Every game in the NFL is important. When you have just 16 guaranteed opportunities to go out and play football each year, each game is a must-win. However, as the second week of December rolls around, some games take on a new meaning, a new magnitude. In my NFL Week 14 preview, I’ll look at some of those games, and at three players who can write the storyline of not just that game, but of the rest of the season.
The magnitude I’m of course referring to is the race to the post-season. The holy grail of football, the path to the Super Bowl. For some teams, it is just a pipe dream. For others, these next few games will determine whether they’re working or on vacation in January.
As I write this NFL Week 14 preview, only one team has sealed their post-season destiny.
The New Orleans Saints have the NFC South sewn up. Their game against the San Francisco 49ers today will be a must-watch, and the 49ers can book a playoff spot with a win and a loss for the Los Angeles Rams.
The Baltimore Ravens will become kings of the AFC North, and lock in a playoff berth, with a win over the Buffalo Bills. The Bills have playoff aspirations of their own, which can be achieved with a win, and a fortuitous result in one of my NFL Week 14 preview performances to watch.
Let’s start with a big game in the AFC.
Sony Michel RB, New England Patriots
While the Saints versus the 49ers is the big game in the NFC, the AFC has the Kansas City Chiefs travelling to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots. Before the season, this would have been most people’s lock for the AFC Championship Game preview show. However, the Chiefs haven’t been the all-encompassing force that many expected. Despite being 10-2, the Patriots have had their struggles.
The internet is full of “Tom Brady is losing the battle to father time stories” to summarise the Patriot’s struggles. The offense ranks 14th in total yards, 8th in passing yards, and 17th in passing touchdowns.
However, it goes deeper than that.
With only 1156 rushing yards, the Patriots rushing offense ranks 21st in the NFL.
Last year as an NFL rookie, Sony Michel was a driving force behind the Patriots Super Bowl campaign. He finished the season just 69 yards short of a 1000-yard year. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry, with an average 71.6 yards per game.
This season has been different.
Michel currently sits 14th in the league for rushing yards. His 3.5 yards per carry is only good enough 40th. His 53.8 yards per game is some way short of last year’s performance.
He currently ranks 18th in Pro Football Network’s Offensive Share Metric with a 16.71 overall grade for the year. The grade equates to an average performance, which is a fair reflection of what we’ve seen from Michel this year.
So why should you be watching out for him against the Chiefs in Week 14?
Firstly, Michel is trending up from an OSM perspective. Two of his highest grades of the season have come in the last three weeks. In the loss to the Houston Texans, Michel was the third most efficient back in the league despite facing an 8-man box on 60% of his plays, resulting in an OSM grade of 32.67.
Secondly, the Chiefs rush defense is terrible. Going into Week 14, they’ve given up 1696 rushing yards throughout the 2019 NFL season, the third most. Of those, 1453 have been to the running back position. They’ve allowed 12 rushing touchdowns.
The matchup allows Michel to add to his six touchdowns on the season. More importantly, for New England, if Michel can get the offense going and run over the Chiefs, the Patriots will book a place in the AFC Playoffs.
Drew Lock QB, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos are in a position to impact the race for the AFC Playoffs. No, this isn’t a typo, you’re not dreaming, and I haven’t been drinking.
If the Broncos beat the Houston Texans today, then the Buffalo Bills can secure a place in the post-season by beating Baltimore. Simple, right?
After a season of quarterback turbulence, the man tasked with taking down the Texans will be Drew Lock. The former Missouri quarterback came off injured reserve last week and beat the Los Angeles Chargers on his NFL debut.
Broncos fans have been waiting all season to see Lock. What did we see in his debut to give hope to the Denver faithful?
His debut earned him an OSM grade of 22.59, ranking him 16th of all qualifying quarterbacks. It was the fifth-highest grade recorded by a Broncos QB this season. What OSM also shows us is that Lock was helped by his teammate’s performances. Courtland Sutton recorded a grade of 34.21 and tight end Jeff Heuerman had a grade of 26.23.
It was a sensible debut, using short and safe passes to minimize errors and therefore reduce the risk of turnovers. Running back, Royce Freeman, had as many receptions as Sutton, which is a perfect example of the Broncos sensible approach. Behind an offensive line that has had its share of problems in 2019, Lock was sacked zero times. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Lock was one of the least aggressive quarterbacks in the NFL last week. They define aggression as passes thrown into a tight window (defender within one yard of the receiver) and expressed as a percentage of overall throws. Lock’s percentage was 10.7%.
The Broncos Week 14 matchup with the Texans will allow Lock to be a little more aggressive.
The Texans’ defense has been porous this season. They’ve allowed 3348 passing yards, fifth in yardage allowed to the quarterback position. Their 25 touchdowns allowed is the sixth most in the league. In addition to that, they’ve struggled all season to take down the QB with just 24 sacks. With only six interceptions going into Week 14, Lock should have plenty of confidence to make some big plays down the field.
It might not be the Broncos going to the AFC playoffs this year, but Lock has the opportunity to prove that he’s the quarterback to be taking them there in the future.
D.K. Metcalf WR, Seattle Seahawks
NFL Week 14’s edition of Sunday Night Football sees an NFC West rivalry with post-season implications on the line. The Seahawks can guarantee a place in the playoffs with a win. That would also ensure the 49ers will also make it to the playoff promised land, as long as they take care of business against the Saints.
Seattle’s date with the playoffs seems like destiny this year. They’ve been an offensive powerhouse, with Russell Wilson putting together an MVP caliber campaign. Tyler Lockett has been on fire. He features twice in our weekly OSM top 5 wide receiver rankings and is the third overall ranked WR this NFL season.
However, it’s another Seahawks WR who you should be watching for in Week 14.
D.K. Metcalf was a polarising figure in the 2019 NFL Draft. Injured in his final season at Ole Miss, then posting some impressive combine figures and photographs, Metcalf fell to the Seahawks at the back end of the second round.
The same could be said of his rookie season in the NFL so far. His early OSM grades were hit and miss, never receiving a grade over 30 until week 6. With a catch completion of just 51%, Metcalf was suffering from a severe case of the drops. He also struggled with gaining separation.
However, Metcalf is growing into his role as a key WR in the NFL.
Since Week 6’s win over the Cleveland Browns, Metcalf has scored an OSM grade over 30 in every game bar one.
In last week’s win over the Minnesota Vikings, he had an elite grade of 47.11. In stark contrast to his early games, Metcalf had an 85.71% completion percentage while accounting for 27.82% of the team’s total air yards. He gained an extra 1.5 yards of separation compared to his season average. Metcalf is starting to get it, and Wilson is beginning to trust his rookie wide receiver more and more as the season progresses.
Last time the Seahawks met the Rams, Metcalf snagged two catches and a 40-yard touchdown. More of the same on Sunday night will see Seattle punch their ticket to the playoffs.