Week 10 of the NFL season features three teams in action that will be looking to pick up statement wins, but each one for a different reason. It's these differences that make this week's slate of games both exciting and meaningful.
The teams looking to make waves this week are each in the thick of a playoff race. While one of the teams appears to be a lock to make the playoffs, the other two are still looking to establish legitimacy and earn national recognition. With major wins this week—wins I predict they'll earn—the playoff discussion will have to include them.
It will be interesting to see how these three teams fare in Week 10. They play quality opponents and winning won't be easy. Hard-fought wins will do a lot to define their seasons up to this point, though.
The Carolina Panthers are on a four-game winning streak and have absolutely handed it to the New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons this season.
Sure, those teams aren't the quality of opponent that the San Francisco 49ers will be in Week 10, but Cam Newton is playing arguably the best football of his career right now. That production, coupled with the incredible defensive front of the Panthers, will make life difficult for the Niners.
Can Cam knock off the Niners?
Newton is completing 64.4 percent of his passes on the season, and he has racked up 1,801 yards and 13 touchdowns as a result. On the ground, Newton has 251 yards and four touchdowns. It took him and receiver Steve Smith some time to establish consistency this season, but they're finally working together to get the ball down field.
The Niners boast the NFL's best rushing attack with 153.0 yards per game, but the Panthers will counter with the league's second-best rush defense. They allow just 79.1 yards per game. The winner of this matchup will decide who wins the game, and I predict that Carolina's defense will hold up.
This will be a season-defining win for the Panthers. They'll take down San Fran 28-20.
The Arizona Cardinals are an underrated team. At 4-4, they've done just enough with limited offensive weapons to rank amongst the middle-half of the teams in the NFC. A win this week against the Houston Texans would do a lot to put them on the map.
Houston isn't exactly a juggernaut, but Case Keenum has restored new life to the 2-6 Texans. He has provided much more offensive upside in recent weeks than Matt Schaub had early on, and he has wide receiver Andre Johnson back to playing like an All-Pro. Containing him will be a key for the Cardinals secondary.
Are the Cardinals an NFC contender?
That shouldn't be a problem, though, as the Cardinals defense is quietly a very strong unit. They rank 13th in the NFL, allowing 342.5 yards per game. They've recorded 23 sacks, 12 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries through eight games, and while their defense isn't great at getting the ball in the end zone, they've done just enough to give the offense good field position.
The remainder of the season will be up to the offense to define. Running back Andre Ellington has big play ability, but his inconsistencies aren't great for an offense that doesn't really have weapons in the passing game outside of Larry Fitzgerald.
I'll predict that they'll beat Houston by a score of 24-14, though. The Cardinals defense will give Keenum problems.
New Orleans Saints
After a tough 26-20 loss at the hands of the New York Jets, the New Orleans Saints will be looking to pummel their Week 10 opponent. The Dallas Cowboys need to be prepared for Drew Brees to take over, as his mediocre performance against the Jets will likely be in the back of his mind the entire game.
Naturally, questions arose after the six-win Saints dropped to 6-2 with a loss last week. Tight end Jimmy Graham isn't completely healthy, and that could potentially turn into something that negatively impacts the Saints offense.
Should the loss to the Jets worry New Orleans?
For now, Graham will be on the field and catching passes in the end zone—just like he always does.
Dallas will have to be on the lookout for Graham, but covering him won't be easy. Linebacker Sean Lee will likely be tasked with sticking with him, but Dallas will need to have a safety roaming near just in case he goes over the top of the defense.
The injured foot has caused him to lose a step, but he's still faster than your average linebacker.
The Saints need a statement win this week to prove their legitimacy in the NFC. Another loss would seriously hurt their reputation around the NFL, and Brees won't let that happen.
New Orleans will cream Dallas, 38-17.