NFL Week 15 Primer

Tony RomoSunday’s Best: Giants (11-2) at Cowboys (8-5), 8:15 PM ET NBC
We’re getting down to crunch time in the NFL and there’s nothing better than an NFC East battle with playoff implications. If the regular season ended today, the Cowboys would be in as the sixth seed. But the regular season doesn’t end today and Dallas has one of the toughest final stretches of any team with playoff aspirations. After playing host to the Giants on Sunday night, they’re home against the Ravens next week and then travel to Philadelphia in the season finale. That’s a brutal three-game stretch for any team, nevertheless one that is dealing with injuries (see Marion Barber) and internal bickering (see Cowboys’ wideouts vs. Tony Romo). The Giants, meanwhile, are sitting pretty for the top seed in the NFC, but they’ll have to earn it after losing to the Eagles at home last Sunday. Suddenly the Carolina Panthers are just one game behind the Giants in the quest for capturing home field advantage throughout the postseason and the two teams play each other next week in Jersey. Can the Cowboys bounce back from their collapse last Sunday in Pittsburgh? Will the Giants lose two in a row for the first time all season? Like several matchups on the Week 15 schedule, this game is must-see.

Upset Watch: 49ers (5-8) at Dolphins (8-5), 1:00 PM ET, FOX
Let me state for the record that I think the Dolphins have been one of the best storylines in the NFL this season. That said – they’re due for a letdown. Just when the public is ready to hop on a team’s bandwagon and ride its coattails the rest of the season, they hit a pothole and send everyone flying off. Miami is a better team than San Francisco and they should win Sunday in convincing fashion. But San Fran is a dangerous team right now because they have nothing to play for and have fiery Mike Singletary leading the way – the same fiery Mike Singletary that is trying to prove he deserves a head-coaching job. The Niners have been more competitive since Singletary took over and quarterback Shaun Hill has been a pleasant surprise. You might think I’m crazy (and I am) for predicting a 49er upset considering Frank Gore is expected to miss the game, but DeShaun Foster is no slouch and is likely craving the opportunity to carry the full load. Just when you think you’ve got the NFL figured out, it throws you a punch to the gut. Do we have another punch coming this Sunday in Miami?

Jon GrudenIntriguing Matchup: Buccaneers (9-4) at Falcons (8-5), 1:00 PM ET, FOX
Call this “Sunday’s Best II.” With the Bucs’ loss to the Panthers in Carolina on Monday night, the NFC South is now 0-10 this season when playing on the road against other NFC South opponents. And considering Jeff Garcia has missed significant practice time this week due to a calf injury, things don’t bode well for Tampa. However, Monte Kiffin’s defense has always given the Falcons trouble. Both of these teams are coming off of divisional losses and both need a win to stay in the NFC playoff picture (especially Atlanta), so we can probably expect one hell of a fight. Look for Tampa to take away Michael Turner and the Falcons’ running game and force rookie Matt Ryan to beat them through the air. They had this same approach in their Week 2 victory and Ryan failed miserably, although it’s safe to say he’s a completely different player nowadays and he showed once again last week in New Orleans that he can make every throw in the NFL. Will the Bucs get back on track this week or will the legend of Matt Ryan continue to grow?

Other Notable Games:

Steelers (10-3) at Ravens (9-4), 4:15 PM ET CBS
Call this game “Sunday’s Best III” or “Sunday’s Best 1A.” Whatever you call it, it’s going to be one of the best games of week. Pittsburgh remains one game ahead of Baltimore in the AFC North and currently has the head to head advantage after beating the Ravens earlier in the year. No team is playing better defensively right now than Pittsburgh, but the Ravens have suddenly hit their offensive stride in recent weeks and still boasts one of the best defenses in the league. This game might wind up being a 6-3 final.

Vikings (8-5) at Cardinals (8-5), 4:05 PM ET FOX
The Cardinals may have locked up the NFC West crown last week, but they still have plenty to play for as they try to improve their playoff seeding. And with the Bears’ victory over the Saints on Thursday night, the Vikings must win to stay one game ahead of Chicago in the NFC North. Can backup Tarvaris Jackson lead Minnesota to victory?

Broncos (8-5) at Panthers (10-3), 4:15 PM ET, CBS
With their win over Tampa on Monday night, many purists are talking about Carolina possibly being the No. 1 seed in the NFC come playoff time. But they’ll get a challenge this Sunday from a Denver team trying to clinch the AFC West crown.

Bills (6-7) at Jets (8-5), 1:00 PM ET, CBS
After losing two straight, the Jets now find themselves in a three-way tie with the Dolphins and Patriots for first place in the AFC East. Can they get back on track or will the Bills play spoiler?

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