What are the five must-watch NFL games this week? ESPN’s matchup quality metric, which utilizes ESPN’s Football Power Index to rank games on a 0-100 scale based on the quality of teams and projected closeness of the final score, tells us the top games of Week 14.
1. Philadelphia Eagles at Los Angeles Rams (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox)
Matchup quality: 89 out of 100
FPI win projection: Eagles, 52 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Rams 7 percent, Eagles
Get ready for some Goffentz! (Sorry, had to.)
This is only the eighth time in the common draft era (since 1967) that the quarterbacks drafted first and second overall in the same year are squaring off. These two quarterbacks both struggled as rookies but have dramatically upped their games in their second seasons. One thing that has worked for both of them is they’ve aired it out a little bit more this season. For example, Goff threw 13.7 percent of his pass attempts 15 or more yards downfield in 2016, but that number is up to 22.7 percent this year. And, in addition to throwing more of them, he has actually been more efficient on those types of passes. For Wentz, it’s the same story: more passes downfield, and better results even with the increased volume.
2. New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons (Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, NBC)
Matchup quality: 86 out of 100
FPI win projection: Falcons, 51 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Falcons 33 percent, Saints 4 percent
How elusive is Alvin Kamara?
Well, he ranks fifth in yards after contact per rush and second in yards after contact per reception. Of course, that’s only after defenders actually get to him, which is a problem in and of itself. In fact, it may be the biggest problem for opposing defenses, since the Saints’ rookie running back leads the league in yards before contact with 4.51 per rush.
Kamara already has 60 receptions on 74 targets for 614 yards this season. That’s close to the receiving numbers he put up in two seasons at Tennessee (74 receptions for 683 yards). Which makes you wonder: Why didn’t the Volunteers use him more?
3. Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS)
Matchup quality: 80 out of 100
FPI win projection: Panthers, 52 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Panthers 25 percent, Vikings
The possibility of the Vikings playing a Super Bowl in their own stadium is not all that inconceivable anymore. FPI gives the Vikings a 30 percent chance to make the Super Bowl, the second-highest chance among NFC teams, behind the Eagles. Some things less likely to happen than the Vikings being on their own field in February?
• The Chargers reaching the postseason (26 percent).
• The Bulls earning the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft (25 percent).
• Clemson winning the College Football Playoff National Championship (24 percent).
• Duke reaching the Elite Eight in this season’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament (25 percent).
4. Seattle Seahawks at Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox)
Matchup quality: 76 out of 100
FPI win projection: Jaguars, 57 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Seahawks 19 percent, Jaguars 2 percent
Russell Wilson has been the busiest quarterback this season and the focal point of the Seahawks’ offense. He will face his toughest test thus far on the road in Jacksonville. The Jaguars’ defense not only is allowing the lowest raw QBR of any team this season, their 21.2 opponent raw QBR is the lowest value through 12 weeks in our data set (QBR data starts in 2006). No quarterback has posted a raw QBR above 50 against the Jacksonville defense, and only two have been in the 40s (Blaine Gabbert and Philip Rivers).
Jaguars QB Blake Bortles‘ task won’t be much easier. Despite missing much of the vaunted Legion of Boom, the Seahawks’ defense was still able to hold Eagles QB Carson Wentz to just one touchdown pass and his fourth-worst Total QBR of the season.
5. Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
Matchup quality: 69 out of 100
FPI win projection: Steelers, 68 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Ravens 14 percent, Steelers 0 percent
There will be much hot air expelled about the importance of this game for these teams going forward, but in reality, outside of the rivalry, not much will actually be on the line. Even with a loss this week, Pittsburgh’s chances for the top seed in the AFC will largely hinge on its success or failure against New England in Week 15. The Ravens likely won’t be able to catch the Steelers for the division and have the easiest remaining schedule in the league, meaning the 5-seed is pretty much theirs.
That obviously won’t stop either team from trying to win, and points will likely be at a premium. The Ravens have the second-best defensive efficiency in the league this year and Pittsburgh isn’t too far behind with the sixth-best. Neither Ben Roethlisberger (57.6 Total QBR, 12th) nor Joe Flacco (36.7, 29th) have been particularly efficient this year, meaning this one may come down to special teams. Baltimore does have an edge there, as it ranks fourth in special teams efficiency to Pittsburgh’s 18th.
High-leverage game of the week: Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS)
Matchup quality: 54 out of 100
FPI win projection: Chiefs, 70 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Chiefs 45 percent, Raiders 27 percent
FPI’s preseason projections had the AFC West as the tightest division race, and despite Kansas City’s hot start, FPI seems to have hit the nail on the head. A win for either team here, coupled with the result of the Chargers’ game vs. the Redskins, will start to separate the teams as we head toward the final few weeks of the season.
FPI currently gives the Chiefs the edge, based mostly on them having the easiest remaining schedule of the trio, and also has them as 70 percent favorites at home in this contest. A win would put Kansas City at a 70 percent favorite to win the division and give Andy Reid & Co. a 75 percent chance at the playoffs overall.
Oakland is seen as the outsider of the three largely thanks to the most difficult remaining schedule of any NFL team. Even with a win at Arrowhead, Oakland would be projected to win the AFC West just 26 percent of the time and make the playoffs 28 percent of the time. A loss would nearly eliminate the Raiders, dropping those percentages to 1 percent for the division and 2 percent for the playoffs.
For more from ESPN Analytics, visit the ESPN Analytics Index.