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Misfortune, luck can lead to right QB

Getting an elite quarterback is a byproduct of either misfortune or luck.

The Indianapolis Colts got lucky in drafting Andrew Luck. Peyton Manning missed 2011 because of four neck operations. That misfortune led to a 2-14 season and the chance to draft Luck, who has the team competing for an AFC wild-card spot. Misfortune led to Luck.

Week 10 gives the NFL the chance to reflect on the acquisition of quarterbacks. John Elway and the Denver Broncos gambled on Manning like the New Orleans Saints gambled on Drew Brees when he was coming off shoulder reconstruction. On Sunday, Manning goes against Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the first pick in the 2011 draft.

The San Francisco 49ers face the St. Louis Rams in a game that features the top pick in the 2005 draft, Alex Smith, going against the top pick in 2010, Sam Bradford. Smith went through five offensive coordinators in five years and had a 19-31 record that almost led to his departure. Jim Harbaugh kept him around for continuity because of the NFL lockout, leading to the 49ers' winning 19 of their past 24 regular-season games and having one trip to the NFC title game.

Bradford has the look of an elite quarterback, but he has been on teams constantly being torn up. He is 11-23 as a starter and still trying to claim elite status on a team trying to turn around under first-year coach Jeff Fisher.

Here are the 10 trends to look at in Week 10:

1. Bear of a challenge: On paper, you'd favor the Houston Texans over the Chicago Bears. The Texans have been rock solid in the first half of the season. They run the ball consistently well and play great defense. They've stumbled only in their home loss to the Green Bay Packers.

The Bears have been consistently exceptional on defense. With seven interceptions returned for touchdowns, the Bears' defense is keeping up with Jay Cutler, who has thrown for 12 touchdowns. But the Bears haven't been consistent on offense. Cutler has been good but not spectacular. He has completed under 60 percent of his passes for the same 7.4-yard average per attempt as last season. The offensive line still remains an issue, but the fact the Bears are at home gives them a decent chance of winning. Their Cover 2 could limit Matt Schaub from hitting on his play-action passes.

As long as Chicago's defense doesn't get run over by Arian Foster and the Texans' running attack, this game should go to the fourth quarter, where Cutler and Schaub can see who makes the last scoring play to win. Is this a Super Bowl preview? Maybe. You don't often see one-loss teams meeting this late in the season.

2. Saints' last stand: Thanks to the solidarity of the players and the return of interim coach Joe Vitt, the Saints are on a two-game winning streak. At 3-5, they are still a loss or two out of being wiped out of the playoff race, but Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons clearly will define where their season is. This is a must-win for the Saints. If they lose, the Falcons would be 9-0 and the Saints 3-6, putting them one week away from possibly losing their shot to repeat as NFC South champs.

Desperate teams are dangerous, and the Falcons know it. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has done a great job of closing games, and he knows he can close out the Saints as a threat if he can pull out the win.

The game is at the Superdome, and the Falcons know winning won't be easy. The Saints know the Falcons too well, and no one wants this game more than linebacker Curtis Lofton, who left the Falcons to join New Orleans. The Saints are missing halfback Darren Sproles, who is out because of hand surgery. Tight end Jimmy Graham and Sproles have done a lot to help Brees beat the Falcons' Cover 2 looks. Without Sproles, the Saints have to be more vertical with their passing attack.

3. Falling stars of NFC East: Either the Dallas Cowboys or the Philadelphia Eagles are going to leave Sunday's game with a 3-6 record. That's amazing when you think about it.

The Eagles have proved not to be a Dream Team over the past two years, but they have too much talent to be this far out of the race. Their offensive line is a mess. Michael Vick has lost his touch for touchdown drives in the red zone. The defense, despite a defensive coordinator change, has lost its way. It's becoming more and more apparent Andy Reid is losing his impact with this team, which is a shame because he has maintained a high standard with this franchise.

The Cowboys simply frustrate you. Former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson talks about a country club atmosphere with the team. This may not be a country club, but the Cowboys clearly can't sink the last putt. They let too many games slip away in the fourth quarter with mistakes, bad play calls, fumbles, interceptions or penalties. This might be a game in which the team that makes the last mistake is the loser.

4. Sanchez or Tebow? The Jets have had a bye week to rethink their strategy that resulted in a 3-5 start. The question facing Rex Ryan is whether he will expand the role of Tim Tebow, who is lucky to be on the field as an offensive player five plays a game. The threat of Tebow's passing has been almost nonexistent. When he's in, he has been more runner than Wildcat quarterback, and he has been on the field for only 55 offensive plays. Call it the Mildcat.

