nfl week 14 grades around league

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Although Sunday did not produce too much in the way of late-game drama, division and conference races are heating up. The 49ers’ defense continued to back Brock Purdy, while the Bills again got by without Von Miller. The Broncos and Texans nearly pieced together stunning upsets before falling to contenders. Here are the Week 14 grades from around the league.

 

Tua Tagovailoa bombs in high-profile outing

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Throwing a wrench into the reconstructed Dolphins’ aspirations, Tagovailoa delivered a ghastly performance in his season’s highest-profile spot. The 2020 No. 5 overall pick was erratic all night during a loss that would have been much worse were it not for Tyreek Hill’s fumble-recovery TD and a Michael Davis ill-timed stumble. Tagovailoa’s 10-for-28 night — the worst completion percentage by a Dolphins starter since David Woodley in 1980, when rules were set up a bit differently for QBs — handicapped the Dolphins (8-5) against the team that benefited from Miami’s Tua pick two years ago. Miami’s past two showings, this one with Terron Armstead available, present cause for concern ahead of a cold-weather showdown.

DOLPHINS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: at Bills (Sat.)

 

AFC picture changes when Justin Herbert looks like this

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The injuries and unreliability that define the modern Chargers make them a tough sell when it comes to comparisons with the AFC’s true heavyweights, but a healthy Herbert gives the Bolts a Deontay Wilder-style equalizer. Herbert’s career-high 39 completions during a 367-yard night that featured tight-window throws and Mike Williams helping the cause deep — a sorely missed Chargers element — compensated for the team missing pieces across its lineup. The Chargers (7-6) have underwhelmed this season, and their coaching has held a prodigious passer back. But AFC staffs would gladly accept a Jets wild-card assignment over dealing with Herbert. After somehow deploying a Pro Bowl starting QB and missing the 2021 playoffs, the Bolts lurk as a boom-or-bust threat.

CHARGERS GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)

 

3 of 24

Even with odd margin for error, Bucs may not figure it out

Even with odd margin for error, Bucs may not figure it out

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

An 8-9 record will probably be good enough to win the NFC South. That and Tom Brady’s age-45 season are about the only reasons for the Bucs’ relevance. They put up less of a fight against the 49ers’ smothering defense than the Dolphins, and Brady — connected to potentially joining his hometown team in 2020 and again this year — was quite bad after his Monday comeback. This 35-7 rout, including three Bucs turnovers and Brady missing Mike Evans on a key fourth-and-goal sequence, marks the third-worst defeat margin of the all-time great’s career. Tampa Bay (6-7) has been handed a division, but far less talented rivals are still alive. It is safe to say the Bucs (28th offensively) miss Bruce Arians.

BUCCANEERS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Bengals (Sun.)

 

4 of 24

Stacked 49ers continue to walk tightrope

Stacked 49ers continue to walk tightrope

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Again looking more competent than Trey Lance in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, Brock Purdy outplayed Brady. The 49ers’ 35-point day should scare the NFC. San Francisco’s defense provides a cushion no other team possesses. The four-year Iowa State starter is capitalizing, and the 49ers (9-4) are now unbeaten with Christian McCaffrey as a starter. McCaffrey (153 yards on just 16 touches) sliced up the Bucs and offers a dimension the previous five Shanahan-era 49ers teams lacked. Though, Deebo Samuel’s ankle injury further reveals how tenuous this unique juggernaut’s standing is. He, CMC, and George Kittle’s extensive injury pasts loom over San Francisco’s Super Bowl pursuit. For as long as this trio is healthy, watch out. But health concerns will linger throughout.

49ERS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Seahawks (Thu.)

 

Zach Wilson will not be reacquiring Jets job

JAMIE GERMANO / USA TODAY NETWORK

Not this season, at least. The Jets did not win either of their December tests against upper-crust opposition, but White kept them in games that would have been comfortable losses with Wilson. White stood in against a Bills pass rush that teed off on a wounded Jets O-line. White finished with a higher QBR than Josh Allen, throwing for 268 yards during a game he exited twice. The Jets (7-6) gave up four sacks and eight QB hits, and White was pressured 21 times, but teammates rallied around the former fifth-round pick after casting Wilson aside. While the Jets’ floor is undeniably higher with White, their playoff prospects will hinge on games against streaky teams (Detroit, Jacksonville). 

