Cardinals at Ravens by Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds
Impact Injuries: Beanie Wells practiced on thursday and had an outside chance of playing Sunday. Todd Heap’s hamstring it’s still touch and go. The receiving corp was a little banged up. Early Doucet and DeMarco Sampson missed time.
The X-Factor: Can the Arizona offense produce against a stout Ravens defense? They were able to make a few plays against the Steelers. Also if they can keep Ray Rice under control the way that they did Rashard Mendenhall, they might have a chance, which is what you hope for in a game like this.
Don’t be surprised if: The Cardinals, if Beanie can’t go, will try and find ways to take advantage of three playmaking skills of LaRod Stephens-Howling.
Follow Jess on Twitter: @senorjessroot
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Cardinals at Ravens by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times
Impact Injuries: Free safety Ed Reed suffered a neck stinger against the Jaguars and missed time in practice this week. The Ravens can’t afford to be without the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year against Arizona Cardinals star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Meanwhile, rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith’s playing time will increase as his left ankle improves. He’s not even on the injury report anymore.
Wide receiver Lee Evans remains out with a sprained left ankle that has bothered him since the preseason. Left offensive guard Ben Grubbs still has a painful right turf toe.
The X-Factor: Will Joe Flacco get back on track? The consistency just hasn’t been there for Flacco, who has turned in nearly as many bad games this season as acceptable to good outings. The pass protection was an issue against the Jaguars as well as the receivers not creating enough separation downfield. Look for the Ravens to try to build up his confidence again with some higher-percentage throws. If Flacco doesn’t start playing better, it’s not going to exactly motivate owner Steve Bisciotti to open up the bank vault for him after the season. Offensive tackles Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie are struggling against speed rushers and at picking up blitzes and stunts. The Ravens might need some chip-blocking assistance on defensive end Calais Campbell.
Don’t be surprised if: Ravens Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice is more heavily involved after he was limited to a season-low eight carries for 28 yards and 63 yards from scrimmage against Jacksonville. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been heavily criticized for not utilizing Rice more often considering that the diminutive runner is the Ravens’ most explosive offensive threat. The Cardinals rank 14th against the run defensively, surrendering 114.2 yards per contest.
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Redskins at Bills by Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News
Impact Injuries: The Bills lost Shawne Merriman for the season this week, but just as big a factor on this game will be the fact the Bills’ first two left tackles (Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston) are out with injuries. Guard Andy Levitre, who played left tackle in college, will line up at LT, across from Redskins sackmaster Brian Orakpo. The Bills will have to do some chipping to help Levitre.
The X-Factor: Bills back Fred Jackson has been the X-Factor in the offense all season. He’s dangerous rushing and catching. The Redskins like to blitz, but Jackson has the ability to burn them if they’re not careful with their pressures.
Don’t be surprised if: The Redskins win the time of possession. The Bills are without both Merriman and defensive tackle Kyle Williams in the front seven. Washington will try to control the clock. The Bills’ offense will have to be efficient with its possessions and make a few big plays.
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Vikings at Panthers by Greg Jones of Examiner.com
Impact Injuries: The Carolina Panthers (2-5) don’t have any major injuries, but they could be without backup safety Jordan Pugh against the Minnesota Vikings (1-6). The second-year pro is still recovering from a concussion, which kept him out of last weeks’ game against the Washington Redskins.
The X-Factor: The Panthers rank No. 29 against the run. Now, the Panthers face Adrian Peterson, the leading NFL rusher. He has 146 carries for 712 yards and eight touchdowns. And he has only one fumble. The Panthers have struggled containing other elite running backs (Matt Forte, Michael Turner and Maurice Jones-Drew). It will be interesting to see how poorly or well Carolina does against Peterson. If the Panthers control Peterson they should easily win the game.
