NFL Playoff Predictions: The 11 Biggest Games in Determining Playoff Berths

Adam OdekirkContributor IINovember 21, 2011

NFL Playoff Predictions: The 11 Biggest Games in Determining Playoff Berths

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    NFL fans can give thanks because there have been games with playoff implications being played seemingly since Week 1 of the season.

    Some teams that got off to fast starts are now trying to save their playoff lives, and front-runners are looking to hang on to their leads down the stretch.

    Making the turn into the final straightaway of the season, here are 11 games that you don't want to miss as they will help to decide the NFL playoff race.

Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions: Nov. 24th

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    If the Detroit Lions are going to try and steal the NFC North division from the Green Bay Packers, they must win their showdown on Thanksgiving Day.

    Even if the Lions take down the undefeated Packers, they would still be two games back and a long shot to win the division, but losing that game means they give up precious ground in the NFC Wild Card race to their other divisional foe, the Chicago Bears.

    Add to the mix the Giants, Cowboys and Falcons who are all thinking Wild Card and this game has huge implications.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: Dec. 4th

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    The Bengals should roar into Pittsburgh with redemption on their mind and a chance to keep themselves in the race for the division and the AFC Wild Card.

    Both teams should win their Week 12 matchups which will set up another big AFC North clash because it might be tough for the Ravens to knock off the 49ers on Thanksgiving which will keep the door open for the division title.

    The Bengals have looked strong in finishing both games against their division rivals, so getting off to a faster start in this game might be a big key. The Bengals likely wouldn't survive being swept by both AFC North teams.

New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys: Dec. 11th

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    Eli Manning and the Giants will head to Cowboys Stadium and look to make a statement about who will win the NFC East.

    The resurgent Dallas Cowboys will certainly look to stand in the way of that and assert their dominance in the tight race shaping up heading down the stretch.

    The recurring theme in this game is that the loser will still look to try and be alive in the Wild Card race which could be dominated by the NFC North, meaning that winning the East might be both teams' only road to the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. San Francisco 49ers: Dec. 19th

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers will be the only team worrying about a playoff berth in this game as the San Francisco 49ers are essentially a lock to win their division. 

    What will be on the line for the 49ers is the opportunity to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC if the Packers slip somewhere down the stretch.

    The odds that both teams in this matchup make the playoffs are high, and more than that these are two trendy picks to win their conferences as well.

    Super Bowl preview? Maybe, we'll have to wait and see.

Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers: Dec. 25th

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    The Green Bay Packers may be able to deliver a Christmas gift to either their opponent, the Chicago Bears, or another of the NFC playoff contenders. The gift is entrance into the NFL playoffs.

    There is still a lot of football left to be played, but to predict that the Packers will lose their lead in the NFC North seems unlikely and therefore their rivals in Detroit and Chicago are fighting for a Wild Card.

    A win or loss by Chicago on Christmas Day may be the difference between playoffs or no playoffs. Keep in mind also that the Packers may be protecting a one-game lead in the NFC and potentially hunting history and a perfect season.

New Years Day: Take Your Pick!

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    Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals

    Will this game decide the AFC North? Could both teams be fighting for the final Wild Card in the AFC?

    Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants

    Who takes the coveted NFC East title? Does Eli cap a Pro Bowl season, or does Romo erase the memory of the Cowboys' rough start?

    Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers

    Will the Packers be perfect? Do the Lions end their long playoff drought in dramatic fashion against the class of the NFL?

    Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans

    If the Texans and their new quarterback Matt Leinart slip up and the Titans find a way to win down the stretch this game could decide the AFC South.

    San Diego Chargers at Oakland Raiders


    Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos

    One of these teams is going to win the AFC West and guarantee a playoff spot and then attempt to be the next version of last year's Seahawks who capitalize on a home playoff game they probably don't deserve.