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The five best games remaining in regular season


The NFL regular season is coming to an end, but in a lot of ways it feels like we are just getting started. Each week, the importance of certain games rises exponentially, leaving us with a few excellent matchups down the stretch.

As we prepare for Week 15, here's a cursory look at the five best games remaining on the NFL schedule and a little about why you should be interested. Even if your team is out of the running, there is still plenty of theater to satisfy even the most disgruntled Browns or 49ers fan.

Detroit Lions at New York Giants

When: Sunday, Dec. 18, 1 p.m. ET

Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey

What's at stake: The Lions can win their first division title in a quarter century Sunday if they defeat the Giants and get a Packers loss or tie. They can also tie against the Giants and still win the division if the Packers and Vikings both lose. It would cap a stunning turnaround for a team widely believed to be in rebuilding mode. The Giants, meanwhile, can clinch a playoff berth -- their first since 2011 -- with a win, a Redskins loss, a Vikings loss or tie and a Packers loss or tie. They can also keep their slim hopes of winning the division alive.

Why should I care? Plenty of intrigue here. Lions quarterback Matt Stafford is going to play with a glove for the remainder of the season after sustaining some serious ligament and joint damage and may not look great. We saw the effect even one bum finger can have on someone like Raiders QB Derek Carr. Meanwhile, Eli Manning has had some struggles of his own, and needs to transform his game if the Giants have any hope of thriving in the postseason. Manning said this week that he can heat up, and history says he's correct.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos

When: Sunday, Dec. 18, 4:25 p.m. ET

Where: Sports Authority Field, Denver, Colo.

What's at stake: For the Broncos, their Sisyphean climb back into the playoffs goes through three teams with 10 wins or more. The Broncos, as we saw last year, have the defensive firepower to slow Tom Brady down but this is an entirely different Denver offense than we saw almost a year ago.

Why should I care? Tom Brady revenge games are always fun. And listen, as much as we chastise and hate on this quarterback, telling ourselves that he is the product of a system, or a cheater, or some type of dink and dunk specialist, we're going to miss him when he's gone. The end of the Peyton Manning era snuck up on me personally, and I don't want the same to happen to Brady. Soon, we will be left with an aging Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan. After that? Take your pick.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys

When: Sunday, Dec. 18, 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

What's at stake: With a win and some help, the Cowboys could finish the weekend with the division title and a first-round bye. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, is in a unique position. They are tied with the Atlanta Falcons atop the division and a game ahead of the Washington Redskins for the sixth seed in the NFC playoff picture. Essentially, they cannot afford to lose, especially with Atlanta facing the hapless 49ers this weekend.

Why should I care? Parity is good for football, and so are talented young quarterbacks. Jameis Winston and the Bucs are on a five-game winning streak, while Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have only lost to one team in the NFL this season. While it isn't exactly Brady/Manning, it's a nice look at what is to come.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers

When: Saturday, Dec. 24, 1 p.m. ET

Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wi.

What's at stake: The most surprising team in football -- the Detroit Lions -- have a bear of a schedule down the stretch with games against the Giants this week followed by the Cowboys and Packers at home. Minnesota and Green Bay, however, kick off their final three with games against the unpredictable Colts and listless Bears, respectively.

Why should I care? It's never bad for business to have three teams in play for the division and two playoff spots on the line. Depending on how the remainder of the schedule breaks out, we could see a very different NFC playoff picture depending on who wins and loses. As we mentioned before, Stafford's injured hand adds an element of intrigue given how well he's played in clutch situations so far. Does that change?

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

When: Sunday, Dec. 25 (Christmas Day), 4:30 p.m. ET

Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.

What's at stake: Potentially the AFC North. The Ravens are a game behind the Steelers and need this coming weekend to break their way. Pittsburgh faces off against the Bengals in Cincinatti while Baltimore hosts the Eagles at M&T Bank Stadium. John Harbaugh acknowledged this week that his team essentially has to win out if they have any chance of playing in the postseason, but can take the division if they do so.

Why should I care? If you're a fan of good football, it doesn't get much better than division rivals butting heads in late December with playoff implications on the line. Assuming both teams win this weekend, this could be the best regular season game of the year with both Baltimore and Pittsburgh hitting their strides at the right time.


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