Tom Brady and the Pats are in a potential Super Bowl preview vs. San Francisco.
Get ready for the playoffs, because Week 15 of the NFL season presents that type of atmosphere.
In a potential Super Bowl XLVII preview, fans are provided with the NFL's No. 1 scoring offense (New England, 36.3 points per game) against the No. 1 scoring defense (49ers, 14.2 points per game). Given the magnitude of this contest, it's only right that kickoff is in prime time.
With that, let's break down the rest of the games for Week 15.
The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears is one immense matchup this week.
For one, it has NFC playoff implications and the division title as well.
Secondly, some injuries factor into the December contest. Per the Packers' official Twitter feed earlier this week:
McCarthy-Plan is for Matthews to play, tomorrow's practice is toughest, hopeful he can play. Longshot for Jordy Nelson to play. #packers— Green Bay Packers (@packers) December 12, 2012
Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will start Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, despite a neck and knee injury that limited him in practice this week.
Chicago also remains unreliable in terms of pass protection, and the ground game is not stellar enough to carry the offense. Defensively, the Bears are vulnerable against the run, and Aaron Rodgers is capable of dicing them all over the field.
In short, Chicago's postseason hopes are slowly fading.
Packers 24, Bears 14
The disparity between each offense, though, resides in the rushing attack.
Atlanta averages only 86.9 rushing yards per game (ranks No. 28) and gets merely 3.7 yards per rush.
The Giants have not changed Bradshaw's status for Sunday, but he missed a second straight practice Thursday and seems unlikely to play against Atlanta.
No matter of Bradshaw's status, David Wilson is fully capable of taking over as we saw in Week 14 against the New Orleans Saints. The Falcons also give up an average of 4.9 yards per carry, so expect Big Blue to maintain balance and reduce the number of possessions for Ryan and Co.
Giants 23, Falcons 20
The determining factor between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints will be Drew Brees.
New Orleans remains a strong passing team, and the Bucs have yet to slow down any sort of passing attack.
Aside from interceptions, Tampa is extremely suspect in coverage and lacks a pass rush to compensate accordingly. Much can also be said of the Saints defense, which still allows an average of 436.9 total yards and 29.2 points per game.
Josh Freeman and Doug Martin present balance, so New Orleans will struggle at halting the Bucs as well.
So as expected, Tampa and NOLA will be a shootout.
Given that the Saints run the ball better than given credit, though, Tampa's defense doesn't stop Brees, and the Bucs fall short again.
Saints 38, Buccaneers 34
The Minnesota Vikings and St. Louis Rams is the most intriguing matchup of Week 15.
Neither offense presents a dominant passing game, but each can run the ball with much consistency.
Interestingly enough, Minnesota has the better ground game, but St. Louis is better at passing.
Unfortunately, neither defense consistently locks down in coverage, and both allow an average of four yards per rushing attempt.
The Rams may present more offensive balance, but Adrian Peterson's explosiveness is capable of taking over at anytime for Minnesota.
Can St. Louis isolate Peterson throughout? And will the Vikings defense control the line of scrimmage?
No and yes. Peterson averages 6.0 yards per carry, and despite St. Louis fielding a solid front seven, Christian Ponder's mobility works better off play-action.
Sam Bradford doesn't possess that level of mobility, and Minnesota is capable of applying just as much quarterback pressure.
Vikings 17, Rams 14
Unsurprisingly, the concern here is Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins.
According to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
He likes his chances of playing Sunday, but he and coach Mike Shanahan want to keep the Cleveland Browns guessing as long as possible.
Regardless of which rookie quarterback gets under center for Washington, don't expect this offense to slow down. Kirk Cousins has proven to be fully capable, and he presents a stronger arm and better mobility than one might think.
Additionally, the Redskins can run the ball effectively to keep defenses off balance.
The Cleveland Browns simply have to keep Washington's offense sidelined. But for as vulnerable as the Redskins defense can be, they can force turnovers and have only bent, not broken, during Washington's four-game win streak.
