Giants at Cardinals by Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds
Impact Injuries: Beanie Wells is still recovering from his strained hamstring, and it is not yet known whether he will be able to play. LaRod Stephens-Howling after missing the past two games, will likely be playing.
The X-Factor: Home-cooking! The Cardinals have averaged almost six wins at home per season since they opened University of Phoenix Stadium and have had a habit of playing very well against big name teams. Yes, even the Giants qualify.
Don’t be surprised if: the game is decided by red zone execution. Both teams can move the ball offensively. Whichever defense can turn red zone trips into field goals will be the victor.
Follow Jess on Twitter: @senorjessroot
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Falcons at Seahawks by D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Impact Injuries: The Falcons hope that CB Kelvin Hayden, who returned to practice on Thursday, will be available for nickel back duty. He had an impact against Philadelphia with two tackles and an interception. The Falcons may not want to rush him back, but it may be prudent to get him some work with Green Bay’s vaunted passing attack next up on the schedule.
The X-Factor: Sean Weatherspoon. The Falcons LB has had double-digit tackles in all three games. He’s playing fast and is always around the ball. He will have the responsibility of attacking quarterback Tarvaris Jackson if he leaves the pocket. He should rack up another bushel of tackles against the Seahawks.
Don’t be surprised if: WR Harry Douglas gets a lot of targets. With the offensive line struggling to protect quarterback Matt Ryan, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has little choice but to feature their quick-game passing attack and get the ball to the slot receiver Douglas. The Falcons have aligned with 1-back and 3-receivers so much, thatyou can consider Douglas a starter.
Follow Darryl on Twitter: @AJCFalcons
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Jets at Ravens by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times
Impact Injuries: Wide receiver Lee Evans is a question mark with a sprained left ankle that has hampered him since the preseason. Left offensive guard Ben Grubbs has a painful turf toe and is a game-time decision. Cornerback Jimmy Smith remains sidelined with a high left ankle sprain and safety Haruki Nakamura is out with a sprained posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The X-Factor: Speedy Ravens rookie wide receiver Torrey had a breakout game against the St. Louis Rams with three touchdown catches in the first quarter of a 37-7 rout over the St. Louis Rams as he finished with five receptions for 152 yards. That was against suspect cornerback Justin King. Now, he’ll be matching up against New York Jets standout Antonio Cromartie, a much tougher cornerback. If Smith can maintain a semblance of last week’s production, the Ravens’ passing game should open up as far as underneath routes for Anquan Boldin and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Smith is emerging as a major deep threat.
Don’t be surprised if: The Ravens get after Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. He has a broken nose and has already been sacked nine times after only being sacked 27 times last season. He was tested for a concussion after the season opener and hurt his elbow against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs dominates weak offensive tackles and could be flipped to the right side to take advantage of offensive tackle Wayne Hunter. Offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson is a far more competent pass blocker on the left side.
Follow Aaron on Twitter: @RavensInsider
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Bills at Bengals by Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News
Impact Injuries: The Bills are down at cornerback. No. 3 man at the position, veteran Terrence McGee, still is out with a hamstring injury. He’s working with trainers and is getting closer but won’t play this week. No. 4 man, Aaron Williams, who has been No. 3, is out at least a few weeks with a collarbone injury suffered vs. New England. Reggie Corner steps up into the No. 3 role, which he held the past several years. Corner was cut at the end of preseason but then re-signed.
The X-Factor: The Bills’ offensive line faces a good challenge vs. an underrated Bengals defensive line. Cincinnati rotates a lot of players to keep the D-line fresh, and the Bengals may be getting veteran end Robert Geathers back from injury (he has missed the past two games).
Don’t be surprised if: The Bills contain Bengals back Cedric Benson and force rookie QB Andy Dalton to try to win the game. Buffalo contained Oakland star Darren McFadden pretty well (3.6 yards a carry in Week Two). Dalton will have to play big to give the Bengals a shot.
