With the postseason looming large in the minds of players of teams on the playoff bubble, pressure was a major factor in NFL Week 14.
Some handled the pressure well, putting on brilliant shows. Le’Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Stellers was a one-man wrecking crew in Buffalo, while Matthew Stafford put together yet another come-from-behind fourth quarter victory for the Detroit Lions.
Others crumbled, such as Andrew Luck, who turned the ball over three times in a pivotal AFC South battle against the Houston Texans.
These are just a few of the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 14. Here are the rest.
Winner: Titans buck Broncos, inch closer to playoffs
The Tennessee Titans are gaining some serious momentum heading into the final few weeks of the season. Coming into Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos tied atop the AFC South with a record of 6-6, they look like the front-runner to claim the division with a 13-10 win over last year’s Super Bowl champs.
Denver came into the game with some desperation, having lost to both the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs the past few weeks. With a record of 8-4 before Sunday’s loss, they were clinging to an AFC Wild Card spot.
Apart from a dirty play by Titans receiver Harry Douglas that led to a mini brawl (watch here), Tennessee was nearly flawless executing its game plan. Marcus Mariota predictably struggled against Denver’s No Fly Zone defense, but DeMarco Murray, Derrick Henry and Co. did not.
Tennessee played ball-control offense, while the defense forced two turnovers that led to three points — the difference in the game — and absolutely shut down Denver’s running game. While Trevor Siemian was tremendous leading the Broncos back after falling down 13-0, the team’s one-dimensional offense wasn’t good enough to garner a much-needed win.
The Titans now control their own destiny. Win their final three games and they’re guaranteed to get into the playoffs, as a Week 17 home game against Houston could determine the division.
Loser: Andrew Luck hands win to Texans in critical AFC South showdown
As we predicted, the Houston Texans were able to pull off a win despite a mediocre showing from Brock Osweiler. The reason they were able to do this is because the Colts handed them the victory on a silver platter.
Andrew Luck threw two interceptions and lost a fumble on a gorgeous sack by Jadeveon Clowney. His three turnovers resulted in nine points. On the other side, Houston’s only turnover of the game — a terrible interception by Osweiler — resulted in a punt by Indy three plays later.
In the most-important game of the year, the Colts were unable to execute the simple things. Now with two losses to the Texans, Indy is more than a game behind its AFC South rival.
We cannot put the blame on Luck entirely, because he’s gotten terrible protection all year. But he does have a tendency to hold on to the ball too long as he tries to make plays happen. That was in full effect in this game. And it cost his team dearly.
Winner: Le’Veon Bell puts up video game numbers against Bills
Le’Veon Bell sure picked a good week to explode.
Ben Roethlisberger put together a miserable outing in the snow at New Era Stadium, failing to throw for a single touchdown while giving the Buffalo Bills three extra chances on offense with three interceptions.
While his quarterback struggled to perform at a high level, Bell took the game over with a performance for the ages — he actually outgained the Bills all by himself.
In addition to tallying 298 yards from scrimmage, Bell rushed in three touchdowns to help the Steelers win their fourth game in a row.
Since returning to Pittsburgh’s lineup following his suspension, the running back has put himself in rare company with his all-around play.
If Bell continues playing this way, then the Steelers are going to be a force to be reckoned with down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Loser: Russell Wilson’s road woes continue
It wasn’t very long ago that the very notion Russell Wilson might struggle to carry Seattle’s offense was considered to be a hot take.
We’re now 13 games into the 2016 season. Wilson is averaging just one passing touchdown per game, and the past two road games have been nothing short of disastrous.
After a no touchdown, two interception performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12, he bounced back at home to lead the Seahawks to a big win against the hapless Carolina Panthers. Back out on the road again Sunday in Green Bay, Wilson was awful.
Now, credit is due to the Green Bay Packers, who are starting to play some good ball at the right time for a potential playoff run. But Wilson threw five interceptions at Lambeau Field — that’s a level of gruesome play most NFL quarterbacks will never experience.
“We can’t turn the ball over,” he said after the game, per Stephen Cohen of SeattlePI.com. “I put that on me. That game was on me.”
You’ll hear no argument from us on that point. That said, we’d be foolish to count out Wilson and the Seahawks, who have experienced much more success in recent years than failure.
However, outside of their first playoff game as NFC West champs, it is a guarantee that the Seahawks will have to win at least one game on the road to reach another Super Bowl. Heading into the final three weekends of play, Seattle is the No. 3 seed in the NFC.
Based on how the Seahawks have played on the road (2-4-1), we don’t expect Wilson and the 12s to be celebrating another championship this winter.
Winner: Matthew Stafford’s MVP bid gains more traction
Derek Carr has rightfully gotten a ton of national recognition for what he is doing for the Oakland Raiders this year. But another guy is having at least as much of an impact for his club, Matthew Stafford.
He came into Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears with seven fourth-quarter, game-winning drives this year. And wouldn’t you know it? He did it once again this weekend to move Detroit up to 9-4 on the season. Now with eight on the season, Stafford has set a new NFL record, and he still has three games left to play.
Showing off the resilience that has allowed him to come from behind so many times this season, Stafford had to rectify his own mistake to pull out the win Sunday. After throwing an interception into the end zone early in the fourth quarter, the veteran once again made a critical error. He threw a pick-six to rookie Cre’Von LeBlanc midway through the fourth quarter that gave the Bears a 17-13 lead (watch here).
That lead was short lived, however. Stafford marched the Lions right down the field on the next possession, finishing it off with a rushing touchdown that stood as the game’s final score. The Lions won 20-17 and remain two games ahead of the rest of the NFC North with three games remaining.
