10 most important remaining games on NFL schedule

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Mathematically alive in the playoff race

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL season is now in its stretch run. Heading into Week 15, all but a half dozen teams remain mathematically alive in the playoff race. It’s going to be a barn burner to end the regular year around the league.

Starting Thursday night with the Chargers taking on the Chiefs in Kansas City, there’s certainly a lot of big games remaining on the schedule. And given that the NFL has gone with all divisional matchups in Week 17, that’s taken to a whole new level.

Here, we check in on the 10 most important remaining games on the NFL schedule.


Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs (Week 15)

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Despite the Chiefs’ utter domination thus far this season, they remain just one game ahead of the hard-charging Los Angeles team heading into a pivotal divisional matchup this coming Thursday. With a win at home against the Chargers, Patrick Mahomes and Co. would clinch the AFC West title and further their claim as the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC Playoffs.

Philip Rivers and the Chargers are in a bit different of a situation. They are 7-2 within the conference compared to the Chiefs’ 9-1 mark in the AFC. Even if the Chargers were somehow able to win Thursday and finish tied with Kansas City in the division, they would be hard-pressed to win the tiebreaker. It’s in this that Los Angeles not only needs to win Thursday, but it must win out and hope the Chiefs lose at least one more game. Yeah, this is a huge prime-time matchup in Kansas City.


Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos (Week 15)

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Having won three of their past four games, the Browns are just one game behind Baltimore in the loss column for the sixth and final seed in the AFC. While the team’s tie against Pittsburgh earlier this season hurts big time, we’re bullish on Cleveland being able to win out and vie for that wildcard spot. Starting this week against Denver, each of the Browns’ final three games are winnable. And an 8-7-1 mark could very well get this team into the postseason.

On the other hand, Denver is coming off a brutal loss to the hapless San Francisco 49ers. That came on the heels of a three-game winning streak, including victories over AFC foes Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. At 6-7, Denver pretty much needs to win out in order to be playing postseason football. Given it has a Week 17 date against the Chargers, it’s pretty much all on Denver to do its thing on the field. That starts Saturday night at Mile High.


Dallas Cowboys at Indianapolis Colts (Week 15)

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Two of the hottest teams in the NFL battling for a playoff spot as we enter the final three weeks of the season. By virtue of their dramatic win over Philadelphia last week, the Cowboys boast a robust two-game lead in the NFC East. They can actually clinch the division with a win in Week 15. Equally as important, Dallas is now battling with the Chicago Bears for the all-important No. 3 seed in the NFC.

The Colts’ situation is different in that they are not anywhere near guaranteed a playoff spot. Indianapolis ended Houston’s nine-game winning streak this past Sunday. But that came after a horrible shutout loss to the last-place Jaguars in Week 13. At 7-6, the Colts are tied with Baltimore for the No. 6 seed in the AFC. They also lose the tiebreaker. The time is now for Andrew Luck to show that he’s a legit MVP candidate.


New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers (Week 15)

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Despite their gut-wrenching loss to Miami last week, New England still holds the No. 2 seed in the AFC Playoffs due to head-to-head win over Houston. That’s the good news. The bad news? New England must go into Pittsburgh in December and take out a Steelers team that’s going to be inspired after dropping three consecutive games. With games remaining against the Bills and Jets to end the season, Tom Brady and Co. can pretty much wrap up a first-round playoff bye with a win here.

After starting the season 7-2-1, the Steelers’ lack of consistency has come back to haunt the team big time in recent weeks. They’ve lost three consecutive, including a humiliating defeat at the hands of the hapless Raiders last week. Pittsburgh is now just a half game ahead of Baltimore in the AFC North and isn’t anywhere near guaranteed a playoff spot. Simply put, Pittsburgh needs to get back on track here.


