It's showtime for NFL teams trying to mine through the field of playoff contenders.
Either seven or eight games remain on each squad's schedule, making it increasingly tougher not to watch the scoreboard in hopes of seeing rivals fail miserably. But none of that matters unless the team takes care of business.
The pressure is rising up the rafters, especially for six NFC teams entrenched in fiery playoff pursuits. Every NFC division remains ups for grabs, none separated by more than 1.5 games.
This weekend will help establish the NFC hierarchy, either cementing the legitimacy of questionable clubs or confirming the top dogs' statuses as the best. Let's take a look at how Week 10's biggest games will play out.
|Washington Redskins (-2.5)||Minnesota Vikings||WAS 27-17|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Tennessee Titans (-11.5)||TEN 24-10|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Green Bay Packers (-1.5)||PHI 27-23|
|Buffalo Bills||Pittsburgh Steelers (-3)||PIT 23-20|
|Oakland Raiders||New York Giants (-7)||NYG 27-16|
|St. Louis Rams||Indianapolis Colts (-9.5)||IND 31-13|
|Seattle Seahawks (-6)||Atlanta Falcons||SEA 20-10|
|Cincinnati Bengals (-1.5)||Baltimore Ravens||CIN 20-13|
|Detroit Lions (-2.5)||Chicago Bears||DET 31-23|
|Carolina Panthers||San Francisco 49ers (-6)||CAR 24-23|
|Houston Texans||Arizona Cardinals (-3)||HOU 27-20|
|Denver Broncos (-7)||San Diego Chargers||DEN 40-31|
|Dallas Cowboys||New Orleans Saints (-7)||NO 34-24|
|Miami Dolphins (-2.5)||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||MIA 17-12|
Spreads courtesy of Vegas Insider
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
Due to an unfortunate Aaron Rodgers injury, this game takes on much more meaning as a potential NFC North deal-breaker.
Three squads are stuck in a stalemate for first place at 5-3, but Sunday's matchup between Detroit and Chicago should provide some clarity.
The last time these two met, Detroit won a 40-32 shootout on the strength of 139 rushing yards from Reggie Bush and four takeaways. Another win hands the Lions a pivotal tiebreaker leading up to a finishing schedule that offers no winning team outside the division.
Despite previous reports of Jay Cutler making an unexpected return to action ahead of schedule, Chicago's quarterback said in his regular appearance on WMVP-AM that he's unlikely to suit up on Sunday. Per the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash:
"I don’t think we can say I’ll be out there for the Detroit game,’’ Cutler told hosts Marc Silverman and Tom Waddle during "The Jay Cutler Show" on Tuesday on WMVP-AM (1000). "We’re trying everything we can to get out there. It feels good, but I haven’t practiced. I haven’t been in a live situation and done all the cuts and drops and saw how it felt yet."
Either way, Cutler's availability is not the deciding factor for this divisional clash. The Bears' 26th-ranked defense has struggled mightily without Lance Briggs, and it's not likely to figure it out against Bush, Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
Prediction: Lions 31, Bears 23
Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers
Are the Panthers for real? We're about to find out.
Following a 1-3 start, the Panthers have recuperated to win four straight games in blowout fashion. Despite sporting the NFC's highest point differential and trailing the New Orleans Saints by just one game in the NFC South, Carolina's schedule has left skeptics unconvinced.
Carolina's five victories have come at the expense of teams with eight total wins. The St. Louis Rams (before Sam Bradford's season-ending injury) represent the best of that bunch going solely by record.
Who will win?
Still, this is the NFL, where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers nearly topped the Seahawks in Seattle. Anything can happen in this crazy league, so winning four games by 80 combined points deserves our attention.
Now the Panthers receive a worthy adversary in the 49ers, who have also authorized four consecutive victories after a shaky start. It's a battle of run-heavy offenses led by dual-threat quarterbacks, but Carolina's defense consisting of far fewer brand names has allowed fewer yards (299.9) and points per game (13.3) than San Francisco (325.1, 18.1).
And if we're playing the schedule game, San Francisco has not defeated any prestigious opponents during that four-game stretch.
The Panthers will finally prove they belong with a narrow victory over the 49ers.
Prediction: Panthers 24, 49ers 23
Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints
The Saints and Cowboys are really only one game apart?
Due to the NFC East's sour nature, the Cowboys are looped in with the division's other disgraces. They're not exactly world-beaters at 5-4, but they're the clear best of the bunch.
The Saints, meanwhile, have bungled two of their last three games to fall to 6-2, losing ground on the sprinting Panthers. This game looks a lot more interesting than anyone would have surmised around Week 5.
Of course, Dallas' paper-thin secondary, ranked only ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles, presents a dream matchup for Drew Brees. The All-Pro quarterback will move the ball, but Dallas must follow the New York Jets' blueprint to victory by creating pressure and turnovers against an offense with no run game to help Brees.
They might get DeMarcus Ware back right in time to execute that plan of attack.
Good news for @DallasCowboys fans. DeMarcus Ware has returned to practice and is expected to play Sunday at NO after missing 3 games.— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) November 6, 2013
Unfortunately, the Cowboys do not possess the Jets' ferocious defensive line nor the home-field advantage to defeat a New Orleans squad still a perfect 4-0 at the Superdome this season.
After passing 51 times while giving four carries to DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys will also struggle to exploit New Orleans' woes stopping the run. The secondary, fueled by rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro, is a much tougher beast this year.
Prediction: Saints 34, Cowboys 24