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Week 8 Game Rankings: Dolphins-Jets will try to help break AFC logjam

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With so many AFC teams hovering close to .500, Miami is still in the hunt. (US Presswire)  
With so many AFC teams hovering close to .500, Miami is still in the hunt. (US Presswire)  


Are you a glass half empty guy or gal? Or a glass half full?

Depending on your world view, you may look at what's going on in the AFC and salivate over the possibility for wacky tiebreakers and unforeseen playoff scenarios that could be looming. Or you might not be so enthused by the fact that it looks like a few teams we didn't think all that much of heading into the season will be jockeying for postseason spots.

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Personally, I believe in the next five weeks the cream will rise to the top; many of these two- and three-win teams will fall well off the pace, and in the end it will be some of the same old faces -- Baltimore, New England, Pittsburgh, Denver -- back in familiar position, with, of course, Houston more or less running away with the top seed.

I expect the battle for the second wild card to be all over the place, however, and if Miami beats the Jets this week, I like them to stay in this thing. Of course, if the Titans beat the Colts this week, then maybe they hang around in there, too. And as ghastly as the Bills have looked, with them on a bye, this might end up being their best week in a long time, depending on how some other results go.

I guess what I'm saying is that 2012, in the AFC, is pretty much up for grabs. That makes each week vital and has me looking forward to a bunch of games this week that we probably would not have thought twice about in the preseason, with teams like Baltimore, Cincy and Houston -- all playoff teams in 2011 -- on the bye.

  
 

Miami Dolphins  at  New York Jets

Miami at N.Y. Jets
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Are the Dolphins for real? They win this game and you have to give them legit consideration to stay in the wild-card race in the mediocre AFC, and they get a second crack at a Jets team they outplayed in the first meeting, this time off a bye. If not for the errant ways of Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter, they would have won the first meeting, and after watching their former head coach, Tony Sparano -- now Jets offensive coordinator -- celebrate that victory like a Super Bowl, I have a feeling there will be no shortage of motivation for Miami. And the Jets have been surprisingly game since losing Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes, and finally seem to be finding a running game.

What To Watch For: Reggie Bush should be pretty fired out and fresh out of the bye. He is gaining a gaudy five yards per carry and the Jets are allowing an alarming 4.62 yards per carry. Bush averages 6.5 against the Jets ... Ryan Tannehill getting a little more wiggle room every week and coordinator Mike Sherman not afraid to open it up for him when need be to make a play ... Cameron Wake against any Jets right tackle could be a problem -- he has 6 1/2 sacks in his past three games ... Jeremy Kerley emerging as a target for Mark Sanchez ... Can Sparano, Mr. Wildcat with the Dolphins, resist getting Tim Tebow more involved than usual?

Atlanta Falcons  at  Philadelphia Eagles

Atlanta at Philadelphia
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Andy Reid is even more under fire than usual in his first game since firing defensive coordinator Juan Castillo. He comes out of the bye with fans expecting more from his offense and quarterback Mike Vick, who you might remember from his previous life as Falcons quarterback/cultural icon. So the Eagles need a victory, bad; the Falcons are the game's only unbeaten team, but they have been living dangerously; oh, and it's a homecoming for Falcons QB Matt Ryan, a Philly native who has a woeful 73 rating with three TDs and 5 INTs in two career games at The Linc. So, um, yeah, there's a little bit going on here.

What To Watch For: Will Vick push and try to do too much and keep forcing things in what will clearly be an emotional game for him, and with his job starting to hang in the balance? ... Falcons allowing 5.23 yards per carry, second worst in the NFL, and this game is screaming for more Shady McCoy for the Eagles ... Does Reid (8-2 vs. Atlanta) take more hands-on approach on the offense, and can the Eagles stay more balanced? ... Can either of these teams mount a pass rush? The Eagles at least have the personnel to do so -- look for new coordinator Todd Bowles to blitz more and be much more aggressive than his predecessor ... Do the Falcons phase Michael Turner out at all as season goes on? ... Ryan, who struggled on the road much of his career, has a 106 rating in his past five games away from home.