Redskins 31, Browns 27
Folks, welcome to the Chad Henne Bowl.
If that even make this instate matchup more appealing, because the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins don't have much to play for.
Yes, Miami is still barely alive for the postseason. However, it's a long shot because an unprecedented amount of help is required on top of Miami winning out the regular season.
The Dolphins also remain suspect defensively, except for a strong pass rush.
Miami gives up an average of 352.7 total yards per game, which ranks No. 19 in total defense. Jacksonville, on the other hand, has found a better passing game because of Henne.
As for Miami's offense, Ryan Tannehill and Co. only average 18.5 points per game and have scored above that average only once in the previous five games. Jacksonville may field a weak defense, but the Dolphins offense isn't much better by comparison.
Jaguars 21, Dolphins 17
The Baltimore Ravens will be the Denver Broncos' toughest test until the postseason.
Factor both teams still fighting for that coveted playoff bye week, and this colossal AFC showdown will be intense.
Denver boasts one of the NFL's best defenses, as it ranks No. 4 overall and No. 4 in 19.8 points allowed per game. Baltimore on the other hand, remains uncharacteristically weak defensively, as it allows 21 points and 376.2 total yards per game.
A day before the Ravens will have to make a decision on whether to activate him for Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos, middle linebacker Ray Lewis was on the practice field for the second straight day.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who practiced in full yesterday with his torn biceps and called himself a game-time decision, also was on the practice field this morning.
Still, can the Ravens defense shut down the Broncos' potent offense and move the rock consistently against Denver's defense?
Broncos 23, Ravens 16
The New England Patriots followed the blueprint used by the Green Bay Packers for shellacking the Houston Texans: Throw the ball and isolate Arian Foster.
Even if Foster scores on the ground, it's about limiting his yards-per-carry average, which the Packers and Patriots both did.
The end result is putting pressure on Matt Schaub and forcing Houston to be one-dimensional. Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts possess this capability, because Indy is a pass-first offense and has displayed flashes of being able to stop the run defensively.
Expect the Texans to remain balanced and not panic in this one. Houston still controls its own destiny in the AFC, and a win clinches the division.
Anticipate the Texans defense to come out with motivation after getting eviscerated by Tom Brady. Nevertheless, don't count out the rookie from Stanford; he has a knack for pulling off come-from-behind wins.
Houston, though, possesses too much offensive prowess, and Indy's defense significantly lacks compared to the Patriots.
Texans 30, Colts 21
The San Diego Chargers and Carolina Panthers enter Week 15 with confidence.
San Diego went into Pittsburgh and defeated the Steelers, while the Panthers upset the Falcons at home.
Because of that victory, the Bolts remain barely alive for the postseason. Carolina, meanwhile, looks to play spoiler.
Each offense possesses explosive potential, and the defenses are suspect against the pass. In short, a high-scoring affair is to be expected.
Cam Newton's dual-threat ability will move the rock against San Diego, and the Panthers' weak pass defense will be picked apart by Philip Rivers. Newton has been unbelievable over the past four games, accounting for 11 total touchdowns without throwing an interception.
By comparison, Rivers sports a 64.1 completion percentage and tossed three scores to zero picks against the Steelers. So, the difference for this game?
The Panthers can present more because Charles Johnson has better complements in Carolina's front seven.
Panthers 34, Chargers 30
On Sunday, Marshawn Lynch squares off against the Buffalo Bills—the team who drafted him back in 2007.
And one can expect a big performance from Lynch.
Buffalo allows an average of 4.8 yards per carry and 134.5 rushing yards per game. Factoring in the Seattle Seahawks' reliable passing game means the Bills should be off balance all day.
Despite Russell Wilson only tossing for an average of 191.7 yards per game, he has completed 63.0 percent of his passes with 20 touchdowns. The Bills have also allowed 22 passing touchdowns, so Seattle's strong balance will control the tempo.
Include the Seahawks' stout defense against the one-dimensional Buffalo offense, and this game will be over by the half. C.J. Spiller can undoubtedly be effective, but Seattle can lock down in man coverage and stack the box to dominate the line of scrimmage.
