NFL week 10: Jared Goff starts for LA Rams, play-off picture taking shape
The way the season is panning out, it looks as though it could be a photo finish in the race for play-off spots.
The finest of margins - a turnover, blocked or missed extra points, an injury to a key player - could determine whether a host of sides get to play January football. It would not surprise me if all those occurrences happen in week 17.
At the moment it's about staying in the race. There are the leaders who would have to have a meltdown of monumental proportions to not make it to the post-season. In the AFC it would be hard to argue that the Patriots, and at least two of the Raiders, Chiefs and Broncos will not have booked their place by the final weekend.
The Cowboys, Seahawks and the Falcons look pretty strong for the same bracket in the NFC.
The main peloton contains around 15 teams who all still believe they can make it, whereas in reality it's more like eight or nine. But this weekend's matchups are a chance to position yourself more prominently to make a break.
The AFC North and South standings are misleading. In the North, Baltimore have the only winning record but they have not convinced me yet that they have enough to remain there. Quaterback Ben Roethlisberger's injury and subsequent return has hampered the Steelers but they'll get it right in time. There is too much talent in Pittsburgh and they are coached well. The same could be said for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Keep an eye on all three teams, as the Ravens are at the Dallas Cowboys (8-1), the Steelers at the winless Browns while the Buffalo Bills (4-5) are in Cincinnati. If results go as many expect, the North will clog even more come Thanksgiving weekend.
The Bengals, Ravens and Steelers are three play-off calibre teams trying to get into one post-season spot. The same one spot will be available in the AFC South but in no way are the teams as talented. I'd actually say the rosters of Tennessee, Indianapolis and Houston aren't post-season worthy at all.
But due to the nature of entry to the play-offs, there will be a division winner and currently the Houston Texans at 6-3 are in pole position.
This is despite the horrible play of quarterback Brock Osweiler and without defensive end JJ Watt all season with injury. Their wins are against sides with a combined 25-30 record, and save Kansas City in week two, the Texans haven't beaten any team of note.
Their next three weeks aren't easy either as this weekend they hop over the border to take on the Raiders (7-2) in Mexico City on Monday night, then host the Chargers (4-6) and travel to Lambeau to face the Packers (4-5). However, in a poor division they have positioned themselves well.
They will keep looking over their shoulder as the Tennessee Titans (5-5) are a side on the up under second year quarter-back Marcus Mariota. The routing of the Packers at home last week was a real statement. Give them a year or two on this upward curve and they'll be a real handful.
The Indianapolis Colts aren't done either. They have deficiencies across the roster but in a bad division when you have a quarterback the calibre of Andrew Luck, you'll always be relevant. The Colts host the Titans this week.
Over in the NFC, the North was a done deal after week five. The Vikings were unbeaten, the Packers were 3-1 and both were on their way to the post season, even then.
Now, the Vikings are four games without a win, the Packers are 4-5 and the Detroit Lions head the division at 5-4. The Lions host the woeful (2-7) Jaguars on Sunday while the Vikings face the slowly improving (4-4-1) Cardinals and the Packers travel to the (5-3-1) Washington Redskins, so potentially the Lions could put some breathing room between themselevs and the chasing pair.
I love the way the NFL interprets results. After a late rally from the visiting New Orleans Saints, Carolina held on to beat their divisional rivals on Thursday night. Carolina had rekindled their play-off hopes while the Saints ruined theirs, so the headlines read. Yet both teams are 4-6. Over the next two weeks the Panthers go to the West Coast to take on Oakland and Seattle who own a combined 13-4-1 record. The Saints host the Rams and the Lions - a combined 9-9 - in the Superdome. Both may miss out on the post-season but I like Drew Brees' chances of staying in contention for longer than Cam Newton's.
Five things to watch for this weekend
1.Finally the 2016 overall first round draft pick Jared Goff will start for the Los Angeles Rams. The pressure on the quarterback to shine has been notched up a couple of pegs, with two other rookies drafted after him in Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott performing so well.
2.San Francisco native Tom Brady has never played in his hometown for the New England Patriots in his 17-year career. A 49ers fan as a child, the future hall-of-famer had one opportunity to play in front of family and friends back in 2008, but his season was curtailed after blowing out his knee. No doubt the list for complimentary tickets was huge, but if you weren't part of that list, fear not as it's our commentary game on BBC Radio 5 live NFL on Sunday evening.
3.As previously mentioned, the NFL will take the game out of the US this weekend with the Azteca Stadium in Mexico playing host to the Texans and Raiders. They last tried in 2005. As well as the UK, Mexico is another market that the league hierarchy are keen to exploit. Watch this space.
4.This week the news has been dominated by Dallas reserve quarterback Tony Romo. He read a statement to reporters about his injury problems and gave clues about his future. He is going to dress for action for the first time this week, now as understudy to Dak Prescott. Being the Cowboys quarterback has a unique status in American culture and Romo was it. It's a tough gig to lose. I'll be watching Romo's body language closely on the sideline.
5.I like the Eagles v Seahawks matchup. quarterback Carson Wentz will never have played against a tougher defence or in a more oppressive environment than Seattle and it's most likely the 'Hawks will win. But I think it will be fun to see how he goes as part of a learning curve which the Philly fans should be encouraged with.