Past the midway mark in the season, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape. With our Philadelphia Eagles on a bye, it gives us a chance to turn our attention to how the league shapes up as a whole.
The Week 10 slate could alter this picture up considerably. Here are the games to keep an eye on, in order of their combined potential playoff impact (per ESPN Brian Burke’s Playoff Probability Leverage model):
DALLAS COWBOYS (5-3) @ ATLANTA FALCONS (4-4)
With a win, the Cowboys chances would increase the most out of any other team, keeping them in reach of division leader Philadelphia Eagles with two games to play against them and also planting themselves firmly in the wildcard discussion. DAL RB Ezekiel Elliot’s suspension continues to loom over the team as he and his legal team desperately files appeal after appeal. Even without Elliot, QB Dak Prescott has played well enough to keep the Cowboys dangerous even without their embattled running back.
The Steve Sarkisian Experiment at Offensive Coordinator has been “disorganized” to put it mildly. The team has struggled to repeat their success in the red zone last year, converting 51.5% of their trips into touchdowns, down 13% from last year. Even more jarring for Atlanta faithful, is their 2016 league leading scoring offense (34.1ppg) had jumped off a clip by producing just 21.2ppg, tied for 17th in the league with the New York Jets. The sputtering offense hasn’t been enough to cover up for a defense that ranks 29th in Football Outsiders DVOA. With a win, the Falcons playoff chances increase threefold, but a loss would likely spell doom.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (3-5) @ TENNESSEE TITANS (5-3)
The Bengals playoff hopes get a shot of life with a win here, but a loss likely ends their season and eventually the tenure of Head Coach Marvin Lewis. After star WR AJ Green went all George St. Pierre on Jacksonville Jaguars CB Jalen Ramsay, Green has since won his appeal to overturn a one-game suspension.
The Titans have been solid in 2017, nothing more, and nothing less. Riding a three game win streak (Colts, Browns, Ravens), the Titans should be able to keep the train rolling here and enter an important Week 11 Thursday Night Football tilt with the Pittsburgh Steelers aided by four straight wins at their back.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (6-2) @ BUFALLO BILLS (5-3)
After starting the season with losses to the Minnesota Vikings and the New England Patriots, the Saints have strung together six consecutive wins to propel them into the 2 seed spot as it stands today. Their offense and defense both rank in the top 10 of Football Outsiders’ DVOA, at 3rd and 8th respectfully. Top graded rookie (per Pro Football Focus) CB Marshon Lattimore has been a revelation for the Saints D, ranking 4th in the league among cornerbacks with his .61 yards allowed per coverage snap. A win here would help tremendously with a tough slate of games ahead (Redskins, Rams, Panthers, Falcons, Jets, Falcons, Bucs).
The Bills have made the tank talk surrounding their tumultuous offseason look ridiculous with quality wins over the Jets (x2), Falcons, and Raiders. The Bills will need contributions from newcomer WR Kelvin Benjamin and returning TE Charles Clay if they expect to keep pace with the explosive Saints.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (4-4) @ CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-3)
Honest question, how have the Dolphins won 4 games? They rank 31st in overall DVOA, couldn’t find a way to get RB Jay Ajayi going before trading him to the Eagles, their former offensive line coach is a legit crazy person on the verge of a total mental collapse, and their Quarterback room probably stinks like stale Marlbro and mediocrity. Yet, here we are, a team ranking dead last in the league in points per game (14.5) owned a three game winning streak over the Titans, Falcons and Jets before losing 40-0 to the pedestrian Baltimore Ravens. A road win here would say more about the Panthers than the Dolphins.
Speaking of the Panthers, after dropping two straight to the Eagles and Chicago Bears, the Panthers rebounded by beating the potentially mutinous Tampa Bay Buccaneers and eeking out the Falcons by a score of 20-17. With a defense that allows the 4th least points per game (17.7) going against a Dolphins offense that could easily be mistaken for a garbage can, the Panthers should be sitting pretty at 7-3 with tougher games ahead (Jets, Saints, Vikings).
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (5-3) @ ARIZONA CARDINALS (4-4)
The Seahawks are looking up at the division leading Rams after dropping their first home game of the year to the Washington Redskins last week. With the offensive line still fairly shaky, even after the acquisition of former Houston Texans OT Duane Brown, and no semblance of a run game outside of QB Russell Wilson playing backyard football, the Seahawks have serious questions but still remain dangerous. Their remaining schedule (Falcons, 49ers, Eagles, Jaguars, Rams, Cowboys, Cardinals) could prove fatal if they can’t find consistency.
The Cardinals own 4 wins over 4 teams under .500 and in their last game against a quality opponent, they proved toothless in a 33-0 loss to the Rams. Even with aging RB Adrian Peterson added to the fold, it’s hard to get excited about watching QB Drew Stanton.
Matchups to watch in Cleveland
On today’s Locked On Eagles:
A look at the key matchups for Sunday’s matchup with the Cleveland Browns.
How will the Eagles defend the Nick Chubb-Kareem Hunt backfield?
Is this the game Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz finally get things right?
Wentz Wednesday: Week 11
On today’s Locked On Eagles:
Carson Wentz went from looking like Jameis Winston all year to Sam Bradford on Sunday
Evaluating the inconsistencies in Wentz’s throwing mechanics that were apparent against New York
Wentz deserves blame without always steering the attention to Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman
Doug and Howie on the hot seat?
On today’s Locked On Eagles:
Even in a first place position…..it is time to think big picture with the Eagles
Are Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman safe beyond 2020?
Should Jeffery Lurie continue to be patient or is a shake-up needed?