Chiefs at Bears by Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com
Impact Injuries: Matt Cassel and Jay Cutler. The season-ending injury to Matt Cassel is old news but the Chiefs' plan to replace him is not. KC claimed Kyle Orton off waivers last week but he was not active for last week's Sunday night game against Pittsburgh. This week, however, Orton should be active, although he may not start. The Chiefs are saying, for now at least, that Tyler Palko is the starter. Palko has a little more experience with the Chiefs offense but many feel Orton is the superior player. Like the Chiefs, the Bears are down to their backup quarterback (Caleb Hanie) following Jay Cutler's injury. And, like the Chiefs, the Bears backup quarterback didn't play all that well last week. The injuries to both starting quarterbacks has changed the landscape of this game and we really have no idea how it will affect things.
The X-Factor: The focus last week was on the Chiefs offense playing so ineptly (and not scoring a touchdown...again) but it really should have also been on the terrific play of the defense. Despite four turnovers, the Chiefs held the Steelers to just 13 points and played, at least for one week, like a defense that should be in the playoffs. KC's defense has demonstrated that, when they're at their best, they can single-handedly keep the team competitive. That said, the Chiefs defense also has a bit of Jekyll and Hyde to them where they could just as easily go out and make Hanie look like a Pro Bowler. If the same D that showed up last week against Pittsburgh walks into Chicago, the Bears are going to have a heck of a game on their hands.
Don’t be surprised if: Kyle Orton enters the game very early. The Chiefs keep saying Palko is the starter but the vibe around Kansas City is that he'll be on a very, very short leash. Past history has clearly demonstrated to us that Palko is likely to struggle. The Chiefs claimed Orton for a reason and it wasn't to sit on the bench helping Palko -- it was to play for them down the stretch. Look for that to happen at some point this weekend.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @ArrowheadPride
For more on the Chiefs click here
Raiders at Dolphins by Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post
Impact Injuries: Kicker Dan Carpenter will resume his duties this week after missing the last two games with a groin injury. The only starter who may miss the game is RG Vernon Carey, who injured his left ankle last Thursday against Dallas. Carey hasn't practiced all week, and the Dolphins prepared to play without him by bringing up G Ray Feinga from the practice squad. Utility lineman Nate Garner replaced Carey in the lineup last week and has been the first man off the bench this year, but John Jerry could also see time in Carey's absence. Safety Yeremiah Bell has been limited with a foot injury but he should play.
The X-Factor: Running backs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. The Dolphins' running backs better have a big game -- the Raiders' rushing defense allows a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry, and has allowed a whopping 670 yards over its last four games (167.5 per game). The Raiders also likely won't have LB Rolando McClain, who is dealing with an ankle injury and was also arrested on Thursday in Alabama in connection with a shooting. Bush is averaging a healthy 4.3 yards per carry as the Dolphins' primary running back (his 567 yards are 15 shy of setting a new career-best), while Thomas' lingering hamstring injury has benefited from the 10 days of rest since the Dolphins' last game. If those two can grind out the yardage and keep the chains moving, the Dolphins' offense could be in for another big day.
Don’t be surprised if: The Dolphins pull off another convincing victory and end the Raiders' three-game winning streak. Losing by one point on the road -- and on a short week -- to the first-place Cowboys does not mean the Dolphins aren't still playing at a high level. And the 10 days of rest will help tremendously, especially against the Raiders, who not only have to travel 3,000 miles for this game but are also really banged up right now. Nine players sat out practice this week -- including McClain, WR Jacoby Ford, RB Darren McFadden, WR Denarius Moore and DT Richard Seymour 00 while six other players were limited, including LB Kamerion Wimbley, S Michael Huff and DT Tommy Kelly. Expect Cameron Wake, Jason Taylor and the Dolphins' pass rush to make life miserable for Carson Palmer, and for Matt Moore and the offense to continue to move the ball efficiently and put up points.
Follow Ben on Twitter: @BenVolinPBP
For more on the Phins click here
Broncos at Vikings by Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press
Impact Injuries: Running back Adrian Peterson (high ankle sprain) will likely be a game-time decision and won't risk it if he can't cut and plant on the ankle. Linebacker E.J. Henderson (shoulder) has missed the last two practices. The Vikings will miss one of their best blitzers if Henderson sits. Cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder) is questionable.
