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2013 NFL Week 15 Preview — 5 Intriguing Storylines to Watch

Kansas City Chiefs v Washington Redskins
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More teams can punch their playoff tickets this week. Here are five storylines we’ll be watching:

The Patriots Face Life Without Gronk

Sun Life Stadium, Miami — Sun. Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. (ET)

Cleveland Browns v New England Patriots
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New England (10-3) can clinch the AFC East title and a playoff spot with a road win over Miami (7-6) this week. The Patriots will play without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week’s thrilling come-from-behind win over the Browns. New England had the NFL’s sixth-highest-scoring offense with Gronk, but ranked 22nd in points per game without him. Quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick must find another reliable target to make a deep run in the playoffs.

The Disappointment Bowl

Georgia Dome, Atlanta — Sun. Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. (ET)

Kansas City Chiefs v Washington Redskins
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Both Washington (3-10) and Atlanta (3-10) were NFC playoff teams last season. This year their seasons have been all but over for weeks. Embattled Redskins’ head coach Mike Shanahan announced franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III will be benched in favor of backup Kirk Cousins for the remainder of the year. It’s possible that Shanahan could be benched for good by team owner Daniel Snyder, too. The Falcons aren’t much happier with their record under coach Mike Smith, who took his team to the NFC title game last season.

There’s No Place Like Dome

Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis — Sun. Dec. 15 at 4:25 p.m. (ET)

Carolina Panthers v New Orleans Saints
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New Orleans (10-3) dominated Carolina at the Superdome last Sunday night to take control of the NFC South. The Saints face St. Louis (5-8) inside the Edward Jones Dome this week. The Rams hope rookie receiver Tavon Austin can play after injuring his ankle on a reverse last week. New Orleans, which is a perfect 8-0 inside domes this season, can clinch a playoff berth with a win or a loss by the Cardinals and either the Cowboys or Eagles.

A Must-Win Game

AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Tex. — Sun. Dec. 15 at 4:25 p.m. (ET)

Atlanta Falcons v Green Bay Packers
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The Packers (6-6-1) visit the Cowboys (7-6) in a must-win December game for both teams. Both the Green Bay and Dallas defenses are ice cold, with each unit yielding more than 25 points per game and the Cowboys on pace to give up the most yards ever in an NFL season. Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers hasn’t fully recovered from a broken collarbone, so reserve QB Matt Flynn is likely to get another start. If he can attack the Cowboys defense half as well as Josh McCown did for the Bears on Monday, Dallas may be doomed. The loser of this contest risks falling further off their respective division lead with two weeks remaining.

The Bengals Chase A Playoff Spot

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh — Sun. Dec. 15 at 8:30 p.m. (ET)

Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens
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The road to the AFC North title usually goes through Pittsburgh, but the Steelers (5-8) won’t be winning the division this year. Cincinnati (9-4) can clinch the division title with a win and a Ravens’ loss on Monday night. The Bengals’ can also clinch at least a wild card if they win and the Dolphins lose. Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green will do their best to put away a Pittsburgh team that suffered hard-luck losses the past two weeks.

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