It’s Week 10 in the NFL and there’s standing room only in the top half of the standings.
That’s because several teams have rebounded recently and are making strong cases to return to the playoffs.
- The ATLANTA FALCONS (4-4) started 1-3. Now, they’re jockeying for position in the NFC South.
- Out west, the DENVER BRONCOS (5-4) were 3-4 on Oct. 21. Today, they’re riding a two-game winning streak, including an impressive road victory last week at Dallas, and can move closer to a perch atop the AFC West with a win on Sunday.
- Also in that crowded division, the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-3) have won four of their last six and maintain their division lead, bidding for their first playoff berth since 2018.
- And the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (5-4), who were 2-4 four weeks ago, have won three straight and enter Week 10 just a half game out of first in the AFC East.
It’s also because four teams last week – DENVER, JACKSONVILLE, KANSAS CITY and the NEW YORK GIANTS – earned wins over first-place opponents. The last time in Week 9 or later that four teams with .500-or-below records each defeated division leaders on the same day was Dec. 18, 2011.
In the AFC, 11 teams have a winning record, tied with the AFC in 2014 for the most in a conference entering Week 10 since the league merger in 1970. Five NFL divisions are led by a team that did not win its division last season. Three divisions have a team in first place or tied for first that missed the playoffs in 2020.
Game 136 is history. Games 137-272 lay ahead. Which teams will separate themselves from the crowd?
TWO-MINUTE DRILL: Years from now, when observers recall the 2021 season, they’re likely to remember it as the season of late-game drama. Through nine weeks, 35 games have featured a game-winning score in the final two minutes of regulation or in overtime, the most such games through Week 9 all-time.
Two teams familiar with late-game dramatics, the ATLANTA FALCONS (4-4) and DALLAS COWBOYS (6-2), will clash at AT&T Stadium on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX). Last week at New Orleans, Falcons quarterback MATT RYAN orchestrated a five-play, 64-yard drive to set up a game-winning field goal by YOUNGHOE KOO with no time remaining. Atlanta is 3-1 this season in games decided by a game-winning score in the final two minutes or in overtime. The Cowboys are also 3-1 in those games, with all three wins on the road.
The teams with the most games decided by a game-winning score in the final two minutes or in overtime this season:
Last week, Ryan passed for 343 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a 135.8 rating in the Falcons’ win. He now has 73 career games with at least 300 passing yards, tied with PHILIP RIVERS (73) for the fourth-most such games all-time. Only DREW BREES (123), TOM BRADY (103) and Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (93) have more.
When the Falcons have the ball, two first-round selections in the 2021 NFL Draft will be on the field. Atlanta’s KYLE PITTS, selected No. 4 overall, has 36 catches for 546 yards. He’s the first rookie tight end with at least 35 receptions and 500 receiving yards over his first eight games in NFL history. Dallas linebacker MICAH PARSONS, the No. 12 selection, leads NFL rookies with 10 tackles for loss and ranks second in both tackles (52) and sacks (five).
MVPs in PRIMETIME: Week 10 features two of the three most recent Most Valuable Players in primetime, as LAMAR JACKSON (2019 MVP) and the BALTIMORE RAVENS (6-2) head to Hard Rock Stadium to face the MIAMI DOLPHINS (2-7) on Thursday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, FOX/NFLN/Amazon). Then, on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC), PATRICK MAHOMES (2018 MVP) and the KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (5-4) visit the LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (5-3).
- Last week, Jackson guided Baltimore to three second-half touchdowns to overcome a 14-point deficit and defeat Minnesota, 34-31, in overtime. Jackson recorded his 10th career game with at least 100 rushing yards, tied with MICHAEL VICK (10) for the most such games by a quarterback all-time, and became the first quarterback in league annals with multiple career games with at least three touchdown passes and 100 rushing yards.
- With exactly 600 rushing yards entering Week 10, he is the first quarterback in NFL history with at least 600 in each of his first four seasons, and joins CAM NEWTON (four seasons) and Vick (four) as the only quarterbacks all-time with four career seasons of at least 600 rushing yards.
