Now that each team around the NFL is officially heading into the second half of the season, it is time to start separating the contenders from the pretenders.
It may be totally random how the schedule worked out, but there are a ton of games where that’s actually going to happen in Week 10.
From Thursday night’s matchup between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets to the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks hosting the Arizona Cardinals, there are some absolutely huge games on the slate.
As we have done throughout the season, here is your top storyline for each Week 10 NFL game.
Buffalo Bills and New York Jets: IK Enemkpali, Rex Ryan and a budding new AFC East rivalry
Ryan is doing everything possible to turn this into a rivalry with his old team. Whether the former Jets head coach just loves drama or is truly upset about the way his tenure in New Jersey ended, it really doesn’t matter.
By naming Enemkpali, whose only claim to fame is a punch to Geno Smith’s face earlier this year, captain for Thursday’s game, Ryan is proving himself to be an expert-level troll.
He’s also likely going to create an angry Jets team heading into this all-important AFC East matchup with wide-ranging playoff implications.
Both teams hit hard. They both can throw out physical running games. And in reality, they could have the two best defensive lines in football. It’s going to be a battle in the trenches between two squads, which could lead to tempers flaring on national television. Who doesn’t love this?
Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens: Time for Jaguars ultra-talented offense to produce
Jacksonville boasts a quarterback on pace for 4,400 yards. It has two receivers likely prepared to go over 1,200 yards with double-digit touchdowns. It has a running back on pace for nearly 1,200 total yards — all of them in their first two NFL seasons.
Overall, the Jaguars rank in the top half of the NFL in total offense, something that hasn’t happened since the Jack Del Rio days. Unfortunately, they are in the bottom third in the league in scoring offense.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that Jacksonville ranks 26th in the NFL when it comes to scoring touchdowns in the red zone at a 47.8 percent clip. With the talent this team possesses on offense, that’s truly stunning.
At 2-6 on the season, Jacksonville is just one game back in the loss column in the AFC South. Just imagine how the gap would narrow if this team could actually put up touchdowns on a consistent basis.
Sunday’s game against a Baltimore Ravens team that ranks in the bottom nine in total defense and is yielding nearly 27 points per game is a prime opportunity for the Jaguars to work on their red zone issues.
If they are able to improve in that category and come out with a win, Gus Bradley’s squad will head into Week 11 still in the playoff mix. If not, we’re likely looking at another top-five pick from this team when the 2016 NFL draft comes calling. That’s how important this game is for the squad.
Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers: Landry Jones’ important performance
Following an impressive offensive performance in a close win against the Oakland Raiders last week, Pittsburgh finds itself in the all-too familiar position of having to play without its starting quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger suffered a mid-foot sprain in that game and will likely be out of action this week.
This means that Jones will make his second start of the season. While impressive in two relief efforts this year, the former Oklahoma standout did struggle in his only previous start, throwing for just 169 yards with one touchdown and two picks in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs back in Week 7.
Unfortunately for Jones, he’s not going to have Le’Veon Bell to rely on in this one. As you likely already know, Bell is out for the season with a torn MCL.
In a year that’s been defined by injuries for Pittsburgh, this is a huge game for Jones and Co. At 5-4 on the season, Pittsburgh still has a tremendous opportunity to earn a playoff spot. Though, multiple teams are right behind it in the standings.
A loss to an inferior Browns team heading into their bye could loom large for the Steelers moving forward.
Carolina Panthers at Tennessee Titans: Trap game for the road team
This game actually sets up pretty well for the two-win Titans. With the third-best pass defense in the NFL and going up against a Panthers offense that has failed to put up 200-plus passing yards in half their games this year, there’s a decent chance the Titans defense will be able to keep an undefeated Panthers offense under wraps.
That’s going to be the key here. If Tennessee can shut down Cam Newton through the air, it will be able to focus on the league’s top rushing offense. That would put the onus on a running back in Jonathan Stewart that’s averaging 3.9 yards per attempt on the year.
On the other side of the ball, Marcus Mariota is coming off the best statistical performance of what has been a solid rookie season. Though, it must be noted that he did it against one of the league’s worst defenses. Taking on the Panthers is going to be a completely different ball game.
If Mariota can find a way to avoid turnovers and put a couple touchdowns on the board, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Tennessee keep this game close, at which point anything can happen.
Chicago Bears at St. Louis Rams: Must win for Jeff Fisher and Co.
On the verge of a third consecutive victory and a winning record heading into Week 10, the Rams lost a heart-breaker on the road against the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday. It’s a game that’s been par for the course during Fisher’s tenure in St. Louis. Close, but not close enough.
