There really is a lot to follow around the NFL as the 2016 season heads into its second half. It’s also a time when teams start to mold their path to the second season.
What doesn’t work in the first half might be replaced with some new tricks to prepare for January football. Meanwhile, certain teams find themselves in what have to be considered must-win games.
Among the top stories, the Seattle Seahawks will head to New England for a Super Bowl rematch against the Patriots on Sunday night. That promises to be the most-explosive game on the Week 10 slate.
Can Seattle find a way to fix the struggles we’ve seen from this team recently? If so, will Tom Brady and Co. be up for the task? On a different note, the entire Cam Newton drama promises to be taken to another level with his Carolina Panthers taking on a pass-rush heavy Kansas City Chiefs defense. How will that play out?
These are among the top-10 storylines for NFL Week 10.
1. Potential Super Bowl matchup in New England
It’s not a secret that the Seattle Seahawks have their problems. With help from the officials on Monday night, Seattle barely scraped by the Buffalo Bills at home. While it was a win for Russell Wilson and Co., there were also a few troubling trends occur in the game.
Seattle’s running backs combined for 10 yards on eight rush attempts. Wilson himself was sacked four more times and showed that he’s still not 100 percent. On the defensive side of the ball, the Seahawks yielded 30 first downs and 425 total yards at home. These aren’t signs that Seattle is a legit Super Bowl contender.
Even then, the Seahawks now boast a 5-2-1 record and are currently in position to grab a first-round bye in the playoffs. Considering their home-field advantage, that’s a big deal.
On the other side of the ledger, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots head into this game tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the best record in football. They do so with Brady playing at a level we’ve rarely seen from a quarterback in the modern history of the game.
In his first four games back from suspension, Brady has completed 73.1 percent of his passes for 1,319 yards with 12 touchdowns and zero picks. In the process, he’s led the Pats to an average of 34 points per game en route to a perfect record.
Boasting a 10-game home winning streak in November, the Patriots look to hand Seattle what would be a tough defeat in the battle for a top-two seed in the NFC. It’s in this that the wide array of elite-level matchups in this one will play a major role in the outcome come Sunday night.
2. The Cam Newton dilemma
The entire issue of player safety and late hits on quarterbacks will take on a whole new meaning this upcoming weekend when the Carolina Panthers host the Kansas City Chiefs.
After being sacked five times by the Los Angeles Rams last week, Newton has now found himself dropped 21 times in seven games. This lack of protection forced him to miss a game with a concussion and demand a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Don’t expect the Newton drama to take a backseat Sunday in Charlotte. He’s taking on a Chiefs squad that boasts one of the league’s top sack men in Dee Ford, who has recorded nine quarterback takedowns in eight games this season.
Unfortunately for Cam and Co., former NFL sack leader Justin Houston was activated off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list on Wednesday, meaning he might be a go in this one. Prior to tearing his ACL in the Chiefs’ 11th game last season, Houston had recorded a whopping 41 sacks in his previous 38 games.
We can expect the NFL to be paying extra close attention to this game. Kansas City’s prowess in getting the quarterback can’t be ignored by the suits in New York City. And if something should go wrong come Sunday, we can expect Newton to speak up again.
3. Season on the line in Philly
It’s not bombastic to say that the Philadelphia Eagles’ season is on the line at home against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Losers of four of their last five, the Eagles find themselves in last place in the NFC East and a whopping three games behind the red-hot Dallas Cowboys.
Simply put, Philadelphia can’t fall four games back heading into Week 11. That would be too much for the team to overcome, especially with a struggling rookie quarterback under center. More than even in the division, dropping to 4-5 on the season would put the Eagles’ playoff hopes in major jeopardy.
The issue here for Philadelphia is two-fold. After starting out the season incredibly strong, Carson Wentz has come crashing back down to earth quicker than a Hillary Clinton supporter on election night.
Over the course of his past five starts, the rookie No. 2 pick has thrown four touchdowns compared to five interceptions.
It’s not a coincidence that Philadelphia has lost four of those five games while averaging 22 points per outing. This came on the heels of of Philly boasting a 3-0 record with Wentz throwing five touchdowns and zero picks to start the season.
The second issue here could be more problematic. The Eagles’ defense now must take on an MVP candidate in Matt Ryan and the league’s top scoring offense.
If Wentz struggles to do much on offense, this game will likely end in a blowout in favor of the road team, making the Eagles irrelevant in the NFC Playoff picture heading into Week 11.
4. Cowboys face a tough test against desperate opponent
In the midst of a seven-game winning streak, the first-place Dallas Cowboys now must head to Pittsburgh to take on a reeling Steelers team. At first glance, this looks like another major mismatch in the Cowboys’ favor.
That’s until we realize that Dak Prescott and Co. are not taking on the Cleveland Browns or another bottom-feeding team. Pittsburgh entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations. Its season was then derailed by an injury to franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This has led to a three-game losing streak and questions about Pittsburgh’s ability to contend for a playoff spot.
That’s fine and dandy. The Steelers deserve to be questioned. It’s also important to note that Big Ben has one game under his belt since returning from a mensicus injury. He’s also playing at home where the Steelers are averaging 32.6 points in their last eight games.
We can’t call this a trap game for Dallas. That would have taken place last weekend when it soundly defeated the winless Browns 35-10. Instead, it’s a much more even matchup than one would suggest. It also comes with an all-rookie backfield taking up a ton of the spotlight around the NFL. Heck, it comes with Tony Romo now set to return from injury. How will Dak Prescott respond to this increasing pressure? That’s the biggest story to look at here.
