Week 15 should be one of the most exciting weeks of the 2012 NFL season because there are so many matchups between playoff contenders.
The results of this week's games will have a major impact on the playoff race, and will give us a better idea of who has a legitimate shot to play in January.
Let's predict the winners of Sunday's best games between playoff contenders.
San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots
The most effective way to beat the Patriots is to pressure star quarterback and MVP candidate Tom Brady.
New England's three losses this season were all to teams ranked in the top 10 in defensive passer rating (Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens).
The 49ers rush the quarterback as well as anyone, and linebacker Aldon Smith leads the NFL with 19.5 sacks.
If Smith and other 49ers stars such as linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive tackle Justin Smith can put pressure on Brady, San Francisco will prevent the Patriots from scoring 40 or more points for the sixth time this season.
The key for the Patriots is to establish an early lead and force the 49ers to run the ball less than they would like, and instead rely on the passing success of young quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
This is the first time Kaepernick will be playing an elite AFC team on the road as the starter, so it will be interesting to see how he handles this situation.
It's hard to imagine that the 49ers will be able to match the Patriots' offense. San Francisco will need an amazing defensive performance to win this game. Expect New England to win by two touchdowns.
Prediction: Patriots win 38-24
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
This is a matchup of NFC North rivals headed in opposite directions. The Packers are 7-1 in their last eight games while the Bears are 1-4 in their last five.
Green Bay has a one-game lead in the division, and a victory this week would result in another division championship.
The Bears need to pass the ball better than they did against the Packers in their Week 2 loss at Lambeau Field. Chicago had just 168 yards of total offense in that game, and star wide receiver Brandon Marshall caught just two passes for five yards. It was his worst performance of the season thus far.
The key for Chicago is to pressure Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, because if he has time to throw the football, the reigning MVP will dominate the Bears' pass defense.
The Packers will have plenty of success against a struggling Bears defense and win the NFC North with an impressive road victory.
Prediction: Packers win 24-14
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
These AFC South rivals will play two times over the last three weeks of the season.
After their embarrassing loss to the Patriots on Monday Night Football last week, the Texans can lose the AFC's No. 1 seed if they lose and New England beats San Francisco.
Houston cannot fall behind early to the Colts, because after the Patriots jumped out to a large first-quarter lead last week, the Texans weren't able to give star running back Arian Foster the amount of carries he needs to make a strong impact offensively.
The matchup to watch in this game is Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck versus the struggling Texans pass defense, which has played poorly against top-tier quarterbacks this year.
Luck has been a major reason why Indianapolis is 8-2 in its last 10 games, and he will continue to have success against the Houston defense, which is ranked 19th against the pass.
This will be a high-scoring game, and the Colts will earn a major victory that will boost their confidence heading toward the playoffs.
Prediction: Colts win 34-28
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