Usually at this point in the NFL season, the contenders start to separate themselves from the pretenders. In 2008, that hasn't happened yet. As I write this following Thursday's triple header, 22 of the 32 NFL teams still find themselves legitimately in the playoff hunt.
This list includes the favorites (NY Giants, Tennessee, Pittsburgh) and some teams that are on life support (Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Diego), but most of them are in the middle of the pack, unsure of whether they'll be watching the playoffs from home or participating in them.
Due to this fact, every week remaining will have an inordinate number of significant, important games. This week, only the Chiefs-Raiders and Jaguars-Texans games have no significant playoff implications.
Every other match-up features either a team trying to move up in the standings or hold onto their position, including many that pit these teams against one another.
With these thoughts in mind, here are some previews and picks for this upcoming week.
San Francisco (3-8) at Buffalo (6-5)
The story of this game will be whether Buffalo's offensive explosion last week was a fluke due to playing Kansas City or a sign of things to come.
Marshawn Lynch has exploded for 198 rushing yards, 15 receptions, and 2 touchdowns the past two weeks, while Trent Edwards had his best game of the year against the Chiefs.
San Francisco has been more competitive under Mike Singletary and since changing to Shaun Hill at quarterback, but Dallas uncovered a soft spot in their defense when Terrell Owens went for 213 yards, and I expect Lee Evans and Edwards to take advantage of this match-up. Bills 27 - 49ers 17
Baltimore (7-4) at Cincinnati (1-9-1)
Baltimore proved against the Eagles that their big loss to the Giants was more a statement about New York than the Ravens. It would be nice for Baltimore to establish a more solid running game, but Joe Flacco has played very well as a rookie and their defense is excellent in nearly every phase.
About the only thing the Bengals have going for them is they're playing at home, but with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, Chad Ocho Cinco on the sidelines, and a defense that hasn't stopped anyone besides the Eagles, expect Baltimore to win comfortably. Ravens 31 - Bengals 13
Indianapolis (7-4) at Cleveland (4-7)
How impressive would it be if the Colts were able to bounce back from a 3-4 start to get a Wild Card spot? With their next four games against Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Jacksonville, they should be in pretty good shape.
During their four-game winning streak, he's thrown for 1,069 yards, nine touchdowns, and only one interception.
The Browns, meanwhile, have completely fallen apart. They tried out Brady Quinn, whose now out for the year, and now have to turn back to Derek Anderson. Their coach is on the hot seat, and GM Phil Savage is swearing at fans in emails. Not a good recipe to beat a hot Colts team. Colts 24 - Browns 10
Carolina (8-3) at Green Bay (5-6)
This is one of the most interesting games of the week, and questions abound. Are the Panthers for real? Can the Packers rebound from their Monday night debacle in the Superdome? Can Jake Delhomme get things together?
Despite their performance last week, the Packers still have a strong secondary, while the Panthers biggest struggle has been in the passing game.
Expect the Packers to contain Steve Smith, Ryan Grant to exploit a Panthers D that allowed Michael Turner four touchdowns last week, and Green Bay to stay in the playoff hunt with a close victory. Packers 24 - Panthers 21
Miami (6-5) at St. Louis (2-9)
The Rams are lucky that they got those two wins over Washington and Dallas, or they might have joined the Lions in pursuit of infamy.
With Marc Bulger and Stephen Jackson both injured and possibly out, St. Louis is running out of offensive weapons. Their defense isn't much better, allowing 27 or more points each of the last four weeks.
The Dolphins defense has been susceptible as well, but containing the Rams shouldn't be too much of a problem.
Expect Chad Pennington, Ronnie Brown, and Ricky Williams to have a field day, and Miami to take this one in a rout. Dolphins 36 - Rams 6
New Orleans (6-5) at Tampa Bay (8-3)
New Orleans comes into this game with the third-ranked scoring offense in the league (28.8 PPG), while Tampa Bay is third in allowing 16.4 points a contest.
Drew Brees is on fire this year, as he is projected to break Dan Marino's record for passing yards of 5,084 yards, and Reggie Bush is expected to make his return to the field for this game.
