Five of the six NFC teams that would go to the playoffs if the NFL season ended today do battle in Week 10's most vital Sunday matchups.
Only the Chicago Bears would be on the outside looking in, but they are tied atop the NFC North with their impending opponent, the Detroit Lions, and will battle for divisional supremacy at Soldier Field.
In the later afternoon for the East Coast, the San Francisco 49ers will host the Carolina Panthers, who are attempting to make a statement as a true contender in the conference and also trying to maintain pace in the NFC South.
The New Orleans Saints lead the South by one game and are coming off a loss as they prepare to take on the East-leading Dallas Cowboys within the friendly confines of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Below is a look at each of these intriguing contests, accompanied by a complete list of Week 10 picks, excluding the Minnesota Vikings' win over Washington on Thursday night.
Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears
Instead, Cutler will return in about half that time with the top spot in the division on the line. Head coach Marc Trestman felt encouraged by Cutler's work on Friday's practice:
Cutler's presence won't be enough to prevent a disappointing home loss, though.
Detroit's defensive-tackle tandem of Ndmaukong Suh and Nick Fairley will be able to stymie the Bears' Matt Forte-led running game, while Reggie Bush will run wild on Chicago's decimated defensive front.
The Bears defense isn't as strong as it has been in previous seasons, which isn't a good thing when going up against the likes of a dynamic passing game combination like Matthew Stafford and superstar receiver Calvin Johnson.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery will cause problems for the Lions' faulty defensive backfield, but Detroit will do enough to pull out a close win and become kings of the North—at least for now.
Prediction: Lions 34, Bears 31
Carolina Panthers vs. San Francisco 49ers
B/R expert Matt Bowen does an excellent job illustrating how the Niners can run the read-option with effectiveness and how that can neutralize the athleticism of the Panthers' front seven.
Carolina is the second-ranked rush defense but is facing the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL, led by running back Frank Gore and causing further problems with dual-threat QB Colin Kaepernick.
The Panthers have their own athletic signal-caller in Cam Newton, but this is the former No. 1 overall pick's biggest game of his career. Kaepernick has already played in a Super Bowl in far fewer starts, and while Carolina has won three straight games, the Niners have won five in a row.
By establishing the read-option, Kaepernick should be able to find tight end Vernon Davis for several big plays, but the inside physical running led by Gore is what will really take its toll on the opposition.
Newton is more liable to make the critical mistake than Kaepernick. Both have become more effective game managers, but Kaepernick's superior experience on the big stage will boost the Niners to a close victory.
Prediction: 49ers 24, Panthers 17
Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints
As if the outlook for the Cowboys' horrible defense couldn't get any worse in facing such a high-octane offense, Saints running back Darren Sproles has been cleared to play:
Running the ball isn't New Orleans' forte with an elite quarterback like Drew Brees at the controls, but Sproles' presence makes Brees borderline unstoppable:
Brees and Co. are coming off a loss to the New York Jets, so there's no shortage of fire and desire to put on an excellent display at home. Plus, the Saints have a lead in the South to keep.
But defensive coordinator Rob Ryan—one of the biggest reasons for New Orleans' turnaround from last season—has transformed a horrific defense into a formidable, intimidating one. As vulnerable as the unit is versus the run, the Cowboys ran the ball just nine times in Week 9's win over Minnesota.
On the prime-time stage of Sunday night, the Saints will march to a commanding triumph thanks to Sproles' return and Ryan exacting revenge on the team that fired him after last season and has struggled worse since.
Prediction: Saints 45, Cowboys 27
|Complete Week 10 NFL Picks|
|Away Team||Home Team||Winner|
|Washington Redskins||Minnesota Vikings||(Vikings won)|
|Oakland Raiders||New York Giants||Giants|
|Seattle Seahawks||Atlanta Falcons||Seahawks|
|Detroit Lions||Chicago Bears||Lions|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Green Bay Packers||Eagles|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Tennessee Titans||Titans|
|St. Louis Rams||Indianapolis Colts||Colts|
|Buffalo Bills||Pittsburgh Steelers||Steelers|
|Cincinnati Bengals||Baltimore Ravens||Bengals|
|Carolina Panthers||San Francisco 49ers||49ers|
|Houston Texans||Arizona Cardinals||Texans|
|Denver Broncos||San Diego Chargers||Chargers|
|Dallas Cowboys||New Orleans Saints||Saints|
|Miami Dolphins||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Dolphins|
|Picks are strictly opinion|