Don’t be surprised if: If Cam Newton gets another rushing touchdown to give him eight for the season, which would break the record for rookie quarterbacks. Moreover, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Newton rushes for more than 50 yards and passes for more than 300 yards against the Vikings, the No. 19 defense. In last week’s victory, Newton dominated the Redskins, who came into the contest with the No. 6 defense. Newton didn’t have a turnover, and he finished the game with a 127.5 passer rating. He should repeat those numbers against the Vikings.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @gjjones_sports
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Bengals at Seahawks by Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer
Impact Injuries: LB Rey Maualuga (ankle) is out at least another week. LBs Thomas Howard (hamstring) and Dan Skuta (groin) have been limited the past couple days. Skuta and Brandon Johnson are expected to split time at middle linebacker. CB Adam Jones (neck) is on a roster exemption after being cleared to practice this week and could be moved up to the active roster.
The X-Factor: The run game. Seattle is one of the stingiest run defenses in the league, allowing only 3.2 yards per carry. Cedric Benson is serving his one-game suspension for a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy which means Bernard Scott will get the start. Scott is more of an outside the numbers-type runner and has done well in his two previous starts. Expect offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to also utilize plenty of screen passes to get Scott more involved.
Don’t be surprised if: A.J. Green has another big game. Green has two 100-yard games this season and has caught a touchdown in all three road games. Seattle corners Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are inexperienced and not expected to match up against Green.
Follow Joe on Twitter: @joereedy
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Browns at 49ers by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Impact Injuries: Browns running back Peyton Hillis sat out Thursday with his pulled hamstring and might not play. Tight end Ben Watson and receiver Mohamed Massaquoi are both likely to sit with their concussions. As if Colt McCoy doesn’t have enough problems these days.
The X-Factor: Will current 49ers and former Browns special teams coach Brad Seeley be able to exploit the Browns’ struggling units? In the past two weeks, the Browns have given up two touchdowns on special teams, including one off of a fake field goal, and have had two field goals blocked. Browns beware.
Don’t be surprised if: Cleveland native Ted Ginn breaks a long return on his hometown team.
Follow Mary Kay on Twitter: @MaryKayCabot
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Cowboys at Eagles by Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram
Impact Injuries: Running back Felix Jones will miss his second consecutive game with a high left ankle sprain. He is the only player the Cowboys will be without this week. Jones will be replaced by DeMarco Murray, who rushed for a team record 253 yards against the Rams.
The X-Factor: Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan took at shot at the Eagles after they had been declared the “Dream Team” for their big-name free-agent signings. He promised to “beat their asses when we play them.” His defenders say they are ready to back up Ryan’s bravado. “I talked to Rob [Wednesday],” Cowboys linebacker Bradie James said. “I was like, ‘Look, Rob. We’ve got your back. We’ve got to go ball. And I know you’re going to be up all night long from the statements that you made in training camp.’”
Don’t be surprised if: DeMarco Murray rushes for more than 100 yards again. The Eagles rank 23rd in run defense, and the Cowboys think they have hit on something by playing conservatively on offense. Their defense is good enough that if they can run the ball and limit their turnovers on offense, they feel they can beat anybody.
Follow Charean on Twitter: @NFLCharean
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Lions at Broncos by Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post
Impact Injuries: Starting running back Willis McGahee is recovering from surgery to fix a broken bone in his right hand and will not play, giving Week 1 starter and former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno a chance to earn his job back. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil also might have to sit out because of a sprained ankle suffered against Miami. Dumervil did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday.
The X-Factor: The thrilling final-five-minutes comeback led by Tim Tebow last week against Miami overshadowed the fact that the Broncos quarterback struggled mightily in the first three-plus quarters of his first start of the season. He will have to be better from the beginning to have a chance for any sort of late magic against a substantially better defense. Tebow was sacked six times against the Dolphins, and should face an even more ferocious pass rush against the Lions.
Don’t be surprised if: Demaryius Thomas continues to be Tebow?s favorite target. The Broncos two first-round picks in 2010 have played very little together, but clearly Tebow is comfortable with Thomas, who made his season debut last week. Thomas was the target of 10 of Tebow?s 27 pass attempts against the Dolphins, though Thomas caught only three of them. All three of those catches, including a touchdown, came in the Broncos? frenetic final two drives, proving Tebow is looking for Thomas in clutch situations.
Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @PostBroncos
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Lions at Broncos by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press
Impact Injuries: Jahvid Best will miss his second straight game with a concussion, his second of the year. Best could return after next week’s bye, but the Lions will keep using Maurice Morris and Keiland Williams in his place. Backup defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Sammie Hill are both hobbled by foot injuries and questionable to play. Neither practiced Wednesday or Thursday. If they can’t go Sunday, Andre Fluellen is the only backup at tackle.
The X-Factor: Matthew Stafford. The Lions quarterback is expected to play after he sprained his right ankle in last week’s loss to the Falcons. More than play, though, the Lions need Stafford to recapture the form he showed during their 5-0 start. Stafford is coming off his worst game of the season (15 for 32, 183 yards) and has been sacked eight times the last two weeks. The Broncos will flood him with pressure, especially if his mobility proves to be limited, but Denver is susceptible to deep passes downfield. If Stafford can’t play, Shaun Hill will start at quarterback.
Don’t be surprised if: The Lions have their most productive pass-rushing day of the season. They have 17 sacks through seven games, but still haven’t had that stat-padding performance linemen crave. Going against a young, erratic quarterback in Tim Tebow who struggled in the face of pressure last week, coordinator Gunther Cunningham will keep his defense on the attack.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveBirkett and @freeplions
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Green Bay Packers
Jaguars at Texans by Steph Stradley of the Houston Chronicle
Impact Injuries: Standout wide receiver Andre Johnson will likely be a game time decision. Safety Danieal Manning is out for an unspecified time with a broken leg, leaving the Texans very inexperienced at the safety position.
The X-Factor: The Jaguars defense against the Texans offense. After a bad 2010, the Jaguar defense has rebounded to having a top 10 rush and pass defense so far in 2011. The Jaguars on the road, with a rookie QB in Blaine Gabbert, needs their defense to keep this game on their terms and low scoring. The Texans defense against Maurice Jones-Drew. Though the Texans have slowed down opponent’s running games, sometimes this has happened as opponents have given up on the run as they get too far behind. The Jaguars need their running game to stay on track to chew clock and keep the Texans offense off the field. In 2011, Maurice Jones-Drew is on pace for 1,547 rushing yards.
Don’t be surprised if: The teams have adventures with the return game. Reliant Stadium’s retractable roof is expected to be open for the first time this season. Sometimes returners not accustomed to the open roof of the stadium have issues fielding kicks from the north endzone because the ball comes from the shade into looking up into the direct sun. The Texans started the year with Jacoby Jones returning punts and Danieal Manning returning kickoffs. Manning is out, and the Texans are concerned with the amount of snaps that Jones has been taken. Last week, they used Trindon Holliday, but he was released after acquiring safety Quintin Demps. At this time, it is uncertain whether Jones will do all the returns, or if they will use Demps or cornerback Sherrick McManis.
Follow Steph on Twitter: @StephStradley
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Colts at Titans by Brad Wells of StampedeBlue.com
Impact Injuries: The Colts are still awaiting news on Joseph Addai who re-aggravated an injury last week against the Saints. Starting middle linebacker Pat Angerer, the NFL’s leading tackler through seven weeks, had limited participation Thursday at practice.
The X-Factor: Division games are almost always close contests, and I don’t think this one will be an exception. Both the Titans and Colts are coming off embarrassing loses, and both are very familiar with each other.
Don’t be surprised if: Delone Carter has another strong game. Carter was the lone bright spot in Indy’s historic 62-7 lose to the Saints last week. Carter and Donald Brown have run the ball well since Addai initially went down with an injury.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @StampedeBlue
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Jaguars at Texans by Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union
Impact Injuries: Offensive lineman Eben Britton hasn’t practiced this week and missed last week’s game against the Ravens. Fullback Brock Bolen, a special teams standout, has not practiced this week either. Defensive end John Chick, who started out on the practice squad, did not practice Thursday with an abdomen injury.
The X-Factor: The Jaguars defense has only allowed one score in the past six quarters, going back to the second half against the Steelers two weeks ago. They’ll face the best offense they’ve played all year Sunday.
Don’t be surprised if: Both running games excel. Texans running back Arian Foster had more than 100 yards each in rushing and receiving last weekend. Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew became the first player to run for more than 100 yards against the Ravens this year.
