NFL RedZone companion, Week 10: Can Colts and Falcons kickstart unlikely play-off charge?

Alex Finnis
The Telegraph
Andrew Luck and Eric Ebron celebrate a Colts touchdown against the Jets - FR51951 AP
Andrew Luck and Eric Ebron celebrate a Colts touchdown against the Jets - FR51951 AP

Well that's one way to start an NFL week. The Steelers offense went absolutely wild on Thursday Night Football, putting up a franchise-record 52 points at Heinz Field against a Panthers team people were just starting to whisper about as Super Bowl contenders. We might have to say so long to that notion.

Ben Roethlisberger played like a man possessed, completing 22 of his 25 passes for 328 yards, five touchdowns to five different receivers and a perfect passer rating - the third of his career. He was helped significantly by possibly the Panthers' worst defensive display in their 23-year history, but this Steelers offense is absolutely rolling. Watch out, AFC.

Now we turn out attention to NFL RedZone, where there are 11 oh-so-juicy fixtures waiting for us in week ten. Here's everything to look out for as you settle in for your seven-hour, ad-free football marathon.

Five games to dial in on

Forget Jacksonville - and keep everything crossed for the Colts

<span>Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox catches a touchdown pass in a win over the Raiders</span> <span>Credit: Kyle Terada/USA Today </span>
Colts tight end Mo Alie-Cox catches a touchdown pass in a win over the Raiders Credit: Kyle Terada/USA Today

This is the last game between two teams with losing records you'll have to care about all season, and if you're a sane human being with a heart and a soul you'll be rooting for the Colts. Indy might be 3-5, but they've been a really fun team to watch this year.

Andrew Luck is healthy and for the first time ever playing behind a genuinely good offensive line and has a top-half running game. The Colts are averaging just under 29 points per game, ninth in the NFL, and the defense isn't bad either. Darius Leonard leads the league in tackles and is a definitely Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. This is a sneaky good team!

If they can beat the Jags in Indianapolis they'll move to 4-5, two wins back from the Texans. It'll be an uphill struggle to the playoffs, sure, but look at who they have to play in their remaining eight games: Titans at home, Dolphins at home, Jaguars away, Texans away, Cowboys at home, Giants at home, Titans away. Every one of those games is winnable, and that week 14 tilt in Houston looks especially tasty.

Yes I know the Jags are London's adopted team, but come on, for the good of football, there's only one worthy winner here. I want to see the Colts back in the playoffs, who's joining me?

The Falcons start an unlikely playoff swoop?

<span>Julio Jones scored a touchdown as the Falcons improved to .500 against the Redskins last week</span> <span>Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images </span>
Julio Jones scored a touchdown as the Falcons improved to .500 against the Redskins last week Credit: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Everyone wrote the Falcons off at 1-4. Five weeks later they're back to .500, and I think they stand a real chance of making the playoffs. Last week they proved they're a far superior team to the Redskins, who I'd bet heavily on getting beaten to the NFC East by a resurgent Eagles, which would likely leave Atlanta, Washington , possibly the Seahawks and maybe, mayyyybe the Packers in a race for the final wild card spot. I know who I'd back.

The Falcons are a good team whose early season was wrecked by a combination of bad luck and devastating injuries. They're a little healthier now, have won three on the bounce and can haul themselves back into the land of winning records by beating the Browns in Cleveland on Sunday.

Matt Ryan is playing like a top-ten quarterback, he has one of the league's most dangerous receiver triumvirates in Julio Jones (back among the touchdowns!), Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley, and Tevin Coleman is doing damage out of the backfield in Devonta Freeman's absence. The defense is still suspect, but the Cleveland offense isn't exactly purring right now. After this weekend everyone will be taking Atlanta seriously as an NFL playoff contender again.

