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NFP Friday Forecast

Our special contributors tell us what's in store for Week 4. National Football Post

Print This September 30, 2011, 05:30 AM EST

Week 4

Arizona Cardinals

Giants at Cardinals by Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds
Impact Injuries: Beanie Wells is still recovering from his strained hamstring, and it is not yet known whether he will be able to play. LaRod Stephens-Howling after missing the past two games, will likely be playing.
The X-Factor: Home-cooking! The Cardinals have averaged almost six wins at home per season since they opened University of Phoenix Stadium and have had a habit of playing very well against big name teams. Yes, even the Giants qualify.
Don’t be surprised if: the game is decided by red zone execution. Both teams can move the ball offensively. Whichever defense can turn red zone trips into field goals will be the victor.
Follow Jess on Twitter: @senorjessroot
For more on the Cards click here

Atlanta Falcons

Falcons at Seahawks by D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Impact Injuries: The Falcons hope that CB Kelvin Hayden, who returned to practice on Thursday, will be available for nickel back duty. He had an impact against Philadelphia with two tackles and an interception. The Falcons may not want to rush him back, but it may be prudent to get him some work with Green Bay’s vaunted passing attack next up on the schedule.
The X-Factor: Sean Weatherspoon. The Falcons LB has had double-digit tackles in all three games. He’s playing fast and is always around the ball. He will have the responsibility of attacking quarterback Tarvaris Jackson if he leaves the pocket. He should rack up another bushel of tackles against the Seahawks.
Don’t be surprised if: WR Harry Douglas gets a lot of targets. With the offensive line struggling to protect quarterback Matt Ryan, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has little choice but to feature their quick-game passing attack and get the ball to the slot receiver Douglas. The Falcons have aligned with 1-back and 3-receivers so much, thatyou can consider Douglas a starter.
Follow Darryl on Twitter: @AJCFalcons
For more on the Falcons click here

Baltimore Ravens

Jets at Ravens by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times
Impact Injuries: Wide receiver Lee Evans is a question mark with a sprained left ankle that has hampered him since the preseason. Left offensive guard Ben Grubbs has a painful turf toe and is a game-time decision. Cornerback Jimmy Smith remains sidelined with a high left ankle sprain and safety Haruki Nakamura is out with a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The X-Factor: Speedy Ravens rookie wide receiver Torrey had a breakout game against the St. Louis Rams with three touchdown catches in the first quarter of a 37-7 rout over the St. Louis Rams as he finished with five receptions for 152 yards. That was against suspect cornerback Justin King. Now, he'll be matching up against New York Jets standout Antonio Cromartie, a much tougher cornerback. If Smith can maintain a semblance of last week's production, the Ravens' passing game should open up as far as underneath routes for Anquan Boldin and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Smith is emerging as a major deep threat.
Don’t be surprised if: The Ravens get after Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. He has a broken nose and has already been sacked nine times after only being sacked 27 times last season. He was tested for a concussion after the season opener and hurt his elbow against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs dominates weak offensive tackles and could be flipped to the right side to take advantage of offensive tackle Wayne Hunter. Offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson is a far more competent pass blocker on the left side.
Follow Aaron on Twitter: @RavensInsider
For more on the Ravens click here

Buffalo Bills

Bills at Bengals by Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News
Impact Injuries: The Bills are down at cornerback. No. 3 man at the position, veteran Terrence McGee, still is out with a hamstring injury. He’s working with trainers and is getting closer but won’t play this week. No. 4 man, Aaron Williams, who has been No. 3, is out at least a few weeks with a collarbone injury suffered vs. New England. Reggie Corner steps up into the No. 3 role, which he held the past several years. Corner was cut at the end of preseason but then re-signed.
The X-Factor: The Bills’ offensive line faces a good challenge vs. an underrated Bengals defensive line. Cincinnati rotates a lot of players to keep the D-line fresh, and the Bengals may be getting veteran end Robert Geathers back from injury (he has missed the past two games).
Don’t be surprised if: The Bills contain Bengals back Cedric Benson and force rookie QB Andy Dalton to try to win the game. Buffalo contained Oakland star Darren McFadden pretty well (3.6 yards a carry in Week Two). Dalton will have to play big to give the Bengals a shot.
Follow Sal on Twitter: @gggaughan
For more on the Bills click here

Carolina Panthers

Panthers at Bears by Greg Jones of Examiner.com
Impact Injuries: The Carolina Panthers could be without starting cornerback Chris Gamble against the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field. Last week, he suffered a concussion in the second quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars. On Wednesday, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Gamble is still going through tests. Safety Charles Godfrey returned to practice Wednesday after missing the Jaguars’ game due to a concussion. However, right tackle Jeff Otah didn’t practice Wednesday due to a sore back. If Otah can’t play, then undrafted rookie Byron Bell will man the position. Bell made his first start two weeks ago against the Green Bay Packers. Rivera said Bell played well, but Rivera said linebacker Clay Matthews took advantage of Bell at times. Former Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers will look to do the same.
The X-Factor: Can the Panthers finally get the running game going? Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is the leading rusher with 25 carries for 98 yards. Running back Jonathan Stewart is second with 90 rushing yards on 23 carries. Running back DeAngelo Williams is struggling with 27 carries for 61 yards. The Panthers can’t continue to depend on their passing attack. Carolina needs balance to defeat Chicago.
Don’t be surprised if: Carolina’s backups and young players continue to play well. Whether it is cornerbacks, R.J. Stanford and Darius Butler, rookie defensive tackles, Terrell McCain and Sione Fua, or linebackers, Thomas Williams and Jason Williams, Carolina has several no-name players performing at a high level. And defensive ends, Greg Hardy and George Selvie, linebackers Dan Connor and James Anderson and veteran defensive tackle Ron Fields should continue to play well. Against the Jags, the Panthers backups didn’t look like a group of rejected players, rookies and late-round picks. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has put his players in excellent positions to succeed, and he was without four starters (Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, Gamble and Godfrey) against the Jags.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @gjjones_sports
For more on the Panthers click here

