Here is how The Examiner breaks down this week in the NFL.
WEEK 15 STORY LINES
1. There’s a chance that every division race will be over by the end of the weekend. The AFC North, AFC West and NFC South have yet to be determined, though Tampa Bay will clinch the South with a win over reeling Atlanta. San Diego is in command in the West as is Pittsburgh in the North. As for the AFC’s wild cards, Fred Taylor and Jacksonville can clinch with a win over Pittsburgh and a Tennessee loss or tie. In the NFC wild-card race, the New York Giants can earn a berth with a win over Washington. For the other spot, five teams still have a realistic shot, though Minnesota is the only one in control of its own destiny.
2. If Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots have been angry with the rest of the league for the Spygate controversy — a problem of their own making, we might add — then exactly how upset will they be with the team that turned them in, the New York Jets? We’ll find out Sunday when the Jets travel to Foxborough for what should be a major pounding.
3. Atlanta’s Bobby Petrino, a perpetual job-searcher, resigned after 13 disastrous games to take the head coaching job at Arkansas, making this an even worse season for Atlanta. As for other possible vacancies, Carolina could be next with John Fox’s group fading fast. St. Louis said it will stick with Scott Linehan. Other struggling teams, such as Baltimore and Cincinnati, are unlikely to change coaches.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Bills (7-6) at Browns (8-5)
Yes, we know Jacksonville plays at Pittsburgh, making that a better game. But is it bigger? Not likely. Both those teams are near-postseason locks. And consider that Buffalo (7-6) and Cleveland (8-5), two rabid football towns, are vying for their first playoff berths since 1999 and 2002, respectively. Since that 9-7 team made the playoffs, the Browns have gone a combined 19-45 — and many expected them to be one of the NFL’s worst this season. Buffalo has not finished above .500 since ’99. But are the Bills a real threat? After all, they’ve been outscored by 69 points this year. Meanwhile, Derek Anderson and the Browns’ offense have scored the third-most points in the AFC.
— John Keim
WEEK 15 PICKS
REDSKINS AT GIANTS When the games matter in New York, Washington disappears. Poof! ’Skins are gone again. G-men 27, R-men 20
CARDINALS AT SAINTS Loss would be devastating for either team. Cards suddenly remembering they’re the Cards. Saints 28, Cards 24
JETS AT PATRIOTS I spy something ugly. And it’s not just coach Belichick in a hoodie. Is there an NFL mercy rule? Patriots 54, Jets 3
BILLS AT BROWNS Matchup of these teams in December guarantees snow. Browns are 5-1 at home. Browns 23, Bills 19
SEAHAWKS AT PANTHERS Seahawks have won five straight, three by seven points or less. Seahawks 28, Panthers 9
TITANS AT CHIEFS Chiefs have lost six straight. Naturally, they’re the upset special in this crazy season. Chiefs 17, Titans 16
FALCONS AT BUCCANEERS Talk about a team ready for the offseason; good riddance, Petrino. Bucs 30, Falcons 14
PHILADELPHIA AT DALLAS Eagles lost by 21 at home in first meeting; Cowboys fighting for home field. Cowboys 30, Eagles 21
LIONS AT CHARGERS Chargers rolling with seven wins in nine games, but QB Philip Rivers still struggling. Bolts 23, Dolts 17
— John Keim
PLAYER TO WATCH
Second-year Minnesota Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson is not an elite player; not even close. But in the last three games he’s been highly efficient, completing a combined 44 of 61 passes for 496 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His play will be key to the Vikings’ playoff hopes as their season winds down.