Cardinals at Vikings by Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds
Impact Injuries: The Cardinals are actually pretty healthy among their key players. Beanie Wells is still limited in practice with his hamstring, but as we saw against the Giants, it was not a factor during the game. Punter Dave Zastudil has a sore knee. It was a big enough concern that the Cardinals brought back Ban Graham to back him up if 'Z' can't go. Starting tight end Todd Heap has a sore hamstring and will be a gametime decision. If unable to go, Jeff King will start with rookie Robert Housler getting more looks.
The X-Factor: This week it is desperation. With the 1-3 Cardinals facing the 0-4 Vikings, both teams are desperate to remain relevant and at least close to contending for the playoffs. The Cardinals have lost their last three games by a combined eight points. The Vikings also have been losing in excruciating fashion. Whoever plays with the most desperation will be the victor.
Don’t be surprised if: Kevin Kolb has some big plays down the field. Minnesota's secondary is suspect and their best corner, Antoine Winfield, is out.
Follow Kent on Twitter: @senorjessroot
For more on the Cards click here
Packers at Falcons by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Impact Injuries: Defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee) and linebacker Stephen Nicholas (calf) should be available and could boost the defensive unit. The defense has not recorded a sack in the three games that Babineaux has missed.
The X-Factor: Michael Turner. A common thread in the two Falcon’s victories over the Packers in 2008 and 2010 was running back Michael Turner running for more than 100 yards. He had 121 yards in the 2008 victory at Lambeau Field. In the 20-17 victory at the Georgia Dome, The Burner ran for 110 yards on 23 carries. In the playoff loss, he had 10 carries for 39 yards. Turner, Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers have to do their part to keep Aaron Rodgers off the field.
Don’t be surprised if: DE Ray Edwards turns in a big game. Coming over from Minnesota, he knows all about the Packers. After a slow start, this could be the game he starts paying some dividends on that five-year, $30 million deal.
Follow Darryl on Twitter: @AJCFalcons
For more on the Falcons click here
Eagles at Bills by Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News
Impact Injuries: Bills left tackle Demetrius Bell is out with a shoulder injury. It's not a long-term injury, but rookie Chris Hairston, a fourth-round pick from Clemson, will have to make his first career start. He will line up opposite Jason Babin, who already has seven sacks. Trouble. The Bills will have to give Hairston some help, which will detract at least slightly from how quickly a back or a tight end will get out in the pass pattern.
The X-Factor: The Bills have a distinct edge in the run game. Buffalo ranks fifth in rushing offense. Philly ranks 30th in rushing defense. But can the Bills' offense do well on third downs and keep drives alive enough to get enough rushing attempts?
Don’t be surprised if: The Bills ... give up a ton of yards to the Eagles. Buffalo has allowed 450-plus yards three straight games. The Eagles are averaging 435 a game. The Bills don't have much pass rush. It's hard to see the Bills containing Philly very well. Buffalo's offense may have to score 30, and Philly's defense may have to woefully underachieve (again) if Buffalo is going to win.
Follow Mark on Twitter: @gggaughan
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Saints at Panthers by Greg Jones of Examiner.com
Impact Injuries: The Carolina Panthers will have cornerback Chris Gamble back. Gamble missed last week’s loss to the Chicago Bears due to a concussion. But the Panthers could be without guard Geoff Hangartner and tackle Jeff Otah due to each having a sore back. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said it is too early to tell if they will miss Sunday’s game at Bank of American Stadium against the New Orleans Saints. Hangartner and Otah didn’t practice Wednesday, and tight end Jeremy Shockey also missed practice. Shockey is recovering from a concussion, and may miss the New Orleans game.
The X-Factor: The Panthers must improve their run defense and that starts with the front four. Carolina is next to last in run defense, and the Panthers were burned by Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte, who rushed for 205 yards on 25 carries in the Panthers’ 34-29 loss. The Panthers are young on their defensive front with two rookie defensive tackles and Greg Hardy, a second-year pro. Hardy and Charles Johnson have played well, but the Panthers need consistency from their front four because the Saints have upgraded their run game.
