Injuries and slumps are having an impact as the NFL reaches the halfway point of the 2016 season. Here’s a preview of Week 9:

Sunday, November 6

The Broncos-Raiders Rivalry Finally Matters Again
Denver Broncos v Oakland Raiders
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Denver at Oakland | Oakland Coliseum, Oakland; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC

It might have been foreshadowed last December when Raiders sack master Khalil Mack nearly beat the Broncos by himself, but Oakland (6–2) seems ready to challenge Denver (6–2) for the AFC West crown. This means Sunday night’s game between the old rivals will be the first time that both squads are legitimate contenders for the division title in years. That may mean lots of trash talking and fights (and that’s just the Coliseum parking lot).

If the Raiders want to prove they can take the Broncos title, they’ll need their defense to stop the run and keep the Denver offense from controlling the tempo. On offense, Oakland needs to protect MVP-candidate Derek Carr from the Broncos’ dangerous pass rush led by Von Miller. The Raiders’ time is now. Or is it?

Of Course Ben Roethlisberger Will Play Against the Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
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Pittsburgh at Baltimore | M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS

The Steelers say they hope quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, just two weeks off knee surgery, can play against the Ravens this Sunday. … Please. While it’s not confirmed yet that Roethlisberger will start, even the opponents aren’t buying his “maybe I won’t play” BS. Though neither team has peaked yet in 2016, this Sunday’s game is as important as ever in the AFC North race. Pittsburgh (4–3) and Baltimore (3–4) are separated by just one game in the division. The winner of this contest might be the team to beat for a playoff spot. Ben won't miss it.

The Steelers are a much more dangerous offensive team with Roethlisberger than without him. Currently on a four-game slide, the Ravens need a victory to keep their season from unraveling. This should be a tight, physical game.

The Vikings Are a Hot Mess Right Now
Minnesota Vikings v Chicago Bears
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Detroit at Minnesota | U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox

Remember when the Vikings were the best team in the NFL? That’s soooo last month. Sometime between dominating the Texans on Oct. 9 and now, Minnesota (5–2) stopped protecting Sam Bradford, started making mental mistakes on defense and lost the plot offensively. Hell, offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned this week without notice. That’s how bad it is.

Fortunately for the Vikings, their offense gets to start fresh against the 27th-best defense in the NFL. Detroit (4–4) gives up nearly 24 points per game and always seems to put Matthew Stafford in a position where he has to rally the team to victory in the final minutes. While Stafford has been able to pull off a few miraculous wins, some defenses have figured out his tricks. Expect a shoot-out.

The Chiefs Keep Rolling Despite Injuries
Kansas City Chiefs v Indianapolis Colts
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Jacksonville at Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Just like the Chiefs planned it, quarterback Nick Foles and running back Charcandrick West will lead them against the Jaguars this Sunday… OK, this was not the plan at all.

Foles will start in place of the possibly concussed Alex Smith for Kansas City (5–2), which needs to beat hapless Jacksonville (2–5) to keep pace in the AFC West with the winner of this week’s Broncos-Raiders matchup. By the way, Smith has said he wasn’t concussed. Of course, that might be exactly what someone with a concussion would say. The team has ruled him out anyway. This discussion makes everyone’s head hurt.

In addition to the quarterback situation, the Chiefs have a bit of an issue at running back: Jamaal Charles was placed on injured reserve for exploratory knee surgery and Spencer Ware remains in concussion protocol. That leaves West as the lone runner. Jeez. Good thing the Jags’ have one of the worst rushing defenses in the league.

Monday, November 7

Bills-Seahawks Should Be Beautifully Ugly
San Francisco 49ers v Buffalo Bills
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Buffalo at Seattle | CenturyLink Field, Seattle; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
Two teams with inconsistent offenses, extremely physical defenses and megalomaniacal head coaches will square off on Monday night. It should make for ugly, smash-mouth football that reminds us all why some people don’t like the sport (and others love it).

After getting off to an impressive 4-2 start, Buffalo (4–4) has looked awful at times over the past two weeks. Bills running back LeSean McCoy must establish the ground game for his team against the Seahawks, otherwise Tyrod Taylor will have to throw often, and that won’t be good for Buffalo.

Seattle (4–2–1) needs to protect quarterback Russell Wilson from Rex Ryan’s blitz packages. The Seahawks offense has scored just one touchdown in the last nine quarters. That sucks. Don’t rule out Seattle head coach Pete Carroll strapping on one of those leatherhead helmets and showing all these whipper-snappers how it’s done. (Truth: We’d pay to see that.)

Other Games

Thursday, November 3
Atlanta at Tampa Bay | Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on NFL Network

Sunday, November 6
Dallas at Cleveland | FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
N.Y. Jets at Miami | Hard Rock Stadium, Miami; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Carolina at Los Angeles | L.A. Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on Fox
New Orleans at San Francisco | Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Tennessee at San Diego | Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Indianapolis at Green Bay | Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Bye Week
Chicago, Cincinnati, New England, Arizona, Washington, Houston

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