Eagles at Dolphins by Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post
Impact Injuries: Believe it or not, the Dolphins are completely healthy. The only player limited in practice all week was right guard Vernon Carey, who should return to the starting lineup after missing last week's game with an ankle injury. Tony Sparano has eased up on the intensity of practices and weightlifting sessions, and the players have responded with good health and exciting football.
The X-Factor: Linebackers Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby, Kevin Burnett and Koa Mis. The Dolphins may have held opponents to just 54 points over their past five games, but the one time they played a mobile quarterback, they lost to Tony Romo and the Cowboys. Dansby and Burnett will be responsible for spying Michael Vick and making sure he doesn't break the pocket for any big runs. Wake and Misi, meanwhile, will be in charge of containing the backside when LeSean McCoy gets the football. McCoy is one of the best cut-back runners in the game, and the Dolphins must stay disciplined on the backside to bottle him up.
Don’t be surprised if: The Dolphins lay an egg and lose. The teams are going in opposite directions, with the Dolphins winners of four of their past five games, and the Eagles entering with a three-game losing streak. But the Eagles will have had 10 days to prepare for this game and will have their most complete lineup in weeks, with Michael Vick and Jeremy Maclin returning alongside McCoy and DeSean Jackson. The Dolphins are 3-point favorites and it's easy to assume the good times will keep rolling in Miami, but the return of the Eagles' playmakers makes this a dangerous matchup.
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Vikings at Lions by Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press
Impact Injuries: If quarterback Christian Ponder (hip) can't practice Friday, the Vikings likely will rule him out for Detroit, setting the stage for Joe Webb to make his first start of the season. The Vikings are encouraged by running back Adrian Peterson's (ankle) progress and is a strong candidate to play if his ankle pain subsides by the weekend.
The X-Factor: Wide receiver Devin Aromashodu. Replaced the injured Michael Jenkins with precision last week, catching six passes for 90 yards against Denver. The Vikings are limited at receiver behind Percy Harvin and need consistency from Aromashodu, who has big-play ability but has disappeared at times this season.
Don’t be surprised if: The Vikings secondary crawls its way back to respectability. Despite depletion at corner and safety, the Vikings were flat-out embarrassed by making Tim Tebow look accurate in last week's loss to Denver and are hungry for resurgence. Expect the Vikings to blanket Calvin Johnson in an effort to limit big plays and take their chances with Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew underneath.
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Patriots at Redskins by Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald
Impact Injuries: The Patriots are slowly healing, as linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee) returned to practice on Thursday. Still, it may be a long-shot that the hard-hitting run-stuffer plays against the Redskins. That means the only significant player whose return is expected is safety Patrick Chung. The team was incredibly careful with his ailing foot, but he should be on the field on Sunday. On offense, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (foot) and center Dan Connolly (groin) maybe out again, but a patchwork offensive line showed it can handle anything.
The X-Factor: The Redskins will bring the pressure, coming from all angles and all sides. Even in their basic look, outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan can get after a passer. That means quarterback Tom Brady will be looking to unload the ball quickly. Don’t be surprised if he targets this week’s X-Factor – Aaron Hernandez. The tight end has his quickness back, and last week’s seven catches may only be a prelude to this week. Expect Brady to find him early.
Don’t be surprised if: The Patriots secondary stands up and makes its biggest stand. The much-maligned unit has started two receivers in its group this season, with Matthew Slater earning the nod last week. In addition, safety Patrick Chug has been out for a month. He’ll return this week, and quarterback Rex Grossman can be loose with the football. He tries too hard and throws it up for grabs, which will lead to opportunities. Expect them to capitalize.
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Saints at Titans by Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Impact Injuries: Tailback Mark Ingram (turf toe) and linebacker Jonathan Casillas (knee) could both miss Sunday’s game after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday. Ingram has been playing his best football of the season in recent weeks, but the Saints have a natural replacement ready in power runner Chris Ivory, who has been inactive in recent weeks. Casillas is the Saints’ best blitzer at outside linebacker, but the team also has good depth at linebacker, especially with Jonathan Vilma back in the lineup.
The X-Factor: After back-to-back night games at home against pass-happy offenses, the Saints will need to win a different style of game Sunday. For one, they’ll be heading outdoors for the first time in eight weeks. The weather shouldn’t be too nasty, but the Saints have been better at home than on the road this year in general. For another, they’ll have to face one of the most dangerous running backs in the league in Chris Johnson, who has found his groove in recent weeks. The Saints’ run game has been solid lately but struggled earlier in the year.
