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Week 10 Game Rankings: Middling fare highlighted by Bears-Texans clash

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If the Saints hope to claw back into relevance, a win over Atlanta would be a great start. (US Presswire)  
If the Saints hope to claw back into relevance, a win over Atlanta would be a great start. (US Presswire)  


This is not an epic week of games. This I readily admit.

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I call it the dog days of autumn. We still have bye weeks, which complicates things and keeps us from getting all of our best teams on the field any given weekend. We don't seem to have too many hotly contested divisional races, at least at this point in the season, so that puts a little damper on things as well.

So this is a lukewarm week. The early games aren't overwhelming in terms of clashes of elite teams, the prime-time games are pedestrian at best overall, and I had a hard time putting the esteemed footlong tag on many of them. Then again, I don't see too many sliders in there as well.

I guess, more than anything else, this week symbolizes the state of the game -- parity rules. We have a bunch of games that are somewhere in the middle -- exactly where we find most of the teams in this league -- and a growing sense that despite this playoff scene seeming fairly predictable at this point, we know the best is yet to come and a few surprises remain in the final weeks of the season.

  
 

Houston Texans  at  Chicago Bears

Houston at Chicago
Sunday, Nov. 11, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Why to watch: Arguably a potential Super Bowl preview, two teams that don't get together all that often and a chance for the Texans to make a statement after getting pounded in their previous meeting against an NFC North heavyweight. The Texans' only loss this season came against the Packers, a firm beating on national television. We'll all be watching. As great as the Texans have been, there is still some trepidation as to how equipped they are to win a Super Bowl. For the Bears' gaudy record, there are plenty of people out there who doubt Jay Cutler on the biggest of stages. Both teams have something to prove, and while only so much can be accomplished in November, we all know too much will be made of this result one way or another.

What to watch for: If Jonathan Joseph shuts down Brandon Marshall or stays with him or in general shadows him, who else shows up in the Chicago offense? .... J.J. Watt against the Bears' offensive line should be quite a mismatch. ... Can the Bears continue to score points on defense to the degree that they have? ... Bears corner Charles Tillman is worth watching just for his ability to pry balls loose if nothing else, and his MVP candidacy seems to grow by the week. ... Owen Daniels against that Bears cover-2 defense could be interesting. Should be some seams there to exploit. ... This could be the week Conner Barwin gets back to looking like he did in 2011.

Atlanta Falcons  at  New Orleans Saints

Atlanta at New Orleans
Sunday, Nov. 11, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why to watch: Raise your hand if you left the Saints for dead a few weeks back. All the turmoil, the changing coaches, the massive defensive struggles, now the public angst over the future of suspended coach Sean Payton. Seemed like this just wouldn't be their year, but a win here, against a rival that has struggled at their place, and all of a sudden the Saints have a chance to be the feel-good story of the second half of the NFL season. Drew Brees is in a groove and you know he wants to show upstart Matt Ryan who is still the best in the NFC South. We have the possibility for a big shootout here and the chance the 1972 Dolphins start cracking open that champagne as well, with the Saints winning 10 of the past 12 meetings.

What to watch for: Is anyone in New Orleans capable of putting a body on Julio Jones or Roddy White? Maybe Roman Harper? ... The Falcons' lack of a pass rush could be glaring here. ... Chris Ivory gave the Saints' run game energy and power last week. Would think he gets a few more carries this week. ... Jimmy Graham's ankle issues seemed to be less of an issue in Monday night's win over the Eagles. ... Jonathan Vilma has been surprisingly effective in his return from a long injury absence and his presence and leadership are a settling influence on that defense. ... Curtis Lofton plays against the Falcons for the first time, and should have a good sense of their routes and concepts.

  
 

Dallas Cowboys  at  Philadelphia Eagles

Dallas at Philadelphia
Sunday, Nov. 11, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why to watch: The loser of this game is done, period, lights out. OK, in all likelihood, these two teams aren't going to make any real noise even if they get in the playoffs, and, again, I doubt either does. But the loser here is not going to make it. Neither can afford a loss within the NFC East, or the conference, and they both come in hanging their heads having lost some tough games recently. Both quarterbacks are under intense scrutiny, both coaches could be out of a job by 2013. Plenty of drama here.

