Cardinals at Eagles by Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds
Impact Injuries: The Cardinals are still rather banged up. Safety Kerry Rhodes still has his foot in a cast. Kevin Kolb's status is uncertain for Sunday. Tight end Todd Heap should be able to play more this week but Rob Housler likely will not play.
The X-Factor: Non-offensive touchdowns. John Skelton is 3-2 in five career starts, but has led the offense to only four touchdowns. The defense and special teams have scored five TDs in those games. If the Cards are to win with Skelton, points will have to come from places other than the offense.
Don’t be surprised if: Special teams should play a prominent role in the winner. Both teams have elite returners. Patrick Peterson in half a season has returned three punts for touchdowns. Whichever team can neutralize the other's return game will put themselves in a great position for success.
Follow Jess on Twitter: @senorjessroot
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Saints at Falcons by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Impact Injuries: Strong safety William Moore is battling a quadricep injury and likely will be replaced in the lineup by James Sanders, who started one game (Philadelphia, Sept. 18) at free safety. Left tackle Sam Baker (lower back) will miss his third consecutive game. Will Svitek has taken over for him and has held Detroit’s Kyle Vanden Bosch and Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney sackless.
The X-Factor: RB Jacquizz Rodgers. The rookie running back is coming off his best performance with 10 carries for 44 yards. The coaches are starting to get comfortable with the little package of dynamite. They’d like to flash some lightning to go with Michael Turner’s thunder runs.
Don’t be surprised if: TE Tony Gonzalez has a big day. The Saints may elect to focus on Roddy White and rookie sensation Julio Jones. If left in one-on-one coverage, Gonzalez will still beat most linebackers and with five touchdowns he’s a force in the redzone. The Saints are the worst redzone defense in the league. The Saints have given up 15 touchdowns in 21 opponent's redzone possessions (71.4 percent).
Follow Darryl on Twitter: @AJCFalcons
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Ravens at Seahawks by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times
Impact Injuries: Offensive guard Ben Grubbs made a strong return against the Steelers after missing six games with a right turf toe injury. Wide receiver Lee Evans has practiced twice this week on a limited basis after missing six games with a left ankle injury. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee) and free safety Ed Reed (shoulder) are still expected to play Sunday after not practicing Thursday.
The X-Factor: The Baltimore Ravens are naturally wary of another potential letdown after a pair of setbacks against teams with losing records this season following big victories. It happened against the Tennessee Titans after a rout of the Pittsburgh Steelers to launch the season. And the Ravens were embarrassed at how they played against the Jacksonville Jaguars, falling 12-7 in a nationally televised Monday night game one week after a dramatic triumph over the Houston Texans. Now, they have to avoid that kind of setback against the Seattle Seahawks after sweeping the Steelers with a last-minute touchdown catch by rookie Torrey Smith. The Ravens (6-2) have been installed as seven-point favorite over the Seahawks (2-6), and understandably so. The Seahawks have committed more penalties with 29 over the past three games than points scored with 28 during that span. The Seahawks rank 29th in total offense compared to the Ravens' second-ranked defense. If the Ravens play the way they're capable of, this should be a routine win.
Don’t be surprised if: The Ravens defense shuts down the Seahawks early and late. They have allowed only 13 points in the first quarter, the fewest in the league. They also finish games strong, surrendering just 26 points in the fourth quarter to rank second behind the Atlanta Falcons' 17 fourth-quarter points given up. Meanwhile, wide receiver Anquan Boldin has caught 72 career passes for 916 yards and two touchdowns in 10 previous games against the Seahawks and could be primed for another big game Sunday.
Follow Aaron on Twitter: @RavensInsider
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Bills at Cowboys by Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News
Impact Injuries: The Bills will be without outside linebacker Chris Kelsay, which hurts the edge of their run defense against a good-running Dallas team. Rookie Chris Hairston is likely to start at left tackle opposite DeMarcus Ware. New kicker Dave Rayner takes over for roughly the next month while Rian Lindell heals a shoulder injury.
The X-Factor: Tony Romo vs. the opportunistic Bills defense. Buffalo leads the league in takeaways with 20. On the road against a talented opponent, the Bills could use a pickoff or two against Romo to pull off an upset.
Don’t be surprised if: The Bills' passing game is hindered by Dallas' strong pass rushers. Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to get rid of the ball quickly, as he usually does. So the Bills will have to run the ball fairly well to have an effective attack.
Follow Mark on Twitter: @gggaughan
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Titans at Panthers by Greg Jones of Examiner.com
Impact Injuries: The Carolina Panthers placed weakside linebacker Thomas Williams on season-ending injured reserve due to a neck injury. He suffered the injury about two weeks ago against the Minnesota Vikings. Williams, who bounced around the league before landing in Carolina, was playing well in Carolina’s nickel package. The backup linebacker had 13 tackles and defended two passes in seven games. The Panthers should have backup cornerback Darius Butler (personal) and backup safety Jordan Pugh (concussion) back against the Tennessee Titans (4-4) on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. Pugh missed the last two games, and Butler missed the Vikings game due to a personal reason.
