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Steelers-Patriots showdown one of Week 10's key games

We must be getting close to the playoff push. The onset of the Thursday night games on NFL Network means it's about time for the haves to begin separating from the have-nots. In this season of extreme parity, perhaps not so much. That said, we have several key division games, and the best overall slate of games in weeks. And here in the mid-Atlantic region, the weather is finally turning chilly. A few weeks, and we'll be in the stretch run.

We must be getting close to the playoff push. The onset of the Thursday night games on NFL Network means it's about time for the haves to begin separating from the have-nots. In this season of extreme parity, perhaps not so much. That said, we have several key division games, and the best overall slate of games in weeks. And here in the mid-Atlantic region, the weather is finally turning chilly. A few weeks, and we'll be in the stretch run.

The storyline:

Two teams that could claim to be the NFL's best clash in a possible playoff preview. Any time Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady get together, you have the makings of a classic. * #### Why you should watch:

The tiebreaker for the top seed in the AFC is possibly at stake. I'm still not sold on the Patriots' defense, and the Steelers' offense has yet to be what many imagined as well. * #### Did you know?

Brady is 5-1 in his career against the Steelers (including the playoffs). ... New England's Wes Welker leads the NFL with 278 receptions since 2008. ... The Steelers are 9-0 when Mike Wallace has a touchdown. ... Pittsburgh's Hines Ward is second in franchise history with 83 touchdowns (Franco Harris is first with 100). *

The storyline:

If Sam Bradford can start getting it done on the road, the Rams are going to win this division. If the 49ers are going to salvage something of this season, they need this game, badly. * #### Why you should watch:

Troy Smith is adding some energy to the San Francisco attack. The Rams have the most under-rated defense in the NFL. If the theory holds that the best QB in the division will generally win that division, then I like the Rams more and more. * #### Did you know?

Rams running back Steven Jackson averages 120.8 yards from scrimmage per game since 2006, the most in the NFL over that span. ... St. Louis' Chris Long has a sack in three consecutive games. ... 49ers running back Frank Gore holds the franchise record for 100-plus yard rushing games (24). ... San Francisco's Vernon Davis has a touchdown in four of his past five outings. *

The storyline:

Both teams coming into a very short week for the Thursday night game, made all the more difficult by the fact they rarely meet, which makes game planning more difficult. The play might not be totally crisp, but it's an intriguing matchup for sure. * #### Why you should watch:

Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco are two of the darlings of the 2008 draft. Ryan has only lost once at home in his career; Flacco has won road playoff games in each of his first two years in the NFL. * #### Did you know?

Ravens running back Ray Rice averages 6.1 yards per carry against NFC opponents. ... Baltimore's Haloti Ngata has a career-high five sacks. ... Ryan has won 13 straight home games. ... Atlanta's Michael Turner has 32 rushing touchdowns since 2008. *

The storyline:

Randy Moss got his bye, after all, following being claimed on waivers by the Titans. He makes his debut and should open things up for Chris Johnson and get safeties outside the tackle box. * #### Why you should watch:

The Dolphins have to finally win at home and while both of these teams could have wild card hopes, the loser of this one will suffer a tiebreaking blow likely to keep it out of the postseason. This should be one of the more physical games of the weekend. * #### Did you know?

The Titans have won six consecutive November games. ... Tennessee's Vince Young has the second-best passer rating in the AFC. ... Dolphins running backs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown rank second and third in franchise history in rushing touchdowns. ... Miami's Cameron Wake leads the AFC with 8.5 sacks. *

The storyline:

The Cowboys are dead, but this will be interesting to see if they can get revved up for a division game with Jason Garrett now at the helm. The Giants thrashed them physically a few weeks back and may have ended Tony Romo's season. * #### Why you should watch:

Who backs up Jon Kitna, anyway? That might be worth checking out. The Giants have the opportunity to start pulling away some in the NFC East. Look for Dallas' woeful secondary to be shredded, again. * #### Did you know?

Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware has eight sacks in his last seven games against the Giants (including the playoffs). ... Dallas' Dez Bryant leads all rookies with six touchdowns. ... Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw ranks third in the NFC with 905 yards from scrimmage. ... New York's Steve Smith leads the NFC with 154 receptions since 2009. *

The storyline:

Donovan McNabb got his revenge on the Eagles in the first meeting, but these teams appear headed in opposite directions. McNabb was benched for Rex Grossman last time out, but should be healthy and in sufficient cardiovascular shape for Mike Shanahan to stick with him for all 60 minutes, right? * #### Why you should watch:

The Redskins are good for at least one circus-like subplot a week. Michael Vick was knocked from the game last time these two teams got together. It should be a very different challenge for the 'Skins on Monday night with the Eagles rolling now. * #### Did you know?

Vick is 3-1 as a start on Monday night. ... Philadephia's Asante Samuel has 34 interceptions since 2006 -- the most in the NFL during the span. ... Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo has five sacks in his past four games. ... Washington's Chris Cooley is second among NFC tight ends with 39 receptions. *

The storyline:

On the bright side: If the Packers slip up a little, one of these teams might be able to make a push. More realistically: Both could be ushering in new coaching regimes by 2011. * #### Why you should watch:

Jay Cutler and Brett Favre are throwing picks at an alarming rate. Vikings hopeful Sidney Rice can add a vertical threat to the offense now that Randy Moss is gone, again. A win here and the Vikings are flirting with .500, believe it or not. * #### Did you know?

Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has scored a rushing touchdown in six consecutive games against the Bears. ... Minnesota's Jared Allen has 19 sacks in his past 13 division games. ... Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox averages an NFC-high 19.5 yards per catch (min. 25 receptions). ... Chicago's Julius Peppers has a sack in three straight games against Minnesota. *

The storyline:

The lack of consistent play from the defense makes both of these teams seem more like pretenders than contenders, yet here they are playing what could be a meaningful game in mid-November. * #### Why you should watch:

This could be an entertaining game, but if you're interested in sound secondary play, turn the other way and cough. A must-win game for both teams if they are to put together a playoff resume (though I don't see either of them hitting those heights). * #### Did you know?

The Texans lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 12. ... Houston's Andre Johnson has 76 career receptions against Jacksonville, his highest total vs. any opponent. ... The Jaguars have won three consecutive home games against the Texans. ... Rashean Mathis holds the all-time franchise record for interceptions with 29. *

The storyline:

Remember when the Orange Crush at Mile High struck fear with opponents? Yeah, that was long before the Raiders hung 59 on the Broncos a few weeks back. Denver's season is spiraling away, again, and the Chiefs could continue the misery at the expense of their rivals. * #### Why you should watch:

Kansas City's double-fisted rushing attack should have its way with this porous defense. The Broncos have been manhandled at the line of scrimmage, and Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles could each top 100 yards. The Broncos, meantime, have the worst rush offense in NFL. * #### Did you know?

Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe has a touchdown reception in four consecutive games. ... Kansas City's Tamba Hali needs one more sack to surpass his career high of 8.5. ... The Broncos are 15-6 after a bye. ... Denver's Brandon Lloyd leads the NFL with 17 catches of 20-plus yards. *

The storyline:

The Braylon Bowl. Sure, LeBron James is going to get it when he comes back to Cleveland, but Edwards' reputation in that town is awfully bad as well. Eric Mangini gets a crack at his old team. Brothers Rex and Rob Ryan get to kick it before the game. * #### Why you should watch:

The Browns gave the Ravens a scare, beat the world champs and thrashed the Patriots last week. The Jets cannot afford a letdown here. * #### Did you know?

The Jets have won seven consecutive road games. ... In five career games against Cleveland, New York's LaDainian Tomlinson has eight rushing touchdowns. ... The Browns have four former Jets starting on defense. ... Cleveland's Peyton Hillis is tied for third in the NFL with seven rushing touchdowns. *

The storyline:

The Bengals' lack of any pass rush and the sudden decline in their coverage skills should make for a fun time for Peyton Manning and his ever-growing legion of no-name receivers. The Bengals simply are not able, offensively, to win a shootout. * #### Why you should watch:

Neither team can run the ball much, but the Bengals should allow Cedric Benson every opportunity to get back on track against a softer Colts front. Carson Palmer, in this loud dome, on this fast track, could be in for a painful day. * #### Did you know?

The Bengals are 15-3 when Carson Palmer has at least three touchdown passes in a game. ... Cincinnati's Terrell Owens has a touchdown reception in five consecutive games. ... The Colts have won five straight games at home against the Bengals. ... Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell has a 10-1 record at home. *

The storyline:

The Bucs cannot afford a poor outing against an opponent this vulnerable and expect to stay in the playoff hunt. * #### Why you should watch:

Josh Freeman always entertains. The Bucs are developing more of a smashmouth running game. The Panthers might as well alternate quarterbacks every drive at this point, with Tony Pike and Jimmy Clausen the next rookies up. * #### Did you know?

Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith has six 100-yard receiving games against the Buccaneers. ... Carolina's Chris Gamble is second in franchise history with 24 interceptions. ... Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Williams leads all rookies with five touchdown catches. ... Tampa Bay is 13-0 when Cadillac Williams gets at least 22 carries. *

The storyline:

If the Bills are looking for a blueprint out of the abyss, check out what the Lions are putting together. No one is talking about that 0-16 record so much now. * #### Why you should watch:

Both of these teams love to throw the ball around, but the Lions have a dominant pass rush and some beasts up front. Buffalo's offensive line will likely be overmatched at times. * #### Did you know?

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson has seven touchdown catches in his last five games. ... Detroit's Ndamukong Suh leads all rookies with 6.5 sacks. ... Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown a touchdown in nine consecutive games. ... Buffalo safety Donte Whitner leads the team with 72 tackles. *

The storyline:

It's an indictment on the NFC West that both of these outfits are still alive. Injuries have ravaged the Seahawks, which has a lot to do with their slide. Both teams were fighting to land QB Charlie Whitehurst in the offseason; both have gone through some quarterbacks since and Seattle is hopeful that Matt Hasselbeck can get back for this one. * #### Why you should watch:

If you are a fan of turnovers, this might be your best bet this weekend. * #### Did you know?

Seahawks safety Earl Thomas leads all rookies with four interceptions. ... Seattle's Olindo Mare tied the franchise record with five field goals in his last game against Arizona. ... The Cardinals are 12-3 in their last 15 games against NFC West opponents. ... Arizona leads the NFL with eight return touchdowns. *

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