JETS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Lions (Sun.)

 

6 of 24

Bills’ young pass rushers showing progress

Bills' young pass rushers showing progress

JAMIE GERMANO / USA TODAY NETWORK

The news of Von Miller’s injury being season-ending strips the Bills of their elite defensive mercenary and makes their front seven, personnel-wise, look a lot like that unit Patrick Mahomes torched in January. But Buffalo will bring better versions of Greg Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa into these playoffs. The young defensive ends combined for three sacks, a forced fumble, and a game-sealing bat down to help the Bills (10-3) cover for an offense that underwhelmed against the Jets once again. After a four-sack rookie year, Rousseau has seven sacks in just 10 games. Epenesa, who finished shy of two sacks in either of his first two years, has 5.5. The highly drafted edges are emerging at the perfect time for a Bills team that may need to win out to grab the AFC’s top seed.

BILLS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Dolphins (Sat.)

 

7 of 24

Chiefs pass rush salvages lackluster display

Chiefs pass rush salvages lackluster display

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Had Russell Wilson’s injury not occurred, the Chiefs would have been in danger of blowing a 27-0 lead to the NFL’s worst offense. Fortunately, the oft-overwhelmed Broncos have featured poor pass protection all season. An injury-plagued Denver O-line could not protect Wilson or Brett Rypien, allowing six sacks (via seven different Chiefs) and a Chris Jones hit that wrapped up a Kansas City escape. Patrick Mahomes threw three interceptions, and the Chiefs (10-3) needed two Mahomes-ian tricks to hold off an unusually frisky Broncos offense. The past two weeks invite more concern about the Chiefs, though the NFL’s (as of now) friendliest stretch-run schedule still makes them the best bet for the AFC’s top seed. 

CHIEFS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Texans (Sun.)

 

8 of 24

A fleeting glimpse of prime Russell Wilson

A fleeting glimpse of prime Russell Wilson

Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire

Wilson can partially be blamed for the Broncos designing a misshapen offense themed around the star QB playing mostly from the pocket. But the underwhelming trade get showed his value by outplaying Mahomes in a frantic comeback. Wilson’s 57 rushing yards showed that gear remains, but the NFL’s No. 4 all-time rushing QB’s concussion underscores the risk of playing that way. Wilson attempting to morph into a pocket passer has keyed a woeful season. To remain near top form — a version that ignited Jerry Jeudy’s three-TD day and kept the Broncos competitive despite eight offensive starters missing — Wilson must play the way he did Sunday. But this concussion — one that could end his season, considering the Broncos’ 3-10 record — clouds that path back to competence. 

BRONCOS GRADE: B | NEXT: vs. Cardinals (Sun.)

 

Brandon Graham helps loaded Eagles cruise

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Jalen Hurts is now the only QB with back-to-back seasons of 10 rushing TDs. Miles Sanders and A.J. Brown became the first Eagles 1,000-yard rusher and receivers, respectively, since LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin eight years ago. The Eagles (12-1) scored 48 points — their most in five years. Philly has arguably the NFL’s best O-line. This is a team devoid of a noticeable weakness, and Graham and Co. ensured the Giants had no shot of crawling back into the game. The 34-year-old defensive end notched three sacks and a forced fumble. Despite a 2021 Achilles tear, Graham has 8.5 sacks — one shy of a career-high. An Eagle since before Andy Reid’s “Dream Team” formed, Graham has helped Philly go from a 29-sack 2021 season to an NFL-most 49 thus far this year.

EAGLES GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Bears (Sun.)