Don’t be surprised if: The Saints run the ball well, too. The Saints have quietly improved their rushing efficiency in recent weeks, with the offensive line playing at an elite level. Although they don’t run the ball that often, they rank fourth in the NFL at 4.8 yards per carry. Even if Ingram can’t play, the Saints can turn to Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Ivory.
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Giants at Cowboys by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: C David Baas will likely miss the game with migraine headaches, further decimating an offensive line that has already lost its left tackle (Will Beatty) and hurting a running game that has struggled at times. DE Osi Umenyiora (knee) and S Kenny Phillips (knee) are likely out, too, which will impact the Giants' ability to stop Tony Romo and the Cowboys' passing attack.
The X-Factor: LB Chase Blackburn. It seems a little odd that a player who was sitting at home two weeks ago could have a big impact on a December showdown for the lead in the NFC East, but that's how much Blackburn's presence stabilized the Giants' linebacking corps last week. Now he may be a key player both in stopping the Cowboys' rushing attack and helping to cover TE Jason Witten. If they can take RB DeMarco Murray or Witten out of the game, it'll really help the Giants in what promises to be a shootout.
Don’t be surprised if: Victor Cruz has yet another big game. The second-year sensation has topped 100 receiving yards in each of his last three games and his over 1,000 for the year. He's become a big-play guy, but he's also the benefit of a lot of single coverage because teams are forced to double Hakeem Nicks, the Giants' No. 1 receiver. With WR Mario Manningham (knee) hoping to be back for this game, Cruz will go back to his third receiver role, which will help him take advantage of mismatches with lesser defenders, no matter where he lines up.
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Chiefs at Jets by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: Defensive lineman Mike DeVito will miss his second consecutive game with a left MCL sprain. Kick returner/running back Joe McKnight will likely be a game-time decision with a hyperextended right elbow. McKnight has worn a compression sleeve in practice all week to help reduce the swelling. If the coaches determine that swelling will prevent McKnight from securely carrying the ball, he won’t play. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson aggravated his MCL sprain last week, but appears in line to play.
The X-Factor: The Jets special teams have been uncharacteristically bad in the past month with four turnovers in the past four games. Rex Ryan made a permanent switch at punt returner this week by putting sure-handed Jim Leonhard back there in place of rookie Jeremy Kerley, who muffed a punt last week. The Jets, who have committed a league-high six turnovers on special teams, can’t afford to give a struggling Chiefs’ offense that scores ranks 30th in scoring (13.6 ppg) a short field.
Don’t be surprised if: Shonn Greene gets his heaviest workload of the season against the Chiefs’ 25th ranked rush defense, allowing 130 yards per game. The Jets wore down the Redskins with 70 second-half yards on the ground last week. Greene, coming off a season-high 22 carries and three touchdowns, is fully recovered from bruised ribs he suffered last month.
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Raiders at Packers by Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle
Impact Injuries: A lot of speed missing for the Raiders, as RBs Darren McFadden (foot) and Taiwan Jones (hamstring) and WRs Jacoby Ford (foot) and Denarius Moore (ankle) haven't practiced and are likely out for Sunday.
The X-Factor: Can the banged-up offense remotely keep pace with Green Bay's high-flying offense? Last week, the Raiders were shut out by the Dolphins 34-0 through three quarters and Michael Bush and the once-powerful running game has been flat for two weeks now.
Don’t be surprised if: The Raiders don't blitz much. They are relying on Richard Seymour and their defensive line to get enough pressure to knock Aaron Rodgers off the spots he wants to throw the ball. Plus, they have seen on film how well Rodgers handles blitzes.
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Eagles at Dolphins by Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer
Impact Injuries: All of sudden the Eagles are healthy, or at least much healthier than they were a week ago. Aside from Vick, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (hamstring, shoulder) and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (ankle) are back. All three missed three games. Also, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will not miss Sunday's game after suffering a concussion last Thursday at Seattle. He cleared all his testing, but his hyperextended left knee is still not 100 percent.
The X-Factor: Michael Vick is back and says he's finally going to start sliding, or diving, or whatever it takes to not endure the type of hits that have caused him injury over the years. Yeah, right. Vick may try to fall to the ground on one of his scrambles, but there's no way he's sliding. It just isn't in his DNA, and the way he runs hunched over like a running back doesn't lend itself to sliding feet first. All that being said, the Eagles are elated to have Vick back after he missed three games with broken ribs. Vince Young wasn't a disaster, but he did nothing to make anyone think this guy deserves to challenge Vick for the starting job. Vick hasn't been so hot all season -- the Eagles are 3-6 in games he starts -- but he gives the team its best shot at winning at Miami.
