Cardinals 49ers by Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds
Impact Injuries: It still looks like Kevin Kolb will be unable to start, as he is still recovering from the myriad of injuries in his foot. He has turf toe, a bone bruise and a partially torn ligament. Tight ends Todd Heap and Robert Housler are still nagged by their respective hamstring and groin injuries. Safety Kerry Rhodes and linebacker Joey Porter are still going to be out, as they continue to recover from surgeries. Right tackle Brandon Keith has a sore knee as well. The other injuries are more minor and do not appear that they will keep anyone out on Sunday.
The X-Factor: Turnovers. Since 2002, the winner in the turnover battle has won every game but one in this matchup. San Francisco lives off of turnovers, as they are a +13 on the season. Arizona, on the other hand, is -3. John Skelton, who threw for over 300 yards and three TDs last week (the first Cardinals QB to do that since Kurt Warner retired), also threw two crucial interceptions, one that was returned for a touchdown and another that led directly to three Eagles points. Arizona can ill afford mistakes like that against the 8-1 49ers.
Don’t be surprised if: A low-scoring affair should not surprise anyone. San Francisco is allowing just over 15 points per game. Arizona’s defense has allowed only 19 points in their past two games (another 11 were scored by the opposing defenses and even three of the 19 came on a field goal after the offense turned it over in field goal range) and appears to be gelling after defensive coordinator Ray Horton brought a Steelers-type defensive set this season. Considering the rivalry and the animosity between the teams in recent history, a physical, low-scoring game seems to be waiting.
Follow Jess on Twitter: @senorjessroot
For more on the Cards click here
Titans at Falcons by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Impact Injuries: With Julio Jones not expected to play, wide receiver Harry Douglas could start and get a chance to follow up his best game as a pro. Quarterback Matt Ryan is starting to get more comfortable with Douglas, who was targeted 14 times against the Saints. He caught eight passes for 133 yards, both career highs. He has 25 catches for 332 yards, both career highs. Jones has missed two games and parts of two other games with hamstring injuries.
The X-Factor: QB Matt Ryan. Ryan passed for a career-high 351 yards in a losing effort last week. He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in a career-best 15 straight games, and has found a receiver in the end zone in 23 of his last 24 games. Since 2008, the Falcons are 20-5 record when Ryan throws multiple touchdown passes and are 35-11 when he finds a man in the end zone at least once.
Don’t be surprised if: WR Roddy White breaks out of his funk. White has been critical of his own play and believes that defenses have caught up to the Falcons. Look for the team to try to move him around and get him the ball. He led the league with 115 catches last year, but has 47 catches for 463 yards and just three touchdowns in 2011.
Follow Darryl on Twitter: @AJCFalcons
For more on the Falcons click here
Bengals at Ravens by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times
Impact Injuries: Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis has missed practice this week with a foot injury. While it might slow him down Sunday, he’s not expected to miss the game or have his playing time reduced.
The X-Factor: Will the Baltimore Ravens get Ray Rice more involved? It’s been a hot topic of conversation all week after Rice only got 13 touches, including five carries for 27 yards, during a 22-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. And it was a similar situation to how the Ravens lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this season when Rice had only 13 touches in that game, including eight carries for 28 yards. The Bengals rank fifth in the NFL in total defense and second in rushing defense heading into Sunday’s kickoff at M&T Bank Stadium, allowing only 86.8 yards on the ground. Rice has had average success in the past against the Bengals with 386 rushing yards in six games with two touchdowns. He has also caught 26 passes for 224 yards against Cincinnati. As much as the Ravens want to establish the run, this might be the week to attack the Bengals in another way as the two AFC North clubs battle for first-place in the division.
Don’t be surprised if: The Ravens are resilient. Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 14-4 after losses and have won 11 consecutive games after defeats. That’s the longest current active streak in the NFL.
Follow Aaron on Twitter: @RavensInsider
For more on the Ravens click here
Bills at Dolphins by Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News
Impact Injuries: The Bills are hobbling heading to Miami. They lost their most talented offensive linemen when Eric Wood went on injured reserve with a knee injury. Guard Andy Levitre, Mr. Versatile for the Bills, shifts over to center, where he should do OK. Rookie Chris Hairston starts at left tackle this week after sitting out three games with an ankle injury. The Bills’ restructured O-line has a tough challenge against a physical Miami front seven.
