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On Thursday night, the Cleveland Browns came up with a statement victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to re-assert themselves into the AFC North and Wild Card race and only further muddling the playoff picture.
That was the start of Week 10, but there are many more NFL games on the slate this Sunday and on Monday night.
XN Sports will take a look at five marquee matchups, providing you with some insight and one bold prediction. Last week, we predicted Michael Vick leading the Jets to win, the Cowboys losing by their largest margin of the season, a Steelers rout and RGIII leading a game-winning drive against Minnesota. Well, we’re batting close to .500.
Onto Week 10 …
Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs
This could be a de-facto game to decide which one of these AFC contenders makes it to a Wild Card spot. The upstart Bills and steady Chiefs each boast 5-3 records. And in terms of home-field advantage, the Bills are 2-2 at Orchard Park while the Chiefs are 2-2 on the road. Go figure.
Buffalo has been a different team since switching E.J. Manuel out in favor of journeyman Kyle Orton. The veteran has been phenomenal, while his defense has been even more impressive. Kansas City is reminding folks that it was a playoff team a year ago, winning all three of their games following the Week 6 bye.
Bold prediction: These teams are eerily similar, playing an old-school type of football — run the ball and play solid defense. Sammy Watkins is nicked up heading into Sunday, but is expected to play. A healthy Watkins could be the difference against a mediocre Chiefs secondary. In the battle of game-managers, Orton bests Alex Smith, finding Watkins in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead score.
Miami Dolphins vs. Detroit Lions
I’m not sure many expected a Week 10 contest between the Dolphins and the Lions to have this much at stake. The Dolphins have been one of the NFL’s best surprises, having won three straight games and now head to the Motor City carrying a 3-1 mark on the road. Ryan Tannehill has been setting all new career marks since being almost benched back in Week 4, which seems like a lifetime ago. One possible hiccup is that running back Lamar Miller is dinged up.
The Miami pass rush has been superb this season and is a key reason the team owns the No. 2 pass defense and is 12th against the run. Detroit’s D boasts similarly stellar numbers, ranked second and fifth against the run and pass, respectively. The Lions have also reeled off three consecutive victories, and now Calvin Johnson is being thrown back in the mix, which should have an offense that’s lacked firepower of late.
Bold prediction: The last time we saw the Lions, they were in London capitalizing off a second field-goal attempt against the lowly Falcons. The Lions rallied in that second half, which has been a theme for this team this season. Now with Johnson back in the fold, you’d expect that offense to be as potent as the defense. Well, let’s wait just a second. The Dolphins are for real, and they’re going to make the playoffs this year. They turn heads even more by taking an early lead against the Lions, but quelling any sort of a second-half comeback.
Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears
This game means a lot more for Chicago than it does for Green Bay. The Bears are on the verge of completely falling off the cliff. At 3-5 and two games back of the second Wild Card spot in the NFC, this game is essentially the Bears’ season. Fortunately for Chicago, the Bears are a better road team than a home team. They come in losers of two in a row but coming off a bye week in which Marc Trestman has to figure out what’s ailing Jay Cutler and the offense, and what defensive changes need to be made.
The last time we saw Green Bay they were beat up by the Saints, which snapped a four-game win streak. In these two teams’ previous meeting, the Packers cruised to a 38-17 win. In primetime at Lambeau Field, Aaron Rodgers looked to shake up a mild hamstring injury by ending his arch-rivals’ season.
Bold prediction: The Bears have everything to prove with everything on the line Sunday night, but must do so against a super talented Green Bay team that already defeated them earlier this season. There have been legitimate concerns about the Bears since they dropped their opener to the Bills, and since then it’s been an up-and-down ride. This loss ends the Bears’ season, as Rodgers accounts for four touchdowns before the first half ends. This sparks concerns over Trestman, Cutler and the rest of this Bears team.
New Orleans Saints vs. San Francisco 49ers
Last year, the Saints-Niners meeting brought us a classic, as the Saints rallied back to win on a last-second field goal. This year, neither team is as stout as it was a season ago, though both remain very much in the NFC playoff picture.
The Saints have ascended into first place in the South after knocking off the Packers and Panthers over the past two weeks. Now they begin a three-game home-stand, where the Saints are perfect so far this year. A healthy Mark Ingram and Jimmy Graham, plus the emergence of rookie Brandin Cooks has sparked the team offensively, while Rob Ryan’s defense is just beginning to play as expected.
The 49ers are coming off back-to-back losses to the Broncos and Rams, who took advantage of a late Colin Kaepernick fumble to drop the team to .500. The Niners trail both Arizona and Seattle in the NFC West, and if they aren’t careful they could back even further in the Wild Card race.
Bold prediction: The Saints are red-hot and the Niners are in must-win territory in terms of keeping their playoff chances alive. Two teams trending in the opposite directions make for nothing if not a bold prediction. The Saints got the best of San Francisco last year, but this year the visiting 49ers return the favor. Phil Dawson kicks the 49ers past the Saints in the waning seconds to snap their losing streak and further make us question the NFC playoff picture.
Carolina Panthers vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The defending NFC East champions begin the Mark Sanchez era in Philadelphia as the former Jets signal-caller gets his first start since 2012 wearing a different shade of green. The Eagles boast a 4-0 mark at the Linc and improved to first place in the division last week when Sanchez relieved an injured Nick Foles to top the Texans.
Carolina is reeling right now, having lost three in a row since tying the Bengals back in Week 6. Last Thursday, the Panthers coughed up their division lead to the Saints and are beginning to play as poorly as anticipated. The offensive line is struggling, and the loss of Greg Hardy is hurting the defense. It doesn’t help that Cam Newton is playing subpar football either. Newton has eight touchdown passes and five interceptions, while completing 57.4 percent of his passes this season. And on the ground, he’s mustering only 32.1 yards per game with a pair of scores.
Bold prediction: Sanchez starting under center for Philly going head-to-head with Newton — an easy loss, right? Not so fast. Let’s look at this from a realistic standpoint. The Jets are 1-8 with Geno Smith and Michael Vick under center. Even they miss Sanchez. To further stick a dagger in the Jets’ season, Sanchez plays lights out as the Eagles rout the Panthers on Monday night.
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