The X-Factor: Defensive end Brian Robison. After a productive start to the season, Robison has one trash sack in his last five games. Sack chances will be minimal against Tim Tebow's run-happy attack, but the Vikings could use a disruptive performance from Robison in the run game and when Tebow drops back.
Don’t be surprised if: The Vikings throw max protection at explosive Broncos rookie linebacker Von Miller. Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave couldn't seem to get Miller out of his head during his Thursday press conference saying Miller's presence has the Vikings "bracing for impact." "We'll try to make sure he doesn't wreck the game," Musgrave said.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @VikingsNow
Fore more on the Vikes click here
Colts at Patriots by Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald
Impact Injuries: The Patriots are healthier in some spots, with safety Patrick Chung (foot) and cornerback Devin McCourty (shoulder) looking like themselves in practice. Chung, who has missed the last three games, led sprints Thursday in practice. Yet they were hit hard on the offensive line. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer suffered a foot injury that a source said could keep him out “a while” and that means Sunday vs. the Colts. Expect rookie Nate Solder to step in. In addition, both centers Dan Connolly (groin) and Ryan Wendell (calf) are ailing.
The X-Factor: Andre Carter. The defensive end has had a breakout season, turning in nine sacks and being strong against the run. His motor never stops, and suddenly, the pass-rush is stout. It won’t take much to rattle new Colts starter Dan Orlovsky, and Carter could provide the jolt. If he’s in the backfield early, it will be an even longer day for the Colts offense than it figures to be.
Don’t be surprised if: The Patriots run the ball, play it safe, and grind it out. The world is looking for a blowout, and so are gamblers with their 21-point spread. But the Patriots are banged up and looking to get healthier. This may be a game where they pound the ball, don’t show too much, hope to avoid injuries and try to close it out painlessly. No point in embarrassing an embarrassing team.
Follow Ian on Twitter: @RapSheet
For more on the Pats click here
Lions at Saints by Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Impact Injuries: The Saints are as healthy as they’ve been all season, and they could get a big boost if middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma is able to return from a knee injury. The Saints have done well in Vilma’s absence, with Jo-Lonn Dunbar doing a great job in his place. When Vilma returns, Dunbar can slide over to the strong side, improving depth across the board.
The X-Factor: The Lions passing game… The Saints rarely face teams that can keep up with them in a shootout, but the Lions are one of them with strong-armed quarterback Matthew Stafford and superstar receiver Calvin Johnson. So far this year, the Lions have come back from three 17-point deficits – a first in NFL history. Even if things start out well for the Saints, they can’t take their foot off the gas.
Don’t be surprised if: The Saints secondary intercepts a pass… It’s something that’s only happened four times all year for a Saints secondary that seems to be allergic to interceptions this year. But Stafford has been a little sloppy with the ball lately, throwing nine interceptions over the last three games. If the Lions are forced to keep pace, he may throw a few opportunities the Saints’ way.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @miketripletttp
For more on the Saints click here
Packers at Giants by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: Umenyiora's ankle injury is a big blow to the Giants' pass rusher. They just put LT Will Beatty (eye) on injured reserve after he missed the Saints game, forcing the line to reshuffle. RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) has vowed to return, but he said that last week too and still missed a fourth straight game. The already-depleted linebacking corps lost fill-in starter Mark Herzlich (ankle) and could still be without LB Michael Boley (hamstring). WR Hakeem Nicks (concussion, ribs) and WR Mario Manningham (knee) are banged up, and now WR Victor Cruz (hip) has joined them... But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln...
The X-Factor: DE Jason Pierre-Paul. The Giants don't have the linebackers and secondary to cover the Packers' array of weapons, which means they absolutely have to find ways to make QB Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable. Unfortunately for them, DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle) is out and DE Justin Tuck (ankle/shoulder/groin/neck/etc.) is a shell of his former self. That puts the pressure on Pierre-Paul, the second-year sack sensation who has been in a slump, but was praised for his high-energy effort against the Saints. This time he needs to translate that energy into production and be the one-man wrecking crew so many think he can be.
