NFL Week 10 storylines: Division races heating up
The way it looks like right now, no fewer than five division races could go down to the wire -- Green Bay, San Francisco and Houston have created some separation. The Giants could be in that mix, too, but they still have a lot of work to do against a trying schedule.
After this week, every team in the league will be more than halfway to home in the regular season. The playoff push is officially on.
Here's a look at the biggest storylines for Week 10:
• Sorting the NFC South
The big one in this division Sunday takes place in Atlanta, where the 5-3 Falcons host the 6-3 Saints for first place. But about 400 miles down I-75, 4-4 Tampa Bay faces a near must-win against the surging Texans.
The Buccaneers head to Green Bay next week and Tennessee in Week 12, so slipping to 4-5 prior to that road trip would be almost a death knell.
Atlanta and New Orleans, meanwhile, meet again in Week 16, so this is just chapter one of their 2011 saga.
• Time to believe in Cincinnati?
Over their final eight games, the Bengals play the Ravens and Steelers twice each, so they'll have ample opportunity to stake their claim to the AFC North. As it stands now, though, Cincinnati rides atop the division in a stunning turn of events.
The first meeting with Pittsburgh looms this Sunday, though the Bengals have the benefit of being at home and catching the Steelers off a brutal loss to Baltimore. The Steelers fell to 6-3 with that defeat, which leaves them a half-game back of the Bengals and Ravens -- and in need of a road victory.
• Indianapolis' big chance
The Colts are just seven losses away from the NFL's second-ever 0-16 season -- and the No. 1 pick and Andrew Luck, if you want to look on the bright side. If Indianapolis plans to avoid that dubious winless record, Sunday could be a prime opportunity to get into the win column.
The 2-6 Jaguars, with the league's worst offense, visit Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend for what is, on paper, easily one of the worst games of Week 10. Still, it's an important moment for the Colts' pride.
If the Colts can't get it done this week, then the path to 0-16 will look a lot clearer.
• Can Denver do it again?
The Broncos somehow thrust themselves back into the AFC West race last week by demolishing Oakland up front, en route to 299 yards rushing and an out-of-nowhere road win.
They really could turn some heads by duplicating that performance in Kansas City Sunday. A Denver victory would create a three-way tie for second in the division at 4-5, with San Diego and the Chiefs joining the Broncos a game back of Oakland. It would also help fill up even more seats on the Tim Tebow bandwagon in the Mile High City.
• Kevin Kolb unlikely to get his crack at Philly
Kolb has struggled in the desert -- Arizona sits at 2-6, but didn't pick up win No. 2 until Week 9, with Kolb sidelined by an injury. The Cardinals QB is questionable for Sunday's return engagement in Philadelphia, though the Eagles have enough to worry about without that added distraction.
At 3-5, the Eagles are on their absolute last gasp of air in terms of their playoff hopes. Another disappointing loss Sunday would drive the last nail into the coffin.
No one can forget last year's Detroit visit to Chicago. That game brought us the infamous "Calvin Johnson Rule," when the Lions' superstar receiver was robbed of a potential game-winning touchdown catch by a much-discussed call.
Detroit drew first blood against the Bears this year, though, scoring a Week 5 Monday night victory. Both teams are very much in the playoff hunt, even if Green Bay looks primed to run away and hide with the NFC North title.
Can 6-2 Detroit finish the season strong and finally return to the playoffs? Can 5-3 Chicago grab a wild-card spot? Could this division send three teams to the postseason?
We'll be a step closer to answering all of those questions by late Sunday.
• Another test for the Giants
Eli Manning's clutch late drive last Sunday against the Patriots helped the Giants to an absolutely monster, statement-making victory. Now they get another one of the NFL's big boys: 7-1 San Francisco.
Believe it or not, the 49ers are on the verge of clinching the NFC West, with a five-game lead and just eight weeks left in the season. Things are more complicated for the Giants in the East. Their 6-2 clip has them two games up on Dallas, but a tough schedule from here out should keep New York fans plenty nervous.
Scoring another impressive road win Sunday would help calm everyone down.
• AFC East's top spot on the line
Just a few weeks ago, the Jets sat at 2-3 and looked like they were on the verge of falling completely out of the division race. Since then, they've run off three straight, while New England has dropped two in a row -- and here we are, with the Patriots, Jets and Bills all tied at 5-3.
New England visits the Meadowlands Sunday night for its second meeting with the Jets this season. The Patriots took the opener, 30-21, in Week 5.
If the Jets can strike back in Week 10, they would have to be considered the favorites to take home the AFC East crown.
• Christian Ponder gets another crack at Green Bay
While the Colts are starting to look destined for an 0-16 finish, the Packers are halfway to 16-0, and are showing no signs of slowing down.
But, mostly because of a porous defense, they've been pushed to the brink a few times, including just a couple weeks back by Ponder and the Vikings. Green Bay trailed at halftime of that game, 17-13, then had to withstand a frantic Minnesota rally in the closing minutes.