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Several Teams Can Clinch Playoff Spots & Other Things To Know About NFL Week 15

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With just three weeks left in the NFL’s 2014 regular season, no playoff spots have been clinched. That should change soon. Here are the storylines we’re following for Week 15:

The Cardinals & Packers Can Claim Playoff Spots (With Some Help)

Aaron Rodgers Drew Stanton
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Thurs. Dec 11
Arizona at St. Louis | Edward Jones Dome; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on NFL Network

Sun. Dec. 14
Green Bay at Buffalo | Ralph Wilson Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox

While the Cardinals have possessed the NFL’s best record for most of the 2014 season, the Packers have been the league’s best team since October. Both Arizona (10-3) and Green Bay (10-3) can claim playoff spots with wins — and some help from other teams.

The Cards need to beat resilient St. Louis (6-7) on Thursday and hope the Dallas-Philly game doesn’t end in a tie (really!) to get a playoff berth. Or that they win, Detroit loses and the Pack wins, all of which are likely.

Green Bay needs a win and a Dallas loss to clinch a playoff spot. The Packers might have to contend with some inclement weather against Buffalo (7-6), but the bigger challenge will come from a Bills’ defense that held Peyton Manning without a touchdown pass for the first time in 51 games last week.

The Patriots, Colts and Broncos Can Win AFC Division Titles

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Miami at New England | Gillette Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Houston at Indianapolis | Lucas Oil Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Denver at San Diego | Qualcomm Stadium; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on CBS

You have to go all the way back to 1979 to find a non-strike season in which NO NFL team had clinched a playoff spot with three weeks to play. This week, the Patriots, Colts and Broncos all have an opportunity to win AFC division titles with victories.

To capture the AFC East crown, New England (10-3) must beat Miami (7-6), a team which drubbed them 33-20 in Week 1. To win the AFC West, Denver (10-3) must stop a sneaky good San Diego (8-5) squad that had the Pats down after three quarters last week. To claim the AFC South, Indy (9-4) just needs to figure out a way to beat Houston (7-6), its biggest division rival. Think Texans DE J.J. Watt doesn’t want to spoil the party? Think again.

The Patriots and Broncos can also secure first-round byes with a win and a little help from other teams, but that’s still a little too complicated to explain in this space.

Johnny Manziel Finally Makes His First Pro Start

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Cincinnati at Cleveland | FirstEnergy Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox

It took nearly all season — and losing three of four games with Brian Hoyer under center — but Johnny Manziel finally gets to be the starting quarterback for the Browns this week. Cleveland (7-6) is still very much alive in the AFC wild-card chase, but they may need to win their final three games to make the post-season.

Johnny Football’s potential first victim is inconsistent Cincinnati (8-4-1), the team Cleveland drilled 24-3 in Week 10. If the Browns defense can stifle the shaky Bengals offense again, and Manziel has enough time to make plays, an NFL star could be born. The world will be watching.

Cam Newton Won’t Start, But That’s OK

Cam Newton
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Tampa Bay at Carolina | Bank of America Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox

As if the Panthers’ season hadn’t gone bad enough already, franchise quarterback Cam Newton suffered two fractures in his lower back in a two-car accident near the team’s stadium in Charlotte on Tuesday. His injury is similar to the one suffered by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo earlier this season (Romo was hit by a Redskins player, not a car).

Whether Carolina (4-8-1) can make an improbable run to the playoffs — only because they play in the dreadful NFC South — hinges on whether Newton can recover for the rest of the regular season. Backup QB Derek Anderson, who led the Panthers to a 20-14 victory over the Buccaneers in Week 1, will start against Tampa Bay (2-11). The Bucs must feel totally cursed (they certainly are by their fans).

The NFC East War: Round 2

Tony Romo
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Dallas at Philadelphia | Lincoln Financial Field; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC

It was only a few weeks ago that the Eagles feasted on the Cowboys, 33-10, on Thanksgiving Day. Philadelphia (9-4) can take another step toward the NFC East title by sweeping Dallas (9-4) at home on Sunday night. The Eagles offense couldn’t sustain enough drives against Seattle in last week’s loss. They should have an easier time against the Cowboys defenders. The Philly defense needs to seal off the holes for DeMarco Murray and get after Tony Romo like it did on Turkey Day, otherwise Dallas may use the same game plan as the Seahawks did.

Other Games

Sun. Dec. 14
Pittsburgh at Atlanta | Georgia Dome; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Washington at N.Y. Giants | MetLife Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Oakland at Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Jacksonville at Baltimore | M&T Bank Stadium; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
N.Y. Jets at Tennessee | LP Field; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on CBS
San Francisco at Seattle | CenturyLink Field 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Minnesota at Detroit | Ford Field; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox

Mon. Dec. 15
New Orleans at Chicago | Soldier Field; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

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