Mark Sanchez comes to Seattle so far under the radar that no one mentions anymore the criticism of the Seahawks for not drafting him. The Seahawks drafted linebacker Aaron Curry, who turned out to be a bust and is now on Oakland's roster. If Sanchez loses to Russell Wilson, who is more accurate than Sanchez and is getting better each week, it would drop his status lower in league circles.

Wilson is growing, and Sanchez is regressing. His 52.9 percent completion percentage after eight games is the lowest for a quarterback with a minimum of 250 attempts this late in the season since 2005. Defensively, the Jets have struggled against the run, and they figure to get a lot of attempts from Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch.

5. Vikings need some home magic: When the Lions and Vikings meet in Minnesota on Sunday, everyone will see two teams going in different directions. The Lions have won three of their past four. The Vikings' 4-1 start has been spoiled by three losses over the past four games.

Matthew Stafford is getting hotter for the Lions. Christian Ponder is getting colder than a January day in Minneapolis. The past three games, his completion percentages have been 47.1, 54.3 and 50.0. He has had 63 or fewer yards passing in two of those three games. Stafford can get that in a drive.

A Lions win would allow them to swap spots with the Vikings, moving into third place and in position to catch the Packers for the No. 2 spot in the division.

6. It's VJ day for Chargers: The Chargers elected not to keep Vincent Jackson this season. Losing to Jackson and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday could be the type of problem that leads to more people in San Diego losing their jobs.

Both teams are 4-4 and on the fringe of playoff contention. The impact of Jackson has been felt on both teams. Without Jackson, Philip Rivers is losing his ability to get the ball downfield. With Jackson last year, Rivers averaged 14.1 yards an attempt on throws that went at least 21 yards in the air. Without Jackson, Rivers' yards per attempt on those passes has fallen to 9.7, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It has taken a few weeks, but Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman is getting more comfortable throwing to Jackson. Jackson's big-play ability and Doug Martin's running have the Bucs trying to move into contention for a wild-card spot in the NFC.

7. Haley's revenge: Being let go as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs hurt Todd Haley. The year before, he had the Chiefs in the playoffs. After 13 games last year, his services were no longer needed. Haley landed comfortably in Pittsburgh as offensive coordinator.

The Steelers are getting hot at the right time. The Chiefs are moving in a direction that will probably lead to another coaching change. Romeo Crennel and the organization are making desperate moves. Crennel let Gary Gibbs take his defensive coordinator duties to get a different set of eyes looking at the defense. General manager Scott Pioli released cornerback Stanford Routt, who was signed as a cheaper replacement for Brandon Carr, whom the Cowboys signed for $10 million a year. At 1-7, the Chiefs are a disaster.

Haley may have circled the date for this game, but he never could have figured things could get this bad for the Chiefs without him.

8. Can Titans keep owner at game? Tennessee owner Bud Adams was so mad during the Titans' 51-20 loss to the Chicago Bears that he left in third quarter. Titans coach Mike Munchak has his hands full going against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Jake Locker's left shoulder has healed well enough that he's taking back the starting job from Matt Hasselbeck. Young quarterbacks on the road have a hard time winning, particularly on teams that give up 34.2 points a game. Locker has little room for error. He knows the Dolphins will tighten up a third-down pass defense that was shredded last week by Andrew Luck. Going into that game, the Dolphins had the best third-down pass defense in football.

The Dolphins will probably put Ryan Tannehill in his no-huddle mode and go at a defense that isn't stopping anyone.

9. Two home tests in AFC North: Marvin Lewis knows the Bengals' season is on the line Sunday. After a 3-1 start, the Bengals have lost four in a row. Andy Dalton is struggling. The running game is nonexistent. And Lewis knows no lead is safe against New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

Manning will come to Cincinnati with a mission. His offense is settling for too many field goals. He'll send his receivers at cornerbacks Terence Newman, Leon Hall, Adam Jones and others with the idea of getting big plays and big scores.

The Ravens, meanwhile, return home hoping to get back to the no-huddle offense that works well at home and poorly on the road. The Ravens host the Oakland Raiders and former longtime adversary Carson Palmer, whom they played twice a year when he was a Bengal.

10. Schedule favors two leaders: Division leaders New England and San Francisco clearly have winnable games to firm up their positions. Both are coming off bye weeks. The Patriots face a Buffalo Bills defense that has been one of the most disappointing in football. The 49ers host the Rams, whom they have beaten in eight of the past 10 matchups. The Patriots have won 22 of the past 24 against the Bills. Not a lot of mystery in these games.