Dec 16 (Reuters) - National Football League fans have two intriguing matchups to savor on Sunday as the league's top two performers, the New England Patriots and the Dallas Cowboys, both face tough opponents in Week 15.
The (11-2) Patriots travel to Mile-High Denver to take on the (8-5) Broncos and their vaunted defense in likely frigid conditions, while the (11-2) Cowboys host the red-hot Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night.
Led by four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots have won their last four games to tighten their grip at the top of the American Football Conference (AFC).
But Denver has been Brady's nemesis. He has a mediocre 5-6 regular-season record against the Broncos, whose stingy defense presents a serious challenge.
"All the attention their defense gets is well-deserved," Patriots safety Devin McCourty told reporters. "For us, we're not trying to prove anything. We get it. They make plays. They fly around out there."
For Denver's Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib, the challenge presented by New England and their shrewd head coach Bill Belichick is the ultimate test.
"You're playing a Hall of Fame quarterback and a Hall of Fame coach, it's your 'see-where-you're-at' week," said Talib. "You play the best. You've got to love to play the best, right?"
The reigning Super Bowl champion Broncos are in danger of missing the playoffs after losing to the Tennessee Titans last week.
In Dallas, the National Football Conference-leading (NFC) Cowboys will have to contend with in-form quarterback Jameis Winston, hulking wide receiver Mike Evans and a sizzling Buccaneers team who have won their last five games to improve to 8-5 for the season.
Winston has thrown for 3,364 yards and 23 touchdowns in his 13 games while he has targeted the 6-foot 5-inch (195 cms), 231-pound (104 kg) figure of Evans 146 times this season.
"It's going to be a battle," Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr said. "It's going to be a lot of deep balls. (Winston) is aggressive pushing the ball down the field.
"They (Winston and Evans) have great chemistry. He has a lot of confidence in him. It's going to be a big challenge for all of us on the back end to corral this big horse."
Evans ranks third in the NFL this season in catches (80) and touchdowns (10) and is fifth with 1,100 yards. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in St. Augustine, Florida; Editing by Andrew Both)