Welcome to the “NFP Friday Forecast.” Staring today and continuing every week throughout the rest of the 2011 season, our team of special contributors will give you a glimpse at what to expect over the NFL weekend. Impact injuries, the “X-Factor” and something that could surprise you on game day. Real info from the writers that know their teams inside and out….
NFL Week 2
Falcons vs. Eagles by Daryl Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution
Impact Injuries: With CB Christopher Owens likely questionable with an ankle injury, recently signed Kelvin Hayden could take over at nickel. Also, DT Jonathan Babnineaux (torn MCL) is out, but DT Corey Peters has returned to practice.
The X-Factor: Ovie Mughelli. The Falcons FB left last week’s game with a knee injury, but returned to practice this week and pronounced himself ready to go. The Pro Bowler’s lead blocking will be needed against the Eagles wide-tackle-nine defense. He’ll need to attack the young Philadelphia linebackers to clear the way for running back Michael Turner.
Don’t be surprised if: Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey leans heavily on the running game against the Eagles. Despite all the talk from the Falcons about creating more explosive plays, their winning formula has been to run the ball to set up the pass. They moved away from the run after falling behind against the Bears in Week One. Expect the Eagles to see plenty of Michael Turner, early and often.
Follow Darryl on Twitter: @DOrlandoLED
For more on the Falcons click here
Ravens at Titans by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times
Impact Injuries: The Ravens still plan to start wide receiver Lee Evans, barring a setback in practice this week with his nagging left ankle injury. He was targeted four times and caught no passes during the season opener. Offensive guard Ben Grubbs is a question mark due to a toe injury and would be replaced by Andre Gurode if he can’t go.
The X-Factor: The Ravens racked up a franchise record seven turnovers against the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, picking off Ben Roethlisberger three times. Between defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and ballhawking safety Ed Reed, the Ravens have three impact players on defense to go with steady All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
Don’t be surprised if: this game is closer than people expect considering the Titans are an unfamiliar opponent for Baltimore and have some impact playmakers in running back Chris Johnson and wide receiver Kenny Britt. Ultimately, the Ravens should be able to take care of business and advance to 2-0.
Follow Aaron on Twitter: @RavensInsider
For more on the Ravens click here
Bills vs. Raiders by Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News
Impact Injuries: The Bills are mostly healthy. Cornerback Terrence McGee is the one significant injury. He’s out with a hamstring injury. Taking his place is rookie second-round pick Aaron Williams. Williams got beat for a touchdown on a short out pass last week in Kansas City. He read the play well and had an interception all lined up but just missed the ball. Otherwise, he looked pretty good. Given the Raiders wideout injuries, the absence of McGee should not be a factor this week.
The X-Factor: Linebacker Nick Barnett faces a big challenge this week. The Bills think their revamped run defense will be up to the test this year. Barnett and rookie Marcell Dareus are the two big new pieces to the defensive puzzle. The Raiders were No. 2 in rushing last year and figure to pound the ball on the Bills. Barnett needs to fill holes and make a lot of tackles. The Bills don’t think they’ve lost anything by having Barnett replace Paul Posluszny at inside linebacker. We’ll see if the Bills, ranked 32nd vs. the run last year, can keep the Raiders from breaking longer runs. Oakland’s Darren McFadden led the league in 20-plus runs last year.
Don’t be surprised if: The Bills go to 2-0. It sure looks like the Bills are catching the Raiders at a good time. Oakland’s No. 2 wideout (Jacoby Ford) appears likley to miss the game. The No. 3 wideout (Louis Murphy) is out. The Raiders’ No. 3 and 4 cornerbacks both are rookies, and they will be on the field a lot vs. the Bills’ spread formations. Plus, the Raiders have to travel cross-country on the road on a short week after a road Monday night game.
Follow Mark on Twitter: @gggaughan
For more on the Bills click here
Panthers vs. Packers by Greg Jones of Examiner.com
Impact Injuries: The loss of Pro Bowl middle linebacker Jon Beason is huge. With the defending champions coming into Bank of American Stadium on Sunday, Dan Connor, Beason’s replacement, must continue to play well. Last week, he finished with five tackles against the Arizona Cardinals in limited play.
