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Sports

Week 14 NFL Preview: Bucs-Bills, Ravens-Browns, Cowboys-WFT

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Week 14 NFL Preview: Bucs-Bills, Ravens-Browns, Cowboys-WFT

2021-12-11 11:01:32

 

Image: Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady. (Image Source: Dale Zanine / USA Today

The train to the NFL Playoffs leaves in 33 days and there are only 14 tickets.

This week, the first teams can reserve seats but most of that postseason manifest is anyone’s guess.

Every AFC team has at least four losses. The last time either conference entered Week 14 with every team having lost four-or-more games was 2002 in the AFC.

In the NFC, WASHINGTON (6-6) and SAN FRANCISCO (6-6) hold the final two playoff berths but five teams behind them are within one game.

And overall, 19 teams have a .500-or-better winning percentage. Eight of those 19 were not in the playoffs last season, including the current top seeds in each conference: ARIZONA (10-2) and NEW ENGLAND (9-4). Should the Cardinals and Patriots clinch the No. 1 seeds in the NFC and AFC, two teams that were not in the playoffs the prior year will have secured home-field advantage for the first time since 1992 (San Francisco and Pittsburgh).

Since 1990 – a streak of 31 years – at least four teams every season have qualified for the playoffs after failing to make the postseason the year before.

But it’s only Week 14, so stay tuned and buckle up. The next five weeks are shaping up to be a memorable ride.

TOP-FIVE OFFENSES FACE OFF IN TAMPA: Another team with an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth this week is the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (9-3), who host the BUFFALO BILLS (7-4) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS). The Buccaneers (31.4 points per game) and the Bills (28.0) rank first and fifth, respectively, in scoring offense.

  • The Buccaneers are attempting to snap the longest streak without a repeat Super Bowl champion in NFL history. The last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls was the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS in 2003-04.
  • Tampa Bay’s TOM BRADY, the quarterback of those Patriots teams, passed for 368 yards and four touchdowns while tight end ROB GRONKOWSKI had two touchdown receptions in the Buccaneers' win last week.
  • Brady and Gronkowski have now connected for 90 regular-season touchdowns and surpassed PHILIP RIVERS and ANTONIO GATES (89) for the second-most regular-season touchdowns by a pairing in NFL history. Only the Pro Football Hall of Fame combination of PEYTON MANNING and MARVIN HARRISON (112) have more.
  • The league leader with 3,771 passing yards, Brady needs 229 more to reach 4,000 and join Peyton Manning (14) as the only players with at least 4,000 passing yards in 13 career seasons.
  • Last week, Gronkowski recorded his 20th-career game with at least two touchdown receptions and joined ANTONIO GATES (21) as the only tight ends with at least 20 career games with two-or-more touchdown receptions in NFL history.

SOLID GROUND: Both the BALTIMORE RAVENS (8-4) and CLEVELAND BROWNS (6-6) have rushed for 1,765 yards this season. The AFC North rivals, tied for third in the NFL with 147.1 rushing yards per game, meet on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium (1:00 PM ET, CBS).

  • Last week, Baltimore’s LAMAR JACKSON rushed for 55 yards and currently leads all quarterbacks with 762 rushing yards. He’s also one of five NFL players (and the only quarterback) with at least 750 rushing yards in each of the past three seasons (2019-21).
  • Cleveland’s NICK CHUBB (six) and KAREEN HUNT (five) are the only pair of running-back teammates each with at least five rushing touchdowns this season.
  • The Browns and Chubb, who ranks fourth in the NFL with 867 rushing yards this season, will be challenged by a Baltimore defense that has allowed the NFL’s fewest rushing yards per game (84.25).

The Browns are playing consecutive games against the Ravens – Weeks 12 and 14 – sandwiched around their Week 13 bye. It’s the first time in 30 years during an NFL regular season that a team has played consecutive games against the same opponent, since Seattle (then a member of the AFC West) met the San Diego Chargers in Weeks 9 and 11 of the 1991 season. Both the Seahawks and Chargers had a Week 10 bye that season.

AFC NORTH, AFC WEST UP FOR GRABS: All four teams in both the AFC North and AFC West are .500 or better. The last time every team in multiple divisions had .500 winning percentages in Week 14 or later was 2008. That year, three divisions (AFC East, NFC East and NFC South) each featured four teams with .500-or-better records entering Week 14.

  • Two of those AFC West teams, the LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (6-6) and KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (8-4) are paired up at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). Kansas City enters with a five-game winning streak.
  • Both the Raiders’ DEREK CARR (3,663, second) and the Chiefs’ PATRICK MAHOMES (3,384, fifth) rank among the league leaders in passing yards this season.

SIGNIFICANT STRETCH IN NFC EAST: Only two games separate the division-leading DALLAS COWBOYS (8-4) and WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM (6-6) atop the NFC East. Those teams meet twice in the next three weeks, starting with Sunday’s contest at FedExField (1:00 PM ET, FOX).  

  • Washington, riding a four-game winning streak, began the season 2-6. Only two teams since the 1970 merger have reached the playoffs after two-or-fewer wins in their first eight games: Washington last season and the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals, who also started 2-6, then reeled off six straight wins before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Colts in the first round of the playoffs.
  • Washington also has a firm grasp on its own destiny. The team’s final five games are against division foes. Washington is the first NFL team to finish with five straight games in its own division since the 1995 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
  • In last week’s win, Dallas cornerback TREVON DIGGS registered his league-leading ninth interception, the most by an NFL player in his team’s first 12 games of a season since EVERSON WALLS had 10 over the Cowboys’ first 12 games in 1981. Diggs’ nine interceptions are also the most by a Cowboys player in a season since Walls had nine in 1985.
  • Cowboys linebacker MICAH PARSONS leads all rookies and ranks tied for eighth in the NFL with 10 sacks. He is the first rookie since JOEY BOSA in 2016 with at least one sack in five consecutive games. With at least one sack against Washington, Parsons would have the longest streak by a rookie (six games) since JEVON KEARSE had an eight-game streak in 1999 en route to the NFL’s single-season record by a rookie, 14.5 sacks.

The PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (6-7), who are on a bye this week, also finish the season with four divisional games. Only two teams in the previous 20 years have finished a regular season with four straight divisional games: the 2019 Philadelphia Eagles and 2017 Atlanta Falcons. Each of those teams reached the playoffs.

 

 
 

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