Finally we get some more prime-time juice in Week 15. Here are the top five games of the weekend…
(Team rankings are based on our latest power rankings.)
1. No. 4 Patriots at No. 8 Broncos (Sunday, 4:15 ET on CBS)
This feels a bit like when they met in Week 5 in 2009. New England was the big, bad wolf then, too, and the Broncos upset the Pats in Denver to move to 5-0. That was the game of the week because it pitted Josh McDaniels against his former mentor Bill Belichick. This week, the guy McDaniels drafted — and Belichick reportedly wanted — can stick it to grumpy old Bill one more time. You can be sure McD will be watching once his team finishes up its 1:00 game against Cincinnati.
2. No. 7 Steelers at No. 6 49ers (Monday, 8:30 ET on ESPN)
Probably no James Harrison, probably no Patrick Willis. Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and LaMarr Woodley are all less than 100 percent for Pittsburgh. Niners have lost more games in the last three weeks than they lost over the first 11. Who can deal with adversity better in a stellar prime-time matchup between two 10-3 teams? That’s the question. Also making this interesting: Pittsburgh hasn’t hit the west coast since 2006, when it went 0-2 in San Diego and Oakland.
3. No. 3 Ravens at No. 22 Chargers (Sunday, 8:20 ET on NBC)
This actually might be a matchup of the two hottest teams in the AFC. Thus far in December, Baltimore has outscored its opponents 48-20, while San Diego has been even more dominant, outscoring its opponents 75-24. Plus, if Denver and Oakland lose tough matchups earlier in the day, the Bolts could have a chance to move just one game back of the AFC West lead with two to play. NBC tried to flex out of this for New England-Denver, but it could end up being more suspenseful.
4. No. 12 Lions at No. 16 Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 ET on Fox)
Two teams fighting for their playoff lives. Detroit hasn’t been to the postseason since 1999; Oakland since 2002. The Lions’ defense is a depleted mess right now; same for the Raiders’ offense. After the Lions barely beat the Vikings at home last week and the Packers were crushed for the second time in eight days, Vegas has no idea where to go with this game (Detroit is a one-point favorite despite travelling cross country). Expect the unexpected.
5. No. 21 Panthers at No. 5 Texans (Sunday, 1:00 ET on Fox)
Can T.J. Yates make it three in a row? It should help that he’s going up against a rookie quarterback for the second week in a row. This should be Houston’s game, but you never know when they’re going to overlook a potential spoiler team like Carolina.