This week’s Games to Watch (GTW) feature: AFC opponents each facing an identity crisis; a contest across the pond that is significant for both the NFC standings and the future of the NFL; and three games that evoke carnival music and the scent of cotton candy . . . The Quarterback Carousel Games.
San Diego Chargers (4-1) @ New York Jets (3-3) (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS): The Jets have more at stake in this game by far. Not only are the Jets their facing intense scrutiny because they are so far not living up to their own hype, but also because this week’s contest is the start of a very difficult stretch in the team’s schedule. San Diego is no cream puff opponent and, after a bye in Week 8, they travel upstate to face the resurgent Buffalo Bills. Then in Week 10 they face the Patriots, who have already beaten them this season. After what should be a manageable game against the Broncos in Week 11, they play the Bills for a second time in Week 12. With some competitive opponents coming up, the Jets need to find a way to play up to expectations this week.
Chicago Bears (3-3) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2) (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, 6:00 local time, FOX): The NFL is committed to broadening the appeal of football overseas, with possible expansion to Europe and elsewhere. Part of that commitment has been to have a regular season game in London, England (in the past, the league has had preseason contests in other countries, but having a regular season game outside the U.S. is a significant step). Unfortunately, these games have not showcased the best of the NFL, including the last time Tampa Bay played in London in 2009, when they were pummeled by the Patriots 35-7. This year is a different story, however. The Bears’ QB Jay Cutler is enjoying better protection from his offensive line and running back Matt Forte is having an incredible season. The Bucs, meanwhile, are having a great start to the season and arrived in London on Monday to get adjusted to the new time and the turf at Wembley Stadium. The Bears, however, didn’t arrive in London until today. Will it make a difference?
The Quarterback Carousel Games:
In a typical week, these three games probably wouldn’t merit a mention on the GTW list. However, their main plotlines center around one starting quarterback in each game.
Denver Broncos (1-4) @ Miami Dolphins (0-5) (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET, CBS): Denver fans finally get what they have been screaming for all season: Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Florida, will get his first start of the season at QB, replacing embattled veteran Kyle Orton. Though the Broncos are visiting the Dolphins, Tebow couldn’t ask for a friendlier crowd on the road in Florida, where he’s still a local favorite from his college days. Tebow had a respectable showing when he started the last three games of last season when Orton was out with injury: he lost two games and won one, completing 49.4% of his passes, and scored seven touchdowns (four passing, three running).
Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) @ Oakland Raiders (4-2) (Sunday, 4:05 PM ET, CBS): An injury to starting QB Jason Campbell last week led to the signing of Cincinnati QB Carson Palmer, a nine-year veteran who hasn’t played at all this year after demanding to be traded in the off-season. Oakland eagerly acquired Palmer in exchange for a first round pick in the 2012 draft and their second round pick in 2013. That second round pick will escalate to a first-round pick if the Raiders make the playoffs with Palmer at the helm. Will Palmer show the Raiders that he was worth the price?
Green Bay Packers (6-0) @ Minnesota Vikings (1-5) (Sunday, 4:15 PM ET, FOX): While refusing to throw veteran QB and off-season acquisition Donovan McNabb under the bus for the Vikings’ abysmal start to the season, the power-that-be in the Twin Cities have finally relented to the thunderous whispers of fans and pundits alike and have decided to start rookie Christian Ponder this week against the Super Bowl Champion, undefeated Green Bay Packers. Well, at least Ponder should realize that he isn’t expected to win…but he should also know that his grace period won’t last long.
The following teams have byes this week: Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.