NFL Week 15 Picks: Forecasting Matchups That Will Impact Playoff Landscape

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 11, 2013

Nov 10, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen (13) and Denver Broncos outside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (52) go face-to-face after a third quarter play at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sport

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.

NFL Week 15 Picks
Home TeamAway TeamPick
Thur., Dec. 12
Denver BroncosSan Diego ChargersDEN
Sun., Dec. 15
Atlanta FalconsWashington RedskinsATL
Tampa Bay BuccaneersSan Francisco 49ersSF
New York GiantsSeattle SeahawksSEA
Minnesota VikingsPhiladelphia EaglesPHI
Miami DolphinsNew England PatriotsMIA
Jacksonville JaguarsBuffalo BillsBUF
Indianapolis ColtsHouston TexansIND
Cleveland BrownsChicago BearsCHI
Oakland RaidersKansas City ChiefsKC
Carolina PanthersNew York JetsCAR
Dallas CowboysGreen Bay PackersGB
Tennessee TitansArizona CardinalsARI
St. Louis RamsNew Orleans SaintsNO
Pittsburgh SteelersCincinnati BengalsCIN
Mon., Dec. 16
Detroit LionsBaltimore RavensDET
Schedule via NFL.com
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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

Dec 8, 2013; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) throws a pass during the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

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

Dec 8, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell (26) rushes the ball as Miami Dolphins strong safety Chris Clemons (left) and outside linebacker Philip Wheeler (52) defend during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Miami
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

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

Dec 8, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) passes the ball during the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Lions 34-20. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

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