New York Giants  at  Dallas Cowboys

N.Y. Giants at Dallas
Sunday, Oct. 28, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Giants need all the NFC East wins they can muster after an 0-2 start, and will be fired up for this one. Even when the Cowboys win, as they barely did last week, they lose, as stud linebacker Sean Lee was lost for the season with a toe injury. But if Dallas manages to string a few victories together, they will be right back in the division race. Problem for them is the Giants are usually better on the road in big games than they are at home, and no one in the NFL is better in the fourth quarter than Eli Manning. The Giants have won six of the past nine in this series, and the last time they played in Dallas. It was a helluva game, with New York winning 37-34 with 15 points in the final three minutes and blocking a field goal to cement the victory.

What To Watch For: If the Cowboys can get DeMarco Murray active -- a big if -- teaming him with Felix Jones would be huge. Giants rush defense is beyond a problem, and having that tandem would establish some ball control and keep Manning off the field ... Both Miles Austin and Jason Witten seem to be more effective and consistent in recent weeks after battling nagging injury issues heading into the season ... Giants have a plus-9 turnover ratio, while the Cowboys are minus-7 ... Manning has 2,200 yards and 16 TDs in his past seven starts against Dallas ... Tight end Martellus Bennett wants a piece of the Cowboys and he's displaying better concentration and offensive understanding the past few weeks than ever before in his career.

  
 

New Orleans Saints  at  Denver Broncos

New Orleans at Denver
Sunday, Oct. 28, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Why To Watch: Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning. Do you need more provocation than that? And it's on a Sunday night. Remember how it went when they met in the Super Bowl not that long ago? Oh, and it's the first game for Joe Vitt as the latest interim head coach for the Saints, who with a third consecutive victory would at least be on the cusp of being able to make some playoff noise. Problem for New Orleans is, they would have trouble stopping Saskatchewan right now, much less Manning, and this seems to have shootout written all over it. And say this for the Broncos, they have tended to make their primetime appearances pretty interesting, from the Steelers game to that Monday night game in San Diego, which was their last before their bye.

What To Watch For: Any chance Manning comes out of the locker room firing? Or do you figure it takes him until sometime relatively deep into the second half before he find his form and then begins to torment defensive backs? ... Brees looking to extend his NFL record consecutive-games-with-a-touchdown streak ... Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, if he is able to play at all, could be pretty limited by an ankle injury ... Saints have to find a way to establish a run game ... Willis McGahee usually sure-handed but turnovers an issue all of a sudden ... Broncos receiver Eric Decker getting better in sync with Manning, seeking a TD in his fourth consecutive game.

Washington Redskins  at  Pittsburgh Steelers

Washington at Pittsburgh
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Maybe the most exciting young player in the NFL right now, Robert Griffin III, meets a Steelers defense so lauded for so long, but which looks old and vulnerable for stretches of games. Dick LeBeau, in his 70s, one of the greatest to ever call a defense, gets a shot at the league's newest bright young thing. And RGIII must make do now without top receiver Pierre Garcon and top tight end Fred Davis. If you love power running, you'll love Redskins rookie Alfred Morris. Both teams need a victory to stay where they would expect to be regard playoff races.

What To Watch For: London Fletcher does nothing but play football and play it with passion and often without error. The Redskins linebacker is the NFL's iron man, but a hamstring has his streak in jeopardy and he is the brains and heart of this operation. With the Redskins already without key players over there, losing Fletcher against a Ben Roethlisberger offense would be crippling ... The Big Ben/Todd Haley relationship still has yet to round into form and the possibility for explosions exist ... Mike Wallace seems disinterested and without confidence, and it has sapped the Steelers' vertical game, but the Redskins secondary is brutal and allows big plays at a staggering rate. Maybe Mike wakes up here ... Do the Steelers lean on Jonathan Dwyer more even if Rashard Mendenhall plays, given Mendenhall's health issues? ... Santana Moss playing some of his best football in years for the Redskins, and might see a lot of Ike Taylor, who comes off clearly his best game in quite some time, shutting down A.J. Green last week ... I have a feeling LaMarr Woodley has a big game against this offensive line.

New England Patriots  at  St. Louis Rams

New England at St. Louis (Wembley Stadium, London)
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Nothing is coming all that easily for the Pats these days, and this game, played in jolly ol' Londontown, could be more of the same. New England vulnerable to pass rush -- and the Rams will get after you -- especially if stud guard Logan Mankins is still out (look out for Robert Quinn). Patriots already 0-2 against the NFC West, and a loss here would be troubling with the physical 49ers still looming on their schedule. With the NFL increasingly focused in on London, get used to multiple games there for years to come, and, well, I'm a huge soccer head and always get a kick out of watching games from Wembley Stadium.