Don’t be surprised if: The Panthers’ pass defense plays well against the Saints. Drew Brees is a huge task. Remember, Gamble did an excellent job in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals Larry Fitzgerald. The All Pro receiver had just three catches for 62 yards. And aside from an 84-yard touchdown catch by Jody Nelson and a 49-yard touchdown catch by Greg Jennings, the Panthers did a decent job against Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Panthers have had excellent play from cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn, Darius Butler and Gamble. In addition, the Panthers have two good safeties in Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey, a team captain.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @gjjones_sports
For more on the Panthers click here
Panthers at Bears by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune
Impact Injuries: Injuries continue to plague the Bears on the offensive line with right tackle Gabe Carimi still out with a right knee injury. Chris Spencer, who filed in at right guard last week, suffered a broken right hand and it’s musical chairs again for the Bears as they prepare for the ultra-talented Lions’ front four, which is led by tackle Ndamukong Suh. Lance Louis figures to go against Suh but he will need help. Meanwhile, safety Chris Harris is questionable and the Bears have struggled mightily at the position this season. A hamstring issue plagues him and he could still be a week away. Wide receiver Earl Bennett, quarterback Jay Cutler’s most trusted target, is still out with a rib injury. The passing game is a bit of a mess.
The X-Factor: No wide receiver in the NFL is hotter than Calvin Johnson, who has tied a league record with two touchdown receptions in four consecutive games. The 6-5, 236-pounder presents a real challenge for the Bears, who struggled to deal with Carolina’s Steve Smith last week, surrendering eight receptions for 181 yards. But history is on the side of the Bears in this NFC North meeting. Johnson has just one 100-yard game in seven vs. the Bears. He’s averaged 69 yards per game against them, and the Bears typically match up well using physical 6-1 cornerback Charles Tillman. But without an improved pass rush – the Bears have been lethargic getting after the quarterback since sacking Atlanta’s Matt Ryan five times in the season opener – it’s going to be next to impossible to control Johnson on the big Monday night stage, the first time the Lions have appeared on “Monday Night Football” since they played in the Pontiac Silverdome in 2001.
Don’t be surprised if: Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew has close to 100 yards receiving. The Bears have been giving up big games to tight ends this season and Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey just missed some more big plays last week. Shockey had a touchdown negated by an iffy pass interference call. With the defense focusing on Johnson, it should leave Pettigrew room to operate in the middle third of the field.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradBiggs
For more on the Bears click here
Bengals at Jaguars by Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer
Impact Injuries: CB Kelly Jennings hasn't practiced this week due to a nagging hamstring injury. If he doesn't play, Morgan Trent would move into playing corner in nickel packages. LB Dontay Moch, who has missed eight weeks due to a broken foot, has practiced this week and might see his first action on Sunday. OG Bobbie Williams, who was suspended four games for a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, was added to the 53-man roster on Thursday and is on track to start at right guard.
The X-Factor: QB Andy Dalton. Which one shows up is anyone's guess. Will it be the one who didn't look like a rookie in the second half last week against Buffalo, where he led four scoring drives, and at Denver or the one who struggled against San Francisco and in the first half last week? For the San Francisco game and the first half against Buffalo, Dalton was 24 of 52 for 273 yards with no touchdowns, four interceptions and a 30.4 passer rating. However in the other five halves he played, Dalton is 51 of 72 for 595 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 114.1 rating.
Don’t be surprised if: There is more of a return to the running game, especially if the Bengals get ahead. Cedric Benson is tied for second in the league in carries and has two 100-yard games but things have been inconsistent on the ground due to the team's inability to convert on third downs and mostly they have played from behind.
Follow Joe on Twitter: @joereedy
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Chargers at Broncos by Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post
Impact Injuries: Starting safeties Brian Dawkins and Rahim Moore both sat out of practice on Thursday (and Dawkins missed Wednesday as well), leaving the team with only two healthy safeties rookie Quinton Carter and third-year special team standout David Bruton. Playing status for Dawkins and Moore won't be determined until later in the week. Receivers Eddie Royal and Demaryius Thomas, and tight end Julius Thomas will be out.