- In 11 career starts in primetime, Jackson has an 8-3 record with 3,172 combined passing and rushing yards (288.4 per game) and 31 touchdowns (24 passing, seven rushing) against four interceptions for a 115.5 rating. He has totaled at least three touchdowns in four of his past five primetime games. In his only career start on a Thursday, Jackson recorded five touchdown passes and a 134.4 rating (Week 15 of the 2019 season).
Mahomes enters Week 10 ranking fourth in passing yards (2,534) and tied for third in touchdown passes (20) this season. Since the beginning of his 2018 MVP campaign, he leads the NFL in passing yards (16,402) and touchdown passes (134) and ranks third in passer rating (106.3) among qualified passers.
- In 18 career primetime starts, Mahomes has 5,226 passing yards (290.3 per game) and 46 total touchdowns (43 passing, three rushing). He has at least two touchdown passes in seven of his nine career starts on Sunday night and has thrown for at least 300 yards in three of his past four starts on Sunday Night Football.
SEAHAWKS, PACKERS RENEW 21ST-CENTURY RIVALRY: Since the beginning of the 2003 season, the SEATTLE SEAHAWKS and GREEN BAY PACKERS have set standards for winning in the NFC. Over that time, Green Bay ranks No. 1 in the conference with 184 regular-season wins while Seattle is second with 175. In the postseason over that span, Seattle’s 14 wins are first in the conference and Green Bay’s 13 are second. Each franchise has won a Super Bowl in that window, the Packers in 2010 and the Seahawks in 2013.
- Shifting to 2021, Seattle (3-5) travels to Green Bay (7-2) for another clash on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, FOX). The Packers are looking to stay among the best in the NFC while the Seahawks are trying to jump back into the playoff conversation.
- Since 2012, Seattle’s first season with RUSSELL WILSON as the starting quarterback, Seattle is 3-3 in the regular season and 1-1 in the playoffs against Green Bay. Both Wilson and AARON RODGERS rank in the top five in passing touchdowns and passer rating over that period. Furthermore, among starting quarterbacks, only TOM BRADY (112) has won more games in that span than Wilson (100) and Rodgers (92).
In another connection, former head coach MIKE HOLMGREN led both organizations to Super Bowls. He’s one of seven coaches to guide multiple franchises to Super Bowls, joining JOHN FOX, BILL PARCELLS, DAN REEVES, ANDY REID, DON SHULA and DICK VERMEIL.
In Week 8, Seattle’s last game before its bye, wide receiver DK METCALF recorded six receptions for 43 yards and two touchdowns in the Seahawks’ win. Metcalf now has 25 career touchdown receptions and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer RANDY MOSS (36) and ODELL BECKHAM JR. (34) as the only wide receivers since 1990 with at least 25 touchdown catches in their first 40 games.
SAINTS GO MARCHING INTO MUSIC CITY: The NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-3), who have two wins this year against teams currently in first place, get another division front-runner this week, the TENNESSEE TITANS (7-2), at Nissan Stadium (1:00 PM ET, CBS). Officially, the Saints are 3-1 on the road, not including their season-opening 38-3 win over Green Bay, moved to Jacksonville due to Hurricane Ida. New Orleans also defeated first-place Tampa Bay in Week 8. The Titans’ only home loss this season came at the hands of Arizona, which owns the league’s best record.
- The Titans enter the game having won four straight games against teams that made the playoffs last season. In NFL history, only one team has won five such games in consecutive fashion: The 2003 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES.
- Since joining the Titans prior to the 2019 season, Tennessee quarterback RYAN TANNEHILL has orchestrated 12 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, most in the NFL over that span, two more than the next-closest player, DEREK CARR (10).
- Tannehill’s 12 game-winning Titans drives are tied for the third-most by a quarterback in his first three seasons with a team since the 1970 league merger, trailing the Cowboys’ DAK PRESCOTT (14) and the Falcons’ MATT RYAN (13).
- Last week, New Orleans running back ALVIN KAMARA recorded four receptions with 104 scrimmage yards (54 receiving, 50 rushing) and one rushing touchdown against the Falcons. Kamara now has 358 career receptions, tied with ROGER CRAIG (358) for the most receptions by a running back in his first five seasons all-time.
