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Patriots-Steelers tilt highlights dog days of midseason

A week ago, I braced you for what looked like a slate of some potential blowouts, and shaky football, powered by all of the neophyte quarterbacks thrust onto the starting scene. Unfortunately, I have to continue the theme this week.

Over a span of 17 weeks, some schedules will rise above others. These, my friends, are the dog days of the midseason. But trust me, better times are ahead. Two of this week's three division games come from within the AFC South, which has not been a bastion of great football itself.

It is what it is. It's still the NFL and even last week, when on paper things didn't seem all that promising, we still had plenty of wild finishes and even games that were difficult to watch at times (Broncos-Dolphins) greatly rewarded those who hung in there for all 60 minutes, plus overtime.

With that in mind, let's give this week a chance. Even though it might be loaded with finger sandwiches (remember, games here are rated as either a footlong, a six-inch, a pita or a finger sandwich), by golly, 15 finger sandwiches equals a footlong! And some of those finger sandwiches are going to turn out to have double meat, extra condiments and perfectly grilled peppers and onions, that we never realized were there in the first place until we've finished consuming it.

So mangia, mangia, everyone! (Oh, and it's the bye week for the Falcons, Bears, Packers, Jets, Raiders and Buccaneers.)

    • New England at Pittsburgh

      Sun 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      This is a perennial battle for one of the top seeds in the AFC, and a meeting of two of the best coaches in the NFL. This game also features two quarterbacks who throw a helluva deep ball. Patriots-Steelers is always a must-see game.
    • Inside slant:

      The Patriots have the formula for besting Pittsburgh's defense, going spread with four or five wide and airing it out. It's doubtful that the Patriots even try to run the ball all that much, doing so just enough out of those spread formations to keep the Steelers honest. Any issues with the age of Pittsburgh's D, if they really exist, could manifest here.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Dallas at Philadelphia

      Sun 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      This is a vital game for Philly if it is to climb from its early hole and be a factor in the NFC East. The Eagles had a bye to get healthy -- no doubt Michael Vick, among others, needed it -- while Tony Romo hopes to evade the prime-time interception-itis that has plagued him, as the Eagles' secondary got Rex Grossman four times before the break.
    • Inside slant:

      LeSean McCoy has been as good as any back in the NFL this season, and downright dominant at times, but the Cowboys give up the fewest rushing yards per game in the league. DeMarcus Ware might be moved around to exploit some vulnerable spots in the Eagles' offensive line, with Jason Peters expected back at left tackle.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Detroit at Denver

      Sun 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Tim Tebow basks in the glory of his home crowd, while Ndamukong Suh, after being called dirty by the Falcons last week, leads a scary pass rush against him. The Lions can't afford to lose three in a row after a dream start, and Matthew Stafford is facing injury questions again. Can Tebow continue the heroics against a better opponent?
    • Inside slant:

      Detroit plays the run on the way to the quarterback, and if Tebow can make a quick cut and get by the first wave of linemen, there could be some fertile running lanes. The Lions are poor against the run.
    • Rating:

      Six-inch
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Washington at Buffalo

      Sun 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Redskins face a mobile quarterback who can spread them out for a second straight week, after getting gashed by Cam Newton last Sunday. They're allowing nearly five yards per carry in the last two weeks and face Fred Jackson, who is second in the NFL in yards from scrimmage.
    • Inside slant:

      John Beck has a grossly depleted offense to work with, as injuries have eliminated five starters in recent weeks from an already thin unit. London Fletcher, a former Bill, could have his stunning games-played streak snapped this week, as he picked up an injury late in last week's loss. The Redskins started falling apart right around this time a year ago.
    • Rating:

      Pita
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Cincinnati at Seattle

      Sun 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      This is an interesting test for Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton, who is having a stellar start, as he faces Seattle's famed "12th Man" in a raucous road atmosphere. The Bengals can pull to 5-2 and keep pace with Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC North. The Seahawks can't afford to fall much deeper behind the division-leading 49ers.
    • Inside slant:

      The Bengals are without running back Cedric Benson, who is serving his one-game suspension, which means Cincy might look to the air quite a bit. This game features two of the stingiest no-name defensive fronts in the league, both ranked near the top in fewest yards-per-carry allowed.
    • Rating:

      Pita
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Jacksonville at Houston

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Can the Jaguars climb into the AFC South race? Back-to-back wins here would alter that poor start. The Texans must know that if they run the table in their division they're going to make that long-awaited first postseason appearance.
    • Inside slant:

      For all of their struggles, the Jaguars do have some run stuffers and have received stout performances from their front seven, which will be riding a lot of confidence off that upset of Baltimore. Poor Blaine Gabbert has to go against another tricky 3-4 defense, and some capable pass rushers. Connor Barwin is quietly having a massive season. This is a tough gig for Gabbert and the Jags.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Arizona at Baltimore

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt might be having flashbacks from his years in the AFC North after having to face Pittsburgh and Baltimore back-to-back. Arizona without running back Beanie Wells could mean pain for quarterback Kevin Kolb, who is already under fire and faces a big-time defense. If you like hurried quarterback play, this could be your game.
    • Inside slant:

      It was in Baltimore a few years back, you might recall, that Donovan McNabb was benched at halftime in place of Kolb, which began quite the QB carousel in Philly. Receiver Anquan Boldin will be fired up to face his former team. Longtime Ravens tight end Todd Heap returns to Baltimore, trying to stave off the injury bug that has often haunted him.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Cleveland at San Francisco

      Sun 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Could the 49ers let their press clippings go to their head coming out of the bye? Frank Gore's last three games: 50 carries for 393 yards (7.9 per carry) and three touchdowns. Now Gore faces a Browns front that's been the team's strong suit.
    • Inside slant:

      Colt McCoy is going to have to show something in the second half of the season or the Browns could well be in the market for a top college quarterback in this draft. He remains very much an experiment. McCoy is averaging just 5.46 yards per attempt, 33rd in NFL and behind the likes of Gabbert, and completing just 56 percent of his passes. The 49ers' secondary has been much improved this season.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • New Orleans at St. Louis

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      The Saints finally called off the dogs and stopped at 62 points against the Colts last week. Will they shoot for 70 this week? Getting to feast on a second straight winless club can't hurt the Saints' confidence.
    • Inside slant:

      If there are any reservations about Sam Bradford's ankle at all, hold him back. New Orleans blitzes more aggressively than anyone. The Rams have been losing some offensive linemen and it's a tough call for the team to put its franchise quarterback -- with a less-than-100 percent ankle -- on that fast track.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Miami at New York

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Unfortunately, the questions surrounding the future of coach Tony Sparano have started to overshadow Miami's lost season. The Dolphins have also taken the ability to blow a game to an art form. Anything is possible with them.
    • Inside slant:

      This is actually a home game for Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who lives and works in New York City. He'll likely have quite a contingent with him and this game has the potential to get lopsided, quickly.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.

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