Chicago Bears

Panthers at Bears by Brad Briggs of the Chicago Tribune
Impact Injuries: The Bears will be without right tackle Gabe Carimi for at least one more week as he works his way back from a subluxtation of his right knee. Offensive line coach Mike Tice said it will be about pain management for Carimi, who he called a tough guy. Tice suggested that whatever the timetable is from the medical staff is that he expects it to be on the short end, meaning perhaps he could begin practicing next week. Strong safety Chris Harris has missed the previous two games with a pulled hamstring and he appears to have suffered a setback as he was held out of Thursday’s practice. Harris said he would play this week but now that’s in doubt meaning Major Wright or Craig Steltz could start next to Brandon Meriweather. Wide receiver Earl Bennett also remains out with an undisclosed chest injury and the loss of the slot receiver is tough for Jay Cutler, especially on third downs.
The X-Factor: Many of the key players on defense for the Chicago Bears are very familiar with Carolina Panthers’ first-year head coach Ron Rivera. While they’ve talked glowingly about Rivera, Lovie Smith has responded to questions about his former defensive coordinator by speaking about the Panthers in general and the many other connections between the franchises, including tight end Greg Olsen. Smith, of course, ran off Rivera after the Bears’ loss in Super Bowl XLI. Rivera worked as Smith’s defensive coordinator for three seasons from 2004 to 2006 but Smith was anxious to promote his own guy Bob Babich into the role. Now, Rivera has rebounded in a big way and surely Smith badly wants to win this game and not just because the Bears need a victory to pull to 2-2. It’s certainly a tie-in that will provide extra motivation for both sides.
Don’t be surprised if: Steve Smith has a big game for the Panthers. He hasn’t faced the Bears since 2005 because he missed the 2008 game while suspended and sat out last season with a high-ankle sprain. But in two meetings in 2005, including a divisional playoff game, Smith totaled 387 receiving yards. Defenses were able to double him often in 2010 because the Panthers had no other options. Now with tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, Smith is getting loose more. He’s crushed the Bears before and Cam Newton will be looking for him.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradBiggs
For more on the Bears click here

Cincinnati Bengals

Bills at Bengals by Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer
Impact Injuries: The Bengals are pretty healthy going into this game. DE Robert Geathers, who has missed the last two games due to a shoulder injury, is expected to return to the starting lineup this week. Safeties Gibril Wilson (knee) and Jeromy Miles (groin) did not practice on Thursday which could open up an opportunity for Taylor Mays to see his first action of the regular season.
The X-Factor: TE Jermaine Gresham. After leading the team in receptions (six) and yards (58) in the opening week win at Cleveland, the second-year player has struggled the past two games. Two of his four catches in last Sunday's loss to San Francisco came on the final drive and he lined up in the wrong spot on a key second-down play on the opening drive. First-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is doing a better job of stretching the field with Gresham but there have been times when he has had lapses which has hurt the offense. If Gresham can break out of his two-game slump this Sunday, it gives Andy Dalton a key weapon to use in the passing game, which really struggled last week.
Don’t be surprised if: the Bengals secondary has some success against Ryan Fitzpatrick. In last season's Week 11 loss, they intercepted Fitzpatrick on three of his first nine attempts, including a Pick Six. This is normally the time of the season when Leon Hall starts getting a run of interceptions. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer noted this week that Fitzpatrick has been a lot more daring in throwing passes into double coverage.
Follow Joe on Twitter: @joereedy
For more in the Bengals click here

Cleveland Browns

Titans at Browns by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Impact Injuries: Premier WR Kenny Britt being out for the season with a torn ACL is a huge blow to the Titans. Browns RT Tony Pashos (ankle) is slated for his first start of the season.
The X-Factor: Will Titans RB Chris Johnson wake up from his lockout/holdout slumber? A 2.1-yard average for C.J.? The Browns -- and their 29th-ranked run defense don't plan on letting him bust out at their house this week.
Don’t be surprised if: Browns rookie wide receiver Greg Little catches his first TD pass. But don't expect him to punt the ball into the Dawg Pound afterwards. "I know not to do that again,'' he said.
Follow Mary Kay on Twitter: @MaryKayCabot
For more on the Browns click here

