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Tuesday November 22nd, 2011

Tim Tebow and the Broncos face another test Sunday in the Chargers in a game that's crucial to boht team's playoff chances. (Rich Gabrielson/Icon SMI)

Some years, the NFL's Thanksgiving Day slate simply serves as a nice sidebar to the holiday -- a source of entertainment but not much else. Not this year. The Thursday schedule brings with it three critical games, each featuring at least one team smack dab in the thick of a heated playoff chase.

Things are tight in both conferences, too, heading into Week 12. Four teams sit at 7-3 in the AFC, while the Bears' loss of Jay Cutler and Detroit's tough schedule has left the NFC wild-card spots wide open.

Here’s how things stand as the holiday weekend approaches:

AFC

No. 1 seed: New England Patriots (7-3) -- Remaining opponents: at Eagles, vs. Colts, at Redskins, at Broncos, vs. Dolphins, vs. Bills

No. 2 seed: Baltimore Ravens (7-3) -- Remaining opponents: vs. 49ers, at Browns, vs. Colts, at Chargers, vs. Browns, at Bengals

No. 3 seed: Houston Texans (7-3) -- Remaining opponents: at Jaguars, vs. Falcons, at Bengals, vs. Panthers, at Colts, vs. Titans

No. 4 seed: Oakland Raiders (6-4) -- Remaining opponents: vs. Bears, at Dolphins, at Packers, vs. Lions, at Chiefs, vs. Chargers

No. 5 seed: Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) -- Remaining opponents: at Chiefs, vs. Bengals, vs. Browns, at 49ers, vs. Rams, at Browns

No. 6 seed: Cincinnati Bengals (6-4) -- Remaining opponents:  vs. Browns, at Steelers, vs. Texans, at Rams, vs. Cardinals, vs. Ravens

On the bubble: Denver Broncos (5-5), Tennessee Titans (5-5), New York Jets (5-5), Buffalo Bills (5-5)

The most dangerous of those 5-5 teams, somewhat amazingly, looks to be Denver, which has been revitalized since Tim Tebow took over at quarterback. The Broncos face another test Sunday, when they hit the road to play 4-6 San Diego, a team that's running out of chances to turn things around.

Miami makes the AFC's first appearance this Thanksgiving, visiting Dallas in the day's second game, but it's Baltimore that is in the spotlight at night. The Ravens host 9-1 San Francisco in a game that's critical to Baltimore's division title hopes.

The Jets and Buffalo meet in New York Sunday in what may be an elimination game, and Oakland hosts the Bears in a monster matchup for both teams. Another one to watch: New England, off a Monday night game, heads to Philadelphia, where the Eagles might have a decision to make at QB.

NFC

No. 1 seed: Green Bay Packers (10-0) — Remaining opponents: at Lions, at Giants, vs. Raiders, at Chiefs, vs. Bears, vs. Lions

No. 2 seed: San Francisco 49ers (9-1) — Remaining opponents: at Ravens, vs. Rams, at Cardinals, vs. Steelers, at Seahawks, at Rams

No. 3 seed: New Orleans Saints (7-3) — Remaining opponents: vs. Giants, vs. Lions, at Titans, at Vikings, vs. Falcons, vs. Panthers

No. 4 seed: Dallas Cowboys (6-4) -- Remaining opponents: vs. Dolphins, at Cardinals, vs. Giants, at Buccaneers, vs. Eagles, at Giants

No. 5 seed: Detroit Lions (7-3) — Remaining opponents: vs. Packers, at Saints, vs. Vikings, at Raiders, vs. Chargers, at Packers

No. 6 seed: Chicago Bears (7-3) — Remaining opponents: at Raiders, vs. Chiefs, at Broncos, vs. Seahawks, at Packers, at Vikings

On the bubble: Atlanta Falcons (6-4), New York Giants (6-4)

The NFC's Week 12 slate kicks off with a bang, as undefeated Green Bay invades Detroit on Thanksgiving. The Packers continue to feel the heat atop the NFC from surprising San Francisco, but the game is more important for Detroit. The Lions figure to need at least three more wins, and with trips to Green Bay, New Orleans and Oakland still on the schedule, it's hard to find where they'll come from.

Dallas follows that Green Bay-Detroit showdown against the Dolphins -- the Cowboys have, somewhat quietly, taken over first place in the NFC East. Chicago, minus Jay Cutler, has a serious challenge at Oakland. Atlanta, lurking just behind the Bears and Lions, has a very winnable game with Minnesota. The Monday nighter looms large, too, with the Giants headed to New Orleans. The Saints are fighting to hold on to the NFC South lead, but New York has slipped from first place in its division to eighth place in the conference. Can Eli's boys turn it around? They're running out of time to do so.

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