Crunch time: Crowded AFC playoff race only gets dicier this week

12/14/14 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Just three weeks remain in the 2014 NFL season, and there is still a lot to be decided. Some teams are looking to lock up their division titles, while others are battling for their playoff lives. Here are 5 of this weeks biggest matchups.
Miami at New England
With a win, the Patriots will clinch the AFC East title. But besides the division championship, at 10 and 3 New England is trying to gain home field through the AFC playoffs as well. At 7 and 6, the Dolphins are trying to keep there playoff hopes alive. With 7 other teams besides the division leaders holding the same or better record, Miami will likely need to win out to reach the post season for the first time since 2008. The Dolphins won the first meeting between these teams, 33 to 20 in the season opener. In that game, the Dolphins held the Patriots to 89 yards rushing. Miami rushed for 191 yards, led by Knoshon Moreno's 134 yards. Moreno however, is now on IR. Miami boasts the NFL's 3rd best passing defense, and will have to come up big against the passing combination of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Brady has passed for 3,560 yards and thrown 30 TD's, while Gronkowski leads the team with 997 receiving yards and has scored 10 times. The Patriots have won 8 of their past 9 games, while the Dolphins have lost 3 of their last 5. New England is a perfect 6 and 0 at home this season, while Miami is 4 and 3 on the road.

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Green Bay at Buffalo
At 10 and 3, the Packers remain one game ahead of Detroit in the NFC Central race. Green Bay is also tied with Arizona for the best record in the NFC. At 7 and 6, the Bills are battling with 8 other teams for one of the 2 AFC wild card spots. The Packers come in on a 5 game winning streak, while the Bills come in having won 2 of their past 3 games, and winning their last 3 home games as well. Buffalo will need a big performance from their defense, which ranks 5th against the pass and 8th against the rush. Green Bay ranks 6th in the NFL in passing yards per game, led by Aaron Rodgers, who has thrown for 3.562 yards and 35 touchdowns. The Bills will also be without starting safety Da'Norris Searcy. Green Bay won the last meeting between these franchises in 2010, but the Packers have never won in Buffalo.
Denver at San Diego
With a win, the 10 and 3 Broncos can wrap up the AFC West for the fourth straight season. At 8 and 5, the Chargers are in the middle of the crowded AFC wild card race. Denver won the first meeting between these teams in Week 8, by the score of 35 to 21. Peyton Manning passed for 286 yards and threw 3 touchdown passes in the win. The Broncos passing game may get a big boost this week as well, as TE Julius Thomas is expected to return after missing the past 3 games. The Chargers will be without punter Mike Scifres, who was injured last week. Mat McBriar was signed to take his place. They may also be without RB Ryan Matthews, who remains questionable due to an ankle injury sustained last week. San Diego is 5 and 2 at home this season, while Denver is 3 and 3 on the road. Denver has won the past 3 games played in San Diego.
San Francisco at Seattle
The 9 and 4 Seahawks remain one game behind Arizona in the NFC West race. At 7 and 6, the 49ers are hoping to remain in the hunt for one of the NFC's wild card spots. The Seahawks have won 3 in a row and 6 of their past 7 games. San Francisco has dropped their last two games, including a 19 to 3 loss at home versus Seattle on Thanksgiving. The Seahawks dominated the 49ers in that game, outgaining them 379 to 164 in total yards. Seattle is 5 and 1 at home this season, while San Francisco is 4 and 3 on the road. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick has struggled against the Seahawks. He has lost 4 of the 5 games he's started against Seattle, and thrown 9 interceptions against just 3 touchdown passes. Seattle leads the NFL in rushing yards per game, and Marshawn Lynch ran for 104 yards in the first meeting between these teams. The Seahawks have won the past 3 games played in Seattle.
Dallas at Philadelphia
First place in the NFC East is on the line in another Thanksgiving Day rematch. Both teams come in at 9 and 4, but it was the Eagles who defeated the Cowboys 33 to 10 in that first meeting. At 3 and 0 in the division, Philadelphia holds the edge over Dallas, who is 2 and 2 in division games. The Eagles racked up 464 yards in total offense in the first meeting, with 256 of those coming on the ground. Philadelphia held the NFL's leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, to just 73 yards rushing, and Tony Romo to 199 yards passing and 2 interceptions. The Eagles are 6 and 1 at home this season, while the Cowboys are perfect in all 6 of their away games. Dallas has won the past two games played in Philadelphia.

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