nfl week 14: four things to keep an eye on

By Tayyib Abu

Week 14 of the NFL season feels like the season’s most important week. Every game of the slate features at least one team in playoff contention. Here are four things to watch this Sunday.

Can The Bengals Beat The Browns?

Credit: Jason Miller/Getty Images

In the Joe Burrow era, the Cincinnati Bengals are 0-5 against the Cleveland Browns. In the last three meetings, Cleveland has outscored Cincinnati 94-45. The Browns have dominated the Bengals in recent seasons, and earlier this season, Cleveland crushed Cincinnati in a 32-13 beatdown. It is proof positive that form goes out of the window in a divisional matchup. Like last year, the Bengals are red-hot at the right time; Zac Taylor’s side has won four straight, and Burrow has entered the MVP conversation. With Lamar Jackson injured, the door to an AFC North title is ajar for Cincinnati. But can they defeat the Browns?

In the reverse fixture on Halloween, Cleveland dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Bruising runner Nick Chubb gashed the Bengals for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, the Browns wreaked havoc on the Bengals’ offensive line; Cleveland sacked Burrow five times and surrendered just 36 total rushing yards to the Bengals. Star defensive end Myles Garrett led the way as his relentless pressure and physical power destroyed Cincinnati’s offensive plan. 

However, since that Halloween fright, the Bengals have arguably been the best team in the AFC. They have won four straight, including big wins over AFC divisional leaders Kansas City and Tennesee. Cincinnati has found the balance between rushing and passing in the last four games. In the wins over Carolina and Kansas City, running back Samajae Perine totaled over 100 rushing yards in those games. Meanwhile, Burrow has played ruthlessly well. He has thrown eight touchdowns to two touchdowns and has only been sacked five times since the last game. After giving up 29 sacks in the first eight weeks of the season, the Bengals’ offensive line, pass protections, and schemes have come alive.

The Bengals’ offense is rampant, while the Browns’ defense has played sub-par. They are 27th in defensive DVOA and are particularly weak on the defensive back end. The key to this matchup is Garrett. Next Gen Stats has him ranked as the best edge-rusher this season. Garrett leads the NFL in pressures and boasts the quickest get-off for any defensive end. The Bengals are the better team and are poised to get an elusive win over Cleveland. However, if Garrett takes over, the Browns will have a legitimate shot to extend their win streak.

Can Tyler Huntley Save The Day?

The Baltimore Ravens are teetering. Despite owning an 8-4 record, it feels like the Ravens are on the back foot. Baltimore ‘won’ 10-9 over the Denver Broncos last Sunday but lost Lamar Jackson to a PCL injury. Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley will step in today to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have won three of their last four since they returned from the bye week. Notably, the upturn in form coincided with TJ Watt’s return. Now, at 5-7, the Steelers can preserve Mike Tomlin’s unblemished regular season record; another win will improve those chances. The Ravens’ offense has gone into a coma over the last five weeks; they are 31st in explosive plays.

Moreover, their wideouts own the lowest cumulative yardage of anyone in the league. Huntley filled in last year and averaged 5.8 yards per attempt on 188 passes in 2021. That was 39th out of 41 qualifying quarterbacks. Huntley also toiled under pressure in 2021; in the face of pressure, Huntley completed 15/41 passes and was sacked 18 times. With the Steelers’ defense finally showing some life and a rushing game that has come to life, Pittsburgh will fancy their chances. The Steelers have won four in a row over Baltimore, and now Baltimore needs Huntley to save the day and steady the ship. With the Bengals right behind them and an improving Steeler team, the pressure is on the Ravens.

Mr. Irrelevant vs Mr. GOAT

Credit: Sky Sports

When Tom Brady circled this Sunday’s visit to Santa Clara, he would not have envisioned that Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy would lead the San Francisco 49ers onto the field. Brady led his Tampa Bay Buccaneers to an astonishing comeback victory on Monday Night Football over the Saints last week. At 6-6, Tampa is closing in on another NFC South title, but this visit to California will examine Tampa’s playoff credentials.

The 49ers are among the best, toughest, and most experienced teams in the NFL. And, in Nick Bosa, they have the best player on the field. Bosa was ferocious last Sunday against the Miami Dolphins; Bosa tallied three sacks, two TFLs, and three solo tackles. Over the season, Bosa leads the NFL in sack rate, sacks and is 3rd overall in Next Gen Stats edge-rusher score. Tampa’s makeshift offensive line has caused Brady plenty of problems all season-they are 27th in pass block win rate. Brady’s California homecoming will push him to the limit, especially against the 2nd ranked defense in DVOA. 

However, the Bucs’ defense should be a force in this game. Brock Purdy was brilliant last Sunday, but a different test awaits him today. Tampa’s defense is 8th in defensive DVOA, and they possess difference-makers at every level. Kyle Shanahan’s offense relies on high-class execution from its quarterback. Despite having more talent at the skill positions, it will be a big test for Purdy’s nerves and poise. Especially with the GOAT standing on the sidelines. A defensive fight is on the cards, which will suit Brady. Can Mr. Irrelevant defy the odds and keep San Francisco ticking? Or will Brady and the Bucs clamber over .500?

Will New England Miss Out On The Playoffs?

The New England Patriots are bottom of the AFC East. Their fleeting playoff hopes took a huge hit last Thursday as they lost to the Buffalo Bills. On Monday, they visit Arizona, and if the Patriots want to return to the desert in February, they must win. But can they? The Patriots are a mediocre side. Since Week 7, the Pats are 31st in touchdown rate per drive. Football Outsiders ranks the New England offense 24th. The offensive line is 18th in pass-block success, and there is visible discord between Mac Jones, and offensive coordinator Matt Patricia. 

New England’s defense has also creaked in the last two weeks; on Thanksgiving night, the Vikings dumped 33 points on Bill Belichick’s defense before Josh Allen dissected them last week. And discipline, the staple of Patriots football, has vanished in the previous three games. Since coming off the bye week, the Patriots are 4th in yardage from penalties committed. They have conceded an average of 57.3 yards from penalties in the last three weeks. The Patriots are no longer the Patriots, and a defeat to a middling, inconsistent Cardinals team will surely end their playoff hopes.

feature image: Getty Images



Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1