What To Watch For: The Rams came over earlier in the week and the Pats late -- wonder if that affects the game, the biological clocks involved, etc. Football players are nothing if not creatures of habit ... Have a feeling Pats rookie Chandler Jones plays a big role in this one ... Tom Brady has not been as sharp as normal and the Rams have corners who can make you pay ... The more Sam Bradford gets hit behind that suspect offensive line, the more you have to worry if any of his ankle issues flare up ... Receiver Brandon Lloyd, a former Ram, needs to show up and provide a vertical threat ... Patriots secondary showing any signs of life? As the stage grows bigger and the game begins to swing in the balance, the more they tend to wilt ... It generally seems like these London games are kind of damp and dank, doesn't it? I know it rains over there a lot and all, but hope we get some quality conditions with the pitch, er, field, and weather on Sunday.

  
 

San Francisco 49ers  at  Arizona Cardinals

San Francisco at Arizona
Monday, Oct. 29, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why To Watch: Ostensibly, this is still a big divisional game in the now-stout NFC West, but that seems a stretch right now. The Cards are reeling, they aren't as competitive without Kevin Kolb, and quite frankly they are reeling behind a joke of an offensive line. John Skelton should be afraid, very, very afraid, like horny counselors at Camp Crystal Lake afraid. Arizona gave up seven more sacks last week and lost out to division rival St. Louis to sign free-agent tackle Chris Williams -- a "defeat" that puts into further perspective the depth of the issues on the line. San Francisco's defensive front should have a field day and, well, if watching a quarterback get battered like a piñata is your thing then ...

What To Watch For: Do you believe in Alex Smith, and if not, would a slipup here change your opinion of the 49ers' Super Bowl chances? ... Frank Gore must be getting giddy watching what Adrian Peterson did against the Cards last week ... San Francisco has had coach Ken Whisenhunt's number, going 7-3 against him ... Larry Fitzgerald gaining less than 12 yards per catch tells you all you need to know about the state of the Cards offense ... Then again, Skelton is 6-0 lifetime at home ... 49ers return man Ted Ginn has been very good against the Cards.

Indianapolis Colts  at  Tennessee Titans

Indianapolis at Tennessee
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: In the AFC, this amounts to a playoff tiebreaker. Both teams in the thick of it, in the fight for second place in the AFC South and for the right to say they are in the wild-card hunt. The Titans have won two straight, and are better offensively with Matt Hasselbeck under center. Even Chris Johnson is rolling again, while the Colts don't have the same swagger on the road, but, given that the Titans defense is utterly atrocious, will they have an answer for Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne if that combination gets going?

What To Watch For: Kenny Britt is getting healthy and due for a big game, and this is the kind of defense he could expose. Colts don't cover well and Britt has been much more effective with Hasselbeck throwing him the ball ... Luck has an 83.5 rating at home (six touchdowns and two interceptions) and a 52.1 rating on the road (one touchdown and five interceptions) ... Can Indy ever get a short field? Colts have only three takeaways, by far worst in the NFL and three fewer than the Chiefs ... Colts have won 14 of the past 18 meetings, but that was with this Peyton Manning dude still there.

Seattle Seahawks  at  Detroit Lions

Seattle at Detroit
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Few teams undermine their own ability to win like the Lions. Let their anguish be your entertainment. Muffed punts, bizarre long touchdowns allowed, multiple return TDs given up in the same game, complete red-zone implosions. They do it all, and do it well. Meantime, the Seahawks have won their fair share of games late in shocking fashion, like the replacement-ref Monday night victory against Green Bay and the bomb to beat the Pats a few weeks ago. But can they make it happen on the road, and can rookie quarterback Russell Wilson concoct some of his heroics away from the 12th Man?

What To Watch For: Matt Stafford has five touchdown passes at damn near the midpoint of the season? Seriously? That's hard to fathom. ... If Mikel Leshoure can't protect the football, he's going to land deep in Jim Schwartz's doghouse ... Lions locker room not exactly filled with character guys, and with this season spiraling away following the playoff surge in 2011, I wonder if that starts to manifest itself on Sundays ... Detroit's front seven comes in off its best game of the season, but can it contain Marshawn Lynch? Would imagine a heavy, heavy load of the run game here, and the Lions have allowed only one rushing touchdown this season.

