Steelers vs Panthers

Steelers vs Panthers: It’s Week 10 in the NFL, which means that individual player awards are up for grabs, playoff races are tightening and potential coaching changes could be on the horizon for sputtering franchises.

Here are seven questions for Week 10:

1. Could Thursday night feature a potential Super Bowl preview?

Even without Le’Veon Bell, whose absence has stretched into Week 10, the Steelers have been hot over the past month and look like one of the top teams in the AFC. The Panthers, meanwhile, have made a dramatic jump on offense from last season thanks to coordinator Norv Turner. Specifically, quarterback Cam Newton is having a transformative season in which he’s using his arm (career-high 100.8 passer rating) and his legs (on pace to set a new career-high for rushes).

Both teams could be threats to represent their conferences in the Super Bowl, but who needs this game more? It’s probably Carolina given the strength of their conference and the need to match the play of the NFC South-leading Saints. While a loss wouldn’t be devastating for either team, this is a matchup worth watching, and one that could be reprised in February.

2. How will the Rams bounce back?

Los Angeles suffered its first loss in a thrilling game against the Saints, but there’s no reason for panic. The Rams still look like one of the top teams in the entire NFL, though a tough division matchup against the Seahawks at home looms. With both L.A. and New Orleans having one loss, how each team responds will shape the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Rams, behind running back Todd Gurley, have the NFL’s third-ranked scoring offense (33.2 points a game), but the Seahawks are tied for fifth in scoring defense (19.5). The Rams are the clear favorite, but historically this is usually a physical, hard-fought game.

3. Will the Saints extend their NFL-best seven-game winning streak?

Speaking of the Saints, they made their case as the NFL’s best team with their victory against the Rams, but now have a challenging tilt against the 5-3 Bengals, who are fresh off their bye. Cincinnati ranks 10th in scoring offense (27.6 points a game), but the big question is whether that will be enough to keep up with the potent Saints attack that ranks second (34.9). Drew Brees is playing at an MVP level. Michael Thomas is one of the best receivers in football. Alvin Kamara is a do-it-all threat, and the defense is much improved. New Orleans also just brought in veteran receiver Dez Bryant, though it’s likely a stretch for him to play Sunday.

4. Is this the start of an end zone hot streak for Julio Jones?

It took 343 days, came on Jones’ 60th catch of the season and followed six other Falcons recording a receiving score, but Jones finally made it into the end zone with a 35-yard touchdown in Week 9 against the Redskins. Now facing the Browns on Sunday, he could be in line for even more, though history is not on his side. Over the past 29 games, Jones has caught 180 passes for 2,816 yards, but only five of them (or 2.8 percent) were finished in the end zone. Browns rookie corner Denzel Ward has been excellent but suffered a hip injury in Week 9. If he’s good to go, he may shadow Jones all game long.

5. Will Greg Williams defy the odds to get his first win as the Browns interim coach?

Williams isn’t getting any favors from the schedule. In his first test since the Browns fired Hue Jackson, he watched his team getting scorched by the AFC-leading Chiefs. Now on Sunday, he’ll look to get his first win against a Falcons team that has won three in a row and boasts one of the most productive league’s offenses behind quarterback Matt Ryan, who has a career-high completion rate of 70.8 percent. To make matters even more challenging, the Falcons just signed pass rusher Bruce Irvin, whose familiarity with Dan Quinn’s system from their days in Seattle means he could step in right away.

6. Who will take the battle for second place in the NFC East?

A pivotal matchup Sunday night in Philadelphia between the 4-4 Eagles and the 3-5 Cowboys could have significant implications in the division race. The Redskins are 5-3 but dealing with a rash of injuries, so there’s room for a challenger to emerge. Philadelphia is still finding its footing in its Super Bowl title defense. But the Cowboys have been an ineffective offense and are coming off a disappointing defeat against the Titans despite new target Amari Cooper providing a boost. But if it isn’t enough, and if quarterback Dak Prescott and offense don’t turn it around, jobs on the coaching staff could be in danger.

7. With Leonard Fournette trending toward a return, can Jaguars snap four-game skid?

Jacksonville has badly missed Fournette, who has dealt with a nagging hamstring injury all season long. This season, the Jags rank 24th in rushing offense (95 yards a game) after they ranked first in the category last season (141.4). That has put more pressure on quarterback Blake Bortles, who has not delivered consistently. The Jaguars just had their bye week, so they’ve had time to examine some of their issues – in addition to getting the chance to give Fournette some extra rest. He has returned to practice this week, and if he can go, will give the offense a much-needed boost. With the ascending Colts waiting for them Sunday, they’ll need to be better.

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