The Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) have won 10 games in a row and are trying to protect their home-field advantage for the playoffs. The New York Jets (9-3) have won three in a row, and barring a collapse -- after Pittsburgh, they finish against the Seahawks, the Patriots and the Rams -- they could do damage in the playoffs.
Now the focus for both teams is on their quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers' rookie starter, has regressed from sensational to merely a game-winner with a sore quadricep, but his two-minute drive last week to beat the Jaguars was out of the Elway-Starr book. As Steelers guard Alan Faneca said, "It's something special what he's doing."
Chad Pennington returned as the Jets quarterback last week after missing three games with a strained rotator cuff. The Jets beat the Texans by rushing 210 yards, their third 200-yard game of the season, and Curtis Martin has seven 100-yard games this season. Still, coach Herm Edwards knows he needs Pennington at his best, saying, "He's the energy on offense."
Seattle (6-6) at Minnesota (7-5)
For a team tied for the division lead, the Vikings looked bad in losing to the Bears. Its secondary was too generous, and quarterback Duante Culpepper endured three interceptions and five sacks.
After a 3-0 start, the Seahawks are still in the playoff race but they have been staggering. In their latest games, they lost badly to the Bills and folded at the end against the Cowboys. "There are a bunch of us still trying to figure out what's going on," coach Ron Holmgren said.
Cincinnati (6-6) at
New England (11-1)
The Patriots have won five straight games and 26 of their last 27. They showed no mercy in routing the Browns last week.
The awakened Bengals won last week on Carson Palmer's three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against the Ravens' strong defense. Can the Bengals damage two classy defenses in two weeks? Absolutely not.
St. Louis (6-6) at Carolina (5-7)
The Rams are a wreck. Marc Bulger has a sprained passing shoulder, so 39-year-old Chris Chandler will be at quarterback.
Marshall Faulk and the rookie Steven Jackson, two game-breaking backs, have bad knees, and the Rams' defense has yielded 703 yards rushing in the last four games. In that four-game span, the Panthers' defense has recorded 15 turnovers and 11 sacks, and the team has won four games in a row.
That puts them in the wild-card race, and as coach John Fox said, "They're not brain dead."
Tampa Bay (5-7) at San Diego (9-3)
With six straight wins and eight in their last nine games, the Chargers are rolling. When the Broncos held Drew Brees to 106 yards passing last week, the Chargers' defense won the game by intercepting Jake Plummer four times.
The Bucs defense left Michael Vick of the Falcons with five sacks, two interceptions, two lost fumbles and many questions.
New York Giants (5-7) at Baltimore (7-5)
The Giants have lost five in a row and they held the ball less than 20 minutes against the Redskins. The Ravens have playoff potential, but coach Brian Billick warns, "We've got a real uphill climb."
Chicago (5-7) at Jacksonville (6-6)
Chad Hutchinson threw three touchdown passes in his first start at quarterback for the Bears. The Jaguars, despite three straight losses and red-zone ineptitude, are still the better team.
Cleveland (3-9) at Buffalo (6-6)