Thanksgiving means NFL crunch time.
We’re now officially entering the stretch run of the NFL season. Once Thanksgiving is on the horizon, it becomes clear that crunch time is here around the league. Week 10’s games are no different.
In a battle for relevance in the AFC South, Andrew Luck will look to continue his great play for the Colts against a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars team and their No. 1-ranked pass defense.
Over in the NFC, all eyes will be on Philadelphia with the Eagles hosting the division-rival Dallas Cowboys. Can Ezekiel Elliott come on strong and keep his Boys in contention while potentially saving Jason Garrett’s job?
These are among the top matchups for each Week 10 NFL game.
Carolina Panthers at Pittsburgh Steelers: Cam Newton vs Ben Roethlisberger
Two teams playing the best football among their counterparts, this Thursday Night Football clash is going to be an absolute beast. Winners of five of their past six, Newton has his Panthers as top-end contenders in the NFC. He’s now accounted for 15 touchdowns compared to three interceptions during this span en route to leading Carolina to an average of 30 points per game.
Despite a minor injury scare this past Sunday, Big Ben also continues to play stellar football. He has his Steelers in the midst of a four-game winning streak that has seen the team average a robust 31.3 points per outing. This should be a fun quarterback duel at Heinz Field come Thursday night.
Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Alex Smith vs Buccaneers pass defense
It’s pretty laughable just how bad Tampa Bay’s pass defense has been. It allowed 35 first-half points to Carolina last week and has seen quarterbacks throw 24 touchdowns compared to one interception for a 123.4 passer rating. That’s about as bad as it gets for Dirk Koetter’s squad.
That’s also pretty good news for a quarterback in Alex Smith who has thrown just five touchdowns in as many games since a hot start to the season. Smith needs to do better if the Redskins hope to remain in first place in the NFC East moving forward. He didn’t do it last week in a blowout loss to the Falcons. It’s now time for the high-priced veteran to step up against bad competition.
Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs: Tyreek Hill vs Patrick Peterson
With all the weapons Kansas City boasts on offense, defenses have attempted to hone in on Hill. That’s one of the reasons why he’s been held in check at times this season. Including last week, the dynamic receiver has put up 70 or fewer yards in six of his past seven games.
Sure Hill is still a game-breaking threat. But Arizona has an ace in the hole in the form of future Hall of Fame cornerback Patrick Peterson, who just might be playing the best football of his career this season. Through the first eight games, Peterson is yielding a 39.9 passer rating when targeted. We’re not expecting Arizona to have much of a chance here. Even then, Peterson gives the team some hope heading into Arrowhead on Sunday.
Buffalo Bills at New York Jets: Sam Darnold vs Bills pass defense
If the Bills hope to win even one more game this season, they are going to have to rely on what has been a better-than-average defense. After all, the team’s quarterbacks have now thrown three touchdowns compared to 16 interceptions through nine games.
The good news? Buffalo’s defense will now be taking on a quarterback in Sam Darnold who is coming off a four-interception performance in a loss to the Dolphins last week and has hit the rookie wall as hard as anyone we’ve seen in recent NFL history. Though, it might not matter with Nathan Peterman (or whoever) tossing the rock for a Bills team that’s averaging less than 11 points per game on the season. Yeah, this one is going to be ugly.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck vs Jaguars pass defense
In a somewhat shocking turn of events, Luck has tossed 23 touchdowns through the first half of the season en route to leading Indianapolis to the sixth-best scoring offense in the NFL. Unfortunately, his success has only resulted in a 3-5 record through eight games. Now that the Texans have won six in a row and are three games ahead of Indy in the win column, it’s time for the rest of the team to step up.
The Colts’ next opportunity comes Sunday against a division rival in that of the Jaguars who are also heading into Week 10 in must-win mode. Losers of their past four games, Doug Marrone’s squad needs to stop the bleeding. It will start this week with a pass defense that still ranks No. 1 in the NFL.
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears: Kenny Golladay vs Kyle Fuller
Seeing extended action in Week 9 after the trade of Golden Tate, Golladay caught 3-of-4 passes for 46 yards against a stingy Minnesota Vikings pass defense. It’s not yet known if this is a prelude of things to come or whether the young receiver will play a more vital role moving forward this season. Though, he’s going to have to step up opposite Marvin Jones if the Lions have any hope of returning to contention.
That starts this coming Sunday against a Bears team that’s in first place in the NFC North with a 5-3 record and boasts a pass defense that’s yielded an opposing 80.5 quarterback rating on the season. More specifically, Golladay must do work lining up against one of the better cover guys in the NFL. In a must win for the Lions, this is a huge individual matchup.
New Orleans Saints at Cincinnati Bengals: Michael Thomas vs William Jackson
What Thomas is doing for the Saints right now is something we’ve never seen in the history of the NFL. Including this game-clinching 72-yard touchdown against the Rams last week, Thomas burnt the previously undefeated team to the tune of 12 receptions for 215 yards on 15 targets. Now, through the first eight games of the season, Thomas has caught 70 passes for 884 yards. He also boasts a downright ridiculous 89 percent catch rate.