Dallas Cowboys

Lions at Cowboys by Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram
Impact Injuries: The Cowboys again will be without starting receiver Miles Austin, who re-injured his hamstring against the 49ers. Their other starting receiver, Dez Bryant, was limited in practice Wednesday by his deep thigh bruise and didn’t practice Thursday. The Cowboys’ other four receivers, Kevin Ogletree, Laurent Robinson, Jesse Holley and Dwayne Harris, have combined for 21 starts, 77 games, 112 catches, 1,356 yards and four touchdowns.
The X-Factor: Cowboys center Phil Costa had four bad snaps against the Redskins on Monday night. He also had a false start when he double-clutched the ball. The Cowboys accused the Redskins of mimicking the snap count, and they used noise during practice for Costa this week. It should be noted that Monday night’s game was a home game as is this week’s game against the Lions.
Don’t be surprised if: Sean Lee remains the Cowboys’ dominant defensive player all season. He won NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors with 36 tackles, two interceptions, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries in three games. He has made the Cowboys forget about the 18th overall pick they spent on Bobby Carpenter in 2006. Carpenter returns as a special teams player with the Lions this weekend.
Follow David on Twitter: @NFLCharean
For more in the ‘Boys click here

Denver Broncos

Broncos at Packers by Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post
Impact Injuries: The Broncos will remain without three offensive players ?receivers Eddie Royal (groin) and Demaryius Thomas (finger) and tight end Julius Thomas, but should be substantially healthier on defense. The team has had all of its defensive players at practice at the same time this week for the first time since early in training camp. Linebacker D.J. Williams is expected to make his 2011 debut after missing three games because of a dislocated elbow.
The X-Factor: The No. 1 piece to an improved Broncos defense in 2011 was having a healthy Elvis Dumervil back after he missed all of 2010 with a torn pectoral muscle. Because of a strained shoulder, he has yet to play at full speed this season, but the team is optimistic he?ll be back ? and able to play on all three downs ? Sunday against the Packers. The Broncos desperately need Dumervil to pair with rookie first-round pick Von Miller in order to create any sort of pass rush (especially with starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga likely out for the Packers).
Don’t be surprised if: The Broncos have trouble covering Jermichael Finley. Opposing tight ends have given the Broncos? defense fits for several years, and the Titans had two huge catches by tight ends (58 yards by Craig Stevens and a game-winning touchdown by Daniel Graham) last week. Having Williams back should help improve the Broncos? pass coverage in the middle of the field, but Finley is a nightmare mismatch for even the best (and healthiest) linebackers and safeties.
Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @PostBroncos
For more on the Broncos click here

Detroit Lions

Lions at Cowboys by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press
Impact Injuries: Linebacker Justin Durant did not practice Wednesday or Thursday because of a concussion and must be cleared by team doctors and an independent neurologist before he returns. Durant, the Lions’ best linebacker so far this year, has been sitting in on meetings, but if he can’t play Bobby Carpenter will start. With Rashied Davis (foot) likely out and Isaiah Ekejiuba (labrum) on IR, the Lions coverage units have taken a hit.
The X-Factor: Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus. The offensive tackles struggled in pass protection last week against the Vikings, with Cherilus getting benched after two series. They’ll have their hands full today with NFL sack leader DeMarcus Ware. Backus and Cherilus outplayed Ware in last year’s meeting, holding Ware to a half sack that was all Jay Ratliff.
Don’t be surprised if: Brandon Pettigrew has another big day. Pettigrew set career-highs with 11 catches for 112 yards, and the third-year tight end caught a game-high eight passes against the Cowboys last year. The Lions don’t have much of a running game, so with teams focused on stopping TD machine Calvin Johnson (six in two games) they need to use Pettigrew and Nate Burleson to open the field.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveBirkett and @freeplions
For more on the Lions click here

Green Bay Packers

Broncos at Packers by Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette
Impact Injuries: Two starters on offense — running back Ryan Grant and right tackle Bryan Bulaga — are likely out this week. Grant sustained a bruised kidney in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win at Chicago, though he finished the game. In fact, with 92 yards on 17 carries, it was his best game since Week 16 of the 2009. Coach Mike McCarthy had been platooning Grant and James Starks. Now he’ll have to decided whether to give Starks all the work or mix in Alex Green, who has yet to touch the ball in the regular season. Bulaga, the second-year starter, was off to strong start before he sprained and bruised his left knee against the Bears. In his place, Marshall Newhouse, who hadn’t played an NFL snap on offense before Sunday, held up well.
The X-Factor: The Packers’ nickel defense. Team should be able run when a 3-4 team goes to nickel because one of the defensive linemen comes off the field. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been playing nickel the majority of the snaps, yet the Packers lead the league in rushing defense, giving up only 55 yards per game. Against the Bears, they played their base 3-4 on only eight of 52 snaps, yet the Bears managed just 13 yards rushing. Running back Matt Forte netted just 2 yards on nine carries. On early downs, Capers often uses two of his bigger defensive linemen — Ryan Pickett (6-2, 340) and B.J. Raji (6-2, 337) — in what he calls his “big nickel.”
Don’t be surprised if: The Packers give Green, their rookie running back, some snaps on third downs and run some screen passes for him. Green had a nifty 25-yard catch and run on a screen pass in the Aug. 19 preseason game against Arizona. He showed the kind of vision he displayed in college in Hawaii’s spread offense. Green has battled an Achilles injury that kept him on the inactive list the last two games, but he says he’s healthy now.
Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobDemovsky
For more on the Pack click here

