The end of the 2014 NFL Schedule Breakdown is nearing & week 15 looks to have many great playoff level matchups here, as teams will be in the process of doing everything to stay in the NFL playoff fight at this point. There are always the 8-5, 7-6, 6-7, 9-4 teams who are either trying to get into the playoffs or trying to lock in home field throughout the entire playoffs. One thing we probably know however – Peyton Manning & Tom Brady – if healthy – will have the New England Patriots & Denver Broncos on cruise control.
With those words said, here are the matchups we are looking at for Week 15 –
Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams – Thursday Night Football, 8:30, NFL Network
This game will be an elimination game for one of these squads. With the San Francisco 49ers & Seattle Seahawks battling for the top of the division, the Arizona Cardinals & St. Louis Rams will be in the hunt for one of the final playoff spots in the NFC, for various reasons.
The Cardinals, coming off of a 10-6 season in 2013 with new Head Coach Bruce Arians at the helm & an aging Carson Palmer at quarterback, had one of the steadiest teams in the NFL throughout the season. The defense, anchored by Darnell Dockett, Tyrann Matthieu & Patrick Peterson, played out of their minds & truly showed that the NFC West was the one division where all 4 teams had very good to elite level defensive units.
The biggest question by this point in the season for the Cardinals will be who will have stepped up to help WR Larry Fitzgerald not have to see double-teams every play down the field. Michael Floyd had a massive breakout season last year, but can he do it again in 2014? The question is most likely yes. Floyd is 6’5″ & has great hands & leaping ability, which means he has the ability to be the big, physical body that can go up & challenge most DBs in the NFL, while Fitzgerald has the speed to go deep on any play & outrun any coverage.
For the Rams to win this game, the defense is going to have to show off in a big way, take advantage of their lack of a running game & really dial up blitzes from the entire front 7 with Robert Quinn, Grant Long & James Laurainatis & the rest of the unit.
A match up to keep your eye on will be Rams CB Janoris Jenkins against Fitzgerald on the outside. Because Jenkins is the Rams best corner, look for him to cover both Fitzgerald & Floyd throughout the game, but because of the physical nature of both receivers & both bringing very different elements to the game, Jenkins is going to have to watch his hand placement closely as the Cardinals may look to get some pass interference calls on Jenkins & the rest of the secondary quite often throughout the night.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Atlanta Falcons – 1:00 p.m., CBS
This will be another playoff elimination game for a team or a game that could solidify a home playoff game. The Pittsburgh Steelers & Atlanta Falcons have been teams that have found themselves in the NFL playoffs consistently for the last few seasons – Steelers far longer than the Falcons but both consistent, nonetheless.
For the Falcons, the key to this will be where is QB Matt Ryan from a development standpoint? The Falcons fans will need to feel that Ryan is ready to lead the team to a SuperBowl, not just an NFC Championship game, which they played in during the 2012 season, eventually losing to the San Francisco 49ers. Ryan has been a dominant regular season player for the Falcons, but has not fully showed up in playoff games.
Even though the team lost TE Tony Gonzalez to retirement, Ryan still has amazing weapons in Julio Jones & Roddy White on the outside catching balls & Jacquizz Rodgers being a strong, but quick running back to keep the defense honest. Ryan has to show at this point that he is the man to get to the next level & make the fans believe that this could be the year. A game against a Steelers defense that is always well-coached, always playing with heart & fire, & always ready to blitz the daylights out of a team will show who Matt Ryan really is for this season.
On the Steelers side of things, the AFC North is available to be had. The Cincinnati Bengals are not that impressive, the Cleveland Browns & Baltimore Ravens are mysteries. The Steelers are still led by Ben Roethlisberger, have very adequate wide receivers & a strong, emerging running game from Le’Veon Bell, the second year player out of Michigan State.
The Steelers’ calling card for decades has been their defense, however, & last year, they were average at best. It is clear that safety Troy Polamalu is getting older but is still considered one of the leaders of the defensive unit, but the loss of safety Ryan Clark to the Washington Redskins (and ESPN) will put even more pressure on Polamalu to make more high octane plays & against White & Jones, the Steelers will have a tall task ahead.
San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks – 4:25, FOX
This game will be watchable for the reasons that we all know – Richard Sherman on Michael Crabtree, can Russell Wilson find another strong receiver other than Doug Baldwin & Percy Harvin to lean on in what will most likely be a playoff preview? Will LB Navarro Bowman be back in time for this game from his ACL injury in the 2013 NFC Championship game, & if he is, will he be healthy?
All main reasons to watch. This game doesn’t need any Xs & Os. Just make this appointment programming on Week 15.
In case you forgot how the NFC Championship went last year, here is the infamous rant by Sherman on Michael Crabtree. Again. Because its awesome.