Baltimore Ravens at Los Angeles Chargers (Week 16)

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We focused on these Chargers a bit earlier in the article. Depending on what we see in Week 15, this game could have wide-ranging playoff ramifications. First off, Los Angeles could very well still be alive in the AFC West race with a win over Kansas City. Secondly, Baltimore is barely holding on to the final playoff spot in the AFC. In fact, only one game in the loss column separates six AFC teams for that No. 6 seed.

It’s rather simple for Baltimore. If this team wins out, it will either earn the division title or be the sixth seed, likely taking on Houston in the wildcard round. If the Chargers are unable to catch Kansas City in the AFC West, they’ll end up being the fifth seed and likely taking on the AFC North champion. This very well could be a playoff matchup waiting to happen.


Pittsburgh Steelers at New Orleans Saints (Week 16)

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New Orleans is already pretty much set up nicely for at least a first-round playoff bye. Heck, with the Rams’ loss to Chicago this past Sunday, New Orleans has an outside shot at earning home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The onus is now on Drew Brees and Co. to win out and see how the chips fall throughout the remainder of the NFC in the final three weeks of the regular year.

The situation is vastly different for Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. As we noted before, this team has lost three consecutive games. It must also take on the Patriots a week before heading to the Bayou to face off with New Orleans. Needless to say, it’s desperation time for the first-place team. If Pittsburgh heads into Week 16 losers of four consecutive, this game becomes a must win in every possible way.


Kansas City Chiefs at Seattle Seahawks (Week 16)

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Now at 8-5 on the season, there’s a decent chance Seattle can have a playoff spot wrapped up by the time they host their former AFC West rivals in Week 16. A win next week over San Francisco would make that a reality. It’s in this that the Seahawks might not have a whole lot to play for as the season comes to a conclusion. Already out of the NFC West race, they would then be the No. 5 seed in the NFC Playoffs. Nothing would change this if Seattle defeats the above-mentioned 49ers.

On the other hand, this is the second of two consecutive games against top-end competition for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Should they fall Week 15 against the division-rival Chargers, this almost becomes a must win. Given Seattle has now won four in a row after a 4-5 start to the season, this would in no way be a gimme for the Chiefs.


Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (Week 17)

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Despite losing yet again Monday night to the Seahawks, Minnesota is still in possession of the No. 6 seed in the NFC. It’s quite ridiculous given that this team has now lost three consecutive and is 6-6-1 on the season. Though, only one game separates the Vikings from four other teams in the loss column. Needless to say, Kirk Cousins and Co. must step up in a big way to end the season.

On the other hand, Chicago now boasts a 2.5-game lead in the NFC North. If the team were to win Week 15, it would wrap the division up. Even then, it’s about more than the division for the Bears. They want to earn the No. 3 seed and avoid a potential matchup with Seattle in the wildcard round. Winning Week 17 against the Vikings would go a long way in accomplishing this feat. It wouldn’t hurt fans in Chicago if that came at the expense of eliminating a division rival from playoff contention.


Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens (Week 17)

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Should Cleveland win its next two games, this season finale could be for a playoff spot in the AFC. Just imagine how amazing that would be for fans in Cleveland, especially given this game comes against the very same franchise that relocated from Ohio some quarter-century ago. We’re all for Cleveland becoming relevant on the broader NFL stage.

Equally as interesting, this game could very well pit two former Heisman winners against one another with a spot in the postseason on the line. Rookies Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson continue to shine for their respective teams. Could this be a sign of the future in the AFC North? Hopefully.


Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos (Week 17)

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It’s pretty simple for Denver following last week’s loss to San Francisco. Case Keenum and Co. must win out in order to have a shot at postseason football. That’s what happens when you lose to a two-win team on the road in December.

For the Chargers, this game could very much have wide-ranging ramifications. Should the team win Thursday night and take out Baltimore in Week 16, Los Angeles could be playing for both the AFC West title and home-field advantage in the playoffs. We couldn’t ask for more in a game between these two longstanding AFC West rivals to close out the season.


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