The Saints were able to beat Tampa Bay 24-20 in Week One, and as long as they contain Jeff Garcia, they should be able to pull out another tight one this week, building even more momentum in their late playoff push. Saints 28 - Buccaneers 23
New York Giants (10-1) at Washington (7-4)
Always a great game, the New York-Washington rivalry is one of the best in the NFL. The defending Super Bowl champion Giants come in on a six game winning streak, and bruising running back Brandon Jacobs is expected to return to the field after missing last week's game.
Washington should be inspired with the one year anniversary of Sean Taylor's tragic murder occurring this week, but their struggles of late and the way they looked in losing 16-7 to the Giants in Week One point towards another New York victory.
Expect the Giants to establish the run early, and Eli Manning to be the difference late in a defensive battle. Giants 21 - Redskins 13
Atlanta (7-4) at San Diego (4-7)
This match-up features an interesting subplot with the return of Michael Turner to San Diego, in a season which he has greatly outperformed LaDainian Tomlinson.
The Chargers have becoming more of a passing attack behind Philip Rivers and his 23 touchdown passes, but rank dead last in pass defense.
Matt Ryan and Roddy White are salivating over this game, and should hook up for several big plays.
In a game that could go either way, I'm looking for the rookie Ryan to show once again that he doesn't play like a rookie as Michael Turner's Falcons get to stick the nail in San Diego's coffin. Falcons 35 - Chargers 24
Pittsburgh (8-3) at New England (7-4)
These teams, who have already met in two AFC Championship games this decade, are once again two of the best in the AFC.
The Steelers are a solid 4-1 on the road this year, and have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. Everyone has fallen in love with Matt Cassel these past two weeks, but remember that it was the Jets and Dolphins he exploited, not Pittsburgh.
Expect a barn-burner at Gillette Stadium, with the Steelers pulling it out in the fourth quarter. Steelers 21 - Patriots 17
Denver (6-5) at New York Jets (8-3)
The Broncos will likely make the playoffs this year as the AFC West Champion, but it is mostly by default. They certainly did not look like a playoff team last week, losing to lowly Oakland 31-10.
Denver has almost no healthy running backs left, and have had to ask Jay Cutler to do everything, leading to eight interceptions in the past six weeks.
The Jets, meanwhile, might be the hottest team in the NFL, mainly because they have turned to their running game and taken pressure off of Brett Favre.
As long as New York continues to ride Thomas Jones and Dustin Keller continues to get open, the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets should coast to an easy one at home. Jets 27 - Broncos 14
Kansas City (1-10) at Oakland (3-8)
Neither of these teams have inspired much hope for their fans this season, but recently Oakland seems to be working towards being competitive. The Raiders have kept games against Carolina and Miami close before romping Denver last week.
Tyler Thigpen has been a revelation for the Chiefs, posting 11 touchdowns and only 3 interceptions in the past five weeks, but Kansas City has failed to win any of those games.
Even with Larry Johnson back, the Chiefs can't win if their defense, which allowed 54 points last week, doesn't improve. Raiders 19 - Chiefs 10
Chicago (6-5) at Minnesota (6-5)
This Sunday Night game at the Metrodome is vital in determining the champion of the NFC North. These teams played to a bizarre and wild 48-41 final in Week Seven, with the Bears coming out on top, but don't expect a game like that again.
The Bears have done a good job of shutting down the run this year, allowing only 80.7 yards per game, and will attempt to stop league-leading rusher Adrian Peterson.
If Chicago is able to do so, and the game becomes a battle between Gus Frerotte and a healthy Kyle Orton, the Bears should have a big advantage.
Matt Forte and Adrian Peterson will have their impact, but Chicago will win because of its passing game. Bears 31 - Vikings 20
Jacksonville (4-7) at Houston (4-7)
Probably the most disappointing game of the week, as both Houston and Jacksonville have struggled to live up to expectations.
The Jaguars, whom many thought would build on last year's playoff run and possibly make the Super Bowl, have struggled to establish the run or stop it, ranking 19th in each category.
Houston, also given a good chance to make the playoffs, have struggled to stop anybody despite their solid passing attack.
Steve Slaton and Andre Johnson will get their yards, but look for the Jaguars to better utilize Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor in picking up a Monday Night win that might be too little, too late. Jaguars 24 - Texans 16