Here’s a look at the best games of N.F.L. Week 15, and who we think will win them.
Best Games to Watch
Cardinals (11-2) at Eagles (6-7)
8:30 p.m. Eastern time. Line: Cardinals by 3.5
A debate has emerged as to whether this Cardinals team, which is one win from its first 12-victory season, is the best in franchise history. But that is selling the 1948 Chicago Cardinals short, not to mention the 1925 and 1947 teams, which won N.F.L. championships.
Despite not winning a championship, the 1948 team may have been the best. It won 11 games, like the current Cardinals, but in a 12-game regular season, its only loss coming against the crosstown Chicago Bears in the second game. Its average margin of victory was 14.1 points — this year’s is 11.8. The 1948 Cardinals reached the N.F.L. title game, losing to the Eagles, who the current Cardinals play this weekend.
Ray Mallouf, Mal Kutner and Elmer Angsman led that 1948 team to an N.F.L.-leading 32.9 points per game, slightly more than the 31.2 points that this year’s squad, with an aerial attack led by Carson Palmer, is averaging.
A key for the Cardinals has been their depth. Larry Fitzgerald has been their leading receiver, but John Brown, Michael Floyd or J.J. Nelson can also deliver a huge catch. And with running backs Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington out with injuries, the rookie David Johnson has proved himself capable of being an every-down back.
The Eagles have played up to their competition in recent weeks, with wins against New England and Buffalo, but against a relentless Cardinals defense that is fourth in the N.F.L. in yards allowed per game and fifth against the rush, it is hard to see them coming away with a victory.
Broncos (10-3) at Steelers (8-5)
4:25 p.m. Line: Steelers by 7
The Broncos continue to trudge along in what has to be among the most tumultuous 10-3 seasons in history. Their high-priced future Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning, was 7-2 as a starter even though he continues to lead the league in interceptions by a wide margin after missing four games. His backup, Brock Osweiler, is 3-1 but seemed almost incapable of finishing drives last week, with more than 300 passing yards but no touchdowns.
Denver has gotten away with subpar quarterbacking and an inconsistent rushing attack because of its impressive defense. That unit will have its hands full with a red-hot Pittsburgh offense that has scored 30 or more points in five consecutive games while averaging 494 yards of offense in that span.
Though Manning has practiced, he is not quite ready to return, so Osweiler will start again. He is likely to put up plenty of yards against a Steelers defense that has been among the worst at pass defense. But expecting him to keep up with his Pittsburgh counterpart, Ben Roethlisberger, is asking too much.
Panthers (13-0) at Giants (6-7)
1 p.m. Line: Panthers by 5
When a team has a shutdown cornerback like Josh Norman of the Panthers, a lot of the attention ends up being focused on the other side of the field. That looked as if it would be an issue this week, with Bene Benwikere, who had been manning the No. 2 corner spot, breaking his leg against Atlanta. The options to replace Benwikere appeared limited until Charles Tillman, who has been out with a knee injury, practiced during the week and may be ready to reclaim his starting role.
On offense, quarterback Cam Newton has been impressive manufacturing offense with a ragtag group of wide receivers, but the Panthers will lose some flexibility with running back Jonathan Stewart out with a foot injury. It could be even worse for Carolina if tight end Greg Olsen is limited by a knee injury he aggravated last week.
The Giants beat the 13-0 Denver Broncos in 1998 and the 18-0 New England Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl, and they may be poised to take down another unbeaten this weekend.
Bills (6-7) at Redskins (6-7)
1 p.m. Line: Even
Last season, the Bills had the defense no one wanted to play against. It led the N.F.L. with 54 sacks, was sixth in interceptions and tied for 10th in fumble recoveries. Led by Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes, the team added Coach Rex Ryan, a defensive specialist, and was expected to get even better.
But through 13 games, the Bills have 19 sacks, ranking 30th in the N.F.L. They are also 13th in total yards allowed per game.
“Literally I can count — this will be my first time that I’ve ever been considered maybe the weakness of the team, the way I coach defense,” Ryan told reporters. “But we haven’t been up to what we anticipated, any of us, fan base, myself, players, everybody.”
Needing to win the rest of their games to have a realistic chance at the playoffs, the Bills this week will have to contend with Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has had a passer rating higher than 100 in five of the last seven weeks (including a perfect 158.3 in Week 10) and has his team tied for first place in the N.F.C. East. The Redskins have not won consecutive games since Weeks 7 and 8 last season, but that streak should end Sunday.
Packers (9-4) at Raiders (6-7)
4:05 p.m. Line: Packers by 3
The Raiders have held opposing teams to fewer than 100 yards rushing in eight of their last 11 games, but in two of the other three they were burned for a combined 495 yards on the ground, by Pittsburgh and Minnesota.
Oakland could be in for another long day against Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of his last four games and looked comfortable last week with Coach Mike McCarthy calling the plays again.
With quarterback Aaron Rodgers having a rough season by his standards, and Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack having emerged as one of the most terrifying pass rushers in the game, it may come down to Lacy and James Starks running Green Bay to a road win. But the dynamic duo is up to the task.