Follow Tania on Twitter: @taniaganguli
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Kansas City Chiefs
Chargers at Chiefs by Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com
Impact Injuries: None. The Chiefs have been one of the healthiest teams in the NFL under Todd Haley with only a few players generally listed each week. Unfortunately for KC, a few of those injuries this year have been to incredibly important guys like Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki. The Chargers most notable injury may be to Malcolm Floyd, whose status for Monday night is in doubt. Others in San Diego that are banged up include LT Marcus McNeill and LB Shaun Phillips, but they’re expected to be available.
The X-Factor: Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs used a very loud home crowd last year to get some momentum against the Chargers, ultimately winning the game, 21-14, and going 7-1 at home during the regular season. They need to recapture whatever they did last year that allowed them to have seven of their 10 total wins at home and use it on Monday night. Making communication between Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense as difficult as possible is a must.
Don’t be surprised if: The Chiefs keep this competitive. A lot of people are predicting the Chargers to win this game and, while that may be true, the Chiefs don’t get blown out at Arrowhead Stadium very often (ignoring the final two double-digit home losses to end the 2010 season). My guess is that this is a one-score game and won’t be decided either way until the final minutes.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @ArrowheadPride
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Dolphins at Giants by Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post
Impact Injuries: The Dolphins’ offensive line is banged up, with LG Richie Incognito (ankle) and RT Marc Colombo (knee) limited in practice this week, though both are expected to play. But CB Vontae Davis is still being slowed by a hamstring injury that has nagged him since Week 2 and didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday. If he can’t play against the Giants, backups Nolan Carroll and Will Allen will be asked to slow down Giants receivers Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz, which won’t be easy.
The X-Factor: The Dolphins’ offensive line. QB Matt Moore has taken a beating in his two starts, getting hit a total of 25 times (eight sacks, 17 hits) and suffering bruised ribs in Sunday’s loss to Denver. And the Giants, tied for the NFL lead with 21 sacks this year, will finally have their four ferocious defensive linemen (Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Mathias Kiwanuka, Osi Umenyiora) healthy for the first time this season. If the Dolphins can’t figure out a way to slow them down, Moore might be lucky if he only suffers bruised ribs this Sunday.
Don’t be surprised if: The Dolphins actually keep the game close. They’ve been competitive in all six of their games this year, and the defense is slowly climbing up the rankings after allowing over 600 yards to New England in Week 1. The Dolphins have collapsed spectacularly in the fourth quarter several times this year, but don’t be surprised if the Dolphins keep it competitive for most of the game.
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Vikings at Panthers by Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press
Impact Injuries: Cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck) is working to return after missing the last three games, but there are no guarantees the neck pain will subside. Wide receiver Percy Harvin (ribs) must pass a few on-field tests for the coaching staff before he can suit up. Running back Adrian Peterson (ankle) performed well in Thursday’s practice and is expected to play.
The X-Factor: Wide receiver Michael Jenkins. With Bernard Berrian released this week for failing to produce on the field and Percy Harvin battling a rib injury, Jenkins has been a steady presence for Vikings quarterbacks. Jenkins leads the team in receptions with 27 and recorded his first-career 100-yard game last week against Green Bay. Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder will lean on Jenkins and his trustworthy hands to convert third downs this week at Carolina.
Don’t be surprised if: Defensive end Jared Allen’s franchise-record streak of nine consecutive games with a sack ends Sunday. Left tackle Jordan Gross might be Allen’s stoutest test all season, and though 6-foot-5, 248-pound quarterback Cam Newton has taken 14 sacks this year, he’s quick enough to escape Allen’s rush if he senses the pressure early enough.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @VikingsNow
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New England Patriots
Patriots at Steelers by Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald
Impact Injuries: The Patriots are getting healthier, as only two players missed practice this week. That’s a huge lift. Reserve linebacker Dane Fletcher (thumb) is likely out, and cornerback Ras-I Dowling is battling a hip injury that could cause him to sit out. On the bright side linebacker Jerod Mayo (knee) and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (back) both have practiced for two weeks straight, which means that are likely to see the field on Sunday vs. the Steelers. In short, the Patriots could be a complete team for the first time in several games.