 

10 of 24

Early-season Giants illusion has faded

Early-season Giants illusion has faded

Chris Pedota, NorthJersey.com / USA TODAY NETWORK

At 7-5-1, the Giants are still a threat. To make the playoffs, at least. They are, as expected to start the year, not on the contender tier. This was never viewed as realistic. GM Joe Schoen said as much preseason and confirmed it by being a seller (Kadarius Toney feat. Kadarius Toney’s hamstrings) at the deadline. After the Giants hung with the Cowboys, the Eagles further exposed this injury-riddled and talent-starved squad. With the exception of punting, the Eagles did everything well in Week 14. The Giants could have a healthier team by their Commanders showdown, but their gritty early-season form has been harder to find lately. This would be one of the least talented playoff teams in recent history. That avenue could close soon, however.

GIANTS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Commanders (Sun.)

 

11 of 24

Texans squander special-teamers’ career days

Texans squander special-teamers' career days

Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

While it says a lot the Texans needed big days from Chris Moore and Tremon Smith, the career backups’ performances nearly led a 17-point underdog to victory. Houston (1-11-1) received 124 yards — 36 on a stupendous one-handed catch — from Moore and the first two interceptions of Smith’s five-year career. OC Pep Hamilton also turned to the more mobile Jeff Driskel at points, leading to Amari Rodgers’ first career touchdown. The Texans had no business threatening the Cowboys the way they did, and this close loss is ideal for their long-term vision (though this rebuild is progressing at an old-school pace). 

TEXANS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Chiefs (Sun.)

 

12 of 24

Cowboys need goal-line stand to survive woeful opponent

Cowboys need goal-line stand to survive woeful opponent

Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Contenders have been tested by terrible teams throughout NFL history, and Dallas’ 98-yard drive — which needed only three CeeDee Lamb yards — to put away the Texans at least offered clutch execution. Ditto DeMarcus Lawrence’s TFL on Rex Burkhead, which preceded the Texans — deviating from the conservatism that clouded their Week 1 tie — trying a fourth-and-3 over putting the Cowboys (10-3) behind by six. But Week 14 also doubled as a troubling reminder of the Cowboys’ past. This is the nucleus that botched the last-ditch drive against the 49ers in January, and key cogs from the team that blew the 2019 NFC East to an injured Eagles version are still here. Next week, ahead of the Eagles rematch, was supposed to be the trap game.

COWBOYS GRADE: C | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)

 

13 of 24

Defensive lethargy burns Browns again

Defensive lethargy burns Browns again

Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Just four games to go for another disappointing Browns team. As the Bengals stoned the northeast Ohioans’ run game, the Browns gave up some embarrassing touchdowns. Both Jadeveon Clowney and Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah checked out during a Samaje Perine stalled run — as if they were not observing the NFL’s weekly rugby tributes, which will lead to an unnecessary injury — that turned into a TD stroll after he escaped the pile. And, mimicking a 1985 defense, the Browns (5-8) were nearly 10 yards behind Trenton Irwin on a standard-fare flea-flicker. These plays, against a Cincinnati offense, had Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd available for a combined three snaps, do well to encapsulate a disappointing year for Cleveland’s defense. 

BROWNS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: vs. Ravens (Sat.)

 

14 of 24

Bengals inside presence deters Browns this time

Bengals inside presence deters Browns this time

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Leaving the Manningcast with extensive filler time, Nick Chubb smoked the Bengals in the teams’ Halloween meeting. The Browns rushed for 172 yards that night. Six weeks later, Chubb totaled 34 yards on 14 carries. Absent for nearly two months because of an MCL issue, D.J. Reader provided the biggest difference between that Bengals squad and the one that finally upended a Kevin Stefanski-coached Browns team. Reader controlled the interior, making five tackles, batting down a pass and freeing up Logan Wilson to tally a career-high 17 stops. The Bengals handed Deshaun Watson another humbling defeat, with Cam Taylor-Britt stopping a fourth-and-goal lob in the final minutes as well. This is a better Bengals team than the AFC champion squad.

BENGALS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Buccaneers (Sun.)

