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15 games that will bring clarity to the NFL playoff picture

Touchdown Wire logo Touchdown Wire 12/6/2018 Barry Werner

The NFL season is down to four games for each team, still a quarter of the season, but it's time to zone in on the games that will shape the 2018 playoffs.

Week 14

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We're in the 14th week of the season, the first piece of the final trek to see who makes it to the postseason and who goes home. There are five big games on tap.

15. Eagles-Cowboys

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Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The NFC East has played to mediocrity. Still, Sunday's game between the 7-5 Cowboys, who are on a four-game winning streak, and the 6-6 Eagles, winners of two straight, will let everyone know if this is a horse race of runaway. A Dallas victory means it would have swept the season series from Philly, and basically eliminate the Eagles from the postseason. Their schedule down the stretch is brutal and 9-7 won't get it done.

14. Rams-Bears

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Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

This one plays into seeding as well as Chicago's hopes to win the NFC North. The Rams are in control of their destiny. They run the table and all NFC playoff roads go through LA. That would change with a loss. If the Rams finish with the same record as New Orleans, the Saints would earn home-field based on their head-to-head victory. The Bears need to win to keep distance between the Vikings, who have their own NFC West opponent to worry about …

13. Vikings-Seahawks

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This Monday Night battle in Seattle is critical. Minnesota can not lose any ground to Chicago if it hopes to battle for the NFC North title. The Vikings have the fortune of knowing how the Bears will have done against the Rams. A Seattle victory would put the Seahawks at 8-5 and in strong position for a wild-card slot. A loss drops them into the mixer with a lot of other teams.

12. Ravens-Chiefs

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Lamar Jackson has high stakes in his hands as he guides the Baltimore offense into Kansas City. Almost silently, the Ravens are a half-game behind the Steelers. Pittsburgh plays the Oakland Raiders, so it isn't too much to assume Baltimore will have to find a way to win to keep pace in the AFC North. On the other side, Kansas City for all its high-scoring theatrics is only a game ahead of the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC West. It also is a game up on the Patriots, who would have a head-to-head tiebreaker, and the Houston Texans in the overall picture. This is one tough task for the Heisman Trophy winner out of Louisville.

11. Colts-Texans

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Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Houston's remarkable run would virtually seal off the AFC South with a victory over Indianapolis. The Colts are desperate after last week's dud against the reeling Jacksonville Jaguars.

Week 15

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One step closer to the end of the regular season. Without knowing the results of this week's games, a look at what appears to be the key matchups.

10. Chargers-Chiefs

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FOX starts the week off with a great game. The AFC West stalwarts meet in Kansas City. Philip Rivers dueling Patrick Mahomes. The first matchup saw 680 yards and 7 TD passes between the heralded quarterbacks. Kansas City won that one, 38-28. Expect more yardage, more TD passes and higher scoring in this rematch.

9. Patriots-Steelers

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This game figures to weigh more for Pittsburgh, which could be looking to lock up the AFC North. The AFC East should be signed, sealed and delivered to Bill Belichick and the Pats. However, the game is always meaningful when you have Tom Brady dueling Ben Roethlisberger. The two have met in the playoffs before and could be doing it again … this year.

8. Eagles-Rams

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The Philadelphia Eagles will either be playing for their postseason lives here or they will come in as spoilers. Imagine that, Week 15 and the defending Super Bowl champs could be in a spoiler role. The Rams, meanwhile, will be looking to protect home field in this game and for the playoff run. This is also a rematch of the 43-35 slobberknocker in 2017. Yes, that was the game that saw Carson Wentz lost for the season, which opened the road for the magic of Nick Foles.

Week 16

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The penultimate week of the regular season. This features some great matchups that will be heavyweight battles. Strangely, the games this week are far stronger than the last week of the season.

7. Ravens-Chargers

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A Saturday slugfest between teams that could be trying to lock up either division crowns or wild-card berths depending on their success in the previous two weeks. The Chargers' stellar defense is certain to test Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore offense. Will be fascinating to see how the rookie from Louisville deals with Joey Bosa & Co.

6. Texans-Eagles

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This one could again go two ways: Will the Eagles be battling to win the NFC East crown or will they have seen their playoff dreams erased earlier and come in as a potential spoiler for Houston's playoff seeding. The Texans actually could ride into Philly on an 11-game winning streak. Heady stuff for a team that started 0-3.

5. Steelers-Saints

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After battling Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger gets to face Drew Brees. The Saints figure to be playing for playoff position. Pittsburgh could be shooting for a AFC North championship or seeking to tighten up a hold on a wild-card spot. Either way, you can't lose watching Roethlisberger and Brees in an offensive fest.

4. Chiefs-Seahawks

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Getty Images

Another blockbuster matchup of quarterbacks as Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson go at it. This likely will set Seattle up for whether it gains a wild-card berth or goes home next week. The Chiefs could either be scrapping with the Chargers for AFC West supremacy or will be looking to gain home-field throughout the AFC playoff run.

Week 17

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Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The end comes for most teams, and some coaches as the carousel spins and like musical chairs some wind up out of work on the Monday after the regular season ends.

3. Bears-Vikings

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This one could be for the NFC North, or if the Vikings have been unable to keep up it could be for playoff positioning. Either way, should be an intriguing NFC North, black and blue battle.

2. Chargers-Broncos

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Denver has made its way into a possible wild-card contender. The Broncos lost a lot of close games and came on to upend the Chargers and Steelers. If Case Keenum and Co. can keep it going this game could have some meaning for them.

1. Eagles-Redskins

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If Philly has been able to run the gauntlet prior to the last week of the season, this NFC East matchup could set up as a big one. The Redskins are decimated by injuries and don't figure to be around the top of the division. However, they could play spoiler if the defending Super Bowl champs still have hopes of making it a repeat.

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Related Slideshow: Best of the 2018-19 NFL Season (Provided by USA TODAY Sports)


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