Don’t be surprised if: Matt Moore becomes the latest mediocre quarterback to beat the Eagles, joining the 49ers' Alex Smith, the Cardinals' John Skelton and the Seahawks' Tarvaris Jackson. At this point, the Eagles defense is shot. While they were able to stay in games for most of the season, only to lose at the end, they've been getting knocked around from the start of the last two games. Players are quitting and while the Eagles are still mathematically not out of playoff contention, those players can see the writing on the wall. So expect to see Dolphins running back Reggie Bush, who has been tearing it up as of late, to get lots of touches on the ground as another offense goes right at the Achilles heal of Juan Castillo's defense.
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Bills at Chargers by Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune
Impact Injuries: The Chargers aren't getting any of their missing starters back, but the players they have are as healthy as they've been in months.
The X-Factor: The Bills led the NFL in interceptions the first eight weeks of the season but have just two picks in five games since. Philip Rivers, the NFL interception leader with 17, hasn't been picked off in the past two games. What gives Sunday?
Don’t be surprised if: Vincent Jackson has another big game as the Chargers' vertical passing games continue to get back in rhythm.
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49ers at Cardinals by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee
Impact Injuries: Inside linebacker Patrick Willis has missed only one start over his career but is likely to miss game No. 2 Sunday in Arizona. Willis suffered a moderate hamstring strain in the first quarter of Sunday’s win over the Rams and had to be helped off the field. Larry Grant filled in well and Grant promises to be in Willis’ spot against the Cardinals. Grant is a hard hitter and is excellent against the run. However, he’s not as fast as Willis and it remains to be seen how he will fare against a passing team like the Cardinals.
The X-Factor: After rushing for 100 or more yards in five straight games earlier this year, Frank Gore hasn’t come close to the 100-yard mark since Nov. 6. On Sunday, he returns to the stadium in which he broke his hip last year, an injury that ended his season. Gore had gotten out to a fast start in that game, and he’s said if he hadn’t left the game, he could have had a huge day. The Cardinals defense, however, has been playing very well recently and is coming off a strong performance against Dallas.
Don’t be surprised if: This game is close, certainly more so than the teams’ meeting three weeks ago. John Skelton started that game, threw three interceptions and was replaced in the second half. Kevin Kolb will start Sunday’s game. He’s more mobile than Skelton and has a stronger arm. The previous game also was marked by bad blood and a fight that resulted in 49ers safety Dashon Goldson’s ejection. Look for more extra curricular activity Sunday.
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Rams at Seahawks by Danny Kelly of FieldGulls.com
Impact Injuries: Seahawks starting QB Tarvaris Jackson is finally starting to recover from a partially-torn pectoral muscle and should be good to go. That said, the players tasked with protecting him are another story. The Hawks have lost RT James Carpenter, RG John Moffitt, and LT Russell Okung (the 6th overall pick in 2010) in the past few weeks and will now be relying on LT Paul McQuistan, RG Lemuel Jeanpierre, and RT Breno Giacomini. Exacerbating the issue, Tarvaris Jackson's top target, Sidney Rice, is now on the injured reserve as well.
The X-Factor: The Seahawks' offensive line. With three of their starters now out for the year, the depth will be severely tested and the Seahawks' streak of five straight games with over 100 yards rushing will be in jeopardy. If the Seahawks can't run and have trouble protecting Tarvaris Jackson, their game plan could go out the window.
Don’t be surprised if: Golden Tate steps up again. With Sidney Rice out last week, Tate got the majority of snaps in his absence, catching four passes, including an impressive touchdown grab in the back of the endzone. The Seahawks are looking to get him more involved towards the end of the season and don't be surprised if he makes an explosive play or two and turns nothing into something. Frankly, it's looking like the Seahawks offense will need that boost.
