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NFL Panic Meter: Week 14

Big matchups — and injuries — could shake up the panic meter this week.

Another Miracle in Miami and more coaching departures in Minnesota, week 14 is full of panic with only three games left in the season. 

Top Five:

  1. New Orleans Saints (11-2) – The Saints reclaim their spot as top dog in the league after a comeback win against the team they lost to week one this season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Saints were down two scores but with no Fitzmagic this time the offense of Tampa Bay bottomed out and the Saints took a 28-14 victory. A loss to the Cowboys and an ugly win against the Bucs show that the Saints are human, but they are still Super Bowl 53 favorites heading into the postseason. 
  2. L.A. Rams (11-2) – The Rams suffered an embarrassing loss to what was believed to be the lesser Chicago Bears Sunday night. In a defensive game that witnessed seven interceptions — four from Rams QB Jared Goff — L.A. failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season, and MVP candidate Todd Gurley was a no-show with only 28 yards on the ground. That being said, the Rams will be fine once they work out the kinks that plagued them against the Bears, who nonetheless are a contender in the NFC. 
  3. Kansas City Chiefs (11-2) – This week Kansas City proved that their offense will have no trouble scoring in the absence of Kareem Hunt. The Chiefs put up 40 points last week and 27 this week on a stout Baltimore defense. Patrick Mahomes is now the clear leader and go-to guy for offensive output going forward. The team will matchup Thursday night with division rival L.A. Chargers in a potential battle for the division, however it is likely both teams will make the playoffs. 
  4. New England Patriots (9-4) – The Pats blew it this week and potentially knocked themselves out of contention for a one seed in the AFC. Protecting a 33-28 lead with less than 10 seconds on the clock, the Miami Dolphins called the good ole’ fumblerooski play, also known as backyard bullshit. A completed 20 yard pass and three or four backwards laterals later and the Dolphins pulled the ultimate comeback win against their hated rival, crushing the spirits of Patriots fans around the world. (Seriously… it still stings). The good news for the Pats is that their offense dominated the whole game. Edelman, Gordon, and Gronkowski all had near season highs in receptions and yardage, and Tom Brady’s arm had a strength to it that hasn’t been seen since early in his career. New England still has everything they want right in front of them, but they made it harder for themselves with a tough matchup in Pittsburgh next week. 
  5. Chicago Bears (9-4) – Anytime you knock off the one seed in the power rankings you deserve a spot in the top five. The Bears defense came alive at the right time, holding the best offense in the league out of the end zone and forcing four turnovers in the air. If this team can stay consistent they have the talent and explosiveness to be a force in the playoffs. But first they will have to figure out how to help out Mitch Trubisky’s accuracy. The young Qbs completion percentage is at 64%, just above benched Jaguar QB Blake Bortles. Trubisky will have to improve his play if he expects to accomplish anything in the postseason. 

AFC Wildcard

Last Two In

L.A. Chargers – L.A. managed to squeak out a victory over the Bengals without star running back Melvin Gordon. Now they look towards a divisional matchup with the Chiefs that could effect playoff seeding in a major way. The Chargers are two games behind the Chiefs in the AFC West, a win this week would mean Kansas City would have to win out or risk the Chargers overtaking them. Gordon is a game-time decision this week, meaning it might be up to Rivers and Mahomes to put up the points.

Indianapolis Colts – Indy has been playing catch up all season, and has finally made it above .500. Last week they put an end to the Texans nine-game winning streak with a 24-21 victory. The air raid is the name of the game for the Colts this year, as Andrew Luck has thrown more times than anyone this season. The schedule is set up for them to have the best odds at sneaking into the post season with a sixth seed, but only if the Ravens falter in any of their final three games. 

NFC Wildcard 

Last Two In

Seattle Seahawks The Seahawks all but punched their ticket into the playoffs with a decisive victory over the Minnesota Vikings Monday night. That loss prompted the Vikes to fire their offensive coordinator. Seattle has been a scrappy team this year, getting production from each player when they need it, but no over-the-top performers have emerged. Still, the well rounded wild card teams have has success in recent years, giving Seahawks fans hope for their team — led by Super Bowl champion Russell Wilson — to catch fire in the next few weeks. 

Minnesota Vikings Even with the firing of offensive coordinator John Defilippo, the Vikings still have the best odds to finish their season strong and make it into the playoffs. Minnesota currently holds the sixth seed in the NFC thanks to a tie against Green Bay early in the season. If they can manage wins against the Dolphins (with a hobbled Ryan Tannehill), and the Lions in week 16, the Vikings will hold on to their current seed. Any losses in the next few weeks could see the Carolina Panthers edging them out. 

Interesting Storylines

Failure to Launch

The Vikings may hold the sixth seed now, but there is turmoil in the locker room after the firing of offensive coordinator John Defilippo. Head coach Mike Zimmer expects to take on more offensive responsibility while the team fights for a chance in the postseason. The player taking most of the blame for the lack of production by the offense is quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins landed a 90-million dollar contract with Minnesota this season which was coupled with the expectation of a Super Bowl run. The Vikings have the talent on both sides of the ball to be more successful than they have been, and the first blame has been placed on the coaching staff. If there is an early exit to the season than perhaps the blame will shift somewhere else. 

Big Game Injuries

End of the year contests between powerhouse teams could be missing key players. The Chiefs vs. Chargers will be a battle for the AFC West, however both star running backs may not suit up. Kareem Hunt has already been released and will not appear in Sundays game. Melvin Gordon is looking like a game time decision after not playing in the Chargers’ victory over the Bengals last week. In the Pittsburgh vs. New England game, Ben Rothlisberger will be nursing a rib injury that kept him out of most of the second half of last week’s crushing loss to Oakland. These games are a must win for all four of these teams and injuries will surely play a factor. 

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