Week 10 might feature one of the best slates of Sunday games thus far this season. Several matchups carry significant playoff implications, including Lions-Bears, Eagles-Packers, Bengals-Ravens, Panthers-49ers, Broncos-Chargers and Cowboys-Saints. Not that you needed an excuse to watch football all day, but there will be plenty of good football between teams still vying for the postseason.
The Seahawks of the last two weeks haven't looked much like the team that was clearly one of the NFL's best over most of the first half of the season. The team came within a goal-line stand of losing to the Rams, then trailed the winless Buccaneers for almost all of regulation last week. The Seahawks are thankfully getting healthier along the offensive line, and Percy Harvin should be back soon, but there is still an important question left to be answered: Did Seattle peak too soon?
A comfortable win over the 2-6 Falcons would go a long way towards soothing worries in Seattle. A Falcons win, meanwhile, would give Atlanta fans a reason to step back from the ledge. The team has been wrecked by injuries this season, but the offense could get Roddy White back from a nagging hamstring issue.
The Lions smell chum in the water. They are currently in a three-way tie atop the NFC North standings, and the other two teams, the Packers and the Bears, are both dealing with injured quarterbacks this weekend. Detroit has not won a division championship since 1993, but has a chance to take control of first place in Week 10.
Jay Cutler will start for the Bears this weekend, but whether he is 100 percent remains to be seen. He had a curiously fast recovery from a groin injury. Cutler may need to be at his best to keep pace with the Lions. If the Bears can pull out the win, they too may be able to take control of the NFC North, depending on what happens to the Packers against the Eagles.
Eagles vs. Packers (1 p.m. ET, Fox)
Aaron Rodgers' absence changed the complexion of Sunday's matchup. Entering the week, the Packers were 10-point favorites at home. Since the announcement of Rodgers' long-term recovery, however, the line has since moved to even odds, if not in favor of the Eagles.
The Eagles offense will once again feature Nick Foles, who is coming off a seven-touchdown performance against the Raiders. Fans will be anxious to see if he can replicate his success against a higher-caliber opponent. Sunday's game could be the litmus test that elevates Foles into budding stardom.
On paper Sunday's game is, well, ugly. The Jaguars are winless and the Titans have dropped three of their last four games. The Titans are still in the playoff picture at 4-4, at least, and may be in position to make a run over the second half of the season thanks to a relatively favorable schedule and the return of Jake Locker.
The Titans played the Chiefs, Seahawks and 49ers in consecutive weeks, three teams with a combined 23-3 record, and unsurprisingly lost all three games from Week 5 to Week 7. Compounding matters was the fact that Locker spent two of those games on the mend from a hip injury. He's back, and the Titans are coming off a win with a back half of the schedule that includes two bouts against the Jags, one against the Raiders and another against the Texans. Things could soon be looking up for Tennessee.
Rams vs. Colts (1 p.m. ET, Fox)
The Rams are reeling from three straight losses, but they are an oddly watchable team. On offense, Zac Stacy has injected some life into a Sam Bradford-less unit, while on defense the front seven has been wreaking havoc on opponents. Defensive end Chris Long had three sacks against the Seahawks two weeks ago.
That said, the Colts are comfortable favorites for good reason. Andrew Luck has six touchdown passes to zero interceptions over consecutive wins against the Broncos and the Texans. The running game hasn't been hot despite the Trent Richardson acquisition, but Luck and a stout defense have the Colts looking like one of the best teams in the NFL.
Raiders vs. Giants (1 p.m. ET, CBS)
The Raiders defense is coming off an embarrassing performance. Nick Foles tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes against the Oakland secondary last week. He also had a perfect quarterback rating. The performance took the sheen off of what was another fun to watch, if erratic, performance by Terrelle Pryor.
Eli Manning is no doubt licking his chops. The two-time Super Bowl MVP is finally starting to settle down. After throwing interceptions in six straight games to start the season, he has thrown zero over his last two, albeit with just one touchdown pass. Sunday's game may be his chance to put himself firmly back in the good graces of Giants fans, ideally with a third straight win in tow.
