NFL Playoff Picture 2013: Predicting Week 15 Games with Biggest Implications

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIDecember 11, 2013

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 8:  Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos celebrates a 20 yard fourth quarter touchdown pass to Eric Decker #87 (not pictured) during a game against the Tennessee Titans at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on December 8, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

With only three games remaining in the 2013 regular season, the NFL playoff picture is beginning to take shape, but there is still plenty to be decided on the gridiron as Week 15 approaches.

Right off the bat, Thursday night's AFC West showdown between the conference's top team, the Denver Broncos, and the San Diego Chargers will go a long way in shaping storylines for the rest of the games on tap.

Let's take a look at the complete NFL standings and where all 32 teams stack up, along with a breakdown of the upcoming contests that have the biggest postseason implications.

2013 NFL Playoff Picture Entering Week 15
AFC Seed No.TeamRecord
1Denver Broncos11-2
2New England Patriots10-3
3Cincinnati Bengals9-4
4Indianapolis Colts8-5
5Kansas City Chiefs10-3
6Baltimore Ravens7-6
NFC Seed No.TeamRecord
1Seattle Seahawks11-2
2New Orleans Saints10-3
3Philadelphia Eagles8-5
4Detroit Lions7-6
5Carolina Panthers9-4
6San Francisco 49ers9-4
Source: NFL.com

 

2013 NFL Wild Card Standings Ahead of Week 15
AFC Wild CardWL
Kansas City Chiefs103
Baltimore Ravens76
Miami Dolphins76
San Diego Chargers67
New York Jets67
Tennessee Titans58
Pittsburgh Steelers58
NFC Wild CardWL
Carolina Panthers94
San Francisco 49ers94
Arizona Cardinals85
Chicago Bears76
Dallas Cowboys76
Source: NFL.com

 

San Diego Chargers (6-7) vs. Denver Broncos (11-2)

SAN DIEGO, CA - NOVEMBER 10:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos shakes hands with head coach Mike McCoy of the San Diego Chargers after the football game at Qualcomm Stadium November 10, 2013 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/G
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

First-year head coach Mike McCoy will face the quarterback he called plays for in 2012 in Peyton Manning for the second time this season, hoping to sustain the Chargers' playoff hopes.

The short week makes this game a bit more difficult to predict, as does the fact that these are familiar foes. But there is only one Manning, who leads the league with 45 touchdown passes and is in the running for a fifth MVP award.

One of Manning's top weapons is dynamic slot receiver Wes Welker, but he will be out with a concussion, per Fox Sports' Jay Glazer:

But even with Welker not on the field, there are still plenty of targets in Denver's passing game for The Sheriff to take care of business.

Philip Rivers has enjoyed a big turnaround from the past two seasons in his first work with McCoy, though. He should help keep the Chargers in it with his own stellar play under center against Denver's 29th-ranked pass defense.

What has held San Diego back from being a bigger factor in the playoff picture is defense, where it ranks 28th in yards allowed per game. The Chargers are also 25th in the league in yielding a touchdown in the red zone 61.1 percent of the time, per TeamRankings.com.

Lacking execution in that part of the field is devastating when facing a signal-caller of Manning's caliber, and it will be San Diego's downfall in a shootout.

Prediction: Broncos 41, Chargers 34

 

New England Patriots (10-3) vs. Miami Dolphins (7-6)

FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 08:  Tom Brady #12 celebrates with teammate Ryan Wendell #62 of the New England Patriots following a touchdown late in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Browns during the game at Gillette Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Foxbor
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

It was no secret that the Patriots' typically high-octane offense struggled at the beginning of the year. A big reason for that was the absence of injured tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Since Gronk's return, New England got back on track and Tom Brady looked like his usual, terrific self. But now Gronkowski is out for the season with a torn ACL and MCL, and that's a huge blow to Brady and Co., per ESPN Stats & Info:

That will make this impending AFC East tangle with the Dolphins in Miami all the more difficult, but Brady has thrived in the face of adversity in 2013 as much as he ever has.

The good news is that no one has been sacked more than Brady's counterpart in Week 15, Ryan Tannehill, who was sacked six times, averaged a season-low 4.57 yards per attempt and threw two interceptions in a 27-17 loss to New England on Oct 27.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia should be able to design a game plan that confuses the young, hesitant Tannehill enough to compensate for any lack of firepower Brady has at his disposal.

It seems as long as Belichick and Brady are in the fold, New England is always able to win games at this juncture in the season. Expect nothing different on Sunday.

Prediction: Patriots 31, Dolphins 17

 

Baltimore Ravens (7-6) vs. Detroit Lions (7-6)

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 08: Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens looks to pass in the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Baltimore Ravens won, 29-26. (Photo by Patr
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

These two teams endured last week's snowiest games, but the defending Super Bowl champions were the ones to emerge victorious.

Although he's had a rather awful 2013 campaign after cruising through last year's playoffs, Ravens QB Joe Flacco made the play that mattered in Week 14. Flacco fired a game-winning touchdown to Marlon Brown with seconds remaining to keep Baltimore in position for the No. 6 seed in the AFC:

Detroit presents a huge test with a ferocious defensive line led by Ndamukong Suh, but the Lions were shredded by the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 14's 34-20 loss for 299 yards on the ground.

Unfortunately, pounding the rock hasn't been the Ravens' forte this season. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce haven't been able to find running room in averaging three and 2.7 yards per carry, respectively.

That doesn't bode well for Baltimore to win its fourth straight, especially on the road and facing a dynamic passing attack led by Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson in Ford Field's dome.

Stafford hasn't been as mistake-prone as Flacco (17 interceptions) this season and has proved to have some serious clutch ability over the past three seasons:

Given the stakes, there should be no shortage of drama in this Monday Night Football showdown, but the hosting NFC North leaders will find a way to pull it out.

Prediction: Lions 34, Ravens 27