Saints go marching on to Cincinnati

<span>Saints receiver Michael Thomas dialed up more than 200 yards against the Rams in week nine</span> <span>Credit: AP Photo/Bill Feig </span>
Saints receiver Michael Thomas dialed up more than 200 yards against the Rams in week nine Credit: AP Photo/Bill Feig

This ought to be fun. Two top ten offenses both going at it against two bottom six defenses with very little history to read off. These teams only meet every four years, and the Bengals have won four of the last five, but this Saints team is a totally different prospect. There was no Alvin Kamara then. No Michael Thomas. And Drew Brees wasn't completing an absurd 76.3 per cent of his passes behind the league's best offensive line. Cincy are a good team, but I can only see this shootout going one way.

While the Saints defense is giving up a lot of points overall, their rushing defense is actually the best in the league. They limited Todd Gurley to just 68 yards on the ground last week, and if they can keep Joe Mixon bottled up that suddenly puts a lot of pressure on Andy Dalton and his depleted armoury. The Red Rocket is missing the presence of injured tight end Tyler Eifert and John Ross is looking more like a bust every day. AJ Green and Tyler Boyd are a potent receiving duo, but both will need to go off if Dalton's going to keep up with Brees.

The most intriguing subplot of this game is the potential return of Dez Bryant to NFL action. New Orleans haven't decided if he'll play on Sunday, but either way this is a move which makes a lot of sense for both parties. With Tedd Ginn out Brees could do with another option outside of Thomas, and Bryant gets a shot at a Super Bowl. Win-win.

No let off for the Rams as they look to get back to winning ways

<span>Todd Gurley celebrates a touchdown during the Rams' 33-31 defeat of the Seahawks in week five</span> <span>Credit: Steven Bisig/USA Today </span>
Todd Gurley celebrates a touchdown during the Rams' 33-31 defeat of the Seahawks in week five Credit: Steven Bisig/USA Today

The Rams' winning streak came to an abrupt end last week in the Superdome, as they were outclassed and outcoached by the Saints. They'll want to get back to winning ways immediately with the number one seed hanging in the balance, but the schedule makers haven't made it easy for them - LA will host Seattle, who pushed them all the way in week five.

Home field advantage should eliminate the need for any squeaky bum time, to use a very English football phrase, but the Seahawks will be desperate for a win with their playoff hopes on the line. They still have the Packers, Panthers, Vikings and Chiefs to play, and will probably need to win at least three of those five (including the Rams game) to stand any chance of making it to January.

Last week showed this Rams defense is beatable, and Russell Wilson definitely has the talent to hurt them. Marcus Peters looks a real weak spot without Aqib Talib beside him in the secondary. But the Seahawks' chances may come down to how its improved offensive line stands up to Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. If LA's elite pass rushers are able to get to Wilson they're probably toast.

Big potential factor: running back Chris Carson is an injury doubt for Seattle, which would be a massive loss.

A potential banana skin for the Pats in Tennessee

<span>Malcolm Butler will play against the Patriots for the first time since they benched him for the Super Bowl, then traded him to the Titans</span> <span>Credit: Matthew Emmons/USA Today </span>
Malcolm Butler will play against the Patriots for the first time since they benched him for the Super Bowl, then traded him to the Titans Credit: Matthew Emmons/USA Today

Emphasis on the word potential. I do not think the Patriots will lose on Sunday, but I do think the Titans will make them sweat more than the Packers made them sweat last week. Tennessee are a gritty team. They know how to keep games close and are one of the top in the league at grinding out ugly wins. Marcus Mariota had his best game of the season against the Cowboys last Monday, and the run defense made sure Ezekiel Elliott was barely a factor.

The Cowboys offense sucks, of course, and the Patriots' very much does not. Tom Brady is hurting teams week-in, week-out with smart dump-off passes to James White, and Josh Gordon is looking a lot like someone who's going to be a big factor down the stretch, and probably deep into January too.

Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel could both return to boost New England, and would line up on the opposite side of the field to Malcolm Butler. Butler has been so poor this season there's been talk of the Titans benching him, and if he can't get fired up for Bill Belichick coming to his new building after sidelining him in the Super Bowl then he may as well call it a day. My reckoning? It's Belichick who has the last laugh. When isn't it?

