A bye week is more than a mini-vacation -- it can give a team a chance to take control of its season.
Beyond serving as an opportunity for players to rest and heal up and for coaches to evaluate and tinker with their game plans, the in-season break enables sliding squads to work on turning things around. Teams in a groove, meanwhile, will do what they can to make sure they keep rolling.
We obviously won't be seeing any kind of meaningful action from the six teams on a bye in Week 10, but that doesn't mean they can't do a lot to change -- or cement -- their respective fates going forward. Below is my take on what each squad should be focusing on, ordered according to the amount and severity of their issues heading into the bye.
1) Houston Texans
The Texans are an interesting team. Despite a losing record (4-5), they still have an outside chance to snare a playoff spot -- especially now that they've made a move at quarterback. Houston simply was not going to get anywhere with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. The veteran is incredibly smart, but this team needs more than a 61.8 percent completion rate and touchdown-to-interception ratio of 11:8. The Texans also need someone who can get the ball downfield more effectively. Switching to the cannon-armed Ryan Mallett will give this group an undeniable lift entering a final stretch that is sprinkled with winnable games, including two against the Jaguars. Coach Bill O'Brien was smart to promote Mallett 11 days before Houston's next game, giving the quarterback time to get in sync with the first-team offense.
The Texans' encouraging turnover differential of plus-seven tells me their defense is playing fairly well. Still, getting Jadeveon Clowney -- who missed Sunday's defeat to the Eagleswith an illness after losing six games to a knee injury -- to play up to his potential would be a real boon for the pass defense, which is currently ranked 29th.
2) San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are one of the most fascinating squads on this list, with a point differential of plus-19 -- even after Sunday's debacle (which might be a generous description of their 37-0 loss to the Dolphins). Still, San Diego is 5-4 and in slightly better shape than it was in at this point last season; after compiling a 4-5 mark through nine games in 2013, the Chargers won five of their last six and snuck into the playoffs.
Getting running back Ryan Mathews -- who could return to the field for the first time since suffering a knee injury in Week 2 -- healthy and in the fold again will be key. Undrafted rookie Branden Oliver's ascension to the spotlight has made for a good story, but I think the Bolts and the rest of the NFL are finding out he's more of a spot player, not someone you can run out there for 30 minutes a week. Philip Rivers, who looked terrible Sunday, isn't the kind of mobile quarterback who can help pick up the slack for a struggling ground game. The Chargers need a back who can collect yardage in chunks and block some people, which is where Mathews comes in. San Diego's defense also needs to focus on forcing more turnovers. Can standout rookie cornerback Jason Verrett, who missed the loss to the Dolphinswith a torn labrum, avoid going on injured reserve and shore things up for the stretch run?
3) Washington Redskins
It's hard to maintain proper timing in the passing game without working on it at daily practices, and I would think the Redskins would have Griffin and the receivers run a lot of plays together, perfecting routes and improving their rhythm. He needs to get all the snaps he can handle. He also needs to get rid of the ball quicker; RGIII has taken nine sacks in 77 drop-backs this season, which is not a good rate. Finally, Washington must do whatever it can to bolster its pass defense, as the Redskins have allowed 18 touchdown tosses this season, tied for second-most in the NFL.
4) Minnesota Vikings
Left tackle Matt Kalil has allowed a disconcerting number of sacks this season, and figuring out what's wrong with the third-year pro will be one priority for the Vikings this week. Is he doing something differently? Minnesota also needs to find a way to consistently feed receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who has averaged just 3.4 touches per game since exploding for 128 yards from scrimmage in Week 1. And working tight end Kyle Rudolph -- who hit the practice field Tuesday after missing six weeks due to sports hernia surgery -- back into the mix will be key.
The Vikings have some things going for them, notably the positive rookie campaign of linebacker Anthony Barr (four sacks) and the growth of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who improves every week. Bridgewater is better than I thought he'd be at escaping jams; I would say he's been a pleasant surprise, illustrating the perils of tossing aside years' worth of tape after one bad day in shorts. The more they can help Bridgewater continue to get up to speed this week, the better.
5) Indianapolis Colts
The 6-3 Colts are in a good place heading into their break. They boast a point differential of plus-79 and are handily winning the time of possession battle, 34:39 to 25:21. Of course, that kind of ratio will be tough to maintain going forward, so Indy would be smart to make sure the defense can handle what will likely be an uptick in time on the field down the stretch.
The blowout loss to the Steelers in Week 8 might have some observers questioning the unit, but I think the Colts' defense still holds plenty of promise. After all, Indy ranks seventh in the NFL in sacks. That means the pass rush, which has overcome the loss of Robert Mathis for the season, is doing something right. Meanwhile, the offensive line is hanging tough despite starting rookies in center Jonotthan Harrison and guard Jack Mewhort. Frankly, this team is seriously clicking right now.
6) New England Patriots
The Pats don't look like they need to focus on anything in particular this week; with a 7-2 record and an exceedingly healthy point differential of plus-83, they are, like the Colts, sitting pretty. Still, Bill Belichick is an extremely detail-oriented coach, and he might want to spend some time ensuring newcomers like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Jonas Gray, Jonathan Casillas and Akeem Ayers are fully indoctrinated in his system -- how the team does things, how it approaches things -- for their first stretch run and playoff push as members of the Patriots. New England likely will want to reappraise the configuration of its offensive line, which has been tinkered with throughout the season, to ensure it has the optimal mix. Finally, the Pats could consider signing some free agents to add depth.