The X-Factor: The Broncos have had little success against Philip Rivers since Rivers became the Chargers' starting quarterback in 2006 (with a record of 2-8 in Rivers' 10 starts), but the Broncos come into Sunday's game with a healthy front 7 for the first time all year, which gives the team a chance to rattle Rivers. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil played pain-free against Green Bay last week after missing two games with a shoulder injury, and D.J. Williams made his debut after missing more than a month because of a dislocated elbow. If Dumervil and rookie Von Miller (4 sacks) can consistently get into the backfield, the rest of the defense might have a shot against Rivers, who has thrown six interceptions this season.
Don’t be surprised if: Willis McGahee remains the team's primary running back. With two 100-yard performances in four games, McGahee has taken over the starting job from Knowshon Moreno. The Broncos are settling into a committee that gives the bulk of the carries to McGahee with Moreno coming into the game as the third-down back.
Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @PostBroncos
For more on the Broncos click here
Bears at Lions by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press
Impact Injuries: Safety Amari Spievey left last week’s win over the Cowboys with a hamstring injury and did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. Spievey said he expects to play, but if he can’t the Lions will pair special-teams ace John Wendling with Louis Delmas in their back end. No. 3 safety Erik Coleman is out a couple weeks with an ankle injury. Justin Durant sat out the Cowboys game with a concussion but has been cleared to return.
The X-Factor: Monday Night Football. The Lions haven’t played in a Monday night game since 2001, when they lost to the Rams, 35-0, and the entire city is geared up for what should be an electric atmosphere. Lions coach Jim Schwartz has done his best to downplay the stage, but by going 5-0 for the first time since 1956 his team can prove it’s ready for prime time.
Don’t be surprised if: The Lions pad their somewhat disappointing sack totals. The Lions have just nine sacks through four games, and while Schwartz is fond of saying their objective isn’t to lead the league in sacks (or any other category, it’s to win games), the front didn’t get enough pressure on Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo last week. The Bears have given up 15 sacks this year, second most in the NFL.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveBirkett
For more on the Lions click here
Packers at Falcons by Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette
Impact Injuries: With right tackle Bryan Bulaga expected to miss at least another game because of the knee injury he sustained in Week 3 at Chicago, second-year pro Marshall Newhouse will make his second straight start. The Packers may have to give him some extra help this week. Last week, he gave up two sacks to Broncos rookie Von Miller, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers was flushed out of the pocket and ran more than usual. The Falcons surely watched that tape and may stick defensive end John Abraham, their best pass rusher, exclusively on Newhouse’s side.
The X-Factor: Frank Zombo. The second-year outside linebacker could make his 2011 debut on Sunday. And if so, perhaps the Packers’ sagging pass rush could get a lift. Zombo was originally ruled out for 8-12 weeks after he broke his scapula on Aug. 19 in warm-ups before a preseason game against Arizona, but he returned to practice this week, just 6½ weeks after his injury. Only two of the Packers’ 11 sacks have come from their outside linebackers. Clay Matthews and Erik Walden have one each. Zombo, who had six tackles and a sack in Super Bowl XLV, was neck and neck with Walden for the starting job in training camp before he got hurt. He could split snaps with Walden upon his return.
Don’t be surprised if: Rodgers has another big day passing. He threw for 710 yards combined against the Falcons in two games last season — a 20-17 regular-season loss and a 48-21 win in the NFC divisional playoff. The Falcons did little to upgrade their secondary, which doesn’t have a cornerback taller than 5-foot-10½.
Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobDemovsky
For more on the Pack click here
Raiders at Texans by Steph Stradley of the Houston Chronicle
Impact Injuries: Andre Johnson is out for an unspecified time with a hamstring tendon issue. Though the Texans have not confirmed a time to return, estimates have been made with the procedure received of 3 weeks. The Texans offense can still function without him but doesn't have that bail-out role that Johnson often provides. Will be interesting to see if the red zone becomes an issue.
