OPINION: 'Up the Gut' with Shaun Morash: NFL Week 14

Dallas Cowboys
Photo credit Richard Rodriguez / Stringer / Getty Images

Cold Open

There's no throwing cold water on the Bengals' win over Chiefs last Sunday -- it wasn't a fluke. Three straight wins over Patrick Mahomes -- and overcoming a blown 14-3 lead against them last weekend -- is nothing short of impressive. Yes, every single game is different. But, mentally, even if the Chiefs can shake off these Bengals losses on an individual basis, there's a seed of doubt that's inevitable in closing them out, should they battle again in the AFC playoffs.

On the flip side, while many teams may walk into a game against the Chiefs -- heck, in Arrowhead, too -- with this notion that Mahomes may find a way to burn them, it's the Bengals that'll never feel that way, going forward. For all the talk about the Chiefs, Bills, and Dolphins in this AFC, don't discount the Bengals. They're as good a bet as any to return to the Super Bowl.

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Ten-Yard Gain

No. 1: Deshaun Watson returned to deserved boos and the Browns blew out the Texans. But all of that was Cleveland's defense and special teams. Watson was expected to show rust, but this looked more concerning. Two years away from game-speed in your prime is a long time. So this stretch should be about building confidence for 2023, rather than fake dreams of winning out in 2022.

No. 2: Mike White and the Jets came up short in a close road contest against the Vikings. And although he still looked the part in Minnesota, he can't force the offense to settle for too many field goals if he's going to be a quarterback winning playoff games. Braxton Berrios needs to catch that last-second pass, but if the Jets "elite" defense is still going to yield 20-plus points to the Vikes, they need touchdowns from White. And he failed last Sunday.

No. 3: Ties always suck... so why do they exist? The Giants and Commanders left their Meadowlands matchup feeling like they lost, even though the 20-20 score benefited them. Why can't some form of college overtime exist after the 10 minutes are over? Or, eliminate special-teams returns in the sudden-death format. I'd argue it's more detrimental to risk players' health in something that may not have a winner for 60 minutes than making a game go an extra five or ten minutes.

No. 4: Tom Brady's career just won't die. There's no underselling how elite his comeback was in the fourth quarter against the Saints on Monday. Tampa was completely dead, trailing by two touchdowns late. Brady threw clutch passes to the corpse of Julio Jones and some kid named Cade Otton to capture the win. Their 6-6 record isn't on Brady. And, at his age, that's basically amazing.

No. 5: The immediate reaction to the 49ers losing Jimmy Garoppolo to a foot injury is that they'll be "fine," because of the defense and weapons down the stretch. What world is this? They just lost their second quarterback this year, and are now starting Mr. Irrelevant. Yes, they beat the Dolphins that saw Tua Tagovailoa get banged up. But why would we assume that a Niners team led by Brock Purdy wins more than one more game for the rest of this season? Plus, there's no guarantee nine wins gets you into the NFC playoffs.

Brock Purdy
Photo credit Thearon W. Henderson / Stringer / Getty Images

No. 6: Dan Campbell really deserves credit as a head coach. The Lions have somehow gotten to 5-7. Had they not played for a field goal on Thanksgiving, they could be 6-6 with real playoff hopes. A seven or eight-win season, after how things started off, should be enough for anyone outside Detroit to finally acknowledge that Campbell might actually be a good leader.

No. 7: It's so nice that Aaron Rodgers is flexing on Bears fans, as his season has emphatically imploded. Chicago's the lone NFC team already eliminated from postseason contention, and here's Rodgers, acting like he's king of the conference. Congrats, Rodgers. What a season it's been. The Bears are now his Super Bowl -- how low the bar has fallen.

No. 8: The Seahawks remain puzzlingly broken -- so lucky to have narrowly evaded the beat-up Rams after back-to-back losses. Their Thursday matchup against the 49ers next week will go a long way in determining which team not only wins the NFC West, but may be the only playoff team out of the division.

No. 9: Lamar Jackson is banged up for the second straight year, and during an important stretch run. There's no doubting Jackson's greatness, but the fears some had of him being injury-prone are now no longer a fluke. When it comes to the massive contract he's seeking, buyers beware.