The X-Factor: After two straight down weeks, the Bills’ offense needs a spark. Somebody besides Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson (who has a sore shoulder) must step up and make some plays. It would be good if C.J. Spiller, Brad Smith and Donald Jones came up with a few good gainers vs. the Dolphins.
Don’t be surprised if: Miami makes it hard for the Bills to run the ball. Fred Jackson went just 15 carries for 36 yards in the Bills’ 17-14 win over Miami last December. The Dolphins’ front seven will give the Bills some trouble. This shapes up as a tough game for the Bills.
Follow Mark on Twitter: @gggaughan
For more on the Bills click here
Panthers at Lions by Greg Jones of Examiner.com
Impact Injuries: Last season, the Carolina Panthers placed 14 players on season-ending injured reserve. A year later, Carolina has 12 players on that list after placing running back Mike Goodson on IR. Goodson played in the first four games, but he has been inactive since. The third-year pro also lost his starting job as the kick returner to rookie wideout Kealoha Pilares.
The X-Factor: The Panthers have to play better on special teams. They are getting little from Pilares on kick returns and Armanti Edwards on punt returns. The blocking for Edwards and Pilares is poor. The punt coverage and kick off coverage is lacking. In addition, kicker Olindo Mare hasn’t been great and has given several reasons for fans to want John Kasay back. This week, Rivera pointed to the injury list as reason for the special teams’ struggles. The unit has done everything but give up a block punt. Special teams has to play well if Carolina is going to have a chance at defeating the Detroit Lions.
Don’t be surprised if: If Cam Newton bounces back after an average performance against the Tennessee Titans. The rookie quarterback is the least of the Panthers’ problems. He had some struggles against the Titans, but he did some things well too. The problem for Carolina is ensuring the other players consistently play at the rookies’ level.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @gjjones_sports
For more on the Panthers click here
Chargers at Bears by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune
Impact Injuries: Just when it looked like the Bears were getting things settled on the offensive line, left guard Chris Williams was lost for the season with a dislocated left wrist. The injury is very similar to what middle linebacker Brian Urlacher suffered in the 2009 season opener at Green Bay, and it required emergency surgery after the game. He’ll miss the remainder of the year, putting more pressure on a unit already playing without Gabe Carimi, the first-round draft pick from Wisconsin who remains sidelined with a knee injury. Edwin Williams will replace Chris Williams and he’s an unproven commodity with only five career starts. Otherwise, the Bears are in decent shape, but you can’t underestimate the fact that offensive line coach Mike Tice will be turning to his 11th starting combination in 26 regular-season games since the beginning of 2010.
The X-Factor: The opportunistic Bears defense has come up with nine interceptions in the last three games and prepares to face Philip Rivers, who leads the NFL with 15 interceptions and has thrown eight in the Chargers’ current four-game losing streak. It’s a combination of sure-handed defensive backs and a steady pass rush led by Julius Peppers. Lovie Smith hammers takeaways with his defense and the Tampa Two scheme puts the defensive backs in position to make plays because everyone has their eyes on the quarterback. The key, though, is forcing the ball to come out early and that’s where Peppers, who has been hampered by sprains to each knee in recent weeks, has come through. He’s the biggest force on the defense and lately the Bears have been moving him around to make it difficult for opponents to double-team and chip him. Peppers lined up some at left tackle last week in the win over the Lions, and the team figures to continue to scheme for opponents with him as Smith looks for the best position for his elite pass rusher.
Don’t be surprised if: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler continues to target Earl Bennett against a San Diego secondary that was toasted by the Oakland Raiders in its last outing. Cutler has been keying on Bennett, his former teammate at Vanderbilt, since the wideout returned two weeks ago after missing five consecutive games with a chest injury. Bennett has become a focus on third down and in the red zone.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradBiggs
For more on the Bears click here
Bengals at Ravens by Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer
Impact Injuries: WR A.J. Green (knee) did not practice on Wed. or Thur. and is a gametime decision. He is questionable at best and my gut feeling is that he will not play on Sunday. TE Donald Lee (foot) will also be out for the second straight game. DE Carlos Dunlap (hamstring), who was inactive for the Steelers game, will play this week as will CB Adam Jones (hamstring/groin), who has missed the past two games.
