Patriots-Broncos rematch could be playoff preview

The Seattle Seahawks kicked off Week 15 by securing another NFC West title. Three more teams can clinch division crowns while three others have a chance to earn a playoff berth.

The Patriots, Cowboys and Lions are playing to lock up division championships, while the Chiefs and Raiders are close to wrapping up a spot in the postseason.

With only seven teams eliminated from contention, every game on the schedule has playoff implications for at least one of the participants.

The Patriots-Broncos rematch of last year's AFC championship game could be a preview of yet another January meeting between the teams, though Peyton Manning is missing from this one.

Tom Brady is a win away from leading New England to its ninth straight AFC East title, while Denver is clinging to the sixth spot in the conference after losing two of three.

The Lions-Giants and Buccaneers-Cowboys games also will have a big impact on the playoff picture.

Dallas already got in, but needs a win and a loss by New York to secure the division. The Giants get in with a victory and losses by three other teams.

Detroit can win the NFC North with a win and a loss by the Packers. The Buccaneers are tied with Atlanta for first in the NFC South.

Here's a closer look at the teams and scenarios:

AFC EAST

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (11-2)

Remaining schedule: at Denver on Sunday, vs. New York Jets on Dec. 24, at Miami on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-1. Conference record: 8-1.

Can clinch division with win or loss by Miami. Can clinch first-round bye with win or loss by Miami and loss by Pittsburgh or loss by Miami and win by Kansas City. Won't rest Brady until No. 1 seed is decided.

MIAMI DOLPHINS (8-5)

Remaining schedule: at New York Jets on Saturday, at Buffalo on Dec. 24, vs. New England on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-1. Conference record: 5-4.

The Dolphins are tied with the Broncos in the wild-card race but currently lose the tiebreaker. Denver has a tougher schedule the rest of the way so Miami could control its destiny by Sunday night. They'll be rooting for the rival Patriots to beat Denver.

Need a miracle: BUFFALO BILLS (6-7)

Eliminated: NEW YORK JETS (4-9).

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AFC NORTH

PITTSBURGH STEELERS (8-5)

Remaining schedule: at Cincinnati on Sunday, vs. Baltimore on Dec. 25, vs. Cleveland on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-1. Conference record: 6-3.

Gained control of their playoff hopes but the division will most likely come down to a Christmas Day home game vs. the Ravens. Already lost once at Baltimore so they must win that game. They could even afford to lose to the rival Bengals as long as they beat the Ravens.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (7-6)

Remaining schedule: vs. Philadelphia Sunday, at Pittsburgh on Dec. 25, at Cincinnati on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-0. Conference record: 7-3.

They win the division if they win out so can't get caught looking ahead to next week because they trail Pittsburgh by one game. A victory over the struggling Eagles would set up must-see showdown vs. the Steelers on Dec. 25.

Need a miracle: CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-7-1)

Eliminated: CLEVELAND BROWNS (0-13).

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AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON TEXANS (7-6)

Remaining schedule: vs. Jacksonville on Sunday, vs. Cincinnati on Dec. 24, at Tennessee on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-0. Conference record: 5-4.

Leading contender to go one-and-done in the playoffs. Tied with the Titans so their New Year's Day rematch at Tennessee would be for it all if they don't clinch sooner.

TENNESSEE TITANS (7-6)

Remaining schedule: at Kansas City on Sunday, at Jacksonville on Dec. 24, vs. Houston on Jan. 1.

Division record: 1-3. Conference record: 4-5.

If they win out, they're in. Would lose tiebreaker with Houston so can't fall behind Texans going into Week 17. They hold head-to-head tiebreakers over Broncos and Dolphins so a wild-card berth is still in play.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (6-7)

Remaining schedule: at Minnesota on Sunday, at Oakland on Dec. 24, vs. Jacksonville on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-3. Conference record: 4-6.

It's not looking good for Andrew Luck and Co. They have tough schedule remaining, are looking up in the standings and needed plenty of help.

Eliminated: JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-11).

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AFC WEST

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (10-3)

Remaining schedule: vs. Tennessee on Sunday, vs. Denver on Dec. 25, at San Diego on Jan. 1.

Division record: 4-0. Conference record: 7-2.

Have control of division race with series sweep over Raiders. Could probably lose out and still get wild card, but Chiefs are chasing first-round bye and No. 1 seed. They clinch a playoff spot with win over the Titans or losses by Denver and Baltimore or Denver and Pittsburgh.