The X-Factor: The Carolina secondary has to play well if there is any chance of winning its home opener. It isn’t a secret that Green Bay loves to air it out, so the Panthers have to be able to cover and give Charles “Big Money” Johnson and the rest of the front seven an opportunity to pressure Aaron Rogers.
Don’t be surprised if: the Packers struggle. Carolina is better than many believe, and the Panthers’ running game can give the Packers problems while keeping the ball out of Aaron Rogers’ hands.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @gjjones_sports
For more on the Panthers click here
Bears at Saints by Brad Briggs of the Chicago Tribune
Impact Injuries: The Bears had one of the healthiest rosters in the NFL in 2010 but they’re dealing with some minor injuries early on. Two starters are iffy for the game – strong safety Chris Harris (hamstring) and wide receiver Roy Williams (groin) – and right guard Lance Louis (ankle) will sit out. Also, running back Marion Barber (calf) appears to have hit a setback in his recovery from a preseason injury and could be a week away from returning. The Bears have to be concerned if Harris is out because newcomers Brandon Meriweather is still learning the scheme.
The X-Factor: Look for the Bears to rally around middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who has been dealing with the loss of his mother Lavoyda Lenard since she died unexpectedly on Monday. Urlacher spent two days away but returned for practice Thursday and will spend the day with the team Friday before traveling to a private funeral Saturday. He’ll then make the trip to New Orleans for the game. It’s made for an emotional week in the locker room because the seven-time Pro Bowl performer is so well respected by his teammates. At 33, he showed no signs of slowing down when he was named NFC defensive player of the week after intercepting Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and scooping up a fumble and scoring.
Don’t be surprised if: the Bears’ young offensive tackles J’Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi have a rough go of it in the noisy Superdome after Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has had 10 days to chew on his players following a lousy opener in Green Bay. But if the Bears’ reworked offensive line holds up vs. the Saints, this offense could really be headed in the right direction.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradBiggs
For more on the Bears click here
Bengals at Broncos by Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer
Impact Injuries: Head coach Marvin Lewis said on Thursday that he expects QB Andy Dalton (wrist) to play. DE Robert Geathers (shoulder) will be a game time decision. If he can not play, then Carlos Dunlap, who had a team-leading 9 1/2 sacks last year, would get the start.
The X-Factor: Jermaine Gresham. The second-year tight end caught a team-high six catches for 58 yards in last week’s victory over Cleveland. If he can help stretch the field, especially down the middle, it should allow A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson to get more opportunities outside the numbers.
Don’t be surprised if: Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer tries to blitz more, considering that Denver’s offensive line gave up five sacks. With the height and athleticism of defensive linemen Michael Johnson and Dunlap, the Bengals batted down four passes last week.
Follow Joe on Twitter: @joereedy
For more in the Bengals click here
Browns at Colts from Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Impact Injuries: With Colts MLB Gary Brackett out with a shoulder injury, Peyton Hillis would love to pound it up the middle all day long. Browns RT Tony Pashos (ankle) is out and hoping the combo of Artis Hicks and Oniel Cousins can hold off Robert Mathis — who’s been limited with a neck injury.
The X-Factor: Which of these two teams will dig the deepest to rebound from their debacles in Week 1? Kerry Collins fumbled three times in the rout by Houston and needs to gain his team’s confidence. The Browns are trying to wake up from the nap they took during the Bengals’ quicksnap gamewinning 41-yard TD.
Don’t be surprised if: Browns CB Joe Haden, who’s coming off a monster game with five pass breakups, picks off Collins once or twice.
Follow Mary Kay on Twitter: @MaryKayCabot
For more on the Browns click here
Cowboys at 49ers by Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram
Impact Injuries: The Cowboys are depleted at cornerback, prompting them to sign Frank Walker for insurance Tuesday. Starter Terence Newman missed the entire preseason and the season opener with a groin injury, but Dallas hopes he will return this week. Nickel back Orlando Scandrick, who started for Newman last week, will miss several weeks with a high-ankle sprain.
