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Patriots-Ravens rematch leads crowded, high stakes Week 16

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Week 16 of the NFL season is going to be epic on Dec. 22. A whopping 15 games will be played on this day, which is the most on an NFL Sunday since bye weeks started -- with 12 of them holding some playoff implications. But as teams scramble to just get into the playoffs, the game of the day may be between two teams that last met for a conference title.

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The New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens are among the biggest rivals in the NFL, as well as some of its most consistent winners. Yet the Patriots and Ravens have both hit hard times since their second AFC title game showdown this past January. In fact, New England and Baltimore could have both been out of playoff consideration by now, if not for some very lucky victories.

The Patriots have somehow held on at 10-4, while the Ravens have risen from 4-6 to 8-6 and the No. 6 seed. In fact, if Baltimore beats New England, it could play the Cincinnati Bengals next week for a shot at the AFC North title. Given how well the Ravens have matched up with the Patriots in the last two years, this is well within the realm of possibility.

The Patriots had their chance to take the No. 1 seed and failed last Sunday in Miami. They haven’t even clinched a playoff berth yet, and could go into Week 17 with a chance to lose the AFC East and miss the postseason altogether. Ironically, the Ravens could help by beating the Bengals next week, winning the AFC North and possibly dropping Cincinnati to 10-6 -- which would put it ahead of a 10-6 New England team for the final playoff berth.

This is just one of the wild and crazy playoff scenarios still in play with two weeks left. Some of them will be ruled out in Week 16, although which ones are anyone’s guess at this point. The accompanying slideshow lists the biggest and most important games of a very important Sunday in the NFL.

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