Who to root for: Steelers
Pittsburgh currently has the fifth-seed in the AFC playoff picture, and they sit one half-game behind the Cincinnati Bengals for the lead in the AFC North. A Steelers' win coupled with a Bengals' loss would give them the lead heading into Week 16. Pittsburgh is favored in their game over Atlanta - a streaky, offense-heavy team capable of scoring points much more than preventing them from being scored. Look for the Steelers' offense to carry this one, if they are to move to 9-5 on the year.
Cincinnati (8-4-1) at Cleveland (7-6)
Who to root for: Browns
Rooting for this one takes on an air of "either way, it's good and bad." If the Steelers lose, it's bad in either situation. A Browns' win with a Steelers' loss would put Pittsburgh back tied with the Browns. The Steelers would top them by virtue of a better conference record, but they would still be tied in terms of divisional record, which is the first tie-breaker.
The Bengals getting a win would draw them closer to a division title and, with Baltimore still within striking distance of the divisional lead, a Bengals' win coupled with a Steelers' loss would take control out of the Steelers' hands. Right now, if they win their final three games, they will be division champions. But that's not true for the Ravens. In fact, the way it's set up now, if both teams win out, the Ravens would travel to Pittsburgh for an AFC Wild Card playoff game.
Ultimately, we have more faith in Cincinnati winning in Week 16 than we do Cleveland, and the two of them splitting their next two games would be ideal. Mark the Browns down for rare rooting interest from Steelers fans.
Jacksonville (2-11) vs. Baltimore (8-5)
Who to root for: Jaguars
Is it too much to ask that the 14-point road underdog Jaguars pull this one out? Yes. But we're rooting for the holiday miracle here anyway. I'm still moved by how passionately Jaguars fans praised rookie quarterback Blake Bortles before his two-pick game against the Steelers in Week 5. Never mind the fact he has 16 picks in 379 throws. He can stroll into M&T Bank Stadium and pull off the upset of his career, right?
Nah. Fun to think about though.
Another conference win along with nine overall would give the Ravens great positioning in the hunt for a division title and a wild card. With Houston and Cleveland to follow over their last two games as well, they have the best chance of anyone to win the division (38.7 percent chance, according to Football Outsiders). A loss here would greatly dent those chances, but it may be too much to ask.
Denver (10-3) at San Diego (8-5)
Who to root for: Broncos
The Broncos need this to increase their lead for the No. 2 seed in the AFC and stay with the Patriots for the top seed overall. Most figure the AFC to be a two-team race in terms of the Super Bowl, but a hungry field behind them, including sixth-seeded San Diego makes arguments to the contrary. The Chargers are an up-and-down team, but as talented as any of the also-ran teams in the conference. This is a huge game for them.
Houston (7-6) at Indianapolis (9-4)
Who to root for: Colts
Indianapolis represents the middle class of the AFC, firmly entrenched as the third-seed in the conference. With another division title all but wrapped up, it doesn't seem that much of anything will stop the Colts now. Except for division-rival Houston, who can launch themselves back into contention with a road win over the Colts. Will that happen? Sure. Cleveland did a great job limiting MVP candidate Andrew Luck last week, and the Texans can do it again. A loss would all but end Houston's playoff chances.
Oakland (2-11) at Kansas City (7-6)
Who to root for: Raiders
It's not rare late in the season when the Steelers are hoping Oakland and Cleveland can pull off upsets, and it's the only time Steelers fans would ever root for either team. In this case, it would be huge to see Kansas City knocked down even further, suffering a season-sweep at the hands of the hapless Raiders. We think the Chiefs will come out with a vengeance, though, and build momentum heading into what appears to be a critical AFC matchup against the Steelers in Week 16.
Green Bay (10-3) at Buffalo (7-6)
Who to root for: Packers
A plucky year for the Bills could be ended at home with a loss to the Packers. Any AFC team hitting 7-7 this week will need help getting into the playoffs. The Packers are the last team in the league that a team on the playoff bubble wants to face, but that's how the schedule fell. Green Bay is clicking on offense and, despite a defensive letdown in the second half of a home prime-time game, they got the win over the Falcons, Pittsburgh's Week 15 opponent. The Packers have every reason to win this game and we can't see a Buffalo win.
Miami (7-6) at New England (10-3)
Who to root for: Patriots
Miami is capable of giving the streaking Patriots a game but, based on last week's general ineptitude in a loss to Baltimore, this looks like the start of another late-season collapse by the Dolphins. Like Buffalo's matchup, this is a very difficult, late-season, must-win game for them, and the odds aren't in their favor.