Don’t be surprised if: Eli Manning approaches 400 yards again and the Giants keep this game close. Oh, they won't win, but three of the six Packers' road wins have been by a touchdown or less. The Giants don't really have the defense to slow down the Pack, but as long as Manning doesn't lose all his receivers, he's got the passing game to keep up. He's done wonders without a rushing attack to help him and with a struggling offensive line. Now his team has some motivation, too, to stop an 0-3 slide and knock off an unbeaten team. This may be their last stand, but with Manning's help they will make a stand.
Follow Ralph on Twitter: @TheBlueScreen
For more on the G-Men click here
Jets at Redskins by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: Defensive lineman Mike DeVito is out with a left MCL sprain. DeVito missed two games earlier this season with an MCL sprain on his right knee. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson and slot receiver Jeremy Kerley practiced fully all week and will both return after missing time with MCL sprains. Running back Shonn Greene will play with bruised ribs.
The X-Factor: Tackles D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Wayne Hunter. The Jets will face their biggest challenge to date on the edges against the Redskins’ relentless pass rush that ranks third in the league with 33 tackles. The Jets’ offensive line has struggled in pass protection for much of the season, but they’re coming off their best performance (no sacks allowed, one QB hit) last week against the Bills. Ferguson and Hunter will have their hands full against outside lienbackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, who have combined for 12.5 sacks.
Don’t be surprised if: Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer sticks to the short-passing game to limit hits on Mark Sanchez. The Jets have talked about opening it up a bit more to get more explosive plays – Sanchez has a league-low one completion for 40+ yards – but that might not make sense against Washington’s fierce pass rush. The quicker Sanchez gets rid of the ball, the better.
Follow Manish on Twitter: @TheJetsStream
For more on the Jets click here
Raiders at Dolphins by Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle
Impact Injuries: Running back Darren McFadden is still out with sprained foot, though Michael Bush has filled in ably for him. Receivers Denarius Moore (ankle) and Jacoby Ford (foot) are also likely out, but again Oakland has showed good depth, as Darrius Heyward-Bey, Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy have all stepped forward and made plays.
The X-Factor: Will middle linebacker Rolando McClain play after getting arrested Thursday for firing a gun after an altercation in Alabama? If he doesn?t and Darryl Blackstock plays, Miami running back Reggie Bush might become a bigger part of the game plan. The only game McClain missed this season, the Raiders gave up 299 yards rushing to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos.
Don’t be surprised if: Fullback Marcel Reece continues to move all around the field (last week, he lined up at receiver and made a nice move and catch on a slant pattern) and coach Hue Jackson dusts off seldom-used tight ends Kevin Boss and Brandon Myers and attacks the Dolphins? pass defense up the middle.
Follow Vittorio on Twitter: @VittorioTafur
For more on the Raiders click here
Bengals at Steelers by Michael Bean of BehindTheSteelCurtain.com
Impact Injuries: LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) is expected to return to the field for the first time since Week 8. He was the AFC's Defensive Player of the Month in October. Troy Polamalu (head) and Maurkice Pouncey (illness) were limited in practice this week, but all should play. Ben Roethlisberger (thumb) had to cut his Thursday practice early after banging his thumb on a snap. Roethlisberger, of course, played last Sunday night against the Chiefs with a protective splint on his broken thumb. Larry Foote, Arnaz Battle and Emmanuel Sanders all missed practice Thursday.
The X-Factor: Pouncey is reported to have lost weight during an illness that kept him out of most of Pittsburgh's Week 12 win at Kansas City. He's said to be around 290 pounds, which is 12-15 less than his playing weight. That could be a factor in holding off a fierce middle pass rush from Cincinnati's Geno Atkins.