The X-Factor: With the injuries to RB Derrick Ward and Ben Tate and WR Andre Johnson, the WR and RB positions are uncomfortably thin for the Texans. Texans often operate from 2 TE sets, and expect the TE position to have a big role in this game.
Don’t be surprised if: If the Texans special teams puts the Raiders in poor field position. The Texans special teams has been a plus factor for the team this year.
Follow Steph on Twitter: @StephStradley
For more on the Texans click here
Bengals at Jaguars by Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union
Impact Injuries: The Jaguars will again be without both of their best special teams players in Montell Owens -- who just signed a new contract extension -- and Kassim Osgood. Both players missed the last game. Starting cornerback Derek Cox, who missed last week's game with a groin pull, hasn't practiced this week.
The X-Factor: Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter takes personally the production the Jaguars offense has had so far. They're averaging fewer than 10 points per game and that hasn't made Koetter feel good. Thirty-nine points over four games is the fewest the Jaguars have scored in their first four games to start any season in franchise history.
Don’t be surprised if: The Jaguars play well against the rookies Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. The Jaguars defense did well against the first rookie quarterback it faced this season in Cam Newton, causing him to be more inaccurate than he'd been before. Now the much-improved unit will face a rookie quarterback and rookie receiver. Expect it to fare a lot better than it did against Drew Brees last week.
Follow Tania on Twitter: @taniaganguli
For more on the Jags click here
Chiefs at Colts by Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com
Impact Injuries: WR Jonathan Baldwin. This really isn't a notable injury considering he hasn't played this year but last week the Chiefs didn't have any players go on IR, which is a step forward for them. Baldwin, the Chiefs first round pick, could make his debut this weekend against Indy and, if he's healthy, he has the physical skills to quickly be a difference maker, particularly in the red zone. Other major, season-ending injuries the Chiefs are still recovering from include TE Tony Moeaki (lost in preseason Week 4), S Eric Berry (lost in Week 1) and RB Jamaal Charles (lost in Week 2).
The X-Factor: Chiefs secondary. Simply put, the Chiefs need to capitalize on the absence of Peyton Manning. They need to take advantage of Curtis Painter at quarterback and create turnovers. The best way to describe the 2011 Chiefs (and, most NFL teams, really) is this: When they win the turnover battle, they have a very good chance to win, and when they lose the turnover battle, they're almost assuredly losing. Painter against the Chiefs secondary is KC's best chance at creating turnovers.
Don’t be surprised if: The Chiefs open things up a little bit on offense. The Chiefs have played well in the second half of both weeks and the common denominator is that they've been opening up the offense a little more, and asking Matt Cassel to stretch the field a little bit. That's certainly not his strength but the Chiefs have the personnel to open things up a little bit offensively. Once they make the secondary wary of what the receivers can do, then that opens things up for Dexter McCluster in the short passing game, as well as McCluster and Thomas Jones in the passing game. I see the Chiefs trying to build an early lead and throwing it early and often.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @ArrowheadPride
For more on the Chiefs click here
Cardinals at Vikings by Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press
Impact Injuries: There's serious doubt about the availability of Pro Bowl cornerback Antoine Winfield, who is dealing with a neck injury. Backup Asher Allen will likely be elevated to nickel package duty. Punter Chris Kluwe plans to play through an injured right hamstring. Center John Sullivan has missed practice time this week with ankle soreness.
The X-Factor: Linebacker Erin Henderson. With brother E.J. Henderson coping with knee swellness for nearly a month, Erin Henderson's snaps have increased in the nickel package. He played admirably in Sunday's 22-17 loss to the Chiefs with six tackles, including one for a loss. The first-year starter is growing up fast, and he'll be responsible for stopping running backs and tight ends in the passing game on third downs.
