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Patriots, Steelers must guard against Week 14 letdown

While playoff-clinching scenarios are being bandied about, I can tell you that coaches aren't having postseason discussions. The message is just to win your game and the rest will take care of itself.

Here are the Week 14 storylines to watch.

1. Letdown factor

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Week 13 saw the Patriots and Steelers come up with wins over divisional rivals that put them in solid shape for the playoffs. New England is currently the No. 1 seed and Pittsburgh holds the No. 2 spot. Some predict a dropoff, but I can't see it.

The Patriots head to Chicago in a very tough game, but Tom Brady and Co. average more points on the road (29.3 per game) than the Bears score at home (21.8). The Bears love to stop the run, but the Patriots would just as soon work the short pass game.

The Steelers have a better situation at home against the Bengals, who are in the midst of a nine-game losing streak. Keep in mind, the Bengals only lost 27-21 in the first matchup in Week 9.

2. Who are the spoilers?

A number of teams are out of the playoff picture. Some will pack their bags and click the off button. Other teams have a lot more pride and enjoy the role of spoiler. As one player said, "If we can't go, you can't either." That attitude is dangerous for teams trying to stay in the postseason hunt. The Vikings, Cowboys, Redskins, 49ers, and Texans look like candidates to wreck a team's playoff quest. Also, keep an eye on the Bills and Browns going forward.

3. Life without Leonhard

The Jets were the No. 1 seed in the AFC before getting blown out on Monday night -- their first game without Jim Leonhard -- and dropped to a wild-card team. Is it a freefall or an adjustment period without Leonhard? He was the quarterback of the defense. Not only did he call the blitzes, but was usually involved in bringing the pressure. The Jets like to blitz close to 80 percent of the time on third down and I don't think they want to change. I will be watching against the Dolphins to see if the Jets make the adjustment. A loss to Miami because of a poor defensive day and a playoff spot could be in jeopardy.

4. Favre factor

Sure, the "streak" means something to Brett Favre, and I don't fault him for considering the importance of it, but since the playoffs are not without reach anymore, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has to take other things into account. Favre not practicing all week is nothing new, and playing with pain is a common occurrence. However, if Favre's ball doesn't have velocity, Frazier is going to have to make the tough decision. I think Frazier starts Favre but replaces him as soon as the arm isn't right.

Week 14 matchups to watch

Want to know what matchup you should be watching when your favorite team takes the field this week? Gil Brandt has the answer as he breaks down all the action. **More ...**

5. Mirror images

When you look at the Raiders-Jaguars matchup, it's amazing how many similarities there are between these two teams. Last week, both offenses called 50-plus running plays and combined for 105 rushes and 509 yards. Each would love to see its quarterback throw no more than 20 times a game. Both run the ball 59 percent of the time on first down. Both have given up 22 touchdown passes, yet neither offense looks capable of taking advantage of the opposing pass defense. This one could be over quick as both teams ram their running game at each other.

6. Questions that still exist

It's late in the season or, as coaches refer to it, the beginning of the fourth quarter. I still have some questions that date all the way back to the beginning of the season. Could the Cardinals be any worse if they gave Matt Leinart a chance to run the offense? Now that Josh McDaniels has been fired by the Broncos, was it a big mistake to draft Tim Tebow and why don't we see him under center in a normal quarterback situation? Was anybody really expecting the Panthers to do any better than the worst record in the NFL after they let veterans go all over the roster and replaced them with inexperienced players? Was it really a good idea for the Redskins to go to a 3-4 defense when they were a top 10 unit last year and are now 32nd?

7. Now or never

Back to the wall is a reality for a few teams. Some thrive on pressure while others fold. Right now, the Packers and Buccaneers aren't in the playoff field and need to win to stay in the race. The Raiders, Chargers and Seahawks can't afford a seventh loss, and it will be interesting to see how they compete. There's no doubt one of these teams turns into a spoiler next week rather than a playoff contender.

8. Another rematch weekend

Last week, there were eight rematch games and, as I predicted, more teams split with their division rival rather than being swept. Five of the eight matchups were won by the team that lost the first time. This week, we have the Dolphins going for revenge against the Jets. The Bengals, Chargers, Niners and Lions are in the same boat vs. the Steelers, Chiefs, Seahawks and Packers, respectively. Hard to see three rebound winners in this group, but history makes you think there will be more splits than sweeps.

9. Wrong kind of streak

I wonder if the Lions' 19-game losing streak in the NFC North is wearing them out. The Packers come to town with Detroit is on its third quarterback and its defensive captain, Kyle Vanden Bosch, just went on injured reserve. It looks like 0-20. Another team looking to break a streak is Houston. The Texans are 0-3 against the Ravens, and it looks like a fourth straight loss is a possibility.

10. QB quandaries continue

Quarterback issues have dominated all season long. We have seen 71 quarterbacks throw at least one pass. Carolina, Arizona, Dallas, and Detroit have all had to use with backup quarterbacks. Kansas City might be added to that list. What an untimely situation with Matt Cassel, who can't be replaced by Brodie Croyle. Look for the Chargers to bring the heat.

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