5. Must win Monday Night Football game
We’re entering the point in the season where there are definitely some must-win games. We also focused on that before with the Philadelphia Eagles. However, Monday’s matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Giants pits two teams who are both in must-win situations against one another.
In reality, it’s not about remaining alive in the playoff race for either of these teams. New York stands at 5-3 and would earn a trip to the playoffs if the regular season ended today. Though, it is two games behind Dallas in the NFC East and really can’t afford to fall three games back heading into Week 11.
For the Bengals, this is a bit more convoluted because their most-recent game ended in a tie. Cincinnati is currently tied with Baltimore and Pittsburgh atop the AFC North with four losses. It is, however, one game back in the win column by virtue of that odd tie game.
Who is in more need of a win here? That’s a very difficult question to ask. We’d likely draw the conclusion that it’s the Giants, because their path to the playoffs would be much more narrower if they were to fall three games behind Dallas in their own division. Meanwhile, Cincinnati, a team that’s righted the ship following a slow start, would still be in play in the AFC North with a loss.
6. Can the Packers right the ship?
Green Bay’s recent struggles are unlike anything we have seen from this franchise in nearly a decade. It enters Week 10 with a 4-4 record and in third place in the NFC North. Its offense has been stagnant for the most part this season with Aaron Rodgers leading the 19th-ranked pass offense in the NFL.
The coaching has come under fire. There seems to be some division in the locker room. A Hall of Fame former Packers quarterback seemingly just called Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy out. All this with the backdrop of the Packers legitimately using a wide receiver at running back.
When bottom feeders struggle like this, we tend to write them off. However, we simply can’t do that with a squad as talented as the Packers. It has a former MVP at quarterback, two No. 1 receivers and a talented young secondary. It’s a team that’s also earned a spot in the playoffs each of the past seven seasons.
That’s all fine and dandy, but 2016 is 2016. What happened in previous seasons means very little. With a loss on Sunday to the Tennessee Titans, the Packers would fall to 4-5 on the season. Considering they are coming off a loss to another inferior AFC South team in the Colts, another defeat here would pretty much doom Rodgers and Co. to irrelevance for the remainder fo the season.
This what makes Week 10 so important for Green Bay. Even with a loss it would be no more than two games out in the NFC North. That’s not the point. You can’t lose to two bad teams in a row, falling to under .500 in the process, and expect to contend for a playoff spot.
7. Broncos defense faces toughest test of the season
The Oakland Raiders were sure a tough test last week. It’s also a test Denver’s elite-level defense failed at every turn. Overall, Oakland put up 30 points, 30 first downs, 400 yards of offense and held on to the ball over 41 minutes. That’s not Bronco football. That’s most definitely not the football that helped Denver earn the Super Bowl title a season ago.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, it doesn’t get much easier on the road against the high-flying New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees and Co. have won four of five since starting the season with three consecutive losses. During that span, the Saints are averaging 32.6 points per game. Meanwhile, Brees himself has been absolutely dominant of late.
Drew Brees past four games: 73.7 completion, 1,420 yards, 11 TD, 2 INTs, 114.7 QB rating. Over 30 completions per game pic.twitter.com/CzIXAdkLaP
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 7, 2016
Denver is danger of falling even further behind Oakland in the AFC West. Heck, it could easily drop to third place with a loss and a Kansas City Chiefs win. With Trevor Siemian and the Broncos’ offense struggling, it’s going to be up to the defense to hold down the fort come Sunday. That’s a whole heck of a lot to ask.
8. Trying to figure out Jeff Fisher’s thought process
Really. What exactly is the Los Angeles Rams’ head coach attempting to prove by continuing to throw Case Keenum out there? The Rams have now lost four in a row. During that span, the team is averaging 16.8 points while Keenum himself has thrown five touchdowns compared to eight interceptions.
All the while, rookie No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff is sitting on the bench collecting dust. We completely understand the idea of wanting to take it easy with a rookie quarterback. Considering the system Goff ran in college, this is magnified even further.
But at some point, Fisher owes it to the rest of the team to fix what’s broken. Keenum is nowhere near a starter-caliber quarterback in the NFL. And in reality, it might have cost Los Angeles the ability to contend for a playoff spot.
9. Dolphins head to San Diego as playoff contenders
Winners of three in a row after a 1-4 start, the Miami Dolphins suddenly look like a different team under first-year head coach Adam Gase. The team is averaging more than four touchdowns per game during this streak and has defeated three squads that finished at or above .500 a season ago. That’s not the type of football we’ve become accustomed to in South Beach.
More than anything, it has started at the running back position in Miami. Taking over as the primary ball carrier after the abrupt retirement of Arian Foster, second-year running back Jay Ajayi has put up an absurd 529 rushing yards over the past three games alone.
Now set to head to sunny Southern California with a date against a surprising San Diego Chargers team, Miami really has an opportunity to prove its worth among AFC Playoff contenders. Whether that happens is anyone’s guess.
10. Can the Vikings find a way to win?
After starting the season 5-0, the Minnesota Vikings have lost three consecutive. Their most-recent defeat was enough to send most teams into a major tailspin.
Leading by three with less than 30 seconds left, all Minnesota had to do was hold the Detroit Lions out of field goal range. Its defense proceeded to break down big time, enabling the Lions to kick the game-tying field goal as regulation expired. Then, on Detroit’s first possession of overtime, it drove down the field for the game-winning touchdown.
Now set to take on a well-rested Washington Redskins team, the Vikings simply must find a way to get back on track. And in reality, it starts on offense. During this three-game slide, Minnesota has failed to score more than 16 points in a single game and is averaging just 12 points per outing.