Don’t be surprised if: The Vikings finally break through with a 300-yard passing day. Arizona's pass defense ranks 26th in the league, and quarterback Donovan McNabb has found a rhythm with tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph, who combined for 102 yards in last week's loss to Kansas City. Much of the Vikings' passing success is predicated on McNabb connecting deep with receiver Bernard Berrian, a plan that is long overdue.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @VikingsNow
Fore more on the Vikes click here
Jets at Patriots by Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald
Impact Injuries: The Patriots welcomed three new visitors to Thursday’s practice, as tight end Aaron Hernandez (knee), defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (back) and defensive lineman Mike Wright (head) all worked out in full-pads. That was huge news. If Hernandez can go, it gives the Pats their best receiving threat against man-to-man coverage that the Jets utilize. He could even draw the attention of cornerback Darrelle Revis. Haynesworth would be a much-desired weapon to stop the run, while Wright was the team’s best pass-rusher in 2010. All could now play.
The X-Factor: There is no more important indicator of success in Patriots-Jets game than Tom Brady’s poise. In the 45-3 walloping in the regular season in 2010, Brady scarcely felt the pressure applied by the Jets. Yet in the playoffs, Gang Green racked up five sacks, not only getting to Brady but also forcing him to guess. At times, the Jets flooded the zones and only rushed three, yet Brady anticipated the rush, anyway. Analysts call it “seeing ghosts,” and Brady did. On Sunday, he must maintain his composure, regardless of what the Jets are throwing at him.
Don’t be surprised if: The Patriots begin by attacking the Jets on the ground. While Tom Brady garners the attention, the best way to take the defense’s focus off the Patriots vaunted passing game is to run, run, run. Even if Danny Woodhead (ankle) is out, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie Stevan Ridley are more than enough attack the teeth of the Jets defense. If the safeties have to come up and play the run, Brady’s life will be easy.
Follow Ian on Twitter: @RapSheet
For more on the Pats click here
Saints at Panthers by Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Impact Injuries: The Saints are getting healthier throughout the lineup, with key players like receiver Marques Colston, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and cornerback Tracy Porter all returning to action last week. They’re still dinged on the offensive line, with center Olin Kreutz, right tackle Zach Strief and blocking tight end David Thomas all hurt. But their backups have all filled in nicely so far. … Receiver Devery Henderson could miss Sunday’s game with a calf injury, but his role was already diminished when Colston came back last week.
The X-Factor: Big plays will occur when Carolina rookie Cam Newton is on the field, but for which team? As dynamic as he’s been as both a passer and runner, Newton has also thrown five interceptions. And Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is one of the best in the league at trying to confuse young quarterbacks by mixing up his defenses. Still, Newton keeps plays alive because of his ability to move in the pocket and shrug off defenders, so the Saints can’t let him turn broken plays into big gains.
Don’t be surprised if: Tailback Pierre Thomas has a nice game for the Saints. He’s been the least-featured back so far behind Darren Sproles and Mark Ingram, but he’s looked great in small doses, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and 9.9 yards per catch. The Panthers rank 31st in the NFL against the run, so there could be opportunities for all the Saints’ backs Sunday.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @miketripletttp
For more on the Saints click here
Seahawks at Giants by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: Some day the Giants are going to have a devastating pass rush when they can roll DEs Osi Umenyiora, Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck at offenses, but Tuck is still hurting (neck/groin) so their pass rush is still not 100 percent. There is also now some concern over RB Brandon Jacobs, who hurt his knee last Sunday. It’s not major, but his impact could be limited on Sunday. Considering the offense will likely be without C David Baas (neck), the run game could struggle. Baas will be replaced by veteran OL Kevin Boothe.
The X-Factor: TE Jake Ballard. He’ll never be an Antonio Gates-like focus of the offense, and he doesn’t have the straight-ahead speed of former Giants TE Kevin Boss, but Ballard is starting to gain Eli Manning’s trust. Billed as a blocking TE, he’s shown that he as terrific hands, the ability to get open, and last week with a touchdown catch in the back of the end zone he displayed great feet staying in bounds. The Giants have been looking for a weapon to work the middle of the field. They may have found it.