The X-Factor: The Cowboys lost a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead for the first time in team history, falling to 246-1-1 all time. Last season, they let a tough loss to the Redskins in the season opener snowball into a 1-7 start. The 24-hour rule would serve them well this week.
Don’t be surprised if: Tony Romo rebounds after his two-turnover performance. Romo has had a way of coming back strong after poor performances. His fourth-quarter fumble in the red zone and his game-losing interception will be forgotten, if not forgiven, at least for a week if he can get the Cowboys back in the win column.
Follow David on Twitter: @NFLCharean
For more in the ‘Boys click here
Broncos vs. Benglas by Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post
Impact Injuries: The Broncos could hardly afford one star player to suffer an injury; this week they could be without as many as five of them. Injuries are a huge deal for the Broncos this week, with key starters Champ Bailey, Elvis Dumervil, Knowshon Moreno, Brandon Lloyd and D.J. Williams all missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday. Williams and Dumervil are expected to be out (along with defensive tackle Marcus Thomas and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas), and the other guys are expected to be questionable, at best.
The X-Factor: Quarterback Kyle Orton has taken plenty of heat after a lackluster performance in the season opener. Orton needs to correct his own mistakes (he was responsible for two turnovers in the loss to Oakland) but also needs help from the rest of the offense. If the running game can get on track ? and anything would be better than it was in week 1 ? Orton has a chance to quiet his doubters.
Don’t be surprised if: The Broncos rely heavily on their tight ends this week. The Broncos need extra blockers to help protect Kyle Orton (who was sacked five times last week) and jump start the running game, but also need more receiving options, especially with Lloyd questionable with a groin injury.
– Lindsay Jones, The Denver Post
Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @PostBroncos
For more on the Broncos click here
Lions vs Chiefs by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press
Impact Injuries: WR Calvin Johnson rolled his ankle in a Week 1 win over Tampa Bay and missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but said he expects to play Sunday. S Louis Delmas also is battling a hip pointer. If Delmas can’t play, Erik Coleman will start in his place.
The X-Factor: Gunther Cunningham. The Lions defensive coordinator won’t make this game personal, but everyone on the Lions defense knows about Cunningham’s history with the Chiefs. He spent 11 years there, including two as head coach, and was the subject of tampering allegations levied by Kansas City last year.
Don’t be surprised if: The Lions try and control tempo with their no-huddle offense early. Kansas City wants to run the ball and has one of the league’s most dangerous backs in Jamaal Charles. The Lions need to keep Charles off the field, or at least put the Chiefs in a big enough hole that they have to stray from their run game.
For more on the Lions click here
Green Bay Packers
Packers at Carolina by Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette
Impact Injuries: If CB Tramon Williams (bruised shoulder) can’t go, it changes the way defensive coordinator Dom Capers game plans and limits the effectiveness of Charles Woodson. Against the Saints, Capers played almost entirely nickel — a package that features Woodson in the slot, where he can either blitz or cover. Without Williams, Capers needed Woodson’s coverage skills on the perimeter so he moved him outside, while Jarrett Bush, a liability in coverage, played in the slot.
The X-Factor: WR James Jones signed a three-year, $9.4 million contract as an unrestricted free agent and then had just one ball thrown his way in the opener against the Saints. What irked him more was that he played only 19 of 64 plays, and several of his snaps were in a predominantly running personnel group that included three tight ends. That’s not what he envisioned when he re-signed. Coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin have an abundance of weapons, but don’t be surprised if they try to get Jones involved this week at Carolina.
Don’t be surprised if: The punt coverage is far better this week with the addition of rookie TE Ryan Taylor, who was inactive against New Orleans because of a hip injury. Taylor was one of special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum’s core guys in training camp and without him, the Saints’ Darren Sproles had a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobDemovsky
For more on the Pack click here
Texans at Dolphins by Steph Stradley of the Houston Chronicle
Impact Injuries: RB Arian Foster (hamstring) was back at practice Wednesday and Thursday, and if he returns, may be on a play count. RB Derrick Ward hurt his ankle against the Colts and isn’t expected to practice this week. Whether Foster starts or not, Ben Tate will likely get many touches if the game goes the way the Texans want.