Jets (8-5) at Cowboys (4-9)
8:25 p.m. Saturday. Line: Jets by 3
It is always open to debate whether credit for a team’s passing offense should go to the quarterback or his receivers, but regardless, the Jets have found something that works with the combination of Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing to Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. The two receivers have been among the most formidable pairings in the game, combining for 255 receptions, 2,062 yards and 20 touchdowns. They have been so vital to the offense that they have been targeted on 247 of Fitzpatrick’s 445 passing attempts. The next highest target is Bilal Powell with 49, 58 fewer than Decker and 91 fewer than Marshall.
With the Jets facing a tough road to maker the playoffs, they are in a near must-win situation every week. Luckily for them, the Cowboys intend to start Matt Cassel at quarterback, thus ensuring their own mediocrity.
Bengals (10-3) at 49ers (4-9)
4:25 p.m. Line: Bengals by 4.5
A J McCarron versus Blaine Gabbert. Who saw that coming?
While McCarron looks to be the first Alabama quarterback to win an N.F.L. game since 1987, Gabbert will continue his on-the-job audition to be the 49ers’ quarterback of the future.
It is an underwhelming pairing compared with what before the season was projected to be the polished Andy Dalton (who broke his thumb last week) versus the athletic Colin Kaepernick (who was benched and subsequently put on injured reserve).
But McCarron and Gabbert have shown an ability to move the ball, so it is a rare instance when a matchup of backups may prove to be entertaining.
Falcons (6-7) at Jaguars (5-8)
1 p.m. Line: Jaguars by 3
The Falcons have been in disarray for some time and were crushed last week by Carolina. They will get no respite against Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who has rebounded from an N.F.L.-high 55 sacks as a rookie (which took away 345 yards) to throw 30 touchdown passes and amass a league-leading four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. Barring injury, Bortles should also easily top 4,000 passing yards.
Bears (5-8) at Vikings (8-5)
1 p.m. Line: Vikings by 5.5
The Vikings have been hit hard by injuries to their defense, and it may not get any easier this week. Linval Joseph, perhaps their most important defensive player, is likely to miss a third consecutive game. The Vikings will have their secondary’s depth tested mightily. Last week, the Vikings sent out multiple rookie cornerbacks and moved Terence Newman, a veteran corner, to safety. They may get some players back this week, but the hits have kept coming with Everson Griffen, a defensive end who has 8.5 sacks, missing practice. They may be able to cobble together enough to beat Chicago, but they need to get everyone back if they expect to be a true contender.
Titans (3-10) at Patriots (11-2)
1 p.m. Line: Patriots by 15.5
New England will play without its best running back, LeGarrette Blount, who is out for the season with a hip injury. Julian Edelman is still working his way back from a broken foot, Rob Gronkowski seemed limited last week in his return from a knee injury, and Danny Amendola, the healthiest of the Patriots’ main offensive options, has been limited in practice by a sore knee.
Still, New England is favored by a jaw-dropping 15.5 points and was given an 89.5 percent chance of victory by ESPN’s Power Index.
Chiefs (8-5) at Ravens (4-9)
1 p.m. Line: Chiefs by 7.5
The Chiefs are on the verge of an eighth consecutive win, but as of this writing they do not know which Baltimore quarterback to prepare for: Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen or Ryan Mallett. The good news for Kansas City is that none of them are hard to prepare for. The Chiefs are the first team to go 7-0 after a 1-5 start since the 1970 Cincinnati Bengals, and while much of their success seems artificial, coming against weak opponents, the playoff tickets they will probably be printing will be real.
Texans (6-7) at Colts (6-7)
1 p.m. Line: Colts by 1
Houston has never won in 13 trips to Indianapolis. If the Texans break that streak, they will take sole possession of first place in the A.F.C. South, a division that is giving the N.F.C. East a run for its money as the least impressive in the N.F.L.
It will be a matchup of backup quarterbacks, with T.J. Yates starting for Houston and Indianapolis hoping that Matt Hasselbeck is O.K. to go, but possibly having to rely on Charlie Whitehurst. The uncertainty makes the game hard to analyze, and it does not help that both teams have lost in consecutive weeks. But Houston seems more talented, so it may finally prevail on its division rival’s home field.
Browns (3-10) at Seahawks (8-5)
4:05 p.m. Line: Seahawks by 16
The Browns looked much improved on offense last week, and with the possibility that Seattle will be without safety Kam Chancellor, they may have success going over the middle. But with the way quarterback Russell Wilson has been playing recently, it does not seem like anything can get in Seattle’s way. He has been playing without Marshawn Lynch or Jimmy Graham, and will now be without Thomas Rawls, but somehow he keeps getting stronger.
Dolphins (5-8) at Chargers (3-10)
4:25 p.m. Line: Chargers by 1
If this is their last season in San Diego, the Chargers are going out with a whimper. Eliminated from the playoffs, they have double-digit losses for the first time in quarterback Philip Rivers’s career. They may be playing their last game in the city this week, with a proposed move to Los Angeles looming, and while they have created many fond memories, it has been a while since they have added a new one. Miami is hardly a great team, but with a chance to finish with a .500 record, the Dolphins at least have more to play for.