The second half of the NFL season gets underway this week and the race to the playoffs is on. Week 10 starts on Thursday night (8:20 PM ET, NFL Network) when two clubs tied for the best record in the league (6-2) meet as the Baltimore Ravens visit the Atlanta Falcons.
"We're 6-2 and we just got a good AFC win (26-10 over Miami), but now we've got to go and get ready to play one of the powerhouses of the NFC in Atlanta," says Ravens linebacker TERRELL SUGGS. "We've got to go play a great team. It's a challenge and we're looking forward to it. We'll see you all on Thursday night."
At the halfway point, the races are tight.
Six clubs – Atlanta, Baltimore, New England, the New York Giants, the New York Jets and Pittsburgh – currently have the league's best record at 6-2.
Two other teams – Green Bay and New Orleans – also have six wins (6-3). Eight clubs are currently tied for the league lead with six victories.
"It's good to get out of there with a win," says Jets wide receiver BRAYLON EDWARDS about the team's 23-20 overtime win at Detroit. "A win is a win at the end of the day, especially in this league."
It's especially hard to get a win when there are so many good teams. Entering Week 10, there are 21 teams with a .500 record, tied for the second-most in NFL history through the first nine weeks (22 in 1997).
Some of the key games of Week 10
*BALTIMORE RAVENS (6-2) at ATLANTA FALCONS (6-2) (Thursday, NFLN, 8:20 PM ET) *
Two of the NFL's best will kick off Week 10 at the Georgia Dome when the Falcons host the Ravens. Both teams improved to 6-2 last week.
Baltimore knocked off the Miami Dolphins 26-10 in Week 9 as the Ravens forced three turnovers to win their seventh consecutive home game. The Ravens neither punted nor turned the ball over and became just the third team to accomplish the feat over the past 10 seasons – the 2004 New York Jets (12/19/04 vs. Seattle) and 2008 Cleveland Browns (10/13/08 vs. New York Giants) are the other two clubs.
"We did a great job all day," says Baltimore quarterback JOE FLACCO. "I don't know if you can point to just one drive. We really drove the ball well all day."
The Falcons defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-21 to move into sole possession of first place in the NFC South. Running back MICHAEL TURNER rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns and the defense held off the Buccaneers late in the game.
Pittsburgh wide receiver ANTWAAN RANDLE EL, who threw a 39-yard touchdown pass on Monday night, has completed 21 of 26 regular-season passes (80.8 percent) in his career for 320 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions for a 157.5 passer rating, just shy of a perfect mark (158.3). That is the highest completion percentage and passer rating among players with at least 20 attempts in NFL history.
"We know how to win," says Atlanta cornerback DUNTA ROBINSON. "This team has done a great job of finishing. When our backs are against the wall, we can find a way to win the football game."
With the victory, Falcons quarterback MATT RYAN improved to 17-1 (.944) as the starter at home.
"I know Matt Ryan and he's a great quarterback," says Ravens safety ED REED. "He can throw every ball and he's got some great receivers and a great running game. Their defense is playing great too."
*NEW YORK JETS (6-2) at CLEVELAND BROWNS (3-5) (Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET) *
The Jets erased a 10-point deficit in the final three minutes of regulation and defeated the Detroit Lions 23-20 in overtime last week. It marked only the second time in franchise history the Jets rallied from a double-digit deficit in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter (September 24, 2000 at Tampa Bay).
"We feel fortunate to get the win," says Jets head coach REX RYAN, "but we don't care. We'll take it. That's what good teams do. They find a way to win."
Quarterback MARK SANCHEZ threw for a career-high 336 yards and a touchdown – a 74-yard strike to BRAYLON EDWARDS. He also scored on a one-yard run with 2:46 remaining in the fourth quarter and set up the game-winning field goal in overtime with a 52-yard pass to SANTONIO HOLMES.
"This entire team is a resilient bunch," says Sanchez. "When we need it the most, we find a way to win games. I'm proud of the way we played and our effort throughout the entire game."
Cleveland knocked off the New England Patriots 34-14 last weekend, the team's second consecutive impressive victory after the Week 7 win at New Orleans over the defending Super Bowl champions.
Browns rookie quarterback COLT MC COY completed 73.7 percent of his passes (14 of 19) and ran for a score while running back PEYTON HILLIS rushed for 184 yards and two scores.
"This sends a message that what happened last game against New Orleans was not a fluke," says Cleveland tackle JOE THOMAS. "We're a good team. We're starting to find our identity."
*NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (6-2) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (6-2) (Sunday, NBC, 8:20 PM ET) *
The Patriots and Steelers will meet on Sunday night and both teams enter Week 10 tied for the NFL's best record at 6-2. New England has won six of the past eight meetings (including playoffs) between the two teams.
Pittsburgh held on for a 27-21 win at Cincinnati on Monday night to maintain a share of first place in the AFC North. Wide receiver MIKE WALLACE had five receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown and the defense stopped the Bengals at the Pittsburgh 12-yard line in the final minute.
"This is how the Steelers play ball," says cornerback IKE TAYLOR. "We're always in tough, close ballgames."
New England will look to rebound from a 34-14 loss at Cleveland, ending the Patriots' five-game winning streak. Despite the loss, New England owns a share of first place in the AFC East with the New York Jets.
"We have to do better in all areas and get ready for Pittsburgh," says Patriots head coach BILL BELICHICK.
*PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (5-3) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (4-4) (Monday, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET) *
Two NFC East rivals will meet at FedExField on Monday night when the Redskins host the Eagles. Philadelphia will look to avenge a Week 4 loss to Washington.
Last week, the Eagles defeated the Indianapolis Colts 26-24 at Lincoln Financial Field as the team improved to an NFL-best 12-0 under head coach ANDY REID after a bye. Quarterback MICHAEL VICK passed for a touchdown and rushed for another score.
"This was a very gratifying win," says Vick. "Two weeks of hard work and preparation. This is a tough league. We played against one of the best teams in the league and pulled it out. We have to strive to beat every team that we line up against. We try and make a statement week in and week out."
This season, Vick leads the NFL with a 105.3 passer rating and has not thrown an interception. He'll be challenged this week as Redskins cornerback DE ANGELO HALL leads the league with six interceptions, including five in the past two games.