The X-Factor: The Texans defense looked very good against a Manningless Colts team and in limited preseason time (5th in total defense preseason, tied for 2nd in sacks). Is this an illusion or real progress for a Wade Phillips-led group full of high round draft picks? The Texans defense has been challenged in the past with mobile quarterbacks and offensive plays that penalize over pursuit.
Don’t be surprised if: The Texans tight ends light it up. Texans want to use 2 and 3 TE sets to create run/pass uncertainty and mismatches. The Patriots had 189 TE passing yards between 2 TEs. Especially with the loss of WR Kevin Walter to injury week 1, TEs Owen Daniels, Joel Dreessen and TE/FB/WR/Human Swiss Army Knife James Casey could get a ton of targets.
Follow Steph on Twitter: @StephStradley
For more on the Texans click here
Colts vs. Browns by Brad Wells of StampedeBlue.com
Impact Injuries: Middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett is out. It’s likely that second-year outside linebacker Pat Angerer will move inside and play MIKE while Philip Wheeler will return to starting at SAM backer.
The X-Factor: Kerry Collins. He had his first game as the new Colts quarterback, but it was on the road against a division opponent. Now, he’s at home playing a Browns team with issues on defense. He should be better, and if Collins plays well, the Colts will win.
Don’t be surprised if: The Colts bounce back. They looked like a team looking for the No. 1 overall pick last week, but they have too much talent to be that bad. They should rebound this week. If they don’t, then Jim Caldwell should start updating his resume.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @StampedeBlue
For more on the Colts click here
Jaguars at Jets by Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union
Impact Injuries: Four starters missed Wednesday and Thursday’s practices. Tight end Marcedes Lewis will test out his strained right calf Friday to see if he can play on it. Cornerback Derek Cox (ribs) isn’t expected to play. Defensive end Aaron Kampman, who had a setback on his surgically repaired knee, might be out for the second straight week and receiver Jason Hill has been out with a hip injury.
The X-Factor: Two former Jets defensive backs will face the team that drafted them on Sunday – Drew Coleman and Dwight Lowery. Both had stood out in the season opener with Lowery catching the game-clinching interception and Coleman leading the team in tackles with one sack fumble.
Don’t be surprised if: Maurice Jones-Drew remains on a snap count. Jones-Drew’s coaches don’t want to overwork him too quickly since he was held out of most of the preseason. He didn’t play like he needed the rest – 97 yards on 24 carries – but precaution indicates his importance to the team later in the season.
Follow Tania on Twitter: @taniaganguli
For more on the Jags click here
Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs at Lions by Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com
Impact Injuries: S Eric Berry. The Chiefs lost him to a torn ACL and their efforts to replace him against the Bills weren’t encouraging. Backups Jon McGraw and Sabby Piscitelli must put up a competent performance or the Lions will have a field day through the air.
The X-Factor: Jamaal Charles. Every time he’s had at least 20 carries in a game, he’s eclipsed the century mark. If the Chiefs have a shot in this game, Charles needs to be involved early and often to control the flow of the game.
Don’t be surprised if: the Chiefs lay another stinker. They’ve traditionally struggled against teams with solid defensive lines and the Lions fit the bill in that category.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @ArrowheadPride
For more on the Chiefs click here
Dolphins vs. Texans by Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post
Impact Injuries: Running back Daniel Thomas and H-back Charles Clay, both rookies, could make their debut Sunday after missing the Patriots game with hamstring injuries. The Dolphins don’t have much faith in backup running backs Lex Hilliard and Larry Johnson — Reggie Bush played 75 of 77 snaps — and need Thomas and Clay to share the load with Bush, particularly in short-yardage situations.
The X-Factor: The Dolphins’ conditioning. The South Florida heat got to cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Sean Smith on Monday night against the Patriots. Tom Brady ran them ragged, and both players cramped up badly in the second half, exiting the game for long stretches. And that game was played at night. The heat will only be worse on Sunday at 4:15 p.m. against Houston, and Matt Schaub will have a huge day if Davis and Smith aren’t properly hydrated.
