Posted: Thu December 13, 2012 12:52PM; Updated: Fri December 21, 2012 5:44PM
Peter King
Peter King>WEEKEND PICKOFF
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King: Tough road to NFC Playoffs
Source:SI
SI.com's Peter King looks at the five 8-6 NFC teams all vying for the playoffs and says which contenders will ultimately make it into the tournament.
NFL Week 15
 
Last Week: 11-5 (.688); This Season: 132-75-1 (.637)
 
Thursday, Dec. 13
 
8:20 p.m. ET (NFLN) Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-9)
If A. J. Green doesn't drop that walk-in touchdown pass against Dallas last week, Cincinnati would be riding a five-game win streak into this game (only New England and Denver have longer ones) and we wouldn't be scratching our heads wondering if Nick Foles could survive Geno Atkins.
 
Sunday, Dec. 16
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) at New Orleans Saints (5-8)
The Saints come home angry -- angry that their season's been stolen (in their eyes), angry they're out of it, angry that they can't do anything about their anger except win the last three games and get ready for 2013. Drew Brees will see to it that the Saints will be playing for something here Sunday.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Indianapolis Colts (9-4) at Houston Texans (11-2)
I'd like the Colts' chances a lot more if the Texans played well Monday night. But this is going to be a game for Houston that's not only for the division title, but for redemption after a lost Monday in Foxboro.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Denver Broncos (10-3) at Baltimore Ravens (9-4)
Having nothing to do with the change in offensive coordinators in Baltimore, but everything to do with the fact that the Broncos haven't lost since two weeks before the World Series started. The Ravens, to beat Peyton Manning, need their best player on the field Sunday to be Terrell Suggs, not Joe Flacco.
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5)
I love the Brandon Marshall "I'm going to play like it's my last game" stuff. This is why rivalries like this one -- and Steelers-Ravens, Jets-Patriots, Falcons-Saints -- have to be cherished and promoted, and new great rivalries (I'm hoping 49ers-Seahawks, and maybe Andrew Luck and the Colts versus the Texans) spring up, because it makes the games so much more than just competitive. Re the game, Jay Cutler will be better than his four-pick job the last time these teams played, but I like the multiplicity of options Aaron Rodgers has now that Greg Jennings is back.
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) New York Giants (8-5) at Atlanta Falcons (11-2)
Not to plagiarize myself, but here's the composite score of the last five Atlanta games: Falcons 117, Opponents 116. When you talk "sense of urgency," you can bet it was turned up many notches around the Falcons this week by coach Mike Smith, and rightfully so. It pays off Sunday.
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Minnesota Vikings (7-6) at St. Louis Rams (6-6-1)
Two borderline playoff teams, both of whom need a lot of help to get into the postseason. So why is the only thing America cares about Adrian Peterson's rushing line? Which, by the way, will be: 24 carries, 141 yards, one touchdown. In other words, a long way from Eric Dickerson. But do-able.
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Washington Redskins (7-6) at Cleveland Browns (5-8)
This is dependent on one of two things: Robert Griffin III not playing, or Robert Griffin III not being able to be Robert Griffin III because of his wounded knee. I like Cleveland's defense a lot right now.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) at Miami Dolphins (5-8)
Has there ever been a game with a starting quarterback returning to where he used to start that's less interesting?
 
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) Detroit Lions (4-9) at Arizona Cardinals (4-9)
Look at the bright side, Glendalians: At least it's not 58-0.
 
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) Seattle Seahawks (8-5) at Buffalo Bills (5-8)
Re Canada NFL Fever: I went on the Ticketmaster website Thursday morning and found two 35-yard-line, upper deck seats, low row, available. So the Bills' experiment into Canada still isn't firing up the locals, even though ticket prices have been slashed this year. The Seahawks are pretty happy the game's not outside at the Ralph, but inside in Toronto, where the fans won't be as Bills-nutty. Said Seattle coach Pete Carroll: "It's going to be a different makeup in the crowd ... Hopefully we'll be a beneficiary of it. It's kind of like a bowl game." For Seattle, the Playoff Entry Bowl.
 
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) Carolina Panthers (4-9) at San Diego Chargers (5-8)
The mistake-free Cam Newton (last four games: 11 rushing-passing touchdowns, zero turnovers) goes up against Philip Rivers, who has the second-most interceptions in football since opening day 2011. I respect history.
 
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) at Dallas Cowboys (7-6)
The Steelers probably should have given Ben Roethlisberger one more week off. Dallas is wounded with Dez Bryant's broken finger hampering him. I keep seeing the Steelers' trip to the Meadowlands, manhandling the Giants six weeks ago, and I see them going into the Dallas and ripping up the Cowboys' offensive line.
 
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) Kansas City Chiefs (2-11) at Oakland Raiders (3-10)
The Raiders have to put Terrelle Pryor in the game. Now. Time to see if Carson Palmer's worth the $15.3 million cap number and $13 million in salary in 2013.
 
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) at New England Patriots (10-3)
The 49ers are one of the only teams right now that can give the Patriots a good game. Justin Smith has to have his impact game of the year, and get to Tom Brady earlier than J.J. Watt did Monday night. The key to beating Brady is to make him throw before he wants to -- and that entails covering intermediate receivers much, much better than the Texans did last week. I like the Niners to be more competitive, but in this one, I think the New England running game keeps San Francisco honest enough so Brady won't be under attack so much.
 
Monday, Dec. 17
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) New York Jets (6-7) at Tennessee Titans (4-9)
Jon Gruden and Mike Tirico should get paid triple for keeping the Monday Night Football audience engaged in the second half. Nevermind the second half, the second quarter.
 
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