Don’t be surprised if: Pittsburgh's recent run of takeaways continues. They got two interceptions off Bengals QB Andy Dalton in their 24-17 win in Week 10, and three interceptions and a fumble recovery against Kansas City. The return of Woodley marks the first time since Week 4 both Woodley and OLB James Harrison will play together, giving them the pass rush they've been lacking much of the season. Increased pressure on Dalton can lead to a third straight game with 2+ takeaways.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @btsteelcurtain
For more on the Steelers click here
Chargers at Jaguars by Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune
Impact Injuries: The Chargers get back offensive linemen Tyronne Green and Louis Vasquez after two-week absences for each. The question is where Green will play -- at left guard or left tackle -- as left tackle Brandyn Dombrowski is nursing a foot injury.
The X-Factor: Malcom Floyd returns to give the Chargers another much-needed receiving target. If Floyd can stay healthy and with Antonio Gates improving weekly, this is as strong as the Chargers offense has looked in more than a month -- as long as Philip Rivers can have some time to throw.
Don’t be surprised if: Malcom Floyd makes a couple great catches in the first half and then returns to the sideline. He has played the equivalent of six games this year, missing four altogether and leaving two early due to injury.
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @sdutChargers
For more on the Bolts click here
Rams at 49ers by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee
Impact Injuries: Receiver Braylon Edwards admitted this week that he’s been bothered by a shoulder sprain suffered in Week 9 and that he would consider sitting out a game in order to be in better shape for a likely playoff run. Edwards was supposed to be the 49ers’ big-play receiver this season, but that hasn’t materialized. Edwards missed Wednesday’s practice, a hint that he might not play against the Rams. Look for Ted Ginn to take his spot in the starting lineup and for Kyle Williams to see a lot more playing time.
The X-Factor: Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks and the 49ers’ pass rushers should have big games against a refurbished Rams offensive line. Brooks has been a pleasant surprise this season, and he has consistently been around the ball. However, it will be interesting to see if fatigue has set in with him and a handful of other starters who have played virtually every snap this season. The 49ers seldom substitute on defense.
Don’t be surprised if: This game is not the blowout many observers predict. The 49ers have drifted away from their bread and butter – their running game – in recent weeks. They’ll likely return to a grind-it-out approach against a Rams team that has not been very good against stopping the run. The Rams’ best weapons are running back Steven Jackson and receiver Brandon Lloyd, who had a huge game against San Francisco as a member of the Broncos last year.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @mattbarrows
For more on the Niners click here
Rams at 49ers by Tony Softli of 101 ESPN
Impact Injuries: QB - Sam Bradford; aggravated his left ankle in last Sunday's game vs. the Cardinals which is the same ankle that suffered a high ankle several weeks ago. Bradford did not participate on Thursday. Status: Questionable
DE – Chris Long; received rehab for an ongoing ankle injury issue and did not participate in Thursday practice. Long has not missed a game in his career, he is an iron horse when it comes too playing hurt. Status: Questionable
DB - Darain Stewart; starting safety was limited in practice on Thursday because of a mild concussion suffered against Arizona last Sunday. Status: Questionable
PT - Donnie Jones; missed Wednesday practice with a non-football issue. On Thursday, he was limited with an ankle injury he suffered last Sunday vs. the Cardinals. Status: Probable
DT - Justin Bannan; Rams starting interior defensive linemen continues to rehab a shoulder injury and fell in the category of did not participate on Thursday. Status: Questionable
The X-Factor: A large portion of the fumbles coming from quarterback Sam Bradford is his inability to hang on to the ball after pass rushers explode into him with major collisions. When I entered the NFL as a scout, I was taught what players to look for on the personnel trail, the attributes for each position, make sure they are a scheme fit and there was also height, weight and speed classifications for all positions. What I learned rather quickly coming from the college level of competition to the NFL, there is an unwritten rule, “protect your quarterback and go hurt theirs.” With the 49ers' explosive defense up next, it is imperative that the Rams' coaches scheme to slow down the pass rush. The receivers must help in the way of creating separation from defenders in route, gearing down in space within zone cavities and creating run after catch yardage outside the numbers. The bottom line is keeping Sam Bradford upright and protect him for 60 minutes.