The X-Factor: The Panthers must eschew negative plays during critical moments if they are going to defeat the Titans. Carolina (2-6) has shown the ability to make big plays due to having playmakers like Cam Newton, Charles “Big Money” Johnson, Chris Gamble, Greg Hardy, Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey. But the Panthers have played inconsistently when they have had opportunities to win games. Carolina has had everything go wrong from penalties and poor special teams play, to terrible run defense at crunch time. The Panthers will continue to lose close games until they figure out how to play well during tight games.
Don’t be surprised if: If Chris Johnson has a big game against Carolina. Johnson has had some struggles this season, but he is still one of the best running backs in the league. The Panthers running defense has improved in recent weeks, but Carolina still has a long way to go before that portion of their run defense catches up with their pass defense.
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Lions at Bears by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune
Impact Injuries: There is concern that wide receiver Devin Hester will not be available with a sprained left ankle. Hester rolled the ankle in the fourth quarter of Monday’s victory at Philadelphia, so he’s got a short week to heal up and he was not seen at practice Thursday. It’s not expected to be a serious injury, but some suggest Hester is like a fine thoroughbred and he needs to be perfect to run. Defensive end Julius Peppers is once again battling a minor knee issue but will be tough to keep off the field. Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina also has a knee issue but it’s not serious. First-round draft pick Gabe Carimi has suffered a bit of a setback in his bid to return from a right knee injury. It’s going to be a while before he’s back in the mix unless there is an injury on the line.
The X-Factor: The Bears’ season hit a low point when they lost at Detroit on Oct. 10, the first “Monday Night Football” game for the Lions in a decade. The loss dropped the team to 2-3 and there were serious questions whether or not the team could pull out of its funk, especially considering Lovie Smith’s once vaunted defense was at the heart of the problem. But the team has responded and the Bears have now won three straight to pull to 5-3 and put them within a game of the Lions (6-2). A victory at Soldier Field pulls the Bears into a tie for second place in the NFC North, and puts them in position to battle for the fifth playoff spot in the NFC – the top wild card – because no one expects the Packers to falter atop the NFC North. So, the Bears have plenty of motivation and momentum at a critical spot in their schedule before they play four consecutive AFC West opponents. Enough to beat the powerful Lions? It just might be. The Bears’ struggles last time the teams faced were on the offensive line and those issues have been straightened out in recent weeks with Lance Louis playing well at right tackle and converted center Chris Spencer fitting in nicely at right guard.
Don’t be surprised if: Lions defensive end Cliff Avril has a big game. He has four sacks in his last two games against the Bears as he’s been able to excel with Chicago focusing on Kyle Vanden Bosch and Ndamukong Suh. The Bears have improved their pass protection in recent weeks and have surrendered only 10 sacks in the last six games after giving up 11 in the first two of the season.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradBiggs
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Steelers at Bengals by Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer
Impact Injuries: DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring) has not practiced this week since being injured late in last Sunday's win at Tennessee. LB Rey Maualuga (ankle), TE Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) and CB Adam Jones (hamstring) have returned to practice but have been limited.
The X-Factor: Can a Bengals defensive line that has had a consistent pass rush be able to put pressure and take down Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger? Cincinnati has four defensive linemen who have three sacks or more and Dunlap, who led the team with 9.5 last season, has three in the past two games. If they can take down Roethlisberger, that should help a Bengals secondary that has given up big pass plays the last two games.
Don’t be surprised if: Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden moves WR A.J. Green around a lot. He did that last week against Tennessee and Green had a couple key receptions when he lined up in the slot. Green had a three-game touchdown streak snapped last week but he did draw plenty of double teams which allowed Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson to get touchdowns.
Follow Joe on Twitter: @joereedy
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Bills at Cowboys by Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram
Impact Injuries: Running back Felix Jones is expected to miss his third consecutive game with a high left ankle sprain. Cornerback Mike Jenkins will miss his second game in a row with a hamstring injury. He will be replaced by nickel back Orlando Scandrick. Receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) is out 2-4 weeks, and Laurent Robinson will take his place. Punter Mat McBriar (left foot) has punted in practice this week, but the Cowboys have kept rookie Chris Jones on their 53-player roster just in case McBriar can’t go.
The X-Factor: Linebacker Sean Lee dislocated his left wrist in the first quarter against the Eagles two weeks ago. In his absence, the Cowboys have given up back-to-back, 100-yard rushers. They play the league’s third-leading rusher this week in Fred Jackson, who returns to his hometown of Arlington. Lee, who leads the team with 73 tackles, will try to play this week with a cast.
