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NFL Playbook: Showdown time for Steelers, Patriots

Everybody seems to have the NFL playoff picture doped out, but the truth is only the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers have clinched postseason berths.

Three more could fall into line in Week 15.

Pittsburgh will clinch home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs with a win over New England today because it would give them a tie-breaker advantage if it should end up even with Patriots at 11-5. The Steelers wrapped up the NFC North title by edging Baltimore, 39-38, last Sunday night.

New England needs a win, or tie or a loss or tie by the Bills, to clinch the AFC East. A loss or tie by Baltimore would guarantee the Patriots a playoff berth.

Jacksonville can clinch its first playoff berth since 2007 with a win or some other happenings.

Minnesota needs a win or tie to clinch the NFC North. A loss or tie by Detroit and Green Bay would do it, too, if the Vikings should happen to lose at home to Cincinnati.

The Los Angeles Rams could guarantee their first postseason berth since 2003 with a win and help from losses or ties but a division clincher in the NFC West won't happen this week.

Nine teams are in wait-until-next-year mode. Cleveland, Houston, Indianapolis, Denver, New York Giants, Washington, Chicago, Tampa Bay and San Francisco have been mathematically eliminated from the postseason picture. Only the Giants were among the 12 teams that made the postseason for 2016.

A capsule look at the remaining Week 15 games:

Game of the day

Patriots (10-3) at Steelers (11-2)

TV: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Patriots (-3).
The scoop: Tom Brady and Patriots struggled mightily in 27-20 loss at Miami on Monday night. Maybe they were looking ahead to this one. With Brady at QB, Patriots are 5-1 at Heinz Field including 2001 and 2004 AFC championship games. ... Steelers have many as many close calls as any team in league despite best record (11-2). That includes 39-38 comeback against rival Ravens last week and wins over weaker Packers and Colts. ... Patriots get TE Rob Gronkowski back from one-game suspension for this one.
Outlook: It will be tough for Brady and Gronk to win an offensive duel against No. 1 rusher in league (Le'Veon Bell) and No. 1 receiver (Antonio Brown) and Ben Roethlisberger. Steelers, 40-31

Top attractions

Rams (9-4) at Seahawks (8-5)
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: Seahawks (-2).
The scoop: If Rams are going win NFC West they will have earned it with four of last five games against Minnesota, New Orleans, Philadelphia and now Seattle. ... Ex-Bill Sammy Watkins has TDs in last three games. ... Seattle came from down 10-0 to win first meeting between the teams, 16-10, at L.A. Coliseum.
Outlook: As rookie starter, Jared Goff of Rams could produce three points in loss at Seattle Din Bin last season. He has more weapons this time, but its Seattle, 21-17

Packers (7-6) at Panthers (9-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Panthers (-3).
The scoop: Big news is Aaron Rodgers back to start for Green Bay, trying to save season. It's tough assignment against Carolina team that has won five of last six. However, after recording three early-season shutouts, Panthers have given up average of 26 ppg in last four. ... Packers went 3-5 without Rodgers after going 4-1 with him.
Outlook: Huge game for both teams. Loser could end up 10-6 and miss playoffs. Defense and home court gives Carolina the advantage, 30-24.

Dolphins (6-7) at Bills (7-6)

TV: CBS, 1 p.m.
The line: Bills (-3)
The scoop: Although outgained by almost 700 yards through the air, the Bills have given up the fewest (11) TD passes in the NFL. Now, the bad news: They've allowed the most rushing touchdowns.
Outlook: Can't see nothing but trouble against Dolphins' Suh and pass rush. Miami, 24-17.

Texans (4-9) at Jaguars (9-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Jaguars (-11).
The scoop: With Bills reject T.J. Yates at QB, Texans face the No. 2 ranked defense in the league (291.6). ... Houston led San Francisco 16-13 at home last week, and lost 26-16. ... Texans' failures obscuring amazing season for WR DeAndre Hopkins, who has 88 receptions for 1,233 yards and league-leading 11 TD receptions. He had 11 catches for 149 and two scores last week. ... Jacksonville offense rolled up 425 yards in 30-24 win at home over Seattle last week.
Outlook: Jaguars' QB Blake Bortles continues to confound critics, but not by double-digits. Jacksonville, 24-17.

Titans (8-5) at 49ers (3-10)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
The line: 49ers (-2).
The scoop: How much can Jimmy Garoppolo mean to a 49ers team that is being reconstructed. Niners have averaged 402 ypg in two wins since Garoppolo became starter. Also, Tennessee was held to 204 total yards in home loss to San Francisco last week. Niners could be a spoiler. They have Jacksonville at home next week and play at Rams in Week 17.
Outlook: Titans may be two games behind Jacksonville before home showdown with Jaguars in Week 17. San Francisco, 27-20.

