NFL Week 16 Preview: Intertwined games have playoff hopes on the line

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By Barry Wilner | Associated Press

New Orleans (10-4) at Carolina (10-4), 1 p.m.

The Saints know all about big games in December -- and beyond. Carolina once did, but that was nearly a decade ago, when few current players with the Panthers.

On Sunday, they meet in Charlotte in the kind of matchup the NFL covets around Christmas time. New Orleans and Carolina both are 10-4, tied for the NFC South lead.

Denver (11-3) at Houston (2-12), 1 p.m.

Denver swept Kansas City this season, so the Broncos hold the tiebreaker in the AFC West. They should have a much easier time staying on top of the division against the Texans, who have lost 12 straight and will secure the top spot in the draft with a loss and a Washington win.

Peyton Manning has 47 TD passes, three shy of Tom Brady's record set six years ago. Manning is in range of a slew of records, and that's the most tantalizing.

Indianapolis (9-5) at Kansas City (11-3), 1 p.m.

The Chiefs, already in the playoffs, found tons of offense the past two weeks, scoring 101 points. Of course, their once dynamic defense has been ravaged by injuries and they don't stop people that well.

That's not the best approach against Andrew Luck and the Colts, who already own the AFC South. Luck needs 248 yards passing to pass Cam Newton (7,920) for the most in a quarterback's first two seasons.

Dallas (7-7) at Washington (3-11), 1 p.m.

Chicago (8-6) at Philadelphia (8-6), 8:30 p.m. (WKYC)

New York Giants (5-9) at Detroit (7-7), 4:05 p.m. (FOX)

Pittsburgh (6-8) at Green Bay (7-6-1), 4:25 p.m. (CBS)

All of these games are intertwined. Start with the NFC East, where things are simpler.

If the Eagles win and the Cowboys lose, Philadelphia goes from last place to first in one year and clinches. Philly will know before its prime-time kickoff what Dallas did in the afternoon, and a Cowboys win renders this one meaningless for the Eagles, who must win at Dallas next Sunday to take the division.

Chicago has a one-game lead on Detroit and a half-game edge on Green Bay in the NFC North. Should the Bears and their dynamic offense -- watch for a shootout at the Linc -- outscore the Eagles while Lions and Packers fall, Chicago owns the division title.

n Green Bay, which last met (and beat) Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl to win the 2010 NFL title, has won the final home game each year since Mike McCarthy became coach in 2006.

The Lions are self-destructive, as they proved last Monday night against Baltimore, but the Giants are the masters in that category. Eli Manning leads the NFL with 25 interceptions and New York was shut out last week for the second time in 2013.

New England (10-4) at Baltimore (8-6), 4:25 p.m.

Miami (8-6) at Buffalo (5-9), 1 p.m.

Minnesota (4-9-1) at Cincinnati (9-5), 1 p.m.

The Patriots will take their fifth straight AFC East title and earn a 15th playoff berth in 20 years with a victory. Baltimore gets a playoff spot by winning out. It also has a shot at grabbing the AFC North away from the Bengals, who have led the sector pretty much all season.

After seeing how the Vikings, minus Adrian Peterson, upset the Eagles last week, the Bengals won't be complacent, especially with Peterson back in the lineup.

Miami will be in if both Baltimore and Cincinnati lose while the Dolphins win. Buffalo rookie QB EJ Manuel is out, but his backup Thad Lewis, beat Miami earlier this season.

Arizona (9-5) at Seattle (12-2), 4:05 p.m.

Atlanta (4-10) at San Francisco (10-4), 8:40 p.m. Monday (ESPN)

Already into the playoffs, the Seahawks clinch the NFC West and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win or a San Francisco loss. Seattle has won 14 straight at home and quarterback Russell Wilson never has lost a game at CenturyLink Field. His 23 victories are the most for a QB in his first two seasons.

ESPN must have been salivating when the schedule gave the network a rematch of last season's NFC title game in the Monday night finale. Then the Falcons flopped, and the 49ers became second banana to the Seahawks. This is the last game at Candlestick Park. The Niners, who get a playoff berth with a win or an Arizona loss, move into their new stadium in Santa Clara next year.

Oakland (4-10) at San Diego (7-7), 4:25 p.m.

While the Chargers have slim playoff hopes remaining, Oakland won't make it for the 11th successive season.

Perhaps of most interest here: Chargers rookie coach Mike McCoy and Raiders second-year coach Dennis Allen were coordinators at Denver in 2011 and remain friends. They went on a family trip together to the British Virgin Islands last summer.

Tampa Bay (4-10) at St. Louis (6-8), 1 p.m.

The Bucs are playing in St. Louis for first time since 2004. They're really struggling with the ball: The offense has posted its four lowest yardage totals in the past four games, even though Vincent Jackson has an NFL-best 17.5-yard average among players with a minimum 200 catches.

St. Louis has beaten four teams with winning marks this season, including the Saints last week. Rookie RB Zac Stacy needs 146 yards rushing for 1,000 after cracking the lineup in Week 5.

Tennessee (5-9) at Jacksonville (4-10), 1 p.m.

Having already lost once to the Jaguars, the Titans understand another flop could be the final step to getting coach Mike Munchak fired. Chris Johnson needs 140 yards rushing to become the sixth player in NFL history with at least 1,000 yards in each of his first six seasons.

The Jaguars will honor center Brad Meester, who is retiring after 14 seasons, all in Jacksonville. He owns franchise records for games played and started, both at 207 and counting.

Cleveland (4-10) at New York Jets (6-8), 1 p.m. (CBS)

Like Munchak, Jets coach Rex Ryan might need another win or two to save his job. They'll need to stop Browns WR Josh Gordon, whose 1,467 yards receiving are the most in a single season in Browns history, as are his seven 100-yard games. Gordon could become the first Browns player since Paul Warfield in 1968 with six straight games with a TD catch and he's averaging an NFL-best 122.3 yards receiving per game.

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