San Diego Chargers  at  Cleveland Browns

San Diego at Cleveland
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: The Chargers might not be as good as their record and the Browns aren't quite as bad as theirs. San Diego plays its first game since a debacle of a Monday night loss at home to Denver, and now, besides all of the tumult over the future of coach Norv Turner and GM AJ Smith, they have a Stickum controversy going on. Wonder if anyone in the Dog Pound chooses to remind them of that? Can you throw Stickum at someone? Yeah, probably not.

What To Watch For: Philip Rivers hasn't been right for a few years now, his herky-jerky delivery is even more of a javelin-type pushing motion than before, especially when he needs to drive the ball 40 yards downfield or more. Something isn't right there, whether it's health or mental or whatever ... Antonio Gates coming off a bye should be a factor ... Would imagine the Chargers test out Trent Richardson's ribs early. I get the sense this staff is not afraid to feature Montario Hardesty if Richardson can't get it going ... And we know if Ryan Mathews coughs it up or isn't ready to play, the Chargers will go to Jackie Battle ... At some point, Brandon Weeden is going to throw a perfect, game-winning pass to the end zone, and one of his receivers will actually hold on to it.

  
 

Carolina Panthers  at  Chicago Bears

Carolina at Chicago
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Are you an armchair psychiatrist? Can you read body language from your couch and then make sweeping conclusions based off those observations? Then this is must-see TV. No two quarterbacks get more dissected for things they do on the sidelines, how they shrug, what they might happen to drape over their heads, how they conduct themselves in postgame press conferences. Cam Newton vs. Jay Cutler: Should be a feast for the eyes! Panthers play their first game since GM Marty Hurney was fired, and come in off another tough defeat.

What To Watch For: Is Cutler fully stepping into his passes, or are there some lingering issues from that blow to the ribs he took Monday night? ... Can the Bears continue to turn teams over at this rate? The Bears have five takeaways when an opponent is in their red zone -- the league average is one. Their 21 takeaways are three more than any other team and 10 more than the league average ... Only four teams in the NFL have a worse ratio than Carolina's minus-6 takeaway ratio. Oh, and only two teams have more than the Panthers' three red-zone giveaways ... Will the short week show up at all with Chicago's defense, which is long in the tooth? ... The Panthers have to be more productive in the run game and simplify things for Newton.

Jacksonville Jaguars  at  Green Bay Packers

Jacksonville at Green Bay
Sunday, Oct. 28, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: What might be the league's hottest team plays host to what might be the league's worst team. Add in the fact the Jaguars are back on the road after blowing a big lead in a horrible defeat at Oakland, and Chad Henne possibly replacing Blaine Gabbert, and knowing Maurice Jones-Drew is out ... well, this has the potential to be one of the more lopsided games of the this season, if that does anything for you.

What To Watch For: Have a hard time thinking the Jags slow down Aaron Rodgers, who has nine touchdowns to no interceptions in his past two games ... Believe it or not, Cecil Shorts is the Jags' leading receiver, with all of 284 yards through six games ... I would mention this is the first game the Pack is playing since Charles Woodson broke his collarbone, but I have a hard time seeing the Jags attempting much downfield anyway ... Have to think the Packers move Clay Matthews around some to exploit matchups (Jags allowing three sacks per game) ... Can Jacksonville even get a hand on Rodgers, and if not, how perfect will he be? The Jags have registered five sacks all season.

Oakland Raiders  at  Kansas City Chiefs

Oakland at Kansas City
Sunday, Oct. 28, 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Power to the people! Fan revolt! Chiefs fans are under duress and full of unrest, with plans to fly more planes over Arrowhead calling for change, and a blackout of sorts under way, treating this game as a wake with fans wearing black. Could be more interesting stuff going on in the stands than between the hash marks. And, well, if the Raiders win this thing, in what I suppose still amounts to a rivalry game, at 3-4 you would have to say they are in the playoff race.

What To Watch For: Darren McFadden is still really struggling with the zone blocking scheme in Oakland, while Jamaal Charles, coming off the bye, has to be in line for a big workload, right? ... Brady Quinn struggled mightily in his last start, but just finding a way not to turn the ball over three times a game would be a huge step forward for the Chiefs ... Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey averages over 18 yards per catch against the Chiefs ... Dwayne Bowe has more catches against the Raiders than any other opponent.


Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.
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