NFL: Play-off picture heats up in Week 14
We are a few weeks away from the 2023-24 National Football League (NFL) play-offs (starting Saturday, January 13, 2024), and with only five weeks left in the regular season, no team has yet guaranteed their play-off spot, while only one team has been totally eliminated from play-off contention — the Carolina Panthers. Therefore, 31 teams are still vying for the 14 play-off positions, and everything will be on the line this weekend, with everyone trying to secure a play-off berth.
The colossal National Football Conference (NFC) championship game rematch between the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday proved pivotal, making things a lot more concentrated at the top of the conference, and offered the Dallas Cowboys a crack at advancing closer to the top.
In the American Football Conference (AFC), things could not be more tightly bunched, with two teams at 9-3, two at 8-4 and four at 7-5, but with just three wild card spots available, the Houston Texans are on the outside looking in.
If the play-offs began today the Miami Dolphins would have the top spot in the AFC, while the Eagles would take the NFC. However, the race is far from over and starting this weekend, the crowded NFL play-off picture will start to become a bit clearer.
Play-off Picture as at December 6, 2023
The crucial 42-19 win by the 49ers over the Eagles last weekend helped to shape the marquee game on the cards for Week 14: Eagles (10-2) visiting Cowboys (9-3) at AT&T Stadium.
In last Sunday’s lopsided result, the Eagles were made to look ordinary, as San Francisco’s quarterback (QB) Brock Purdy completed 19-of-23 passes for 314 yards with four touchdowns, which is not an indictment on the Philadelphia defence, as Purdy currently leads the NFL in completion percentage (70.2), yards per catch (9.6), and most importantly, the No 1 QB rating at 116.1.
The Cowboys, with ambitions of climbing from their current No 5 spot, have QB Dak Prescott playing a career-defining season, with numbers very similar to Purdy — completion percentage (70.1), yards per catch (7.9), and a 108.3 passer rating.
The Dallas offence was held in check by the Philadelphia defence in Week 9, where they lost 23-28, but they have been undefeated in the four games since then, averaging 42 points in that run, while allowing only 18 points.
Since the win over the Cowboys, the Eagles have gone 2-1, losing significantly to the 49ers last week, while struggling to achieve narrow victories over the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills prior to that. However, if Dallas expects to finish the season with a better record than Philadelphia, they had better start with a win this Sunday night as their remaining schedule is a lot more difficult than that of their opponent.
Dallas, after this weekend, have the daunting task of tackling the Bills, Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions and Washington Commanders, respectively, before the end of the regular season, while the Eagles are facing a much easier schedule against the Seattle Seahawks, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals, then the Giants again in their final regular season game.
This fierce NFC East rivalry has been played 129 times (including 4 post-season games), with Dallas winning 73 and Philadelphia winning 56. In the last 15 encounters, the Cowboys have gone 9-6, and they split the series last season, so Dallas will be hoping for the same this year, having lost the first matchup in Week 9.
The Cowboys are now on a four-game win streak after beating the Seahawks 41-35 last week, in which Prescott threw three touchdowns while receiver CeeDee Lamb had another 100-yard game, his sixth of the season. The Eagles had their five-game win streak broken by the 49ers and will now look to snatch a win on Dallas’ home turf for the first time since 2017. JustBet favours the Cowboys, who have not lost at home this season (6-0) and are on a 14-game home win streak, just shy of their franchise record of 18 (1979-1981).
Whichever team wins this heavyweight bout on Sunday night, will still need a few things to go their way before a play-off berth can be clinched this weekend, but the NFC East title hangs in the balance and both teams will be looking to land a kill-shot. This will not be one for the faint of heart and will cap off an exciting day of action…… Are you ready for some football?
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