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Steelers-Giants, Cowboys-Falcons, Dolphins-Colts head Week 9

If you made rash judgments after Week 1, shame on you.

You thought the New York Giants would really go into the tank after the Dallas Cowboys took it to them in New Jersey with the world watching? You thought the Pittsburgh Steelers were old, slow and injury-plagued after Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos announced their presence in the Sunday night opener?

Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.

All the Giants have done since that opening loss is win six of seven, notching two road victories over hated rivals. All the Steelers have done is find a productive running back in "The Minivan" (Jonathan Dwyer), shrug off some crushing offensive-line injuries and win three of four since a Week 4 bye.

All of which makes Sunday afternoon's Steelers-Giants game essential viewing. A matchup between two league heavyweights who, combined, have been involved in four of the past five Super Bowls. The NFL has just one game scheduled for 4:25 p.m. ET in Week 9, and it's this one.

Here's hoping we're all watching an epic ending.

Here is your Week 9 primer, with games ranked by intrigue, from 1 to 14:

    • Dallas at Atlanta

      Sun 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 2:

      For an undefeated team, the Atlanta Falcons sure have a lot of doubters. Seven games, seven wins, and yet they're rarely mentioned as being among the NFL's elite. If this Sunday night spot against a Dallas Cowboys team that always draws a massive audience doesn't convince 'em, nothing will. (Of course, the Falcons must win.) If the Cowboys, meanwhile, can pull off a road win against an undefeated team, that would seem to prove that they are better than their record (currently 3-4). There will be a lot at stake, and plenty of fun things to watch. The Falcons haven't been perfect -- except when it comes to their record -- but they have been explosive. Julio Jones and Roddy White give Matt Ryan one of the league's best receiving tandems, but they will be tested by Dallas. If the Cowboys' secondary (headlined by cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne) can lock down Atlanta's talented wideouts, the Falcons might not be well-rounded enough to counter. They don't run it well enough. But can Dallas accomplish that? Easier said than done. And can Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel (he of the 46 career interceptions) add to Tony Romo's league-leading 13 picks? #DALvsATL
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Miami at Indianapolis

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 3:

      It's amazing that this is even considered a marquee game. Before the season, no one would've thought that. But at this point, there's no doubt that it is. Somehow, the Indianapolis Colts have soldiered on without their coach to secure a 4-3 record. The Miami Dolphins, who are winning in all three phases of the game, have enjoyed similarly surprising success. Oh, and did we mention this will feature a battle between pick No. 1 and pick No. 8 of the 2012 NFL Draft? (Assuming Ryan Tannehill is healthy enough to play). Plenty will be in Andrew Luck's talented hands, as the Dolphins can stop the run and force opposing quarterbacks to make plays. This all would've been entertaining regardless, but the fact that it could have real playoff implications is mind-boggling. #MIAvsIND
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Buffalo at Houston

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 6:

      Fresh off wrist surgery, defensive end Mario Williams emerges from the bye ready to face his old team in his old home. Williams, of course, has been limited to 3.5 sacks and 16 tackles in a disappointing debut season with the Buffalo Bills. He returns to Houston with a creaky defense that ranks 31st in yards allowed. Meanwhile, the Houston Texans are doing just fine without Williams, as budding star J.J. Watt leads a well-rounded, pressure-happy group. Houston ranks third in total defense, allowing just 283 yards per game. There is a lot at stake, with the Texans still making their case to be the NFL's best and the Bills scratching and clawing to show they are wild-card worthy. Yet all eyes will be on Williams, his new wrist and his battles against former teammates. How will the crowd react when he walks onto the field? #BUFvsHOU
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Carolina at Washington

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 7:

      The Carolina Panthers are without a general manager and seemingly without direction. If things keep going like this for the 1-6 team, nothing will be certain when the season ends. As for the Washington Redskins, their battered defense has struggled in two straight losses. The teams' records would seem to indicate that this won't be a great game. But this contest features Cam Newton and his off-the-charts potential on one side, and must-see Robert Griffin III on the other. That transcends records. The reality is, while RG3 is enjoying a phenomenal rookie season, Newton is in the midst of a sophomore slump. He's inefficient, and his struggles become more pronounced in crunch time. Who cares? This will still make for compelling viewing. You never know when the electricity will switch back on for Newton. #CARvsWAS
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Kansas City at San Diego

      Thur 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL NETWORK Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 8:

      According to records alone, this Thursday nighter should be much further down on the list. The Kansas City Chiefs haven't even led a game in regulation this season, while the San Diego Chargers appear to be in the middle of an implosion. Yet two factors make me think this one might surprise. One, these are some desperate teams. The Chiefs are teetering on the brink of being embarrassingly bad, while Chargers coach Norv Turner is already talking about existing on a week-to-week basis. That might bring out some inspired play. And two, the Chiefs have the worst turnover ratio in the NFL, while the Chargers aren't so hot themselves in this department. That should lead to some fireworks and lots of football to watch. #KCvsSD
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Minnesota at Seattle

      Sun 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 13:

      The Minnesota Vikings concluded the first half of the season at 5-3, a shocking development in a loaded division no one thought they'd be a factor in. That in itself is a major accomplishment. Yet if the Vikings want to think about the playoffs, they have no choice but to keep grinding. The Packers are back on track, the Bears have found a way and even the Lions have firepower. This might be an ugly, hard-hitting game, with the Seattle Seahawks' physical secondary doing its best to take Percy Harvin out of Christian Ponder's game plan. And did we mention that Ponder must maintain his poise in the fiercest of environments? Exactly the kind of game that screams for a healthy dose of Adrian Peterson. This matchup is winnable for both teams, and with the playoff picture getting foggy, both need to pull one out. #MINvsSEA
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Baltimore at Cleveland

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 14:

      It's the Cleveland Browns vs. the team formerly known as the Cleveland Browns. If only that truly upped the ante for this one ... Alas, one of the AFC's top-notch teams is coming off a bye to square off with one of the have-nots. The Baltimore Ravens have issues, as they are still trying to function as a defense without Ray Lewis and having trouble stopping the run. Facing rookie star-in-the-making Trent Richardson should put them to the test. But the bye gave Haloti Ngata and Ed Reed time to heal, and coordinator Dean Pees time to get it together. So don't be surprised if the Ravens have fixed some of those issues. If they have, they should hold the Browns to a touchdown or less. #BALvsCLE
    • Watch: Game Preview

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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