Week 15 NFL Preview: Playoff Races Intensify As 24 Teams Vie For Post-Season

aaron-rodgers-green-bayWith three weeks remaining in the NFL season, the suspense is building as teams make their final playoff push.

While three spots have been clinched (Indianapolis, New Orleans and Minnesota), there are still 24 teams in contention for a postseason berth.

“There are three games left,” says head coach MIKE MC CARTHY of the 9-4 Green Bay Packers. “There are a lot of things that happen in the last three weeks of the season. The scenarios will change. They always do. Everybody is fighting to get in.”

Two 13-0 teams have already punched their playoff ticket – the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts, who have also secured homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, and the NFC South champion New Orleans Saints, who have locked up a first-round bye. It is the first time in NFL history there have been two 13-0 teams in the same season.

Both clubs seek to join select company at 14-0, a feat that only two teams in NFL history have achieved:






New England




Lost Super Bowl XLII





Won Super Bowl VII

The Colts and Saints will each be featured in national primetime games on NFL Network this week with playoff implications.

On Thursday night (8:20 PM ET), Indianapolis will visit the 7-6 Jacksonville Jaguars, who are battling for a Wild Card spot in the AFC playoff race. The Colts, who defeated Denver last week, have won 22 consecutive regular-season games, the longest winning streak in NFL history.

“The way we are around here, we love to win,” says Colts owner JIM IRSAY. “To have that type of greatness, it’s something that’s unprecedented. When you think about 20, 30, 80 years from now, people will be referring back to you and that’s really special.”

Next up for Indianapolis is Jacksonville, a team that is 2-0 at home against the AFC South this year, outscoring opponents 60-35. The Jaguars control their playoff destiny as three wins in their final three games would guarantee them a spot in the postseason.

“It’s the playoffs for us,” says Jacksonville guard UCHE NWANERI. “We’re in a great situation to still have a hold on what can happen. We know we have to win out. That’s the only way to really ensure we’ll be in the playoffs. We control our own fate. It’s going to be a tough, three-game season. But this is what you play football for, for the opportunities to force yourself into the playoffs.”

The Saints, who won 26-23 at Atlanta last week, will look to extend their franchise-best 13-game winning streak when they host the 8-5 Dallas Cowboys on Saturday night (8:20 PM ET).

“We know that this is a very talented team that is coming in here,” says New Orleans head coach SEAN PAYTON, who was an assistant with the Cowboys from 2003-05. “They have a ton of weapons and are going to be battling hard for everything. We’re certainly aware that they’re in the thick of things for a spot in the postseason and will come in here ready to play. It’s another big challenge for us, but one we are looking forward to.”

Dallas currently holds one of the two NFC Wild Card spots and sits just one game behind first-place Philadelphia in the NFC East. The Cowboys have dropped two games in a row after winning six of seven games.

“I think we can and I think we will,” says Dallas head coach WADE PHILLIPS about the team’s postseason chances. “I have a lot of confidence in these guys. This is part of a long season. Coming down the stretch, we need to finish.”

Some of the other headline games in Week 15:


Two of the top teams in the AFC will meet in San Diego on Sunday as each team has its sights set on the AFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. Cincinnati can clinch the AFC North with a win, while San Diego can secure a playoff berth with a victory and win the AFC West with a Denver loss.

“It’s a great opportunity for our team going to San Diego,” says Bengals head coach MARVIN LEWIS. “We’ll be playing not only to win the division, but a chance to continue to control our own destiny. So this is a good spot for us.”

San Diego has won eight consecutive games and the team has surged into first place in the division with a 10-3 record. The Chargers, who won at Dallas last week, have won 16 consecutive games in December, the longest such winning streak in NFL history. The previous mark was set by the 1968-1972 Dallas Cowboys, who won 13 games in a row during the month.

“What I think we are willing to talk about is what we can control,” says Chargers quarterback PHILIP RIVERS, who leads the AFC and ranks third overall with a 103.7 passer rating. “We can control winning this game and that will put us in the postseason. That is real, and that’s something to be aware of as a team.”


The Green Bay Packers aim for their sixth consecutive win when they travel to Pittsburgh this Sunday to face the defending Super Bowl champion Steelers, who remain in the mix for a playoff berth.

“We know Pittsburgh’s a very good football team,” says Green Bay head coach MIKE MC CARTHY. “They’ve had some struggles of late but we know we’re going to get their best shot. They are still the defending world champions. This is going to be a true test for our football team.”

The Packers are coming off a 21-14 win at Chicago. In the victory, running back RYAN GRANT rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns, including a 62-yarder just 1:48 into the game. It was the longest touchdown run by a visiting opponent at Soldier Field in the first two minutes of a game.

The Steelers, despite a five-game losing streak, are still in contention for a trip to the playoffs.

“We are doing everything we can,” says Pittsburgh linebacker JAMES FARRIOR. “We just have to look within. We have to go out and play these next three games. We know we can win the game. We have proven it in the past. We have to go out and prove it again.”


With a win on Sunday night, the Minnesota Vikings can clinch the NFC North and secure back-to-back division titles for the first time since the team won six in a row from 1973-78.

“We’re now an 11-2 football team and our sole focus here is on the Carolina Panthers,” says Vikings head coach BRAD CHILDRESS. “I have a great deal of respect for (Carolina head coach) JOHN FOX and how he’s grown that program.”

The Panthers enter the week with a 5-8 record but are still alive in the chase for the postseason.

“We just have to go out there and win games,” says Panthers linebacker JON BEASON.

The game will feature two of the NFL’s best running backs in Minnesota’s ADRIAN PETERSON and Carolina’s

DE ANGELO WILLIAMS. Since the start of the 2008 season, Peterson leads the league with 2,960 yards and Williams ranks third with 2,619. Williams’ 25 rushing touchdowns during that span rank third, while Peterson is tied for fourth with 24 rushing TDs.



This season, there have been 35 individual performances with at least 10 receptions in a game. That is the third-most through the first 14 weeks of a season in NFL history (37 such games in 2002 and 2007). Denver’s BRANDON MARSHALL had 21 receptions last week against Indianapolis, the most catches by a player in a game in NFL history. New England’s WES WELKER leads the NFL with six games with at least 10 receptions this season.