NFL 2018 - Week 14
NFL 2018 – Week 14
Last week’s Game of the Week wasn’t quite as intriguing as we had hoped as the Cleveland Browns’ rollercoaster season continued in Houston, but it at least underlined the Texans’ credentials as a playoff team – and possibly one heading for a first round bye! Baker Mayfield picked a poor week to turn in an below-par performance, but there were wins elsewhere for rookie QBs, as Lamar Jackson and Josh Rosen led the Ravens and Cardinals to victory over Atlanta and Green Bay respectively, the latter having the added effect of ending Packers’ coach Mike McCarthy’s 13-year tenure at Lambeau Field. With the Bengals and Jets both losing again, could there be more coaches joining the dole queue in the coming weeks? The week, of course, kicked off with Dallas shocking New Orleans out of their ten-game win streak, and ended with the reigning champion Eagles keeping their beaks in the playoff hunt with victory over NFC East rival Washington, but also included notable performances from the Chargers – who beat Pittsburgh at Heinz Field – and the Giants, who upset Chicago in the Big Apple to continue their late-season resurgence. Meanwhile, there was a statement win from New England over Minnesota, and the Seahawks kept their wildcard bid alive, but the Panthers and Colts both saw post-season hopes take a hit, the latter in a 6-0 defeat by the Jaguars.
Game of the Week – Los Angeles Rams @ Chicago Bears
It has come to our attention that, while we’ve featured both the Vikings and Packers in this column over the weeks, we have yet to include the team that is currently heading both of them (and the hapless Lions) in the NFC North race. We’re about to put that right... The Bears have been one of the stories of the season, from drafting solidly and nailing free agency to then nabbing stand-out defensive disruptor Khalil Mack when Jon Gruden decided to dispense with his services in Oakland on the eve of the season. The reshaped team then produced the results to take them to the top of the division. Yes, they’ve lost some games along the way – not least to the Dolphins and Giants – but, at 8-4, stand nearly two games clear of the Vikings as the regular season heads into its final weeks.
The Rams, meanwhile, have been well documented here, their stellar season yielding only one defeat – to the Saints – as they powered to an NFL-best 11-1 record and multiple appearances in the Game of the Week. The match-up with Chicago was so alluring that the league office decided to apply its flex scheduling rules and swap it into Sunday’s primetime slot (in the US alas!) in place of the previously planned Steelers-Raiders game. The 8.20pm ET kick-off should make it a cold one in the Windy City and, while the Bears fans will cope, how will that impact the California kids?
Players to watch?
While question marks remain over just how good second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can be, there is no doubt that he has helped lift the Bears to their current position. There is still some doubt as to whether Trubisky plays this weekend – he has sat out the past two games with a banged-up shoulder, with back-up Chase Daniel replacing him under centre – and facing the Rams defense may not be the wisest idea if he’s still nursing an injury. Having seen Trubisky struggle as a rookie, the Bears made sure to surround him with weapons during the off-season, bringing in wideouts Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and Eagles TE Trey Burton in free agency, before adding Anthony Miller to the receiving corps in the Draft. The running back position was already healthy, with Jordan Howard and live-wire Tarik Cohen in place, and the offense has rarely been an issue this season, scoring less than 20 points only once. Mack’s arrival boosted a D already boasting the likes of Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd and Kyle Fuller, but the former Raider has been akin to a one-man wrecking machine on occasion. The Draft also brought in linebacker Roquan Smith, while second year safety Eddie Jackson has already racked four interceptions this year, two going all the way back for touchdowns.
The Rams, meanwhile, arrive in Chicago safe in the knowledge that they have already wrapped up the NFC West title and, with it, a place in the post-season (as if that was ever in doubt!). With the Saints still hot on their heels, however, there will be no resting on laurels for Sean McVay’s team as they try to ensure the playoffs run through the LA Memorial Coliseum rather than NOLA. Jared Goff has matured nicely as a quarterback under McVay’s tutelage, and remains surrounded by potent offensive threats, from Todd Gurley at running back to Robert Woods, Josh Reynolds and Brandin Cooks at receiver – the latter having just completed another 1000-yard season, his third in as many years and all with different teams. Tight end Tyler Higbee also continues to feature in Goff’s reads, with Gerald Everett not far behind. The Rams are still playing for the victims of recent tragedies in LA, with offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth at the centre of supporting efforts, but that compassion does not extend to the field where the D is concerned, with Dante Fowler, Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh continuing to possess a nasty streak. Linebacker Samson Ebukam enjoyed a breakout game against the Chiefs in Week 13, while CB Marcus Peters returned to haunt his old team in the same game. With fellow corner Aqib Talib reactivated from the injury list to face the Lions last weekend, almost all of the Rams’ stacked defensive corps should be in action this weekend.
Best of the rest?
All 32 teams are in action this week, with the Jaguars and Titans kicking things off on Thursday night and the Vikings and Seahawks bringing the curtain down on Monday. The AFC South clash between Jacksonville and Tennessee was decided over just 15 points back in Week 3, with the Titans getting the edge 9-6, and this might be an equally dour struggle. The Jags managed to go one better last weekend, needing just two field goals to win over division rival Indianapolis, while Tennessee has yet to look like an offensive powerhouse with any regularity. The opening televised game of the weekend could be an intriguing one, pitting the Ravens defense against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Kansas City, of course, are now without disgraced running back Kareem Hunt, but still managed to rack up 40 points in defeating the Raiders last Sunday, while Baltimore stifled Matt Ryan and the Falcons in Atlanta to make it three wins on the bounce. The late game is the NFC East rematch between Dallas and Philadelphia which could go a long way to deciding the outcome of the division.
The Cowboys are enjoying an upturn in fortunes of late, buoyed by the arrival of WR Amari Cooper from Oakland and riding a four-game win streak that began in the City of Brotherly Love last month. The Eagles, however, refuse to give up on their dream of back-to-back Super Bowls and remain a threat after seeing off Washington on Monday night. The Vikings head to Seattle knowing that their wildcard hopes remain on the line, having been repelled by the Patriots in New England last weekend. While head coach Mike Zimmer should have his preferred offensive threats back to full health on Monday, QB Kirk Cousins needs to make full use of them against a Seahawks D that is emerging from the shadow of the Legion of Boom. The home team, meanwhile, will look to quarterback Russell Wilson to orchestrate his under-appreciated offense in order to keep building on a 7-5 record and remain a post-season candidate. Divisional rivalries proliferate on the Week 14 schedule, with Jets @ Bills, Giants @ Redskins, Saints @ Buccaneers, Patriots @ Dolphins and Colts @ Texans all carrying extra meaning – especially for New Orleans, who will hope to avoid a second defeat to the mercurial Bucs. Green Bay, meanwhile, entertains Atlanta in the first game of the post-McCarthy era, and Arizona tries for two wins in a row with the visit of Detroit. Enjoy!
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