Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM

Essentials - Week 14

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Baltimore at Kansas City (-6.5/49.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: If Lamar Jackson is still unbeaten as a starting QB in the NFL when this one is over, Joe Flacco better get used to wearing a baseball cap on the sidelines. The 11-year starter has been out the past few weeks after injuring his hip in a Nov. 4 loss to Pittsburgh but has practiced enough that he’d ordinarily be starting this game if it weren’t for the rookie sporting the 3-0 record as the fill-in. The Ravens are averaging 4.4 points more with Jackson under center than with Flacco, racking up 28.5 more yards per game. The 21-year-old has completed 39 of 65 passes while running for 88 yards per game b ut has done his damage against three teams with sub-.500 records.

To pull off an upset over the Chiefs, Jackson will need to extend drives with his legs and complete enough passes to keep pace with the league’s highest-scoring offense (37.0 ppg). Safety Eric Berry won’t return for the Chiefs but is getting closer. The Ravens defense is likely to be without starting safety Tony Jefferson, which would be a significant loss if he can’t make it back from an ankle injury. Standout corner Marlon Humphrey should play, but Patrick Mahomes is likely to have a number of matchups to exploit due to the pressure Travis Kelce will put on the defense. Temperatures will warm up to just above freezing and hang around the mid-30’s.

Indianapolis at Houston (-4.5/49.5), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Texans won’t be able to clinch the AFC South since the Titans won on Thursday, but they can move to the brink of capturing a third division title in four years by winning their 10th straight game. Houston has won its last three home games by at least 16 points and square off against the team they saved their season against back in Week 4. After starting 0-3, the Texans finally managed to get on the board this season after surviving blowing a 28-10 lead in a game where Andrew Luck threw four TD passes.

The Colts are now the team in must-win mode, looking to bounce back from being blanked by Jacksonville last Sunday to drag them down into a pack of AFC teams on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned. Center Ryan Kelly is out with a knee injury and has been a major asset when out there, so the fact Indy’s offensive front got soundly beat down by the Jags last week is disconcerting. WR T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) and TE Eric Ebron (back) will be in the mix if Luck is given time to find him. The resurgent quarterback had thrown for at least three touchdowns in eight straight games before being held to under five yards per completion in Jacksonville. Luck completed 40 passes for 464 yards in the first meeting, both season-highs. J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney each sacked him twice.

Carolina (-1/47.5) at Cleveland, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Cam Newton participated full and deemed himself ready to play. His shoulder issue is obviously a concern. The four interceptions he threw against the Bucs last week may be one indication it’s really bothering him, but his miscues were also made due to questionable decision-making. After not throwing for a few days this week, we’ll know early how healthy he looks. With Myles Garrett on the hunt and Gregg Williams’ set to attack despite the absence of prized rookie safety Denzel Ward, this is set to be one heck of a chess match. Newton will have to make due without one of his top targets with TE Greg Olson done after breaking his foot again.

The Browns will have center J.C. Tretter snapping to Baker Mayfield and calling out signals, so there’s a good chance they can rebound after being held to just 13 points by Houston last week, snapping a run of three straight games topping 20 following the firing of head coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Nick Chubb got just nine carries last week after gaining 345 yards on 70 carries during the surge, so the expectation is that Freddie Kitchens will go out of his way to get him going early. That might set up some nice play-action opportunities. Wind isn’t expected on the southern shore of Lake Erie, but Sunday’s high temperature “may” climb above the freezing point. Still, compared to what it can feel like this time of year, Newton might arrive in beachwear.

Atlanta at Green Bay (-4/50), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The first game of the post-Mike McCarthy era finds the Packers hosting one of the few teams in the conversation with them for most disappointing. While Aaron Rodgers has played most of the season limited by a knee injury, he’s still got a 21-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. Matt Ryan has thrown for 25 scores and only been picked up five times but hasn’t won since Nov. 4, dropping four straight. One of these quarterbacks will only have four wins after Week 14.

Truth be told, Rodgers is probably far more concerned that he’s not going to have tackle Bryan Buluaga more than he’s bemoaning the fact McCarthy won’t be out there calling plays. Interim head coach Joe Philbin will get those honors, although Rodgers will obviously run what he thinks will work best against a defense that will have LB Deion Jones back for his second game since Week 1. After being forced to deal with Baltimore’s Jackson last week, this more conventional matchup should help him get his feet under him. The defense may have to do the heavy lifting since the Falcons haven’t reached the 20-point mark since Nov. 4. Snow isn’t expected but the frozen tundra will be enveloped by temperatures that aren’t likely to reach 30 degrees. Wind gusts won’t be substantial but are expected to be in the 10-15 mile per hour range.

