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Teams left for dead a month ago still fighting for playoff lives

The NFL has made an effort to include more divisional and rivalry games late in the season. On this Christmas weekend, we get to enjoy the fruit of those efforts.

The NFC East title is in the balance with Philly and Dallas getting together. The AFC West title could be close to being decided based on the outcome of this weekend's games. Three of the AFC North teams are playing for something this week, with the Ravens closing on the division title with two games left. We've got both New York teams fighting for control of their new stadium.

With 13 games on Christmas Eve, we all have plenty to be thankful for and much football goodness to bask in. The two prime-time games are both quite meaningful as well once we get beyond the Saturday smorgasbord. This is often the last best full week of the season, with a lot of teams essentially cemented into a playoff spot by Week 17 (playoff picture | clinching scenarios).

And besides teams trying to play spoiler, the Chargers and Eagles are still alive and playing meaningful games. Who would have predicted that scenario at the start of this month?

Remember, games here are rated as either a footlong, a six-inch, a pita or a finger sandwich.

    • Philadelphia at Dallas

      Sat 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      The Eagles are alive and hold the potential tiebreakers to take the NFC East at 8-8. Just think about that for a few minutes. Dallas is trying to stave off a late-season collapse and claim the division title. Oh, and the Cowboys are also hoping to avenge getting punched in the face by Michael Vick and the Eagles in the first meeting between the teams this season.
    • Inside slant:

      Vick has now carved up the Ryan brothers (Rob and Rex) twice this season, scoring seemingly at will. Can he do it a third time? Not much Rob can learn from Rex after last week. Felix Jones in the screen game against Philly's lesser linebackers will be key. Plenty of ballhawks in Philly's beleaguered secondary to make Tony Romo nervous. Both coaches have been under fire for late-game decisions and clock management. The Eagles have been a better team on the road than at home; the Cowboys have had some epic collapses already in the brief history of their new stadium.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • New York at New York

      Sat 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      This is a must-win situation for both teams in Gotham, with Rex Ryan doing his usual bluster routine and both clubs coming in off of troubling losses. A kinda-sorta home game for both. What a way to spend Christmas Eve.
    • Inside slant:

      Eli Manning is known for his bounce-back games ... Mark Sanchez, well, not so much. Santonio Holmes is likely to hear from the hometown fans after some boneheaded episodes again last week. Osi Umenyiora is likely out for the rest of the regular season; Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul should be able to switch it up and take turns on the right side of the Jets' deteriorating line. Will either team be able to sustain a run game?
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • San Diego at Detroit

      Sat 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Philip Rivers is playing like his old self. The Chargers don't seem to ever lose in December. And San Diego is still alive for the AFC West title. The Lions have set a record for comeback wins, and are one of few teams equipped to keep up with San Diego in a track meet. This game promises fireworks galore.
    • Inside slant:

      Both these defenses could have trouble covering the huge receivers (Vincent Jackson/Megatron) and massive tight ends. Neither secondary is particularly huge or elite. The Chargers offensive line held up surprisingly well against the Ravens, but can they do it again? The Lions' lack of a running game, to slow the game down, could be a big factor here.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • San Francisco at Seattle

      Sat 4:15 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Who would have thought Seattle would be the hotter team here? The Seahawks are riding their defense and run game to perhaps a better record than when they won the division in 2010, and are still alive for a wild-card spot. The 49ers are locking in on the NFC's second seed.
    • Inside slant:

      Tarvaris Jackson is getting his pectoral healthy and able to get ball downfield more. Doug Baldwin is becoming a favorite target with Sidney Rice and Mike Williams out. Will Braylon Edwards ever do anything for the 49ers? San Francisco's red-zone woes will likely be problematic against this defense, and the Seahawks are a tough out at home.
    • Rating:

      Six-inch
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Denver at Buffalo

      Sat 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Tebow Time is trying to keep a grip on the AFC West lead and get into the playoffs. The Bills are trying to end a death spiral since getting off to a 4-2 start.
    • Inside slant:

      Willis McGahee is banged up, but would love to get a piece of the Bills, who traded him to Baltimore earlier in his career. There are some rumblings that a front office shakeup of some sort in Buffalo is not out of the question. C.J. Spiller is breaking a few longer runs recently. You have to like Denver's chances of getting plenty of hits on Ryan Fitzpatrick.
    • Rating:

      Six-inch
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Arizona at Cincinnati

      Sat 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      After watching these two franchises for the past two decades or so, who would predict they would meet in Week 16 with something to play for? The Bengals have more realistic playoff hopes, but the Cards have been very hot the past two months.
    • Inside slant:

      Kevin Kolb could be back from his concussion, but with John Skelton winning games, it will be tough to pull him now. There is a big decision looming at quarterback in Arizona. Beanie Wells is running like a feature back. The weather report could be huge here, with the Cards possibly dealing with cold and snow/rain.
    • Rating:

      Pita
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Cleveland at Baltimore

      Sat 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      The Ravens are trying to get a home playoff game, and this is a must-win. The Browns made a few strides on offense last week, which for them, counts as progress on that side of the ball.
    • Inside slant:

      Seneca Wallace sparked the Browns some last week in Arizona; don't look for Colt McCoy to return this week. The Browns might be one of the teams that will be quarterback shopping this offseason. Peyton Hillis is running stronger each week, too, heading into free agency. Terrell Suggs vs. Joe Thomas is one of the great AFC North matchups. Joe Flacco has been lights out at home in his career, and this could be his last game at M&T Bank Stadium this season.
    • Rating:

      Pita
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Chicago at Green Bay

      Sun 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      The Bears are threatening to not win another game this season, and the Packers are coming off their first loss of the season. It's a rivalry game, though, so anything is possible.
    • Inside slant:

      The Bears' blind loyalty to Caleb Hanie is getting more puzzling by the week. That experiment should be over for this one. The Packers are likely to start resting more veterans in the final two weeks with the possibility of a perfect season gone. Matt Flynn could use the free-agent audition. The Bears didn't see as much out of Marion Barber last week after his implosion in Denver the week before.
    • Rating:

      Pita
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Jacksonville at Tennessee

      Sat 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      It's beginning to look a lot like Jake Locker time for the reeling Titans, whose playoff hopes are fading. Coach Mike Munchak says it's Matt Hasselbeck if he's healthy, but at some point in this game fans might get to see Locker again, while Blaine Gabbert seeks to find some positives to take from his rookie campaign.
    • Inside slant:

      Chris Johnson still has a shot to salvage something here and reach 1,000 yards rushing (which would save him from losing $300,000 from his contract). Munchak is trying to salvage an above-.500 season as a rookie head coach. Jaguars interim coach Mel Tucker needs a bounce-back game from his defense to propel his candidacy.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Minnesota at Washington

      Sat 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      The last two teams to part with Donovan McNabb meet with nothing really to play for. Minnesota, however, is still in contention in the derby for the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
    • Inside slant:

      Adrian Peterson didn't look right last week in his first game back from an ankle injury; he wasn't as explosive. Maybe he'll be better a week later. The Redskins have been rolling with a power-run game lately. Rex Grossman is trying to make a case to -- gulp -- stick around in Washington in 2012.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.

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