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What we learned: All NFC East clubs still in playoff race

  • By Gregg Rosenthal, Dan Hanzus, Kevin Patra, Marc Sessler and Chris Wesseling NFL.com
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Ten weeks of the season are nearly done. Every team in the NFC East and AFC North are very much alive in their division races. It's possible that none of them are any good.

The Dallas Cowboys have already given away their lead in the NFC East. All four NFC East squads are within one game in the loss column including the New York Giants, who own the least impressive three-game winning streak in NFL history. The Philadelphia Eagles are the first team at or above .500 after Week 10 without a home win in NFL history. And they might be the division favorites considering Dallas' injuries.

The Cincinnati Bengals, meanwhile, still can't seem to shake their longtime AFC North rivals. Sunday's loss in Baltimore, their second consecutive defeat, allows the defending Super Bowl champions to stay in the division mix. If Cleveland could somehow pull off a season sweep of the Bengals next week in Cincinnati, we've got a four-way battle in a division that the Bengals could have run away with.

Considering Indianapolis' 38-8 loss at home Sunday, you could even make the case that the Colts will fall back to the pack in the AFC South. But we don't see a team in the division capable of catching them.

It was a good week to be a mediocre team in the NFL. Here's what else we learned during a fun Week 10:

New Orleans Saints 49, Dallas Cowboys 17


1. Monte Kiffin's defense keeps re-writing the record books -- in a bad way. The Saints set the league record for first downs with 40 in the Superdome. The Cowboys had just 43 plays. Jason Hatcher was out before the game, Sean Lee left with a hamstring injury and DeMarcus Ware played at less than 100 percent. When Dallas' defense is bad, it is historically bad.

2. Three of the top five fantasy running back scores Sunday came from Saints players. Mark Ingram had a career night with 145 yards and one touchdown. Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles made noise on the ground and through the air. New Orleans averaged 6.4 yards per carry and 9.3 yards per throw. They were 9 of 12 on third down. Dallas was 0 for 9. It was as big a beatdown as we've seen all season.

3. The Saints did a great job taking Dez Bryant away with double teams. Bryant had only one catch (for 44 yards) on two targets. It makes you wonder if Bryant's back is a serious problem. The Cowboys' offense doesn't have much when it doesn't have Bryant.

Denver Broncos 28, San Diego Chargers 20


1. Although the Broncos played their most complete game since September, the offense continues to carry the load at a record-breaking pace. Demaryius Thomas reclaimed the league's yards-after-catch lead from Pierre Garcon while becoming the first Broncos player since Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe a decade ago to record three receiving scores in a game. Peyton Manning now is on track for an eye-popping 5,776 yards and 59 touchdowns while three of the five NFL players with at least nine receiving touchdowns play for Denver.

2. Mannning has taken too many hits the past few games. Fill-in left tackle Chris Clark has allowed three strip-sacks since Ryan Clady's season-ending injury. Manning also took a hard shot to his lower legs that gave the Broncos a scare late in the game. He didn't miss one play, but said he was "pretty sore" after the game. Manning will be sent for an MRI on Monday, but it will be a major upset if he's not under center with first place on the line next week versus the Chiefs.

3. Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead have excelled in their respective roles this season, but the Chargers have a miniature version of the Saints' situational play-calling conundrum on their hands. Because Mathews is limited primarily to obvious running downs, it's a "tell" when he's in the game. We suspect that's why the coaches have been hesitant to call his number on key goal-line plays. He finally ended a year-long home rushing touchdown drought with a third-down dive over the pile to pull the Chargers to within one score early in the fourth quarter. He also lost a 39-yard run to a holding penalty.

Baltimore Ravens 20, Cincinnati Bengals 17


1. The defense saved the game for the Ravens' offense, which managed just 35 yards on six consecutive possessions that resulted in five punts and one interception after jumping out to a 17-0 lead. The offense's two highest-paid players -- Joe Flacco and Ray Rice -- averaged 3.9 yards per pass and 1.7 yards per rush, respectively, on Sunday. It's been months since we've seen Rice make a defender miss in the open field.

2. Andy Dalton is who we thought he was: the dictionary definition of average. His four-game streak of 300-yard performances ended with a thud, as the Bengals generated more penalty yards than total yards at halftime. Outplayed by a quarterback who averaged less than 4 yards per attempt, an indecisive Dalton sailed passes, made bad decisions and took five sacks. The pressure is on Dalton to avoid a late-season morass for a third consecutive year.

