It’s Week 14 of the NFL season and only four games remain to decide who advances to the playoffs. And who goes is anyone’s guess as 27 teams remain in contention for a postseason berth.
“It’s the fourth quarter of the season,” says head coach MIKE MC CARTHY of the 8-4 Green Bay Packers. “There are four games left. This is December football. We want to be playing our best football and that’s our challenge.”
For the first time since realignment in 2002, seven of the eight divisions have two teams either in or within one game of first place through the first 13 weeks of the season. And with plenty of division games down the stretch, a lot can happen.
“All the division games at the end of the season keep things interesting,” says New York Giants defensive tackle BARRY COFIELD. “That’s what fans love, and being a big football fan myself, I love watching these games at the end of the year. There’s some competitive football being played down the stretch and it’s what any fan would want to see.”
“We’ve started a run and need to keep it going,” continues Cofield. “There are a lot of teams in the NFC playing well and they have good records. We’re going to have to finish with a strong record to be in the playoff hunt. This is what you play for and that’s exciting. When you get to the end of the season, you want to have something to play for. We need to treat every game as a must-win.”
Some of the key games this week:
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (6-6) at TENNESSEE TITANS (5-7) (Thursday, NFLN, 8:00 PM ET)
Two games separate all four teams in the AFC South. The Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5) lead the division, with Indianapolis (6-6) and Tennessee (5-7) looking to make a move.
“We’ve got to win the next game,” says Titans head coach JEFF FISHER. “We did it last year and we got going. We won a game and then all of a sudden another and another. The challenges are obvious this week. We’re going to play a Hall of Fame quarterback (in PEYTON MANNING).”
“This is the fourth quarter coming up,” says Colts head coach JIM CALDWELL. “We obviously know what we have to do. Looking at the way things have gone on throughout the year, you can see there are only a few teams who have really separated themselves from the pack. It has left a lot of opportunities for a number of teams, including us.”
ST. LOUIS RAMS (6-6) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (9-3) (Sunday, FOX, 4:05 PM ET)
Two streaking teams will meet on Sunday at the Louisiana Superdome. The Rams, who are tied for first place in the NFC West, aim for their third consecutive road victory behind rookie quarterback SAM BRADFORD and running back STEVEN JACKSON, who tied MARSHALL FAULK for the most 100-yard rushing games in team history last week (27). The defending Super Bowl champion Saints have won five in a row and quarterback DREW BREES (21,932) became the franchise leader in passing yards last week, surpassing ARCHIE MANNING (21,734).
“We’re looking forward to going down to New Orleans,” says St. Louis head coach STEVE SPAGNUOLO, whose team defeated Arizona 19-6 in Week 13. “We all know that this is one of the premier teams in the league. They’re the Super Bowl champs. Hopefully what we’ve done on the road the past two games will help us. It’s a great challenge.”
The Saints defeated Cincinnati 34-30 last week and have scored at least 30 points in four consecutive games during the club’s five-game winning streak.
“We have 25 percent of the season left,” says New Orleans head coach SEAN PAYTON. “We have a month of football remaining. We’re playing better football. There are things we still have to clean up and get ready for St. Louis.”
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (8-4) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (6-6) (Sunday, CBS, 4:15 PM ET)
It will be an AFC West showdown on Sunday afternoon as the Chargers look to gain ground on the first-place Chiefs, who lead the division by two games over San Diego and Oakland.
“This game is now the biggest game of the year and the biggest game since we’ve been here,” says Kansas City head coach TODD HALEY. “Each week the games get bigger and they get more important.”
Last week, the Chiefs defeated Denver 10-6 and improved to 6-0 at home this season, including a Week 1 victory over the Chargers.
“It was a big win for us,” says Kansas City quarterback MATT CASSEL. “We were able to come out and overcome some adversity. The defense played well and continued to keep us in the game.”
The defense will be looked upon this weekend to stop San Diego quarterback PHILIP RIVERS, who ranks second in the NFL with 3,642 passing yards and is third with a 102.5 passer rating.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-2) at CHICAGO BEARS (9-3) (Sunday, CBS, 4:15 PM ET)
Two first-place teams on winning streaks will meet at Soldier Field when the Patriots visit the Bears. Both teams are coming off victories in Week 13. New England, winners of four in a row, defeated the New York Jets 45-3 on Monday night while the Bears, who have won five consecutive games, knocked off the Detroit Lions 24-20.
“It’s nice to win,” says New England head coach BILL BELICHICK. “But there’s another quarter of the season left to be played. There’s a lot of football left.”
The Patriots have scored at least 30 points without committing a turnover in each of their past four games and are the first team in NFL history to have such a streak. Quarterback TOM BRADY has thrown at least two touchdowns without an interception in each of his past five games, tied with JOE THEISMANN for the second-longest streak in league annals (DON MEREDITH, six games).
“It was a big win (over the Jets),” says Brady. “But there are many more big games for us down the stretch and none bigger than Chicago coming up this week.”
The Bears seek their sixth consecutive victory. Last week, wide receiver EARL BENNETT recorded the first 100-yard receiving game (104 yards) of his career. The performance came just a week after he had a career-best two TD catches.
“How can you not be pumped to play the three-time Super Bowl champions?” says safety CHRIS HARRIS. “Right now in December, every game is a playoff game for me. We’re at 9-3 and we definitely don’t want that to slip away. So we have to approach every game as if it is a playoff game. Every single game right now counts.
“We have some good football teams on our schedule coming up. I’m very confident about the team that we have here, and I still don’t think that we’ve peaked.”
New Orleans quarterback DREW BREES passed for 313 yards in the Saints’ 34-30 victory at Cincinnati. Since joining New Orleans in 2006, Brees has passed for 21,932 yards, the most passing yards by a quarterback over any five-year span in NFL history. The performance marked his 36th 300-yard passing game since 2006, also the most by a player over any five-year period in league annals.