At 4-4 on the year and tied for second place in the NFC West with the Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis simply needs to take care of business at home against an inferior opponent — something else that’s been an issue with Fisher at the helm.
The key here will be to find some sort of a passing game to help out Todd Gurley on the ground. The Rams offense ranks dead last in the NFL through the air.
Taking on a Bears defense that’s yielding 17 touchdowns compared to four interceptions on the season, Nick Foles and Co. couldn’t possibly have a better matchup here. They need to take advantage.
Dallas Cowboys at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Any viable playoff chances for the road team rests on this game
Since 1970, only two teams have earned a playoff spot in the same season they lost six consecutive games. That’s the uphill battle the Cowboys are facing following two consecutive late-game losses against playoff-level competition.
Now taking on a Buccaneers’ team that possesses inferior talent, Dallas simply needs to find a way to get that one win before Tony Romo returns in Week 11.
It’s not going to be easy against a vastly improved team that has already bested its win total from a season ago. The key here will be to keep Darren McFadden involved in the offense while taking pressure off Matt Cassel.
In his first three games since taking over the primary ball-carrier duties, McFadden has put up nearly 400 total yards.
Taking on a Buccaneers squad that has yielded 100-plus rushing yards in six of its eight games, the veteran running back has an opportunity to continue his stellar play. If that happens, the Cowboys will likely find a way to get their first win since Week 2.
If not, Romo’s return from a collarbone injury likely won’t result in the team even being in contention when December comes calling.
Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers: Get right game for Aaron Rodgers and Co.
Losers of two consecutive and now tied with the Minnesota Vikings atop the NFC North, the Packers need to find a way to get an impressive win against a disastrous Lions team at home on Sunday.
Based on the talent levels of these two teams and Detroit’s lack of any success in Green Bay (23 consecutive losses), there’s no way this game should even be that close.
If it is, even in a Packers win, that will tell us a story of a team that’s truly regressed since looking unstoppable early in the season.
With Detroit yielding a 78 percent completion rate to receivers on the season, Aaron Rodgers should absolutely eat. That’s only magnified by the return of Davante Adams from injury and Randall Cobb’s success against Carolina last week.
Green Bay doesn’t just need to end a two-game losing streak, it needs to dominate one of the worst teams in the NFL. If that doesn’t happen, questions regarding this team’s status heading into late November will be more than justified.
Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles: Confidence building needed in Philly
Even after an overtime win against an injury-ravaged Cowboys team last week, the Eagles still haven’t played up to their capability. And at 4-4 on the season, this team has all the looks of a mediocre squad that’s just treading water.
Even in a weak NFC East, this is something that’s going to have to change if Chip Kelly and Co. want to win the division. It did earn two blowout wins in a row prior to a Week 7 loss to the undefeated Carolina Panthers.
That’s going to have to repeat itself in order for the Eagles to gain the necessary confidence in the first of what should be an easy three-game slate prior to taking on the New England Patriots in early December.
Miami has lost two consecutive games in less-than-impressive fashion after winning its first two outings under interim head coach Dan Campbell. With this team in desperation mode heading into Philadelphia on Sunday, the Eagles are going to get their best shot.
If they are able to put up a double-digit win, it will bode well for the team’s confidence moving forward this season.
New Orleans Saints at Washington Redskins: Sean Payton’s status in New Orleans
Outside of the futures for each team’s head coach, there really isn’t a whole heck of a lot to look at here. Sure Drew Brees has put up nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns over the past two games, but his Saints are pretty much out of the equation following a disastrous home loss to the Titans last week.
The major question in New Orleans moving forward this season will surround the future of head coach Sean Payton, who could very well be coaching his final few games with the team.
Reports have surfaced that Payton might be looking to move on, at which point indications are that the Saints would let him do just that:
If Sean Payton wanted to be a coaching free agent after this year, I'm told the #Saints would be inclined to let him out of his contract.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) November 8, 2015
There are a few things here. If Tom Benson is forced to transfer ownership of the Saints over to his daughter, Payton’s ability to opt-out of his contract would be there for the taking. Meanwhile, reports suggest that Benson himself might let Payton walk if he retains ownership of the team.
As the fourth longest-tenured coach in the NFL, Payton leaving the Saints would be rather big news. Not only would he become a hot commodity at the professional level, a ton of upper-end collegiate programs would show interest.
In addition to this, Brees’ future with the Saints could very well be tied to Payton. After all, the two came to New Orleans together. Any new head coach would potentially want his own quarterback to run a vastly different scheme — one that might not fit Brees.