Don’t be surprised if: The Giants’ offensive balance begins tipping towards the passing game. Kevin Gilbride has always been a forward (pass)-thinking offensive coordinator, and he’s got a red-hot quarterback in Eli Manning. The Seahawks have a decent run defense and the Giants are struggling to move the ball on the ground, especially on runs to the outside. Without Baas in the middle, they may lean much more heavily on their passing attack than they have in recent weeks.
Follow Ralph on Twitter: @TheBlueScreen
For more on the G-Men click here
Jets at Patriots by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: All-Pro center Nick Mangold will make his return after missing the past two games with a high ankle sprain. Wide receiver Plaxico Burress returned to practice after sitting out Wednesday due to elbow inflammation. Pace (abdomen) will play.
The X-Factor: Calvin Pace. The outside linebacker must cause havoc as an edge pass rusher for the defensive plan to be effective. The Jets rattled Tom Brady in their divisional playoff win last January with solid pressure off the edges from Shaun Ellis and Jason Taylor. If Pace can help make Brady uncomfortable in the pocket, the Jets may have a chance of slowing down the league’s most explosive passing attack.
Don’t be surprised if: Shonn Greene has at least 20 carries. Rex Ryan admitted that his team can’t be so pass-heavy anymore. Greene, who has struggled through the first four weeks (3.1 ypc), could find some holes against a Patriots defense allowing 4.8 yards per carry.
Follow Manish on Twitter: @TheJetsStream
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Raiders at Texans by Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle
Impact Injuries: Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy looks like he will miss second straight week with a shoulder injury. Long underrated lined up next to Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly, Shaughnessy was missed last week in the loss to the Patriots as the Raiders got no pressure on Tom Brady and were pushed aside on running plays. Safety Michael Huff looks like he is back from a concussion and ankle injury, so that is a plus.
The X-Factor: Will the Raiders be able to take advantage of Houston receiver Andre Johnson's injury and stack the box and stop running back Arian Foster. They weren't last year, as the Texans ran for 249 yards. Oakland is giving up a league-worst 5.9 yards per carry this season.
Don’t be surprised if: RB Darren McFadden and rookie WR Denarius Moore keep Oakland close in a high-scoring affair ... Houston quarterback Matt Schaub picks on young cornerbacks Chimdi Chekwa, Joe Porter and DeMarcus Van Dyke. The scouting report is that they are all straight-ahead runners and the Texans could take a page from the Patriots book and work the angles underneath.
Follow Vittorio on Twitter: @VittorioTafur
For more on the Raiders click here
Eagles at Bills by Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer
Impact Injuries: Entering last week's game LeSean McCoy was the second leading rusher in the NFL, was top in the league in rushing touchdowns, and was the Eagles' best offensive weapon aside from, maybe, quarterback Michael Vick. So what kind of offensive game plan did the Eagles construct for the 49ers? One that essentially neglected the third-year running back on the ground. The lopsided pass-run ratio in the first half was fine. The Eagles were able to build a 20-point lead off of it. But to virtually ignore McCoy in the second half with a large lead was eggregious. So expect to see a little more of McCoy carry the ball on the road at the Bills. The Eagles need to drag out a few drives to keep their floundering defense off the field.
The X-Factor: The Eagles were dealt two serious blows when they lost arguably their top players on the offensive and defensive lines for an extended period. Left tackle Jason Peters is out with a hamstring strain and will be replaced by King Dunlap and defensive end Trent Cole is out with a calf strain. The Eagles have been shorthanded at end for the last few weeks, so Cole's injury came at an inopportune time. But Darryl Tapp (pectoral strain) is expected to play Sunday if Juqua Parker (high ankle sprain) isn't quite there yet. Defensive tackle Antonio Dixon was lost for the season when he tore his triceps against the 49ers. To fill his spot on the roster the Eagles signed defensive tackle Derek Landri, who spent all of the preseason with the team only to be cut just before the start of the season.
