NFL playoff picture: Which big games in Week 15 will shape the race?

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

With just three weeks to go, there are still 24 teams mathematically alive in the playoff race. Week 15 is full of head-to-head matchups with playoff implications.

With only three weeks left in the 2012 season, the NFL playoff picture is coming into focus. There are only eight teams officially eliminated, but many of the league's top teams are starting to claim their spots and some have locked up division crowns. The Week 15 slate is loaded with games full of playoff implications with teams trending in divergent directions.

The NFC Wild Card has suddenly become interesting due to the Bears' scuffles over the past month. At 8-5, Chicago will host the Green Bay Packers in a critical game for their postseason chances. The Bears have dropped four of their past five games, and the Packers have taken advantage to build a one-game lead in the NFC North. Green Bay can lock up the division with the sweep of the Bears on Sunday.

The closest divisional race is in the NFC East, where three teams are over .500 with three games to play. The Giants hold a slim one-game lead over the Cowboys and Redskins. New York will travel to Atlanta to face the NFC South champion Falcons. Atlanta is coming off a disappointing loss to the Panthers, and while their postseason berth is secure, they'll be trying to prove themselves against a Giants team that wiped them out in the postseason. The Falcons are also still playing for a first-round bye and home-field advantage.

The Redskins will be without star quarterback Robert Griffin III as they go for their fifth straight win against the Browns. Washington is still alive in both the Wild Card and NFC East races, but they'll need some help from Atlanta and Green Bay in order to pull even in the East. They'll also need Kirk Cousins to step up against an improved Browns team.

The Cowboys are even with the Skins at 7-6, getting over .500 last week on the road. They face the Steelers in a crucial game at Cowboys Stadium. Pittsburgh needs a win to match the Bengals at 8-6 after Cincinnati's blowout win on Thursday Night Football. The Steelers and Bengals meet next week in what will likely be an elimination game in Pittsburgh.

In the AFC South, the Texans can slam the door on the Colts' faint hopes of taking that division with a win over Indianapolis on Sunday. Despite two straight losses, the Ravens are still in prime position to clinch the AFC North. A win over the Broncos in Baltimore on Sunday, combined with a Steelers loss in Dallas, would clinch a postseason spot for the Ravens.

The early afternoon slate is full of games that could clear up the playoff picture by 4:30 p.m. Here are this week's biggest games:

Redskins at Browns - 1 p.m. ET
Giants at Falcons - 1 p.m. ET
Packers at Bears - 1 p.m. ET
Broncos at Ravens - 1 p.m. ET
Colts at Texans - 1 p.m. ET
Steelers at Cowboys - 4:25 p.m. ET

With 24 teams still mathematically alive, there's a plethora of playoff scenarios still in play. But the division races are much more stable entering Sunday. The chart below, courtesy of Cincy Jungle, sets out the playoff possibilities in Week 15:

AFC

CLINCHED

New England AFC East
Denver AFC West
Houston Playoff Berth

BALTIMORE RAVENS

Clinch AFC North Win OR
Tie plus Steelers loss (or tie) AND Bengals loss (or tie) OR
Steelers loss AND Bengals loss
Clinch Postseason Berth Tie OR
Bengals loss (or tie) OR
Steelers loss (or tie)

HOUSTON TEXANS

Clinches AFC South Win
Clinches First-Round Bye Win plus loss by Broncos AND Patriots (or tie)

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Clinch Postseason Berth Win OR
Tie plus Bengals loss (or tie) OR
Tie plus Steelers loss (or tie) OR
Tie plus Ravens win OR
NYJ loss or tie plus Bengals loss OR
NYJ loss (or tie) plus Ravens win plus Bengals tie plus Steelers tie

NFC

CLINCHED

Atlanta NFC South

ATLANTA FALCONS

Clinches First-Round Bye Win plus Packers loss (or tie) OR
Win plus 49ers loss OR
Tie plus Packers loss
Clinches Homefield Adv. Win plus Packers loss (or tie) plus 49ers loss

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Clinches NFC West Win plus Seahawks loss
Clinches Postseason Berth Win OR
Tie plus Cowboys loss (or tie) plus Redskins loss (or tie) plus Vikings loss (or tie) OR
Tie plus Cowboys loss (or tie) plus Redskins loss (or tie) plus Packers/Bears does not in tie OR
Tie plus Cowboys loss (or tie) plus Vikings loss (or tie) plus Bears loss OR
Tie plus Giants loss plus Vikings loss (or tie) plus Bears loss OR
Vikings loss plus Cowboys loss plus Redskins loss plus Seahawks loss (or tie)

GREEN BAY PACKERS

Clinches NFC North Win
Clinches Postseason Berth Tie plus Cowboys loss plus Redskins loss plusRams/Vikings tie OR
Tie plus Cowboys loss plus Redskins loss plus Vikings loss plus 49ers win (or tie) OR
Tie plus Cowboys loss plus Redskins loss plus Vikings loss plus Seahawks not ending in tie
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.