New Orleans Saints (4-4) vs. Denver Broncos (6-2)
On the outside looking in: that is the Saints current playoff position. With the season half-over, they need to mount an inspired winning streak in order to secure a wildcard berth. How is this possible? They have a future Hall of Famer at quarterback, i.e., Drew Brees, who is having yet another stupendous season. The 37 year old is completing 69.7% of his passes, has thrown 21 touchdowns versus only 5 interceptions, and his 336 passing yards per game has him well on course to reaching his yearly 4,000 yard quota. Brees may even reach the prestigious 5,000 yard mark for the fifth time in his career (to put this achievement in perspective: only 5 quarterbacks have ever reached 5,000 passing yards in a single season, and Brees is the only one to do it more than once). The Saints also have a plethora of talented young receivers and a proven coaching staff. Despite all of this, their defense, which ranks 30th in the league in points allowed, has handicapped this team and could very well cost them the win against the defending Super Bowl champions. Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian was a seventh round draft pick, not a first rounder like Brees. Siemian won his first Super Bowl sitting on the bench, unlike Brees who was playing in the game. Siemian is on pace for a 3,000 yard season, not 4,000 yards like Brees. Trevor Siemian doesn’t need to be Drew Brees. For the casual fans who don’t know Siemian’s name, or the ones who don’t believe in him and continue to mispronounce his name, they will know the man’s name after this Sunday. Purely benefiting from circumstance, Siemian became the starting quarterback of the defending champs after Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler sold himself off to the highest bidder in free agency. But Siemian earned his starting position by outplaying the men the team brought in as possible replacements. And with a talented supporting cast and very weak defensive opposition, Siemian has the chance to outshine Drew Brees on the stat sheet and pick up a critic-silencing victory.
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-4) vs. Dallas Cowboys (7-1)
Ben Roethlisberger is most likely going to start for the Steelers, but how he performs is up in the air. Big Ben did not play exceptionally well last week against the Ravens as he is battling a knee injury, so the Steelers will need a solid rushing attack. Unfortunately their rushing game is also shaky, as DeAngelo Williams is questionable to play. If Williams is unable to play, then you may be seeing a lot of Fitzgerald Toussaint. Toussaint (pronounced too-SAUNT) has played in 17 games in his career; he has carried the ball 28 times and caught 4 passes for a grand total of 100 total yards, yet he may circumstantially be called on to help Le’Veon Bell carry the load. If Bell can recapture his 2014 form, the Steelers won’t need to rely on Toussaint, but Bell gained only 32 yards off 14 carries against the Ravens and looks like a shell of his former self. The Cowboys have been riding high on a wave of momentum all season, fueled by breakout star rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. After Tony Romo was injured in the preseason, the Cowboys looked toward Prescott to hold down the fort. But he did more than just hold down the fort, he completely took over the fort. The Cowboys may have lost the first game of the season, but they have since mounted a 7-game win streak. Not only is “Dak Attack” taking over Dallas, but first round draft pick Ezekiel Elliott has proven to be one of the top running backs in the league. With a solid defense and the two leading rookie of the year candidates on offense, the Cowboys will certainly give the Steelers a fight.
New England Patriots (7-1) vs. Seattle Seahawks (5-2-1)
Who doesn’t want to see this Super Bowl XLIX rematch? The Seahawks and Patriots gave us one of the best Super Bowls of all time and will try to recapture that magic this Sunday. The Patriots started the season going 3-1 without Tom Brady: this showed the depth and talent of the team as well as the overall brilliance of head coach Bill Belichick. While nobody needs a reminder as to how smart the football mind of Belichick is, he will be looking to once again outsmart Seattle head coach Pete Carroll. The Seahawks have competed in two of the last three Super Bowls and went 1-1. In a decade with no clear dynasty, the Seahawks would love to go on to win Super Bowl LI and stake their claim as the leagues newest dynasty, and toppling the pre-existing 2000’s dynasty Patriots would go a long way. The Seahawks offense ranks 23rd in points scored while their defense ranks 3rd in points allowed. The Patriots rank 6th and 2nd respectively.