We’ve officially passed the midway point of the NFL season, and things are starting to take shape, with games getting increasingly important. Let’s take a look at the games on the week 10 schedule:
Seattle at Atlanta – The Seahawks are the top team in the NFC right now, record wise at least, but they’ve played with fire the past two weeks, and definitely have some flaws that can be exploited. However, Atlanta may not be the kind of team that can exploit those flaws, as the Falcons continue to spiral, losing five of their last six games. Matt Ryan is having a good season, even without getting a lot of help from his top two receivers, but this week he’ll face one of the stingiest pass defenses in the NFL. If Seattle’s offense gets going, this game could be over early, as Ryan will have trouble facing Seattle’s defense playing from behind, but if Atlanta’s defense can play well, the Falcons will have a chance to knock off the struggling Seahawks.
Buffalo at Pittsburgh – E.J. Manuel returns this week, hoping to provide a second-half spark for the Bills, who had inconsistent quarterback play during his absence that kept them from staying in contention in the AFC East. If Manuel can move the ball, Buffalo should like its chances of getting a road win, as their defensive line should have no trouble having its way with a weak Pittsburgh offensive line, which will make it hard for Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense to score points. However, if Manuel shows some rust, this could turn into a low-scoring field goal game.
Detroit at Chicago – With the Packers in trouble without Aaron Rodgers, the winner of this game will be in control of the NFC North, making it of vital importance, especially for the Bears, who lost to Detroit earlier in the season. Jay Cutler is expected to return, which should help the Bears, but the real key to this game will be Chicago’s defense, which allowed the Lions to score 30 points in the first half alone back in week 4. Playing at home with Cutler returning, the Bears could have a slight edge, but only if they don’t put themselves in a hole early in the game. Of course, the Lions have had an extra week to prepare, while Chicago has had a short week, so Detroit could have an edge there. Expect this to be a 4th quarter game with the last team to have the ball having a chance to win late.
Cincinnati at Baltimore – It’s now or never for the defending champs. If the Ravens don’t win this game, the road back to the playoffs will be too difficult to traverse. Baltimore still can’t run the ball, and if that continues, the Cincinnati defensive line will be able to put a lot of pressure on Joe Flacco and cause all sorts of problems for the Raven’s quarterback, who isn’t getting enough support. The Bengals should be able to bounce back quickly from their overtime loss in Miami last week, and unless Andy Dalton struggles again, Cincinnati should be able to score points against Baltimore’s defense, which will make it difficult for Flacco and company to keep up, even at home.
Philadelphia at Green Bay – This should be an interesting matchup; Seneca Wallace will have a full week to practice, but he still doesn’t have a full stable of receivers to throw to. Instead, the Packers will try to pound the ball on the ground with rookie Eddie Lacy, and how the Eagles fair stopping the run could go a long way to determining which team has the advantage. Philadelphia’s offense was firing on all cylinders last week, and if that carries over it’ll pose a stiff challenge for the Green Bay defense, who needs to do its best to keep the game low scoring in support of a backup quarterback.
Jacksonville at Tennessee – Despite winning last week against the Rams, Jake Locker didn’t look sharp in his return from injury, throwing two interceptions. However, things should be easier for Locker this week against Jacksonville’s defense, as this is a good opportunity for Locker to get back on track and play the way he was early in the season.
St. Louis at Indianapolis – The Colts came out sluggish last week, which is a trend they’d like to avoid, beginning this week against the Rams. St. Louis is in the midst of their second three-game losing streak of the season, but they may have found something in the running game with Zac Stacy, who will be key for them this week against a weak Indianapolis run defense. On the other side of the ball, the Colts are hoping that T.Y. Hilton can continue to step up in the absence of Reggie Wayne. If the Colts struggle throwing the ball the way they did in the first half last week, St. Louis has a pass rush that can really make things difficult for them, and make this game closer than most think it’s going to be.
Oakland at New York Giants – If there’s any hope for the Giants to make a move in the NFC East, they need to win this game. They’d also like to play well and get their offense going after settling for five field goals in their last game, but a win anyway they can get it keeps them in contention. Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor won’t threaten New York’s secondary much, but he could give the front-seven headaches if they can’t contain him. The Giants have played well on defense the past two games, and that needs to continue, as they won’t want to put their offense in a tough position against a Raider’s defense that has hung tough this year.
Carolina at San Francisco – This could be the game of the week, as the Panthers try to prove that they’re a contender in the NFC. The Panthers have won four in a row, but all five of their wins this year are against teams with three or fewer wins. Cam Newton has made incredible strides over the past month, but he hasn’t faced a defense this good season week 1 when Carolina scored just seven points against the Seahawks. Of course, Carolina’s defense has been a big reason for the team’s success, and unless Colin Kaepernick can become a bigger threat throwing the ball, the Panther’s defense should be able to keep the game close and at least give Newton and the offense a chance.
Denver at San Diego – The Chargers need a win in order to stay in contention and they also need to make a statement following last week’s disappointing loss in Washington. San Diego’s defense has been able to contain some quality offenses this season, holding the Colts to just nine points and Dallas to a mere 21 points, but Peyton Manning and the Denver offense are in a league of their own, and could prove to be too much for San Diego to handle. The Chargers are going to need a big game from Phillip Rivers if they’re going to have a chance to take down the Broncos, and Rivers will undoubtedly be looking to redeem himself after his poor performances he had against the Broncos last season, turning the ball over nine times in two games: a performance that can’t be repeated.
Houston at Arizona – The Texans are reeling after a terrible collapse last week on the heels of their coach going down with a serious health issue, and they really need a win to lift their spirits, even if making the postseason is a stretch at this point. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are holding out hope for a postseason run with a strong second half, and this is not a game they can afford to lose if that’s going to happen. There are two key matchups to watch in this game. First, Arizona has good skill players on the outside that can move the ball through the air, but the Texans possess the top pass defense in the NFL and a pass rush that can get after Carson Palmer. Second, the Cardinals have a stout run defense while Houston relies on their running backs to ignite their offense. Whichever team can get the better of these two matchups will win the game.
Dallas at New Orleans – On paper, this game looks like it could have some offensive fireworks. New Orleans struggled on offense last week against a Jets front-seven that was putting pressure on Drew Brees, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue against the Cowboys, even if DeMarcus Ware returns to the lineup. If that’s the case, this game should come down to the Dallas offense scoring points against the New Orleans defense and winning in a shootout. But if the Cowboys can’t find more balance in their offense and look at least somewhat threatening running the ball, they could have a tough time against Rob Ryan’s defense.
Miami at Tampa Bay – Distractions are rampant on both sidelines, as the Dolphins are the center of attention in the league for all the wrong reasons, while the Bucs continue to deal with being winless and head coach Greg Schiano being on the hot seat. Whichever team can do a better job of shutting out the distractions and focusing on the game will have the advantage, although the game has a lot more importance for the Dolphins if they’re going to stay in the playoff hunt, as a loss to the Bucs amidst this scandal could spell doom for their season.