent completion rate and 8.22 yards per attempt in his last three games, throwing four touchdowns without a pick for a 110.9 rating. That's against the defenses of San Francisco, Arizona, and Kansas City.

Additionally, he and Marshawn Lynch have combined for 446 yards rushing in those three games -- 5.03 yards per carry and 148 yards per game, and the combination of the two as legit running threats has given the Seahawks' offense new life.

Of course, this game has pretty enormous playoff implications as well. For the Seahawks, the stakes are a little higher. They sit at 72.3 percent odds for the playoffs per Football Outsiders, whose DVOA metric really likes Seattle (5th overall, 6th on defense, 7th offense). ELO likes them as well -- putting them at 72.4 percent for the playoffs, and that number jumps 12.6 points to 85 percent with a win.

Interestingly, the prospect of a first-round bye is a pretty big factor in this game. Per FiveThirtyEight, a win for Seattle would improve their odds for a bye by 22 percent (from 23.9 percent to 46.7 percent), and a win for the Eagles would be a 55.6-point swing -- they're at 48.2 percent for that two-seed right now but would jump to 74 percent. A loss would sink Philly to 18.6 percent odds for the two-seed. Pretty crazy.

This is one to watch, and the good news for you is that almost the whole country will be tuning in.

No. 22 Falcons (5-7) vs. No. 1 Packers (9-3)

Offense, offense, offense. This game doesn't have the playoff seeding implications of some of the others I've outlined above, other than that a loss would be pretty disastrous for Green Bay's quest for home-field advantage throughout the Playoffs, but I am actually pretty excited to watch it nonetheless. The Falcons are finally starting to look like the Atlanta of old on offense and did some pretty impressive things against a very good Cardinals defense last week. It's not easy to win in Green Bay, of course, and Atlanta's defense will have to play their balls off, but this one could be fun.

★★★

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