What to watch for: Which quarterback throws the first pick, and how many follow? ... Do the Eagles have anyone left on their roster who can pass protect? Can they afford to spread anything out given their limitations in that regard? ... With DeMarco Murray likely still hurt, Dallas will discover it can't lean on Felix Jones in his absence. ... Will Nnamdi Asomugha make an open-field tackle or really get involved in the run game? ... DeMarcus Ware is in store for a big, big day and has nine sacks in his past three games against the Eagles. ... LeSean McCoy is getting hounded behind the line of scrimmage and averaging just 4.3 yards per carry. ... Good Tony Romo tends to show up in November, with a 19-3 record in this month.

San Diego Chargers  at  Tampa Bay Buccaneers

San Diego at Tampa Bay
Sunday, Nov. 11, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: It's a long, long trip for the Chargers, and a game they may well need come playoff time, facing a Bucs team that is in the thick of the postseason race as well. Vincent Jackson, who endured some tumult and frustration in his dealings with the Chargers' front office during his tenure there, gets a chance to derail San Diego's season here, and he is making big plays with regularity. San Diego is more rested having last played on the Thursday night, and Tampa played in Oakland last week, barely holding on for the win. So the home team may be more weary in this one.

What to watch for: Mike Williams has been a solid complement to Jackson, and the size of the Tampa receivers can cause problems. ... Josh Freeman has been a top-10 quarterback the past five weeks or so, while Philip Rivers continues to make crushing mistakes, even in victories. ... Doug Martin will be a handful for the Chargers, but both of these teams can get it done against the run. ... The Bucs have a hard time stopping people late in games and holding on to leads, and their weak secondary will be targeted.

New York Giants  at  Cincinnati Bengals

N.Y. Giants at Cincinnati
Sunday, Nov. 11, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why to watch: The Giants are trying to get Eli Manning back to his MVP form. The Bengals are trying to keep their postseason hopes alive, at least to some degree. Cincinnati, struggling for so long to sustain some success in consecutive seasons, looks to be in the same old situation now. The Bengals can't afford to start slow and the Giants have been better on the road than at home for the most part.

What to watch for: Hakeem Nicks getting healthy would be a huge key to getting Manning going again. The Bengals' defense lacks depth in the secondary and has the fourth-worst passer rating vs. opposing QBs in the NFL (99). ... Expect to see a lot of Giants safety Antrell Rolle wherever Bengals receiver A.J. Green goes. ... The Bengals are giving up a lot of long runs (10 yards or more) and Ahmad Bradshaw can be shifty. ... Andy Dalton has been getting knocked around consistently this season, unlike his rookie campaign, which has something to do with his increased turnovers.

Detroit Lions  at  Minnesota Vikings

Detroit at Minnesota
Sunday, Nov. 11, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why to watch: This is a big NFC North game after the Lions dropped the opening set in this series. Detroit is surging and cannot afford a slip here with the NFC so packed, especially given its early season slump. The Vikings are at the opposite end of the spectrum after their surprisingly fast start has taken a fairly abrupt turn, particularly when it comes to Christian Ponder's play at quarterback. And Matthew Stafford seems to be getting better each week. Interesting time for these two clubs to be getting together again.

What to watch for: Mikel LeShoure comes in off a three-TD performance and the Lions are getting more physical in the run game. Of course, Adrian Peterson comes in having just destroyed a powerful Seattle defense without any pretense of a passing game behind him. ... Calvin Johnson is still ailing but the Lions are trying different treatments for his bad knee. See how often he is targeted on the first few series. ... Percy Harvin ailing is massively bad news for the Vikings. He is their passing offense and is so adept at screens and short passes -- which is all Ponder seems capable of completing. ... The Lions are likely to be without safety Louis Delmas again, which will hurt more in run support than anything else at this point, given the Vikings' passing woes.

Buffalo Bills  at  New England Patriots

Buffalo at New England
Sunday, Nov. 11, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: Blowouts your thing? Remember, the Bills gave up 52 to the Pats in the first meeting, and Buffalo's defense is pretty inept in all aspects of play. And New England comes in off a bye and should have key weapons like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez healthier than they have been in a while. Also worth noting is that the New England had two backs go over 100 yards in the first meeting. Oh, and the Patriots put up 49 on the Bills last season in Foxborough.

What to watch for: Can the Bills' $50 million man Mario Williams show up two straight weeks, without the extra motivation of facing his former Texans teammates this week? ... Tom Brady to Brandon Lloyd is getting cranked up and the Bills probably don't have an answer for it. ... Patriots rookie defenders Chandler Jones and Tavon Wilson are quietly making plays. ... The Bills will need a boost from returner Leodis McKelvin, who is averaging nearly 20 yards per punt return. ... The Bills have lost 11 in a row at Foxborough; if it goes poorly early, you have to wonder if it snowballs.