The X-Factor: If Green can not play, that takes a valuable piece out of the Bengals offense. That means Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson have to step up. Both have been inconsistent. Caldwell had three catches last week but has had success in Baltimore. Simpson had 12 catches in the regular-season finale against the Ravens last year but also had key fumbles. He also did not have a catch last week.
Don’t be surprised if: The Bengals up their pressure packages in order to force Baltimore QB Joe Flacco into mistakes. Flacco has nine interceptions in the past four games against the Bengals but five of the picks were by Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. The Bengals did get five sacks on Ben Roethlisberger last week and all eight members of the defensive line have at least half a sack this year.
Follow Joe on Twitter: @joereedy
For more in the Bengals click here
Jaguars at Browns by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Impact Injuries: Browns running back Peyton Hillis is out with his pulled hamstring and safety T.J. Ward is out with his sprained foot. Running back Montario Hardesty will most likely sit again with his torn calf muscle. It means another start for running back Chris Ogbonnaya, who’s been a Brown for a month.
The X-Factor: The Red Zone. Both teams need a compass to find it, and both are challenged once they get there. The Jaguars have made a league-low 15 trips to the red zone and the Browns are second-worst with 18. Last week, the Browns went 0-4 in the red zone, which is becoming the dead zone for them.
Don’t be surprised if: The Browns stumble into the end zone at home for the first time since Oct. 2.
Follow Mary Kay on Twitter: @MaryKayCabot
For more on the Browns click here
Cowboys at Redskins by Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram
Impact Injuries: Cornerback Mike Jenkins will miss his third game with a hamstring injury. He will be replaced by nickel back Orlando Scandrick. Receiver Miles Austin (hamstring) is out another week or two, and Laurent Robinson will take his place.
The X-Factor: Running back Felix Jones returns this week after missing the past four weeks with a high left ankle sprain. Rookie DeMarco Murray rushed for 601 yards in Jones’ four-game absence, averaging 21.5 touches. Jones’ role is yet to be determined, but it likely will be as a third-down back and possibly as a kickoff returner. Jones, who hasn’t returned a kickoff since 2009, worked on special teams this week. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said this week that Jones is more comfortable as a complementary back anyway.
Don’t be surprised if: The Cowboys defense shuts down the Redskins. Dallas nearly shut out Buffalo, limiting the Bills to seven points and 271 yards. The Bills’ touchdown came when the Cowboys had 10 players on the field. The Redskins rank 31st in rushing, though ex-Cowboy Tashard Choice will make his debut with his new team, and 27th overall.
Follow Charean on Twitter: @NFLCharean
For more in the ‘Boys click here
Panthers at Lions by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press
Impact Injuries: Jahvid Best is out for a fourth straight game because of a concussion and the Lions have shown precious little confidence in their running game with him gone (they threw 28 times in the first half last week despite Stafford’s finger problems and a serious wind). Backup defensive ends Lawrence Jackson (thigh) and Willie Young (ankle) missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, though both said they expect to play Sunday.
The X-Factor: The wind. Or lack of it. Both Matthew Stafford and Jim Schwartz blamed Stafford’s problems throwing last week (four interceptions, two returned for touchdowns) on the wind, not his fractured right index finger. There won’t be any wind Sunday at Ford Field, but Stafford is still wearing a splint on his finger and gloves on his throwing hand. Will his accuracy return?
