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5 most interesting NFL matchups to watch Week 14

Fansided logo Fansided 12/8/2020 Rucker Haringey
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a man wearing a uniform: Jon Gruden, Las Vegas Raiders © Provided by Fansided Jon Gruden, Las Vegas Raiders

Jon Gruden, Las Vegas Raiders. (Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

NFL teams are jockeying for playoff and draft position as the regular-season draws to a close. Here are five crucial battles to watch during Week 14.

Week 13 of the NFL regular season certainly wasn't short on drama. If anything, last week jumbled the potential playoff landscape in both conferences. That sets up a series of high-stakes matchups between postseason contenders in Week 14.

Teams looking to cement their playoff position desperately need to win this week to improve their chances. Similarly, teams on the outside of the postseason looking in need to secure victories to keep their playoff hopes alive. It should be a weekend filled with high drama around the league. Keep a particularly close eye on these five matchups if you want to maximize the weekend's enjoyment.

5. Jon Gruden dares Philip Rivers to beat the Raiders

Rivers is a big name, but he's not the first option for the Colts' offense. If given a choice, they'd line up and bludgeon opposing defenses into submission with their physical offensive line. Gruden understands his Raiders defense doesn't have the beef to stand up to that kind of pressure in a base setup.

As such, Gruden is going to be forced to load up the box against the Colts on Sunday afternoon. In other words, he's going to dare Rivers to beat his defense with precision passes down the field.

Making that bet against Rivers in his prime would have been a poor decision. The veteran gunslinger isn't the same sort of talent he was during his heyday with the Chargers. He's more prone to mistakes than ever before.

Frank Reich and his coaching staff will get plenty of chances to hurt Las Vegas' defense over the top. Rivers may not be the most accurate passer in the league, but he's still good enough to take advantage of those opportunities to work against single coverage. The Colts may not light up the scoreboard consistently, but they should be able to make enough plays to emerge victorious.

Next: 4. Sean McVay vs. Bill Belichick
Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams © Provided by Fansided Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 29: Head coach Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams stands on the sideline during the first half against the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium on November 29, 2020 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

4. Sean McVay vs. Bill Belichick

Fans of high-level NFL coaching need to make this weeks' edition of Thursday Night Football appointment viewing. The mental chess match between McVay and Belichick should be scintillating.

Both teams enter the matchup needing to notch another win to improve their playoff status. The Rams are in good shape with a record of 8-4, but Seattle's surprising loss to the Giants in Week 13 brings the division title back into play for Los Angeles.

The Patriots, in sharp contrast, are still trying to break into the postseason mix in the AFC with a mediocre record of 6-6. They took care of business in dominating fashion against the Chargers last week, but they desperately need a win over Los Angeles to improve their playoff odds.

The real genius for both coaches will be on display when the Rams have the ball. McVay has done an excellent job of rebuilding Jared Goff's confidence this season. He's still a quarterback who depends too much on the Rams' offensive system, but he's played good football more often than not this season.

Belichick will be licking his chops at the opportunity to make Goff try to win this game on his own. That's a recipe for disaster for Los Angeles. If either coach in this game can outfox the other it will give their team an enormous advantage.

Next: 3. Tua Tagovailoa tries to match Patrick Mahomes
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins © Provided by Fansided Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – DECEMBER 06: Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins warms up prior to the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Hard Rock Stadium on December 06, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

3. Tua Tagovailoa tries to match Patrick Mahomes

Tagovailoa only took over as the Dolphins' starter midseason, but his 4-1 record as a starter is a big reason why Miami finds themselves in playoff position at the moment. They shouldn't feel completely secure about their postseason chances though. The Dolphins face a very tough schedule down the stretch.

That gauntlet starts with a home game against the Chiefs on Sunday afternoon. Inevitably, Tagovailoa is going to be compared to Patrick Mahomes during the buildup for this matchup. That's completely unfair, but it's the nature of the NFL media.

That could put Tua into a position where he feels the need to try to match Mahomes throw-for-throw on the field. That's only going to end in defeat for the Dolphins. The Miami coaching staff needs to do everything they can to insulate Tagovailoa from that kind of pressure.

That means the Dolphins need to focus on running the ball early and often against the Chiefs defense. Keeping the ball out of Mahomes' hands must be a priority. Ironically, keeping the ball out of Tagovailoa's hands might be Miami's second-biggest need. He's not ready to go toe-to-toe with Mahomes.

Next: 2. Browns try to bury the Ravens
a close up of a helmet: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns © Provided by Fansided Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE – DECEMBER 06: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns watches from the sidelines as his team plays the Tennessee Titans i the fourth quarter at Nissan Stadium on December 06, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

2. Browns try to bury the Ravens

Monday Night Football pits the most surprising team in the AFC North against the division's most disappointing team. The Browns come into the matchup on the back of a massive road win at Tennessee. The victory boosted Cleveland's record to 9-3 on the campaign.

The Ravens come in limping after another class loss to Pittsburgh. Baltimore came into the year as Super Bowl favorites but now find themselves in real danger of missing the postseason with a record of 6-5. Lamar Jackson and his teammates need a big win over Cleveland to get their postseason plans back on track.

Anyone expecting this game to be a cakewalk for the Browns due to the difference in the two team's records needs to think again. The Ravens are a nightmare matchup for Cleveland. Baltimore's potent run game has a chance to take Baker Mayfield and the Browns' offense right out of this matchup.

The good news for the Browns is that their offense has the explosive capabilities required to win a shootout. Mayfield's bounced back in a big way this season. If he receives quality protection, he might be able to throw his team to victory. Such a win would put Baltimore's postseason chances on life support.

Next: 1. Bills secondary vs. Pittsburgh's playmakers
a football player holding a bat on a field: Tre'Davious White, Buffalo Bills © Provided by Fansided Tre'Davious White, Buffalo Bills

ORCHARD PARK, NY – NOVEMBER 29: Tre'Davious White #27 of the Buffalo Bills during a game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Bills Stadium on November 29, 2020 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)

1. Bills secondary vs. Pittsburgh's playmakers

Tre'Davious White and the Buffalo defense don't get the credit they deserve for helping their team become legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Josh Allen and the offense get all the press, but Sean McDermott's defense is still the strength of this team against elite opponents.

Pittsburgh certainly falls into that category. Ben Roethlisberger isn't throwing the deep ball as he did during his prime, but he is spreading the ball around to his playmakers at a high level. That makes stoping the Steelers' passing attack a massive challenge for White and his secondary.

Buffalo will depend on White to take away one option for Pittsburgh, but this game will be won or lost based on the secondary matchups. Josh Norman will struggle to handle guys like Chase Claypool, James Washington, or Diontae Johnson in single coverage. That means Buffalo will need their safeties to play great football. Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde need to both play great if the Bills are going to pull off the upset.

This also happens to be a game where a crucial turnover to two could easily swing the outcome. Look for Buffalo's secondary to take some chances on balls thrown to the outside. That will give Pittsburgh some big-play opportunities, but it's the only way the Bills can compete against the sheer number of weapons the Steelers have at their skill positions.


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