3. Injured Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga might have been "Wally Pipped" by Vincent Rey, who was arguably the best defensive player on the field. Rey recorded as many sacks Sunday (three) as Maualuga has produced in 68 career games. Vincent Rey also led the team with 15 tackles and three passes defensed.

St. Louis Rams 38, Indianapolis Colts 8


1. Tavon Austin finally showed why the Rams traded up to select him at No. 8 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, gashing the Colts with a 98-yard punt-return touchdown, a 57-yard touchdown on a sideline bomb and an 81-yard catch-and-run score on a crossing route over an 11-minute stretch to blow the game open. Austin joined Steve Smith as the only players in NFL history with 140 yards from scrimmage and 140 punt-return yards in the same game. He was essentially untouched on all three of the touchdowns, a feat that will be hard to repeat.

2. The Colts have a two-game cushion in the AFC South, but it's become evident in the past two weeks that this is not their season. They've been outscored 49-3 in the first halves of the past two games against teams with a combined 6-13 record. Andrew Luck had his worst game of the season, thanks in part to a game plan from coordinator Pep Hamilton that gave the quarterback no chance for success behind an offensive line that simply can't pass protect or open holes in the running game. With Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen out for the season and Trent Richardson running in quicksand, defenses will continue to take T.Y. Hilton away and make other players beat them. This is not a good team right now.

3. Rookie Zac Stacy remained the centerpiece of the Rams' offense, touching the ball 28 times on 53 snaps. Over the past two weeks, Stacy has been involved in 50.8 percent of the Rams' plays. In a post-Sam Bradford world, the Rams are taking on Jeff Fisher's identity as a tough team with a defense/running game mindset.

Seattle Seahawks 33, Atlanta Falcons 10

1. Roddy White's return to the lineup didn't have the effect the Falcons had hoped. The veteran wide receiver -- out since Week 5 with knee and hamstring issues -- had one catch for 20 yards.

2. Perhaps the only negative aspect of Seattle's afternoon came in the first half, when cornerback Brandon Browner limped off the field with a groin injury. He did not return. A situation to track for a Legion of Boom cornerstone.

3. Sidney Rice is out for the year and Percy Harvin has yet to make his season debut, but there's still a lot to like about the Seahawks' wide receivers. Golden Tate showed again why he's one of the more underrated playmakers at his position. Jermaine Kearse, meanwhile, had another long touchdown and appears completely capable of filling Rice's shoes as a stretch-the-field playmaker.

New York Giants 24, Oakland Raiders 20


1. The Giants -- now 3-6 after an 0-6 start -- have found their answer at running back. Andre Brown looked healthy and ran with purpose, setting career highs in carries (30) and rushing yards (115). We might have seen the last of Peyton Hillis in a Giants uniform.

2. Pump the brakes on Terrelle Pryor as franchise savior talk in Oakland. The QB has looked bad for the past 10 quarters. He was tentative in the pocket Sunday, and his knee injury showed how limited he is when not a threat to run.

3. Eli Manning remains an issue for the Giants. He missed throws all day along and tossed a grisly pick six to Tracy Porter -- Manning's 16th interception in nine games. Victor Cruz's body language on that play and a later Eli red zone misfire spoke volumes on the team's frustration with their quarterback.

Arizona Cardinals 27, Houston Texans 24


1. Andre Johnson isn't the reason the Texans can't buy a win. The wide receiver has thrived with Case Keenum under center and has five touchdowns in the past two weeks. He had zero scores in the seven weeks before that.

2. Another quiet day for Larry Fitzgerald, who's been held to less than 50 yards receiving four times in the past five weeks. Carson Palmer was supposed to be Fitz's savior, but the receiver is on pace for his second consecutive sub-1,000-yard season.

3. Case Keenum has lost his three starts by a combined seven points. Not-so-loosely-related subplot: Kicker Randy Bullock has missed four field goal-attempts in the past two games, including a blocked 40-yard try at the end of the first half on Sunday.

Carolina Panthers 10, San Francisco 49ers 9


1. In a matchup of similar styles, the Panthers were the tougher team. Their pass rush, linebacker duo and quarterback were all superior to San Francisco's counterparts. Cam Newton's numbers weren't great, but he made a number of difficult third-down throws in the second half to help win the game.

2. Ron Rivera is on a serious roll. The Panthers caught Kaepernick with a few well-timed blitzes. Rivera also chose to punt with the ball past midfield on fourth-and-2 with under five minutes left. The Panthers pinned San Francisco at the one-yard line after a beautiful punt.

We were especially encouraged to see the Panthers dial up a pass on third-and-8 late in the game instead of running the ball to burn another San Francisco timeout. Newton delivered with a nice throw to Steve Smith.

