What We Learned - In the First Half  

 

Eight things we learned in Week 14's early games

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We've officially hit the home stretch of the season, with wild playoff races in both conferences. Here's what we learned from the early games in Week 14:

1. The AFC North is going to take a while to untangle. Cincinnati had a chance to take control of the division, but they imploded in the second half against Pittsburgh. The Bengals' defense just isn't as consistent as previous years, and they can't count on Andy Dalton to carry them.

Throw in Baltimore's win in Miami, and there are three AFC North teams within half a game with three weeks to play. The Bengals are far from guaranteed to make the playoffs. Their home stretch looks challenging: at Cleveland, vs. Denver, and at Pittsburgh.

2. The Dolphins' playoff hopes took a major hit with their loss to Baltimore. Miami was completely outclassed against the Ravens, with their offensive line overwhelmed by Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. The Dolphins also couldn't get any pressure on Joe Flacco. Miami will likely need to win in New England next week to keep realistic hopes alive.

3. The Lions will get to 11 wins and likely make the playoffs if they keep holding serve against the NFL's also-rans. They did the job again with a convincing win over Tampa.

4. St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher sent out six captains for the team's coin toss today: Janoris Jenkins, Michael Brockers, Zac Stacy, Stedman Bailey, Greg Robinson and Alec Ogletree. Those were the six players St. Louis drafted in exchange for the picks they received in the Robert Griffin III trade. RGIII, meanwhile, entered in mop up duty in a 24-0 loss to the Rams. St. Louis has won the last two games by the score of 76-0. Despite being 6-7, they are better than plenty of teams that will make the playoffs.

5. Cleveland's decision to stay with Brian Hoyer will be criticized all week after the Browns blew a 21-7 lead against Indianapolis. Cleveland's defense essentially scored 17 points on their own, and Hoyer still couldn't take advantage in a 25-24 loss. The Browns likely need to win out now for a chance at the playoffs.

6. Indianapolis rarely looks like a complete team, but they are very much alive for a playoff bye. They can clinch the AFC South title next week.

7. The Carolina Panthers won Sunday for the first time since Oct. 5. And they are very much alive in the playoff race at 4-8-1. The Saints have lost four straight at home and were booed throughout their 41-10 loss Sunday. First team to six wins could clinch the NFC South. Atlanta and New Orleans face off in Week 16.

8. We learned the Titans aren't about to give up their positioning for the 2014 draft. After a 36-7 loss to the Giants, they look like the NFL's very worst team.

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