Houston Texans

Steelers at Texans by Steph Stradley of the Houston Chronicle
Impact Injuries: Mario Williams left the game against the Saints near the end of the 3rd quarter due to an unspecified knee injury. He played less than half of the remaining defensive snaps after begging back in. The Saints scored 23 4th quarter points. May not be the cause of all those points, but the Texans defense need a healthy Williams.
The X-Factor: RB Arian Foster says the only way he wouldn't be playing this game was if he were "kidnapped or something." Coming back from a strained hamstring, the question is how much does he play and will he be as effective as last year. They hope this improves their red zone running.
Don’t be surprised if: If the Texans special teams puts pressure on the Steelers with field position.
Follow Steph on Twitter: @StephStradley
For more on the Texans click here

Indianapolis Colts

Colts at Buccaneers by Brad Wells of StampedeBlue.com
Impact Injuries: This week, the Colts placed team captains Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt on Injured Reserve, ending their seasons. The team also dumped reserve corner Justin Tryon in a move that has created a mini-controversy in Indianapolis. After being cut by the Colts (who traded for him last year) Tryon used Twitter to defend coach Jim Caldwell, saying Caldwell wanted to start him but was prevented from doing so.
The X-Factor: Curtis Painter seems likely to get his first NFL start Monday night. Painter is a turnover machine. When he isn't throwing interceptions, he's fumbling the football at an alarming rate.
Don’t be surprised if: The Colts continue to play well on defense, but that effort gets clouded by the amount of turnovers on offense.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @StampedeBlue
For more on the Colts click here

Jacksonville Jaguars

Saints at Jaguars by Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union 
Impact Injuries: Special teams ace Montell Owens will miss this week with a knee injury. Defensive end Aaron Kampman (knee) practiced Thursday in full pads but isn't likely to play. LT Eugene Monroe (shoulder) and DE Matt Roth (neck) have also been limited this week.
The X-Factor: Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzes every quarterback constantly and he's found a lot of success against rookie quarterbacks doing that. Williams' Saints defense is 6-3 against rookie quarterbacks and the only losses have come to teams that have scored defensive or special teams touchdowns against the Saints.
Don’t be surprised if: Punter Matt Turk tries some rugby-style punts. The Jaguars are looking for improvement from Turk, especially in short-punting situations and think this will help.
Follow Tania on Twitter: @taniaganguli
For more on the Jags click here


Kansas City Chiefs

Vikings at Chiefs by Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com
Impact Injuries: CB Brandon Flowers. The Chiefs cornerback is suffering from an ankle injury and his status for Sunday's game is unknown. KC is already without S Eric Berry in the secondary, and his replacement, S Jon McGraw, is banged up, too. They can't afford a meltdown in the secondary because the defense will be stacking the box to stop RB Adrian Peterson. Luckily for them, QB Donovan McNabb has been less-than-stellar this season.
The X-Factor: The Chiefs have struggled lately against teams with very good defensive lines and that's the problem the Vikings pose, especially after now that the Chiefs have lost RB Jamaal Charles for the season. Chiefs QB Matt Cassel will need to be on his game to exploit Minnesota's secondary because KC likely won't be able to run very well against the Vikings defensive line. If the Chiefs win, it's because Cassel takes advantage of his opportunities in the passing game.
Don’t be surprised if: the Chiefs open their offense up. Last week's second half against the Chargers featured an offense that was more willing to open up the passing game (at least compared to the first half, which had Matt Cassel completing zero passes to a receiver.) The Chiefs know they'll have some issues rushing the ball against the Vikings so they need to keep them off balance with some looks down the field in order to keep the opposing defense honest.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @ArrowheadPride
For more on the Chiefs click here

Miami Dolphins

Dolphins at Chargers by Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post
Impact Injuries: CB Vontae Davis, the Dolphins’ 2009 first-round pick, is the only real impact injury right now. He missed last week’s game with a hamstring pull, and was very limited in practice this week. Backup CBs Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson are preparing to play in Davis’ place again this week, and are coming off a fairly strong performance against the Browns.
The X-Factor: Right tackle Marc Colombo, who is tied for the lead league wit 13 quarterback hurries allowed this season, including an eye-popping eight against Cleveland. The Dolphins need to keep Chad Henne (11 sacks this year) clean and upright to have a chance on Sunday, and Colombo could be in for another long day, this time against OLB Shaun Phillips (1 sack, 1 INT).
Don’t be surprised if: The Dolphins actually win this game. They still play better on the road than at home, and this game seems like a redux of last year’s game against Green Bay, when the Dolphins pulled off the upset at Lambeau thanks to several key injuries for the Packers. San Diego has so many injuries (Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, Ryan Mathews, Luis Castillo and more) that the Dolphins may be playing against the JV team on Sunday.
Follow Ben on Twitter: @BenVolinPBP
For more on the Phins click here

