This is the time of year when the leaves turn, there is a chill in the air and the NFL games have a lot at stake as teams jockey for position in the playoff race.
The week started with the Raiders beating the Chargers Thursday night to keep themselves in the hunt at 5-4. The Chargers, meanwhile, fell to 4-6, dealing the playoff hopes a possible crippling blow.
It now appears the 8-1 Patriots and 6-2 Ravens are in position to win division titles while the 6-3 Texans, the 5-3 Colts and even the 4-5 Jaguars and 4-5 Titans are vying for the AFC South title.
The 6-3 Chiefs and 5-4 Raiders are battling for the AFC West title. That means eight teams are battling for six playoff spots. The other six teams have at least six losses.
In the NFC the 5-3 Cowboys and 5-4 Eagles are vying for the NFC East title while the 7-2 Packers and 6-3 Vikings are going for the NFC Central title and the 7-1 Saints have a two-game lead over the 5-3 Panther in the South.
San Francisco, the league’s only unbeaten team at 8-0, has the edge in the West over the 7-2 Seahawks and 5-3 Rams.
Game of the Week
The unbeaten 49ers will be going for 9-0 when they host the 7-2 Seahawks on Monday night. This may be a better game on paper than it is on the field. Despite the Seahawks record, they haven’t been that impressive this year although Russell Wilson is having an MVP type year so they always have a chance.
Game of the Weak
The two New York teams meet only once every four years in the regular season and this won’t be a memorable one with the Giants 2-7 and the Jets 1-7. The loser remains in contention for the top pick. Both coaches, Adam Gase of the Jets and Pat Schurmur of the Giants, are desperate for a victory. Gase is already on the hot seat and Schurmur is 6-18 in his second year.
What to watch for
—This is the year of the backup quarterback and Brian Hoyer is the latest one to get a shot with Jacoby Brissett sidelined with an injury. If Brissett has to miss a game, this is the one to miss. The Colts are playing Miami and should get a win to tie Houston, which has a bye, for first place in the AFC South.
—Patrick Mahomes, who was sidelined with a knee injury, returns to the lineup just in time because the Chiefs only have a one game lead over the resurgent Raiders in the AFC West. They need a win at Tennessee and hope Mahomes is at full strength and is at the top of his game after the layoff.
—The Pittsburgh Steelers have clawed back to .500 after a 1-4 start and now play a critical game Sunday when the host the Rams. A victory keeps them in the wild card race and they have a favorable schedule with two games with Cleveland sandwiched around a game with Cincinnati and then games with Arizona, Buffalo and the Jets before they close the season at Baltimore. The Steelers could get on a roll if they beat last year’s Super Bowl losers.
—Baltimore is the first team since the 1976 Steelers to rush for 150 or more yards in eight of the first nine games. They should be able to do it again Sunday when the face the winless Bengals as Lamar Jackson figures to have another big game.
—NBC gets another good game Sunday night when the Vikings go to Dallas with a lot riding on it for both teams. The Vikings are a game behind Green Bay while the Cowboys are a game ahead of Philadelphia in the loss column in their respective divisions. The game may turn on which Kirk Cousins shows up for the Vikings because he tends to be inconsistent. The key for Dallas is to get the lead in the fourth quarter because Cousins isn’t noted for bringing his team from behind at the end.