By Mark Schiff
Following his 17-year career in the NFL, Steve Beuerlein joined CBS Sports in 2004, where he works as a game analyst (Beuerlein is set to provide color commentary for this week’s San Diego-Kansas City game). Ahead of Thursday night’s clash between the Arizona Cardinals and the Minnesota Vikings, we called up Beuerlein to get his thoughts on several of the biggest games of Week 14.
Beginning this week Thursday Night Football moves exclusively to NFL Network for the remainder of the season. Tonight Minnesota takes on Arizona at 8 p.m. EST.
Minnesota Vikings at Arizona Cardinals – NFL Network, Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. EST
How did their humiliating home loss to the Seahawks on Sunday effect the Vikings’ chances to win the NFC North?
Steve Beuerlein: “Well, I think significantly. The way they lost that game, it really exposed a lot of issues. It exposed that if a really good run defense can stand up and take Adrian Peterson out of the equation and put the pressure on Teddy Bridgewater, he’s not quite ready to make that step yet. It maybe exposed a few things about the Vikings, wide receivers and their play-makers in the pass game as well.
But you look at all of the different factors involved. You look at the fact that, for whatever reason, Green Bay was able to hit that hail Mary and win that game [against Detroit]. So that puts them kind of in the driver’s seat of that division. Aaron Rodgers down the stretch, I think, is a much safer bet than Teddy Bridgewater down the stretch.
Those are all factors. The bottom line is, who do you trust coming down the stretch here? I think, not that a lot of people were expecting them to win that game, but the bottom line is the way [Minnesota] lost and the fact that the Packers did win, I think makes them a long shot.”
With the Cardinals off to their best start since 1948, does Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer have a chance to win the NFL MVP Award?
SB: “I think he’s got a chance. I wouldn’t say he’s the front-runner right now. I would say that you probably have to lean a little towards Cam Newton right now. And then depending on what happens with the Patriots down the stretch, with all the injuries they’ve had, the bottom line is that Tom Brady still keeps them in the hunt all the time. If he can find a way to finish out the season, putting up the numbers and coming away with wins, even though they’re on a two-game losing streak, I think that [Brady] will warrant some consideration over Palmer as well. But [Palmer] has to be in the equation. He’s definitely top 5, maybe even right now top 3 with what he’s done.
On that note, going back to the previous question, the Vikings go to Arizona this week, which is going to be a very difficult game for the Vikings to come away with a win. So that goes back to the previous question and I think the Vikings schedule works against them down the stretch as well. But as far as Carson Palmer goes, no doubt about it, he, along with their defense, are the reasons why the Cardinals are playing so well.”
San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs – CBS, Dec. 13, 1 p.m. EST
Statistically, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers is having one of his best seasons, but the Chargers have one of the league’s worst records at 3-9. Why is that exactly?
SB: “Well, you say [Rivers] is having one of his best seasons but I bet if you were to ask him, he’d say it wasn’t one of his best. The numbers are up there, but when you consider that they’ve been trailing in a lot of their games, the numbers can be very misleading in the pass game when you’re playing from behind all the time. The fact that they’ve only won three games up to this point, I think [Rivers] would say that this season has been a failure.
There are a lot of other factors in it, obviously, but you look at the fact that he has thrown five interceptions that have been returned for touchdowns – five pick-sixes that have been significant in their ball games – [Rivers] would say that’s not acceptable, and a big reason for why they’ve lost several of those games as well.
So I’m a huge Philip Rivers fan, I’ve always been a huge supporter of his and I still think he keeps them relevant just because of who he is, but I wouldn’t put this down as one of his best seasons.”
Kansas City has won six straight after starting just 1-5 and they’re back in control of the wild card race. Will they be able to hold onto the No. 5 seed over the season’s last four weeks?
SB: “I think they will. I think that they will definitely find their way into the playoffs, probably the fifth spot. The reasons are pretty obvious: They’ve won six straight and they have probably the easiest schedule down the stretch, the final four games. They have three of their final four at home and their home games are the Chargers, the Browns and the Raiders – all with losing records. And then their one away game is at Baltimore, with a losing record. They don’t play one team with a winning record down the stretch.
Alex Smith is playing mistake-free, the defense is playing great, they’ve got their confidence back. I think that they’re definitely going to hold down that fifth spot. Even if they win just three of the last four, that puts them at 10-6, so yeah, they could very easily be 11-5 and playing with a lot of confidence. I would imagine that they’ll wind up in a pretty desirable [playoff] matchup as well.”
Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos – CBS, Dec. 13, 4:05 p.m. EST
They got off to a good start, but Oakland has lost 4 of their last 5 to fall back in the standings. What’s the biggest reason for their recent struggles?
SB: “I think you could find a lot of different ways to go with that. I think that they were riding the wave of their youthful enthusiasm early in the season, they got hot a little bit and they started thinking they were pretty good. And all of a sudden, a couple of losses that they’ve had have been really difficult and with poor effort, especially looking at what happened this past week against the Chiefs. They had three interceptions in the fourth quarter.
Derek Carr is one of my absolute favorite young quarterbacks in the league. I think he’s going to be the real deal for a lot of years. But they just ran into a buzzsaw facing the Steelers and the Vikings. They played terribly against the Lions, in a game we did [as broadcasters]. Their one win in the last five weeks was over the Titans and then they got hammered by the Chiefs last week. So it’s been kind of a slap in the face or a dose of reality for them that they’re a good young team I think with a lot of potential, but they’re still missing a few pieces. The season has been a very positive step for them, hopefully they can finish out on a positive note. They go to Denver and to K.C. and then they have Green Bay at home, so three of their last four are going to be tough to win. But we’ll see how they hold up.
They’ve got a lot of young talent. You look at Derek Carr, Amari Cooper – you know [receiver Michael] Crabtree has been a great addition for them. They’ve got some good young players on defense too. They’re probably going to end up losing [safety Charles] Woodson, I would think, after this year, but you never know with the level he’s playing at. But they do have some really good young talent on that team.”
Denver’s defense ranks number one in a wide variety of important categories. Which defensive player is the biggest key to their success this season?
SB: “You don’t have a great defense unless everybody is playing great, so it’s hard to single out any one player. Their defense, I think, is the most impressive defense in the league right now. You look at all the different aspects of it, they’re not weak anywhere. They found a middle linebacker in Brandon Marshall who’s playing very well, they’ve got the shutdown corner in Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward is playing great at safety.
But I think the two key players that any offense comes in and says, ‘We have to control these two guys,’ it’s Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. They’re as good as anybody in the league and you put them on opposite sides and it just presents all kinds of problems. So I would say those two guys are the key; if I had to single out one, I think it’s Von Miller.”
Mark Schiff is a freelance writer and music journalist for AXS.com. In 2013, his coverage of the Seattle Seahawks ended in heartbreak when they defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Now covering his beloved hometown team, his knowledge and passion for pro football has resulted in multiple fantasy football championships. Find him on Twitter at @mihilites.