The Bills started the season 2-2 with E.J. Manuel behind center. Since his Week 5 LCL sprain, the team has gone 1-4. Manuel is back this week, and the Bills are hoping the rookie quarterback can give the offense a desperately needed spark. A nearly 100 percent C.J. Spiller should help as well.
The Bills have the benefit of facing a Steelers team in crisis mode. The defense had a historically bad performance against the Patriots last week, giving up franchise records in yards (610) and points (55). Head coach Mike Tomlin threatened changes after the loss. We'll see if he follows through.
Speaking of disappointing AFC North teams, the Ravens are now losers of three straight. Their last two were to division foes, putting them behind the Bengals and the Browns in the standings. Does any of this makes sense? Nope. The Ravens may now be wondering whether it was wise to give Joe Flacco all that money, however. He has 10 touchdown passes to nine interceptions this season.
The Bengals, meanwhile, are one of the league's best upstart teams. Andy Dalton was scintillating before last week's Thursday night stinker, but he still managed 338 yards passing, albeit with three interceptions. He has no trouble finding A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard early and often, and those two alone make the Bengals offense must-watch television.
Panthers vs. 49ers (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox)
This is supposed to be the week we find out whether the Panthers are for real. Carolina has won four straight, and looked impressive. Cam Newton is playing the best football of his career, and the defense is making a case as the league's best. The four-game winning streak came against the Vikings, Rams, Buccaneers and Falcons, however, four teams that are a combined 7-27 this season. Together, they barely have as many wins as the 49ers.
The 49ers, meanwhile, are on a five-game win streak. The team appears to be feeling its oats after a slow start to the season. Colin Kaepernick racked up three touchdowns, two on the ground, against the Jaguars two weeks ago in the sort of big dual-threat performance fans were expecting from Week 1. If he finds success on the ground against the Panthers, the 49ers could be a force over the second half of the regular season.
Texans vs. Cardinals (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)
The Texans are hoping that they'll finally end the agony of a six-game losing streak. They've been close. They lost by one point in Week 7 to the 9-0 Chiefs, and three points to the 6-2 Colts last week. Case Keenum was excellent in both losses, throwing a combined four touchdowns to zero interceptions. The Texans defense is one of the most overlooked units in the league. Something has to give, and so ...
Enter the Cardinals, 4-4 and a perfect litmus test for the Texans. Arizona has been, for the most part, mediocre this season. It is winless in the NFC West, and doesn't stand out as particularly remarkable in any respect, outside of a very stout run defense.
If the Texans are going to stage a resurgence, they need to beat teams like the Cardinals. As for the Cards, they are well in the hunt for a Wild Card berth if they play their cards right. If they hope to make the playoffs, they need to beat teams like the Texans.
Broncos vs. Chargers (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS)
The Chargers are a good football team in many respects. The defense is shaky but the offense has been fine, even better than that. Philip Rivers has thrown 17 touchdown passes to seven interceptions this season, and ranks third in the NFL with a 106.5 average quarterback rating through eight games. And yet, the Chargers are touchdown underdogs to the Broncos on Sunday.
There is good reason. The Broncos are arguably the best team in football (with all due respect to the undefeated Chiefs), and have become necessary weekly viewing thanks to the fireworks that the Peyton Manning-led offense can produce. Win, and next week's game against the 9-0 Chiefs will be the biggest of the season.
The Cowboys are still in search of a signature win. They have picked up five wins this season, beating up on their NFC East rivals as well as the Vikings and the Rams. They fell agonizingly short against the Chiefs, Broncos and Lions, however, losing to all three teams by a combined five points. With a visit to the 6-2 Saints, the Cowboys have a chance to spruce up their resume, as well as take a stranglehold on the division standings.
The Saints, meanwhile, are reeling a bit. They lost, 26-20, to a schizophrenic Jets squad last week. Drew Brees threw two touchdowns to two interceptions, and the running game managed just 41 yards on the ground. The Cowboys' front isn't nearly as stout as the Jets', however. Brees should put up better numbers against the Dallas secondary, setting up a potentially thrilling shootout against Tony Romo.