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Rams at Seahawks by Tony Softli of 101 ESPN
Impact Injuries: QB – Sam Bradford; Missed last week’s game against the San Francisco 49ers after aggravating his high ankle sprain. When asked to compare his current setback to that when he first injured the ankle, he replied, about the same. Sam did not practice this week and is considered day/day and a game time decision. Status: Questionable
QB – A.J. Feely; Started for the injured Sam Bradford last week, came out of that game vs. the 49ers with several bumps and bruises, including a fractured right thumb on his throwing hand. Feely also missed all practice sessions during the week. Status: Out
DT – Freddy Robbins; Big man has played with a sore lower back for most of the season, he missed a few days early in the week, the injury seems to be muscular, which can be rehabbed through rest. Status: Questionable
The X-Factor: The Seahawks are extremely excited about the opportunity to play the wounded St. Louis Rams, who come limping into Century Link Stadium (better known as the Clink). Not only do the Seahawks have an outside chance at a NFC Wildcard spot, they are playing good defense and getting great production out of Marshawn Lynch, not to mention the 12th Man is out of control on game day. If second year pro Tom Brandstater actually gets his first NFL start, on the second biggest stage next to the Super Bowl, Monday Night Football, only time will tell if he has deer in the headlights look, or plays within himself and makes it a competitive game. Despite confidence in his ability along with his teammates he does bring athletic ability, good arm strength, and flashed leadership ability in practice sessions.
The X-factor is the Rams defense. Can they continue to rise to the occasion, play tough and slow down a beast-like running game of Seattle, keep the score low and win it at the end with a young quarterback at the helm and Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson carrying the load.
Don’t be surprised if: The Rams started the season with two quarterbacks on the 53 man roster, currently have four including Bradford, Feely, Brandstater and newly acquired Kellen Clemens, who was claimed off waivers on Wednesday. With Bradford’s latest setback, there is a strong possibility that the team is considering putting Bradford on injured reserve, this may be the best scenario for their franchise quarterback and the organizations biggest investment. It will allow him a chance to rehab through rest, because having him healthy is the key to a great off season in the weight room, OTA (organized team activities) and Mini-Camps.
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Buccaneers at Jaguars by Rick Brown of The Ledger
Impact Injuries: Quarterback Josh Freeman threw on Thursday giving the team hope his shoulder has healed enough for him to play on Sunday. If not, Josh Johnson will get is second straight start. Cornerback Aqib Talib has a hamstring injury and is likely going to miss Sunday’s contest. Tampa Bay should also get defensive end Michael Bennett (groin) back, which will help in its rotation with Tim Crowder (concussion) likely out for the contest.
The X-Factor: How Tampa Bay does on third downs. The Jaguars are second in the league in forcing three and outs. The Bucs have had trouble converting on third downs. Tampa Bay will have to convert on third downs if it wants to snap its six-game losing streak.
Don’t be surprised if: The Bucs throw early and deep on first and second down. The Chargers had success throwing the ball against Jacksonville’s depleted secondary. Tampa Bay may want to use that same philosophy and attack the Jags’ defense.
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Saints at Titans by Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com
Impact Injuries: Cornerback Jason McCourty will miss practice time with a concussion, but the Titans hope he can play Sunday. Nate Washington may be limited with an ankle injury, but will play.
The X-Factor: Matt Hasselbeck was brilliant for Seattle in the playoffs against New Orleans, throwing four touchdown passes in a 41-36 upset victory. If he comes close to that type of effort Sunday, the Titans could pull off the upset.
Don’t be surprised if: Chris Johnson has another big day on the ground. The Saints are 30th against the run and 27th overall, and CJ has finally found his stride after a terrible first half.
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Patriots at Redskins by John Keim of the Washington Examiner
Impact Injuries: SS LaRon Landry (groin) has not practiced all week for a second consecutive week. With the Patriots using two receiving tight ends, Landry’s return is important. If he can’t play, Reed Doughty or DeJon Gomes would replace him. Most likely both will play and possibly rotate with Oshiomogho Atogwe.
The X-Factor: Whoever plays LT, whether it’s Willie Smith or Sean Locklear. Regardless, they not only have to slow former Redskin Andre Carter (nine sacks), but they have to help create room for Roy Helu to run. The Redskins can help them in protection, but it’ll be tough to help them on the ground. The right side of the line is inconsistent with run blocking, but suspended LT Trent Williams gave them an anchor to set the edge. He had the quick feet to play in the stretch zone. But Smith has never played and Locklear gets no movement on his blocks. Helu could be in for a long day.
Don’t be surprised if: The Redskins are aggressive offensively going downfield. Two reasons: they know it’ll be tough to stop New England’s offense for an entire game. And with Williams and TE Fred Davis out, the run game will suffer. So it’ll be difficult to get Roy Helu room to run. New England’s pass defense has struggled and QB Rex Grossman is comfortable taking chances downfield – it leads to a lot of risk and only some reward. Ideally the Redskins would try to run and control the tempo, but with the changes up front the Redskins lack a good run blocker among their starting five.
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MAY 24 Joel Corry
Keep an eye on what happens in Miami between the Dolphins and first round pick Dion Jordan.
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Former discus star launches football career with 49ers.