The NFL playoff races are heating up and the picture should be much clearer following Week 16. Both conferences could see their top seeds decided, with AFC having all their playoff teams potentially locked-in heading into Week 17. The NFC could have four of it's six teams decided heading into the final week.
With the playoffs on the line, the NFL schedule for Week 16 features a few potential playoff previews, with other games playing big roles in deciding who makes the playoffs and where teams are seeded. While a number of games have playoff implications, these are the most crucial in Week 16 that shape the playoff picture.
The Falcons need just one victory in their final two games to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They don't want to let it come down to the final week of the season when they play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who played the Falcons close in Week 12.
The Lions are slumping, with 14 turnovers during their six-game losing streak. The opportunistic Falcons defense should have little trouble taking advantage in the Lions are loose with the football. With a potent offense, the Falcons would have little trouble making the Lions.
If the Lions protect the ball, they have the ability to put up points and play with most teams. The Falcons can't afford to let this game stay close and risk letting it slip away.
The Falcons will take advantage of the Lions mistakes with a balanced offensive attack. While the Lions keep it close early, they fall apart late and the Falcons cruise to the top seed.
Prediction: Falcons 37, Lions 13
One of only three games that matchup potential playoff teams, this one features two of the best running backs in the league and teams with completely opposite playoff hopes.
The Texans are looking to secure the top seed in the AFC with a win in either of final team games, while the Vikings need to win out to put themselves in position to make the playoffs.
The Texans shouldn't have much trouble dealing with the Vikings, but Adrian Peterson has proven he always gives the Vikings a chance. That chances seems even more slim when looking at the Texans run defense.
They are fifth in the league, giving up just 93.2 rushing yards per game and have only allowed a league-leading three rushing touchdowns.
The Vikings will not only need a big game out of Peterson, but Christian Ponder as well. Ponder has struggled recently, but must make at least a few big plays for the Vikings to have a chance.
While Peterson will get just over 100 yards rushing, it won't be enough for the Vikings offense.
Ponder will throw a couple interceptions and the Texans offense won't have trouble putting up enough points to beat the Vikings and lock-up the top seed.
Prediction: Texans 30, Vikings 14
Two potential playoff teams coming off embarrassing losses in this one. The New York Giants got shutout 34-0 against the Atlanta Falcons while the Baltimore Ravens lost 34-17 to the Denver Broncos.
The Giants need to win to help their playoff chances, while the Ravens need a win to clinch the AFC North.
The Giants have played completely inconsistent football throughout the season, but have rarely looked like a Super Bowl competitor. Eli Manning hasn't looked sharp and it's cost the Giants a number of games.
The Ravens on the other hand looked like a Super Bowl team early on, but they've lost three straight with poor play in all aspects.
This game really depends on which version of each of these teams show up. The Ravens have the advantage of playing at home and the Giants have struggled to a 3-4 record on the road. That is enough in an ugly game to help the Ravens win the AFC North.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Giants 20
Another game of two teams that haven't been playing strong football, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers are somehow still alive in the AFC North race.
If they can get some help from the New York Giants this week, the winner of this game will be in good shape heading into the final week of the season.
The Bengals can clinch with a victory and with a Baltimore Ravens loss to the Giants, would play for the division next week at home against the Ravens. The Steelers need a victory to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Steelers are coming into this game with little momentum after a tough overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys, while the Bengals blew out the Philadelphia Eagles with a strong second-half performance.
Momentum would favor the Bengals, but Ben Roethlisberger and friends can't be counted out, especially with the game in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers will muster-up just enough in a hard-fought division game. It will close, but Reothlisberger and the home crowd will see the Steelers to the final week of the season, fighting for the playoffs.
Prediction: Steelers 17, Bengals 13
The 49ers' victory against the New England Patriots deflated some of the implications of this game, but this still is the game of the week. The 49ers are still in great position to win the NFC West, even if they lose to the Seahawks.
On the other hand, the Seahawks are looking like the fifth seed, regardless of whether or not they beat the 49ers.
Colin Kaepernick will have to follow up his biggest test with another big one. It's not easy for any quarterback to go into the noise in Seattle, let alone a first-year starter.
The Seahawks defense should get the better of Kaepernick at times, but his play-making ability should counter-balance that.
Russell Wilson and the Seahawks have put up huge numbers the last two weeks, 58 and 50 to be exact. While those numbers are exciting, they came against the Arizona Cardinals and the Buffalo Bills.
They will need to put up some points against the 49ers to be taken seriously as Super Bowl contenders.
Expect this game to be just as competitive as if the division was on the line. The Seahawks have a chance, but the 49ers are just too much to handle. It will be a close game, but the more experienced 49ers team will come out on top.
Prediction: 49ers 27, Seahawks 24