NFL: Marquee games today in Week 15
AP Pro Football Writer
Marquee matchups adorn the Week 15 schedule, with lots of playoff implications as the Jets visit Pittsburgh, the Saints head to Baltimore, the Falcons are in Seattle, and Missouri neighbors Kansas City and St. Louis meet.
Not to mention division showdowns between Jacksonville and Indianapolis in the AFC South, and Philadelphia at New York in the NFC East.
Denver (3-10) at Oakland (6-7)
In their last meeting, the Raiders put up 59 points on the Broncos in Denver, a Mile High Massacre. Oakland has lost six of its past seven at home to the Broncos, but rarely has had as potent a running game as it has discovered with a healthy Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. And anyone can run on Denver.
Reports have rookie Tim Tebow scheduled to start ahead of Kyle Orton (bruised ribs).
Kansas City (8-5)
at St. Louis (6-7)
Both Missouri teams get to live up to the state motto: “Show Me.” A victory goes a long way toward securing a playoff spot, especially for the Chiefs, who have a nine-game winning streak against the NFC West dating to 2002, including 3-0 this year. And they could get back Cassel; they desperately need him considering backup Brodie Croyle never has won an NFL start.
“It’s not a normal injury that a lot of us have experience with,” coach Todd Haley said. “We’re going to have to defer to the medical staff, trainers, him.”
The Rams’ offense is awakening and their defense has been formidable for much of this turnaround season; they were 1-15 last year. Top draft pick Sam Bradford needs 116 yards passing to become the third rookie in NFL history with 3,000 yards, and Steven Jackson has rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the sixth straight year.
“The team’s at a state of mind where we feel confident enough that these next three games we can compete,” Jackson said. “That’s what you want to see. You don’t want to see guys walking around afraid to make a mistake or allowing the pressure to kind of put them in a bad spot.”
N.Y. Jets (9-4)
at Pittsburgh (10-3)
With two straight losses in which the offense sputtered, the Jets have the unenviable task of visiting the league’s most physical and imposing defense. New York is 3-16 overall against the Steelers, 0-7 at Pittsburgh, which can take the NFC North with a win, a Ravens loss and some other positive results.
One positive aspect for the Jets is they have 11 sacks in the last three games, five against Miami last week, and Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 12 times in three games.
Troy Polamalu has an interception in three of last four games and six for season, and has been chosen the AFC’s top defensive player the last two weeks.
at Indianapolis (7-6)
The Jaguars got hot just as the Colts went cold. With five wins in their last six games, the Jags are in the position Indy usually is: ready to clinch.
Can they do it against an opponent that is 7-2 overall in head-to-head matchups? The way Maurice Jones-Drew is running, it’s possible; Indy has the 29th-ranked rush defense in the NFL.
Of course, Manning will have a big say in how things develop, particularly with a wild card not likely to come out of this division.
“This one, you can put it anyway you want, it is a playoff game,” Manning said. “This is probably a lose and be eliminated.”
at N.Y. Giants (9-4)
Neither the Eagles nor Giants will be eliminated with a loss, and would remain a strong contender for a wild-card berth. Indeed, neither team can clinch the NFC East with a win at the Meadowlands, but Philly gets a big jump if it can sweep New York and win its sixth in a row against the Giants, including the playoffs.
The Giants are banged-up at receiver – losing go-to target Steve Smith for the season is damaging – but they’re running the ball crisply with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. No defense is equipped better to keep the reins on Michael Vick, but DeSean Jackson, if healthy, is a nightmarish matchup for New York’s secondary.
New Orleans (10-3)
at Baltimore (9-4)
Baltimore was fortunate to escape Houston with an OT win on Monday night after its defense let down late in a game for the fifth time. Now comes an opponent whose offense can be relentless; the Saints have a six-game winning string and have scored at least 30 points in each of their last five outings. Drew Brees needs 145 yards passing for a fifth consecutive 4,000-yard season; only Manning has done that.
New Orleans is 5-1 on the road and Baltimore is 5-1 at home. Against the NFC, the Ravens have won eight straight home games and 14 of 15.
