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NFL Week 15 preview capsules

Titans at Chiefs, 1

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Line/OU: Chiefs by 5½; 41

The Chiefs and the Titans have played their way into first-place ties in their divisions. Staying on top is a real migraine when a team is forced to play a fellow king of the mountain. Say what you will about the Chiefs' Alex Smith, as long as you say he ranks third among all QBs in wins (58-24-1) since 2011— behind only Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. The Titans' DeMarco Murray is tops in the AFC with 1,135 rushing yards, making him one of the choice free agent signings of the year. Tennessee needs Murray to pierce the Chiefs' unkind front for 100-plus yards to pull out a road win.

Eagles at Ravens, 1

Line/OU: Ravens by 6; 40

The Eagles have not won in Baltimore since 1978, when the Colts were still in residence. Philadelphia needs rookie Carson Wentz to post 300 passing yards for a third straight week, because there is no running the ball against the most begrudging ground defense in the league. The Ravens must win to have a believable chance at winning the AFC North. If it comes down to a field goal, we like their chances. Justin Tucker's total of nine field goals of 50-plus yards is one short of tying the NFL single-season record.

Browns at Bills, 1

Line/OU: Bills by 10; 41½

The Browns appear bent on being the second 0-16 team in league history. The return of QB Robert Griffin III did nothing to change their southbound course. Griffin posted a 38.4 passer rating last week, his first start since the opener — after taking a 0.00 rating into halftime. The Bills are staring down a 17th straight year of playoff-free football, unless they win out and half the conference acquiesces to their tiebreaker demands. They can still finish with at least a .500 record for the third consecutive year.

Packers at Bears, 1

Line/OU: Packers by 5½; 38

The Packers have parasailed back into contention with three straight wins, saving their hottest play for the coldest time of the year. It's doubtful the coldest game in Soldier Field history is enough to cool off Green Bay, given the current state of the opponent. The forecast for kickoff is 1 degree with 15 mph winds, 1 degree colder than the 2008 Packers-Bears game in Chicago. The Bears won that one, but that club was a 9-7 team in the making.

Steelers at Bengals, 1

Line/OU: Steelers by 3; 45

Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell missed the first three games of the season to suspension. Consider the lost time and yardage officially caught up. Bell ran past the 1,000-yard rushing mark with a team-record 236 yards Sunday in Buffalo. He has touched the ball 166 times in the past five games. What he would give to run through Cincinnati, the team that inflicted season-ending injuries on him the past two years. The Bengals must do something about their 2-12 home mark against Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger. Injured WR A.J. Green returning might help.

Jaguars at Texans, 1

Line/OU: Texans by 4; 39

So what if the Texans have lost two-thirds of their games outside their division and been outscored 274-229 this season. They're 4-0 in the AFC South and have won nine straight against their division foes, which is why they are tied with the Titans for first, with all the primary tiebreakers at their back. The Jaguars have dropped eight straight, fast-tracking coach Gus Bradley to a 14-47 career record. To allow him a fifth season would be as cruel as it would be unusual.

Colts at Vikings, 1

Line/OU: Vikings by 5; 45½

Forget about the return of RB Adrian Peterson from a knee injury — the team reinstated him Saturday from injured reserve, clearing the way for him to play. The real Vikings headline is Sam Bradford leads the league with a 71.2 percent completion rate. He isn't conquering the world, but he isn't throwing the season away, either. The Colts erased any straight line to an AFC South title with last week's home loss to Houston. Their season, in a sentence: Indianapolis leads the division in scoring, but it has given up more points than it has gained.

Lions at Giants, 1

Line/OU: Giants by 4; 40

The Lions are four one-score losses away from being 13-0, and eight single-score wins removed from being 1-12. Living on that edge might not be the best plan against the Giants. Lions QB Matthew Stafford will play with a dislocated middle finger on his right hand. A forecast of rain and winds up to 20 mph means he will need a hand from a Detroit defense that has not allowed more than 19 points in any of its five straight wins. Giants WR Odell Beckham has nine TDs in his past nine games.

Saints at Cardinals, 4

Line/OU: Cardinals by 3; 50½

The slow fade continues for these two teams, who are trending their way out of postseason possibility. The Saints are a defeat away from a third straight losing season, in part because their 16th-year QB, Drew Brees, is showing some age. He has been limited in practice, just for the sake of getting rest, after throwing a total of six INTs in two straight losses. Why pay attention to the Cardinals as they drift into the offseason? RB David Johnson. He can become the first in NFL history to open the season with 14 straight games of 100-plus scrimmage yards.

49ers at Falcons, 4

Line/OU: Falcons by 13; 50½

Atlanta's Matt Ryan is registering career bests in passing yards per game (311.5), yards per attempt (9.2) and passer rating (113.2). This is a good week to give his arm a rest. The 49ers own the rushing defense of least resistance at 170.8 yards per game. RB Devonta Freeman can already imagine undefended grass as far as the eye can see. With a franchise-worst 12 straight losses, the 49ers continue to apply pressure on the winless Browns in pursuit of the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017.

Patriots at Broncos, 4:25

Line/OU: Patriots by 3; 43½

Pity Patriots QB Tom Brady. With Peyton Manning retired, this is the first season in which Brady will not face his top rival after 17 duels since 2001. Brady has enough to play for, including a 52nd win in the month of December, which would break Brett Favre's record for QB victories in any calendar month. There is also the matter of clinching an NFL-record eighth straight division title. The last time Denver lost at home to Brady was 2011, when Tim Tebow was the QB. It is the only team with a winning record against Brady.

Raiders at Chargers, 4:25

Line/OU: Raiders by 2½; 49

The Chargers can't win the AFC West, but they can decide who does. San Diego has lost by a combined nine points on the road to Oakland and Kansas City, and it draws both co-leaders in the last three games. Wins against Denver, Tennessee and Houston show what the Chargers can do against teams with grander postseason designs than their own. A win would put the Raiders in the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Homefield advantage is going to require outside assistance.

Panthers at Redskins, 8:30 Monday

Line/OU: Redskins by 6½; 50½

Panthers seek fifth straight win over Redskins, streak that dates to 2009. Carolina has third-best red zone efficiency at 66.67 percent; Washington is 29th in red zone defense, allowing TD 63.64 percent of time. Panthers' Cam Newton has completed 43 percent over past four games. Washington has fewest three-and-out drives and most plays of 20-plus yards in NFL. Ten of Redskins' 13 games have been decided by one score. CB Josh Norman, an All-Pro with Panthers last season, has forced five fumbles since start of 2015.

Times wires

NFL Week 15 preview capsules 12/17/16 [Last modified: Saturday, December 17, 2016 9:22pm]
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