Follow Sal on Twitter: @gggaughan
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Panthers at Bears by Greg Jones of Examiner.com
Impact Injuries: The Carolina Panthers could be without starting cornerback Chris Gamble against the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field. Last week, he suffered a concussion in the second quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars. On Wednesday, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Gamble is still going through tests. Safety Charles Godfrey returned to practice Wednesday after missing the Jaguars’ game due to a concussion. However, right tackle Jeff Otah didn’t practice Wednesday due to a sore back. If Otah can’t play, then undrafted rookie Byron Bell will man the position. Bell made his first start two weeks ago against the Green Bay Packers. Rivera said Bell played well, but Rivera said linebacker Clay Matthews took advantage of Bell at times. Former Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers will look to do the same.
The X-Factor: Can the Panthers finally get the running game going? Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is the leading rusher with 25 carries for 98 yards. Running back Jonathan Stewart is second with 90 rushing yards on 23 carries. Running back DeAngelo Williams is struggling with 27 carries for 61 yards. The Panthers can’t continue to depend on their passing attack. Carolina needs balance to defeat Chicago.
Don’t be surprised if: Carolina’s backups and young players continue to play well. Whether it is cornerbacks, R.J. Stanford and Darius Butler, rookie defensive tackles, Terrell McCain and Sione Fua, or linebackers, Thomas Williams and Jason Williams, Carolina has several no-name players performing at a high level. And defensive ends, Greg Hardy and George Selvie, linebackers Dan Connor and James Anderson and veteran defensive tackle Ron Fields should continue to play well. Against the Jags, the Panthers backups didn’t look like a group of rejected players, rookies and late-round picks. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has put his players in excellent positions to succeed, and he was without four starters (Thomas Davis, Jon Beason, Gamble and Godfrey) against the Jags.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @gjjones_sports
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Panthers at Bears by Brad Briggs of the Chicago Tribune
Impact Injuries: The Bears will be without right tackle Gabe Carimi for at least one more week as he works his way back from a subluxtation of his right knee. Offensive line coach Mike Tice said it will be about pain management for Carimi, who he called a tough guy. Tice suggested that whatever the timetable is from the medical staff is that he expects it to be on the short end, meaning perhaps he could begin practicing next week. Strong safety Chris Harris has missed the previous two games with a pulled hamstring and he appears to have suffered a setback as he was held out of Thursday’s practice. Harris said he would play this week but now that’s in doubt meaning Major Wright or Craig Steltz could start next to Brandon Meriweather. Wide receiver Earl Bennett also remains out with an undisclosed chest injury and the loss of the slot receiver is tough for Jay Cutler, especially on third downs.
The X-Factor: Many of the key players on defense for the Chicago Bears are very familiar with Carolina Panthers’ first-year head coach Ron Rivera. While they’ve talked glowingly about Rivera, Lovie Smith has responded to questions about his former defensive coordinator by speaking about the Panthers in general and the many other connections between the franchises, including tight end Greg Olsen. Smith, of course, ran off Rivera after the Bears’ loss in Super Bowl XLI. Rivera worked as Smith’s defensive coordinator for three seasons from 2004 to 2006 but Smith was anxious to promote his own guy Bob Babich into the role. Now, Rivera has rebounded in a big way and surely Smith badly wants to win this game and not just because the Bears need a victory to pull to 2-2. It’s certainly a tie-in that will provide extra motivation for both sides.
Don’t be surprised if: Steve Smith has a big game for the Panthers. He hasn’t faced the Bears since 2005 because he missed the 2008 game while suspended and sat out last season with a high-ankle sprain. But in two meetings in 2005, including a divisional playoff game, Smith totaled 387 receiving yards. Defenses were able to double him often in 2010 because the Panthers had no other options. Now with tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, Smith is getting loose more. He’s crushed the Bears before and Cam Newton will be looking for him.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradBiggs
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Bills at Bengals by Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer
Impact Injuries: The Bengals are pretty healthy going into this game. DE Robert Geathers, who has missed the last two games due to a shoulder injury, is expected to return to the starting lineup this week. Safeties Gibril Wilson (knee) and Jeromy Miles (groin) did not practice on Thursday which could open up an opportunity for Taylor Mays to see his first action of the regular season.
