Week 14 NFL schedule: Top storylines and rooting guide

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

We break down the big story lines in Week 13, and what to make of Sunday's schedule. Who are you rooting for and against? New to Niners Nation? Sign up here and join the discussion!

Week 14 is in full gear, and I think I figured out one benefit to that Jaguars-Texans matchup. In getting two horrible teams out of the way, we get quite a few quality matchups today and tomorrow. There are some sub-.500 teams mixed in those matchups, but given how close some of the divisional and wildcard races are, it makes for a lot of games that matter.

Normally I've come up with a quick headline to discuss each game. Today, I want to mix it up a bit. I'll just be listing Team X @ Team Y, but they will be ranked in terms of importance as I see it.

1. Lions @ Eagles

The Eagles and Cowboys are tied for the NFC East lead, with the Cowboys holding the head-to-head tiebreaker for now. Both teams hold the conference record tiebreaker over the 49ers thanks to 6-2 record. I've got Cowboys listed down below for Monday Night Football, but for Sunday, Lions-Eagles is the most important game for 49ers fans to consider.

The Lions have a one-game lead in the NFC North, and I am fine with them hanging on and claiming the division. I would much prefer the Eagles lose some games, starting today. The 49ers can take the wildcard with some wins of their own, but I'll take every extra nudge around the NFC.

Rooting interest: We have to root for the Schwartz-led team this week. I think we'll survive.

2. MNF: Cowboys @ Bears

This isn't until Monday, but much like the Eagles game, it's a big one. The Cowboys have the tiebreaker edge over the Eagles, and would appear to hold the same conference record tiebreaker over the 49ers. Of course, Philadelphia and Dallas square off in Week 17, so one of them is guaranteed a tie or one more loss. That could be enough to knock them back of the 49ers if San Francisco slips up today or anytime the rest of the way, but we still want to keep that out of the discussion.

The Bears are 6-6, putting them a game back of the Lions and two back of the 49ers. They are in the 49ers rear view mirror for now, but they can at least help the 49ers in the meantime.

Rooting interest: Of course we're rooting against the Cowboys!

3. Rams @ Cardinals

The 49ers hold the tiebreaker edge on the Cardinals due to their head-to-head matchup, but the Cardinals do still get to host the 49ers in Week 17. The Cardinals face a tough schedule before then, including a game at Seattle, but they remain a threat in the wildcard.

The one question mark for Arizona in this game is that Carson Palmer is questionable with an elbow injury. He is expected to play, but if his passing is limited, it makes this game a whole lot more interesting.

Rooting interest: The Rams are out of the picture for the 49ers, so, Go Rams!

4. Panthers @ Saints

Carolina and New Orleans are currently tied at the top of the NFC South, a game up on the 49ers. The tiebreaker goes to New Orleans due to record in common games, but there are two games still to be played between these two. The Saints are coming off a brutal beating at the hands of the Seahawks. Additionally, they were delayed getting back to New Orleans due to a plane issue.

The Saints are incredibly tough at home, but they are facing a Panthers squad that has won eight straight games and is playing as well as almost anybody in the league. The Saints are only a 3 1/2 point favorite, and I think Carolina has a real shot at knocking them off in the Superdome. The Panthers have won some big games this year, but a win in New Orleans would be a serious statement.

Rooting interest: Assuming the 49ers make the playoffs and win their first round game, I almost would rather go to New Orleans. If the Panthers keep it up, they're going to be an incredibly tough out in January. I'm pulling for the Saints in the hopes the 49ers move ahead of Carolina. If on the off-chance they were to then meet in the NFC title game, it would be in San Francisco. But we know that's a long ways off.

5. Falcons @ Packers

This is make-or-break time for the Packers. A loss here and they drop to 5-7-1. Normally I'd say they wouldn't lose to an awful Falcons team, but the Packers are looking awful in their own right. If they lose to Atlanta, my guess is they shelve Aaron Rodgers for the rest of the season.

Rooting interest: I can always root against the Packers.

6. Giants @ Chargers

The Giants are barely alive, sitting two back in the NFC East with four to go. More importantly, they were swept by Dallas, so they lose that head-to-head tiebreaker. They split with Philadelphia, so it would likely come down to division or conference record.

Rooting interest: I wouldn't mind seeing the Chargers stick a final fork in the Giants season.

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