NFL Goes Awol: Week 10

We have some competitive games on the slate for week 10 and you know the saying, “Any Given Sunday.”

If you haven’t already noticed, the NFC is superior to the AFC so let’s take it from the top, shall we?

The game of the week features the Texans visiting the Bears. Both teams enter week 10 with 7-1 records and elite defenses. It’s fair to say that Houston has the edge on the offensive side of the ball with their combination of Arian Foster and playaction passes. Rather than look at this matchup as Matt Schaub vs. Jay Cutler, Andre Johnson vs. Brandon Marshall, and Arian Foster vs. Matt Forte, it’s really those offensive units playing against strong defenses. You could say that Texans tight end Owen Daniels has been an x-factor lately, but the same can be said for running back Michael Bush for the Bears. Using the Packers as a measuring stick, both teams lost to Green Bay convincingly. Of course, Chicago is a rival and the Cheese Heads got the best of them, however Houston hosted a prime time affair and they just weren’t in the same class.

Let’s just say Chicago has the best defense in the league, I mean they’ve scored more touchdowns than some offenses while threatening (to score) great field position with special teams. I think it’s a good thing the Chicago offense hasn’t clicked yet because you don’t want to roll on all cylinders until the end of the season heading into the playoffs. Houston has been just as good and you can only play those on the schedule, but we’ve seen them play at their best. Chicago has 4 potential All-Pro defenders (Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, Tim Jennings, and Defensive MVP candidate Charles Tillman) with linebacker Brian Urlacher looking healthier as Wade Phillips lost linebacker Brian Cushing for the year. Still, J.J. Watt and company should make it a defensive battle. Houston is 3-0 on the road while the Bears are 4-0 in their own backyard, something’s got to give and I’m betting on Chicago in prime time.

Atlanta is flying high with their sights on that Saints defense to keep that undefeated streak going. New Orleans is happy to have tight end Jimmy Graham back at full strength, although both teams will be without core players for the second straight game (Falcons linebacker Sean Weatherspoon and Saints running back Darren Sproles). I know they struggled coming out the gate, but you can’t dismiss the difficulty of marching into the Superdome and beating Drew Brees. Both teams should rely on the ground game more than usual to keep the ball away from the opposing quarterback, but that may be too much to ask for these explosive aerial attacks in a predicted shootout. This will be a fun NFC South rivalry to watch, and the Saints just might end the streak.

San Francisco has taken charge of the NFC West, both them and their St. Louis rivals are coming off a bye. The Rams are still figuring out who they are offensively, and since the trade deadline passed it’ll be interesting to see if they were trying to keep running back Steven Jackson fresh for the ladder part of the season or if Darryl Richardson is the future. Receiver Danny Amendola gives them an energy boost and perhaps the go-to target quarterback Sam Bradford needs to move the chains on 3rd down. Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers playing at a high level with that monstrous defense, while maximizing the strengths of quarterback Alex Smith with a spectacular QB rating. St. Louis touts a stout defense as well, they’ve certainly adopted an attitude and a belief. This will be a very physical game, San Francisco has the advantage in the trenches which should flex their muscle within the division.

In the must-win game of the week, Dallas and Philadelphia clash representing the yin and yang that is the NFC East. These two teams are usually hyped to be contenders, but after their mediocre play the past couple of seasons it’s about time they show something on the field. Playing in close games doesn’t make you a good team, nor does having talent and supposedly “underachieving.” There’s no doubt that the coaches are on the hot seat because they’ve been sitting on it for quite some time, but don’t forget about the signal callers that aren’t leading their teams to greener pastures. This game is all about doing enough to win without any consolation, expect the usual penalties, turnovers, and any other self-inflicted wound to be on display. In a sense, these are two of the better pass-rushing teams with some of the tougher secondaries. Giving the edge to both defenses, it wouldn’t surprise me to see at least one backup quarterback (Cowboys Kyle Orton and Eagles Nick Foles) take a snap whether it’s because of poor performance or injury (these offensive lines are mediocre at the very best).

Here’s another toss up game between two dome teams. Minnesota gets to host their foe this time around, after defeating them earlier in the season by a touchdown. The story of running back Adrian Peterson’s recovery to play week one was remarkable, but to lead the NFL in rushing through 10 weeks is amazing. Unfortunately, quarterback Christian Ponder is going through growing pains and Percy Harvin is doubtful with some pain from a sprained ankle. The Lions might be catching stride by spreading the ball around and staying committed to the run. Their defensive line is keeping them in games and even taking over quarters at a time, and when you flip the focus to the Vikings you can’t help but acknowledge linebacker Chad Greenway and cornerback Antoine Winfield leading a solid defense. Calvin Johnson has been banged up and kept out of the endzone for the most part, but the fact that he will be on the field and Harvin won’t is enough for me to lean Detroit’s way to split the matchup this year.

