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NFL Football 2013: 5 Things We Learned From Week 14

Detroit Lions v Philadelphia Eagles
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Two more playoff spots were claimed, and the weather played a factor in Sunday’s NFL games. Here’s what we learned in Week 14 of the 2013 NFL season:

The Saints Control the NFC South

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints
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After a dismal performance in last Monday’s 34-7 loss to the Seahawks in Seattle, New Orleans (10-3) returned home and routed the Panthers, 31-13, on Sunday night. Carolina (9-4) was unable to stop Drew Brees, who threw for 313 yards and four scores, and the Saints five sacks on Cam Newton kept the Panthers’ offense contained. The victory put New Orleans in control of the NFC South with just three games left in the regular season. These teams will meet again in two weeks in Charlotte, where the Saints’ “dome” field advantage won’t be a factor.

The Broncos and Colts Are in the Playoffs

Tennessee Titans v Denver Broncos
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Denver (11-2) needed an NFL record-setting 64-yard field goal from Matt Prater to pull within one point of Tennessee heading into halftime on Sunday, before the Broncos outscored the Titans 31-7 in the second half. The 51-28 victory clinched an AFC playoff spot for Denver and the AFC South title for the Indianapolis Colts (8-5). Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning set a record of his own, throwing for four (or more) touchdown passes in a game for the seventh time this season. His performance came in sub-20 degree temperatures, which might help silence critics who think he’s not an adept cold-weather QB. He melted the Titans’ defense just fine.

The NFC West Title Is Still in Play

Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers
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After dominating the Saints at home on Monday, Seattle (11-2) needed a win in San Francisco on Sunday to clinch the NFC West. The 49ers (9-4) had other plans. Phil Dawson kicked a 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds left, and San Francisco beat the Seahawks, 19-17. The Niners will need help from other teams over the last three weeks of the season, but the two-time defending NFC West champs haven’t conceded anything to Seattle. If these teams meet again, it would only happen in the NFC title game, which is far from an unthinkable scenario.

Snow Makes NFL Games More Exciting

Detroit Lions v Philadelphia Eagles
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The weather was the biggest story on Sunday, as a winter storm dropped snow on games in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and suburban Washington, D.C. The Eagles beat the Lions, 34-20, in an entertaining battle of NFC division leaders played in blizzard-like conditions at Lincoln Financial Field; the Steelers nearly beat the Dolphins with a wacky lateral on the last play of the game, and the Ravens’ 29-26 win over the Vikings featured six different lead changes in the fourth quarter.

Including Green Bay’s 22-21 win over Atlanta, four of the five NFL games on Sunday that featured frozen precipitation came down to the final minutes. Only the Chiefs’ 45-10 rout of the Redskins allowed fans chattering teeth to forego nail-biting. Does this mean the NFL should hope for snow at the Super Bowl, which is scheduled for New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium in February? Commissioner Roger Goodell would probably rather unseasonable warmth.

Injuries Cut Great Seasons Short

Cleveland Browns v New England Patriots
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Several of the league’s top stars might have played their last downs in 2013 on Sunday. Patriots’ All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski may have suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the third quarter of New England’s 27-26 win. Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson suffered a suspected sprained foot during Minnesota’s 29-26 loss to Baltimore. The NFL’s rushing leader coming into the game, Peterson was carted off after being tackled by linebacker Arthur Brown in the second quarter. Also carted off the field on Sunday was Cardinals’ rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu, who may have suffered a torn ACL in Arizona’s 30-10 win over the Rams. Gronkowski, Patterson and Mathieu were each having tremendous seasons, but all of them could be gone until 2014.

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