It's Week 8 in the NFL, and for most teams this marks the halfway point of their season. But up to this point the league is still searching for a front-runner in each conference, and no one has risen to the top and taken control. Almost everyone is still alive, but needs key players to step up if they're going to make a run at the playoffs. Here are key matchups for teams still in the hunt.
5 Deshaun Watson vs Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson was many experts choice for MVP at the start of the season, but it's been the Texans rookie who's been playing like the MVP. Deshaun Watson is 2nd in the league in touchdown passes with 15, along with Alex Smith and Tom Brady and only two behind Carson Wentz.
Russell Wilson has managed to keep the Seahawks alive, but the team feels like a shell of their old Super Bowl selves. The Seahawks are going to fly high or be grounded this season on the arm and legs of Wilson, a burden he hasn't had to carry in years past and one I'm still not sure he can handle.
We'll see of the rookie continues to rise or if Russell Wilson can step up and be the playmaker this team needs.
4 Dez Bryant vs Josh Norman
Although limited in practice all week, Josh Norman is expected to be on the field this Sunday in an NFC East showdown. Norman's best quality as a corner is getting under a receiver's skin, and Dez Bryant has very thin skin.
If we see a lot of extra-curricular activities, then advantage Josh Norman in this one. If Dez Bryant can stay in control he has a chance of coming out on top.
Washington has played better than their 3-3 records shows, but need to start winning if they want to make the playoffs. Dallas on the other hand, can lose Ezekiel Elliott at any time, and need to build a lead in the division as insurance in case they lose their star back. The way this matchup goes could very well dictate the winner in this one Sunday.
3 John Fox vs Mitch Trubisky
The Bears have surprised even themselves with their 3-4 start to the season, and Aaron Rodgers and Sam Bradford's injuries have put this division in Chicago's reach.
But Chicago needs to decide whether they are going to make a run at the top, or be content with protecting their young quarterback. The Bears aren't going to win many more games throwing the ball seven times; John Fox knows he needs to let Mitch loose if they're going to make any noise this season.
This Sunday will be a good example; the Bears have no chance of keeping up with Drew Brees on offense running the ball 35-plus times. If they want to make a playoff run, it's time to put the ball in their young quarterback's hands and see what he can do.
2 Latavius Murray vs the Cleveland defense
Latavius Murray had a breakout game for the Vikings last week against the Ravens, rushing 18 times for 113 yards and a touchdown. We'll see if his performance was a fluke or not this week when he battles a Cleveland Browns defense that ranks fifth against the run.
The Browns are giving up only 84.5 yards per game on the ground this season and haven't surrendered a rushing touchdown at home yet this season.
1 Alex Smith vs The Broncos defense
I want to say the Chiefs are the best team in football, and a win Sunday would make that a lot easier. Kansas City has lost two straight after a 5-0 start, and while they lost competitively to quality opponents, doubt has definitely crept into my mind and probably the minds of the Chiefs' as well.
Alex Smith is the front-runner for MVP, and an MVP performance against the best defense in the league is what I want to see from Smith Sunday. A loss puts the Chiefs in a real bad place while a win could see them back at number one in all the power rankings. If Smith really wants to shake the game-manager title, its games like this where he needs to ball out.
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