 

15 of 24

Vikings skeptics take victory lap

Vikings skeptics take victory lap

David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Built on a foundation of good fortune in one-score games, the Vikings’ peripherals revealed a team much closer to the Lions than the rivals’ records indicated. In failing to contain Jared Goff, the Vikings appeased the doubters. Minnesota (10-3) lost in Detroit for a second straight year despite Justin Jefferson (223 yards) breaking Sammy White’s 46-year-old single-game receiving record. The Vikes’ defense allowed more than 400 yards for a franchise-record fifth consecutive contest, and per the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first team in NFL history to sport a negative point differential after winning 10 of its 13 games. The Vikings will win the NFC North and may still earn the conference’s No. 2 seed. They are veering toward being a vulnerable postseason home team. 

VIKINGS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Colts (Sat.)

 

DJ Chark aiding Jared Goff's surge

Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

As “Hard Knocks” wrapped, Goff entered what looked like his final year as the Lions’ unchallenged starter. After Brad Holmes was an integral figure in the Rams’ 2016 draft trade-up, the Lions GM is championing more Goff Detroit QB1 seasons . Goff has an 8-0 TD-INT ratio over his past five games, and his injury-prone WR2 has helped foster that production. Chark has 11 receptions for 202 yards over his past two games and has caught two touchdowns — including Sunday’s grab past Cam Dantzler — since coming off IR. With Chark, Amon-Ra St. Brown and the now-available Jameson Williams, the Lions (6-7) have one of the league’s most interesting receiving trios. They are no longer strictly playing for the future, either.

LIONS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)

 

17 of 24

J.K. Dobbins contributes to QB-deficient Ravens rescue

J.K. Dobbins contributes to QB-deficient Ravens rescue

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Although Dobbins did not quite look himself — his 2020 version, that is — upon returning from his latest knee-induced IR stint, the optimal Ravens starting running back came through quickly to help a team desperate for run-game production. Dobbins dropped his first 100-yard game since that rookie season, totaling 120 in a game in which the Ravens (9-4) were forced to turn to a rookie UDFA QB (Anthony Brown). Credit Dobbins for continuing to churn out yardage despite still being impacted by that severe August 2021 injury. The AFC North leaders having their Dobbins-Gus Edwards pair back for the first time since 2020 will be vital both with and without Lamar Jackson. The duo will have a chance to move closer to its old form once Jackson is ready.

RAVENS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Browns (Sat.)

 

18 of 24

Trubisky pushes Steelers closer to Tomlin-era first

Trubisky pushes Steelers closer to Tomlin-era first

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In solid position to walk away with their fourth win in five games, the Steelers are now one loss away from Mike Tomlin’s first losing season in 16 years on the job. Mitch Trubisky’s aggressiveness ended up holding Pittsburgh (5-8) back, leading to three Ravens red zone interceptions. Although Trubisky’s conservative approach helped lead to his early-season benching, the former No. 2 overall pick hurt his team upon replacing Kenny Pickett on Sunday. Also, seeing field goal-blocking maven Calais Campbell swat a Chris Boswell try, the Steelers left a lot of points on the board during a game in which Trubisky totaled 276 passing yards to the Ravens QBs’ 104. 

STEELERS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Panthers (Sun.)

 

19 of 24

Steve Wilks making full-time case for Panthers

Steve Wilks making full-time case for Panthers

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Panthers now control their own destiny in the NFC South. That both highlights one of the worst divisions in NFL history and the decent work the Panthers have offered during their interim coach’s stay. Wilks’ team has routed the Bucs, beaten the Falcons (after a bad officiating decision on D.J. Moore’s celebration cost the Panthers in Atlanta) and now upset the Seahawks. Wilks has both pulled the right strings at quarterback — Sam Darnold has looked competent twice now — and helmed a defense amid a staff overhaul. The Panthers (5-8) intercepted Geno Smith twice. No interim coach has been bumped up to full-time status since Doug Marrone in 2017, but Wilks — a Charlotte native who was with Ron Rivera’s team for six years — has a path to stay.

PANTHERS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: vs. Steelers (Sun.)