The X-Factor: TE Jermaine Gresham. After leading the team in receptions (six) and yards (58) in the opening week win at Cleveland, the second-year player has struggled the past two games. Two of his four catches in last Sunday’s loss to San Francisco came on the final drive and he lined up in the wrong spot on a key second-down play on the opening drive. First-year offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is doing a better job of stretching the field with Gresham but there have been times when he has had lapses which has hurt the offense. If Gresham can break out of his two-game slump this Sunday, it gives Andy Dalton a key weapon to use in the passing game, which really struggled last week.
Don’t be surprised if: the Bengals secondary has some success against Ryan Fitzpatrick. In last season’s Week 11 loss, they intercepted Fitzpatrick on three of his first nine attempts, including a Pick Six. This is normally the time of the season when Leon Hall starts getting a run of interceptions. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer noted this week that Fitzpatrick has been a lot more daring in throwing passes into double coverage.
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Titans at Browns by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Impact Injuries: Premier WR Kenny Britt being out for the season with a torn ACL is a huge blow to the Titans. Browns RT Tony Pashos (ankle) is slated for his first start of the season.
The X-Factor: Will Titans RB Chris Johnson wake up from his lockout/holdout slumber? A 2.1-yard average for C.J.? The Browns — and their 29th-ranked run defense don’t plan on letting him bust out at their house this week.
Don’t be surprised if: Browns rookie wide receiver Greg Little catches his first TD pass. But don’t expect him to punt the ball into the Dawg Pound afterwards. “I know not to do that again,” he said.
Follow Mary Kay on Twitter: @MaryKayCabot
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Lions at Cowboys by Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram
Impact Injuries: The Cowboys again will be without starting receiver Miles Austin, who re-injured his hamstring against the 49ers. Their other starting receiver, Dez Bryant, was limited in practice Wednesday by his deep thigh bruise and didn’t practice Thursday. The Cowboys’ other four receivers, Kevin Ogletree, Laurent Robinson, Jesse Holley and Dwayne Harris, have combined for 21 starts, 77 games, 112 catches, 1,356 yards and four touchdowns.
The X-Factor: Cowboys center Phil Costa had four bad snaps against the Redskins on Monday night. He also had a false start when he double-clutched the ball. The Cowboys accused the Redskins of mimicking the snap count, and they used noise during practice for Costa this week. It should be noted that Monday night’s game was a home game as is this week’s game against the Lions.
Don’t be surprised if: Sean Lee remains the Cowboys’ dominant defensive player all season. He won NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors with 36 tackles, two interceptions, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries in three games. He has made the Cowboys forget about the 18th overall pick they spent on Bobby Carpenter in 2006. Carpenter returns as a special teams player with the Lions this weekend.
Follow David on Twitter: @NFLCharean
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Broncos at Packers by Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post
Impact Injuries: The Broncos will remain without three offensive players ?receivers Eddie Royal (groin) and Demaryius Thomas (finger) and tight end Julius Thomas, but should be substantially healthier on defense. The team has had all of its defensive players at practice at the same time this week for the first time since early in training camp. Linebacker D.J. Williams is expected to make his 2011 debut after missing three games because of a dislocated elbow.
The X-Factor: The No. 1 piece to an improved Broncos defense in 2011 was having a healthy Elvis Dumervil back after he missed all of 2010 with a torn pectoral muscle. Because of a strained shoulder, he has yet to play at full speed this season, but the team is optimistic he?ll be back ? and able to play on all three downs ? Sunday against the Packers. The Broncos desperately need Dumervil to pair with rookie first-round pick Von Miller in order to create any sort of pass rush (especially with starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga likely out for the Packers).
Don’t be surprised if: The Broncos have trouble covering Jermichael Finley. Opposing tight ends have given the Broncos? defense fits for several years, and the Titans had two huge catches by tight ends (58 yards by Craig Stevens and a game-winning touchdown by Daniel Graham) last week. Having Williams back should help improve the Broncos? pass coverage in the middle of the field, but Finley is a nightmare mismatch for even the best (and healthiest) linebackers and safeties.
Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @PostBroncos
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Lions at Cowboys by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press
Impact Injuries: Linebacker Justin Durant did not practice Wednesday or Thursday because of a concussion and must be cleared by team doctors and an independent neurologist before he returns. Durant, the Lions’ best linebacker so far this year, has been sitting in on meetings, but if he can’t play Bobby Carpenter will start. With Rashied Davis (foot) likely out and Isaiah Ekejiuba (labrum) on IR, the Lions coverage units have taken a hit.
The X-Factor: Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus. The offensive tackles struggled in pass protection last week against the Vikings, with Cherilus getting benched after two series. They’ll have their hands full today with NFL sack leader DeMarcus Ware. Backus and Cherilus outplayed Ware in last year’s meeting, holding Ware to a half sack that was all Jay Ratliff.
Don’t be surprised if: Brandon Pettigrew has another big day. Pettigrew set career-highs with 11 catches for 112 yards, and the third-year tight end caught a game-high eight passes against the Cowboys last year. The Lions don’t have much of a running game, so with teams focused on stopping TD machine Calvin Johnson (six in two games) they need to use Pettigrew and Nate Burleson to open the field.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveBirkett and @freeplions
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Green Bay Packers
Broncos at Packers by Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette
Impact Injuries: Two starters on offense — running back Ryan Grant and right tackle Bryan Bulaga — are likely out this week. Grant sustained a bruised kidney in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win at Chicago, though he finished the game. In fact, with 92 yards on 17 carries, it was his best game since Week 16 of the 2009. Coach Mike McCarthy had been platooning Grant and James Starks. Now he’ll have to decided whether to give Starks all the work or mix in Alex Green, who has yet to touch the ball in the regular season. Bulaga, the second-year starter, was off to strong start before he sprained and bruised his left knee against the Bears. In his place, Marshall Newhouse, who hadn’t played an NFL snap on offense before Sunday, held up well.
The X-Factor: The Packers’ nickel defense. Team should be able run when a 3-4 team goes to nickel because one of the defensive linemen comes off the field. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been playing nickel the majority of the snaps, yet the Packers lead the league in rushing defense, giving up only 55 yards per game. Against the Bears, they played their base 3-4 on only eight of 52 snaps, yet the Bears managed just 13 yards rushing. Running back Matt Forte netted just 2 yards on nine carries. On early downs, Capers often uses two of his bigger defensive linemen — Ryan Pickett (6-2, 340) and B.J. Raji (6-2, 337) — in what he calls his “big nickel.”
Don’t be surprised if: The Packers give Green, their rookie running back, some snaps on third downs and run some screen passes for him. Green had a nifty 25-yard catch and run on a screen pass in the Aug. 19 preseason game against Arizona. He showed the kind of vision he displayed in college in Hawaii’s spread offense. Green has battled an Achilles injury that kept him on the inactive list the last two games, but he says he’s healthy now.
Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobDemovsky
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Steelers at Texans by Steph Stradley of the Houston Chronicle
Impact Injuries: Mario Williams left the game against the Saints near the end of the 3rd quarter due to an unspecified knee injury. He played less than half of the remaining defensive snaps after begging back in. The Saints scored 23 4th quarter points. May not be the cause of all those points, but the Texans defense need a healthy Williams.
The X-Factor: RB Arian Foster says the only way he wouldn’t be playing this game was if he were “kidnapped or something.” Coming back from a strained hamstring, the question is how much does he play and will he be as effective as last year. They hope this improves their red zone running.
Don’t be surprised if: If the Texans special teams puts pressure on the Steelers with field position.
Follow Steph on Twitter: @StephStradley
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Colts at Buccaneers by Brad Wells of StampedeBlue.com
Impact Injuries: This week, the Colts placed team captains Gary Brackett and Melvin Bullitt on Injured Reserve, ending their seasons. The team also dumped reserve corner Justin Tryon in a move that has created a mini-controversy in Indianapolis. After being cut by the Colts (who traded for him last year) Tryon used Twitter to defend coach Jim Caldwell, saying Caldwell wanted to start him but was prevented from doing so.