Don’t be surprised if: DeMarco Murray, starting in place of Jones, has another big game. In Jones’ absence, Murray has run for 466 yards. It is the best three-game stretch in team history. Emmitt Smith’s best three-game run was 446 yards in 1993. Murray now ranks 13th in the league with 539 yards on 80 carries. Jones has 253 yards on 63 carries.
Follow Charean on Twitter: @NFLCharean
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Broncos at Chiefs by Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post
Impact Injuries: The Broncos will likely be without special teams captain and nickel linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who injured his left knee against Oakland. Woodyard was wearing a full-leg brace in the locker room on Wednesday. It is still unclear how the Broncos would align their nickel package should Woodyard be unable to play.
The X-Factor: Running back Willis McGahee is averaging over 100 rushing yards in his six starts, including a season-high 163 yards and two touchdowns last week against Oakland. McGahee has been picking up the tough yards between the tackles and showed breakaway speed in beating the Oakland secondary to the end zone, skills many in the NFL thought the 30-year-old back didn't possess. The Broncos have run well against the Chiefs in recent matchups (383 yards in the two games last year), and the Broncos need McGahee to be dominant on the ground again to take pressure of Tim Tebow and the passing game.
Don’t be surprised if: The best matchup of the day is between Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. Bailey, who had his first two interceptions of the season last week to make it an even 50 for his career, held Bowe without a catch last December at Arrowhead.
Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @PostBroncos
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Lions at Bears by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press
Impact Injuries: Jahvid Best won’t play for a third straight game because of a concussion, and there’s no timetable for his return. Maurice Morris is averaging 4.9 yards a carry as starter in Best’s absence. Backup defensive tackle Sammie Hill hasn’t practiced all week because of an ankle injury. Rookie Nick Fairley, who did not play against Denver before the bye, will see significant time as the third tackle.
The X-Factor: The kicking game. Stopping Devin Hester is never easy, but the Lions will face the NFL’s most dangerous return man with injury questions at both kicker and punter. Jason Hanson suffered a left knee injury that required stitches during the bye week, and punter Ryan Donahue strained his right quad filling in for Hanson at practice Wednesday. Hanson returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday, but the Lions auditioned kickers and punters in case either can’t go. The Lions did get one bit of good news for their struggling coverage units: special-teams stalwart Rashied Davis is back and appears ready to play against his old team.
Don’t be surprised if: The winner of this game earns a wild-card bid. The Lions, who haven’t reached the postseason since 1999, can gain substantial ground (and tie-breaking privileges) over the Bears if they sweep the season series Sunday to improve to 7-2. If they lose, the Lions and Bears will be tied atop a jumbled playoff race (perhaps with the Falcons, who lost to the Bears and beat Detroit earlier this year). No matter what happens, the Lions have a difficult final seven games in which they play just two teams with losing records and the undefeated Packers twice.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveBirkett and @freeplions
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Vikings at Packers by Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette
Impact Injuries: Another week, another Frank Zombo injury. The promising outside linebacker prospect, who had a sack in Super Bowl XLV, has a hamstring injury and won’t play on Monday night against Minnesota. It’s the fourth injury in the last 11 months for the second-year pro. He missed the final three regular-season games last year and the first three postseason games because of a knee injury. Then this summer, he broke his scapula just as he was on the verge of wrapping up a starting job. He missed the first five games of the season and upon his return, he hyper-extended his knee in Week 6 against St. Louis. He missed another game and then upon his return last week against San Diego, he pulled his hamstring. Also, it probably will be at least another week before defensive end Mike Neal makes is 2011 debut. Though he returned to practice on Thursday for the first time since his training camp knee injury, he’s not expected to play this week.
The X-Factor: Desmond Bishop. It may be a sign of just how ineffective the Packers’ pass rush has been, but the inside linebacker leads the team with four sacks. Inside backers don’t usually lead 3-4 defenses in sacks. Still, one thing that was apparent during the first half of the season was how effective Bishop was as a blitzer. Given only one or two opportunities a game, Bishop’s success rate was high. Perhaps defensive coordinator Dom Capers will dial up a few more blitzes for Bishop.
Don’t be surprised if: The Packers handle Vikings defensive end Jared Allen better this time around. Three weeks ago at the Metrodome, Allen recorded a pair of sacks and generally gave left tackle Marshall Newhouse fits. Newhouse should fare better without the crowd noise and on the slower track at Lambeau Field.
Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobDemovsky
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Texans at Buccaneers by Steph Stradley of the Houston Chronicle
Impact Injuries: Andre Johnson has not practiced this week but has been running and says he feels close to 100%. Once again, Gary Kubiak says that Johnson is day to day, but it is likely the Texans, in an abundance of caution, will hold him out until after the bye week which follows the game against the Bucs.
The X-Factor: Albert Haynesworth joining the Bucs. Haynesworth is returning to a one-gap defensive tackle responsibility more similar to his old role with the Titans and may participate in limited snaps due to injuries on the Bucs defensive line. When with the Titans, Haynesworth often disrupted the Texans offense. At the time, he professed his belief that Sage Rosenfels was a better quarterback than Schaub after the Titans repeatedly knocked Schaub out of games. Given that the Bucs were the only team to claim Haynesworth on waivers, can he return to his Titans form or is he all out of excuses?
Don’t be surprised if: The Texans have issues with QB Josh Freeman moving the chains on the run. So far this year, they have not faced a quarterback with the size and mobility of Freeman. The Texans defense, though ranked highly, is still getting used to different game situations and offenses. In the past, they had difficulty with mobile quarterbacks but so far under the direction of Wade Phillips, the Texans defense barely resembles the poor defenses of years' past.
Follow Steph on Twitter: @StephStradley
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Jaguars at Colts by Brad Wells of StampedeBlue.com
Impact Injuries: Running back Joseph Addai and punt returner Blair White have been reoccurring names in this area all year. Now, add tight ends Dallas Clark and Brody Eldridge. Both are out indefinitely, with Clark's leg injury likely to end his 2011 season. Clark ended up on I.R. last year with a wrist injury, and it's been suggested that lingering issues from that injury were contributing to him dropping so many passes this year.
The X-Factor: The Colts offensive line is now (somewhat) healthy, and they might be able to do some things in their running game to help protect the rapidly regressing Curtis Painter, who has not thrown a touchdown pass in three straight games. Key to this strategy is limiting turnovers. Last week against the Falcons, Delone Carter fumbled on the second play of the game. The Falcons recovered, and it eventually lead to an Atlanta touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. The ballgame ended for the Colts right then and there. The Colts do not have the ability to climb out of any type of hole. Turnovers are killers for this depleted and talent-starved team. They must limit them to have any small chance.
Don’t be surprised if: The score could be low and the play could get ugly in this game. Though some in Indianapolis have tagged this game as the Colts 'Super Bowl' this year, mainly because this looks like the only game left on the schedule Indy can win, the reality is the Jaguars are playing good defense. Also, Blaine Gabbert has shown promise, and though his wide receivers aren't anything great, they should be able to get open against Indy's awful secondary. The only hope the Colts have to win is to run the ball and keep things close. If Gabbert's receivers get open, and the rookie can deliver the ball, it will be a long day for Indy. Notice how I barely mentioned Maurice Jones-Drew in this write-up. If the Colts can't stop him, oh my. It could get really ugly.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @StampedeBlue
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Jaguars at Colts by Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union
Impact Injuries: Offensive lineman Eben Britton was declared out for Sunday’s game and will have missed the past four games. Fullback Brock Bolen hasn’t practiced this week and could be out Sunday.
The X-Factor: Both teams are desperate for a win with the Colts winless and the Jaguars at 2-6. The Jaguars still think they have a chance at turning their season around, but they know those chances are dwindling.
Don’t be surprised if: The game is low-scoring. The Jaguars have the 32nd-ranked offense in the NFL and the Colts have the 31st-ranked offense. To make matters worse for Indianapolis’s offense, they’ll be facing the fifth-best defense in the NFL.
Follow Tania on Twitter: @taniaganguli
For more on the Jags click here
Broncos at Chiefs by Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com
Impact Injuries: Once again, the Chiefs are pretty healthy heading into the weekend. Jon McGraw, who replaced the injured Eric Berry, was absent last week and the Chiefs were exposed in the secondary as a result. McGraw isn't the best player on the Chiefs defense but the depth behind him (which is the third string) presents a drop off. McGraw has been limited in practice and right now his status would be questionable for Sunday's game.
The X-Factor: Tim Tebow. Who else could we pick here? Tebow and his ability to run the Broncos offense is the x-factor in this game. The Chiefs have the benefit of seeing some tape on the read option that the Broncos have run the last few weeks. Oakland looked confused at time against Denver's offense last week but, with a better idea of what's coming, Romeo Crennel's defense will be better prepared. The ability of the Chiefs defense to stop Tebow and Willie McGahee on the ground, and force the Broncos to pass, is the key to this game.