It was an ugly win, but another clutch performance by Stafford made it possible. And he did it after having separated a finger on his throwing hand and tearing ligaments in that finger (more on that here).
As well as Carr has performed for Oakland, this scribe believes Stafford is the MVP of the league this far.
Loser: 49ers can’t buy a win
In a battle between two sinking ships, the San Francisco 49ers proved they are actually worse than the New York Jets, who pulled out an overtime win on the road at Levi’s Stadium Sunday.
Not many teams can lay claim to such a dishonor. Remember, the Jets were absolutely destroyed at home not six days earlier by the same Colts team that looked pathetic against the mediocre Texans.
Making matters worse, the 49ers actually took a sizeable lead early and looked poised for a blowout win. Taking advantage of an early Jets turnover, Colin Kaepernick got the 49ers on the board with a touchdown pass to Carlos Hyde. Shane Draughn made it a two-touchdown lead not long after.
At the half, it was 17-3 in favor of San Francisco.
Yet as they have done all year, the 49ers allowed the Jets back into this game. After playing strong in the first half, the team’s defense crumbled, allowing Bilal Powell to go crazy on the ground with 145 yards rushing and the game’s final two touchdowns.
Because the 49ers don’t play against the Cleveland Browns this year, we cannot definitively say which team is the worst in the league. That said, we’re leaning towards the one that resides in Santa Clara.
Winner: Kansas City wrests control of AFC West from Raiders
Consider for a moment just how hot the Oakland Raiders have been this year. Now consider they aren’t even the top team in their own division. Now consider that top team is not the Denver Broncos.
Yes, folks. It’s the Kansas City Chiefs atop the best division in football.
On a cold and blustery night at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs took control of the AFC West with an impressive 21-13 win over the Raiders. Despite getting some serious run support from Latavius Murray and Co., Derek Carr had the worst game of his season. With just 117 yards on 17-of-41 passing, Carr averaged 2.9 yards per attempt and failed to throw a touchdown.
One of his throws to Amari Cooper on a play that should have resulted in a touchdown for Oakland was so awful it earned its own conspiracy theory (more on that here).
Thanks to a 21-point outburst during the first half of play (including two touchdowns by Tyreek Hill), Kansas City rode its defense to a huge win and now controls its own destiny the rest of the way leading into the playoffs.
With eight wins in their last nine games, including consecutive victories over the Broncos, Atlanta Falcons and Raiders, it’s safe to say the Chiefs are for real.
Loser: Cardinals show up small in must-win game
Though not technically eliminated from playoff contention in the NFC, the Arizona Cardinals might as well be. They pretty much eliminated themselves Sunday with a stinker of a performance against the Miami Dolphins.
This was a game they could have won if not for a quartet of turnovers. Carson Palmer, who has not been able to recapture the magical touch he had before the NFC Championship Game last season, threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and is lucky it’s the only one he lost out of his three total fumbles. David Johnson also lost a fumble.
Arizona’s turnovers are lucky to have only cost them seven points. But in a three-point game, those seven points loom large.
What’s even more frustrating about the performance by the Cardinals’ offense is that Arizona’s defense did a fine job holding Jay Ajayi and the Dolphins’ rushing attack in check, allowing just 2.7 yards per carry.
Worse still is the fact that the Cardinals couldn’t close out the deal in the game’s final minutes after the Dolphins watched quarterback Ryan Tannehill go down with a season-ending ACL injury.
All year long, Arizona has made mistakes that have made it impossible to pull out winnable games. That happened once again Sunday, and it almost certainly means the team many picked as the favorite to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LI won’t even make the playoffs.
Winner: Big Blue gets defensive in huge win over the ‘Boys
With only three weekends of regular-season action remaining, the New York Giants are still the only NFL team to beat the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.
And they’ve done it twice.
Relying on a tremendous showing by the defense, the Giants overcame a dismal performance by Eli Manning. He threw one touchdown thanks to a brilliant play by Odell Beckham Jr. after the catch, threw one interception and had two interceptions dropped by Cowboys safety Barry Church.
New York’s offense as a whole was pretty mediocre, but it was just good enough.
This was due to the defensive front creating pressure up front all game long when Dak Prescott dropped back to pass. From pretty much the get go, the rookie was feeling heat on many of his drop backs, leading to many an inaccurate pass and two interceptions.
It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that Dez Bryant finally caught a pass, and he ended up fumbling it away thanks to a terrific job by cornerback Janoris Jenkins to knock the ball loose.
Ezekiel Elliott did manage to go over 100 yards to continue his league-leading pace on the ground. But minus the one big touchdown to Terrence Williams in the first quarter, New York’s secondary limited Dallas’ passing offense to nothing but check downs.
It was just a dominant showing by Big Blue’s defense, which continues to evolve into an extremely dangerous unit. And we all know what defense has done in recent memory for the Giants come playoff time.
Loser: Philip Rivers’ five turnovers lead to another loss for Chargers
The San Diego Chargers have been getting ravaged by the injury bug all year, and they lost two more stars Sunday. Melvin Gordon went out with a hip injury and is going to need further testing (more on that here) and rookie Joey Bosa exited with an apparent concussion.
Rivers, who’s been operating without top receiver Keenan Allen since early this year, has been doing everything in his power to keep the Chargers competitive. Without him, it’s safe to say this team would be among the worst in the NFL, given the circumstances it has faced this year.
However, even the great ones cannot carry their teams long term.
Rivers threw three interceptions on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers and lost two fumbles in the team’s 28-16 loss. He also threw a couple touchdowns, but it just wasn’t near enough to counterbalance the mistakes. Now at 5-8 on the season, the Chargers are pretty much burned toast.