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NFL Week 15 Preview: 6 Teams Can Clinch Playoff Spots

Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots
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Six teams can clinch playoff berths this week; others can play their way out of the race. Here’s a preview of what to expect in Week 15 of the 2016 NFL season:

Six Teams Can Punch Their Playoff Tickets
Carolina Panthers v Seattle Seahawks
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Thursday, December 15
Los Angeles at Seattle | CenturyLink Field, Seattle; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on NBC

Sunday, December 18
New England at Denver | Sports Authority Field, Denver; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Oakland at San Diego | Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Thus far, only the Cowboys have guaranteed themselves a spot in the NFL’s postseason; an 11-game win streak will do that for a team. Six other teams can earn a playoff berth this week. We’ll get to the Lions, Giants and Chiefs below, but let’s talk about the Seahawks, Patriots and Raiders first.

Seattle (8-4-1) hosts Los Angeles (4-9) on Thursday with hopes of winning the NFC West title, which they can do with a victory over the now Jeff Fisher-less Rams on Thursday. L.A. beat the Seahawks 9-3 in Week 2, and they do seem to be a match-up problem for Pete Carroll’s charges. Seattle should win this one, though.

New England (11-2) can clinch the AFC East division title with a win over fading Denver (8-5) or a Miami loss. The Patriots still seem to be the league’s best, most consistent team. If they can also clinch home field advantage, it’s hard to see anyone else as the favorite in the AFC.

Oakland (10-2) will try again to clinch its first playoff berth since 2002. The Raiders just need to win against struggling San Diego (5-8) — or have a mess of other teams lose. The bigger question for Oakland is whether or not quarterback Derek Carr’s injured right pinky will be an issue for him the rest of the season.

Saturday, December 17

Can Matt Moore Lead the Dolphins to the Playoffs?
Miami Dolphins v Jacksonville Jaguars
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Miami at New York Jets | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on NFL Network
Miami (8-5) travels to the wintery Northeast to face the Jets on Saturday. Yes, Saturday; the NFL loves stepping into any void created by the absence of college football. The Dolphins have been a mild surprise this season and find themselves very much in playoff contention, but now that starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is sidelined with a knee injury, they’ll need backup Matt Moore to not suck (something Tannehill did occasionally).

Moore will make his first start in five years (!) against New York (4-9), which was basically a dumpster fire until last week’s improbable rally past the (also horrible) Niners. The best way for Moore to keep Miami swimming toward the postseason is to just keep handing the ball off to Jay Ajayi — the NFL’s 10th leading rusher — and let the Jets self-destruct. If Moore has to do too much passing over the last three weeks of the season, the Dolphins could find themselves out of the wild card chase soon.

Sunday, December 18

The Lions & Bucs Are the NFL’s Hottest Teams

NFL Week 15 Preview

Detroit at N.Y. Giants | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Tampa Bay at Dallas | AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Tex.; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC

While the Patriots, Chiefs, Cowboys and Seahawks are all seen as the most likely Super Bowl contenders (at the moment), it’s the Lions and the Buccaneers who hold the title of the NFL’s hottest teams; each team rides a five-game win streak into Week 15. Both will be tested this Sunday.

Detroit (9-4) travels to New Jersey to face the Giants in a game with serious playoff implications. The Lions can clinch the NFC North division title with a win and a Packers loss or tie. New York (9-4) can clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by the Redskins, Packers and Vikings. The Giants must contain a Detroit passing attack led by Matthew Stafford, who isn’t included in the MVP discussion but probably should be. His seven interceptions are tied for second fewest in the NFL. Coming off their second win over Dallas, New York should be able to put up points on the Lions’ defense. The Giants need to close the game out if they get ahead; eight of Detroit’s nine wins have come as a result of fourth-quarter comebacks.

Currently holding one of the NFC wild card spots, Tampa Bay (8-5) has become a very difficult team to beat. Their opportunistic defense has given several great teams fits during their win streak. Dallas (11-2) needs rookie quarterback Dak Prescott to play turnover-free football, otherwise the calls for former starter Tony Romo to go into the game will grow louder and louder. The Cowboys can clinch the NFC East division title and a first-round bye with a win and a Giants loss or tie. They’ll clinch home field advantage through the playoffs with a win and a New York/Detroit tie.

The Titans Are For Real
Denver Broncos v Tennessee Titans
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Tennessee at Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
While much of the NFL was focused on the rebirth of teams like the Raiders, Lions and Falcons this season, Tennessee (7-6) has rebuilt itself into quite a promising young squad. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, running back DeMarco Murray and the offensive line has battled into playoff contention and a tie top the AFC South. The Flaming Thumbtacks travel to Kansas City (10-3) this week to face the NFL leaders in winning ugly. If the Titans can avoid turnovers and control the clock, they could get an ugly signature win of their own. The Chiefs can clinch a playoff berth with a win or losses by both Denver and Baltimore or Denver and Pittsburgh.

Other Games

Sunday, December 18
Green Bay at Chicago | Soldier Field, Chicago; 1 p.m. (ET) on FOX
Jacksonville at Houston | NRG Stadium, Houston; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Cleveland at Buffalo | New Era Field, Buffalo, N.Y.; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Philadelphia at Baltimore | M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore; 1 p.m. (ET) on FOX
Indianapolis at Minnesota | U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati | Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
New Orleans at Arizona | U of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on FOX
San Francisco at Atlanta | Georgia Dome, Atlanta; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on FOX

Monday, December 19
Carolina at Washington | FedEx Field, Landover, Md.; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

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