OAKLAND RAIDERS (10-3)

Remaining schedule: at San Diego on Sunday, vs. Indianapolis on Dec. 24, at Denver on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-2. Conference record: 7-2.

Clinch first playoff spot in 14 years with win over Chargers or losses by Miami and Baltimore or Miami and Pittsburgh. Must finish one game ahead of Chiefs to win AFC West.

DENVER BRONCOS (8-5)

Remaining schedule: vs. New England on Sunday, at Kansas City on Dec. 25, vs. Oakland on Jan. 1.

Division record: 1-3. Conference record: 5-4.

They control their playoff hopes but their schedule is brutal. They'll be rooting for the Jets to beat the Dolphins.

Need a miracle: SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (5-8).

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NFC EAST

DALLAS COWBOYS (11-2)

Remaining schedule: vs. Tampa Bay on Sunday, vs. Detroit on Dec. 26, at Philadelphia on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 7-2.

They can win division and secure first-round bye with win and loss by Giants. They're also closing in on locking up No. 1 seed. A loss plus a win by the Giants would make things interesting in the NFC East because they lost twice to New York so they lose that tiebreaker.

NEW YORK GIANTS (9-4)

Remaining schedule: vs. Detroit on Sunday, at Philadelphia on Dec. 22, at Washington on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-1. Conference record: 6-3.

Suddenly the division title isn't entirely out of reach, but they need to win out and the Cowboys have to lose two more games. They're closing in on a wild-card berth, needing a win and losses by the Redskins, Vikings and Packers to get in. Still, nothing is guaranteed and they have a tough remaining schedule.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS (7-5-1)

Remaining schedule: vs. Carolina on Monday, at Chicago on Dec. 24, vs. New York Giants on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-2. Conference record: 5-4.

That tie makes things simple because it rules out tiebreaker issues. They'll be rooting hard for the rival Cowboys because if the Buccaneers lose and they beat Carolina, they'll take control of the second wild-card spot.

Need a miracle: PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (5-8).

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NFC NORTH

DETROIT LIONS (9-4):

Remaining schedule: at New York Giants on Sunday, at Dallas on Dec. 26, vs. Green Bay on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-2. Conference record: 7-2.

A two-game lead is huge because their schedule is daunting. It's really a one-game lead over the Packers because of a loss to Green Bay earlier in the season and a rematch in Week 17. They can clinch the division with a win and loss by the Packers but missing the playoffs entirely isn't that much of a longshot because their remaining games are that tough.

GREEN BAY PACKERS (7-6)

Remaining schedule: at Chicago on Sunday, vs. Minnesota on Dec. 24, at Detroit on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-1. Conference record: 5-4.

To win division, need to make up one game in deficit behind Detroit over next two weeks, beat Lions in finale and Vikings next week. To get wild card, must pass two teams.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-6)

Remaining schedule: vs. Indianapolis on Sunday, at Green Bay on Dec. 24, vs. Chicago on Jan. 1.

Division record: 1-3. Conference record: 4-6

They have to win out and Lions have to go 0-3 to win division. Trail two teams for the wild card, so they can't afford any losses. They'll be rooting for the Bears to beat the Packers, Panthers to beat the Redskins and the Falcons or Buccaneers to lose.

Eliminated: CHICAGO BEARS (3-10).

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NFC SOUTH

ATLANTA FALCONS (8-5)

Remaining schedule: vs. San Francisco on Sunday, at Carolina on Dec. 24, vs. New Orleans on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-1. Conference record: 6-3.

Easy schedule gives them slight edge over surging Buccaneers in division race, but have to avoid a slip-up.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (8-5)

Remaining schedule: at Dallas on Sunday, at New Orleans on Dec. 24, vs. Carolina on Jan. 1.

Division record: 3-1. Conference record: 6-3.

They have momentum and control of the second wild-card spot. An upset win over the Cowboys would put the rest of the league on notice.

Need a miracle: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-8), CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-8).

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NFC WEST

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (9-4-1)

Remaining schedule: vs. Arizona on Dec. 24, at San Francisco on Jan. 1.

Division record: 2-1-1. Conference record: 5-4-1.

First team to clinch a division title. They're rooting for the Giants to beat the Lions so they pass Detroit to get the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye.

Eliminated: ARIZONA CARDINALS (5-7-1), LOS ANGELES RAMS (4-10), SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (1-12).

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

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