Label Week 14 as survivor: playoff island.
Many of the best teams in the league are facing inferior talent, leaving the middlings to beat up and potential knock out those on the playoff fringe. A loss this week could be crippling for several of those teams featured in our top three matchups to watch this weekend.
Buffalo Bills (6-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)
Neither team is in the top six of their conference, meaning they need to keep winning and count on help from above (in the playoff standings).
The Bills are the eighth seed in the AFC, but a win could put them right back in position for a wild card spot. To do that, they will need a strong performance from QB Tyrod Taylor, who has 17 touchdown passes and only four interceptions for a 104.3 passer rating, second-best in the AFC. If he keeps up that pace in passer rating he will pass Jim Kelly for the best single-season passer rating in Bills history, and he’s the first Bills QB since Jack Kemp in 1965 with three games in which he had a passing touchdown and rushing touchdown.
This is the also the return of LeSean McCoy to prove the Eagles they made a mistake trading him away in the offseason. He is the Eagles’ all-time leading rusher with 6,792 yards, but now he’s performing his services adeptly for the Bills, averaging 116 scrimmage yards in his last seven games. McCoy said he will greet former teammates but has no interest in shaking hands with his former coach, Chip Kelly. Meanwhile, Karlos Williams is adding to the Buffalo ground attack with six touchdowns in his last eight games, and receiver Sammy Watkins is going for his third straight 100-yard game.
The Eagles counter with Sam Bradford, whose uneven performance this season has left Eagles fan unsatisfied. He has 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions for an 83.5 rating. He has missed two of the last five games, but the other three point to a resurgence in Bradford’s game. The Eagles could turn to Ryan Mathews to try to spark their ground game and he averages 2 yards more than DeMarco Murray per cary. Mathews has missed the last three games but had scored a touchdown in each of his previous three games, and Darren Sproles also has six touchdowns in his last seven games against AFC opponents.
Oakland Raiders (5-7) at Denver Broncos (10-2)
The Broncos are currently sitting in the second seed in the AFC, hoping to move up to No. 1 and have home-field advantage throughout. The Raiders, meanwhile, have time running out on them. They are currently the 10th seed at 5-7 with the nine seeds in front of them all having at least a one-game advantage on them.
In October, the Broncos beat the Raiders 16-10 with Peyton Manning throwing for 266 yards. This time it’s Brock Osweiler who is managing the offense. In each of the last two games he has thrown one touchdown and one interception and relied on his top-ranked defense to get the Broncos the win. Still, Osweiler is 3-0 as a starter and has completed 62 percent of his passes for 686 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions as a starter.
The last time these AFC West rivals played at Denver, the Broncos smoked the Raiders 47-14 with C.J. Anderson leading the way with 87 yards rushing and three touchdowns, and the Broncos have won the past eight games between the two teams.
For the Raiders, it’s all about Derek Carr’s ability to rebound. Facing another strong defense in the Kansas City Chiefs last week, Carr threw two touchdowns and three interceptions and was sacked four times.
Denver has the top-ranked passing defense, so the Raiders may have to rely on running back Latavius Murray, who leads the AFC with 851 rushing yards and had 97 scrimmage yards against the Chiefs.
New England Patriots (10-2) at Houston Texans (6-6)
The Patriots are on a two-game losing skid after losing Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski from the offense. They are also lost their top seed in the AFC, falling from No. 1 to No. 3 as the Bengals and Broncos both have the edge on them. If they want the playoffs to run through New England, they will have to put together another extended winning streak and hope for help from others playing the Bengals and Broncos. The Texans, meanwhile, lost last week but won their previous four, including one against the Bengals. They are currently on the outside of the playoff picture, but a win over the Patriots would get them one step closer to getting back in.
Tom Brady still has the most yards in the NFL with 3,912 and the most touchdowns with 31 already, the sixth time in his career has had more than 30, yet the Patriots offense is only ranked 12th. Brady passed Dan Marino for the third-most touchdowns in a career with 423 and the Patriots don’t seem inclined to stop throwing the ball. Brady had a whopping 59 attempts against the Eagles last week and found running back James White to be one of his new favorite targets. White had 10 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown in the loss to the Eagles and has three touchdowns in his last three games.
However, if the Patriots are going to pass so much against the Texans, it could spell trouble. J.J. Watt is back in the NFL lead with 13½ sacks and the Texans have the third-best defense in the AFC. In his past 17 games, Watt has 24½ sacks, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, a safety, seven passes defensed and a touchdown catch, and he leads the NFL since 2011 with 70½ sacks.
QB Brian Hoyer has been efficient enough for the Texans, throwing 17 touchdowns and five interceptions for a respectable 97.1 rating and has two or more touchdown passes in seven of his last eight games. He will be facing the Patriots’ surprisingly 31st-ranked overall defense that is 28th against the pass.null