Don’t be surprised if: The Chiefs win in a blowout. Or lose in a blowout. The 4-4 Chiefs are one of the biggest mysteries this season because, of their four losses, three of them have been by 28 points or more. It's unusual to see a team lose like that and return to win four in a row, including key games against division rivals Oakland and San Diego. KC is the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde team so don't be surprised if you're surprised in this game.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @ArrowheadPride
For more on the Chiefs click here
Redskins at Dolphins by Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post
Impact Injuries: The Dolphins are surprisingly healthy for Week 10. All 53 players were listed as full participation at Thursday's practice, though a few players have injuries to monitor -- CB Vontae Davis (hamstring), CB Nolan Carroll (hamstring) and RB Daniel Thomas (hamstring). Davis should be back in the starting lineup after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury and one-game suspension.
The X-Factor: Running back Reggie Bush. The Dolphins have scored six touchdowns in their past two games, and Bush's emergence is a big reason why. He has 262 total yards in the Dolphins' last two games, and while Bush is responsible for only one touchdown, he has picked up yards in chunks. Against Kansas City, Bush had runs of 17, 18 and 28 yards and a catch of 27 yards. Against the Giants, runs of 35 and 28 yards. If he can keep making big plays, the Dolphins should score enough points to beat the Redskins.
Don’t be surprised if: The Dolphins finally win at home. It has been seven games and almost exactly a year -- Nov. 14, 2010 -- since the Dolphins' last home win, and the Dolphins have lost 12 of their
last 13 at Sun Life Stadium. But the punchless Redskins -- averaging 11 points over their last four games -- with familiar quarterback John Beck are just what the Dolphins need to end those awful home streaks. Expect another solid game from the defense and just enough offense for the Dolphins to pull out the victory.
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Vikings at Packers by Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press
Impact Injuries: The Vikings healed up during the bye week, left with one starter in question for Monday. Right guard Anthony Herrera has damage in the lateral collateral ligament of his left knee and will remain doubtful for the Packers game unless he makes strides in practice.
The X-Factor: CB/PR Marcus Sherels. A practice squad fixture a year ago, Sherels has emerged as a valuable punt and kickoff returner for the Vikings. Sherels ranks 11th in the NFL with 10.6 yards per punt return, and he ignited the Vikings with a 78-yard kickoff return on Oct. 30 against the Panthers.
Don’t be surprised if: The Vikings get creative in their blitz packages, possibly sending cornerback Antoine Winfield off the edge, in an effort to fluster Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is picking apart defenses who sit back in coverage and don't apply pressure. Well, Rodgers is picking apart all defenses. But the Vikings can disguise a few blitzes from the secondary to keep Rodgers honest.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @VikingsNow
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Patriots at Jets by Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald
Impact Injuries: The Patriots linebacker corps was hit hard by injuries this week, but it’s Brandon Spikes’ MCL sprain more than Gary Guyton’s stinger that is worrisome. Spikes had come on strong the past few games, emerging as a dominant force against the run. Yet if he can’t go, it may be Guyton taking his spot alongside Jerod Mayo. But his ailment will allow the Jets to attack the middle. Creating further issues is that safety Patrick Chung’s foot injury robbed him of two days of practice. If he’s not healthy enough for Sunday night, look for the unrecognizable duo of James Ihedigbo and Sergio Brown at safety.
The X-Factor: Much like every game over the past few weeks, Taylor Price is ready to go deep for the Patriots. Yet the second-year receiver hasn’t quite gotten his chance. When he was poised for a big-time role, he injured his hamstring right before the Giants game. This time, Price is healthy. Against the Jets man-to-man look, the Pats need physical receivers who can shake off tight coverage to get open. Perhaps this week, finally, Price can be on the field. If he is, the Pats may suddenly have a player who can stretch a defense. It will also take pressure off Wes Welker, who the Jets will target.
Don’t be surprised if: The Patriots do their best impersonation of the Jets and try to run the ball. It worked last time, as BenJarvus Green-Ellis eclipsed 100 yards and finished off the nine-point win on the ground in the last drive. This time, especially with the inconsistent offense licking its wounds, that’s necessary. If it’s not Green-Ellis, rookie Stevan Ridley will tote the rock and take it into the teeth of the Jets defense. Gang Green can rush, but they can be mushy up the middle. Attacking them there will limit the pressure they get on Brady while also controlling the clock. It’s essential.
Follow Ian on Twitter: @RapSheet
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Saints at Falcons by Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Impact Injuries: The Saints have a lot of question marks heading into Sunday. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee), cornerback Patrick Robinson (stomach) and defensive end Turk McBride (ankle) are looking doubtful after missing practice both Wednesday and Thursday. The Saints have reliable backups at every spot, but that’s a lot of missing bodies against a deep and dangerous Atlanta offense. The good news is that starting cornerback Tracy Porter might be able to return from his vicious headfirst collision in last Sunday’s game. On offense, receiver Lance Moore’s status is unknown after he missed practice Thursday with a tweaked hamstring. And it looks like tailback Mark Ingram could come back from a heel injury, though he might stay on the bench for another week since the Saints are so deep at tailback.
