NFP Friday Forecast
Cardinals at Bengals by Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds
Impact Injuries: Kevin Kolb still has not had a full day of practice and all signs seem to be pointing towards John Skelton starting again on Saturday. RB Beanie Wells, as has been the case for most of the season, is dealing with a knee injury, but will play. Tight end Todd Heap, who finally made an impact against the Browns last week, was not on the injury report at all this week. Safety Kerry Rhodes, who also returned to action last week, was not on the injury report all week, so expect to see him to be on the field with a full load of work, unlike the 50 percent clip he played last week.
The X-Factor: The road has not been kind to Arizona this season. They are 2-5, but have had a few close games. Playing in the East, on a Saturday and in the early game will be a challenge for a team that plays its home games in ideal weather conditions. How they react to this will be key. Another key factor is that both teams are fighting for their playoff lives, but don't control their own destiny. Both should be ready to play.
Don’t be surprised if: Arizona plays a close game. The team's defense has been great during its streak, and even when they were playing terribly early on, three of their five road losses were by a combined seven points. Add in the fact that John Skelton is best when the game is close late in the game, and you have a recipe for a nail-biter in Cincinnati on Christmas Eve.
Follow Jess on Twitter: @senorjessroot
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Falcons at Saints by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Impact Injuries: Cornerback Brent Grimes, who normally plays well against the Saints, returned to practice after knee surgery. He missed the past three games. He’s expected to start. Also, nickel back Kelvin Hayden has returned from a dislocated toe and could be available. If strongside linebacker Stephen Nicholas (knee) can’t answer the bell, veteran linebacker Mike Peterson will step in.
The X-Factor: WR Julio Jones, who’s played two strong games after coming back from a hamstring injury, did not play in the previous meeting. The Falcons stalled in the redzone three times in the last meeting and settled for field goals. Jones should add more explosiveness to the attack, especially when they are running their no-huddle attack.
Don’t be surprised if: WR Harry Douglas has another big game against the Saints. He caught eight passes for a career-high 133 yards in the last game. With Roddy White and Jones, the Saints will have to leave Douglas in single coverage. He got a lot of yards after the catch and should be a factor on third downs.
Follow Darryl on Twitter: @AJCFalcons
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Browns at Ravens by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times
Impact Injuries: Anquan Boldin won’t be a part of the Ravens’ bid to claim the AFC North division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The veteran wide receiver underwent surgery Thursday to repair a slight tear in his meniscus, a development that will sideline him for the final two remaining games of the regular season. Boldin will be replaced in the starting lineup by Lee Evans, and the Ravens will lean heavily on rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. The Ravens will likely have rookie wide receiver LaQuan Williams active this week.
The X-Factor: Will the Baltimore Ravens go undefeated at home? The Ravens (10-4) are a perfect 7-0 at M&T Bank Stadium heading into Saturday's kickoff against the Cleveland Browns (4-10), and defeated them earlier this season 24-10 in Cleveland. The Ravens have won 17 of their past 18 home games and are 26-5 under coach John Harbaugh in his four seasons in Baltimore. The Browns have lost seven of their past eight games, including four in a row and are 1-6 in road games and 0-4 in the division. They haven't won a game in Baltimore since 2007. The Ravens are 9-3 all-time against Cleveland at home and have won seven consecutive games against the last-place Browns. The Ravens have won six consecutive AFC North games and eight of their last nine. The Ravens are 4-0 this season in the division and have never swept the AFC North before in franchise history.
Will the Ravens contain Peyton Hillis again? The power back rushed for only 45 yards during the first meeting, and that was without All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis in the lineup due to a toe injury. Lewis displayed some signs of rust against the San Diego Chargers a week ago as they rushed for three touchdowns, but led the Ravens with 10 tackles. Hillis is healthier now after battling hamstring and hip injuries earlier this season. Lewis has 257 career tackles in 22 games against the Browns with four interceptions and seven sacks.
Don’t be surprised if: If quarterback Joe Flacco is successful. Flacco is 7-0 for his career against the Browns with eight touchdowns and three interceptions against them. He has completed 64.4 percent of his throws for 1,396 yards for a 97.3 quarterback rating.
Follow Aaron on Twitter: @RavensInsider
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Buccaneers at Panthers by Greg Jones of Examiner.com
Impact Injuries: The Carolina Panthers (5-9) could be without starting safety Charles Godfrey, who has an injured right shoulder. Jordan Pugh will replace Godfrey, who is having the best season of his NFL career. Last week, Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he believed Godfrey wasn’t as aggressive in the Panthers’ 31-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons due to his injured shoulder. Pugh has been inconsistent for most of the season. But the Panthers coaching staff still thinks highly of his skill level and his ability to replace Godfrey. The Panthers could be without starting cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who has a sore hamstring and a sore ankle. Godfrey and Munnerlyn didn’t practice Wednesday and didn’t finish last weeks’ game against the Houston Texans because of their injuries. The Panthers will either start Darius Butler or R.J. Stanford if Munnerlyn can’t go. Rivera hasn’t indicated which cornerback will start if Munnerlyn is sidelined with his injuries. Stanford also filled in at safety against the Texans when Pugh was shaken up on a play.
The X-Factor: Can the Panthers avoid having a letdown in the third quarter and finish strong? In last weeks’ 28-13 win over the Texans, the Panthers had another third -quarter lull, but they were able to finish strong. After giving up 13 straight points in the second half, Carolina put an impressive scoring drive together in the fourth quarter and finished the game by running out the final 7