Don’t be surprised if: The Rams played a near perfect game against the New Orleans Saints early in the year, with a BIG victory. They will need another performance like that one to have a chance. Don’t be surprised if the Rams' offense finds a way to control the ball, scoring enough points while keeping the 49ers' offense on the bench. The Rams' defense who was solid against the run the last four weeks prior to the Beanie Wells Show last weekend, can slow down Frank Gore, because let’s be honest, there is no stopping Gore. And hope that Alex Smith has an off day despite a plethora of weapons surrounding him in Hunter, Davis, Crabtree and an offensive line that is playing very well.
But don’t be surprised if the game is decided by a big play on special teams from either team. Rams punt return man Nick Miller who busted on the scene with an 88 yard punt return for a touchdown against Arizona last week, will get a chance to watch and learn from one of the league’s top combination return men in 49ers' Ted Ginn Jr. He is currently ranked high in the NFL, (7th in punt returns, with a 11.4 average and 1 touchdown; 3rd in kick-off returns 28.6 average and 1 touchdown) and has open field speed compared to Arizona’s Patrick Peterson.
Follow Tony on Twitter: @SoftliSTL
For more on the Rams click here
Panthers at Buccaneers by Rick Brown of The Ledger
Impact Injuries: Tampa Bay starting quarterback Josh Freeman has an injury to his throwing shoulder. The Bucs said they could go right up to Sunday to decide if Freeman will play. Freeman threw softly on Thursday. If he can't go, then Josh Johnson gets the start. Also, defensive end Michael Bennett (groin) and defensive tackle Brian Price (ankle) are doubtful. This puts pressure on an already thin defensive front.
The X-Factor: Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. This may have been laughable a couple of weeks ago. But Haynesworth has provided the Bucs with great push and leadership since being acquired off waivers. The Bucs need Haynesworth to help disrupt the Panthers’ ground attack as well as get Cam Newton off of his throwing mark.
Don’t be surprised if: The Bucs play a lot more man-to-man defense to try to take away the quick passes of Newton. Tampa Bay has played more man this year so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this as well middle linebacker Mason Foster keeping an eye on Newton.
Follow Rick on Twitter: @LedgeronBucs
For more on the Bucs click here
Titans at Bills by Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com
Impact Injuries: The Titans are relatively healthy except for minor nicks. The most serious injury to any starter is to tackle David Stewart who has been bothered with a calf injury but should be back.
The X-Factor: Who knew that the Titans running game, formerly their bread and butter, would become the X-factor? But that's exactly what has happened. When Chris Johnson has been able to run well, the Titans have had an easier time on offense. When he hasn't like two weeks ago vs. Atlanta, the offense has sturggled.
Don’t be surprised if: The Titans struggle with the passing game if there are cold conditions in Buffalo. The Bills have shown a knack for getting interceptions this season and tipping balls at the line. Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck has had more than his share of passes tipped this year.
Follow Terry on Twitter: @terrymc13
For more on the Titans click here
Jets at Redskins by John Keim of the Washington Examiner
Impact Injuries: DE Stephen Bowen suffered a third-degree tear of the PCL in his left knee and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. SS LaRon Landry is dealing with a groin injury that has kept him from practice as well. FB Darrel Young suffered a concussion vs. Seattle and hasn’t practiced.
The X-Factor: NT Barry Cofield. The Jets have started to run the ball better and Cofield is coming off one of his worst games. Cofield also will go up against C Nick Mangold, whom he used to face in high school. Cofield has mostly played well this season and his quickness enables him to recover after he’s been driven back a couple yards. But he’s still adapting to seeing different blocking schemes from this position. Cofield is a versatile player for the Redskins and could even play end in a pinch for them.
Don’t be surprised if: The Redskins don’t repeat their success on the ground. Washington RB Roy Helu rushed for 108 yards vs. Seattle, but more than half came via yards after contact. The success also was set up well by the play-action game. The Redskins’ line was merely adequate at best and did not always do a good job of providing Helu rushing lanes. They also haven’t run as well against 3-4 fronts this season.
Follow John on Twitter: @john_keim
For more on the Skins click here
MAR 11 Joel Corry
Six teams set to enter free agency with plenty of available salary cap space.
MAR 11 Jerry Angelo
How NFL teams approach that integral period of time that takes place from free agency until the draft.
MAR 07 Joel Corry
Front offices and agents of soon-to-be free agents can begin discussions this weekend.