No. 10: The light switch the Cowboys turned on during the fourth quarter of Sunday's game against the Colts shouldn't be forgotten when they inevitably lose in the playoffs. There are believers in that team, and those believers will be the first to make excuses come January. Their roster is good enough. The conference is open enough. They can turn it on at any second. Dallas should be in a Super Bowl this winter, but, of course, we know they won't be.

Lamar Jackson
Photo credit Greg Fiume / Stringer / Getty Images

Five Games to Chew On

Dolphins at Chargers: Another week, and another primetime game for the beyond-boring Chargers. At 6-6, this could be some sort of last stand for the Chargers in the AFC wild-card race. Could they rebound from a 6-7 record and still make the playoffs? Yes. But nothing about Justin Herbert's mediocre year suggests he'll put the squad on his back. On the flip side, the Dolphins blew a real chance to maintain control of the AFC East by losing to the 49ers.

Vikings at Lions: The Lions can find themselves in realistic playoff convos this weekend if they win this home game against the Vikes. Ironically, Detroit seemingly gave up at the trade deadline when they traded T.J. Hockenson to their NFC North rival. The Lions also need this game more, which makes this matchup so much more interesting than we expected a month ago.

Bucs at 49ers: Can San Francisco's defense lead this NFC playoff run with Brock Purdy (2022 Mr. Irrelevant) starting at quarterback? That true mission starts this week against a depleted Bucs team that still has Brady. With a win, Tampa can all but put the finishing touches on sealing the NFC South title.

Eagles at Giants: The Eagles went back to their dominance by blowing the doors off the Titans last week. Now they face another offensively-challenged team in the Giants, which haven't won a game in roughly a month. New York's pass rush is finally healthy, though, and their only chance of beating their rival at home is getting to Jalen Hurts.

Jets at Bills: Buffalo has to be rubbing its hands together in anticipation of this game, after losing to New York in early November. Now, though, the Jets are better offensively with Mike White than they were in that last meeting with Zach Wilson. A loss for the Bills here would give them three within the division and seriously impact their playoff-hosting goals.

A.J. Brown
Photo credit Scott Taetsch / Stringer / Getty Images

My Picks
A 2-1 week has me back over the .500 mark, at 20-19 overall. So, for Week 14:

Eagles (-6.5) at Giants: New York's offense keeps struggling. And when its best receiver, Darius Slayton, is dropping big passes in overtime, it's tough to envision a coaching staff having a lot of trust. Last week, Philadelphia turned the switch back on against a Titans that looked to run the ball. Toss in the one area where the Giants remain beat up -- defensive back -- and the Birds might have their way with a few big plays. A close game would be one these Eagles win by a touchdown -- which covers, in this case.

Chiefs (-9.5) at Broncos: Denver can't score points -- nine points against Baltimore last Sunday may've been their most embarrassing performance yet. If, at best, they get to 16 points in this game, the Chiefs only need to get to 26 to cover. I realize how good the Broncos' defense has been. But we're talking about Patrick Mahomes, coming off of a bad loss. The Chiefs eat and cover.

Dolphins (-3.5) at Chargers: It's finally time to plant the flag: the Chargers actually stink. We've waited all year long for them to be good, and they're the definition of average. Justin Herbert hasn't looked like a top-five quarterback, the team has dealt with injuries, and Brandon Staley is so up and down as the coach. Miami having a letdown performance in back-to-back weeks feels so unlikely. I expect them to get back on track in their second straight game on the west coast and win this game by at least four points.

Football Food of the Week

Dijon-Bacon Dip for Pretzels: Did you really believe I was going to go all season without giving you a dip, with bacon? Really? I've been laying in the weeds, looking for a moment to strike, and looking to make sure bacon was included in a dip for the ages. Last week, I gave a sweet peanut butter and chocolate dip. And I then realized how underutilized pretzels are with dips.

So, Uncle Shauny went to work. I asked myself, what else am I missing for pretzels? Chips are so 2020. Dipsy Doodles are so 2021. Maybe 2023 will be the year for pretzels and dip. This is very simple: mayonnaise, Dijon-mustard, horseradish, and bacon crumbles. Four ingredients blended together, waiting for pretzels to be dunked. Enjoy the heck out of this, and maybe the pretzels make a run nobody saw coming. Here are the exact recipe measurements.

​​Thanks for reading as always, and enjoy Week 14. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram @MrazCBS.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: Richard Rodriguez / Stringer / Getty Images