Don’t be surprised if: Chad Henne’s numbers regress. He looked much-improved against New England, but 213 of his 416 passing yards came in the final eight minutes when the Patriots played soft zone defense. Henne still struggled in the Red Zone, particularly when trying to connect with Brandon Marshall, and his numbers might take a step back this week in what should be a closer game against Houston.
Follow Ben on Twitter: @BenVolinPBP
For more on the Phins click here
Vikings vs. Buccaneers by Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press
Impact Injuries: The Vikings are one of the league’s healthiest teams. Backup defensive end Adrian Awasom (knee) is the only player missing practice time this week. But keep an eye on the progress of starting right guard Anthony Herrera, who played every snap on a reconstructed knee against the Chargers. Herrera tore his anterior cruciate ligament in November.
The X-Factor: Husain Abdullah. On a team that has struggled with tackling from the preseason to now, Abdullah has been reliable in the open field and even contained Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates on several plays in a Week One loss to San Diego. If the Vikings stay aggressive with blitzing linebackers, Abdullah must pounce on the dumpoff passes at midfield.
Don’t be surprised if: The Vikings target tight ends early and often. Quarterback Donovan McNabb will need short-to-intermediate bailout options after last week’s 39-yard passing performance, and the Vikings want to utilize Visanthe Shiancoe and Kyle Rudolph, who went without a catch against San Diego. Lions tight ends caught six passes for 68 yards and a score against the Bucs last week.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @VikingsNow
Fore more on the Vikes click here
New England Patriots
Patriots vs. Chargers by Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald
Impact Injuries: All eyes are on the balky back of Sebastian Vollmer. The third-year right tackle missed the opener, which opened the door for Nate Solder. He did fine. But Vollmer is the starter, and his presence makes Tom Brady more secure.
The X-Factor: It’s not the vaunted and accomplished quarterbacks who will be deciding this game. Sure, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers are important. But it’s each side’s tight ends who must be contained in order for the team’s to avoid a 50-49 game. The Patriots must mug Antonio Gates off the line and ruin his timing, while the Chargers need to put the have their toughest cornerback on Aaron Hernandez and ask him to stay with him.
Don’t be surprised if: the Patriots expose the Chargers’ most serious weakness and force multiple turnovers. That helped them survive in San Diego last year, and coach Bill Belichick knows how to hit teams where it hurts. Running backs such as Mike Tolbert better hold onto the ball, lest the Patriots come clawing it away. And with disguises coverages should help confuse even Rivers.
Follow Ian on Twitter: @RapSheet
For more on the Pats click here
New Orleans Saints
Saints vs. Bears by Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Impact Injuries: The Saints will definitely miss receiver Marques Colston, who’s out an estimated four weeks with a broken collarbone. Colston is Drew Brees’ go-to guy in the red zone and on third downs. The Saints offense is so deep and diverse, though, that they can usually absorb the loss of any one player. It will be a big help if reliable receiver Lance Moore comes back from his own groin injury. And emerging tight end Jimmy Graham is a similar weapon in the red zone and on third downs.
The X-Factor: Last week the Saints defense was a liability at Green Bay, allowing 35 offensive points. But they can be an asset this week if coordinator Gregg Williams’ attacking style leads to some sacks and turnovers. The Bears give up more sacks than any team in the NFL, and quarterback Jay Cutler is willing to take risks in the air. The Saints defense needs to take advantage. Look for emerging safety Malcolm Jenkins to be a difference-maker Sunday, in particular.
Don’t be surprised if: the Saints’ run game shows up. Tailbacks Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles have all looked great this summer, but the Saints ultimately had to abandon the run in last week’s shootout.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @miketripletttp
For more on the Saints click here
New York Giants
Giants vs. Rams by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: If WR Hakeem Nicks (knee) doesn’t play, the Giants’ struggling offense could be in deep trouble. Mario Manningham can pick up the s