Christmas comes early for NFL fans this year. With 24 teams still mathematically alive in the playoff race, Week 15 boasts a bevy of games with major postseason implications. In fact, six games feature teams that are both above .500, and five feature at least one team with a clinching scenario. Let's take a closer look at these six Statement Sunday matchups.
What's at stake?
It's your AFC playoff bye elimination game! The winner is far from guaranteed to get the wild-card round off, but the loser is all but assured of having to win three playoff games to make the Super Bowl. For the Ravens, this is yet another chance to win the AFC North with a victory. After two straight losses and a fired offensive coordinator, a poor showing at home would have the organization reeling. Even the division title would no longer be a sure thing.
The Broncos have only played one quality opponent (the Cincinnati Bengals) during their eight-game winning streak. Denver lost its toughest games of the year against New England, Houston, and Atlanta. A victory in Baltimore would keep Denver's chances at the No. 2 seed alive and prove the Broncos are a different team now than they were in October.
Player to watch
Ray Rice, RB, Ravens: Rice's impact in this contest is not just about how many carries he gets; it's about the threat of what he can do in the quick-pass or screen game. Denver is obviously going to try to apply pressure off the edge with Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil; new Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell can help his offensive line by keeping them running sideline to sideline. More ...
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos: Moreno, Denver's replacement for the injured Willis McGahee, gained valuable swagger in Week 14 after two pedestrian outings. The Ravens' run defense is not strong. Moreno must duplicate last week's performance, in which he rushed for 119 yards and a score, to prove to Peyton Manning and John Fox that they can count on him in the playoffs. More ...
Matchup to watch
Did you know?
The Ravens have lost back-to-back games in the regular season for the first time since 2009. They had gone 54 straight games without suffering a two-game losing streak, the third-longest streak since 1970. ... The Ravens have won their last two games against the Broncos, outscoring Denver 61-24. ... The Broncos have won eight straight games, their longest winning streak within a season since starting 13-0 in 1998 -- the last time they won the Super Bowl. During the eight-game streak, they are outscoring opponents by an average of 12.1 points per game. ... The Broncos have yet to allow an opposing passer to throw for 300 yards this season. Meanwhile, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has failed to reach 200 yards in five of his last seven games. ... The Ravens are 5-1 at home this season, scoring 15.9 more points per game at M&T Bank Stadium than on the road.
Elliot Harrison's prediction
Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will probably give Knowshon Moreno 20-plus carries to take advantage of a Ravens run defense that allows 129.3 yards per game. Peyton Manning certainly can riddle a defense riddled by injuries this season. Offensively, Joe Flacco has been effective at home, but he will be facing a top-five defense in the Broncos. New offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell certainly received a tough assignment in his first gig. Give it to Ray Rice, dude. Halt that stout Broncos rush, or Baltimore is done. Broncos 30, Ravens 20. (See predictions for every Week 15 game.)