Believe it or not, we’re already halfway through the season. Indeed, the NFL has had no shortage of drama.
One coach and general manager duo have been fired, and others have found themselves on the hot seat as their teams appear to be headed toward disappointing finishes.
The next four weeks should tell us a lot about the contenders and the pretenders. Who stays on top? Which teams will manage to recover from their slow starts, and which will surely crumble under the pressure?
We’ll find out soon.
Here are five of the major storylines to follow during Week 9’s events. (Find the NFL Week 9 schedule here.)
The trade deadline, the Raiders fallout, and the trending Week 9 roster: Our NFL writers discuss
1. International affairs
The Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins begin their action on Sunday with a showdown in Germany. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs (6-2) are aiming to get back on track after their six-game winning streak was snapped last week against the Denver Broncos, while the Dolphins (6-2) look to protect their lead in the AFC East.
This is a matchup that features a dynamic quarterback/pass catcher tandem. Mahomes and Travis Kelce enter the game with 50 regular-season touchdown connections between them. With two more touchdown catches on Sunday, Mahomes and Kelce could pass Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham (51) for third on the all-time list for quarterback-end duos.
Meanwhile, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Tyreek Hill look to continue the strong pace with which they opened the season. Hill leads the NFL with 1,014 receiving yards and needs 91 yards on Sunday to break his own record (set last year) for most receiving yards over nine games. Tagovailoa leads the NFL with 2,416 yards, while Mahomes is third with 2,257. Fans in Frankfurt should enjoy a match full of fireworks. (Dolphins vs. Chiefs, 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday.)
2. The measuring stick game
Another pair of division leaders square off as the Baltimore Ravens welcome the Seattle Seahawks to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon. With a three-game winning streak, the Ravens look like one of the more well-rounded teams in the league. Lamar Jackson found comfort in new coordinator Todd Monken’s offense, completing 70.5 percent of his passes while putting together another MVP-caliber season. Baltimore’s defense is coming off a dominant season, holding teams to just 15.1 points and 276.5 yards per game.
The Ravens will be a good test for the Seahawks, who lead the NFC West and spent the past week working to develop their defense further by signing Frank Clark and trading for Leonard Williams. The Seahawks have shown improvement since their loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1. But a narrow 17-13 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals snapped a three-game winning streak in Week 6. How will they fare against another talented team in the AFC? North squad? (Seahawks at Ravens, 1 p.m. ET Sunday.)
3. Reset the invaders again
Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis has pulled the plug on Josh McDaniels after just 25 games, and former Pro Bowler and Raiders linebackers coach Antonio Pierce takes over as interim head coach. This is the third time in the past 10 years that the Raiders have had an interim head coach, and Pierce becomes the seventh coach during that time period to lead the team. Can he renew the team’s ranks? Players are already talking about how light and free they feel after just two days in charge of Pearce.
How will that translate to the field Sunday when the Raiders face one of Pierce’s former teams, the New York Giants? The Raiders have talent at key positions but there are holes and question marks at other positions, including quarterback, where rookie Aidan O’Connell will start as the team appears poised to end the brief Jimmy Garoppolo era. (Giants at Raiders, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday.)
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4. The classic NFC East showdown
When it comes to NFC East rivalries, it doesn’t get much better than Cowboys–Eagles. This week, NFC-leading Philadelphia (7-1) welcomes Dallas (5-2) in a matchup featuring the top two teams in one of the league’s most storied divisions. In the past seven seasons, the Eagles and Cowboys have each won the NFC East three times. However, Dallas has won four of the last five meetings with Philly, including a 40-34 shootout last Christmas Eve with Jalen Hurts sidelined with injury.
The Eagles will try to give themselves an early spot in the division, while the Cowboys will aim to make strides towards overtaking their hosts. To do that, Dallas will have to slow down one of the best offensive attacks in the game — a tall order. The Hurts-to-AJ Brown relationship is as strong as they come. Brown is riding a historic streak of six games with at least 125 rushing yards. However, the Cowboys have yet to allow 100 yards to a receiver this season. Which streak ends this week? (Cowboys at Eagles, 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday.)
NFC East Roundtable: Leaders and Giants chart new paths at trade deadline; Cowboys stay calm
5. AFC Playoff Preview?
The Cincinnati Bengals welcome the Buffalo Bills for a “Sunday Night Football” game that could serve as a preview of the postseason. The outcome of this seesaw between two of the AFC’s elite teams could help determine the playoff seeding. Joe Burrow and the Bengals enter Sunday on a three-game winning streak after stumbling to start the season at 1-3. Meanwhile, Josh Allen and the Bills have had their ups and downs the past few weeks, going 2-2 since their 3-1 start.
Will this be a hotly contested, high-scoring shootout? The potential seems strong. However, the last meeting between these teams (a divisional playoff game last season) saw the Bengals beat the Bills 27-10 on the road. Who has the upper hand this time? (Bills at Bengals, 8:20 p.m. ET Sunday.)
(Top photos: Ben Liebenberg/AP; Brad Mills, Mark Koniezny/USA Today)
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