Don’t be surprised if: Danny Watkins struggles in his first career NFL start. The Eagles top draft pick went through all of training camp and the preseason as the starting right guard, but it became apparent rather quickly that he wasn't ready. So instead of putting Vick at further risk the Eagles signed veteran Kyle DeVan and plugged him into Watkins' spot as the rookie sat and watched for the first four games. What made the decision to finally start Watkins rather easy was DeVan's inconsistent play, especially in short yardage situations. Watkins may give the Eagles more heft inside, but he's still a work in progress. That's not the most comforting news for an underachieving 1-3 team that desperately needs a victory.
Follow Jeff on Twitter: @Jeff_McLane
For more on the Eagles click here
Titans at Steelers by Michael Bean of BehindTheSteelCurtain.com
Impact Injuries: The Steelers will be without the services of All Pro linebacker James Harrison, who's expected to miss as many as 4-6 weeks recovering from a fractured orbital bone in his eye. Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring) will either be inactive or limited, and of course, Roethlisberger will play but might struggle while laboring through his sprained left foot. The good news is that Mike Tomlin does expect LT Jonathan Scott (ankle), RG Doug Legursky (shoulder), LCB Bryant McFadden (hamstring), and DE Brett Keisel (knee) to all play against the Titans. It's not yet clear if Max Starks, signed Wednesday to help shore up the team's extreme issues at left tackle, will play so soon after rejoining the club.
The X-Factor: How will Ben Roethlisberger play with a sprained left foot? Big Ben is no stranger to playing in pain, but Steelers fans need no reminder of how he struggled in last year's Super Bowl when dealing with a similar foot ailment. Roethlisberger's accuracy was off in the SB loss to Green Bay, and I presume it had a lot to do with his inability to comfortably plant on his foot before release. If Roethlisberger's mechanics are altered and his inaccuracy leads to untimely turnovers, the Steelers could be in trouble again this week. His injured foot might however prompt him to simplify things in the pocket rather than trying to make the heroic play. With the state of the offensive line, that might not be such a bad thing.
Don’t be surprised if: Lawrence Timmons has a breakout game in place of James Harrison at outside linebacker. Timmons has looked out of sorts through the first quarter of the season. He seems to be reacting and thinking too much out there, a problem that he seemingly had overcome last season after slowly but surely learning the nuances of his position during his first three seasons in Pittsburgh. I'm expecting Dick LeBeau to turn him loose at OLB this week and ask the immensely athletic Timmons to just put his head down and attack the quarterback.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @btsteelcurtain
For more on the Steelers click here
Chargers at Broncos by Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune
Impact Injuries: Antonio Gates continued absence due to painful scar tissue tearing in his right foot makes the Chargers far less potent in the red zone. If Vincent Jackson (hamstring) is limited as well, the Chargers offense will need big games from Ryan Mathews and/or Mike Tolbert.
The X-Factor: The Chargers' ability to protect Philip Rivers from Von Miller will likely require extra help for right tackle Jeromey Clary, who struggles with speed.
Don’t be surprised if: Ryan Mathews continues to increase his statistical output against the team he had his coming-out party against in last season's finale. Mathews has gained more scrimmage yards each week this season, except last week, when for the second straight game he totaled 149 yards.
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @sdutChargers
For more on the Bolts click here
Buccaneers at 49ers by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee
Impact Injuries: Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga is battling a staph infection. It's highly unlikely that he'll play Sunday. This will be a big blow to the 49ers’ fourth-ranked run defense. The team is facing running back LeGarrette Blount and the Buccaneers, who rolled over the 49ers 21-0 last year in San Francisco. Blount was held under 100 yards rushing in that game – the 49ers have done that to 26-straight opposing rushers – but he flattened the 49ers on some plays and Tampa Bay finished with 162 total yards on the ground. Sopoaga’s top backup is third-year player Ricky Jean Francois, who struggled in spot duty at nose tackle last year.
