Commentary

Identifying the best, most important games of NFL Week 10

Updated: November 7, 2017, 11:50 PM ET
By Hank Gargiulo and Seth Walder | ESPN.com

Matt RyanTim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsWith their season slipping away, can Matt Ryan and the struggling Falcons take down the Cowboys at home?

What are the five must-watch NFL games this week? ESPN's matchup quality metric, which utilizes ESPN's Football Power Index to rank games on a 1-100 scale based on the quality of teams and projected closeness of the final score, tells us the top games of Week 10.


1. Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox)

Matchup quality: 77 out of 100
FPI win projection: Falcons, 51 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Cowboys, 32 percent; Falcons, 19 percent

No game this week has as much on the line in terms of the playoff race than this one. Both teams can see their potential playoff prospects swing fairly dramatically depending on the outcome.

Dallas may hold the sixth seed in the NFC in the "if the season ended today" scenario, but the season doesn't end today, and according to FPI, the Cowboys face the most difficult remaining schedule of any team in the league. Dallas still has two division games against the Eagles (FPI's top-ranked team), including the home encounter in Week 11, and tough games at Oakland and home to Seattle still to come. When factoring in FPI's projections for the rest of the season, Dallas has a 49 percent chance to make the playoffs, seventh best in the NFC. A win would get the Cowboys to a more comfortable 66 percent and a loss would drop them to 32 percent, the biggest difference of the week.

Atlanta is a bit more of an outsider for the playoffs, as the Falcons are behind two teams in the division and are mainly fighting only for a wild-card berth. A Falcons win would put them closer to the wild-card race with a 27 percent chance to make the postseason, while a loss would drop them to 9 percent.


2. Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox)

Matchup quality: 69 out of 100
FPI win projection: Vikings, 51 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Vikings, 17 percent; Redskins, 16 percent

Does the news that the Vikings may activate Teddy Bridgewater and put Sam Bradford on injured reserve really change the Vikings' plans at quarterback if Case Keenum stays healthy?

It may seem crazy not to go back to Bridgewater, who was the Vikings' unquestioned starter before an injury sidelined him just prior to the 2016 season, but consider how well Keenum has played.

Keenum ranks fifth in Total QBR so far in 2017, and his 64.4 is higher than Bridgewater's Total QBR in either 2014 or 2015. It isn't a case of being efficient in a small sample, either, as Keenum has added 14.3 points more than the average quarterback given the same playing time, sixth highest in the league. If you were Mike Zimmer, would you hand the keys to the offense back to a guy who hasn't played a competitive game since the end of the 2015 season, or go with the guy who has been one of the five most efficient QBs in the league this year?

Washington, on the other hand, will need a better performance from Kirk Cousins. Cousins did lead the game-winning drive last week against Seattle's strong defense, but prior to that drive Cousins' raw QBR for the game was a 12, and Minnesota has allowed a lower QBR to opposing quarterbacks this year than has Seattle.


3. New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Matchup quality: 69 out of 100
FPI win projection: Patriots, 62 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Broncos, 15 percent; Patriots, 4 percent

There is no team the Patriots have underperformed against more on the road in the FPI era (2008 to present) than the Broncos.

New England has played six games in Denver during that time (including the playoffs) and has won just twice. If we use the Patriots' FPI pregame chance to win, we would have expected the Patriots to win 3.03 of those games -- their difference between expected wins and actual win (-1.03) is the largest of any Patriots opponent while on the road in that span. Sunday will mark the third time the Patriots enter as FPI favorites, and they are 1-1 in the previous two games.

Denver is clinging to its playoff hopes despite its 3-5 record. Denver has the ninth-best AFC chance to make the playoffs at 13 percent, but a win would lift the Broncos to 23 percent while a loss would drop them to 7 percent. Denver still has FPI's top-rated defense and will need Von Miller to get to Brady. Only Cameron Wake has as many sacks against Brady (7.5) as Miller does since Miller entered the league in 2011.


4. Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, CBS)

Matchup quality: 68 out of 100
FPI win projection: Jaguars, 64 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Chargers, 21 percent; Jaguars, 10 percent

The strength of this Chargers team is its passing game, which ranks eighth best in expected points per game and points per play through the air. That's a little surprising given that Philip Rivers ranks 23rd in Total QBR this year, but ultimately the goal is to gain points as an offense, not just as a quarterback.

The problem for L.A. is that it is going against the pass-game killers: the Jaguars. As we noted last week, the Jaguars are defending the pass even better than the Seahawks' 2013 Legion of Boom did. So this is a matchup problem for Los Angeles, to say the least.


5. New Orleans Saints at Buffalo Bills (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox)

Matchup quality: 60 out of 100
FPI win projection: Saints, 56 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Bills, 22 percent; Saints, 11 percent

It's not as if the Saints suddenly have the best defense in football. It's just that when Drew Brees is your quarterback, you basically just need to not have one of the worst defenses in football. And the Saints have most certainly accomplished that.

The Saints rank 15th in defensive efficiency so far this season, good enough to help Brees and the powerful offense (third in efficiency) earn six straight wins.

FPI hadn't really bought the Bills as a quality team even before their loss to the Jets last week, and now the model ranks Buffalo as the 24th-best team in the NFL. That's why the Saints -- whom FPI has as the seventh-best team going forward and 4.7 points per game over an average NFL team -- are favorites in Buffalo even though the Bills have a winning record.


High-leverage game of the week: Cincinnati Bengals at Tennessee Titans (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox)

Matchup quality: 38 out of 100
FPI win projection: Titans, 64 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Titans, 32 percent; Bengals, 12 percent

Apparently, Cincinnati is still hanging on at 3-5. (Who knew?) If they can beat the Titans this week, the Bengals would have a 15 percent chance to reach the playoffs. That's not nothing, especially for a team that just about everyone already has counted out.

But this is really the leverage game because of the Titans, who occupy an interesting place in the AFC playoff picture. Tennessee has the same record (5-3) as Jacksonville, but FPI thinks the Jaguars (72 percent) have a much better chance at the division than the Titans (26 percent).

The Titans will be in the middle of the wild-card race even if they fall behind the Jaguars in the coming weeks. In that case, the Titans likely will be battling the Bills, Ravens and maybe the Chargers for two wild-card spots. As it stands, Tennessee has a 63 percent chance to gain a berth, but that will drop to 43 percent with a loss this weekend.

For more from ESPN Analytics, visit the ESPN Analytics Index

Hank Gargiulo

ESPN Analytics

Seth Walder

ESPN Analytics

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