The X-Factor: The Saints have to contain Falcons tailback Michael Turner, who has been terrific in recent weeks to help spur the Falcons’ win streak. The Saints defense ranks last in the NFL in yards allowed per run (5.33). They played much better last week against Tampa Bay, but they’ve been inconsistent this year, allowing too many breakaway runs.
Don’t be surprised if: This game is close. The last five games in this heated rivalry have been decided by eight points or less, including a split pair of three-point games last year. This game could very well be decided by a big offensive play, a turnover, or a missed field goal – as was the case in the Saints’ costly overtime loss last year.
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Giants at 49ers by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: RB Ahmad Bradshaw looks likely to miss his second straight game with a broken foot, which isn't good news against the NFL's No. 1 rushing defense. Brandon Jacobs will carry the heavy workload again and he wasn't bad in New England -- 72 rushing yards, 28 receiving yards. He'll need to be a heck of a lot better in this game. Meanwhile the Giants are expecting the return of WR Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) and C David Baas (knee), which will help out their offense immensely.
The X-Factor: S Deon Grant. There aren't many weapons in the 49ers' passing attack that the Giants are worried about, but one of them is TE Vernon Davis. The Giants have several options on how to cover him, but with their preference to use their nickel defense more than their base, the most likely candidate would seem to be Grant. The Giants feel that if they can shut down Davis they can take all the steam out of the 49ers' passing offense, which would make it much easier for them to handle dangerous RB Frank Gore.
Don’t be surprised if: WR Ramses Barden has a couple of touchdowns in this game. He had two catches last week in his season debut and showed why he's so valuable -- both times using his long arms and 6-6 frame to reach around a smaller defender to grab the ball. The Giants also tried once to throw him a fade route in the corner of the end zone, but he ran the wrong route. Now that his debut is out of the way, expect his presence to grow as the team's third or fourth receiver. And with TE Jake Ballard likely to draw increased attention due to his breakout season, Barden could become a dangerous red zone threat.
Follow Ralph on Twitter: @TheBlueScreen
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Patriots at Jets by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: Wide Receiver Plaxico Burress (low back) sat out Wednesday and Thursday, but is scheduled to practice on Friday and on track to play against the Patriots. Defensive linemen Mike DeVito (knee) and Kenrick Ellis (ankle) should be back after missing the past two games. Cornerback Brodney Pool (MCL sprain) didn’t practice early in the week and is in danger of not playing. Running back and kick returner Joe McKnight (toe) didn’t practice on Wednesday and Thursday.
The X-Factor: Fullback John Conner. The Jets’ renewed commitment to the run has jump-started the offense during their three-game winning streak. Rex Ryan’s team used two-back sets 60 percent of the time in last week’s dominating win over the Bills. The Jets gained 70 percent of their rushing yards last week with Conner paving the way for Shonn Greene. Establishing the run early against the Patriots will create plenty of play-action opportunities for Mark Sanchez against the Patriots’ worst-ranked pass defense.
Don’t be surprised if: The Jets limit their zone schemes and show Tom Brady a heavy dose of aggressive man coverage. Ryan matched up Darrelle Revis on Wes Welker (with occasional safety help) and played zone against the rest of Brady’s weapons in Week 5. This time, expect more Cover-1 looks.
Follow Manish on Twitter: @TheJetsStream
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Cardinals at Eagles by Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer
Impact Injuries: The Eagles will likely be without a starter on each side of the ball. Left guard Evan Mathis has turf toe and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. To some surprise, tackle King Dunlap will be his replacement. Dunlap has never played a game at guard ever. Safety Nate Allen also didn't practice both days after he suffered a concussion against the Bears. Rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett, who jumped in for Allen in the first quarter and handled himself admirably, will get his first career start if Allen can't go.
The X-Factor: Let's go with Michael Vick. Last week against the Bears we saw the bad Vick. It may have been his worst game as an Eagle, even worse than his four-interception outing against Buffalo last month. Vick just never seemed comfortable. Credit has to go to Chicago, who managed to keep Vick in check by throwing a number of different looks at the quarterback. It's a wonder why more teams don't simply defense Vick this way. Show a lot of Cover 2, mix in some Cover 3, show a touch of single safety and blitz very little. When you blitz Vick, you give him great opportunities to burn you with his legs. Arizona should follow suit but they may not have the personnel in the secondary. The Cardinals pass defense is ranked 29th in the league. Of course, the Bears entered Monday night's game No. 28 in pass defense.
