We've definitely approached make-or-break time for those NFL teams that still have yet to establish themselves as contenders.
We're just about at the halfway point of the season, and that doesn't mean it's too late to make a run—it just means that if certain teams are planning on making one, they have to start now. Right now. This week.
Here's a look at the teams that have to win this week in order to keep the hope alive in 2012.
New York Giants
at Cincinnati Bengals
Sunday, Nov. 11 at 1 p.m. ET
The Giants' season thus far certainly hasn't been disappointing—at 6-3, they're not only on top of the NFC East, they're the only over-.500 team in the NFC East—but that doesn't mean that they haven't endured some disappointing losses.
One of them came last week at the hands of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It ruined a nice string of momentum for New York in which it won four straight, including two over division opponents, and it was especially disappointing considering the manner in which the Giants lost: They held a 20-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter but allowed two unanswered touchdowns.
Now, with just seven games left, it's important to restart another stretch of positive momentum, and it shouldn't be too difficult to do so against the middling Bengals. A win over Cincinnati before the bye week puts the Giants in perfect position to roll through the remainder of their schedule with ease.
Pick: New York Giants
New England Patriots
vs Buffalo Bills
Sunday, Nov. 11 at 1 p.m. ET
It's been hard to get a read on the Patriots this season. One week, they look like one of the most formidable opponents in the NFL; the next, they look like they couldn't stop the pass to save their lives.
Hopefully, the bye week did them some good and they're feeling energized heading into Sunday's division bout with the Bills. This is the time of year New England needs to start stringing together some victories, and this is the time of year when its defense needs to find its identity. The secondary has been notoriously terrible in the first half of the season, and if the Patriots have any intention of winning the AFC East—or of going anywhere in the postseason—drastic improvements must be made.
Beginning the post-bye schedule with a win, therefore, is a must for the Patriots—not just because they need to gain some distance in the division standings, but because it will set the tone for the remainder of the season.
Pick: New England
New York Jets
at Seattle Seahawks
Sunday, Nov. 11 at 4:05 p.m. ET
No team is really out of the AFC East race yet, which means there's no time like the present for the Jets to start pulling it together. If it doesn't happen this week—if the Jets don't emerge from their bye week with a win—things are going to be looking very grim for Rex Ryan's crew.
Can the Jets pull off a win at Seattle?
All season, the Jets have been unable to establish any kind of rhythm or chemistry. Some weeks, the offense has looked excellent, and in others, it is incapable of putting a single point on the board. The two lowest points of the season came in the two weeks preceding the bye, in which New York dropped a 29-26 overtime game at Gillette Stadium when Mark Sanchez fumbled in the extra frame, and then the Jets got pummeled by Miami, of all teams, the next week.
Looking at the Jets' schedule, we can objectively see that they've been largely incapable of beating the better teams in the NFL. We're not sure yet if Seattle still qualifies as one of the better teams, but if this Jets offense can get anything going against the Seahawks' defense, there will at least be something to celebrate.
Pick: New York Jets