Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs take on the stout Patriots defense in a pivotal AFC matchup in Week 14. Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

A full 15-game slate greets us for Week 14 of the NFL season, with Buffalo-Baltimore and San Francisco-New Orleans highlighting the must-see games of the week. There are plenty of other things to watch for, too, like whether anyone actually wants to win the NFC East and Patrick Mahomes making a trip to New England. Plus, a team will push on after its longtime coach was fired during the week, providing an intriguing storyline in itself.

Here are key questions worth watching in Week 14 of the NFL season.

1. How will the Panthers respond to Ron Rivera’s firing?

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Rivera’s firing definitely counts as the surprise of the week, so things have been pretty chaotic for the Panthers in their prep for the Atlanta Falcons. The good news is Carolina gets a forgiving matchup this week, as Atlanta is just 1-5 at home. Things like this usually go one of two ways: the team is distracted and thrown off by what happened, or it's galvanized under interim coach Perry Fewell. The matchup may lead to the latter happening.

2. Will the Bills prove the most troublesome matchup Lamar Jackson has seen yet?

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In a certain sense, the Bills defense is tailor-made to control Jackson’s dual-threat ability. Buffalo shuts down the passing game and has the speed on defense to at least give Jackson trouble on the ground. In a certain sense, this could prove to be the quarterback’s most complicated matchup of the season. The Bills are also riding high after beating the Cowboys, and they look like an increasingly dangerous team as the season goes on. Jackson could be about to find that out the hard way.

3. Does Odell Beckham Jr. have any life in him this season?

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Beckham definitely counts as one of 2019’s most disappointing players. While he still has a chance at a 1,000-yard season, he’s caught only two touchdowns and has been held under 70 yards in seven of his games. The Bengals are certainly vulnerable here, but as is often the case with Beckham, there are other circumstances that could impact his performance. His latest comments muddying his future with the Browns will certainly increase the scrutiny of him this week.

4. Is Washington riding a wave of momentum?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Believe it or not, the Redskins have won back-to-back games. The first, at home over the Detroit Lions, was understandable given the opponent, but few saw a win at the Carolina Panthers coming. A trip to Green Bay to face the Packers is in an entirely different league of difficulty to these two contests, but the Washington defense has played fairly well lately. This will be the sternest test yet of that, but maybe they’ve actually figured something out.

5. Can the Niners score enough against the Saints at the Superdome?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is an interesting matchup between two 10-win teams with Super Bowl ambitions. The 49ers are good enough defensively to contain the Saints, though Alvin Kamara’s threat on the ground is worth watching against a San Francisco defense that hasn’t always been stout against the run. The question might be whether San Francisco can keep up with the New Orleans offense. The Saints can score no matter what, even if they’ll likely be a bit less explosive than usual. For the 49ers, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will have to get it going and lean on his run game, making for an intriguing tactical battle.

6. How quickly can the Vikings recover after Monday’s frustrating performance?

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings had some issues against Seattle on Monday night, though there wasn’t really anything about the performance that would make them exceptionally worried about their long-term prospects. Follow it up with a game against the Lions and they really shouldn’t be hurting for long. It’s worth watching to see if Kirk Cousins, who had his worst game in weeks, can get it back on track against the Lions and avoid a slide. It should be doable, as he torched them for 337 yards and four touchdowns in their first meeting of the season.

7. What are the Jets doing on offense?

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not entirely clear what Adam Gase is trying to do with the Jets offense. They looked lost against the Bengals a week ago, with Sam Darnold underwhelming and Le’Veon Bell essentially frozen out of the game plan despite Cincinnati’s ground-game vulnerability. The Dolphins present similar upside, so we’ll see if Gase does a better job deploying his personnel this time around. Miami actually beat the Jets in Week 9, so perhaps he’s learned something from that, too.

8. Can the Colts overcome their lack of firepower against a vulnerable Buccaneer defense?

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It looks like the Colts will have Marlon Mack back this week, which is good news. They still won’t have T.Y. Hilton, however, and their offensive weaponry is sorely lacking. If anything can make up for it, it’s the Tampa Bay defense, which has been gashed by numerous teams this season. Jacoby Brissett and the Colts badly need a bounce-back game after last week’s disappointment against the Titans, and this could be an opportunity for some of their lesser offensive lights to gain some confidence with quality performances.

9. Is Drew Lock a potential game-winner or just a game manager?

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Lock won his Broncos debut, but he didn’t exactly dominate. He threw for just 134 yards, and his most impressive moments came down to Courtland Sutton’s excellence. Houston’s pass defense isn’t elite, but Lock might have to do a little bit more this week because of the Texans offense being more likely to get things going than the Chargers did a week ago. At some point, the Broncos have to take the leash off a little bit and let Lock show what he has. We’ll see if that is this week.

10. Can the Jaguars recover some early-season mojo with Gardner Minshew back at the helm?

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

While it’s far too late for Jacksonville to save its season, it has little to lose by going back to Gardner Minshew after several unremarkable performances by high-priced free agent Nick Foles. Minshew was starting to fade before his initial benching, so it will be interesting to see if he can recover some of what made him something of a cult figure early in the season. What’s more, he may be playing to prove his future in Jacksonville — a strong performance could really make the Jaguars think ahead of the 2020 season.

11. Can Ryan Tannehill continue to increase his reputation in his second life with Tennessee?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be clear, Tannehill isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire. In three of his five wins as a starter, he’s been held under 200 yards passing. What he has done is throw touchdowns, not turn the ball over and take advantage of Derrick Henry’s excellence to lead a remarkably well-rounded Tennessee offense. Oakland’s defense showed just how vulnerable they are when they were exposed by the Chiefs a week ago, meaning this could be a great spot for Tannehill to continue his resurgence.