The X-Factor: Running back Kevin Faulk has missed the first six games on the Physically Unable to Perform list, as he battles to come back from an ACL tear. The best guess is that the longest tenured Patriots will be activated for the game, giving the Patriots their best blitz protector back and adding another skilled player in the backfield. Faulk will help spur on a screen game that has been dormant this season.
Don’t be surprised if: Quarterback Tom Brady abuses the Steelers defense like always. Heinz Field may belong to the Steelers, but it’s Brady who owns it. With a 6-1 record against the Steelers, including two wins in AFC title games in Pittsburgh, Brady knows defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defense better than anyone else. He knows where the pressure is coming from, when to take what’s given, and how to attack it. He should thrive.
Follow Ian on Twitter: @RapSheet
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New Orleans Saints
Saints at Rams by Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Impact Injuries: The Saints could be without tailback Mark Ingram this week after he suffered a bruised heal last week. But they’re still deep at the position with Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory, who could be activated from the PUP list if needed.
The X-Factor: The Saints are playing a winless opponent for the second straight week. Last week, motivation wasn’t a problem since the Saints were coming off of a lackluster loss at Tampa Bay, so they dominated the Colts 62-7. Can they muster that same level of energy and urgency now that they’re coming off of an easy victory?
Don’t be surprised if: Pierre Thomas runs for 100 yards. Sure, Thomas hasn’t run for more than 57 yards all season. But he is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. And if Ingram doesn’t play this week, Thomas could be charged with running down the clock in the second half against a Rams team that just gave up 294 rushing yards last week at Dallas.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @miketripletttp
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New York Giants
Dolphins at Giants by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: Hard to believe, but the Giants have none. All 53 players, plus one player on PUP (WR Ramses Barden) were practicing this week. The only player that Tom Coughlin seemed concerned about was FB Henry Hynoski (neck). If he can’t go, that hurts the running game as TE Bear Pascoe shifts to fullback. But he’s expected to play, too, so the Giants are as healthy as they’ve been all year.
The X-Factor: The Opening Drive. The Giants have a bad tendency to let bad teams hang around (see Seattle three weeks ago). They start slow against them and never seem to get into a groove. That’s why the opening drive for each team could be so critical for the Giants. They need to score first and stop the Dolphins. If they suddenly find themselves in a 7-0 hole it won’t seem daunting, but the crowd will be on them, the Giants may tighten up, and then just like that the 0-6 Dolphins will be in the game.
Don’t be surprised if: CB Corey Webster has another interception or two. More than ever, the Giants are locking him down on the opponents’ top receiver, which this week means Brandon Marshall. Obviously the Dolphins can’t just not throw to Marshall, so Webster will have a few balls thrown his way. And the combination of the way Miami QB Matt Moore is playing right now, plus how well Webster is playing, could mean a big day for one of the most underrated corners in the NFL.
Follow Ralph on Twitter: @TheBlueScreen
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New York Jets
Cowboys at Eagles by Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer
Impact Injuries: Compared to their NFC East rivals, the Eagles have remained remarkably healthy this season. There have been various bumps and bruises but for the most part the team has stayed intact. Last week’s bye also helped heal two starters — defensive end Trent Cole (calf) and left tackle Jason Peters (hamstring). Both players were back practicing this week after missing two games and will be in the lineup on Sunday. The only question mark is Brandon Graham. The second-year defensive end came off the physically unable to perform list this week and has practiced, but he will likely need a few weeks to get into football shape. The Eagles have three weeks before they have to make a decision on whether to activate Graham, who is coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and microfracture knee surgery in December.
The X-Factor: Michael Vick and his ability to pick of the blitz. With Rob Ryan at the controls the Eagles quarterback is bound to see all kids of blitz packages from the Cowboys defensive coordinator. It’s what Ryan does and it’s become the No. 1 way to limit Vick’s effectiveness. In the Eagles’ 20-13 win over the Redskins two weeks ago, Vick saw more blitzes than ever this season. The numbers — he completed 9 of 15 passes for 127 yards and was sacked only once — were decent when Washington sent extra pass rushers. But when they sent two of more extra pass rushers Vick struggled, completing just 2 of 7 pass att