In the first week after a quiet 2020 trade deadline, the AFC playoff favorites ― namely, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills ― each maintained their position in the standings as none of them lost their Week 9 matchup. The only team out of the five to win again in Week 10, however, was the undefeated Steelers, who improved to 9–0, while the Chiefs were on bye, and the Ravens, Titans and Bills fell victim to stunning upsets. Let’s look at some of the matchups from Week 10 that appear to make the AFC playoff race more interesting.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Tennessee Titans
Philip Rivers and the Colts traveled to Nashville on Thursday night needing a win against the Titans to overtake them in the AFC South standings based on a head-to-head tiebreaker. The Titans led 17–13 at halftime courtesy of the 5-yard touchdown connection between quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back D’Onta Foreman and an overpowering 1-yard touchdown run by big tight end Jonnu Smith. Errors on special teams in the second half, however, would be the Titans’ demise. Titans punter Trevor Daniel, a former FedEx driver, capped off the first Titans drive of the second half with a shanked punt that traveled only 17 yards, giving the Colts excellent field position for running back Nyheim Hines’ second touchdown of the game. The next Titans possession ended even worse with a punt that was blocked and returned for another Colts touchdown. Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski then missed a 44-yard field goal, which maintained the Colts’ two-score lead as they ran away with 24 unanswered points to win the game in blowout fashion, 34–17, and overtake the AFC South division lead.
Houston Texans vs. Cleveland Browns
Less than ideal weather certainly played a role in Sunday’s AFC matchups, starting with a delay of the early window game in Cleveland due to high winds and hail. A run-heavy game due to the harsh conditions began with a 41-yard field goal by Browns kicker Cody Parkey for the only score by either team until the fourth quarter, when running back Nick Chubb extended Cleveland’s lead to 10–0 with a 9-yard touchdown run. Houston responded with a touchdown drive of its own to make the score 10–7 with just under five minutes remaining. On Cleveland’s final drive, Nick Chubb broke free with a 59-yard run that could have easily ended in a touchdown except that he deliberately ran out of bounds at the 1-yard line so that the Browns offense could run out the clock to win the game, 10–7. Houston likely wouldn’t have been able to overcome a 10-point deficit with a minute remaining, but Chubb’s sacrifice of individual stats was undoubtedly the smartest, most generous decision for his team. Cleveland’s dynamic backfield duo of Chubb and Kareem Hunt each rushed for over 100 yards as the Browns improved to 6–3 in a tight playoff race, and the Texans dropped to 2–7 in a lost season.
Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
By Sunday evening, the stormy weather, which had impacted the game in Cleveland, arrived in Foxborough, Mass. for the matchup between the Ravens and Patriots. In November of last season, the two teams squared off on Sunday Night Football in Baltimore, where the Ravens handed the Patriots their first loss of the season by a score of 37–20. This time, the Patriots, at a record of 3–5 and sitting third in the AFC East, were the undisputed underdogs in desperate need of an upset victory. Reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson linked with wide receiver Willie Snead IV for the first score of the game in the second quarter, but the Patriots responded quickly, as Cam Newton linked with running back Rex Burkhead for a touchdown to knot the game at seven points apiece. Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers, who played quarterback in high school, launched a 24-yard touchdown pass to Burkhead for his second touchdown of the game and the lead for New England. The Ravens offense threatened to take the lead multiple times in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots defense and increasingly severe rainfall were too much for them, and the Patriots clung on to a 23–17 lead. The Patriots won quite possibly the most difficult game remaining in their schedule and improved to 4–5 as they attempt to stay in playoff contention while the Ravens dropped to 6–3, on level with a number of other teams in the AFC.