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Giants-Falcons, 49ers-Patriots, Packers-Bears headline Week 15

All three teams beat the New York Giants, shaping the way the football world considered them.

And the fact that the New Orleans Saints *couldn't* do it led us to cross them off.

That brings us to the Atlanta Falcons taking on Big Blue this Sunday -- a high-powered showdown in a week that features a whopping six games between teams with winning records. It's the kind of game better saved for the playoffs, which was the case last year. (Not that Atlanta wants to remember it ...)

Giants-Falcons on Sunday is the kind of game that can provide a statement. For the Falcons, who serve as hosts a week after the Carolina Panthers talked trash and took names, they can correct the nasty rumor that they aren't quite built for the postseason. If they take down the same team that bounced them from last season's playoffs, perhaps it will finally remind us that the Falcons are tied for the best record in football.

For the Giants, a win would not just sustain their lead in the highly competitive NFC East, but also prove that -- records be damned -- they'll be the Giants everyone hates to play in the playoffs.

So much to learn on Sunday at the Georgia Dome ...

Here is your Week 15 primer, with games ranked in order of intrigue, from 1 to 16:


Why this game is No. 1:

Doesn't it feel like the Falcons are the underdogs? That we take their win total for granted and offer little credit for the results they've compiled while knocking off one opponent after another? It does to me. But ask the players and get the answer: The only true barometer will be success in the playoffs. That's part of the vibe inside the locker room. The goal, instead of merely piling up wins, is to build toward the postseason. And stopping a physical, balanced offense like the Giants' unit would make the case that they're doing that. Hitting the G-Men with a rejuvenated run game starring Jacquizz Rodgers (finally) would do that, too. As for the Giants, their record isn't nearly as good, but they already seem playoff-ready. Drumming the Saints jumped Eli Manning out of his alleged funk. Taking down the Falcons in their house would take that further. #NYGvsATL *

Why this game is No. 2:

When Dwight Clark leapt higher than one thought possible and came down with "The Catch" off a throw from Joe Montana, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was in the stands, cheering for the San Francisco 49ers. It was his childhood team, the one he always wanted to play for. And it would provide a nice backdrop for this Sunday's showdown ... if only there wasn't so much else to find out. If Brady beats his hometown squad, maybe he'll find some satisfaction in that. But on Sunday Night Football, this mega-rumble will be all about 2012. It might also be a Super Bowl preview, especially if the Patriots continue to perform like they did in their most recent prime-time battle, when they completely dismantled the Houston Texans on Monday night. It won't be easy, though. As Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo told me this week, a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick adds a dimension that few other teams present. #SFvsNE *

Why this game is No. 3:

What a roller-coaster ride it has been since these two last played. Back in Week 2, after the Green Bay Packers won, the Chicago Bears went on to catch fire. They took what seemed to be solid control of the NFC North, doing so with a well-rounded team that seemed slump-proof. Meanwhile, with offensive-line woes, the Packers sunk to mediocrity. Um, not so much anymore. Now, Chicago's in a free-fall, losing four of its last five and definitely feeling the pressure. Now, Green Bay's leading the division after winning seven of its last eight. The good news for the Bears is they won't have to stop Adrian Peterson this week. The bad news is, if they lose, they are suddenly looking up at a playoff spot. Huge one. #GBvsCHI *

Why this game is No. 4:

It would be tough to ask the Denver Broncos to do any more than they already have done. At 10-3, they've won the AFC West and revived Peyton Manning's career, supporting the iconic quarterback with a defense that might be nastier than what he once had in Indianapolis. On the road, in an early game, with little to prove, this isn't about them. Nope, this one is about the oddly vulnerable Baltimore Ravens, who enter this game with a new offensive coordinator in Jim Caldwell. Word is, they'll ramp up the no-huddle approach, and the move to ditch Cam Cameron might streamline the offense. But will Baltimore need time to work out the kinks? Is there time? #DENvsBAL *

Why this game is No. 5:

After dealing with tragedy before, during and after last week's game, the Dallas Cowboys return to mostly football this week. That's not to say the horrific car accident that ended the life of one teammate and changed the life of another is off their minds. But slowly, they will begin to move forward. What they have is a defense with depth issues and an offense that must find out if star receiver Dez Bryant can catch with a fractured finger. While the Cowboys try to work all that out, they encounter a Pittsburgh Steelers team that has struggled recently, has performed poorly on the road for much of the season, and has a banged-up quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger who believes he's ready to play when evidence might be pointing the other way. Both teams face obstacles off the field and on. And both are eyeing coveted playoff spots, trying to make it work somehow. #PITvsDAL *