JUSTIN & JUSTIN: Two players selected in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, quarterback JUSTIN HERBERT and wide receiver JUSTIN JEFFERSON, will meet for the first time when the MINNESOTA VIKINGS (3-5) visit the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (5-3) on Sunday (4:05 PM, FOX). Each player will play the 25th game in his young career.
- Last week, Herbert engineered a 15-play, 64-yard march to put DUSTIN HOPKINS in position for a game-winning field goal with two seconds remaining in the Chargers’ 27-24 victory. Herbert completed 32 of 38 pass attempts (84.2 percent) for 356 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions for a 123.2 rating and added a rushing touchdown in the Chargers’ win.
- Herbert’s 84.2 completion percentage was the second-highest single-game completion percentage (minimum 30 attempts) by a player age 23 or younger, trailing only DAK PRESCOTT (88.9 percent on Dec. 18, 2016).
- Herbert has 12 career games with at least 300 passing yards, the most such games by a quarterback in his first two seasons in NFL history.
- Jefferson last week had 69 receiving yards, including a 50-yard touchdown reception. He now has 2,032 career receiving yards and, playing his 24th NFL game last week, became the second-fastest player in the Super Bowl era to reach 2,000, trailing only ODELL BECKHAM JR. (21 games).
- Chargers wide receiver KEENAN ALLEN recorded 12 receptions for 104 yards in last week’s win. Allen has nine career games with at least 12 receptions and 100 receiving yards, surpassing Pro Football Hall of Famer MARVIN HARRISON (eight games) and WES WELKER (eight) for the most such games in league annals.
The Vikings (seven), Chargers (six) and Falcons (six) lead the NFL this season in games decided by eight points or less.
PROPHETIC POINTS: The PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (3-6) meet the DENVER BRONCOS (5-4) at Empower Field at Mile High on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS). In each of the teams’ last two meetings, the winner has scored at least 50 points and gone on to play in the Super Bowl – the Eagles in 2017 and the Broncos in 2013.
CAROLINA-CARDINALS SACK EXCHANGE: The CAROLINA PANTHERS (4-5) travel to meet the ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-1) on Sunday (4:05 PM ET, FOX). Arizona is tied for fourth in the NFL with 25 sacks this season while Carolina (23) is tied for sixth.
- Carolina linebacker HAASON REDDICK returns to Arizona to face his former team. Reddick leads the Panthers with 8.5 sacks this season and since the beginning of 2020 ranks fourth in the NFL with 21 sacks.
- Cardinals linebacker MARKUS GOLDEN leads the team with nine sacks, tied for third in the league in 2021.
- Arizona has matched the best start in franchise history. The Cardinals also began 8-1 in 1925, 1948 and 2014.
- Cardinals running back JAMES CONNER has 11 scrimmage touchdowns, most in the NFL, including five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) in his past two games.
- Carolina running back CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY totaled 106 scrimmage yards (54 receiving, 52 rushing) last week. McCaffrey now has 20 career games with at least 50 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards, surpassing LE’VEON BELL (19 games) for the most such games by a player in his first five seasons in NFL history.
PITTSBURGH PASS RUSH CHARGED BY 61 WATTS: The PITTSBURGH STEELERS (5-3) have won four straight entering their home game against the DETROIT LIONS (0-8) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).
- Last week, Steelers linebacker T.J. WATT registered three sacks to increase his career total to 61 while appearing in his 69th NFL game. Since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic, only three players have reached 61 sacks in fewer than 69 games, Pro Football Hall of Famer REGGIE WHITE (50 games), J.J. WATT (66) and Pro Football Hall of Famer DERRICK THOMAS (67).
- T.J. Watt now has 14 games with at least two sacks. Since he entered the NFL in 2017, no other player has more such games.
BELICHICK FACES FORMER TEAM: New England’s BILL BELICHICK ranks third in NFL history with 316 career victories, trailing only Pro Football Hall of Famers DON SHULA (347) and GEORGE HALAS (324). Belichick has served as a head coach with two clubs, the CLEVELAND BROWNS (1991-95) and the NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2000-present). This week, Belichick and the Patriots (5-4) host his former team, the Browns (5-4), on Sunday at Gillette Stadium (1:00 PM ET, CBS).