  
 

St. Louis Rams  at  San Francisco 49ers

St. Louis at San Francisco
Sunday, Nov. 11, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why to watch: St. Louis is finally healthy off its bye, with Danny Amendola, Scott Wells and Rodger Saffold -- three critical starters -- all likely back in the lineup. But am I the only one who thinks it odd that the Rams have to go to California after having played their last game in London? The 49ers have a chance to put more distance between themselves and the rest of the division. The Rams, doormats for so long, can stay on course to get to the .500 level, which would be a huge accomplishment. Don't forget, even the juggernaut 49ers of a year ago struggled to beat the Rams in Week 17.

What to watch for: Is this a more wide-open 49ers offense in the second half of the season? Can Randy Moss continue to do a little more each week? ... I would expect to see more of Steven Jackson down the stretch as he gets healthier and having survived the trade deadline with the Rams. ... When does Alex Smith rediscover Vernon Davis? ... The 49ers don't have a receiver averaging even 12 yards per catch. ... Sam Bradford has a 100 career rating against the 49ers. ... Aldon Smith has eight sacks in his past seven games within the NFC West.

New York Jets  at  Seattle Seahawks

N.Y. Jets at Seattle
Sunday, Nov. 11, 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: Did the Jets figure anything out during their bye and will they unveil more Tim Tebow? I doubt it on both counts. Watching Mark Sanchez try to navigate this defense -- against his old college coach who you may recall thought that he was not yet ready for the NFL -- and this secondary in particular could result in some football follies moments. Particularly with Sanchez's lack of weapons available. Seattle plays with the kind of overt physicality the Jets only talk about, and Seattle probably has the best home-field advantage in the league, and a defense and run game suited to it.

What to watch for: Can the Jets get off to an early start and force Russell Wilson to be a pocket passer and have to open things up more than the Seahawks would like? If not, it could get out of hand. ... Seattle, for its offensive limitations, scores well at home. ... Where will the Jets' pass rush come from? There are few candidates to choose from. ... Shonn Greene is averaging over 97 yards in his past three games, but the Seahawks are not the kind of defense that gets gashed in consecutive weeks. ... Golden Tate is finding his way in Seattle's offense. ... Expect Wilson to keep the ball away from Antonio Cromartie, who may be on Sidney Rice, and take his chances elsewhere. ... You know Braylon Edwards will be especially fired up for this meeting with one of his former teams. ... The Jets wanted to take pass rusher Bruce Irvin with their first-round pick but the Seahawks beat them to it; I have a feeling Irvin and Chris Clemons show up big here.

Denver Broncos  at  Carolina Panthers

Denver at Carolina
Sunday, Nov. 11, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: The last time Peyton Manning was hanging out in Carolina he was restoring his career on the Duke campus, working through his neck and nerve issues and trying to stay as covert as possible about the whole thing. Oh, and occasionally various dignitaries from various NFL teams would fly in for an up-close-and-personal peek at his recovery. Fast forward from the spring to this game and Manning seems at the top of his game -- even if the ball may not exactly always be exploding out of his hand -- for this meeting. Pretty striking contrast here as well between Manning, Mr. Cool, and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, whose every move is under the microscope.

What to watch for: Panthers owner Jerry Richardson putting Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy in a headlock, whisking him away in a car and keeping him in a warehouse somewhere until after the season, then making him his next head coach. In all seriousness, this could be the next coach of the Panthers, a former assistant in Carolina. ... Have to worry about the Denver edge defenders crashing down on Newton, who is the Panthers' leading rusher. ... Will John Fox, who coached the Panthers for so long, show much emotion on the sidelines of this one in his return? ... Charles Johnson is playing superb for the Panthers, aiming for a third straight two-sack game. ... The Panthers' vertical game seems to be getting on track, with Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards flashing. ... Broncos WR Eric Decker is going for a sixth straight game with a touchdown.

Indianapolis Colts  at  Jacksonville Jaguars

Indianapolis at Jacksonville
Thursday, Nov. 8, 8:20 p.m. ET (NFL Network)

Why to watch: It's Thursday night football people, so what else is worth watching? And, well, we only have like four more of these to go, so they're kind of running out (the Colts have won seven straight on Thursday night, FWIW). It's a chance to see Andrew Luck just a few days after he set the single-game rookie passing record. It's a chance to watch Reggie Wayne possibly run wild and continue to turn back the clock on his career. It's a chance to see one of the true surprise contenders in the NFL -- and a chance to see a sixth straight loss for the Jags. Should Indy take care of business the Colts, at 6-3, would be very well positioned for a postseason run.

