Taking a spin around the NFL to get you ready for the rest of Week 14:
The big questions
When the Los Angeles Rams took Jared Goff No. 1 overall in the 2016 NFL draft and the Philadelphia Eagles followed at No. 2 with Carson Wentz, it made them the seventh pair of quarterbacks in the common draft era, since 1967, to be taken 1-2 in the same year. And when they face off Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, it will be just the fifth time in that era that those two quarterbacks will face each other. We’re talking Jim Plunkett vs. Archie Manning. Drew Bledsoe vs. Rick Mirer. Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf. Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota. Who’s up for a little early-career bragging rights, then?
The game boasts the third-highest pregame matchup quality of any this season per ESPN’s Football Power Index (89.3 on a 0-100 scale); it’s also just the second since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger between two teams averaging at least 30 points this late in the season (both the Rams and Eagles are scoring an NFL-best 30.1 points per game). The other? Try Week 15 of the 1983 season, when defending Super Bowl champion Washington (34.2 PPG) thumped the Cowboys (32.3) 31-10.
The Eagles, who clinch the NFC East with a victory, stayed on the West Coast after last Sunday night’s loss at Seattle, practicing at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, which was the Rams’ home from 1980-94. And while Wentz is leading the NFL with 29 touchdown passes and attempting to become the first Eagle to at least share the league lead since Roman Gabriel in 1973, Goff has improved his Total QBR from an NFL-low 18.3 last season to 54.9 this season. FPI gives the Eagles a 52 percent chance to win, by 0.7 points.
Can the Jaguars nullify Russell Wilson‘s late-game heroics?
Last week in this space, we waxed on about how the Eagles looked like the natural successors to the Seahawks, then Seattle handled Philadelphia in prime time. Up next as contenders for the Legion of Boom mantle? Here come the Jaguars, trying to become the first team in the Super Bowl era to lead the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed, takeaways and sacks. (They are two takeaways behind the Ravens for the league lead.) And if that sounds familiar, well, the 2013 Seahawks were the first team since the 1985 “Super Bowl Shuffle” Bears to lead the league in points allowed, yards allowed and takeaways.
The key for the Jags on Sunday, though, will be to keep the ball out of Russell Wilson’s hands late. Wilson, who has jumped into MVP talk of late, has 15 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter with one interception. Conversely, Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles has tossed exactly one fourth-quarter TD this season, and four picks. Plus, Wilson has thrown or run for 29 of the Seahawks’ 30 offensive touchdowns this season; the 97 percent mark by a single player would be an NFL record. Bortles? He leads the league with 74 turnovers since entering the NFL in 2014, though Jacksonville has minimized his miscues this season, with opponents scoring 15 points off 15 turnovers. The Jags are the FPI favorite at 56.9 percent, by 2.4 points.
Numbers that matter
26: The number of receiving yards Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald needs to pass Randy Moss for third on the all-time receiving yards list. Fitzgerald, the No. 3 pick in the 2004 draft, began the season ninth on the list and already has passed Marvin Harrison, Steve Smith Sr., Tim Brown, Tony Gonzalez and Isaac Bruce. And with 82 catches with four games to go, Fitzgerald has a chance to join Jerry Rice (1994-96) as the only players with three consecutive 100-catch seasons over the age of 30.
1-27: Sashi Brown’s record as general manager in Cleveland before being fired Thursday. Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have run through eight general managers and nine coaches while having only two winning seasons and one playoff appearance in that time frame, a wild-card loss to the Steelers in 2002. Still, the Browns announced that Hue Jackson would return as coach in 2018 and, presumably, have input on Cleveland’s next GM, something he wanted in Oakland before being shown the door after the 2011 season. Oh yeah, Jackson’s record as a head coach since Dec. 4, 2011, when he allowed linebacker Rolando McClain to play days after being arrested for firing a gun next to a man’s head, is 2-31.
17: The number of times Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco will have faced each other with Sunday’s game between the Steelers and Ravens in Pittsburgh. It will be tied for the fifth-most meetings between quarterbacks, including the playoffs, in the Super Bowl era, along with Tony Romo vs. Eli Manning (Romo won 10 times) and Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning (Brady won 11). Roethlisberger leads the rivalry 10-6. Jim Kelly and Dan Marino met 21 times in their respective careers, with Kelly going 14-7. Terry Bradshaw and Dan Pastorini faced each other 18 times (Bradshaw was 13-5), as did John Elway and Dave Krieg (Elway going 10-8), and Drew Brees and Matt Ryan (Brees is 10-8 after Thursday’s loss in Atlanta).
9: The number of consecutive AFC East titles the Patriots will win with either a victory at Miami on Monday night (8:30 p.m., ESPN/WatchESPN) or a Bills loss or tie against the Colts in Buffalo, extending New England’s NFL record for consecutive divisional titles. A win also would give New England its league-record eighth straight 11-win season, surpassing the 2003-09 Colts.
37.8: The QBR increase from last season for Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, who, a year after having a 37.5 Total QBR in 2016, is second in the NFL at 75.3. It is the largest increase in the NFL among the 24 QBs to qualify in each season.
What we’ll be talking about after Week 14
Jimmy G Mania on the streets of Santa Clara
Has the hometown hype machine ever run this hard for a quarterback making his starting debut for a team and NOT leading said team to a touchdown? Yes, the 49ers’ faithful are starved for some good news, and Jimmy Garoppolo provided it by throwing for 293 yards, the most of any QB making his first start for the 49ers, in their 15-14 victory at Chicago. Yes, five field goals accounted for the Niners’ second victory of the season. Still, Garoppolo showed poise, completing nine of 12 passes for 115 yards against the blitz and going 9-of-9 for 109 yards using play-action and 18-of-22 for 233 yards between the painted field numbers. Yes, they were even uttering the words “Joe” and “Montana” in the Bay Area. Gulp. “We are both Italian,” Garoppolo quipped this week, “so we have that in common. But I think it might be a little early.” The 49ers have not won consecutive games since winning three straight in Weeks 10-12 in the 2014 season; facing the Texans’ defense on the road should provide a sterner test for Garoppolo.
Clarity in the AFC West … or not
Two of the three teams tied for first in the AFC West at 6-6 get together in a potential elimination game at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, but it might not be that simple for the Chiefs and Raiders, let alone the Chargers, who host Washington later in the day. Because while the loser of the Chiefs-Raiders game takes a major step back, the Chiefs get the Chargers in Kansas City in Week 15, and the Raiders close the season in Carson, California, on New Year’s Eve. The Raiders have not won at Kansas City since 2012 and have not scored more than 17 points in any of their past four games there. But Derek Carr, who is one of two quarterbacks in the league to throw a touchdown in every game in which he has played, gets Michael Crabtree back from suspension in time to face a Chiefs pass defense that has given up 256.1 yards per game since Week 6, 30th in the NFL in that time, and which will be without suspended All-Pro cornerback Marcus Peters.