NFL ENTERS SECOND HALF AS RACE TO PLAYOFFS INTENSIFIES
The second half of the NFL season gets underway this week and the race to the playoffs is in full swing.
Week 10 starts on Thursday night (8:25 PM ET, NFL Network) when the Washington Redskins visit the Minnesota Vikings. It will conclude on Monday night (8:40 PM ET, ESPN) when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Miami Dolphins.
After nine weeks, only the Kansas City Chiefs remain unbeaten with a 9-0 record. The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start 9-0 after posting the worst record in the league in the previous season. Kansas City is the first club to allow 17 or fewer point in each of the first nine games of a season since the 1977 Atlanta Falcons.
“Every win you get in the National Football League is a good win,” says Chiefs head coach ANDY REID, who is the third head coach in NFL history to win his first nine games with a new team (Indianapolis’ JIM CALDWELL in 2009 and the Houston Oilers’ WALLY LEMM in 1961).
In the Super Bowl era, all 18 of the previous teams to start 9-0 advanced to the playoffs. Eleven of those 18 played in the Super Bowl and seven won the Super Bowl.
Halfway through the season, almost nothing is clear. There’s still plenty of football left to be played and a lot can happen. So don’t count anyone out.
In every season since 1987, at least one team with a .500 or worse record through eight games has advanced to the
postseason. Last year, three such teams – Cincinnati (3-5), Washington (3-5) and Seattle (4-4) – accomplished the feat.
“This is the NFL and anything can happen on any given Sunday,” says running back PIERRE THOMAS of the 6-2 New Orleans Saints.
Anything can happen. Last week, two teams – Seattle (21 points) and Indianapolis (18) – rallied from 18+ point deficits, just the fifth time since 2000 two teams have overcome 18+ point deficits to win in the same week.
“You think about the deficit we were under and to be able to come back in that fashion, that’s big time,” says Seahawks quarterback RUSSELL WILSON, who improved his career record at home to 12-0. “That was a huge win.”
So as the second half gets underway, it’s all still to be decided. Some of the key games this week:
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-5) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (5-3) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)
Philadelphia quarterback NICK FOLES tied the NFL single-game record with seven touchdown passes and became the first player in league history to post a 158.3 passer rating – the highest attainable mark – and throw for seven touchdowns in a game in the Eagles’ 49-20 win at Oakland.
“It’s a great honor,” says Foles about tying the single-game touchdown record. “Hats off to our guys for doing a great job.”
Foles, who has played in six games this season (three starts), has thrown 13 touchdowns without an interception. Only four quarterbacks have started a season with more touchdown passes before throwing an interception: Denver’sPEYTON MANNNING (20 in 2013), Cleveland’s MILT PLUM (16 in 1960), Dallas’ DON MEREDITH (14 in 1966) and Minnesota’s RANDALL CUNNINGHAM (14 in 1998).
The Packers have won four of their past five games, thanks in part to a strong running game. During that stretch, rookie EDDIE LACY has rushed for 545 yards (109.0 yards per game), the most in the NFL over that span. Lacy, who has rushed for 596 yards in seven games this season, is on pace to break JOHN BROCKINGTON’s franchise rookie record of 1,105 rushing yards set in 1971.
DETROIT LIONS (5-3) at CHICAGO BEARS (5-3) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)
The Lions and Bears enter the halfway point tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North. Both teams enter the contest coming off victories. Detroit overcame a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit in Week 8 and capped the win over Dallas whenMATTHEW STAFFORD scored on a rushing touchdown with 12 seconds remaining. Chicago, behind MATT FORTÉ’s 125 rushing yards, notched its first victory at Green Bay since 2007 with a 27-20 win at Lambeau Field on Monday night.
In Week 8, Detroit’s CALVIN JOHNSON had 329 receiving yards, the most in a regulation game in NFL history. It also marked his fifth career game with 200+ receiving yards, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer LANCE ALWORTH for the most in NFL history.
For Chicago, BRANDON MARSHALL ranks second in the NFC with 53 receptions. Marshall (647) and ALSHON JEFFERY (621) are on pace to become the first set of teammates in franchise history to each record 1,200+ receiving yards in the same season.
CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-3) at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (6-2) (Sunday, FOX, 4:05 PM ET)
Two of the league’s hottest teams will meet on Sunday at Candlestick Park. The 49ers have won five games in a row and the Panthers are looking to extend their four-game winning streak.
Carolina defeated Atlanta 34-10 last week for the team’s fourth consecutive win. During that winning streak, the Panthers have outscored opponents 130-48. Carolina has won each of its past four games by at least 15 points, joining the 2009 Indianapolis Colts and 2012-13 Denver Broncos as the only teams to accomplish the feat over the past five seasons.
“I’m confident in who our guys are,” says Panthers head coach RON RIVERA. “But the thing I want to stress is this is the most important game we play because it’s the next one, and that’s against the 49ers.”
San Francisco, which had a bye in Week 9, has outscored its opponents 174-61 during its five-game winning streak. The 49ers have scored at least 30 points in all five of those victories.
In Week 8, San Francisco defeated Jacksonville 42-10 at London’s Wembley Stadium. In that contest, running back FRANK GORE and quarterback COLIN KAEPERNICK each rushed for two touchdowns.
DENVER BRONCOS (7-1) AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (4-4) (Sunday, CBS, 4:25 PM ET)
Denver, which had a bye in Week 9, is the league’s highest-scoring team with 343 points, the most ever by a team through the first eight games of a season. Leading the charge is quarterback PEYTON MANNING, who has passed for 2,919 yards, the most passing yards through the first eight games in NFL history.
With head coach JOHN FOX taking a leave of absence to recover from heart surgery, the Broncos have named defensive coordinator JACK DEL RIO as the team’s interim head coach.
“We believe we have a good football team,” says Del Rio. “We’re on a mission. We’re on a mission to carry on and continue what Coach Fox has going with this football team. We all want to make him proud.”
At 4-4, the Chargers are right in the thick of the AFC playoff race. San Diego will look to bounce back from last week’s overtime loss at Washington, ending the Chargers’ two-game winning streak.
Quarterback PHILIP RIVERS has posted a 106.5 passer rating this season, the third-best mark in the league behind Denver’s Manning (119.4) and Green Bay’s AARON RODGERS (108.0).
DALLAS COWBOYS (5-4) AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (6-2) (Sunday, NBC, 8:30 PM ET)
A pair of division leaders will face one another on Sunday night in primetime. The Cowboys hold a one-game lead over Philadelphia in the NFC East and the Saints own a one-game lead over Carolina in the NFC South.
TONY ROMO threw the game-winning TD pass to DWAYNE HARRIS with 35 seconds left in Dallas’ 27-23 win over Minnesota in Week 9. Dallas had 54 pass plays and nine runs, the highest pass-to-rush ratio in a victory in NFL history.
“All wins are big,” says Cowboys head coach JASON GARRETT. “Every one is big. You only play 16 games and you count the wins up at the end. You have to bring your best every Sunday in this league. We’ve got to learn from this one, move forward and get ready for New Orleans.”
The Saints enter the midpoint tied for the second-best record in the NFC. Quarterback DREW BREES ranks second in the NFL in yards (2,672) and touchdowns (21) and tight end JIMMY GRAHAM leads the league with 10 TD catches.
“We’re 6-2 and in first in the division,” says Saints head coach SEAN PAYTON. “We’ve got a huge game this Sunday. It’s Sunday Night Football, a huge game, it doesn’t get much better.”