Don’t be surprised if: The Eagles bowl over the Cardinals. This is a desperate team -- again. Yes, Arizona is desperate, as well, sitting at 2-6 and among the lowly in the NFC. But the Cardinals have nowhere near as much talent and we've seen what can happen when the Eagles put it all together as they did two weeks ago against the Cowboys. So, with Kevin Kolb (turf toe) likely out at quarterback and John Skelton in this should be a cakewalk for the Birds. It's the perfect appetizer for a Nov. 19 showdown at the New York Giants. If the Eagles can win here, they can head up to the Meadowlands with some momentum in a game that could pull them directly closer to the NFC East division lead.
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @Jeff_McLane
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Steelers at Bengals by Michael Bean of BehindTheSteelCurtain.com
Impact Injuries: SS Troy Polamalu is the latest victim of the Steelers Starters' Injury Bug. He appeared on the injury report this week, and did not practice due to a rib injury on Wednesday or Thursday. Same goes for LaMarr Woodley, who could miss his second consecutive game with an ailing hamstring. LB James Harrison, who had three sacks against the Ravens in his first game in a month, practiced Wednesday. Harrison did however leave practice early on Thursday with a toe injury, so keep an eye on his Friday status before assessing Pittsburgh's chances in Cincinnati this Sunday. LB James Farrior (calf) and WR Hines Ward (head) practiced all week, and looks as if they'll both play Sunday. Emmanuel Sanders (knee) is not likely to play after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee earlier this week.
The X-Factor: The Steelers have beaten Cincinnati eight of their last nine games at Paul Brown Stadium, but a tough Bengals defense will give them just as tough a test as the Ravens did in Week 9. Mike Zimmer's defense is ranked fourth in yards allowed (301.2), tied for fourth in turnovers forced (16), eighth in third down percentage (35.4). Ben Roethlisberger has three consecutive 300+ yard passing games, making him the the first player in franchise history to accomplish the feat. Extending that streak to four will be difficult against Cincinnati's much improved secondary, and may come down to whether the Steelers offensive line can keep Big Ben upright again this week. He was sacked just once in Week 9.
Don’t be surprised if: Andy Dalton may be on the inside track to Rookie of the Year honors, but don't be surprised to see the TCU grad struggle on Sunday. Dalton needed 39 passing attempts to amasss 217 yards against a Titans defense that's good, but not great. Dalton's been particularly outstanding in the red zone. He's thrown 10 touchdowns and 0 interceptions inside opponents' 20 yard line. The Steelers defense will be the toughest test he's faced all year though. Pittsburgh has had its breakdowns defensively, but they've still been fairly stingy in the red zone and should be tough for Dalton to dissect as efficiently as he has done to other teams in that area of the field.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @btsteelcurtain
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Giants at 49ers by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee
Impact Injuries: Frank Gore sprained his left ankle in the second quarter against Washington, and he was favoring the ankle in practice this week. Of course, Gore also suffered an ankle injury – to his right ankle – before playing the Eagles in Week 4. He didn’t start that game but ended up rushing for 127 yards. His current ankle injury is not as severe. In other words, look for Gore to play and to play well.
The X-Factor: Rookie cornerback Chris Culliver has been the team’s No. 3 cornerback since Week 3. Culliver has played well, but teams are likely to test him as the year goes on, especially because the 49ers’ run defense is so strong. That is likely to make opponents take to the air and to trot out three wide receivers. The Giants could do that Sunday, especially if Hakeem Nicks (hamstring) is back in the lineup. Nicks would be matched up at times against Culliver.
Don’t be surprised if: This is one of those games in which quarterback Alex Smith may have to make big plays. The criticism of Smith this season has been that he’s merely had to manage a team that’s led by its defense and a strong running game. However, Smith came up big in close wins over Philadelphia and Detroit, and this one promises to be tight as well. Look for the 49ers to eke out a win in a game that promises to have playoff implications. Both squads are gunning for a bye in the playoffs.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @mattbarrows
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Ravens at Seahawks by Danny Kelly of FieldGulls.com
Impact Injuries: Seahawks starting QB Tarvaris Jackson has been battling a high-grade pectoral strain for several weeks now and that means he'll be on the injury reports again this week. He'll likely play, but if he has a turn for the worse, the Seahawks will have to depend on backup Charlie Whitehurst, who has had a few less than stellar outings of late.
The X-Factor: The ground game for both teams. The Seahawks rushed for 162 yards against the Cowboys and will look to continue with that success. It's part of the identity they're building and the Triumvirate of Pete Carroll, Tom Cable and Darrell Bevell are dedicated to the run and will be using the latter part of this season to establish that part of the offense. On the other side of the ball though, and more importantly, the Seahawks need to stop Baltimore's rushing attack led by Ray Rice. If they can succeed in making Baltimore one-dimensional and throw the football, the game goes onto Joe Flacco's shoulders. That is, in my opinion, the best way to sneak away with a win this weekend for the Seahawks.