Five players to keep an eye on

Leonard Fournette (RB, Jacksonville Jaguars)

<span>Leonard Fournette returns to action for the Jags this week</span> <span>Credit: AP Photo/Don Wright </span>
Leonard Fournette returns to action for the Jags this week Credit: AP Photo/Don Wright

Fournette makes his return from a hamstring injury this week after missing six of the last seven games. Boy do the Jaguars need him. Without him their offense has been stale, to put in generously, and Carlos Hyde hasn't made the immediate impact Jags fans would have hoped.

Is Fournette's return a big enough factor to turn Jacksonville's fortunes around? I'm not so sure. Their problems run too deep. But he can definitely hurt the Colts on Sunday, and is the perfect crutch for a struggling Blake Bortles.

Melvin Gordon (RB, Los Angeles Chargers)

<span>Melvin Gordon is having a ball in LA</span> <span>Credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren </span>
Melvin Gordon is having a ball in LA Credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Another running back. Fantasy players, get Melvin Gordon in your line-up this week, by any means necessary. Gordon's Chargers are going up against the Raiders' league-worst run defense - everything's set up perfectly for him to have a field day.

Gordon already has 579 rushing yards, 289 receiving yards and ten touchdowns on the season, and has a great chance to pass 1,000 scrimmage yards this week. If he doesn't find the end zone at least once against Oakland I'll trade my best player to the Bears.

Jordan Howard (RB, Chicago Bears)

<span>Jordan Howard celebrates his first touchdown against the Bills last week</span> <span>Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today </span>
Jordan Howard celebrates his first touchdown against the Bills last week Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig/USA Today

It's a running back party, and you're all invited! Jordan Howard's impact is growing as the season goes on. He's scored in each of his last three games, including two against the Bills last week, and now gets a shot at Detroit, whose run defense is ranked a squalid 30th in the NFL.

Expect Chicago to test them out by running the ball down their throats on Sunday. I know that's what I'd do. This makes Howard another strong fantasy option, for those of you who are that way inclined.

DeSean Jackson (WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

<span>DeSean Jackson is a happier man with Fitzmagic back in the team</span> <span>Credit: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images </span>
DeSean Jackson is a happier man with Fitzmagic back in the team Credit: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

Let's take a trip out wide, and to Tampa Bay, where DeSean Jackson is more than a little delighted to have Ryan Fitzpatrick back in the line-up. It's no secret that D-Jax's chemistry with Jameis Winston has always been off, and I suspect Winston's return was part of why he asked for a trade last month.

Conversely, Jackson seems to enjoy a special connection with Fitzpatrick, even down to sharing clothes. I have a sneaky feeling the Bucs upset Washington on Sunday, and Jackson will be a big part of that success.

Carlos Dunlap (DE, Cincinnati Bengals)

<span>Carlos Dunlap hits Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger</span> <span>Credit: AP Photo/Gary Landers </span>
Carlos Dunlap hits Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger Credit: AP Photo/Gary Landers

We've got to throw a bit of defense in the mix - unlike the real NFL we can't just be all offense, all the time. Dunlap is currently 11th in the league in sacks with seven, and the Bengals are going to need him to be at the top of his game if they're to stand any chance against the Saints. A well-protected Drew Brees will find it easy to pick apart this Cincinnati defense, it's down to Dunlap and Geno Atkins to make sure he feels some heat.

Predictions

Saints beat Bengals, Packers beat Dolphins, Jets beat Bills, Buccaneers beat Redskins, Bears beat Lions, Chiefs beat Cardinals, Colts beat Jaguars, Falcons beat Browns, Patriots beat Titans, Chargers beat Raiders, Rams beat Seahawks, Eagles beat Cowboys, Giants beat 49ers.

Got some predictions of your own? Share them in the comments below...

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