Two of league's best teams (New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers) and one of the league's most talked about teams (New York Jets) all have the first weekend of November off––but there's still plenty of intrigue to be had.
Week 9 features a potential Super Bowl preview, a potential wild-card play-in game, and a potential shootout between the league's two most exciting young quarterbacks.
DirecTV's Red Zone Channel is your safest bet to see all the suspense, but if you aren't lucky (or smart) enough to subscribe, here's a primer of where to look for the best Week 9 action.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3) @ New York Giants (6-2)
Both of these perennial Super Bowl Contenders bungled out of the gates this season, but now appear to have found their footing.
The Giants opened 2-2, with two divisional losses and a near-loss at home against Tampa––a game the G-men had no business winning. Since then, however, they've reeled off four straight impressive wins, highlighted by a systematic destruction on the Niners in San Francisco, and concluded by a heart-wrenching win last week in Dallas.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, looked utterly mediocre in four of their first five contests, suffering losses against bottom feeders like Oakland and Tennessee. But impressive showings against Cincinnati and Washington the past two weeks––combined with the barrage of injuries to the Ravens defense––have restored the Steelers as favorites in the AFC North.
In that regard, this could very well be a Super Bowl preview. New York is infamous for playing better on the road than they do at home, and this year has been no different. Eli & Co. have lost to Dallas and fallen way behind against Tampa Bay and Cleveland at the Meadowlands.
Ben Roethlisberger is no stranger to winning on enemy soil, either. This could be an instant classic between two rival QBs from the '04 draft class.
2. Carolina Panthers (1-6) @ Washington Redskins (3-5)
What? A stinker between two losing teams is the second most anticipated game of the weekend? I bet next you're gonna tell me to watch 666 Park Avenue over Sunday Night Football and Homeland during the nightcap.
But so is the power of RGIII and Killa Cam.
Despite the combined records of 4-11, Panthers-Redskins is must-see TV because it showcases the most exciting, dynamic and unique playmakers on the planet: Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III. And they both play quarterback!
This game, featuring the past two Heisman winners, has been hyped on can't-miss lists since the schedule was released back in April. And though the Panthers are far from the playoff-contending sleepers that some predicted, the battle at quarterback inhibits the game from losing too much luster.
By the way, the Redskins, much like Newton's Panthers last season, have been surprisingly competitive for a 3-5 team orchestrated by a rookie signal-caller. This game may not have much impact on the present season, but it could be a precursor of the NFL's future.
Make sure to tune in.
3. Miami Dolphins (4-3) @ Indianapolis Colts (4-3)
Speaking of surprisingly competitive units led by rookie signal-callers... Who had this as a potential wild-card play-in game?
Redolent of the NBA's Eastern Conference, the AFC is markedly worse than its superior counterpart this season. That means playoff spots are available for average-to-above-average teams.
Neither Miami nor Indianapolis would stand a chance if they were in the NFC, but as things stand, the winner of this game could be in the driver's seat for a playoff birth. In fact, a Dolphins win would move them into an unthinkable first-place tie with the New England Patriots.
Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill have been overshadowed, at times, by the highlight-reel conduciveness of Robert Griffin III, but both have been plenty impressive in their own right. And despite Reggie Wayne's dominance for the Colts, and Brian Hartline's emergence for the Dolphins, they've both done so without high-level weapons surrounding them.
Tannehill left Miami's last game against the Jets, but according to The Miami Herald's Armando Salguero, he's been taking the first-team snaps this week in practice.
Like Panthers-Redskins, this too could be a showcase of the NFL's future at quarterback. Only this time there's implications here in the present, as well.
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