With the playoffs just four weekends away, the NFC and AFC races are getting tighter with each passing week. In Week 15, many of those contenders face tough tests and, if they can come away with a win, would be in much better shape to secure one of those playoff spots.
A few spots are already secured, but wild-card berths in both divisions as well as a few division crowns are still up for grabs with multiple teams vying for just a chance to play in January.
Now for the breakdown of three teams who will win crucial games this week to move closer toward a playoff spot.
The Dolphins were floundering midway through the season but seem to have things under control at this point.
Thanks to the sudden emergence of Ryan Tannehill and the tandem of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, the Dolphins have won two straight and are securely back in the playoff chase.
But in Week 15, Miami will have to prove it's a true contender by taking down the New England Patriots, the top team in the division. Thankfully, it won't have to contend with Rob Gronkowski, who was officially place on the injured reserve, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN:
Patriots officially placed TE Rob Gronkowski on IR and signed TE D.J. Williams.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 9, 2013
With the Patriots squeaking by in their last three games and losing after the first half in their last four, the Dolphins will need to do what the last three teams haven't been able to do—finish off New England and keep the ball out of Tom Brady's hands.
Prediction: Dolphins 28, Patriots 24
It's hard to imagine a team playing worse pass defense in the NFL than the Cowboys have this season, and they could very well match the 2012 New Orleans Saints as the worst in history. The defense is so bad that even Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith chimed in on it:
This Scheme is garbage.— Emmitt Smith (@EmmittSmith22) December 10, 2013
While the defense hasn't done anything to improve their chances, the Cowboys do still have a chance in the NFC East division. With a game against Philadelphia at the end of the season, the Cowboys' fate could be in their hands if they continue to win.
But against an equally desperate Green Bay Packers team, Dallas could have its hands full if Aaron Rodgers starts. Against guaranteed offensive weapons like Eddie Lacy and Jordy Nelson, this will likely end up being a shootout that will end up in Dallas' favor if the defense can hold the Packers to less than 40 points.
Prediction: Cowboys 38, Packers 35
Not that they necessarily deserve one, but let's give the Lions a pass for last week.
Without Reggie Bush or visibility, the Lions' turnover woes were prevalent against the Eagles, and Matthew Stafford had his worst game of the year.
Detroit is a very good football team that can't seem to win games at the right time, but this week could change all that. And taking on a tough Baltimore Ravens team at home on Monday Night Football might just be the stage for it.
If Reggie Bush is able to return, and Stafford can re-kindle his connection with Calvin Johnson, the Lions should be able to hand the Ravens their seventh loss of the season.
The key in this game will once again be the Lions' ability to hang on to the ball. The Lions are minus-10 in the turnover department with 28 giveaways, and the Ravens are minus-five in turnovers with 22 giveaways on the season.
If the Lions can avoid losing their heads, and the ball, they could remain atop the NFC North division for another week.
Prediction: Lions 27, Ravens 23