If the San Diego Chargers want to cling to whatever's left of their playoff hopes, they'll need to beat the Denver Broncos. No big deal, right?
San Diego's already lost to Denver once this season. On the road, you like its chances even less this time around.
The Chargers continue to have one of the worst defenses in the league, while the Broncos have made necessary improvements on that side of the ball. And nobody has a better offense than Denver.
A loss would mean San Diego is likely out of the playoff hunt, as the final wild-card spot in the AFC will probably go to a team over .500. That result also allows Denver to keep at least a one-game lead over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West.
Of course, this isn't the only game that will influence postseason placing.
Here's a look at the schedule for Week 15.
|Home Team||Away Team||Pick|
|Thur., Dec. 12|
|Denver Broncos||San Diego Chargers||DEN|
|Sun., Dec. 15|
|Atlanta Falcons||Washington Redskins||ATL|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||San Francisco 49ers||SF|
|New York Giants||Seattle Seahawks||SEA|
|Minnesota Vikings||Philadelphia Eagles||PHI|
|Miami Dolphins||New England Patriots||MIA|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Buffalo Bills||BUF|
|Indianapolis Colts||Houston Texans||IND|
|Cleveland Browns||Chicago Bears||CHI|
|Oakland Raiders||Kansas City Chiefs||KC|
|Carolina Panthers||New York Jets||CAR|
|Dallas Cowboys||Green Bay Packers||GB|
|Tennessee Titans||Arizona Cardinals||ARI|
|St. Louis Rams||New Orleans Saints||NO|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Cincinnati Bengals||CIN|
|Mon., Dec. 16|
|Detroit Lions||Baltimore Ravens||DET|
Schedule via NFL.com
Aside from Denver vs. San Diego, these three games will have the biggest impact on each conference's playoff picture.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals
As long as Andy Dalton continues to not throw interceptions, the Cincinnati Bengals will be in business. Despite all of the injuries it's suffered, the defense remains stout and the running game keeps chugging along.
If Dalton plays poorly, though, the Bengals could be in trouble.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are having a terrible year by their standards, but this is a team capable of beating just about anybody at home when it plays its best.
This should be what many have come to expect from an AFC North matchup in December. The running game and defense will be the two biggest factors.
Cincinnati gets the edge in both categories, so as long as Dalton isn't throwing costly picks, the Bengals will be victorious. A win and a Baltimore Ravens loss means the Bengals win the division.
Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Pittsburgh 13
Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots
If New England wins on Sunday, the Patriots take home the AFC East crown. If Miami wins, the Dolphins prolong the inevitable, but they also keep pace with the Ravens for the final wild-card spot, pending a Baltimore win. Miami would find itself in a playoff place with a win and a Baltimore loss.
The stakes are fairly high for both teams in this one.
This Dolphins team is a far cry from the one that fell to New England in Week 8. Since that game, Miami's losses have come against a resurgent Tampa Bay Buccaneers team and the Carolina Panthers.
I'm going with the upset here.
The Pats haven't looked good in either of the last two weeks, and now Rob Gronkowski is out for the season.
New England is also 3-3 on the road this year, compared to 7-0 at home.
Prediction: Miami 27, New England 21
Detroit Lions vs. Baltimore Ravens
The Detroit Lions should be smarting from that loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. It gives Detroit the same record as the Chicago Bears, with the Lions getting the edge via head-to-head results.
That's a little too close for comfort for Jim Schwartz. The margin for error from here on out is nearly nonexistent. Detroit has to win its final three, or it risks missing out on the playoffs altogether.
With that kind of motivation, the Lions should get the win against the Ravens.
Baltimore has been streaky this year. It won three of its first five, lost four of its next five and now has a three-game winning streak.
One of the more consistent aspects of the Ravens has been their performance on the road, where they've amassed a 1-5 record.
Giving up 89 yards to Toby Gerhart last week also doesn't bode well for Baltimore.
Detroit has too much offensive firepower to see the Lions losing two in a row.
Prediction: Detroit 31, Baltimore 23