Minnesota Vikings

Vikings at Chiefs by Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press
Impact Injuries: Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is dealing with knee swelling for the third consecutive week, a byproduct of leg surgery in 2009. The Vikings limited his snaps last week against Detroit and could do the same at Kansas City. Running back Adrian Peterson suffered a calf bruise against the Lions but will play Sunday. Safety Tyrell Johnson (hip) and tight end Jim Kleinsasser (elbow) were limited in Thursday's practice. Both are expected to play.
The X-Factor: Rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph, who is looking to build on his three-catch, 39-yard performance Sunday against Detroit. Rudolph showed a glimpse into why the Vikings drafted him with an off-balance 20-yard catch late in the fourth quarter of the 26-23 loss. Without a visible deep threat, the Vikings should attack the middle of the field with Chiefs safety Eric Berry out for the season. Rudolph will likely be a big part of that plan.
Don’t be surprised if: The Vikings decrease wide receiver Bernard Berrian's snaps. Berrian has played 132 snaps on the year with one catch for 17 yards to show for it. If he and quarterback Donovan McNabb fail to connect deep, the Vikings might increase the workload of backup Devin Aromashodu in hopes of stretching the field.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @VikingsNow
Fore more on the Vikes click here

New England Patriots

Patriots at Raiders by Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald
Impact Injuries: The early-week illness for guard Logan Mankins shouldn't be an issue, as he practiced on Thursday. He'd have to lose a foot to miss the game. But the nagging back injury for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is more troubling. He missed the Bills game, practiced Wednesday, then was out Thursday. They need him to help stop the run. Tight end Aaron Hernandez's knee may keep him out, too.
The X-Factor: Safety Patrick Chung was out for the Bills game with a broken thumb, but he'll almost certainly play this week. It's clear he'll improve a struggling secondary, but how much? The Patriots hope its enough to stop an explosion of big plays. Then, of course, there is the question of how well he can tackle with one hand.
Don’t be surprised if: The Patriots run right at the Raiders. With all the talk this week of being a finesse team, the Patriots may be looking to make a physical statement against the physical Raiders. They can slam BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley into the line, taking pressure off their defense and easing the pressure off quarterback Tom Brady.
Follow Ian on Twitter: @RapSheet
For more on the Pats click here

New Orleans Saints

Saints at Jaguars by Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Impact Injuries: The Saints got some good news and bad news on this front this week, as they seem to be shifting their injuries around the roster. They’ll be thin along the offensive line, where right tackle Zach Strief, center Olin Kreutz and blocking tight end David Thomas could all be out. They held up well without those two linemen in the second half last week against Houston with young backups Charles Brown and Brian de la Puente, respectively. Both players have shown some nice potential, but they’re also still inexperienced. Quarterback Drew Brees and Coach Sean Payton should be their biggest assets in keeping the heat off of them. … Linebackers Will Herring and Martez Wilson are also uncertain. But on a positive note, receiver Marques Colston, cornerback Tracy Porter and possibly middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma could all return to the lineup after being out last week.
The X-Factor: The Saints are itching to force more turnovers on defense, and now they get to face rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert in his second career start. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves to blitz, but he also loves to try and confuse young quarterbacks by mixing up looks and coverages. The Saints ate rookie quarterbacks alive in 2009, but they weren’t as successful against them last year. If they can get to Gabbert – physically or mentally – this game could get lopsided.
Don’t be surprised if: The Saints have their first 100-yard rusher of the season. … Well, maybe that’s a stretch since they’re still expected to split touches evenly between Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram and Darren Sproles. But they’re definitely hoping that this game will lead to more rushing attempts if they’re protecting a lead in the second half for a change after playing from behind in each of the first three games.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @miketripletttp
For more on the Saints click here

New York Giants

Giants at Cardinals by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: The Giants were getting healthy, but now DE Justin Tuck is iffy for the game due to a sore neck and a strained groin. If he’s out, the pass rush could really be hurting. The only bright side is that DE Osi Umenyiora (knee) may make his season debut, though the Giants had hoped to hold him out at least one more week. The receiving corps took a minor hit with the loss of WR Brandon Stokley (strained quad). They’ve got their fingers crossed that WR Hakeem Nicks (knee) missing practice Thursday was a one-day thing.
The X-Factor: WR Victor Cruz. With WR Mario Manningham back from his concussion, Cruz will return to his third receiver role, but it would be unwise for the Cardinals’ defense to forget about him. Though Cruz has struggled in the slot, he’s been outstanding on the outside. Against the Eagles he had three catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Not only that, he beat Nnamdi Asomougha on both his touchdown catches.
Don’t be surprised if: The Giants continue to work their running backs into the passing game. It’s been a glaring omission in recent years, but Eli Manning threw to his backs on 9 of his 23 pass attempts in the win over the Eagles on Sunday. With a depleted receiving corps, a struggling offense and a quarterback who needed a jumpstart, it made sense. And it worked, so why change anything now?
Follow Ralph on Twitter: @TheBlueScreen
For more on the G-Men click here