Why is this such a big deal in Week 10? Well, a loss to Washington would drop the Saints to 4-6 on the season and completely out of the playoff race. That will lead to more speculation that Payton is gone after this season.
Minnesota Vikings at Oakland Raiders: Big game for two second-year quarterbacks
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 10, 2015
Outside of Tom Brady, there’s not a single quarterback in the NFL playing at a higher level than Raiders starter Derek Carr.
The second-year signal caller has accounted for 923 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception for a ridiculous 119.3 quarterback rating over the past three games.
Overall this season, Carr finds himself on pace to tally nearly 4,200 passing yards with 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions. These are numbers that would rank him among the best sophomore signal callers in league history.
Meanwhile in Minnesota, Bridgewater has had a tough go at it. He’s thrown just six touchdowns compared to six interceptions and is averaging a paltry 208 passing yards per game.
Coming off a Week 9 game that saw him suffer a concussion, Bridgewater should be able to go this upcoming weekend. If so, he’s going to have to start being a reason why the Vikings are taken seriously in the NFC.
Minnesota heads into this game with a 6-2 record and tied with Green Bay for first place in the NFC West. Meanwhile, Oakland is coming off a hard-fought loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and is right in the mix of the AFC wildcard race.
These two quarterbacks should play a huge role in deciding who enters mid November on a high note.
Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: Home team in need of a rebound performance
There’s really no other way to put it. The Broncos had it handed to them by a struggling Indianapolis Colts squad in their first loss of the season last week.
The defense couldn’t keep an injured Andrew Luck under wraps, while Peyton Manning continued to struggle on the offensive side of the ball.
While Denver might already have the AFC West wrapped up, it seriously needs to start taking opponents within the division seriously. It starts this week against a Chiefs squad that’s coming off a much-needed bye after winning its past two games in impressive fashion.
We know full well what the Broncos are playing for here. Not only do they want to close out the division in relatively short order, their only real chance of winning the conference is a first-round bye and at least one home game.
With both Cincinnati and New England ahead of them in the schedule, the Broncos need to take care of business against a vastly inferior team.
If that doesn’t happen, this squad could be looking at a relatively quick exit from the playoffs when January comes calling.
New York Giants at New England Patriots: Super Bowl preview?
It sounds absolutely ridiculous, right? A Giants team that yielded seven touchdowns to Drew Brees two weeks ago earning a playoff spot, let alone coming out of the NFC.
If history has taught us a darn thing when it comes to evaluating Eli Manning and the Giants, it is to never count them out. In New York’s last two Super Bowl seasons, it entered Week 10 with six wins or less each time. Back in 2007, the team started out 0-2 before running off six straight wins.
Then in 2011, the Giants found themselves at 6-6 before running off three consecutive wins to inch into the playoffs.
One common denominator those two years is that New York played the Patriots in the regular season — eventually defeating Tom Brady and Co. in the Super Bowl.
The last time New England entered Week 10 with an undefeated record, it was able to finish off the Giants in the final week of the regular season to put up the first unblemished 16-game mark in the history of the league.
Yeah, there are a whole bunch of commonalities between those two seasons and what we are seeing thus far this year. At the very least, the Giants head into Week 10 in first place in a weak NFC East and with an opportunity to play spoiler for the Pats once again.
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks: Cardinals in need of a statement win
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) November 11, 2015
With a two-game lead over what could be a dangerous Seahawks team, the Cardinals need to make a statement on the road Sunday night. This situation is somewhat similar to last year, as in Arizona started out hot with Seattle playing catch up. In the end, Pete Carroll and Co. came out on top, earning the division title.
There’s absolutely no reason this should repeat itself in 2015. Arizona has clearly been the better team through the first half of the season. Though, a loss here would see Seattle control its own destiny in the NFC West. That’s hard to imagine after the team’s 2-4 start.
In order for Arizona to pull out the win here it’s going to need to control the trenches on both sides of the ball. This means taking advantage of a weak Seahawks offensive line and finding a way to pass protect against an elite defensive line. If Arizona does that, it could very well pull off that statement win and take a three-game lead over Seattle.
Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals: Playoff implications for the road team
At 8-0 on the season, Cincinnati is pretty much a lock to make the playoffs. It will, however, need to avoid a let down against a below-average Texans squad that’s shockingly still in the playoff race with a 3-5 record.
In terms of how big this game is, it means a whole bunch more for Houston than Cincinnati. Whether that leads to the road team actually being competitive against one of the three remaining undefeated squads in the NFL is a completely different story.