Atlanta (11-2) at Seattle (6-7)
This would be a total mismatch in the Georgia Dome. However, at Qwest Field, the Seahawks are a much more dangerous team, particularly when they get a lead.
Then again, Atlanta has the largest point differential in the fourth quarter in the NFL: plus-57. With the Falcons on a seven-game win streak, it brings back memories of 1998, the last time they did that. Atlanta reached its only Super Bowl that season.
Seattle should be aided by WRs Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu after missing last week’s defeat against San Francisco with injuries. The duo has combined for 74 catches and five TDs.
at Minnesota (5-8), Monday
With Brett Favre’s streak over, replacement Tarvaris Jackson out for the season and the Vikings out of contention, how much interest is there in this prime-time affair? Plenty in Chicago – the Bears clinch the NFC North with a win and a Packers defeat.
There’s also the chilly prospect of a night game at the University of Minnesota’s field in mid-December. BRRRRR!
But the Bears won’t mind after losing seven of their last eight at the Metrodome, where the collapsed roof was far more damaged than first discovered.
at Tampa Bay (8-5)
The Bucs have a shot at 11 wins and a wild-card berth, but they must keep beating the dregs of the league such as the Lions. Tampa Bay is 8-0 against losing teams, 0-5 against winners.
Detroit upset Green Bay last week in great part because Rodgers sustained that concussion and sat out most of the game. Unless Josh Freeman goes down, Detroit isn’t likely to snap its NFL record road losing string of 26.
Buffalo (3-10) at Miami (7-6)
The Dolphins are 6-1 on the road, 1-5 at home. That makes a trip to Miami in December even more enticing. Of course, Buffalo’s only road victory this year was at awful Cincinnati.
Unless Miami finds some offense – the Dolphins are last in the AFC in scoring, and last in the NFL with five TDs rushing despite having Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams in the backfield – the Bills, who normally score pretty well, could get their second straight victory. But Buffalo needs to slow DE-LB Cameron Wake, who leads the NFL with 14 sacks.
Arizona (4-9) at Carolina (1-12)
For anyone who complains about sub-.500 teams making the playoffs in other sports, consider that the Cardinals still are alive for the postseason. These teams have the worst overall and passing offenses in football – you might include the colleges and high schools, too.
Carolina has won the last six regular-season meetings. The Panthers might even have been a contender in the NFC West. Instead, they are the front-runner for the top overall draft pick.
at Dallas (4-9)
The 100th meeting in one of the NFL’s most intense rivalries, and perhaps the least interesting until Redskins coach Mike Shanahan benched Donovan McNabb in favor of Rex Grossman. Rex Grossman?
Washington has lost three straight and five of six. But two of its road wins were at Chicago and Philadelphia, now division leaders.
Dallas goes into its home finale with a 1-6 record at Cowboys Stadium, matching Carolina for worst home record in the league.
at Tennessee (5-8)
NFL schedule makers probably envisioned this as a key game in the AFC South. Now both coaches are endangered, particularly in Tennessee, where the turmoil thermometer has overheated.
But there is some intrigue attached to this one: Andre Johnson vs. Cortland Finnegan. Last month, in Houston’s only victory in the last seven games, they duked it out and were fined $25,000 apiece.
“Just clear the air. Let everybody know no hard feelings. Let’s just play football,” Finnegan said.
at Cincinnati (2-11)
The Battle of Ohio has been reduced to thumb-wrestling. At least the Browns can try for a .500 record that could save coach Eric Mangini’s job. All is lost in Cincinnati, which has dropped 10 in a row, beginning with a defeat to the Browns, and could set a team mark with No. 11. For such a futile franchise, that certainly is a new low.
Green Bay (8-5)
at New England (11-2)
What a tough position the Packers are in. They pretty much need to win out, yet might be without their most important offensive player, quarterback Aaron Rodgers (concussion). They couldn’t overcome that at Detroit, and other than wearing a shade of blue in their uniforms, the Patriots have nothing in common with the Lions.
Indeed, New England is giving off vibes like it did in the undefeated 2007 regular season, particularly the way Tom Brady is guiding the offense. Brady, the NFL’s top-rated passer, leads the league with 29 TD passes and hasn’t thrown an interception in eight games.