Five takeaways from Week 14 in the NFL

Are The Pats A Lock For AFC Top Seed?
Are The Pats A Lock For AFC Top Seed?

Week 14 in the NFL is just about over with, so with most of the action already in the rear-view mirror, we take a few minutes to digest what we just saw.

Comeback victories, shakeups in the divisional races and another rare Oakland victory headline our Week 14 observations. Here's a look at five takeaways from Week 14 in the NFL:

Broncos, Patriots, Steelers, Ravens win: AFC Playoff picture update

Kyle Orton had a chance to exact revenge on his former club, but instead C.J. Anderson continued running like a man possessed as Denver won its third consecutive game, this time 24-17 over the Bills. Interestingly enough, the well-oiled machine that is the Broncos offense barely needed help from Peyton Manning, who contributed 173 yards passing and was held without a touchdown pass for the first time in 51 games.

Hey, a win is a win, right?

Even with Tom Brady suffering from a rare "off night," and without the likes of Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower on D, the Patriots scored 10 points in the fourth quarter and posted a second-half shutout on the road to defeat San Diego, 23-14. This win elevates New England to 10-3, the 12th straight season the team has won 10 or more games and puts the team at 50-7 in December games all time under Bill Belichick.

Cincinnati's AFC West lead diminished a bit after losing a head-to-head showdown with Pittsburgh. Thanks to a third straight 200-plus-yard effort out of Le'Veon Bell and a handful of long touchdown passes from Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers doubled up the Bengals, 42-21, to move within a half-game of Cincy in the standings.

Baltimore did the same, earning a tremendous win on the road in the South Florida without the likes of top defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, who was suspended four games earlier in the week. The Ravens defense stymied Ryan Tannehill and the Miami offense, limiting the home team to 13 points, including three over the final three quarters.

With wins by the top three seeds and Wild Card hopefuls in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the AFC playoff race currently includes the Steelers and Chargers in the fifth and sixth spots, respectively. The Ravens occupy the seventh spot, with Houston, Miami, Kansas City, Buffalo and Cleveland all on the outside looking in at 7-6.

Cardinals, Seahawks win; Saints lose: NFC Playoff picture update

Arizona snapped a two-game losing skid with a 17-14 triumph over Kansas City at home, where the team is 7-o on the season. Drew Stanton wasn't overly impressive, but his 239 yards passing and one touchdown was good enough to keep the Cards in first place in the NFC West. And the defense posted a second-half shutout, harassing the already limited Alex Smith to hold on for the must-win. With the victory, Arizona has won 10 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1976.

The defending champions stayed within a game of the Cardinals in the divisional standings by knocking off the Eagles in Philadelphia, 24-14. The Legion of Boom, which has returned to playoff form since the return of healthy contributors such as Bobby Wagner, Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell, limited the Eagles to 139 net yards Sunday, a low for the team under the watch of Chip Kelly. Seattle has won three straight and six of its last seven, as Russell Wilson matched Matt Ryan and Dan Marino for most wins by a quarterback in his first three seasons with 33.

Another playoff hopeful, New Orleans, suffered a different fate. The Saints lost 41-10 at home against lowly Carolina, the fourth consecutive loss in the Superdome. That's the longest home losing streak for the team in the Drew Brees era. The Saints offense again stalled, while Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart took advantage to lift the Panthers to their first win since Oct. 5. Pending the outcome on Monday's all-too-significant showdown between Atlanta and Green Bay, the Saints could fall a game back of the Falcons in the NFC South standings with three games to play.

Currently, Arizona, Green Bay, Philly and Atlanta occupy the top four seeds, with Seattle and Detroit as the two Wild Card teams. Dallas remains in the hunt at 9-4, heading to Philadelphia on Sunday night.

Frustration mounting in the nation's capital

After Washington was blanked by the Rams, 24-0, the winds of controversy swirled through the nation's capital. Fan favorite Colt McCoy managed nothing on offense except for two interceptions, which resulted in the fans calling for RGIII to return to the field to replace the ineffective third starter.

Griffin finally entered the game and replaced McCoy, who sprained his neck and needed to be relieved. After the lopsided loss, Washington coach Jay Gruden refused to name a starting quarterback for Week 15, and sources tell ESPN that Kirk Cousins remain in contention for the start.

Earlier in the week, ESPN reported there was "a real chance" Griffin would start more games for the team down the stretch of this season, while the Washington Post reported Gruden is "done" with RGIII and wants him out of the picture for 2015.

More frustration? Retired linebacker and former Washington standout London Fletcher criticized his old coordinator, Jim Haslett. Fletcher ranted to the media Sunday that Haslett doesn't deserve his job, is "clueless" and cannot call a game. Haslett eventually responded, saying he was disappointed but didn't fall for the bait.

This is one of the most interesting soap operas ongoing in the NFL today, with the debate ranging about if the coach, the quarterback or both will be off the team next year. This story still has many more chapters needed to be written, and that should begin as early as this week when Gruden anoints a starting quarterback.

Battle by the Bay: An audition of sorts?

Derek Carr threw for three touchdowns as the Raiders notched their second win of the year, a 24-13 defeat of visiting San Francisco Sunday afternoon. And perhaps the rookie signal-caller and Co. put on an audition for their future head coach.

Carr outplayed Colin Kaepernick, who continues to regress in his third season under center for San Francisco. The 49ers' offense has been anemic over the past two months, scoring 17 points or fewer in six of their last seven games, which not surprisingly has coincided with a 3-4 record and the slow departure from the NFC playoff picture.

Harbaugh has been linked to Oakland, the Jets and the University of Michigan openings (and upcoming openings), and many expect the Niners' head coach to remain in the Bay Area. Tony Sparano is the Raiders' interim coach, but many believe the organization will not put their faith in him beyond 2014. Maybe the Raiders showed enough in that head-to-head meeting to convince Harbaugh to switch allegiances.

After another Browns loss, is it time for Johnny Football?

Cleveland fell victim to another Indianapolis comeback victory, Andrew Luck's seventh when the team has trailed by 10 or more points in the second half, which is the most in the league over the last three seasons.

After the Browns held Luck and the Colts to 31 yards of offense through their first six drives, Luck rebounded to throw for almost 300 yards and two touchdowns to none other than T.Y. Hilton for the win.

Brian Hoyer, who earned the start despite the fourth-quarter benching a week ago in Buffalo, was unable to keep pace with Luck. Now, it begs the question of whether coach Mike Pettine will continue to trot out the ineffective veteran another week, especially with the team falling further and further out of contention.

A long-shot to make the postseason, Cleveland should turn to their first-round pick. Johnny Manziel may not be Andrew Luck is his first NFL start, but he offers a much higher upside for the long term than Hoyer, who has been especially mediocre over the past month or so.

Related links:
Fantasy football Week 14: What we learned
Ricardo Lockette with the most epic flop of 2014
Restructuring Oakland Athletics' offense
Jeff Fisher trolls the Redskins with all six players acquired for RGIII

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