The frantic finale of the 2013 NFL season is upon us in Week 15, as there are too many teams vying for too few playoff spots with three games remaining. As such, the schedule is loaded with potentially epic contests this weekend—some of which are hard to pick.
Heading into these final weekends, there are only four teams that have solidified their playoff positions: The New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals should all win their respective divisions.
But there are still eight playoff spots that are wide open at this point, and there are 15 teams with viable shots to earn those final berths.
Competition will be fierce, meaning fans will have plenty to cheer for when the action commences, beginning with the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football.
Here's a look at all the games on the schedule in Week 15, followed by a closer examination of a few of the toughest games to pick.
|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||Arizona Cardinals|
|New Orleans Saints||St. Louis Rams||New Orleans Saints|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Pittsburgh Steelers||Cincinnati Bengals|
|Baltimore Ravens||Detroit Lions||Detroit Lions|
New England at Miami
The Miami Dolphins jumped out to an impressive 17-3 lead when these two teams met in Week 8 in New England. Not surprisingly, the Patriots made halftime adjustments and shut Miami out in the second half to win the game 27-17.
Road teams don't often win at Gillette Stadium—just ask Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
New England will be without Rob Gronkowski once again in Week 15 and for the rest of the season after the all-world tight end tore an ACL and MCL in Week 14 against the Cleveland Browns, as noted by ESPN's Adam Schefter:
MRI on Rob Gronkowski confirmed torn ACL, torn MCL. Season done.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 9, 2013
Tom Brady had a difficult time against Miami's defense in Week 8, completing just 13 of his 22 attempts for 116 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
It was Gronk's second week back after he missed the first half of the season. He'd caught eight passes for 114 yards the week before against the New York Jets, but the Dolphins did a masterful job shutting him (two catches, 27 yards) and the rest of New England's receivers down.
Without Gronkowski in the lineup, New England will be hard-pressed to generate offense through the air.
Who you got?
On the other side, Ryan Tannehill has been playing well for the Dolphins, leading his team to three wins the past four weeks while throwing seven touchdowns. Miami's defense has been playing well, and Daniel Thomas broke out with a 105-yard rushing game against Pittsburgh in Week 14.
Miami is fighting for the No. 6 seed in the AFC and is currently tied with the Baltimore Ravens with a 7-6 record, though Baltimore has the spot at this time, based on head-to-head scenarios. The Dolphins will play inspired ball at home, knocking off the Patriots to keep pressure on the Ravens.
Projected Score: Miami wins 28-24
San Francisco at Tampa Bay
It's never easy for west-coast teams to travel east and play an early game on Sundays. Players' biorhythms are off, and it's often halftime before the road teams start playing like they normally do.
The San Francisco 49ers can't afford to get off to a slow start on the road in Tampa Bay in Week 15, because the Buccaneers are no joke these days.
Since losing the first eight games of the season, the Bucs have won four of their last five, as rookie quarterback Mike Glennon has revived the team's once-pathetic offense.
His ability to stretch the field with passes over the top to Vincent Jackson and Tiquan Underwood has opened up running lanes for Bobby Rainey, who's been surprisingly effective since taking over for Doug Martin and Mike James, who suffered injuries.
Tampa Bay's defense is solid against the run, and the 49ers have struggled to run the ball at times this year on the road. If Frank Gore can't get going on the ground, then the Bucs will key in on Colin Kaepernick, who has been atrocious when San Francisco's running game has faltered.
In the end, as well as Tampa Bay has played, it's hard to bet against San Francisco's defense these days. The 49ers come into Week 15 with a top-10 rank in total defense, passing defense, running defense and scoring defense.
Even if San Francisco's offense struggles, you can count on the team's defense to make big plays that will lead to a 49ers victory.
Projected Score: San Francisco wins 24-14
Green Bay at Dallas
A loss for either team in Week 15 could doom their postseason dreams.
Green Bay is one-half game behind Detroit and Chicago in the NFC North with a record of 6-6-1, while Dallas is a full game behind Philadelphia for the NFC East lead at 7-6.
The Cowboys feature the worst defense in the NFL, keeping pace with the historically bad defense of the 2012 New Orleans Saints, as shown by ESPN Stats & Info, courtesy of ESPN The Magazine:
However, one shouldn't assume Green Bay will just waltz into AT&T Stadium in Week 15 and put up 45-plus points—matching New Orleans and Chicago.
Green Bay has been a plain-old bad football team since Aaron Rodgers went down with his collarbone injury, posting a record of 1-4-1. The only team that managed to lose to the Packers was the impotent Atlanta Falcons in Week 14.
Packers fans have been just holding on, hoping Rodgers will make his return, but the latest news isn't good on that front. ESPN's Ed Werder reported on Wednesday, Dec. 11, that the team is "pessimistic" about a return to the starting lineup in Week 15:
Packers pessimistic about Aaron Rodgers being cleared for Dallas. Scheduled for practice today but source says playing inside 8 weeks risky— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 11, 2013
That means Matt Flynn will duel Tony Romo, and no matter how bad Dallas' defense has been, it's hard to believe Flynn will win that battle.
Projected Score: Dallas wins 28-21
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