New York Jets

Jets at Ravens by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: All-Pro center Nick Mangold, who hasn’t practiced all week due to a high ankle sprain, is in jeopardy of missing his second consecutive game. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie practiced fully on Thursday with bruised lungs and ribs, but is expected to play on Sunday. Mark Sanchez’s broken nose hasn’t hindered him in practice.
The X-Factor: Bart Scott. The Jets’ linebacker was MIA last week in Oakland, losing his one-on-one battles and taking poor angles that contributed to the Jets’ inability to set the edge and give up 234 rushing yards. If Scott and the rest of linebackers can correct those mistakes, the Jets may have a legitimate chance to slow down dual threat Ray Rice out of the backfield.
Don’t be surprised if: The Jets spread out the Ravens’ defense with four- and five-receiver sets. Mark Sanchez & Co. had some success against the Raiders last week in those formations. The Jets’ early-season struggles in the run game are likely to continue against a stout Ravens’ front seven that allows only 84 yards a game on the ground. So, look for three-step drops and quick hitters from Sanchez, who has averaged 37 passing attempts per game through the first three weeks.
Follow Manish on Twitter: @TheJetsStream
For more on the Jets click here

Oakland Raiders

Patriots at Raiders by Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle
Impact Injuries: Last week, rookie cornerback Chimdi Chekwa and former practice squader Joe Porter fared well for Chris Johnson, who looks to be out again with a hamstring injury. Can they slow down Wes Welker, who had 16 catches last week. The Raiders could also be without safety Michael Huff (concussion).
The X-Factor: Richard Seymour plays the Patriots for the first time since they traded him to the Raiders two years ago. He leads a defensive line that can be dominant at times and needs to disrupt Tom Brady?s timing.
Don’t be surprised if: You see a lot more trick plays from the Raiders, who used a halfback option and reverse back-to-back against the Jets last week. ?I?m not afraid like some people, they?re afraid to call those plays,? coach Hue Jackson said. ?I?m not. That?s kind of the way I live my life. I like to live on the edge.?
Follow Vittorio on Twitter: @VittorioTafur
For more on the Raiders click here

Philadelphia Eagles

49ers at Eagles by Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer
Impact Injuries: When it's released Michael Vick will be on the injury report with a bone bruise in his right hand. It does not matter. The quarterback is starting Sunday. But who will he throw to? Receiver Jeremy Maclin has a hamstring strain and reserve Riley Cooper is coming off a concussion. Both practiced the last few days, though, and will likely be available against the 49ers. Defensive end Juqua Parker (high ankle sprain) should miss his second straight game, but defensive end Darryl Tapp (pectoral strain) might be back after a two-game layoff.
The X-Factor: Nnamdi Asomugha. For the last several years when it came to Asomugha, conventional wisdom was that he was the top one or two cover cornerbacks in the NFL. The sample of plays to base this idea on was rather small, however. Opposing quarterbacks rarely threw in Asomugha's direction because, it was decreed, passes would not be completed -- and they weren't. But now that Asomugha is an Eagle and Pro Bowler Asante Samuel plays opposite him, the prized free agent acquisition has been tested. And so far, he's failed. He'll have an opportunity to redeem himself against the 49ers whether he's matched up against slow-starting receiver Michael Crabtree or is moved into the slot to help out with ever-dangerous tight end Vernon Davis.
Don’t be surprised if: Vick drops back to throw more than he did last week against the Giants. The Eagles uncharacteristically ran more than they passed last week, partly because of the concussion Vick suffered the week before but mostly because they thought they could exploit New York's run defense. The 49ers have had one of the top run defenses in the NFL over the last two seasons, powered by inside linebacker Patrick Willis. So expect to see Vick, bruised hand and all, slinging the ball around Sunday. If that doesn't work, the Eagles always have LeSean McCoy, who has catapulted among the top running backs in the league.
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @Jeff_McLane
For more on the Eagles click here

Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers at Texans by Michael Bean of BehindTheSteelCurtain.com
Impact Injuries: The injury bug struck in a nasty way during Pittsburgh's Week 3 win over Indianapolis. Three offensive linemen went down -- LT Jonathan Scott (ankle), RT Doug Legursky (shoulder) and RT Marcus Gilbert (shoulder). Gilbert was the first to leave the game with his injury, but was forced back into action when Jonathan Scott sprained his ankle severly in the fourth quarter and was unable to return. Gilbert slid into Scott's role at LT, while veteran swing-man Trai Essex finished the game at RT. The Steelers will likely go with this same combination in their Week 4 matchup at Houston. Gilbert is expected to play, while Scott has been ruled out. The tough decision for Mike Tomlin and offensive line coach Sean Kugler is who to activate to back up those two. Jamon Meredith and Trevis Turner, an undrafted free agent rookie on the practice squad, seem to be the leading candidates. At RG, the Steelers will probably go with Ramon Foster and have Legursky dressed in the event of injury to either Foster or Maurkice Pouncey at center. Needless to say, the Steelers can ill afford to have multiple guys go down again for the second consecutive week.
The X-Factor: I'll cheat and mention two this week. Firstly, can the Steelers stop the run more consistently than they did in Week 1 and Week 3. The Steelers have been next to impossible to run the ball against this past decade, but through three games, they're allowing an average of 85.7 yards per game on the ground (23rd). The Texans' chances improve exponentially if Ben Tate and/or Arian Foster is able to run the ball with some success. If they can't and Matt Schaub is forced to throw the ball more than 35 times, the Texans might be in trouble. A second x-factor in this matchup will be the showdown between All Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson and Ike Taylor. The Steelers' top corner has been targeted 14 times through three weeks, and has impressively allowed just one reception (14.28%). That's the league's lowest completion percentage amongst corners targeted with any sort of regularity. Obviously Johnson will get his catches, but if Taylor can limit the versatile playmaker to fewer than 100 yards and few, if any, plays of 25 yards or more, the Steelers have a great opportunity to stifle the Texans' dangerous offense.
Don’t be surprised if: The Steelers remind fans and scribes why they're the defending AFC Champions this Sunday. Despite all the injuries along the OL, not to mention the alarmingly high rate that Ben Roethlisberger is turning the ball over, the Steelers have looked dominant for stretches of each of the last two games. There has been plenty of turnover on Houston's roster since the team's last meeting in 2008, but the Steelers thumped the Texans in their last meeting. Roethlisberger was nearly perfect, completing 13 of 14 passes with three touchdowns in the Week 1 rout down in Houston.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @btsteelcurtain
For more on the Steelers click here