Coming off their bye, Jackson and the Bengals are in for a major test in an attempt to move to 6-3 on the season. Despite its team-wide success, Cincinnati ranks dead last in the NFL against the pass. For his part, Jackson has recorded eight passes defended this season and remains the Bengals’ best cover guy. He must act like it on Sunday.
New England Patriots at Tennessee Titans: Malcolm Butler vs old team
Butler will have an opportunity to shut down the very same team he acted as a Super Bowl hero for in another lifetime. He’ll do so after departing the Patriots in free agency for a big-money contract in Nashville and following an ugly divorce from New England. Unfortunately for his new team, Butler is also yielding a 140-plus passer rating when targeted on the season.
We’re pretty darn sure ex-teammate Tom Brady and Co. are going to want to target Butler early and often in this one. Whether it’s with Chris Hogan or Josh Gordon, that’s likely going to be the case. One of the things working in Butler’s favor is the fact that Brady has thrown just 11 touchdowns during the Patriots’ current six-game sinning streak.
Atlanta Falcons at Cleveland Browns: Julio Jones vs Denzel Ward
Fresh off scoring his first touchdown in over a calendar year, Jones appears to be in domination mode once again. He caught seven passes for 121 yards against an elite Redskins defense last week and is now on pace for nearly 1,900 receiving yards on the season. It’s not a coincidence that Jones’ recent hot streak has helped the Falcons turn their season around entering the second half of their schedule.
On the other end, Ward enters Week 10 banged up after suffering a hip injury in last week’s loss to the Chiefs. Despite this, he should be ready to go for a Browns defense that was eaten alive by Patrick Mahomes and Co. last week. The rookie has put up nine passes defended and three interceptions during what has been a stellar initial season in the NFL.
Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland Raiders: Melvin Gordon vs Raiders run defense
A lot was made last week of Nick Mullens’ brilliant NFL debut in San Francisco’s blowout win over the hapless Raiders. Though, it’s also important to note that Jon Gruden’s defense couldn’t stop the 49ers on the ground. This unit gave up 143 rushing yards in the loss and is yielding an average of north of 161 rushing yards over the past five games. That needs to be fixed in short order.
It’s not going to get any easier Sunday against a running back in Melvin Gordon who has tallied nearly 900 total yards in seven games this season. If the Raiders don’t find a way to stop the ground attack here, they’re going to be looking at yet another blowout loss against a far superior team.
Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams: Ethan Pocic vs Aaron Donald
Up until last week against the Chargers, Russell Wilson’s offensive line had improved in pass protection in recent games. After seeing Wilson sacked a combined 12 games over the first two games, he was taken down a combined nine times in five games before being sacked four times in the loss to Los Angeles. It’s not a coincidence that Seattle’s recent string of success came to an end.
If Seattle is going to have any chance against a first-place Rams team that’s not going to come in happy after last week’s loss to New Orleans, pass protection must step up. That starts with the interior of the line against the best defensive player in the game. Donald has racked up 10 sacks in nine games and is a dominating force out there. How Pocic holds up will tell us the story here.
Miami Dolphins at Green Bay Packers: Davante Adams vs Xavien Howard
Adams was held in check against Stephon Gilmore and the Patriots last week, going for just 40 yards on nine targets. That came after three consecutive 100-plus yards games for Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target. Simply put, Adams has to get back on track if the 3-4-1 Packers want to have any chance of playing playoff football come January.
He’ll have an opportunity Sunday against a Dolphins defense that’s been giving up the big play on a consistent basis thus far this season. But it’s also a defense that’s now recorded a league-high 15 interceptions in nine games. As the Dolphins’ best cover guy, Howard could make a big difference for a team that’s surprisingly over .500 heading into Week 10.
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles: Ezekiel Elliott vs Eagles run defense
It’s a rather simple formula for Dallas. Since the start of last season, the team boasts a 6-2 record when Elliott goes for 100-plus yards on the ground. It’s just 3-7 when he fails to reach that plateau. It’s the latest example of the Cowboys being reliant on their all-everything running back.
In order for Jason Garrett and Co. to remain in the NFC East race beyond Week 10, they will need Elliott to do his thing. Unfortunately, it comes against an Eagles defense that ranks second in the NFL stopping the run. The good news? Elliott is averaging north of 100 rushing yards in two career games against the defending champs.
New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers: Odell Beckham Jr. vs Richard Sherman
We need this matchup in our lives for what is an otherwise meaningless Monday Night Football game between two of the worst teams in the NFL. Sherman heads into Week 10 as one of the best cornerbacks in the league, yielding a sub 50 passer rating when targeting and having given up just six catches throughout the entire season. Yeah, he’s still an All-Pro caliber performer.
Despite his team’s lack of success this season, Beckham has still been darn good. He’s on pace for 122 receptions and north of 1,500 yards. In a game the Giants can conceivably win, OBJ will have to get the best of his elite-level counterpart Monday at Levi’s Stadium.