NFL Watchability Index, Week 9: Playoff races starting to heat up

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With eight weeks in the books, it's put-up-or-shut-up time as we head towards the second half of the season. See what games are worth watching in Week 9.

We're now at the halfway mark of the NFL season and it's time to start thinking about playoff races. By now, we have a good idea of which teams will be fighting for the postseason and which ones are just playing out the string, so that will become a bigger factor in my watchability ratings going forward.

As usual, I will rank every game on a scale from one to five based on quality of the teams performing, the potential playoff implications and my own shallow biases. Welcome to Week 9 of the Watchability Index.

Cincinnati Bengals at Miami Dolphins

Thursday, 8:25 p.m., NFL Network

The Dolphins are in full panic mode after blowing a 17-3 lead to the Patriots and dropping their fourth game in a row. They are now facing a Bengals squad that's 6-2 and has Andy Dalton playing the best football of his career. I don't think Joe Philbin is on the hot seat yet, but his team spent big money in the offseason and he's not getting the desired results yet. I could see offensive coordinator Mike Sherman being a sacrificial lamb if things don't improve.

Watchability rating: 3

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills

Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS

Trap game alert? Not likely, but Buffalo is no pushover. The Bills defense remains underrated and Thad Lewis continues to look like a credible quarterback. That might make the Chiefs take pause after they looked surprisingly vulnerable against Case Keenum and Jason Campbell in recent weeks. I mention "trap game" because the Chiefs have a bye the following week before facing the Broncos in a massive AFC West game. Keep an eye on this matchup.

Watchability rating: 3

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers

1 p.m., FOX

Carolina stormed back from a slow start to the season and are now firmly in the Wild Card picture. Meanwhile, Atlanta's season is all but over after dropping four of their last five games. The Panthers' defense will keep them in nearly every game and should cause nightmares for the Falcons offense. Speaking of the Falcons' offense, is Steven Jackson done or was he just slow to recover from a hamstring injury? Hard to say, but right now he's looking like one of the biggest free agent busts of the season.

Watchability rating: 2

Minnesota Vikings at Dallas Cowboys

1 p.m., FOX

One step forward, one step back. That has been the story of the Cowboys this year after blowing a late lead to the Lions. Forget about the Dez Bryant thing -- Dallas' defense should be the big story of that loss, allowing Detroit to drive 80 yards in under a minute with no timeouts. They should have an easier time against a Minnesota defense that let Green Bay impose its will on them, but it's impossible to trust this team. The Vikings are going back to Josh Freeman, which helps the watchability factor if you enjoy slow-motion trainwrecks.

Watchability rating: 1

New Orleans Saints at New York Jets

1 p.m., FOX

The Jets are becoming the football version of the Star Trek movies -- one solid, exciting entry followed by a complete dud, rinse and repeat. They continued that trend with a thrilling overtime victory over the Patriots, only to lay an egg in a 49-9 loss to the Bengals. At this point, the Jets have confounded my preseason expectations on multiple levels, so they will probably play the Saints close at home here despite being the inferior team.

Watchability rating: 3

Tennessee Titans at St. Louis Rams

1 p.m., CBS

The Rams continued Brian Schottenheimer's proud tradition from his days with the Jets -- waste a strong defensive effort against a superior team with inexplicable calls on offense. The Titans, coming off a bye, had another week to get Jake Locker healthy and currently have a better offensive line than Seattle's. Tennessee can also stay in the playoff hunt by improving to 4-4, while the Rams are all but out of it. I don't expect a pretty result here.

Watchability rating: 2

San Diego Chargers at Washington Redskins

1 p.m., CBS

If the season ended after Week 8, the Chargers would earn the No. 6 playoff seed with a 4-3 record. I'm not sure if that says more about the state of the AFC or about San Diego's revitalized team. They have only played one divisional opponent so far, so we should learn more about them in the coming weeks, but Mike McCoy deserves a ton of credit for reviving Philip Rivers' career. As for Washington, Robert Griffin III is looking like his old self again, but that might not matter with the defense still a tire fire.

Watchability rating: 2

Philadelphia Eagles at Oakland Raiders

4:05 p.m., FOX

Never thought I'd be more excited about the Raiders and the Eagles when I saw this game on the schedule in August, but that's what happens when Philadelphia's offense scores just 10 points in two games and has a mess at quarterback. Nick Foles will be starting this week. He has been a competent player for the most part, but after his terrible performance in Week 7, I'm not sure what to expect. The Eagles are still just one game behind in the NFC East because NFC East.

Watchability rating: 2

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Seattle Seahawks

4:05 p.m., FOX

Seattle has some serious questions to answer after a dismal performance on Monday night, but they still came away with a divisional win and face a reeling Bucs squad in front of a rabid home crowd. They could also be getting Percy Harvin back this week after losing Sidney Rice to a torn ACL and still have one of the best defenses in the league. Mike Glennon could get a rude awakening by the 12th Man.

Watchability rating: 1

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns

4:25 p.m., CBS

Ray Rice had a bye week to get his injured hip right. That could be important, because he clearly hasn't been himself while playing through the injury. I'm still not sure what to make of either of these teams, but with the Ravens at 3-4 and the Browns 3-5, it's an important divisional matchup as each team tries to keep pace with the Bengals in the AFC North.

Watchability rating: 3

Pittsburgh Steelers at New England Patriots

4:25 p.m., CBS

The Patriots suffered yet another injury blow last week, losing right tackle Sebastian Vollmer for the season. Despite all the hand-wringing about their struggles, they're still in the driver's seat in the AFC East and could score another win here. The Steelers' season hit a low point after losing to the Raiders. Another loss would put them at 2-6 and pretty much end their season.

Watchability rating: 2

Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans

8:30 p.m., NBC

Case Keenum, the franchise savior? He looked surprisingly solid against the Chiefs defense in Week 7, but Houston still lost that game and are on the brink at 2-5. He faces a much tougher task against a team that beat the Seahawks, 49ers and Broncos. Indianapolis has a big hole to fill after losing Reggie Wayne, but Andrew Luck hasn't given us much reason to doubt him yet, and the Texans' defense once again is collapsing after Brian Cushing went down.

Watchability rating: 2

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers

Monday, 8:40 p.m., ESPN

An NFC North showdown between historical rivals sounds like a great idea on paper, but ESPN probably isn't getting the marquee game they wanted after Jay Cutler got injured. The Packers have injury problems of their own on offense, but Aaron Rodgers is still a well-oiled machine no matter who is supporting cast is, and the Bears defense has been in freefall lately.

Primetime divisional matchups tend to get wacky -- see last week's Seahawks-Rams tilt -- so this one is worth watching just to see what happens. The teams are just one game apart and the winner can score an important tiebreaker game in the division.

Watchability rating: 4

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