It's that pivotal time of the NFL regular season when playoff spots and division titles are won and lost. There are, this pro football weekend, two massive prime time showdowns. Along with those games is a Sunday afternoon contest featuring a duo of Super Bowl contenders.
2013 Week 14 NFL picks: 5 games to watch
Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals: Anybody who has followed my power rankings on this website since Week 1 is aware that I haven't been sold on Cincinnati. I turned a corner on the team last weekend, when the defense stymied the offense of the San Diego Chargers, and also did so out west. Indianapolis, on the other hand, has been as roller coaster a side as you can get, alternating wins and losses per week since November 3.
A plethora of injuries will keep us from ever knowing how good the 2013 Colts could have been. What's done is done, and Indianapolis getting blown out at the Arizona Cardinals a couple of weeks ago convinced me that the Colts aren't making a run this time around. Cincinnati is thus far undefeated at home, and the team's defense is for real.
Oakland Raiders at New York Jets: Neither team appears destined for the postseason, but that doesn't mean there isn't a reason to watch this one. Both Matt McGloin of Oakland and Geno Smith of the Jets have plenty to prove between now and the end of the season. There's also the fact that we could be seeing the end of the Rex Ryan era in New York.
The Jets, much like the Cleveland Browns, have fallen apart since a marquee victory sent them into a Bye week. New York's defense was, quite frankly, embarrassing in the home loss to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday. They're bad on both sides of the ball, and that's why I can't take Gang Green.
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers: This could, all things considered, be the most fun game of the weekend. Seattle is flying high coming off of a dominating Monday Night Football victory, and the popular opinion of those who make weekly power rankings is that the Seahawks are the best team in the NFL.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't give the hosts at least a look here.
Those quick to suggest that San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick is slumping have quieted after back-to-back turnover free performances. You also have to throw what occurred the last time these two teams met out the window. A game in Seattle is not the same as is a showdown at Candlestick Park.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh can say all the right things to reporters about the revenge factor. I don't at all believe that it isn't on the minds of players and coaches alike. Those who have already written San Fan off are going to be reminded on Sunday that this is a talented football team.
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints: Cam Newton and the Carolina defense are legit. The Panthers have won eight consecutive games, and that streak includes victories over the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots. I believe that they are the only team capable of winning a one-and-done playoff game against the Seahawks in Seattle.
But I can't take Carolina here.
New Orleans has lost three times in 2013. The Saints have twice rallied back for double-digit victories. They're also nearly, if not equally, as unbeatable at home as are the Seahawks. Drew Brees and company were embarrassed on national television last Monday. It's not happening again.
Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears: Chicago is crumbling apart before our very eyes. The coaching staff of the Bears has been responsible for multiple in-game miscues over the past month. Quarterback Jay Cutler, who wasn't given a vote of confidence by his GM earlier this week, has yet to make a full return to practice, and the status of his injured ankle is not yet known.
I have been more impressed with Tony Romo this season than ever before, particularly while watching him lead Dallas to victories over the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants. The “Romo is terrible in December” myth has been proven wrong time and time again. That trend continues this month.