Seahawks 26, Bills 10
Until the Arizona Cardinals get some sort of pass protection, don't expect anything to change.
The Cards have allowed 51 sacks to this point, and the Detroit Lions aren't going to be stopped.
For one, Detroit has solid front-seven players in Ndamukong Suh and Cliff Avril to stop the run and get pressure. Secondly, Arizona fails miserably at running the ball, and its quarterbacks combine for 17 picks thus far in 2012.
Even though the Lions aren't consistent at suffocating in coverage, blanketing Larry Fitzgerald and using the front seven to control the line will be enough.
Then, allowing Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson take over will put Arizona on its heels as the game progresses.
Lions 35, Cardinals 6
The Pittsburgh Steelers face a dire situation against the Dallas Cowboys.
A loss puts Pittsburgh on the brink of potentially missing the postseason, and it could also be from the aging defense.
After getting diced by Philip Rivers on Sunday, the Steelers get a confident Tony Romo. He holds a 66.4 completion percentage on the season and has 11 touchdowns to only three picks in his previous six games.
Fortunately, Ben Roethlisberger played well in his return last week and will keep rolling against Big D.
Dallas allows a 62.5 completion percentage and has recorded only six picks so far in 2012. The pass rush is presentable with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, but Roethlisberger rarely turns it over, and the Steelers can be explosive offensively.
The determining factor, though, comes in the form of turnovers. Dallas possesses the stronger pass rush to cause fumbles, and Romo's current rhythm will keep the Steel Curtain off balance.
Cowboys 20, Steelers 16
Jamaal Charles is the Kansas City Chiefs' best chance for victory over the Oakland Raiders.
The star running back averages 5.1 yards per carry and gets 93.8 per game.
Defending the run also happens to be one of Oakland's numerous weaknesses. The Raiders allow an average of 4.5 yards per rush and 131.2 per game. The Silver and Black also give up 30.9 points per contest, so Kansas City should move the ball.
The problem for Kansas City remains defensively, because the Chiefs have allowed 25 passing scores and has just 24 sacks to this point. As the matchup would have it, Oakland's offensive strength is Carson Palmer tossing the rock (the Raiders are No. 7 in passing offense).
Chiefs-Raiders will be a battle between a ground game and a capable passing attack. The Raiders can push the pace, but it won't be efficient enough to match that of Charles.
Chiefs 23, Raiders 20
Welcome to the game of the week. The San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots will be one fun matchup to watch.
In this contest of Super Bowl contenders, the Pats offense against the 'Niners defense will be the feature.
Naturally, Tom Brady and the NFL's most prolific offense can be expected to move the ball. Brady spreads the field exceptionally well, and New England can also slam the rock whenever it wants.
New England will stay true to balance, though, because keeping a defense such as the 49ers honest is the primary key.
When the 49ers possess the ball, the Patriots will need to blitz often. San Francisco's offensive weakness is in the passing game, so pressing in man coverage and loading the box will limit Colin Kaepernick's effectiveness.
Turnovers will be scarce for each side, but New England fields the offense more capable of producing points.
Patriots 20, 49ers 14
Don't look now, but Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets are still alive for the postseason.
Even more surprising is New York's potential to finish 9-7.
Beginning with the Tennessee Titans in Week 15, Gang Green sees two winnable games thereafter. Monday's game is a favorable matchup, because the Titans rank No. 27 in overall defense and allow an average of 29.7 points per game.
New York's offense is not explosive or efficient, but the Jets can run the ball and control the clock. Tennessee gives up 4.2 yards per carry and is even worse against the pass.
With the Jets shortening the game, Tennessee's inconsistent offense will have trouble from the start. Gang Green is undeniably suspect against the run but it solid against the pass.
The Titans don't offer a high-powered attack to constantly stretch the field, so New York will zero in on Chris Johnson. This will be an ugly low-scoring game, but those are also the games where Rex Ryan's crew finds a way to win.
Jets 13, Titans 10
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