The X-Factor: It’s hard to consider Michael Crabtree an X-factor considering he was the 10th overall pick in the 2009 draft. However, his recent foot injury limited his role earlier this year. Crabtree is now approaching 100 percent health, and on Sunday against Philadelphia he began making plays downfield. Sunday’s game promises to be a close one with the winner being the team that can come up with the big play when it’s needed. With defenses focused on taking away tight end Vernon Davis, Crabtree may be San Francisco’s best big-play threat.
Don’t be surprised if: This game comes down to the final drive. The two teams are very similar. Both lean on the power-running game and try hard to avoid mistakes. Both have quarterbacks that manage the game more than make splashy plays. Both have very good defensive lines that allow coordinators to drop seven men into coverage and take away big plays. This game promises to be one of attrition. The Buccaneers stampeded the 49ers in a shutout win last season. Jim Harbaugh is hoping his team comes into the rematch with a chip on its shoulder because of that 2010 loss.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @mattbarrows
For more on the Niners click here
Seahawks at Giants 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. Starting strong safety Kam Chancellor (quad), receiver Mike Williams (concussion), and tight end Zach Miller (knee, ankle) have all been held out of practice this week, but the Seahawks are hoping all three will be able to play. The fans are also really hoping all three will be able to play, because they're all extremely important to this team.
The X-Factor: The Giants' Run Defense: The Giants like to stop the run, make a team one-dimensional and force them to pass, then -- they like to bring the heat from the edges. One problem they've had thus far this year though, is in stopping the run. Last week the Cardinals' Beanie Wells ran for 138 yards on 5.1 yards per carry and 3 touchdowns and the week before that Philadelphia's Lesean McCoy put up 128 yards on 5.1 ypc and a touchdown. If Seattle's running back stable of Marshawn Lynch, Leon Washington, and Justin Forsett can have this type of success against the Giants and control time of possession, it will help them stay in the game and take the Giants' home crowd out of it.
Don’t be surprised if: DEs Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, if both healthy and playing, cause havoc on Seattle's tackles, LT Russell Okung and RT James Carpenter. It should be both Okung and Carpenter's biggest test thus far this season, and if they can contain the edges and protect Tarvaris Jackson, the Seahawks pass game will have a chance to get clicking and keep up a quick tempo they like. Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, and rookie receiver Doug Baldwin have been playing well and developing a chemistry with Jackson, and with time to pass, this success found in Week Four can carry over to Week Five.
Follow Danny on Twitter: @FieldGulls
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Buccaneers at 49ers by Anwar Richardson of the Tampa Tribune
Impact Injuries: Tampa Bay played on Monday night and will take a long flight to San Francisco, but the Bucs are on a three-game win streak. During their recent success, the Bucs have become a strong fourth quarter team, outscoring opponents 28-13. That 15-point differential is sixth-best in the league, while Tampa Bay has an average fourth-quarter time of possession of 8 minutes, 47 seconds, which is fourth-best in the NFL.
The X-Factor: Tampa Bay does not have any significant injuries heading into Sunday’s game. The Bucs will still be without receiver Sammie Stroughter, who is nursing a foot injury. However, Preston Parker has 16 receptions for 223 yards and one touchdown in Stroughter’s absence.
Don’t be surprised if: Tampa Bay’s young defensive line finds a way to disrupt San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith. Tampa Bay has 10 sacks this season and six have come from the defensive line. LDE Michael Bennet and rookie RDE Adrian Clayborn each have two sacks, while DT Gerald McCoy and DT Brian Price have one apiece.
Follow Anwar on Twitter: @TBO_Buccaneers
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Titans at Steelers by Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com
Impact Injuries: Safety Chris Hope will miss a month because of a broken forearm, thrusting Jordan Babineaux back into the lineup for the Titans. Tight end Craig Stevens might also be missing with sore ribs suffered in Sunday's win over Cleveland.
The X-Factor: Fullback Ahmard Hall is back from his four-game suspension and his presence could help the Titan running game, which showed signs of getting on track last week against the Browns.
Don’t be surprised if: The Titans dial up the pressure Sunday against a gimpy Ben Roethlisberger, especially with the Steelers quarterback bothered by an ailing foot.
Follow Terry on Twitter: @terrymc13
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