- One common thread in every Belichick team has been an emphasis on winning the turnover ratio. In 1991, Belichick’s first season as an NFL head coach, the Browns ranked third in the league in that category. Overall, his clubs have led the league in turnover margin 11 times in his 26 seasons (42.3 percent) as an NFL head coach entering 2021. Since Belichick became New England head coach in 2000, the Patriots own a plus-213 ratio, best in the NFL over that span.
- This week’s game features two of the NFL’s leaders in sacks. Cleveland’s MYLES GARRETT ranks first with 12 and New England’s MATT JUDON is tied for third with nine.
- Last week, Cleveland cornerback DENZEL WARD (99-yard interception return), running back NICK CHUBB (70-yard run) and wide receiver DONOVAN PEOPLES-JONES (60-yard catch) each recorded touchdowns in the Browns’ win. Cleveland became the first team in 54 years and the fourth team all-time to record a touchdown pass, rushing touchdown and defensive touchdown each of at least 60 yards in a single game, joining Kansas City (Oct. 30, 1966), Washington (Nov. 27, 1966) and the San Diego Chargers (Oct. 15, 1967).
- Garrett, appearing in his 60th career game last week, increased his career sacks to 54.5, the third-most by a player in his first 60 career games since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic. Only Pro Football Hall of Famers REGGIE WHITE (72.5) and DERRICK THOMAS (55) had more.
NFC WILD-CARD REMATCH: With both teams coming off their bye weeks, the TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (6-2) visit the WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM (2-6) in a rematch of a 2020 NFC Wild Card contest on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX). The Buccaneers earned their first of three consecutive road wins on the way to a Super Bowl LV title with a 31-23 win at Washington, as TOM BRADY passed for a postseason franchise-record 381 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 104.3 rating. The postseason game marked Washington quarterback TAYLOR HEINICKE’s first start of the season and he totaled 352 yards (306 passing, 46 rushing) and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) in the contest.
- In 21 career regular-season starts after a bye week, Brady has a 16-5 record.
- In Week 8 before the Buccaneers’ 2021 bye, Brady passed for 375 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions for a 112.0 rating. He registered his 38th career game with at least four touchdown passes and his 98th with at least three touchdown passes, surpassing DREW BREES for the most such games ever in each category.
- Brady, who has 2,650 passing yards and 25 touchdown passes this season, also joined PATRICK MAHOMES (2018), Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (2013) and RUSSELL WILSON (2020) as the only players with at least 25 touchdown passes and 2,500 passing yards through their team’s first eight games of a season.
- He also has at least 25 touchdown passes in 16 career seasons, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING (16) for the most such seasons in NFL history.
TAYLOR, ALLEN MEET IN INDY: The JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (2-6), who’ve won two of their past three games, make their annual trip to face the INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (4-5) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). The Colts have won three of their past four.
- Last week, Colts running back JONATHAN TAYLOR had 19 carries for 172 yards (9.1 average) and two touchdowns, including a 78-yard score, in addition to two catches for 28 yards. Taylor has a streak of six games with at least 100 scrimmage yards and one-or-more touchdowns. He could become the first player with a seven-game streak in a season since ARIAN FOSTER (nine games) in 2014.
- Taylor finished the 2020 season at home against the Jaguars with 253 yards on 30 carries (8.4 average) with two touchdowns.
- Jacksonville, meanwhile, defeated Buffalo last week, holding the league’s top scoring offense (32.7 points per game entering Week 9) out of the end zone. It marked the fourth time since 1970 that a team has held an opponent that entered Week 9 or later averaging at least 32 points per game without a touchdown. Previously, the only teams to have done it were CHICAGO (vs. Los Angeles Rams in Week 14, 2018), PHILADELPHIA (at Dallas in Week 15, 2007) and CAROLINA (vs. St. Louis Rams in Week 14, 2000).
- Jaguars defensive end/linebacker JOSH ALLEN became the first player to register at least eight tackles, a fumble recovery, sack and interception in the same game since BOBBY WAGNER in Week 13 of 2018.