By this season’s lofty standards, Week 10 doesn’t look quite as robust as some other weeks, but it does feature what might well be the game of the season: Patriots at Colts. The two greatest quarterbacks of their generation will battle Sunday night with the entire league watching. That sounds like a fun place to start our trip around Week 10:
Patriots at Colts: Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Two teams that really don’t like one another. Two of the hottest teams in the NFL. The Colts trying to catch New England’s record for consecutive regular-season wins. Who isn’t going to be watching this one? A Patriots win here would enable them to begin making the statement that they rule the AFC once more.
Eagles at Chargers: Philly came a few third-and-1 conversions away from standing alone atop the NFC East, while San Diego came one last-minute drive away from watching its playoff hopes take a major blow. Both of these teams are trying to be more multi-dimensional on offense and Brian Westbrook’s status will be key. The Chargers’ defense is showing more bite lately, with Shawne Merriman getting back in form.
Bengals at Steelers: Cincy wins this game and its 4-0 against Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and in the driver’s seat of a tough AFC North. Who da thunk it? Cedric Benson and the Bengals’ power running game might have some success as the Steelers have lost some front seven defenders recently. It’s a short week for the Steelers, too. Hard to see Pittsburgh dropping a vital divisional game at home, but should it happen, the 7-2 Bengals would be sitting pretty.
Cowboys at Packers: Suddenly Dallas is on top of the NFC East, and Green Bay is struggling to stay on the outside of the playoff picture. The Packers’ protection problems go beyond its tackles, and inserting Mark Tauscher at right tackle likely isn’t enough. DeMarcus Ware is back to last year’s form and Aaron Rodgers is suffering from all the hits he’s absorbed. The Packers’ talented secondary might be able to pick on Tony Romo should he falter, and this might be Green Bay’s last stand. A loss at home here would be crushing.
Bears at 49ers: Finally, our Thursday night slate of games begins and this one is in desperation city. The loser can forget about realistic playoff hopes and the winner might get a shot at redemption. It is hard to imagine Alex Smith carving up Chicago’s poor secondary too much, but TE Vernon Davis is emerging as a big-time threat. The loss of LT Joe Staley is a lot for the 49ers to overcome. Mike Singletary faces his old team with everything at stake. Good theater.
Ravens at Browns: Baltimore is another team in a must-win position should it fancy a playoff run. The Ravens can’t lose another divisional game (two meetings with Pittsburgh loom), but have found a way of giving away big games to an inferior Browns team on occasion in the past. Clevelanders still hate the Ravens for leaving for Baltimore, and the chance to undermine their playoff hopes should have the fans motivated. This very well could be Brady Quinn’s return as the starting quarterback as well.
Seahawks at Cardinals: Arizona has become fearsome on the road, but enigmatic at home. This is the type of game they have a habit of blowing, but if the Cards take care of business within the division, they’re going to repeat as NFC West champs. I figure to see Anquan Boldin back. This should be another opportunity for Arizona to keep trying to get that running game going as well. Seattle can play spoiler, and a win would at least start building some positive momentum.
Falcons at Panthers: Carolina is back to running the ball down teams’ throats, but the turnovers from the first six weeks will haunt the Panthers all season. Still, they had the Saints on the ropes and know the Falcons well. The Falcons are starting to ride Michael Turner again, which makes life much easier for Matt Ryan and will help curb his interception woes. This could be a low-scoring game.
Jaguars at Jets: Another must-win game for teams that hope to be a part of the playoff picture until the end. New York’s bye came at the right time to stop a freefall, and Mark Sanchez will try to emerge from a funk. Another matchup where both teams will look to run the ball all day. No Kris Jenkins is a big blow for the Jets, and linebackers like Bart Scott are going to have to wrap up Maurice Jones-Drew.
Buccaneers at Dolphins: Josh Freeman finally gave the Bucs something to feel good about last week, and maybe he’ll have top WR Antonio Bryant back for this one. Miami’s run of tough defeats to elite teams continued last week, and the Wildcat has been slowed recently. The push to get more passing involved in that aspect is essential, and rookie QB Pat White might end up being more of a force in this game as well.
Saints at Rams: The biggest potential for a complete blowout this week. New Orleans can seemingly overcome any deficit, but the run defense has slipped in recent weeks, and Steven Jackson is the Rams’ best chance at success. I expect to see the Saints in a lot of 9-10 man fronts, given St. Louis’ aerial woes. Even coming off a bye, it is difficult to imagine the Rams being able to pull this one off.
Lions at Vikings: The other game that screams blowout. Detroit has been horrific on the road for a long, long time, and the Vikings come in off a bye, with all of Brett Favre‘s various ailments allowed to heal up. Matthew Stafford has been an interception machine since returning from his injury and if Minnesota gets up early and Jared Allen goes off, Stafford stands to suffer again. Minnesota is running away with the division.
Broncos at Redskins: Washington might be stuck on two wins for quite some time, and the empty-seats ratio will likely soar as the temperature drops. Kyle Orton returns to the place of his first-ever start. Washington’s pass protection issues are epic and the Broncos could win this game without scoring an offensive point. Once Elvis (Dumervil) enters this building, you’re going to have a heck of a time getting him to leave against the worst set of tackles in the NFL.
Bills at Titans: Vince Young stands a good chance of going to 3-0 this season and continuing his sparkling winning percentage. This is going to be basic football from both sides, and yet another game where running the ball will carry the day. Trent Edwards is scheduled to return from his concussion. Maybe Buffalo found a way to get T.O. more involved during its bye week, but the Titans’ secondary is finally jumping routes and picking off passes again.
Chiefs at Raiders: There is a lot of wonderful history between these once-great teams, which is something to celebrate as the league commemorates the AFL in 2009. Beyond that, well, both of these clubs are one day closer to the NFL draft. I’ll leave it at that.