An unprecedented three teams are still undefeated as the NFL season hits Week 10, while two teams have already fired their head coach (and another, its president and general manager).
It's the sad reality of the NFL that some teams—and their fans—are already focused on next year. Whether that's players competing for pride (and/or job security), coaches phoning up buddies to see if they have any openings on their staff or fans poring over NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller's work, this season is pretty much done for the 14 teams with three wins or less.
Nevertheless, the NFL is big business, and gigs in the industry are incredibly hard to get and keep. Even if players and coaches are motivated only by pride and job security, well, they have a lot of pride and very little security.
Plenty of underperforming teams, coaches and players will be driven to be among the best performances of the week. Will they succeed? Can they win? Will their forlorn, forsaken fans have a reason to cheer—or at least hope?
As with every week, our eight-expert panel projected the NFL's best and worst, sleepers and flops, overs and unders for Week 10 as well as they (or anybody) can.
It's a game just about anyone rooting for either the Buffalo Bills or New York Jets has had their eye on for months.
It's Rex Ryan's return to the place where he became one of the NFL's biggest headline-makers with his showman style and brash and bold approach.
So, surely, the Bills coach has been thinking about that moment when he walks onto the field at MetLife Stadium on Thursday night for the first time as the enemy, right?
"I promise I will give an honest answer after the game because right now, I haven't thought about it," Ryan insisted.
"I mean, when I tell you what I'm telling you, it's the truth. We're just trying to prepare for the game in a short week. Would it have been different if it was a longer thing? Maybe. But at no point was I like, "I love it. I had this one circled."
"Everybody knows me. I circle the Patriots. That's what I do."
Sure, Rex. This is only the team that fired him after a six-year stretch that started with consecutive trips to the AFC title game and ended with a 4-12 season that had the franchise in disarray.
Anyone who knows Ryan also knows he's a ferocious competitor. So, if there was no circle around the Jets on the schedule, there might be a big target drawn in there now.
The Bills (4-4) and Jets (5-3) are in a midseason tug-of-war for second place in the AFC East, with the winner of this prime-time showdown getting the upper hand in the division — behind the undefeated New England Patriots.
"Obviously both teams are trying to get to the playoffs," Ryan said. "It's been a long time for both franchises and we're a game behind the Jets. So this is absolutely huge. It would be a gigantic win."
The Jets know what's coming, too.
"I think our guys understand that it's a division rival," Bowles said. "We know it's a Thursday night game. We're the only game playing. We're trying to become 6-3; they're trying to be 5-4. We understand the importance of the game."
Here are some other things to know as the Bills square off against the Jets:
OK WITH IK: Ryan stirred things up a bit early in the week when he selected linebacker Ikemefuna Enemkpali as one of the Bills' game day captains. Enemkpali, of course, broke Jets quarterback Geno Smith's jaw with a punch during training camp — and was immediately cut by the team. Ryan, who drafted Enemkpali, claimed him off waivers the next day.
Jets safety Calvin Pryor said Enemkpali being a captain was "disrespectful." Ryan insisted he was just continuing his tradition of choosing players who go up against former teams or play in their hometowns.
"It's not a slap in anybody's face," Ryan said.
THAT'S ALL, FOLK: Jets kicker Nick Folk strained his right quadriceps last Sunday against Jacksonville and was placed on season-ending injured reserve. New York signed former Houston kicker Randy Bullock to replace him, and this is an area to keep an eye on, especially if it's a close game.
Bullock missed two of his three extra-point attempts from the new 33-yard distance earlier this season before being cut.
TAYLOR MADE: Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor has sparked the offense with poise and playmaking ability. After spending the previous four seasons as Joe Flacco's backup in Baltimore, he has shown off a strong arm and also plenty of mobility. He missed two games with a sprained left knee, but returned last week to lead the Bills over the Dolphins.
He can join Doug Flutie (1999) as the only QBs in franchise history with five or more games of 40 yards rushing or more in a season.
THUMBS UP: Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is playing through a torn ligament in his left thumb, but could opt for surgery Friday to repair it. He has had no issues with it taking snaps or handing off the ball, but needs surgery at some point. Fitzpatrick wants to be sure he won't miss any games, and would have nine days to heal before the Jets' next game if he has surgery Friday. Otherwise, he'll wait until after the season.
BILLS D: Buffalo has been struggling on defense, a surprising weakness under the defensive-minded Ryan.
Injuries have been an issue with defensive tackle Kyle Williams (left knee) set to miss his third game and safety Aaron Williams sidelined until at least December with a neck injury. But the Bills have been giving up some eye-popping numbers, including allowing 390 or more yards three times this season — after only doing that twice under Jim Schwartz last season.