San Diego Chargers

Dolphins at Chargers by Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune
Impact Injuries:Tight end Antonio Gates is likely out for a second straight week due to lingering pain in his foot, and the Chargers have two starting defensive linemen (Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire) sidelined for an extended period.
The X-Factor: The Chargers are without Bob Sanders for the rest of the season. They're now reliant on the two guys who started at strong safety in 2010 -- Steve Gregory and Paul Oliver. Can the duo continue to hold down the Dolphins' offense?
Don’t be surprised if: Philip Rivers has his best game of the season, as he stops pressing and let's the plays come against a struggling pass defense.
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @sdutChargers
For more on the Bolts click here

San Francisco 49ers

49ers at Eagles by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee
Impact Injuries: Starters receiver Braylon Edwards (knee) and fullback Moran Norris (fibula) didn’t make the trip east to Ohio and will not play. The biggest question mark is Frank Gore, who split carries with rookie Kendall Hunter Sunday in Cincinnati after spraining his ankle in the second quarter. Gore has been limited in practice this week and he’s likely to split carries again – for the first time in his career – against the Eagles. Other injured players like receiver Michael Crabtree (foot) and safety Donte Witner (hip) looked good in practice and are likely to play throughout Sunday’s game.
The X-Factor:Patrick Willis has led the 49ers in tackles for four straight seasons, and he’s made the Pro Bowl in each of those years. However, his fellow inside linebacker, NaVorro Bowman, is the team’s tackle leader after three games and he’s tied for the fourth-most tackles in the league. Bowman is very similar to Willis in size and speed, and he’s improved his leverage as a tackler. That combination will be key to stopping LeSean McCoy, the NFC’s leading rusher and in keeping an eye on speedy Michael Vick, who says he will play Sunday despite a badly bruised right hand.
Don’t be surprised if:The 49ers finally get their running game going against a smallish Eagles defense that ranks 30th in the league against the run. In the first three games, the 49ers have allowed linemen and linebackers to penetrate their offensive line and bottle up pulling guard and tackles in the holes. The key to the game will be for those linemen, such as 335-pound guard Mike Iupati, to find their way to the second level of the Eagles defense. If that occurs, then Gore, and especially Hunter, will be able to get some of the big runs that have been absent so far this year.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @mattbarrows
For more on the Niners click here

Seattle Seahawks

Cardinals at Seahawks by Danny Kelly of FieldGulls.com
Impact Injuries: Robert Gallery is out with a groin injury, and 6th year pro Paul McQuistan continues to fill in for him at left guard. McQuistan played fairly well last week, considering, but will need to improve this week in pass protection. Byron Maxwell, a key special teams player, is likely out but look for the Seahawks' special team's captain and fullback, Michael Robinson, to return. LB Matt McCoy is battling a shoulder injury and may miss some time, and Seahawks Offensive Line/Assistant Head Coach Tom Cable has missed practice this week after undergoing back surgery. His availability is in question this weekend as well.
The X-Factor: I'm going to say receiver Mike Williams is the Seahawks' X-factor this week. Sidney Rice busted onto the Seahawks' offensive scene last week with 8 catches for 109 yards and that really helped the Seahawks move the ball, especially compared to what they were able to do in Week 2 against the Steelers' formidable defense. When you back up and look at the totals in passing the Hawks were able to manage against the Cardinals though (171 yards through the air, … total), it becomes apparent that others besides Rice need to get involved. 
  The Seahawks' best receiver from last year, Mike Williams, managed just one target and no catches. That target came on the second play from scrimmage. He was virtually invisible for the entirety of the game and that kind of non-production won't fly the rest of the season. Tarvaris Jackson needs to get "BMW" involved a lot more for the Seahawks offense to function like it's potentially capable.

Don’t be surprised if: Time of Possession is the key factor. Both teams model their offenses on ball control, time of possession, and limiting turnovers. Both teams have come up short in those areas thus far but look for the Seahawks and Falcons to try and control the tempo and momentum by running the football, matriculating down the field, and wearing down the opponent. The Seahawks have a very stout run defense so far so if that holds true, the Falcons will again rely on their pass game -- Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzales are Matt Ryan's main weapons but this pass-heavy formula hasn't worked well thus far for Atlanta, as they sit at 1-2. Atlanta's offensive line has been suspect, surrendering 13 sacks and 21 QB hits thus far. 
  Likewise, the Seahawks have failed to get much of anything going on offense, both through the air and on the ground. They are one of two teams that have surrendered more sacks than Atlanta - 14 - and will no doubt look to limit those this week. What else can you say, other than they'll obviously look to strike a balance between running and passing and improve in all facets on offense. They have pretty much nowhere to go but up in that regard.

