As the NFL season inches toward the halfway mark the playoff picture in both conferences is starting to take shape, and there are a lot of teams bunched together. The only way a team can ensure it remains in the race is avoiding long losing streaks.
After several postseason hopefuls dropped winnable games in Week 6, it's crucial that they are able to get right back in the win column this week. Let's break down three teams that should be able to do exactly that, putting momentum back in their favor.
The Steelers are still searching for their first road win of the season after dropping the first three, including last week's game against the Tennessee Titans. A team that wants to make the playoffs shouldn't be losing to Matt Hasselbeck, even in hostile territory.
Luckily for Pittsburgh, its schedule is favorable down the stretch, giving the Steelers a good chance to overcome their slow start. They have to get things moving in the right direction starting on the road against the divisional rival Cincinnati Bengals.
Ben Roethlisberger and Co. beat the Bengals in both meetings last season. They should be the more desperate team heading into the game knowing the hole will get even deeper with a loss. The veteran team will step up on both sides of the ball and find a way to win.
Which is the biggest surprise?
New England Patriots
New England took a 13-point lead with just over nine minutes left against the Seattle Seahawks. Then the unthinkable happened as rookie Russell Wilson led the underdogs on a huge comeback to upend the powerful Patriots.
The secondary is still a major issue for the Patriots despite Bill Belichick's efforts to upgrade it. Rookie quarterbacks shouldn't be able to move the ball at will against any defense, especially one that must step up in a big way down the stretch.
The Patriots are fortunate that they get to face the New York Jets and their brutal passing attack this week. Even New England's secondary should be able to slow down the Sanchez-led attack, giving Tom Brady a chance to get the team back on track.
The Vikings have been one of the league's biggest surprises so far, but they let one slip away against the Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins. After building an early lead, the defense fell apart and the dynamic rookie QB ran wild.
It makes Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals a key turning point. Either Minnesota rebounds immediately or it loses again and risks letting the season spiral out of control. The margin for error is razor thin to say the least.
The good news for the Vikings is that Arizona looked out of sync against the Buffalo Bills last week. Jared Allen should have a field day against the terrible Cardinals offensive line and Adrian Peterson will handle the rest.