Week 14 of the NFL season is here, my friends. Playoff races are heating up, the NFC East looks as terrible as ever and several top teams are set to go toe-to-toe. For this edition of Critical Matchups, I decided to break down a game in each time slate with the most significant postseason implications.
San Francisco 49ers (10-2) at New Orleans Saints (10-2)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)
It is a crime a game of this caliber is not on national television. It could very well be an NFC championship preview. This matchup still has plenty of playoff seeding significance. The biggest potential implication involves the San Francisco 49ers losing and falling further behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West race. A loss would likely take away the 49ers’ chances from having a first-round bye. But if they win, the difference between home-field advantage and the fifth seed in the playoffs could be decided in Week 17 against Seattle.
For the New Orleans Saints? There is no doubt this team will win the NFC South, but a win Sunday puts New Orleans in the driver's seat to have the top seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoff bracket.
If there is an area where one of these top teams can take advantage of the other, it’s in the passing game. San Francisco has averaged nearly 270 passing yards per game in the last three weeks. Meanwhile, the Saints have given up about 270 passing yards per game the last three weeks. If Jimmy Garoppolo can keep up with Drew Brees, the 49ers will win this one on the road.
Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) at New England Patriots (10-2)
Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET (CBS)
Here comes yet another potential conference championship game preview. This is also the rematch from last year's wild AFC Championship Game. The New England Patriots are clearly in the driver's seat to get a first-round bye, and a win Sunday against Patrick Mahomes will virtually seal it. On the flip side, there is still a very viable path for the Kansas City Chiefs to overtake the Patriots for the second seed and the coveted first-round bye. It would, of course, mean beating the Patriots and gaining the head-to-head tiebreaker — and then the Buffalo Bills or Cinncinati Bengals or Miami Dolphins defeating the Patriots in the coming weeks. Many have criticized and highlighted Tom Brady's recent decline, but we know how hard it is to beat him in Gillette Stadium.
At the same time, can he keep up with this high-powered Chiefs offense led by Mahomes? We will see.
Seattle Seahawks (10-2) at Los Angeles Rams (7-5)
Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
The Seahawks control their own destiny when it comes to winning the NFC West. While the 49ers and Seahawks are probably the two best teams in the NFC, the reality is that one of these teams will have to go on the road in a wild-card matchup. The good news? The wild-card game is going to be against the NFC East winner — I'm not sure if it is legal to say "winner" in that division. Nonetheless, 49ers fans will be rooting for the Los Angeles Rams more than ever before, especially if they happen to lose to the Saints earlier in the day.
The Rams still have something to play for. Los Angeles has a chance, albeit a slim one, to make the playoffs. It would have to pull a narrow strait to do so as another matchup with San Francisco looms in Week 16, but as long as the Rams have the same record as the Minnesota Vikings, they are in the playoffs. Los Angeles is currently a game back, but a win Sunday against Seattle could kickstart a big run for Sean McVay and company.
New York Giants (2-10) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-7)
Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET (ESPN)
What a time for the NFC East. This division currently has a combined record of 16-33. However, one of these teams must host a playoff game as the fourth seed, according to the law of the National Football League. In any other division, the Philadelphia Eagles would be moving on to the draft season. But with the Chicago Bears beating the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, the door opens for the Eagles to take advantage.
The winner of the Eagles-Cowboys showdown in Week 16 is likely going to the postseason, but to make that more of a lock, Philadelphia has to take advantage of Dallas' loss this week and beat the New York Giants.
The best … or funniest part? The path to Philadelphia claiming the NFC East championship could go through Eli Manning. If the Eagles lose to two of the worst teams in the NFL in back-to-back games, they might just pack it in. But at the same time, the Cowboys are on the brink of firing head coach Jason Garrett. Does it really matter which NFC East team gets in the playoffs?
No. It does not.