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Thursday, January 23, 2020

15 key questions for NFL Week 14

Lamar Jackson

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 their 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?

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 they’re 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?

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 have any life in him this season?

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?

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?

This is an interesting matchup between two ten-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?

Minnesota 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 Detroit 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?

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?

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 bounceback 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?

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?

While it’s far too late for Jacksonville to save its season, they have 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?

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?

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’ skillset 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 which could work against the Chiefs this week.

13. How far can Pittsburgh’s dominant defense carry them?

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?

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 New York?

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 at home, 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.



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