Don’t be surprised if: Nick Fairley gets his first sack against former Auburn teammate Cam Newton. Fairley said he wasn’t allowed to hit Newton in practice last year, but the Lions rookie knows Newton’s game as well as anyone. Newton has been sacked 22 times this year, and at least three times in five of the nine games he’s played. Fairley came close to getting a sack last week against Jay Cutler and should play 30 or so snaps as a backup tackle.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveBirkett and @freeplions
For more on the Lions click here
Green Bay Packers
Buccaneers at Packers by Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette
Impact Injuries: The Packers hope the club-like cast that safety Morgan Burnett has been playing with since he broke his right hand in practice on Oct. 13 will start to get smaller soon. Though he will still need to protect his hand, the hope is that a new cast will allow him some use of his fingers. He hasn’t missed any playing time since the injury, but his tackling ability has been severely hampered, and he hasn’t been able to make as many plays on the ball. He had three interceptions after three games but hasn’t had one since the injury. Also, defensive end Mike Neal is inching closer to playing for the first time this season. He took part in every aspect of practice — both individual and team drills — this week for the first time since his September knee surgery and could see some limited action on Sunday. If he does play, it would probably only be in nickel pass rushing situations.
The X-Factor: Randall Cobb. The return man is the epitome of an up-and-down rookie. His 80-yard punt return for a touchdown on Monday night against the Vikings was his second special teams score of the season. He also had that dynamic 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the season opener against the Saints. But his third-quarter muffed punt, which the Vikings recovered and later turned into their only points of the game, was his third fumble on a return this season.
Don’t be surprised if: Defensive coordinator Dom Capers keeps blitzing. Against the Vikings, he sent five or more rushers on a whopping 78 percent of quarterback Christian Ponder’s drop backs. That obliterated Capers’ previous season-high blitz rate of 48 percent the week before at San Diego. The pressure gave outside linebacker Clay Matthews more opportunities against one-on-one blocking, and the result was his first two-sack game of the season. Inside linebacker Desmond Bishop, who had the other sack, was the most frequently used blitzer.
Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobDemovsky
For more on the Pack click here
Jaguars at Browns by Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union
Impact Injuries: Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton hasn’t practiced all week and said Wednesday he’d probably not be able to play Sunday. Knighton suffered a deep bone bruise against the Texans on October 30 and missed last weekend’s game against the Colts.
The X-Factor: Something crazy often happens when the Jaguars play the Browns. Most notably, in 2001, fans threw beer bottles onto the field after officials overturned a call that helped the Jaguars win 15-10.
Don’t be surprised if: Maurice Jones-Drew has a big game. The Browns might rank first in passing defense, but they rank 30th in rushing defense. The Jaguars run game is an area of the offense that has worked this season as the passing game has struggled.
Follow Tania on Twitter: @taniaganguli
For more on the Jags click here
Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs at Patriots by Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com
Impact Injuries: Matt Cassel. Clearly the biggest injury of the game, Chiefs QB Matt Cassel will not play due to a hand injury. His season might be over so this is week one of a multi-week process of incorporating Tyler Palko into the Chiefs offense. Coaching staffs from both the Chiefs and Patriots say KC’s offense won’t change much but there has to be a few tweaks considering you now have an unproven, left-handed quarterback starting. (Side note: This is the first left-handed quarterback to start a game for the Chiefs in franchise history.) Cassel’s injury prior to his return to New England is clearly the biggest injury heading into this game. Among other injured Chiefs are both starting cornerbacks, Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, who started off the week as limited participants in practice.
The X-Factor: Romeo Crennel. Say what you want about the Chiefs quarterback change, but the x-factor in this game is Romeo Crennel’s Chiefs defense facing one of the best offenses in the game in Tom Brady and the Patriots. Crennel obviously has plenty of familiarity with the Patriots, and the way they operate, considering he spent more than a few years with Bill Belichick. Likewise, Belichick and the Patriots should have a good understanding of what Crennel’s thinking in terms of how they’ll be attacked. The x-factor in this game is whether the Chiefs can draw any sort of advantage from Crennel’s (and, for that matter, GM Scott Pioli’s) familiarity with Belichick and the Patriots offense.
Don’t be surprised if: KC’s defense slows down the Patriots offense. I know what the stats say but the Chiefs, especially their defense, are a Jekyll and Hyde group so don’t discount their ability to play well — they just don’t do it consistently. Romeo Crennel is a smart, smart defensive coordinator and he’ll find all the advantages he can against this Patriots offense. Will it work? That’s a matter of execution but I firmly believe Crennel will have a good game plan to at least slow down Brady and the Pats and potentially keep this game somewhat competitive.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @ArrowheadPride
For more on the Chiefs click here
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