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NFL: Crunch Time Across The Board

football

Things change quickly in the NFL. The Arizona Cardinals, for example, are now ensconced in a losing streak and are fighting for their lives in the divisional race, just two weeks after having the best record of any NFL team. With just four games left to decide who’s in and who’s out in the playoff race, as well as who’s in and who’s out of the race for the no.1 overall draft pick in 2015, there is a lot left to play for- including job security for the majority of people. Let’s look ahead to week fourteen of the NFL regular season.

Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles scored a huge divisional win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving to get some breathing room atop the NFC East. They did it by exposing an overmatched defense, wearing them down with furious and frenetic offensive series’. The Eagles defense showed up pretty well too and, with the number of chances their fast play gives the opposition, that will need to remain the case down the stretch. The Eagles three losses have all been against strong teams on the road, but they are facing one of the form teams in the NFL right now, and will need to be on top form to score another big win. Can Jeremy Maclin make big plays on the Legion of Boom? Can LeSean McCoy keep up his resurgent running? Can Mark Sanchez stop fumbling the ball? They need all three of those to be answered with a yes on Sunday. The fast pace won’t scare this team, like it spooked the Cowboys.

The Seattle Seahawks were last seen dancing all over the San Francisco Forty-Niners playoff hopes, in their own back yard. The Seahawks have returned to their dominant form last seen en route to winning Super Bowl XLVII. It is probably no coincidence that the return of several defensive players in recent weeks has caused this turnaround, but Seattle have a lot of ground to make up still. Russell Wilson is rolling on offense, and if he and Marshawn Lynch have better luck than DeMarco Murray did against this defensive front, then Philly could be in trouble. Another brilliant game ahead.

Verdict: Seattle

Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos are finding new ways to win games, even when one of their stars isn’t on top form. Look no further than last weekend, when they beat the Kansas City Chiefs on the road, with Peyton Manning only completing 50% of his passes. C.J. Anderson ran the Chiefs into the ground, and he has given new life to a run game that has been badly depleted by injuries. Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are flying, and the revamped offensive line looks better set up to keep Manning upright. The defense still looks troubled, with only the receiver-less Chiefs being really shut down by them over the last five weeks. If Manning can stay upright this week, the Broncos should be looking good.

The Buffalo Bills are still in the thick of the AFC wild card race after their big win over the Cleveland Browns last weekend. The beat of this team comes from its phenomenal front four of Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes contributing a stunning 36.5 sacks between them already. They are well equipped to test out the new alignment of that offensive line. The Bills have been good on defense because of that huge front and strong run playing linebackers, but the secondary can give up plays. It seems very unlikely that Kyle Orton is ready to expose the Broncos defense, particularly with Sammy Watkins having a tough time the last couple of weeks. This run-first offense is shorn of some good runners, and that will hurt at Mile High.

Verdict: Denver

Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals

A big game for both sides here, and they come in under similar circumstances. Both lost their last two games, one against a team they would have been expected to overcome, and the other a crucial drop to a divisional contender. The Arizona Cardinals could possibly be in trouble, as their only true running back Andre Ellington is hurt, and that could make them pretty one dimensional on offense. They signed Michael Bus, but it seems unlikely he’ll carry much of the load. Getting Larry Fitzgerald back should help, as would a big performance that is owed to them by Patrick Peterson after Julio Jones blasted him time and again. If the Cardinals drop another one, they might find themselves scrapping to hold on to even a wild card space. Drew Stanton needs to show his mettle.

The Kansas City Chiefs also threaten to be one-dimensional offensively, with not a sight nor sound of a wide receiver anywhere, despite paying quite a lot of money to retain one. Alex Smith has been playing stellar football when you consider his options, and Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles can do a lot, but they need some help. Knile Davis getting some touches would be a start. The run defense, previously so impenetrable, has fallen flat the last few weeks. It might not take much to stop the Cardinals run game though. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali need to find Stanton early.

Verdict: Arizona

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have responded remarkably well to their mid-season slump, winning three straight road games to nudge themselves back to the top of the ultra-competitive AFC North. Admittedly they were extraordinarily fortunate to get past the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but a three game win streak is nothing to be whiffed at. A.J. Green has had over a hundred receiving yards in two of the last three games, although the Bucs did hold him back last weekend. Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard are running the rock hard, and creating room for the receivers. What version of Andy Dalton shows up week to week is hard to predict, but if Cincy can get back to the ferocious defense that they have had in recent years, then the Bengals must fancy their chances of clinging on to claim the AFC North crown.

The Pittsburgh Steelers blow hot and cold like no other NFL team. Like all of the other AFC North teams, the traditional hardnosed defense has failed them more than once this year. Dick LeBeau’s complicated defenses are proving harder and harder for new players to pick up and there has been a recent trend of defensive players only really getting their heads around the system as their contract comes to an end. It is an unfortunate situation for the Steelers to be in and, although there appears to be no appetite to give the Hall of Famer the boot, the situation is likely to be reviewed at season’s end. LeBeau would benefit from a Troy Polamalu masterclass down the stretch, but it’s more likely that Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell will have to keep bailing Pittsburgh out.

Verdict: Cincinnati

Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns

Expect the Dawg Pound to be in raucous form this weekend, with a must-win home game for the Cleveland Browns. Only the Browns could really manage to have  a 7-5 record and still be in last place in their division. Brian Hoyer is feeling the strain of being a starting NFL quarterback, and has struggled badly in the last three games, eventually being benched for Johnny Manziel last weekend versus the Buffalo Bills. Oddly, the return of Josh Gordon seems to have negatively impacted on Hoyer, who has certainly tried to force the ball to his explosive receiver. The absence of Jordan Cameron has not helped either, but this is do-or-die for Hoyer in terms of convincing people he is a starting NFL quarterback, as well as having to bring his side into the playoff promise land. It’s all to play for in Cleveland, but they are left taking the hard road.

Having an easy division to play in has left the Indianapolis Colts in a tough position. This is a young team coming together under a great quarterback, and are in the running for top seed in the AFC. Yet this team really feels like it is a year away from really being in a position to challenge the big boys consistently. People insist this is supposed to be a run-first offense, but the presence of Trent Richardson atop the depth chart, as well as the stunning depth of receivers, suggests otherwise. Vontae Davis may be missing from the secondary though, and this defense is only good in patches.

Verdict: Cleveland

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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