What to watch for: Can the Colts take their stellar home game on the road? It's something many in this rookie class have struggled with, and Luck must be looking at the film of the Lions carving up the Jags on Sunday with a certain twinkle in his eye. ... Will the Colts let WR Cecil Shorts out of their sight late in the game again? It cost them in the first meeting between these teams, Jacksonville's sole win this season. ... It's hard to fathom the Colts are at minus-10 in turnover ratio, and the Jags just at minus-2, given where they are in the standings. ... Look out if Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis get back to their usual standards, which seems to be the case for the Colts lately. ... The Colts have been the only NFL team against which Jags QB Blaine Gabbert has looked like a functional passer.

Oakland Raiders  at  Baltimore Ravens

Oakland at Baltimore
Sunday, Nov. 11, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: Doug Martin had everyone's eyes popping out last week, going for 244 yards and three TDs in his first 18 carries against the Raiders, with TD runs of 45, 60-something and 70-something yards. And Martin looks like a Ray Rice clone. And Ray Rice plays for the Ravens, and Baltimore is trying to stay more balanced offensively after getting too pass-happy at times in the first half of the season. That, in and of itself, could be worth keeping an eye on. It's another must-win type of game for the Ravens, who have their rival Steelers looming in two of the three weeks following this tuneup.

What to watch for: The Ravens' hurry-up, no-huddle offense, as awful as it has looked on the road, has been lethal at times at home. Joe Flacco is much more comfortable there, too. ... Ravens corner Cary Williams leads the AFC in interceptions and Carson Palmer tends to throw them in bunches. The Ravens have a long book on him as well from his time in Cincy. ... Can the Raiders muster a running game against this porous rushing defense with Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson ailing? ... I have a feeling Darrius Heyward-Bey catches young corner Jimmy Smith on a double-move or two. ... Which Terrell Suggs shows up this week? The one who shocked us with how active he was in a surprise return a few weeks back, or the one contained with relative ease by the Browns last week?

  
 

Tennessee Titans  at  Miami Dolphins

Tennessee at Miami
Sunday, Nov. 11, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why to watch: Bud Adams seems capable of all sorts of outbursts, with the Titans season going awry, and his remarks after last week's pummeling by the Bears were much more interesting than anything his team did on the field. Imagine the fireworks if Bud makes the flight from his home in Houston all the way to Miami this time and watches his team get bludgeoned again! The Dolphins need a bounce-back AFC win after a tough loss to the Colts last week. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill would be getting a lot of press in any normal year, but with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III starring right away, he remains overshadowed.

What to watch for: Would Mike Munchak, under fire now, make a switch to Jake Locker at quarterback midgame if his team starts poorly again this week? ... Up-and-down Titans RB Chris Johnson has gone over 100 yards in each of his two career games against the Dolphins. ... Miami pass rusher Cameron Wake has 8½ sacks in his past five games. ... Reggie Bush is averaging 91 yards rushing per game in his past five home games. ... The Dolphins need LT Jake Long to get his game together, and lucky for him the Titans are not blessed with many pass rushing options.

Kansas City Chiefs  at  Pittsburgh Steelers

Kansas City at Pittsburgh
Monday, Nov. 12, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why to watch: We were due for a Monday night stinker and this could be it. These two teams are going in completely different directions. A Chiefs team that barely puts up a fight most weeks probably doesn't make for appointment viewing. And you don't think that maybe, just maybe, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley wants to send a message to his former team, and general manager Scott Pioli in particular, for being fired in-season a year ago? As ugly as this game might be, watching Ben Roethlisberger continue to operate at the extremely rarified manner he is makes for great TV.

What to watch for: Could Chiefs coaches or execs get fired by halftime? Anyone left behind from the team bus and staying in Pittsburgh? ... Can Mike Wallace continue to make the kind of explosive plays he did a week ago? Getting to face this secondary should provide little impediment. ... Jamaal Charles needs to be vitally involved in the Chiefs' game plan from the opening snap. ... The Steelers are now showing the ability to run the ball regardless of which back is in the game. ... With the Steelers defense now playing as it has in the past, it stands to reason the Chiefs (minus-20 turnover ratio) cough it up quite a bit here. ... Heath Miller will be a factor in the game; he has become a big part of Haley's offense.


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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