NFL Week 15 Predictions: Stars Who Will Shine in Games with Playoff Significance
Week 15 is loaded with exciting matchups that will help bring this season’s playoff picture into focus.
Several teams can clinch their divisions this week, while wild-card spots and first-round byes may also be sealed on Sunday.
The Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos are the only teams that have clinched a postseason berth, but seeding is far from certain. Every team still has something to play for.
The best slate of games the 2012 NFL season will produce is just ahead, and here are the stars who will steal all the headlines this weekend.
Aaron Rodgers: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Aaron Rodgers may not be putting up the same incredible numbers that earned him the MVP last season, but he is the primary reason that the Packers have won seven of their last eight games.
Green Bay has had to cope with injuries to several key players on both sides of the ball. But regardless of to whom Rodgers was throwing or who was blocking for him, the All-Pro signal-caller found ways to win games.
Against the Bears, Rodgers' stats once again will not tell the entire story. While he will not torch the Chicago defense and put up gaudy numbers, he will make key plays in crucial situations while leading his team to a victory and another NFC North title.
Victor Cruz: New York Giants at Atlanta Falcons
No team has been able to beat the Falcons at home, but Atlanta has not faced a matchup this difficult at the Georgia Dome.
The Giants’ dominant performance against Atlanta in last season's playoffs will be on the Falcons' minds on Sunday, and if New York strikes quickly in this game, the home team’s confidence will be severely shaken.
Eli Manning will look for Victor Cruz early, and the speedy wide receiver will continue his impressive season. Cruz will be the most impressive offensive player in this matchup as New York takes another step towards sealing a trip to the playoffs.
Arian Foster: Indianapolis Colts over Houston Texans
The Texans' embarrassing defeat to the Patriots was an unfavorable result for the Colts, as Houston is now locked in a race for a first-round bye.
With New England and Denver lurking one game back, Gary Kubiak needs to stay aggressive and put the ball in his playmakers’ hands. This means that Indianapolis will see plenty of Arian Foster.
The improving but still vulnerable Colts defense will not be able to stop Foster when Houston lines up in heavy packages and runs right at it. Foster’s fantasy owners will be smiling after this matchup.
Troy Polamalu: Pittsburgh Steelers over Dallas Cowboys
After a long absence due to a calf injury, Polamalu has spent the past two weeks working his way back into the Steelers lineup, and the former Defensive Player of the Year will be his old self against the Cowboys.
His presence changes Pittsburgh’s defense as he constantly moves around, and opposing offenses have to account for him at all times.
The Steelers defense will dominate this game, and Polamalu will lead the effort. Expect to see him flying around on SportsCenter highlights on Sunday night.
Aldon Smith: San Francisco 49ers over New England Patriots
The Patriots did an incredible job containing J.J. Watt, but they will have a significantly more difficult time neutralizing Aldon Smith.
Smith currently leads the NFL with 19.5 sacks this season, and he needs just three more in the next three games to tie Michael Strahan’s record. But the second-year linebacker’s possibly historic campaign has been helped out by his immensely talented teammates.
The linemen and linebackers surrounding Watt are not of the same caliber as the Niners’ players at those positions. New England will not be able to single out Smith as it did to Watt, and Tom Brady will be familiar with the young pass-rusher by the end of the game.
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