Why this game is No. 6:

The fact that this Week 15 game is actually important -- and will be entertaining -- is stunning. By this point, we thought the Indianapolis Colts would have been pondering their draft spot while the Houston Texans would have been on cruise control in the AFC South. Yet Andrew Luck (and some superhuman will) have the Colts almost locked in on a playoff spot, with seven wins in their last eight games. Meanwhile, the Texans just suffered a humbling beatdown in New England. If the Colts beat Houston at Reliant Stadium -- no easy task -- they'll be just one game back in the division race. Luck faces a true test in trying to throw through the trees that line the Texans' defensive front. And a still-growing Indy D must stop Arian Foster. The Colts might be catching the Texans, who won't be in a good mood after Monday night's embarrassing debacle, at the wrong time. #INDvsHOU *

Why this game is No. 7:

The Washington Redskins are white hot, thanks in large part to the sparkling tandem of Robert Griffin III and receiver Pierre Garcon. With that tandem's magic, Washington is very much in the playoff mix. Yet, if RG3 plays on an injured knee, so much of what makes the offense thrive -- his mobility -- is limited. And while the Cleveland Browns aren't quite world-beaters, it's worth noting they have won three in a row(!). They have a shutdown corner in Joe Haden to put on Garcon. And Cleveland has a rare power back (Trent Richardson) who can match the way the Redskins run. Considering this is in Cleveland, too, it might be a far more difficult game than the Redskins would've imagined earlier in the season. A loss, even on the road, would be a serious blow to Washington's playoff hopes. #WASvsCLE *


Why this game is No. 8:

It's December, and we're still talking about these teams? Yup. For the St. Louis Rams, this is the first time they've had a .500 record in December since 2003. That in itself is an accomplishment for a franchise that is rebuilding as fast as only they thought they could. And the fact that they are 4-0-1 in the NFC West only adds to it. The answer to the question of whether or not they are ready to take the next step in becoming a playoff contender comes Sunday. The Rams can frustrate Christian Ponder, but can they stop Adrian Peterson, who appears hell-bent on breaking Eric Dickerson's rushing record? St. Louis' 10th-ranked defense boasts a feisty front and two corners who can handle the Minnesota Vikings' lackluster receivers by themselves, so don't be surprised to see the Rams sell out against the run. #MINvsSTL *

Why this game is No. 9:

Maybe if Tim Tebow were playing, this would be ranked higher. I wish I was kidding. Somehow, we got stuck with a dud of a Monday night game this late in the season; though at least the New York Jets kinda sorta have something to play for. With Gang Green at 6-7, not even Rex Ryan is talking playoffs. But stranger things have happened. Not many, but a few. In all seriousness, from another perspective, it will be fascinating to watch new Tennessee Titans play caller Dowell Loggains try his hand with quarterback Jake Locker against a defensive guru in Ryan. Some intrigue there. (Hey, I'm tryin'!) #NYJvsTEN *

Why this game is No. 10:

If the New York Jets have a miniscule chance of making the playoffs, the Buffalo Bills have even less hope. Some, but not much. Things would be looking better if they had held on last week and if they hadn't just placed Fred Jackson on injured reserve. Yet, they still have C.J. Spiller. Though it might not be enough to beat a Seattle Seahawks team that just dropped 58 -- 58! -- on the Arizona Cardinals. It would be tough for Pete Carroll's team to be playing any better. However, this is a road game, which tends to weaken the Seahawks a bit. But my guess is, not enough. #SEAvsBUF *

Why this game is No. 11:

As fun as this game could be to watch -- two big-play offenses going head-to-head -- it just won't mean much. Both teams are long shots to make the playoffs; the New Orleans Saints, in fact, might have no shot. That's too bad, since both squads are entertaining. At the least, Josh Freeman, Doug Martin and Co. likely need to win out. Can they begin that march with a victory in the Superdome? Will the Saints be energized by their favorable bounty ruling? Or will they shrug it off, still frustrated with a lost season? #TBvsNO *


Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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