The NFL playoff picture will be a lot clearer after Week 14, which is why the games on Sunday and Monday are as important as ever.
Here are six teams facing must-win games in Week 14:
A loss or tie on Sunday against the Houston Texans would eliminate Indianapolis from AFC South title contention, leaving the Colts to fight for a wild-card berth as their only way into the playoffs—a scenario they’d like to avoid with so many AFC teams still in the hunt.
Thus, Sunday’s game against Houston is a must-win for the Colts even if the Texans are the hottest team in the league right now, with nine straight wins. Keep in mind, though, that overtime was needed the last time these two teams met in Week 4—proof that Indianapolis is totally capable of beating Houston.
It wasn’t that long ago that Denver seemed destined for a high draft pick with just three wins through nine games, at which point head coach Vance Joseph was reportedly on the hot seat. But after three straight victories, the Broncos are back in the playoff conversation at 6-6, and are set up nicely to improve their chances against a San Francisco 49ers team that will be without leading rusher Matt Breida on Sunday.
That said, Denver is dealing with injury issues of its own having lost two key players in wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and cornerback Chris Harris. Still, the Broncos should have enough to get by with one of the league’s top rushing attacks, and a pass rush to match.
The defending Super Bowl champions were in much better shape this time last year with a 10-2 record. Sadly, they’re 6-6, but still firmly in the race for a playoff spot and the division for that matter. In fact, a win against the 7-5 Dallas Cowboys on Sunday would put Philadelphia in first place in the NFC East based on division record.
And with matchups against the Los Angeles Rams and Texans to come, the Eagles need a win on Sunday in case those games don’t go their way. The Cowboys have been on a roll with four straight wins, including a huge upset of the New Orleans Saints last week.
Hoping to shake things up, the Panthers fired their defensive line coach and cornerbacks coach on Monday, after having given up 315 yards and 24 points to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their fourth straight loss the day before. On top of Carolina’s disappointing performance on defense, star quarterback Cam Newton struggled once again, throwing four interceptions in a game for the second time this season.
Newton has reportedly been dealing with soreness in his throwing shoulder, which could spell trouble for the Panthers’ playoff chances. One thing’s for sure, though: They need a win in Cleveland this week just to remain in the picture.
Minnesota and Seattle will both be looking at Monday night’s game as an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the other teams giving chase in the NFC wild-card race, but it’s Minnesota that has the most pressure to win.
The Vikings came into this season with high expectations after making it all the way to the NFC Championship game a year ago. They also upgraded the quarterback position by signing Kirk Cousins to a massive $84 million contract in the offseason, and yet, they’re only one game over .500, with four games left to play in 2018.
Following last week’s heartbreaking loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, Pittsburgh holds just a half-game lead on the Baltimore Ravens for control of the AFC North, which is why it’s so important the Steelers leave Oakland with a win on Sunday. Of course, that’s easier said than done for the Steelers, who will be without star running back James Conner.
In addition to his duties as the feature back, Conner is also the team’s leader in touchdowns (13). Veteran Stevan Ridley and rookie Jaylen Samuels are slated to handle Pittsburgh’s backfield duties in Conner’s absence, so they’ll need to step up and produce if the Steelers are going to leave the Bay Area with a win.