Follow Danny on Twitter: @FieldGulls
For more on the Seahawks click here

St. Louis Rams

Redskins at Rams by Tony Softli of 101 ESPN
Impact Injuries: RB Steven Jackson: Coming off last weeks limited role against the Ravens because of the Right Quad injury, He was limited in participation all week, but seemed poised and up beat on his health increasing daily.
RB Cadillac Williams: Had a good day rushing the ball against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday while nursing his Left Hamstring, he received heat pack treatments during the game to keep the muscle warm. He was limited early in the week and moved to full participation by Thursday, competing in team drills and is ready to perform on Sunday vs. the Redskins.
WR Danny Amendola: Has made strides with his Left Elbow which was dislocated in the first game against the Philadelphia Eagles. While the range of motion is returning, the strength in the muscles are still not where the training staff feels are needed to compete and protect himself. He was limited all week to drill work but held out of team.  
The X-Factor: This game will come down to which team can handle pressure. Who can protect their quarterback and which defense can hit the other quarterback in the mouth. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Hasslett’s will dial up multiple blitz packages, applying pressure and forcing the Big Easy Sam Bradford into bad situations. With the reemergence of SJ39 Steven Jackson back into the line-up as the starter, he becomes the x-factor. Look for the Rams to establish the run, creating play action which will slow down the pass rush, allowing Bradford some time to throw the ball in the alleys and over the middle were this defense is vulnerable to short and intermediate passes.
Don’t be surprised if: Rams defense explodes with a great performance vs. Redskins offense making it a long day for RB Tim Hightower, they could win their first game of the season. Ken Flajole Rams defensive coordinator has several blitz and pressure packages that are effective, and will need to dig deep in his bag tricks in order to put consistent pressure on Rex Grossman, who doesn’t handle pressure very well.
Follow Tony on Twitter: @SoftliSTL
For more on the Rams click here

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Colts at Buccaneers by Anwar Richardson of the Tampa Tribune
Impact Injuries: Tampa Bay lost safety Cody Grimm for the season with a knee injury earlier this week. As a result, Corey Lynch or Larry Asante will start. Lynch, who is better known for blocking Michigan’s late-game field goal attempt in Appalachian State’s 2007 victory, started five games for Grimm when he went down with an ankle injury last year. During those five games, Lynch had 24 tackles and one interception.
The X-Factor: Tampa Bay’s defense awoke during a 16-13 victory against Atlanta last week, recording four sacks, four quarterback hits, seven passes defensed and one interception. If Tampa Bay can apply the same pressure to Colts quarterback Kerry Collins or Curtis Painter – depending on who plays – it could be a long night for Indy’s offense.
Don’t be surprised if: While it sounds like a broken record, Tampa Bay remains notorious for slow starts. In Tampa Bay’s last 57 games, its offense has failed to score more than seven points in the opening quarter … Also, do not be surprised if Tampa Bay’s offense has a big night because Indianapolis is allowing 28 points per game (29th in the NFL).
Follow Anwar on Twitter: @TBO_Buccaneers
For more on the Bucs click here

Tennessee Titans

Titans at Browns by Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com
Impact Injuries: Kenny Britt is gone for the year with a knee injury, which could be devastating for the offense. Safety Hope should be back from his shoulder injury on defense.
The X-Factor: Jared Cook must now become a main cog in the Titans offense with Kenny Britt out. He has shown flashes, but has yet to put things together.
Don’t be surprised if: The Titans running game continues to struggle this week as Chris Johnson and the offensive line have been unable to jell thus far.
Follow Terry on Twitter: @terrymc13
For more on the Titans click here

Washington Redskins

Redskins at Rams by John Keim of the Washington Examiner
Impact Injuries: WR Anthony Armstrong (hamstring) and FB Darrel Young (hamstring) have been limited in practice and will be game-time decisions. Armstrong’s loss is the bigger of the two because of his deep speed. Young missed the Dallas game, but TE Chris Cooley filled in and performed well. The Redskins typically don’t use the fullback too often.
The X-Factor: The Redskins’ mindset. They’re coming off a tough loss to their biggest rival on Monday night. Now they must face an 0-3 team that has been outscored by 60 points. How will the Redskins respond? They’ve talked since the start of camp about how tough-minded and resilient they are and if that’s the case they’ll play that way Sunday. A year ago Washington lost at winless St. Louis in Week 3.
Don’t be surprised if: Rookie RB Roy Helu breaks off some long runs. He’s a more explosive runner than starter Tim Hightower and therefore will receive plenty of chances Sunday. Both should have strong days considering the Rams rank last vs. the run, allowing 5.4 yards per carry. But Helu’s cutbacks have the potential for bigger gains as the Rams have been stung by long runs.
Follow John on Twitter: @john_keim
For more on the Skins click here

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