Whether fans want to call the NFL mediocre or dress it up with something sexy like "parity" does not matter—we enter Week 15 with plenty of games featuring playoff implications.
For better or worse, the NFL is top-heavy, and a variety of teams with iffy records remain in the hunt.
Three games in particular stick out as perhaps the most important of the week. Whether it is a division leader in danger of losing its standing or a hopeful looking to sneak in with a wild-card spot, Week 15 has plenty of drama for fans of any allegiance.
|San Diego Chargers||Denver Broncos||Denver Broncos|
|Washington Redskins||Atlanta Falcons||Atlanta Falcons|
|Chicago Bears||Cleveland Browns||Chicago Bears|
|Houston Texans||Indianapolis Colts||Indianapolis Colts|
|New England Patriots||Miami Dolphins||Miami Dolphins|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Minnesota Vikings||Philadelphia Eagles|
|Seattle Seahawks||New York Giants||Seattle Seahawks|
|San Francisco 49ers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||San Francisco 49ers|
|Buffalo Bills||Jacksonville Jaguars||Jacksonville Jaguars|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Oakland Raiders||Kansas City Chiefs|
|New York Jets||Carolina Panthers||Carolina Panthers|
|Green Bay Packers||Dallas Cowboys||Dallas Cowboys|
|Arizona Cardinals||Tennessee Titans||Tennessee Titans|
|New Orleans Saints||St. Louis Rams||New Orleans Saints|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Pittsburgh Steelers||Cincinnati Bengals|
|Baltimore Ravens||Detroit Lions||Detroit Lions|
Chris Roling's predictions.
Miami Dolphins Stun New England Patriots
The New England Patriots have all but wrapped up the AFC East at 10-3, but the Miami Dolphins are right in the thick of things for a wild-card spot at 7-6.
These two met in Week 8 in Foxborough, where the Patriots picked up a 27-17 win. Much has changed since then.
For one, the Dolphins have done a better job of protecting quarterback Ryan Tannehill in recent weeks. The sophomore quarterback has only been sacked four times in his past two games. Better chemistry along the line means it may be difficult for New England to replicate its six-sack performance from Week 8.
Three primary factors work against the Patriots here. For one, it is a road game. Two, the Patriots needed a late comeback in Week 14 to beat 4-9 Cleveland by one point. Three, they will be without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is lost for the season, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport:
Tests confirmed this morning that #Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski has torn his ACL and MCL, per source. His season is over, long road ahead— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 9, 2013
With so much at stake for the Dolphins, expect them to pull through in a close one.
Prediction: Dolphins 17, Patriots 14
Philadelphia Eagles Run Past Minnesota Vikings
First things first—Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is reportedly fine after being carted from the field during the team's 29-26 loss to Baltimore in Week 14:
NFL INSIDERS ALERT: Adrian Peterson says MRI on foot reveals no torn ligaments, no Lisfranc injury. He expects to play SUN vs PHI— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 9, 2013
It may not matter.
The Philadelphia Eagles are on fire. Led by quarterback Nick Foles, the team has won five straight. In that stretch, Foles has 14 touchdowns to one interception.
That is horrific news for a Minnesota defense that ranks among the bottom two in pass defense with an average of 282.5 yards allowed per game.
While there is something to be said for the presence of Peterson and home-field advantage, those are weak arguments. All-Day is hobbled and faces a Philadelphia defense that ranks in the top half of the league with an average of 112.8 yards allowed. The Eagles have lost just one game on the road this year (in Denver, of all places).
Philadelphia is doing all it can to hold off Dallas in the NFC East. The Eagles get a massive boost from the schedule here.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Vikings 20
San Francisco 49ers Escape Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The San Francisco 49ers now sit at 9-4 after a major 19-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14, but it was simply not enough to propel the team to the top of the NFC West.
Even worse, the 8-5 Arizona Cardinals are nipping right at their heels.
At first glance, a matchup with 4-9 Tampa Bay looks favorable.
Best game of the week?
But it truly is not. First of all, there is letdown potential here for San Francisco. Second, the Buccaneers have won four of their last five and tout a top-10 run defense that allows an average of 103.7 yards.
Considering rushing the football is what San Francisco does best (it ranks dead last in passing yards per game), this may turn out to be a major issue on the road.
The saving grace is quarterback Colin Kaepernick. He has turned things around in recent weeks and has five touchdowns to one interception over the course of the 49ers' three consecutive wins.
The combo of air efficiency and power running will be enough to will San Francisco to a win here, especially with so much at stake.
Prediction: 49ers 17, Buccaneers 14