We're not yet halfway into the NFL schedule and parity could not be dictating the season more.
Eleven teams have 3-3 records through the first six weeks. Some teams are a “good” 3-3, like the Broncos, who have come all the way back in two games this season, including the biggest comeback in Monday Night Football history.
Others are a “bad” 3-3, like the New England Patriots, who have lost three games by a total of four points already this year.
Nevertheless, such close proximity in the standings means an even smaller margin of error for teams that are trailing in their divisions. With that in mind, here are five teams that go into Week 7 in need of big wins.
With every team in the AFC East tied at 3-3, it is still anybody’s race.
The New England Patriots have dominated the division over the last decade, but they go up against a New York Jets team that could absolutely pull off a victory in Foxborough this weekend.
At the same time, the Dolphins will be on a bye this week, leaving Buffalo the opportunity to gain a game on both Miami and the loser of the Patriots/Jets matchup.
The Bills’ fifth-ranked rush attack, platooning Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, will go up against the Titans’ 24th-ranked rush defense. If the inconsistent Ryan Fitzpatrick can at least not be detrimental to the Bills offense, it will go a long way to helping Buffalo keep pace in a wide-open AFC East.
The future just became very uncertain for the Baltimore Ravens.
Narrowly beating the Dallas Cowboys last week came with a price, as both Ray Lewis and Ladarius Webb were lost for the season. Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata also left with an injury but hopes to play Sunday, as does safety Ed Reed.
Given the way this will likely impact the Ravens, who are known for their defense, it is important for Baltimore to add to the 5-1 cushion they have accumulated this season.
They will face off against a Houston team that was in a similar position last season.
During Week 10 in 2011, the 7-3 Texans lost their starting quarterback, Matt Schaub, but went on to win an AFC South that had been weakened by the loss of Peyton Manning in Indianapolis.
This normally would not be considered a must-win for Baltimore, but against Houston (5-1), currently the No. 1 seed in the AFC, both teams will be fighting for playoff position.
The Ravens also have the opportunity to increase their lead in the AFC North with a win, as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati square off on Sunday Night Football.
With Baltimore’s season in flux after losing key defensive players, Pittsburgh may be able to overtake the division. Right now, however, they are just in the hunt for a Wild Card berth.
This is Pittsburgh’s first divisional matchup this season.
Baltimore is already 2-0, while Cincinnati is a very manageable 1-2, against division opponents.
The Steelers are ranked 16th in passing, with injuries and poor production dropping them to 31st in rushing. The season does not get any easier for the Steelers, but with two games remaining against the Ravens, as well as finishing the season hosting the Bengals and Cleveland, a win on Sunday night could put Pittsburgh in the driver’s seat for a second-half surge.
The Cardinals travel to Minnesota on Sunday after losing their last two games in upsetting fashion following a hot 4-0 start.
Including the Vikings, eight of Arizona’s remaining ten games are against teams that are .500 or better this season. Of those eight, five have winning records. Arizona has beaten stiff competition already this year but lost to the Bills when they were below .500.
Sunday will be a chance for the Cardinals to prove their grit with three games still to go before their bye week.
This game isn’t just crucial for Arizona, however.
With the parity in both the NFC North and NFC West, a victory in this game will also impact the Packers and Rams, who will be playing in St. Louis.
For St. Louis and Arizona, a Seattle loss to San Francisco on Thursday night opens the door for some separation in the West. Green Bay, on the other hand, will be looking to build on a 42-24 trouncing of the Houston Texans last week to keep pace with Minnesota and Chicago.
As far as teams on the bump are concerned, no team needs a win more than the Detroit Lions.
After a season where the Lions reached the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, Detroit (2-3) is at the bottom of a surprisingly competitive NFC North. Chicago’s defense has been nearly more productive than its offense, Minnesota and second-year starter Christian Ponder match the Bears with four wins and Green Bay—predicted to win the division and even the Super Bowl—has started slow and is just now catching stride.
If Detroit is going to remain a contender, Monday night in Chicago is going to be pivotal for them. The Lions are already 0-1 in division play and pulling that record to .500, as well as handing the Bears a second loss this season, would keep the divide in the standings reachable.
Despite having the second-best pass production supporting Matt Stafford, the differential for the Lions has never been more than eight points, and a 2-3 record reflects that. As a result, Detroit not only needs a big game this weekend, they need to make big victories the norm.