New Orleans (-9.5/54.5) at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Saints will look to avoid getting swept by a Bucs team that up until November’s final Thursday, handed them their only loss. Drew Brees has been intercepted in consecutive games for the first time this season and was stuck running for his life often by the Cowboys, so not having left tackle Terron Armstead again due to a pectoral injury could prove troublesome since the Bucs were able to get after Newton in last week’s upset and have a healthier front seven than they’ve had in weeks. Michael Thomas (ankle) will be around to serve as his top target and will be working against a banged-up secondary that can at least count on veteran corner Brett Grimes being out there despite a knee issue.

Jameis Winston watched from the sideline as Ryan Fitzpatrick racked up four touchdown passes in the season opener, throwing two deep balls to Desean Jackson, who will miss this contest with a thumb injury. O.J. Howard caught two balls for 54 yards but is out with an ankle injury, so the Saints defense will get a decidedly different look from Winston, who engineered a fourth-quarter comeback in Week 17 of the ’17 season in his last outing against New Orleans. He was intercepted three times. Tampa Bay hasn’t swept a season series from the Saints since 2007. Although the high is expected to be 75 degrees, inclement weather is also a possibility since a threat of thunderstorms exists and wind gusts as high as 14 miles per hour could factor in.

New England (-9/48.5) at Miami, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Dolphins won five of six from the Patriots in Miami from ’07-’12 but have only won once in the past five years, making the “Pats struggle in South Florida” narrative a little stale. Most of the games have indeed been close, which is what bettors taking points and fading Tom Brady in December will be clinging to. The future Hall of Famer is 86-37 in all road games this month but is just 1-5 in South Florida and has a losing record there over his career (7-9). He’ll have his full complement of weapons in place against a Dolphins defense that will be missing corner Xavien Howard (knee). There are still excellent playmakers to be wary of in LB Kiko Alonso and safety Reshad Jones, but Miami ranks in the league’s top four in fewest sacks with just 20, so Brady should have time to dissect.

The Patriots have only 19 sacks – tied with the Giants for second-fewest behind Oakland’s 10, so there’s a good chance that Ryan Tannehill can also have success since he’s thrown five touchdowns since returning two weeks ago, pushing the Colts to the brink in Indy and holding off Buffalo at home last week. He’ll have Brady favorite Danny Amendola to throw to and is expected to deal with a secondary at full strength since Stephon Gilmore (ankle) made the trip and is expected to play. Wind gusts could reach 20 miles per hour but temperatures are expected to reach the mid-80s, the warmest of the day around the NFL.

N.Y. Giants (-3/40) at Washington, 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Mark Sanchez won’t face the Jets this season, so this is the closest New Yorkers will get to reconnecting with the former Jets’ starter charged with trying to extend Washington’s star-crossed season. The first two guys who have played the position for the ‘Skins this season have suffered broken legs, leaving Sanchez in the unlikely position of taking over a .500 team in December despite sitting out most of the season. He failed to lead the offense to a single point in Philadelphia’s Monday night win after replacing an injured Colt McCoy, throwing for just 100 yards and an interception. Jamison Crowder returns to give him another quality target to work with and the absence of standout safety Landon Collins makes it easier to imagine him having some success against New York given the zip he put on his throws.

Leading Washington to a win could be as simple as avoiding mistakes and putting his defense in bad positions since they’re likely to do the heavy lifting against an offense that will be missing Odell Beckham, Jr. due to a quad injury. His absence could mean that Eli Manning won’t try force-feeding him the ball, giving the offense a better flow with Saquon Barkley as the bell cow. The rookie No. 2 pick has picked up at least 100 yards of total offense in all but one game this season.It’s expected to be a great day weather-wise in Landover, light on wind despite temperatures in the high-30s.

Denver (-3/45.5) at San Francisco, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: The Broncos pulled off their third consecutive win last week, winning convincingly in Cincinnati to cover a spread for the sixth time in seven games. They’ve been a road favorite three times this season, losing at the Jets while blowing out the Cardinals and beating the Bengals last week. Since the 49ers have been crushed by a combined score of 70-25 over the past two weeks and have only covered once in their last six outings, seeing how small this spread is has sounded off “trap game” alarm bells.

Rookie Phillip Lindsay hasn’t been as productive as Barkley but has been exceptional in his own right, racking up five touchdown runs over the past three weeks while coming off his best performance of his young career, gaining 157 yards on 19 carries. He gained 65 of those yards in one chunk and faces a 49ers defense that has been effective against the run but has struggled since releasing LB Reuben Foster.

San Francisco won’t have to deal with WR Emmanuel Sanders, who tore his Achilles in practice, leaving Case Keenum without his top target as he looks to rookies Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton to fill prominent roles. The Broncos will look to set the tone on defense, a task made it easier by not having to face 49ers top rusher Matt Breida, who has been ruled out with an ankle injury. An overcast day with temperatures topping out around 60 degrees should make for excellent football weather, especially since winds are expected to be scarce.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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