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NFL: Today’s previews

The NFL roundup …
This might be even better than the playoffs.

Week 15 sure looks like a playoff round with so many matchups between contenders. From Foxborough to Baltimore to Atlanta, from Chicago to Houston to Dallas. Maybe even throw in St. Louis. It feels like the postseason because of the importance of those games for all involved.

“I think for us it’s an important football game because we’ve got a lot of stuff in front of us that we want to finish off with this season,” said Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who could have been speaking for every team still in the playoff races.

And especially for those facing opponents in the same position this weekend, including Ryan’s Falcons against the NFC East-leading New York Giants.

Also San Francisco is at AFC East winner New England, AFC West champion Denver at AFC North leader Baltimore, NFC North leader Green Bay at Chicago, Indianapolis at AFC South leader Houston, Pittsburgh at Dallas, and Minnesota at St. Louis.

Elsewhere Sunday, it’s Seattle against Buffalo in Toronto; Washington at Cleveland, Tampa Bay at New Orleans; Jacksonville at Miami; Carolina at San Diego; Detroit at Arizona; and Kansas City at Oakland.

On Monday night, the New York Jets are at Tennessee.


San Francisco (9-3-1) at New England (10-3)

Six days after exposing the Texans in a prime-time rout, the Patriots take on another likely division winner with Super Bowl aspirations. Should New England, which has won 20 in a row at home in December and has not lost in the second half of the schedule in 21 games, do the same to the 49ers on Sunday night, well, nobody will doubt the Patriots have earned the favorite’s role.

Denver (10-3) at Baltimore (9-4)

The AFC West champion Broncos have won eight straight as their defense has become staunch. That gives them an edge in that area over the sputtering Ravens, which says a lot in itself considering how good Baltimore’s defense usually is.

Then there’s the comfort level Peyton Manning has gained with his playmates on offense. In contrast, the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron this week, replacing him with Jim Caldwell — coincidentally, Manning’s last coach in Indianapolis before the four-time MVP headed to Denver.

New York Giants (8-5) at Atlanta (11-2)

Although the Falcons own the NFC South and have the best record in the conference, they’ve looked vulnerable for more than a month. One of two undefeated teams at home — Seattle is the other — Atlanta needs to re-establish some momentum after a weak performance in a loss at Carolina.What better way than against the Super Bowl champions?

Green Bay (9-4) at Chicago (8-5)

A Packers victory ends the suspense in the NFC North, and the way Chicago is hurting, the Bears might need to start worrying about just getting into the postseason if they fall at Soldier Field.

Green Bay is beginning to show some balance on both sides of the ball, yet Aaron Rodgers has not had a huge game in a while. That could be coming against the limping Bears in the 186th match of the NFL’s longest series.

Washington (7-6) at Cleveland (5-8)

A pair of teams on a roll, with Washington chasing the postseason and Cleveland perhaps saving coach Pat Shurmur’s job with its perseverance and hard work despite all the earlier defeats.

So much of the Redskins’ fortunes depend on how quickly QB Robert Griffin III recovers from the knee sprain he suffered last Sunday. The sensational rookie was replaced by another freshman, Kirk Cousinss.

But Cousins hardly is the same threat as RG3, which might mean even more carries for yet another rookie, running back Alfred Morris. He already has 1,228 yards rushing with seven TDs.

Indianapolis (9-4) at Houston (11-2)

The division race is over if the Texans win, and they also are very aware that another loss could force them to return to Foxborough in the playoffs.

Pittsburgh (7-6) at Dallas (7-6)

Both clubs are alive in division races, but more realistic might be pursuing a wild card. The loser here will be at a big disadvantage in that chase — unless the other contenders also lose, which is highly possible in this wide-open scramble.

The Cowboys showed against the Bengals the kind of fortitude many have said they lack. They’ll need more of it Sunday, and they’re hardly unbeatable at their palace, going 3-3 this year.

Minnesota (7-6) at St. Louis (6-6-1)

Adrian Peterson has his eyes on more than reaching 2,000 yards rushing in his comeback from major left knee surgery 11 months ago. He’s thinking about Eric Dickerson’s league record of 2,105 set in 1984.

Seattle (8-5) vs. Buffalo (5-8) at Toronto

Seattle still has a shot at taking the NFC West, but needs help to catch San Francisco. The indoor setting plays right into the hands of athletic rookie QB Russell Wilson, and facing the team that got rid of him will surely inspire RB Marshawn Lynch.

Tampa Bay (6-7) at New Orleans (5-8)

Look for lots of points at the Superdome. Only the Giants have scored more in the NFC than the Bucs’ 354 and the Saints’ 348.

With playoff hopes squashed, New Orleans’ players might be looking to increase their individual numbers against a defense that fell apart against Philly late last week.

New York Jets (6-7) at Tennessee (4-9), Monday night

Somehow, even with all the turmoil surrounding Mark Sanchez, Rex Ryan and the Jets, they remain in playoff contention. Sure, they beat weaklings Arizona and Jacksonville, and not convincingly, in the last two weeks.

And after this prime-time affair with another also-ran, they finish against San Diego and Buffalo. So 9-7 and a wild-card spot isn’t inconceivable.

Jacksonville (2-11) at Miami (5-8)

North Florida vs. South Florida. This might be more interesting if it was the Seminoles against the Hurricanes.

Detroit (4-9) at Arizona (4-9)
Two of the biggest flops in the league collide.

Kansas City (2-11) at Oakland (3-10)

Last time these bitter rivals met, the Raiders were 2-4 and the Chiefs 1-5. Not much has changed a sad commentary considering where these franchises once were.

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