NFL Predictions Week 15: Breaking Down Games with Huge Playoff Implications

Mike HoagCorrespondent IIDecember 13, 2012

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 13: Jordy Nelson #87 of the Green Bay Packers is tackled by Major Wright #21 and Chris Conte #47 of the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field on September 13, 2012 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Bears 23-10. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

NFL playoff implications are rooted in every matchup in Week 15. Predicting these games gets harder and harder as the implications get larger and larger.

A loss at this point in the season is a critical blow for a team on the bubble of a wild-card berth. Some teams might be able to rebound with some luck and an excellent finish in the final two weeks, but winning now is essential for several teams.

Here is a breakdown of two of the most critical Week 15 matchups.


Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5)

Historically, the Chicago Bears have edged their division rivals with a 91-86-6 record. That hasn’t been the case since Aaron Rodgers came to the Packers. Rodgers’ version of the Packers has gone 7-2 against the Bears since 2008.

Defense may win championships, but Rogers and the Pack have proved to be the exception in this head-to-head matchup.

In Week 15, the stakes could not be higher for the Chicago Bears. A loss could send them to the brink of playoff elimination. If the Washington Redskins win, they would slip into the sixth seed due to having a better conference record.

So who’s it going to be at Soldier Field this weekend?

Injuries have hampered both teams significantly. The Packers sacked Jay Cutler seven times in Week 2 but had Clay Matthews healthy. Matthews himself dropped Cutler for 3.5 sacks. Green Bay’s star rusher was limited in practice on Dec. 12 and questionable to play in this game, according to CBS Sports.

Green Bay is tied for fifth in the NFL for sacks with 35 but has only gotten to opposing quarterbacks twice in the last three weeks. The Bears have given up 37 sacks between Jay Cutler (31) and Jason Campbell (6).

With Cutler, who struggles heavily against the Bears (1-6), likely to play, and Matthews a possibility, the game could significantly swing in favor of the Packers. Green Bay will likely be able to put up points and that will take away the Bears' ability to run the football.

It makes Cutler a sitting duck.

Prediction: Packers 23, Bears 17


Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6)

The Pittsburgh Steelers would be in and the Dallas Cowboys would be out if the playoffs were to start prior to Week 15. Luckily for Dallas, that isn’t the case.

Pittsburgh finds itself in a must-win situation if it hopes to maintain its edge over divisional rival Cincinnati. The Bengals have come on strong and are tied with the Steelers, although Pittsburgh has the head-to-head advantage.

That’s only valid until the two teams meet in Pittsburgh in Week 16. If Pittsburgh loses this game and Cincinnati wins its matchup against Philadelphia, it could all be over for the Steelers.

Dallas is in a similar position. It's currently third in the NFC East standings and eighth in the wild-card race. With a remaining game against the Washington Redskins, the Cowboys can sneak into the playoffs if all of the right things happen.

Both of these teams have struggled to run the football this season. The Cowboys are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry on the ground. Pittsburgh isn’t much better, totaling just 3.2 yards per rush.

Both teams are battling significant injuries but that is par for the course at this time of the season.

For the Steelers, though, injuries spelled doom for the team against San Diego in Week 14. Defensive backs Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis did not practice this week and are questionable for the matchup. Starting cornerback Ike Taylor has already been ruled out, according to CBS Sports.

That means Tony Romo and his nicked up wide receivers will have to take advantage of the Steelers secondary. It will be tough for Pittsburgh to do much to win this one if Romo can duplicate what Philip Rivers did against the Steelers last week. He finished the game with 200 yards passing and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

Dallas is tough against the pass and should be able to bottle up the Steelers’ vertical game. Ben Roethlisberger could have a big day if they can establish the run and work off of it with the play-action pass.

Overall, the Steelers D should be worried about the potential explosiveness of Dallas. The Cowboys haven’t played to their potential this season but will against the ailing Steelers.

Prediction: Cowboys 23, Steelers 21