NFL Week 14 matchups: An insiders’ guide


San Francisco (10-2) at New Orleans (10-2), 1 p.m. ET

Inside 49ers numbers: In Week 13, the 49ers held Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson to a career-low 4.6 yards per pass attempt; he entered the game averaging a 10.1 yards per attempt over his previous three games. San Francisco’s secondary leads the NFL in fewest yards per pass attempt allowed (5.5) despite having played games against Jackson, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. 

Inside 49ers roster: Although San Francisco needed Emmanuel Sanders, the team’s second-round pick Deebo Samuel pick looks like a decision that will benefit many future 49er offenses. The rookie has become the reliable target the franchise hoped 2018 Round 2 choice Dante Pettis would be, with 564 yards and a strong midseason surge aiding Jimmy Garoppolo in the team’s biggest games in six years. Pettis should not be discarded just yet, given his impressive finish to last season, but Samuel has helped the 49ers cover for the second-year wideout’s disappearance and will be a key figure for the revitalized franchise.

Inside Saints numbers: The Saints are excellent producing stops on third down, allowing the sixth-lowest conversion rate (34.4 percent). Cornerback Marshon Lattimore is a driving force behind that success, as he is tied for second among all players with seven passes defended on third down.

Inside Saints roster: New Orleans has never really replaced tight end Jimmy Graham since trading him in 2015, but Jared Cook – his Thanksgiving drops notwithstanding – has proven to be a worthwhile investment at two years and $15 million. Since Drew Brees’ return from injury, the veteran tight end has exceeded 70 yards in three of his four games and has scored twice. Despite being 32, Cook is averaging 45.9 yards per game – the third most of his career – and at least gives defenses more to worry about than Ben Watson, Coby Fleener or Josh Hill did.

Detroit (3-8-1) at Minnesota (8-4), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Lions numbers: Detroit struggles to score without injured QB Matthew Stafford, going 0-4 and averaging 19 points in four games without him after going 3-4-1 and averaging 23.8 offensive points over eight games with him. Jeff Driskel and David Blough are mediocre, combining to average 6.7 yards per attempt (league average 7.3).

Inside Lions roster: Detroit almost has Pittsburgh outflanked on December’s weirdest quarterback starter. While David Blough did go to a Division I-FBS school (Purdue), unlike Devlin Hodges, he spent his first NFL months with the Browns before being traded to the Lions in August. With Jeff Driskel now on IR, Blough has an unusual opportunity to audition to be Matthew Stafford’s backup next year. These final four Lions games may look irrelevant on the surface, but considering Stafford’s back issues the past two years, identifying a future backup will be important.

Inside Vikings numbers: The Vikings are average on the road, ranking 16th in win percentage (.429) and 13th in point differential (+9). Conversely, are dominant at home (5-0), ranking third in point differential (+68) and sitting with the Patriots as the only team yet to lose. 

Inside Vikings roster: Many of Minnesota’s recent-years extensions have benefited its defense – from Danielle Hunter to Everson Griffen to Eric Kendricks to Harrison Smith. But the Vikings’ Xavier Rhodes deal appears to have outlived its usefulness, with the $14 million-per-year cornerback exiting Week 13 as Pro Football Focus’ No. 109 player at this position. The Seahawks (badly) burned the former first-round pick and All-Pro for a 60-yard touchdown Monday. One of four first- or second-round corners on Minnesota’s roster, Rhodes, 29, runs the risk of being a trade or cut candidate next year.

Denver (4-8) at Houston (8-4), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Broncos numbers: Denver’s defense is tough to beat in the red zone, allowing the lowest touchdown rate in the league (39.4 percent). The secondary is particularly stout in the red area, allowing a first down or touchdown on a league-low 15.4 percent of red-zone pass plays.

Inside Broncos roster: Denver entered this season with each of its starting defensive linemen in a contract year, but frequent healthy scratch Adam Gotsis has faded out of the long-term picture and Derek Wolfe is now on IR. Wolfe and versatile defensive end Shelby Harris profile as extension candidates, and while a Justin Simmons re-up or a third Chris Harris deal may take precedence, the Broncos’ situation here should mean either Wolfe or Harris stays. Wolfe has said he wants a third Denver deal and made a case as a fit for head coach Vic Fangio, recording a career-high seven sacks pre-injury.

Inside Texans numbers: Deshaun Watson is enjoying unprecedented success to begin his career; he is on track to become the first quarterback in league history to post a 100-plus passer rating in each of his first three seasons. Watson is electric on third down, posting a 109.4 passer rating, helping Houston rank fourth in third- down conversion rate (45.8 percent). 

Inside Texans roster: Overlooked amid one of the biggest wins in Texans history: a report indicating they plan to keep their GM-less setup in 2020. The Texans fired GM Brian Gaine in May, after barely a year on the job, and have used head coach Bill O’Brien as the new front office boss. O’Brien (50-42 as Texans HC) has not won enough to hold this job in non-emergency situations and has traded two first-round picks, a second-rounder, two third-rounders and Jadeveon Clowney since August. A GM-less blueprint is incredibly risky for the Texans, who were thought to make another run at Patriots exec Nick Caserio once his contract expires at season’s end.

Baltimore (10-2) at Buffalo (9-3), 1 p.m. ET

Inside Ravens numbers: Baltimore is on track to set Super Bowl-era records for yards per rush rush attempt (5.6) and total rushing yards (on pace for 3,325). All four of the Ravens’ remaining games are against teams ranked in the top half of defensive DVOA (Bills, Jets, Browns, Steelers).

Inside Ravens roster: Justin Tucker is the NFL’s highest-paid kicker, making $5 million annually. That fits nicely into the kicker price range, but with the salary barely $200,000 per year more than the second-highest-paid kicker, the Ravens have an incredible bargain. The most accurate kicker in NFL history just made perhaps the season’s most important field goal – his 49-yarder in the rain to beat the 49ers – and is on his way to what would be a record (for pure kickers) fourth first-team All-Pro honor. In a year featuring widespread kicker unreliability, the Ravens’ Tucker contract has never been more important.

Inside Bills numbers: The defense is superb, ranking third in fewest points allowed per drive (1.25). The secondary and pass rush have worked together beautifully, as the Bills are tied for second in passes defended (69) and eighth in sack rate (8.1 percent). That combination has Buffalo ranked third in opponent passer rating (78.5) and net yards per pass attempt (5.1). 

Inside Bills roster: Josh Allen has accounted for 16 touchdowns and has thrown one interception since Week 7, and Buffalo’s offseason additions have undeniably aided his development. John Brown leads the Bills in receiving, and Cole Beasley has given the improving quarterback a consistent target. Signed for barely $7 million per year, Beasley is averaging a career-best 52.9 yards per game. Brown and Beasley’s combined salaries match ex-Bill Sammy Watkins’, and the lower-profile new tandem is on pace to give the Bills two 800-yard receivers for the first time since 2003.





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