If you were still watching football in the late afternoon/early evening on Sunday, you would have witnessed two examples of individual players responding to the crush of late-game pressure and looming playoff implications, one from each conference, one of them positive and one of them negative.
Bringing up the rear in the ultra-competitive AFC West, the San Diego Chargers needed a home win against the Miami Dolphins to climb back to .500 and keep within striking distance of their divisional foes. Alas, Philip Rivers threw a staggering four fourth-quarter interceptions, including a game-sealing pick-six with just over a minute remaining that gave the Dolphins a 31-24 lead and the win.
While the Chargers were simply fighting for to stay in the wild-card chase, the Dallas Cowboys were looking to bolster their status as the top team in the NFC.
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The Cowboys beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 35-30 on the road, with rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott scoring two rushing touchdowns in the final two minutes, the second a 32-yard scamper that provided the go-ahead score.
Franchises are always rising and falling in the NFL, and Week 10 was no different. Here's a look at the wild-card standings heading into Monday and the latest Super Bowl odds for each team in the playoff hunt.
|Seed||AFC||Super Bowl Odds||NFC||Super Bowl Odds|
|1||Kansas City Chiefs (7-2)||+1600||Dallas Cowboys (8-1)||+750|
|2||New England Patriots (7-2)||+200||Seattle Seahawks (6-2-1)||+800|
|3||Houston Texans (6-3)||+4000||Atlanta Falcons (6-4)||+1600|
|4||Baltimore Ravens (5-4)||+2800||Detroit Lions (5-4)||+6600|
|5||Oakland Raiders (7-2)||+1800||New York Giants (5-3)||+2800|
|6||Denver Broncos (7-3)||+2500||Washington Redskins (5-3-1)||+7500|
|Miami Dolphins (5-4)||+10000||Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)||+7500|
|Tennessee Titans (5-5)||+15000||Minnesota Vikings (5-4)||+2800|
|Pittsburgh Steelers (4-5)||+1600||Arizona Cardinals (4-4-1)||+2800|
|Indianapolis Colts (4-5)||+2500||Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5)||+30000|
|Buffalo Bills (4-5)||+20000||New Orleans Saints (4-5)||+6600|
|Cincinnati Bengals (3-4-1)||+5000||Green Bay Packers (4-5)||+1600|
|San Diego Chargers (4-6)||+5000||Los Angeles Rams (4-5)||+20000|
Fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos are surely going to be white-knuckling the remainder of this season. While all three are in very good position to make the playoffs, only one can win the division and perhaps secure a first-round bye. Avoiding the Wild Card Round and getting an extra week off form football can mean everything late in the season, especially in a top-heavy AFC.
The Broncos are a half-game behind the Chiefs and Raiders but kept pace with a 25-23 win over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. Per ESPN Stats & Info, it's been a long time since this division was this powerful:
While the defending Super Bowl champs are on the playoff precipice in the sixth seed, they still have a two-win cushion over the Miami Dolphins, who lead the rest of the teams in the hunt. However, the Broncos have two games left against the Chiefs and one against the Raiders, while the Chiefs and Raiders still need to play each other one more time.
It's nothing but big games left on the schedule for these three teams, and there's also still plenty of opportunity for the Bolts to play spoiler against either Oakland in Week 15 or Kansas City in Week 17.
The AFC North is another division to keep a keen eye on. The Baltimore Ravens are currently atop the division at 5-4, but have played less-than-inspiring football for much of the season.
The Steelers were oh so close to finishing Week 10 with the same record but lost to Dallas in a hard-fought game. Ben Roethlisberger was upset with his team's play after the deflating home loss, per NFL on ESPN:
Despite the four-game losing streak, the Steelers have little reason to give up hope. Roethlisberger threw for 408 yards and three touchdowns against the Cowboys, looking in much better shape just weeks out from meniscus surgery. Plus, the Steelers' remaining schedule is favorable, with two games against the winless Cleveland Browns and contests against sub-.500 squads in Buffalo, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
Speaking of the Bengals, their Monday night game against the New York Giants is rife with playoff implications. The Bengals' pesky tie against the Washington Redskins leaves them with some work to do, but a win over the Giants would leave them in good position behind the Ravens and Steelers.
As for the Giants, a win would give them some breathing room over Washington and many of the other teams in the NFC wild-card hunt. Beyond the Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks, the NFC is a morass of teams hovering around .500, which should make for some interesting football for the remainder of the season.
The fact that Washington, Seattle and the Arizona Cardinals all have tie games on their ledger does nothing to ease minds or clear up the confusion, and will certainly lead to many fans doing frantic playoff calculations as the end of the regular season draws nearer.
As for Super Bowl odds, the Cowboys have the best record in football but the New England Patriots have the best odds. This is hardly surprising, considering the Patriots are a tried-and-true dynasty and the Cowboys backfield consists of a pair of rookies in Elliott and quarterback Dak Prescott.
While the NFC's other star rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz of the Philadelphia Eagles, came back down to Earth several weeks ago after a strong start, Prescott only seems to be getting better with each game.
He now has 14 passing touchdowns against two interceptions on the year, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says he is in to keep the job over Tony Romo, per Clarence Hill of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram:
Even if he eventually falters, the longer Prescott plays like a savvy veteran, the harder it will be for Dallas to make a switch at the game's most important position. Prescott has established an easy rapport with superstar Dez Bryant and safety valve Cole Beasley, while the offensive line offers brilliant protection for him and massive running lanes for Elliott.
No rookie quarterback has ever started a Super Bowl, so Prescott is fighting history this season. However, the NFC is lacking at this point in the season, with the Seahawks proving to be the most obvious threat. There's still plenty of football left in the regular season, but the Cowboys have to like their chances with their star young tandem in the backfield.