 

20 of 24

Run defense dragging Seahawks to playoff fringe

Run defense dragging Seahawks to playoff fringe

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Yeah, that midseason defensive turnaround the Seahawks appeared to be crafting is long gone. Two weeks after Josh Jacobs’ historic afternoon, the post-Christian McCaffrey Panthers’ backfield committee ran wild. Letting D’Onta Foreman sidekicks Chuba Hubbard and Raheem Blackshear score, the Seahawks allowed 223 rushing yards. This marks the Clint Hurtt-helmed unit’s third time ceding 200-plus on the ground this season. The Seahawks are fortunate to be 7-6, as Nathaniel Hackett’s 64-yard field goal decision gifted them a Week 1 win. Seattle has now lost three of its past four — all against sub-.500 opposition. Still, the Broncos’ loss has the Seahawks holding the No. 2 overall pick next year. They have not picked that high since 1993.

SEAHAWKS GRADE: D-plus | NEXT: vs. 49ers (Thu.)

 

Evan Engram boosts free agency stock

Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports

Restrained both by low-ceiling Giants offenses and his own inconsistency, Engram took a one-year “prove it” deal with the Jaguars (5-8). That contract had not exactly cured the ills for a long-tight end-starved franchise. Until Sunday, that is. Engram (11 catches, 162 yards, two TDs) dominated the Titans. Engram’s career-best yardage total not only represents a Jaguars tight end record, it slid into the top 10 among any pass catcher in team annals. While this team is difficult to figure out, Engram helped Trevor Lawrence (career-best 368 passing yards) bounce back from a Detroit dud. Suddenly, the former first-round tight end looks like a prime Jags extension candidate.

JAGUARS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Sun.)

 

22 of 24

As Mike Vrabel’s power grip strengthens, Titans off track

As Mike Vrabel's power grip strengthens, Titans off track

George Walker IV/The Tennessean-USA TODAY Sports

Stunning the NFL world by firing GM Jon Robinson less than 10 months after giving him a through-2027 extension, Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk placed her bet on Vrabel. The reigning NFL Coach of the Year has now lost three straight games for the first time since his second month on the job (October 2018). The Titans (7-6) committed four turnovers (three combined on Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill fumbles) and forced zero, allowing a Lawrence career day. The Titans powered through their avalanche of injuries last year, and as they navigate similar issues this season, Vrabel’s squad is slipping. The Titans — now just two games up on the Jags — are screeching toward that Saturday afternoon wild-card slot.

TITANS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Chargers (Sun.)

 

Josh McDaniels building distinctive loss dossier

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Given a second chance after submitting one of the worst modern-era coaching runs (from 2009-10 in Denver), McDaniels has both managed to blow three 17-point leads and lose in two advantageous spots in his Raiders rookie year. After the Raiders (5-8) lost to a head coach with zero college or pro experience in his first game, they topped the Jeff Saturday debacle by blowing a 13-point lead to a bad Rams offense trotting out a quarterback who had been on the team two days. Jerry Tillery’s penalty and DC Patrick Graham’s play-calling being mocked on live TV postgame — after a Las Vegas second half of nothingness — added to what has been another eventful McDaniels head-coaching season. 

RAIDERS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Patriots (Sun.)

 

24 of 24

Rams suddenly interesting again

Rams suddenly interesting again

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

While Baker Mayfield will not receive the amenities Matthew Stafford did upon arriving in Los Angeles, the polarizing QB’s shocking performance — capped by a 98-yard drive that doubles as one of the highest degree-of-difficulty game-winning marches in modern NFL history — rockets the Rams back to relevance. Being an interesting bad team is not exactly the destiny the Rams (4-9) had in mind when they doled out their Stafford, Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp extensions, but this could be one of the weirdest stretches by a defending Super Bowl champion. Mayfield already bolstered his free agency market, but if this L.A. fit works, would a Teddy Bridgewater-style midcareer backup gig be out of the question?

RAMS GRADE: A | NEXT: at Packers (Mon.)

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