The three Thanksgiving Day games featured five teams in serious playoff contention. Heading into Sunday (and Monday), teams will know before they play where they stand in the race for the postseason.
Two of the major contenders are going to find out how good they are without their starting quarterback. Seven teams take to the road with a combined 6-27 road record. There are five rematch games, and those games always prove to be tough to figure out. Roster depth is now one of the biggest factors in determining success and failure.
Here are some of the storylines worth watching this week:
Big tests for Texans, Bears
The Houston Texans and the Chicago Bears play great defense, can run the ball and are heading straight toward the playoffs. However, adversity hit both teams and this weekend we find out if their backup quarterbacks can carry the team the rest of the way.
The Texans' Matt Schaub has gone on injured reserve and now Matt Leinart steps into the lineup. Leinart is in a great situation with WR Andre Johnson coming back off injury and a running game that averages 247 yards a game. I think Leinart will be fine and has a chance to be this year's version of former Giants QB Jeff Hostetler, who only had four starts in six years but came off the bench when Phil Simms got hurt and led the Giants to victory in Super Bowl XXV.
Can the backups step up?
We discussed the backup quarterbacks being asked to play this week, but there are also two running backs that have to get the job done. If Toby Gerhart (Minnesota) and C.J. Spiller (Buffalo) can do what Michael Bush has done since replacing the injured Darren McFadden, then things will be good for the Vikings and Bills.
In three starts for the Raiders, Bush has produced 500 yards and three touchdowns in 86 touches. I doubt Gerhart or Spiller will have that kind of production, but they sure need to deliver big performances.
Seven teams on serious losing streaks
There were such high expectations for a number of teams heading into this season, and all of a sudden they are on bad losing streaks and the season is simply slipping away. A month ago, Buffalo, San Diego, Kansas City, Washington and Tampa Bay were all in the conversation about the playoffs. A month later, and they haven't won a game since. It's too late for Washington (six-game losing streak), but San Diego (five-game losing streak), Tampa Bay (four games), Kansas City (three games) and Buffalo (three games) have to stop the bleeding now if there's any chance to get back in the race. If these teams don't find a way to win this weekend, we can expect the speculation to grow about coaches in trouble and that eventually means players in trouble.
Do road woes continue?
To quote Bill Parcells, this late in the season you are what your record says. That being said, there are seven teams getting on a plane Saturday that know they are bad road teams. Carolina (0-4), Arizona (1-5), Washington (1-4), Minnesota (1-4), Buffalo (1-4), Cleveland (1-3) and Tampa Bay (1-3) have to find a way to break the losing road cycle this weekend.
Rookie QBs need to win
Last week, the five rookie quarterbacks on the field all lost. In the end, young quarterbacks will be judged on wins and losses, and this looks like a good week for a few of the rookies to get a "W." Andy Dalton (Bengals) is at home against the Browns, Cam Newton takes on the winless Colts, Blaine Gabbert is at home against the Texans without Matt Schaub, and Christian Ponder travels to Atlanta in what appears to be the toughest test of all the games for the rookie quarterbacks.
It remains to be seen if Jake Locker will go for the Titans, but if he does he faces a Tampa Bay team that struggles on the road. I think we will see at least two of the rookies get a win this weekend.
KC should learn from Oakland's mistake
I applaud the Kansas City Chiefs for claiming former Denver quarterback Kyle Orton this week.
There was speculation that his salary was too steep, and that he was in the last year of his contract made it worthless to acquire him. That's not true when you consider that the Chiefs -- who are still in the playoff race -- will pay him about $250,000 a week.
At this point, the Chiefs are just two games out of first place in the AFC West (playoff picture) and they finish the season in Denver of all places. I just hope the Chiefs don't play Orton this week, like the way the Raiders sent Carson Palmer out for the second half in his first game with the team. If you recall, the Raiders said they weren't going to play Palmer. However, once he had a uniform on, and the team was losing at halftime, Raiders coaches changed their minds.