Never before have three NFL teams started 8-0 in the same season, so as long as the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers remain unbeaten, their pursuits of perfection will draw plenty of attention.
Those teams’ quarterbacks — Tom Brady, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton — also will be worth keeping an eye on in the MVP race.
Unfortunately, from the perspective of football fans and TV executives, none of those teams will face each other the rest of the way in the regular season for what would have been a much-hyped showdown.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Detroit Lions, at 1-7 owners of the league’s worst record, are in pole position for the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. The Lions’ remaining schedule does not include any of the teams currently with two victories.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that there aren’t must-see matchups in Weeks 10 through 17.
Here’s a look at some of the most intriguing games to watch in the NFL’s second half:
BILLS AT JETS in Week 10, JETS AT BILLS in Week 17: Any time Buffalo coach Rex Ryan faces his former club, there is sure to be some off-the-field story line that grabs interest, starting Thursday night, when he promised to send out linebacker Ikemefuna Enemkpali as a game-day captain. Enemkpali was cut by the Jets after breaking quarterback Geno Smith’s jaw at training camp — Ryan’s Bills signed him the next day.
PATRIOTS AT GIANTS in Week 10: The last time Brady and Co. were 8-0 was in 2007, and the Patriots wound up getting all the way to 18-0 before losing to Eli Manning’s Giants in the Super Bowl. New York and coach Tom Coughlin defeated New England and coach Bill Belichick in another Super Bowl four seasons later.
COWBOYS AT DOLPHINS in Week 11: Dallas hasn’t won since QB Tony Romo went out in Week 2 with a broken collarbone; he is eligible to come off injured reserve for this game, which might be too late to save the Cowboys’ season.
BILLS AT PATRIOTS in Week 11: Ryan vs. Belichick. Enough said.
PACKERS AT VIKINGS in Week 11, VIKINGS AT PACKERS in Week 17: Who thought Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay would be tied for the NFC North lead with Minnesota at the midway point?
PATRIOTS AT BRONCOS in Week 12: Brady and Denver’s Peyton Manning renew their rivalry in a prime-time game, and the Broncos finally have a topflight defense to throw at the Patriots.
FALCONS AT PANTHERS in Week 14, PANTHERS AT FALCONS in Week 16: Only three of Carolina’s eight games still on the schedule come against teams that have winning records right now — and two are against NFC South rival Atlanta.
PACKERS AT CARDINALS in Week 16: Assuming Rodgers and Green Bay emerge from their current funk, this could be a key late-season measuring stick for two of the NFC’s better teams.
BENGALS AT BRONCOS in Week 16: The AFC’s two best teams not based in the Northeast.
49ERS AT LIONS in Week 16: The No. 1 draft pick and the futures of QBs Colin Kaepernick and Matthew Stafford could all be at stake.
BUCCANEERS AT PANTHERS, RAVENS AT BENGALS, PATRIOTS AT DOLPHINS in Week 17: Could 16-0 be on the line?