There will no playoff appearance in January for the Broncos. So what are Denver football fans to do when the regular season ends on New Year’s Eve? Consider this month an audition to find the team you want to cheer to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis in February. There are some up-and-coming candidates — the Rams, Vikings, Eagles and Saints among them — who all have huge opportunities this weekend to prove they are at the top of the short list of true championship contenders. Of course, the old guard — Steelers, Patriots, Seahawks — look strong, too. Oh, the choices. (Games on Sunday unless otherwise noted.)
Game of the Week: Eagles (10-2) at Rams (9-3), 2:25 p.m. First place in the NFC could be up for grabs. It’s the second straight West Coast game for the Eagles, who practiced in California this week following their loss at Seattle on Sunday. Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles could be as rowdy as it has been for any game since the Rams returned to the city in 2016. Oh, and the top two picks from that year’s draft will be going head to head. Buckle up.
Saints (9-3) at Falcons (7-5), 6:25 p.m., Thursday. An improved running attack, led by veteran Mark Ingram and rookie Alivn Kamara, has worked wonders for QB Drew Brees and has made New Orleans one of the league’s most effective offenses. Atlanta, coming off a disheartening home loss to the Vikings, must find a way to slow that train down or its playoff prospects will take a major hit.
Colts (3-8) at Bills (6-6), 11 a.m. Buffalo is one of three AFC teams that trails the 7-5 Ravens for the conference’s final wild-card spot. The Bills could be without QB Tyrod Taylor, who suffered a bruised knee in a 23-3 loss to the Patriots last week.
Cowboys (6-6) at Giants (2-10), 11 a.m. The Giants cleaned house this week, firing their head coach and general manager, and returned Eli Manning to the starting quarterback role after a controversial benching. For Dallas, the math is simple. Trailing both NFC wild-card spots by two games, the Cowboys likely have to win out to have any hope of reaching the playoffs.
Lions (6-6) at Buccaneers (4-8), 11 a.m. Both of these teams expected much more than they’ve produced so far this season. For Tampa Bay, QB Jameis Wintson didn’t take the leap the Bucs had hoped for in his third season. The Lions have been felled by a non-existent running game and spotty play on defense.
Raiders (6-6) at Chiefs (6-6), 11 a.m. Who would have thought, after a 5-0 start, that Kansas City would enter Week 14 fighting for its playoff life? The Raiders already own one victory over the Chiefs this season and could move into first place in the AFC West if they sweep the season series.
49ers (2-10) at Texans (4-8), 11 a.m. All QB Jimmy Garoppolo did in his first start for San Francisco after being traded from New England was lead the 49ers on a five-plus-minute, game-winning drive over the Bears. It’s too early to know if a star was born, but it was an encouraging first step for the longtime backup to Tom Brady.
Packers (6-6) at Browns (0-12), 11 a.m. The Packers, who likely need to win their remaining games to have any hope of reaching the playoffs, could get Aaron Rodgers back for their Week 15 game against the Panthers. For now, improving backup QB Brett Hundley must answer the bell against lowly Cleveland.
Bears (3-9) at Bengals (5-7), 11 a.m. The progression of rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky has been slow in Chicago. The next four games are key to his confidence and development moving forward, and Bears coach John Fox would be wise to loosen the reins on the big-armed quarterback.
Vikings (10-2) at Panthers (8-4), 11 a.m. Might Minnesota be staring at home-field advantage up to, and including, the Super Bowl? Philadelphia’s loss in Seattle on Sunday night moved the Vikings into a tie for the NFC’s top seed. The Panthers are one game behind New Orleans in the race for the NFC South title but just one game up on Atlanta for the final wild-card spot.
Redskins (5-7) at Chargers (6-6), 2:05 p.m. The Chargers have rebounded from an 0-4 start by winning six of their last eight games. A victory over reeling Washington would keep Los Angeles in a tie for the AFC West lead with three games to play.
Titans (8-4) at Cardinals (5-7), 2:05 p.m. Arizona is 8-1 in its last nine home games against AFC teams. But Tennessee, which has won six of its last seven games, has no margin for error in its race for the AFC South crown. The Jaguars also enter Week 14 with an 8-4 record.
Seahawks (8-4) at Jaguars (8-4), 2:25 p.m. It’s Russell Wilson, Seattle’s escape artist of a quarterback, against the league’s top pass-rushing unit in Jacksonville. The winner of the upper hand in that battle will score a major boon to its playoff and division title hopes.
Ravens (7-5) at Steelers (10-2), 6:30 p.m. Pittsburgh will be without rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was be suspended for an illegal hit on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict on Monday night. Baltimore has fought back into the playoff hunt behind a familiar formula: stout defense and efficiency in the running game.
Patriots (10-2) at Dolphins (5-7), 6:30 p.m., Monday. The Dolphins seemed to find their offensive rhythm against the Broncos last Sunday. But the Patriots, who have ridden a major in-season improvement by their defense to eight consecutive wins, present a much stiffer challenge, even without star TE Rob Gronkowski (suspension).