NFL Week 10's Most Pivotal Sunday Matchups
As the playoffs draw ever closer, the race for division titles and wild card spots begins to heat up. Some teams, such as the Green Bay Packers and San Fransisco 49ers, have their divisions locked up; others, such as the Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills, are locked in an intense struggle for the title.
Week 10 is filled with must-win games for playoff hopefuls, and this slideshow counts down the five Week 10 matchups that will be most pivotal to playoff contenders.
5. New York Giants @ San Fransisco 49ers
While the San Fransisco 49ers pretty much have their division locked up already, the New York Giants are trying to maintain a lead over the NFC East that may not last against the tough schedule they have coming up.
The 49ers are sitting comfortably on top of the NFC West with a five game lead and a 7-1 record. While the closest team to them is 2-6, the 49ers still need to win against the Giants in week 10. This year, the 49ers have only played two teams that are over .500. As the playoffs draw closer, many will question how good San Fransisco really is, considering they play in the worst division in the NFL.
If the 49ers want to prove doubters wrong and show their true talent, they have to beat New York in week 10, a team that they may very well see again in the playoffs.
The Giants, meanwhile, need to win every game they can. They are only two games ahead of the Dallas Cowboys and have an extremely tough schedule coming up which includes the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints. If the Giants want to solidify their lead in the NFC East, they need to win in week 10 to give them cushioning for the weeks ahead, where wins could be few and far between.
Predicted Final: New York Giants 21 San Fransisco 49ers 17
4. Buffalo Bills @ Dallas Cowboys
In the 1990's, the Bills and Cowboys dominated the AFC and NFC respectively and at least one team appeared in five of the ten Super Bowls during that era. Now, both teams are struggling to just make it into the playoffs.
The Buffalo Bills started out the 2011 season on a great note, with comeback wins over the Raiders and Patriots in weeks two and three. However, they have struggled in recent games and are coming off of a crushing loss to the New York Jets which knocked them out of first place in the AFC East.
Now the Bills sit at third in the division with a 5-3 record behind the Jets and New England Patriots, who are both 5-3. However, the Jets and Patriots play each other on Sunday so the Bills could still lose and be tied for second in the division. However, whichever team wins will also be very hard to catch up to if the Bills drop to 5-4. The Bills must win against the Cowboys to get themselves back on the right track in the AFC East, because if they can't win the division there may not be a wild card spot for them.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, are 4-4 and desperately trying to catch up to the 6-2 New York Giants in the NFC East. Although the Giants have a tough schedule ahead, the Cowboys still may not be able to surpass them if they drop to 4-5 after Sunday. However, a win boosts them to 5-4 and if the Giants lose then the Cowboys will only be one game back in the NFC East. But if the 'Boys lose and New York wins, they can all but kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.
Predicted Final: Buffalo Bills 27 Dallas Cowboys 17
3. New England Patriots @ New York Jets
This is where the match-ups really start to heat up. The Patriots and Jets are complete opposites, with New England preferring to air it out to make up for sub-par defense while New York plays conservatively on offense and lets an elite defense lead them. Now both teams are 5-3, and tied for first in the AFC East.
Tom Brady and the Patriots are coming off of a crushing loss to Eli Manning and the New York Giants, and their defense has proved to be a handicap for them so far this season. They have dropped two straight and are losing games to teams such as the Bills and Steelers that they may very well see again in the postseason -- if they get there. Brady needs to find a way to conquer the Jets' defense this week, because if the Patriots lose in week 10 they may not be able to recover.
The Jets, meanwhile, have won three straight and are coming off of a huge win over the division rival Bills that has kept them in contention for the AFC East. While the offense has been extremely average this season, the Jets boast a formidable pass defense which will be put to the test against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Win or lose, week 10 will be key in deciding whether the Jets go to the playoffs.
Predicted Final: Jets 23 Patriots 21
2. Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cincinnati Bengals
Just like the Patriots-Jets game, this week 10 match-up is a battle of opposites. The Steelers are a team that has dominated for years because of a powerful (but aging) defense and a veteran quarterback. The Bengals are a team that has shockingly found success in 2011 due to a young, explosive offense with a rookie quarterback.
This game is a must-win for the Steelers, who are already 0-2 in the division after being swept by the Baltimore Ravens. Because the Ravens, Steelers, and Bengals all have six wins and look to have very similar records at the end of the season, going even 3-3 in the division could keep Pittsburgh out of the playoffs.
A loss would also move the Bengals to 7-2 while the Steelers drop to 6-4, a record that could prove hard to come back from especially with the Ravens and Bengals in the lead.
The Bengals, meanwhile, need to win against the Steelers to prove that they have a place in the AFC North. They are a very young team and are an impressive 6-2, but have yet to play the Ravens or Steelers this year, the two teams that regularly dominate the AFC North. Players like Andy Dalton and AJ Green are young and will probably be in the division for a while, and a win on Sunday would give them a huge boost in their effort to win the division, and it would also show that they belong there.
Predicted Final: Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Cincinnati Bengals 10
1. New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons
This will undoubtedly be one of Sunday's best games. Drew Brees and the Saints take on the division rival Atlanta Falcons, who sit at 5-3, just behind the 6-2 Saints in the NFC South.
This is an absolute must-win game for both teams. They are practically neck and neck in the race for the NFC South, and this is the first time they've played each other this year, meaning whoever wins will have quite an advantage in the weeks to come.
The Falcons are 5-3 and just finished crushing the Indianapolis Colts 31-7, but they'll be lucky if they can hold the Saints offense to under 30 points. New Orleans is averaging 31.9 points per game, and Atlanta is only 19th in the league in pass defense, which isn't good when you throw Drew Brees into the mix. If the Falcons lose, they will drop to 5-4 and the 7-3 Saints will start pulling away with the NFC South.
If the Saints lose, however, they will be down a game against the Falcons and will have virtually the same record, and games against the Titans and Vikings in the next two weeks could mean definite wins for the Falcons while the Saints will have to face the Giants and Lions.
If the Saints win, they will be able to start breaking away from the competition for the NFC South. However, if the Falcons win they will keep things extremely close and may be able to upset the Saints at the end of the season and take the division.
Predicted Final: New Orleans Saints 35 Atlanta Falcons 28