We’re finally dipping into some more AFC teams…

San Diego makes the trip to Tampa Bay and will go against a familiar face. Vincent Jackson has been exactly what the Buccaneers had hoped for, and you know he is salivating to face his former teammates in the secondary. Josh Freeman has taken advantage of Doug Martin’s success with the ground and pound. Following suit is the league’s best run defense, an extremely tough challenge for Chargers running backs. Tight end Antonio Gates should get plenty of looks as quarterback Philip Rivers’ prime target, especially with spotty blocking up front against an opportunistic Ronde Barber-led defense. Tampa Bay is playing good football while San Diego continues to search for answers and health. Coach Greg Schiano has instilled a nastiness to his team while Coach Norv Turner is trying not to lose his team.

In an AFC East rematch, the Bills fly to New England. The Patriots disposed the Bills quite easily in Buffalo, and they should repeat that success coming off a bye week. I like how Coach Chan Gailey is making his playmakers the focal point of the offense, as he should, but the two back system is taking them a step back. They need to pick one back and stick with their decision, and they’re both deserving although C.J. Spiller has outplayed Fred Jackson this year. Even if Ryan Fitzpatrick throws for multiple touchdowns, you can expect multiple interceptions in return. New England is really coming together as a defense just how coach Bill Belichick planned, and it helps to have a formidable running game to keep quarterback Tom Brady untouched and the defense fresh. Running back Brandon Bolden is suspended and tight end Aaron Hernandez may be out, but they still have Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, Stevan Ridley, and Danny Woodhead. I’m really anticipating next week’s debut of cornerback Aquib Talib in a Patriots uniform.

Another team coming off a bye, the Jets will land in the confines of the 12th Man in Seattle. The Seahawks are undefeated at home in large part to the “beast mode” of running back Marshawn Lynch.Factor in the great play of rookie Russell Wilson when he’s at the helm in front of the home crowd, this isn’t an easy team to beat. New York struggles to move the ball, but they do have a chance with a smaller receiver Jeremy Kerley against bigger defensive backs. They definitely need Shonn Greene to show he’s rejuvenated to keep pass rushers like Chris Clemens and Bruce Irvin at bay. You have to like the Jets’ chances to force a young signal caller into some turnovers, and perhaps the solution to scoring more points is a bigger dose of Tim Tebow…the quarterback. Nothing against Rex Ryan, but Pete Carroll’s players actually back him up.

From last season’s overachievers to Super Bowl contenders, the Broncos are following Peyton Manning’s lead. The defense is better than advertised, and those veterans are holding things together when they trail. That is, before Manning has another comeback performance and that offense is just thriving while operating at a quicker pace. The same can’t be said for Cam Newton and the Panthers, but they are coming off a road win as Denver comes to town. Carolina’s defense picked up the intensity last week, although RG3 is a rookie QB and Manning is a future Hall of Famer. Which is why they won’t like the result of returning to the loss column (probably).

The Giants don’t strike anyone as a spectacular regular season team, but the hot start should keep them in cruise control because their division rivals shoot themselves in the foot. New York has had to deal with running back Ahmad Bradshaw and receiver Hakeem Nicks flirting with the injury report for a living, so it doesn’t help to see breakout receiver Victor Cruz dropping balls. Eli Manning is supposedly elite, rough games happen to the best of them but at some point you’re going to agree that he’s more clutch than good. If championships are all that matter then it shouldn’t be a problem, but the defense that prides itself in its pass rush has taken a step back and Bengals receiver A.J. Green should have his way with the secondary. If Cincinnati can get running back Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis to follow last week’s 100-yard performance against the G-Men, they’ll thrust themselves back into the playoff picture they were in a year ago. Don’t you have to give NY the benefit of the doubt?

Tennessee has been singing the blues as of late. They won’t get left tackle Michael Roos back just yet, but quarterback Jake Locker returns to action. Not sure if the Titans’ defense is going to stop the rhythmic punch of running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, so they will need their young core of passing targets to excel. Running back Chris Johnson will have to churn his way to an average day against a stout Miami defense, and I think the Dolphins are in the playoff picture for that exact reason.

You never know what you’re going to get from the Raiders, especially without their top 2 running backs. Fullback Marcel Reece has been overlooked for a couple seasons, and Oakland has given signal caller Carson Palmer total control of the offense…Brett Favre style. Baltimore is more of an offensive team now, and without some core defensive players QB Joe Flacco has to be the guy they want him to be. If Oakland can limit the big plays from several to a couple, they love to play physical teams hence the win against Pittsburgh earlier this season. You may very well give the edge to the Ravens, I say it’s a toss up even though the game is in Baltimore.

The only toss up about this game will be the coin toss at the beginning. Pittsburgh is playing good football without a handful of their starters on both sides of the ball. The Steel Curtain should protect home turf while the offense only needs to do a little bit to win in prime time. Kansas City has simply disappointed, and if they want to compete with the Steelers then running back Jamaal Charles better be healthy and on his A-game to pave the way. Yeah, I don’t see too many likely scenarios that involve the Chiefs winning this game, however now is as good a time as any to right the ship. Before you can worry about quality wins, you have to simply get a win…and that’s not so simple these days.