Best of the rest

Bengals (5-8) at Vikings (10-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Vikings (-10 1/2).
The scoop: Bengals who are in league with 277.2 ypg offensive average, were even worse than that last week: only 234 in 33-7 loss to Chicago. Despite that QB Andy Dalton had 10-1 TD-INT ratio for 96.5 rating in last five games. ... Vikings third in lead in defense (293.4). Best receiver few have heard of, Adam Thielen, is third with 1,161 receiving yards for 14.5 average.
Outlook: Can't see ineffective Cincy offense doing much damage against tough Vikings' defense on road. Minnesota, 30-13.

Cowboys (7-6) at Raiders (6-7)

TV: NBC, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Cowboys (-3).
The scoop: Dallas is now 2-3 without Ezekiel Elliott after winning last two. They say Dak Prescott, Cowboys QB, has grown up in last two weeks and proved he can take team to victory. ... Early four-game losing streak spoiled Raiders' season after 2-0 start and they've won only three of last seven. ... Marshawn Lynch has hit his stride in comeback season with five rushing TDs in last five games. DE Khalil Mack has a sack in last four games and 8.5 for season.
Outlook: It's Dallas' first visit to Oakland since 2005. 'Boys won't be intimidate. Dallas, 33-27.

Falcons (8-5) at Buccaneers (4-9)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Falcons (-6).
The scoop: Atlanta jumped back into playoff picture with four wins in last five, and the only loss was to top Vikings. ... Teams met only three weeks ago with Falcons winning 34-20 at home. Julio Jones caught 12 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns in that one. ... Bucs have lost last three. Disappointing record and QB Jameis Winston's ineffectiveness endangering status of coach Dirk Koetter. It's why rumors that Jon Gruden is coming back to Bucs are out there.
Outlook: With all their talent on both sides, Falcons should be better than 8-5. Atlanta, 33-17.

Jets (5-8) at Saints (9-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Saints (-16).
The scoop: One of bright spots of Jets season was play of veteran QB Josh McCown. Now he's finished for season (hand). Bryce Petty gets start. He's completed 2 of 9 for 14 yards this season. Saints lead league in offense (400.7), but were held to 17 at Atlanta last week. Jets had only 100 total yards and were shutout at Denver last week.
Outlook: Saints get a breather before next week's return game with Falcons in SuperDome. Saints, 35-17.

Ravens (7-6) at Browns (0-13)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Ravens (-7).
The scoop: Ravens won three straight before one-pointer at Pittsburgh. Unless that demoralized Baltimore team they should handle the new Cleveland Browns. ... Rookie QB DeShone Kizer of Browns has impressive moments but still makes killer mistake at crunch time. This is Cleveland's final home game of season with roadies at Chicago and Pittsburgh left.
Outlook: Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 17-2 against Browns. Make it 18-2, 20-10.

Cardinals (6-7) at Redskins (5-8)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Redskins (-4 1/2).
The scoop: Arizona has scored one touchdown in last two games, and both were at home. Four FGs by Phil Dawson were enough to beat Titans last week. ... Redskins have one win (Giants) in last five games after surprising win at Seattle. ... Ex-BillsLB Zach Brown leads league with 127 total tackles. Old-line NFL teams have met 122 times. ... Belichick sent Chandler Jones packing. Now ex-Syracuse DE leads league with 14 sacks and 24 tackles for loss.
Outlook: Cards leading rusher Adrian Peterson joined RB David Johnson and QB Carson Palmer on IR this week. Redskins over punchless Red Birds, 20-10.

Dog of the day

Eagles (11-2) at Giants (2-11)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Eagles (-7 1/2).
The scoop: Season-ending knee injury to QB Carson Wentz spoils best Phila season since 1980 Super Bowl team and 1960 NFL Championship team that gave Vince Lombardi his only postseason loss. ... Nick Foles, another Bills' reject, takes over what figures to be a power-running attack and tries to nail down No. 1 seed in NFC playoffs. Eagles have home games with Oakland and Dallas left. ... Giants were tied with Dallas in fourth quarter last week and lost by 20. New York has been held under 20 points in four of last five games.
Outlook: Eagles own Giants with six wins in last seven meetings. Foles and Birds squeeze by division rivals, 20-17.

Last week's results: 6-9 outright; 6-9 versus spread.

Season's record: 119-73 outright; 91-91-10 versus spread.

 

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