Don’t be surprised if: Special teams makes a difference. We're talking about two teams whose identities at the moment are skewed towards defense. Not that Seattle should be compared to Baltimore in that field, but my guess is that this will be a relatively low-scoring affair and field position and time of possession will be important. The Seahawks will need zero special teams slip-ups on Sunday if they hope to have a chance.
Follow Danny on Twitter: @FieldGulls
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Rams at Browns by Tony Softli of 101 ESPN
Impact Injuries: QB – Sam Bradford; Started last week vs. Arizona after missing two weeks with a high ankle sprain. After wearing a boot on Monday and part of Tuesday, his participation during the week was limited. The ankle took a slight set back, according to Bradford, it feels much better than this time last week. Despite being listed as limited, he will start on Sunday vs. the Browns. Status: Probable
RB – Steven Jackson; was limited most of the week with a foot issue. The Rams work horse will be ready to rumble against a Browns defense that is ranked 30th against the run. Status – Probable
WR – Danario Alexander; Still plagued by the right hamstring issues and did not participate all week. Status:Doubtful
TE – Lance Kendricks; Suffered a left mid-foot sprain against Arizona. Status:Doubtful
OT – Jason Smith; Has not been seen at the facility since his head and neck injury several weeks ago vs. the Dallas Cowboys. Red flags on possible career ending issues are flying high among league sources. Status – Out
The X-Factor: There will be a cat and mouse game played this weekend inside of the Rams vs. Brown showdown, that will involve former Rams offensive coordinator and now Cleveland Browns Head Coach Pat Shumur and the St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Ken Flajole. While each will have some minor tweaks and changes, both Flajole and Shumur are very familiar with each other’s style, play calling and competitive nature in practice, preparation and in game time situations.
Don’t be surprised if: The Rams lost to Arizona Cardinals in overtime by the feet of Patrick Peterson. The rookie took a punt return 99 yards for a touchdown on the Cardinal first possession. Don’t be surprised if the Cleveland Browns Josh Cribbs, one of the best combination return men, takes one to the house. Cribbs overall production as a receiver, and combination return man could single handily control the game vs. the Rams on Sunday.
Follow Tony on Twitter: @SoftliSTL
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Texans at Buccaneers by Rick Brown of The Ledger
Impact Injuries: Defensive tackle Frank Okam is likely out with a calf injury. But Tampa Bay is likely to get offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah back. Zuttah has missed the last game with a knee injury. He could be back starting at left guard. Keep an eye on safety Tanard Jackson, who is recovering from a hamstring injury.
The X-Factor: Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Claimed by the Bucs on Wednesday, he could play this Sunday. Tampa Bay will need a good effort by him to combat Houston’s lethal run attack.
Don’t be surprised if: Linebacker Geno Hayes has a huge game. Benched by the coaching staff last week for inconsistent play, Hayes likely has a chip on his shoulder and will want to prove he deserves to be back in the starting lineup. Hayes is second on the team in tackles and tied for second in tackles for losses.
Follow Rick on Twitter: @LedgeronBucs
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Titans at Panthers by Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com
Impact Injuries: The Titans two top receiving threats in terms of playmaking ability are both banged up as Jared Cook (knee) and Nate Washington (hip) have missed practice time. Both are expected to play, but may be less than 100 percent.
The X-Factor: The Titans obviously have to concern themselves with Cam Newton's playmaking abilities at quarterback, and need their own offense to show up Sunday, in case there is a shootout.
Don’t be surprised if: The Titans try and stick with the running game longer than they have in some other games, simply to try and shorten the game and keep Newton & Co. off the field.
Follow Terry on Twitter: @terrymc13
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Redskins at Dolphins by John Keim of the Washington Examiner
Impact Injuries: RT Jammal Brown (groin) hasn’t practiced and is unlikely to play. Sean Locklear will replace him, which is a step down in production but he is more comfortable on the right than the left. FS Oshiomogho Atogwe (toe/knee) hasn’t practiced this week and did not play vs. San Francisco. Reed Doughty would replace him if he doesn’t play.
The X-Factor: SS LaRon Landry. The Redskins have allowed way too many big runs this season, which is why they’re statistically not a lot better than they were in 2010. And Dolphins RB Reggie Bush offers the potential for big gains. Landry likely will be in the box much of the game and his speed will help against a quick back such as Bush.
Don’t be surprised if: The Redskins don’t blitz much again. They were unable to do it last week vs. San Francisco, partly because the Niners’ scheme prevented the Redskins from using anything but their base package. Miami likes to throw the ball out of a two tight-end set, preventing the Redskins from using their nickel packages – from which they like to send six defenders.
Follow John on Twitter: @john_keim
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JUN 17 Jeff Fedotin
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