12. Can Patrick Mahomes crack that New England defense?

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

There is definitely some precedent for the Patriots defense to struggle against a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes. Both Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson largely had their way with New England this season in the team’s only two losses, and Mahomes’ skill set presents problems for even the best defenses. This game is in New England, though, which could make the task very difficult for the Chiefs quarterback. Mahomes will likely be studying those two games closely, though the Patriots rarely look vulnerable for long — a factor that could work against the Chiefs this week.

13. How far can the Steelers' dominant defense carry them?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Though the Steelers switched quarterbacks ahead of their win over Cleveland last week, it’s the defense that keeps winning games for Pittsburgh. The Steelers haven’t given up 30 points since Week 1, and only twice since their Week 7 bye have teams managed to hit the 20-point mark against them. The Arizona Cardinals haven’t been winning much lately, and the state of their offensive line means Kyler Murray could be in for a rough day Sunday. Pittsburgh’s defense is worth watching — they’ve been fantastic, and if they continue that, they should pick up another victory to strengthen their playoff chances.

14. Will a home game and an increased focus on Todd Gurley prove beneficial for Jared Goff?

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Jared Goff finally had a game to remember last week thanks to the battered Arizona defense, his first 300-yard game since October. Don’t expect the Seahawks to be quite as accommodating. There is good news for Goff, as he’s had success against Seattle in the past. Plus, Todd Gurley’s sudden re-emergence gives opposing defenses something to think about and takes some of the heat and expectation off the quarterback. He could prove surprisingly effective here.

15. Are the Eagles fighting for their lives at home against the Giants?

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles are a mess right now after losing to the Dolphins. Members of their coaching staff may be fighting for their jobs, and there are lingering questions on both sides of the ball. Fortunately, the New York Giants are a vulnerable opponent, especially with Eli Manning’s surprise return under center. Plus, thanks to the Cowboys’ ongoing ineptitude, the Eagles remain very much in the NFC East race. That said, watch how Philadelphia responds here — another loss to a bad team could lead to a full-on crisis in Philly.

This article first appeared on Larry Brown Sports and was syndicated with permission.


The Morning Bark Newsletter. Emailed daily.

You'll receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams.

Emailed daily. Always FREE!

Can you name every NFL MVP?
2018 / KC / QB
Patrick Mahomes
2017 / NE / QB
Tom Brady
2016 / ATL / QB
Matt Ryan
2015 / CAR / QB
Cam Newton
2014 / GB / QB
Aaron Rodgers
2013 / DEN / QB
Peyton Manning
2012 / MIN / RB
Adrian Peterson
2011 / GB / QB
Aaron Rodgers
2010 / NE / QB
Tom Brady
2009 / IND / QB
Peyton Manning
2008 / IND / QB
Peyton Manning
2007 / NE / QB
Tom Brady
2006 / SD / RB
LaDainian Tomlinson
2005 / SEA / RB
Shaun Alexander
2004 / IND / QB
Peyton Manning
2003 / TEN / QB
Steve McNair
2003 / IND / QB
Peyton Manning
2002 / OAK / QB
Rich Gannon
2001 / STL / QB
Kurt Warner
2000 / STL / RB
Marshall Faulk
1999 / STL / QB
Kurt Warner
1998 / DEN / RB
Terrell Davis
1997 / GB / QB
Brett Favre
1997 / DET / RB
Barry Sanders
1996 / GB / QB
Brett Favre
1995 / GB / QB
Brett Favre
1994 / SF / QB
Steve Young
1993 / DAL / RB
Emmitt Smith
1992 / SF / QB
Steve Young
1991 / BUF / RB
Thurman Thomas
1990 / SF / QB
Joe Montana
1989 / SF / QB
Joe Montana
1988 / CIN / QB
Boomer Esiason
1987 / DEN / QB
John Elway
1986 / NYG / LB
Lawrence Taylor
1985 / LARD / RB
Marcus Allen
1984 / MIA / QB
Dan Marino
1983 / WAS / QB
Joe Theismann
1982 / WAS / K
Mark Moseley
1981 / CIN / QB
Ken Anderson
1980 / CLE / QB
Brian Sipe
1979 / HOU / RB
Earl Campbell
1978 / PIT / QB
Terry Bradshaw
1977 / CHI / RB
Walter Payton
1976 / BLC / QB
Bert Jones
1975 / MIN / QB
Fran Tarkenton
1974 / OAK / QB
Ken Stabler
1973 / BUF / RB
O.J. Simpson
1972 / WAS / RB
Larry Brown
1971 / MIN / DT
Alan Page
1970 / SF / QB
John Brodie
1969 / LARM / QB
Roman Gabriel
1968 / BLC / QB
Earl Morrall
1967 / BLC / QB
Johnny Unitas
1966 / GB / QB
Bart Starr
1965 / CLE / RB
Jim Brown
1964 / BLC / QB
Johnny Unitas
1963 / NYG / QB
Y.A. Tittle
1962 / GB / RB
Jim Taylor
1961 / GB / RB
Paul Hornung
1960 / PHI / QB
Norm Van Brocklin
1959 / BLC / QB
Johnny Unitas
1958 / CLE / RB
Jim Brown
1957 / CLE / RB
Jim Brown

Customize Your Newsletter


Get the latest news and rumors, customized to your favorite sports and teams. Emailed daily. Always free!