3. Mario Manningham led the 49ers in receiving with 30 yards. After Vernon Davis left with a concussion, the 49ers could not operate throwing the ball. Kaepernick was under heavy duress all day and can't survive when his first read is taken away.

Jacksonville Jaguars 29, Tennessee Titans 27


1. Jacksonville, to the naked eye, simply wanted this one more. The Titans (4-5) bordered on comatose out of the gate, spitting up turnovers early and withering up behind Jake Locker, who left the game in the first half with a potentially season-ending right foot injury. He departed averaging 2.7 yards per attempt. Locker's play has improved this season, but the Titans have to think long and hard about the plan at quarterback. Locker's brittle nature makes him a risky long-term option unless Tennessee plans to invest heavily, year after year, in a reliable No. 2.

2. Justin Blackmon's suspension is a killer for Jacksonville's puny passing game, but Cecil Shorts and Mike Brown show flashes of playmaking ability. Plug in a legitimate quarterback, and this trio -- if Blackmon can stay clean -- gives the Jaguars something to build on.

3. Chris Johnson ran with purpose and renewed burst against the Rams last week, but finished with just 30 yards against the Jaguars and coughed up the ball on Tennessee's first play from scrimmage. It wasn't just Johnson, as the Titans had five fumbles -- three of them lost -- on the day.

Detroit Lions 21, Chicago Bears 19


1. Jay Cutler played through a groin injury, golf ball-sized swelling on his left (non-throwing) hand and an injured left ankle that ultimately led to him being replaced on the Bears' final drive. Cutler started well, but was clearly laboring in the second half. Backup quarterback Josh McCown replaced Cutler and led the Bears on a touchdown drive (but failed on a game-tying 2-point conversion). The Bears will know more about Cutler's injury Monday. Fans, however, were left wondering why coach Marc Trestman didn't replace an immobile Cutler earlier in the game.

2. Credit the Detroit Lions' defensive line with taking advantage of Cutler's inability to move in the pocket. The front seven battered Cutler early and often. They also held running back Matt Forte to just 33 yards on 17 carries. Nick Fairley's fantastic play to shed a block and stuff Forte on the 2-point attempt was emblematic of how the game went for the Lions' defense.

3. Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall demonstrated why they are currently the best receiving duo in the NFL. Marshall had two touchdown catches to go along with his 139 yards. Jeffery (114 yards) burned the Lions' secondary often on deep slants on third-and-long plays. Unfortunately, he also dropped one touchdown pass and had another TD overturned after review.

Philadelphia Eagles 27, Green Bay Packers 13


1. The Eagles are 5-5 in large part to three consistent trends. They hit more big plays than any other team, they have an improving bend-but-dont break defense, and they are a great team away from Philadelphia. The Eagles are the first team at .500 or above with no home wins through Week 10 since the NFL-AFL merger.

2. The Seneca Wallace era didn't last long. He left after one series with a groin injury. Scott Tolzien actually looked like an upgrade over Wallace overall. He was willing to throw the ball down the field and had some nice moments. He also had some inaccurate tosses, none bigger than an interception thrown at the goal line.

3. Anyone looking at Nick Foles' stat line will think he played great: 18 throws, 228 yards and three scores. But many of his big plays came on poor throws that should have been picked off. Two of his long touchdowns qualify for this category. Foles held on to the ball too long, too often. Luck is a factor in every NFL game, sometimes more than folks want to admit.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23, Buffalo Bills 10


1. Week after week, our gang of scribes have "stuck a fork" in teams we don't think can make the playoffs. After Sunday's 23-10 stomping by Pittsburgh, we're adding Buffalo to the list of teams treading into the abyss. EJ Manuel looked dangerously rusty on a first-quarter pass to Stevie Johnson in the end zone that was off by at least 10 yards. It's been a long season for Bills receivers after seeing no less than three starting passers in the lineup. Buffalo had good field position on its first three possessions, but Manuel's accuracy issues raise larger questions.

2. Pittsburgh's defense played with pride after giving up 55 points last week to New England. Dick LeBeau is 18-2 with the Steelers against rookie quarterbacks and made it look easy Sunday, controlling the Bills all day. After converting a field goal on its opening drive, Buffalo punted seven consecutive times, a streak ended only by Ryan Clark's interception of Manuel in the fourth.

3. Antonio Brown was benched one week ago against the Patriots, but he remains Big Ben's favorite target and had an outstanding afternoon, hauling in six catches for 104 yards and reeling off a big 50-yard punt return late in the fourth. Brown carved up Buffalo's secondary with wise route adjustments and yardage after the catch.

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