With January and the NFL playoffs drawing closer, the stakes are higher than ever across the league, and nearly every matchup carries significant weight.
Only three teams have clinched postseason berths coming into Week 15, which means that this weekend's slate is sure to exceed expectations and provide some clarity to the playoff picture.
Below are my picks for every Week 15 game as well as a breakdown of three playoff hopefuls set to earn momentous victories this weekend.
|NFL Week 15 Picks|
|Denver Broncos (-10.5)||San Diego Chargers|
|Atlanta Falcons (-4)||Washington Redskins|
|San Francisco 49ers (-6)||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|Seattle Seahawks (-6.5)||New York Giants|
|Chicago Bears||Cleveland Browns (-2.5)|
|Indianapolis Colts (-4.5)||Houston Texans|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Buffalo Bills (-3)|
|New England Patriots (-3)||Miami Dolphins|
|Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5)||Minnesota Vikings|
|Carolina Panthers (-12)||New York Jets|
|Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5)||Oakland Raiders|
|Dallas Cowboys (N/A)||Green Bay Packers|
|Arizona Cardinals (-3)||Tennessee Titans|
|New Orleans Saints (-5.5)||St. Louis Rams|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Cincinnati Bengals (-1)|
|Baltimore Ravens||Detroit Lions (-5.5)|
|Lines according to VegasInsider.com|
Dallas Cowboys Over Green Bay Packers
The Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers both enter Week 15 in dire need of a victory in order to keep pace in their respective divisions. But with the Cowboys playing at home, where they are 5-1 this season, and the Packers' quarterback situation still fuzzy, this is a game Dallas should win comfortably.
According to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky, the Packers are preparing to start Matt Flynn at quarterback this weekend. Rodgers, who has been out recovering from a broken collarbone in his non-throwing shoulder since Nov. 4, recently revealed that he experienced significant pain when he returned to the practice field last week.
While Flynn boasts just enough experience and skill to rally Green Bay past a three-win Atlanta team at home, it's asking way too much of him to beat a desperate Cowboys team in Big D.
What's more, the Packers' defense hasn't made Flynn's job any easier. Dom Capers' unit has been disappointing since Rodgers went down early last month and currently ranks 21st and 25th against the pass and run, respectively.
Green Bay also ranks 20th in scoring defense, which doesn't bode well considering Dallas is averaging 34 points per game at home this season.
With Tony Romo and company coming off an embarrassing loss at Chicago on Monday night, watch for the Cowboys to make an enthusiastic return to AT&T Stadium this weekend as they keep their NFC East hopes alive with a win over the short-handed Packers.
New England Patriots Over Miami Dolphins
The New England Patriots can wrap up their fifth consecutive AFC East title on Sunday afternoon in Miami. However, the Dolphins can ill afford a loss as they take aim at the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC.
Tom Brady will lead a banged-up, but streaking, Pats team into Sun Life Stadium in Week 15. And given how resilient New England has been in recent weeks, the Dolphins will be an underdog at home.
But even without the threat of Rob Gronkowski, the oddsmakers have gotten it right, and the Patriots are sure to come away with a monumental division win this weekend. After all, the Dolphins weren't able to hold on to a 17-3 halftime lead in the two teams' first meeting back in October and have been one of the league's most inconsistent teams at home.
Miami is a mediocre 3-3 at home in 2013 and suffered a loss to Carolina its last time out in South Beach.
Therefore, with Bill Belichick and the Pats locked in on winning the division and keeping pace with the Denver Broncos for home-field advantage in the AFC, the Dolphins are sure to have their two-game winning streak snapped and fall back to .500 in Week 15.
Baltimore Ravens Over Detroit Lions
Vegas will favor the Detroit Lions at home on Monday night, but there's no doubt that the Baltimore Ravens are the hotter, more dangerous team at the moment. And with the defending Super Bowl champions playing for their postseason lives in Week 15, look for the Ravens to pull off a colossal road win in prime time.
Baltimore has won three straight games to get above .500 and re-enter the AFC Wild Card picture. On the other hand, Detroit has dropped three of its last four and failed to slam the door on the rest of the NFC North. The Lions beat an undermanned Packers team their last time out at home, but a turnover-plagued loss to the Buccaneers at Ford Field one week earlier points to Detroit's inconsistency and lack of dominance on its home turf.
Plus, only the New York Giants have turned the ball over more often than Detroit coming into Week 15.
Despite Baltimore's dismal road record in 2013, the Ravens have been one of the league's most competitive and impressive road teams. Three of their last four road losses have come by just three points while all four of their most recent road defeats have come by six points or less. One of those losses came on a field goal in overtime in Chicago, and the other came on a field goal as time expired in Pittsburgh.
On top of that, the reigning champs have been playing much-improved defense. While it's difficult to grade Week 14's wild win in the snow, keep in mind that Baltimore ranks inside the top 10 against the run and is allowing just 17.7 points per game since the Week 1 debacle in Denver.
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