The X-Factor: Curtis Painter seems likely to get his first NFL start Monday night. Painter is a turnover machine. When he isn’t throwing interceptions, he’s fumbling the football at an alarming rate.
Don’t be surprised if: The Colts continue to play well on defense, but that effort gets clouded by the amount of turnovers on offense.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @StampedeBlue
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Saints at Jaguars by Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union
Impact Injuries: Special teams ace Montell Owens will miss this week with a knee injury. Defensive end Aaron Kampman (knee) practiced Thursday in full pads but isn’t likely to play. LT Eugene Monroe (shoulder) and DE Matt Roth (neck) have also been limited this week.
The X-Factor: Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzes every quarterback constantly and he’s found a lot of success against rookie quarterbacks doing that. Williams’ Saints defense is 6-3 against rookie quarterbacks and the only losses have come to teams that have scored defensive or special teams touchdowns against the Saints.
Don’t be surprised if: Punter Matt Turk tries some rugby-style punts. The Jaguars are looking for improvement from Turk, especially in short-punting situations and think this will help.
Follow Tania on Twitter: @taniaganguli
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Kansas City Chiefs
Vikings at Chiefs by Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com
Impact Injuries: CB Brandon Flowers. The Chiefs cornerback is suffering from an ankle injury and his status for Sunday’s game is unknown. KC is already without S Eric Berry in the secondary, and his replacement, S Jon McGraw, is banged up, too. They can’t afford a meltdown in the secondary because the defense will be stacking the box to stop RB Adrian Peterson. Luckily for them, QB Donovan McNabb has been less-than-stellar this season.
The X-Factor: The Chiefs have struggled lately against teams with very good defensive lines and that’s the problem the Vikings pose, especially after now that the Chiefs have lost RB Jamaal Charles for the season. Chiefs QB Matt Cassel will need to be on his game to exploit Minnesota’s secondary because KC likely won’t be able to run very well against the Vikings defensive line. If the Chiefs win, it’s because Cassel takes advantage of his opportunities in the passing game.
Don’t be surprised if: the Chiefs open their offense up. Last week’s second half against the Chargers featured an offense that was more willing to open up the passing game (at least compared to the first half, which had Matt Cassel completing zero passes to a receiver.) The Chiefs know they’ll have some issues rushing the ball against the Vikings so they need to keep them off balance with some looks down the field in order to keep the opposing defense honest.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @ArrowheadPride
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Dolphins at Chargers by Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post
Impact Injuries: CB Vontae Davis, the Dolphins’ 2009 first-round pick, is the only real impact injury right now. He missed last week’s game with a hamstring pull, and was very limited in practice this week. Backup CBs Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson are preparing to play in Davis’ place again this week, and are coming off a fairly strong performance against the Browns.
The X-Factor: Right tackle Marc Colombo, who is tied for the lead league wit 13 quarterback hurries allowed this season, including an eye-popping eight against Cleveland. The Dolphins need to keep Chad Henne (11 sacks this year) clean and upright to have a chance on Sunday, and Colombo could be in for another long day, this time against OLB Shaun Phillips (1 sack, 1 INT).
Don’t be surprised if: The Dolphins actually win this game. They still play better on the road than at home, and this game seems like a redux of last year’s game against Green Bay, when the Dolphins pulled off the upset at Lambeau thanks to several key injuries for the Packers. San Diego has so many injuries (Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, Ryan Mathews, Luis Castillo and more) that the Dolphins may be playing against the JV team on Sunday.
Follow Ben on Twitter: @BenVolinPBP
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Vikings at Chiefs by Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press
Impact Injuries: Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson is dealing with knee swelling for the third consecutive week, a byproduct of leg surgery in 2009. The Vikings limited his snaps last week against Detroit and could do the same at Kansas City. Running back Adrian Peterson suffered a calf bruise against the Lions but will play Sunday. Safety Tyrell Johnson (hip) and tight end Jim Kleinsasser (elbow) were limited in Thursday’s practice. Both are expected to play.
The X-Factor: Rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph, who is looking to build on his three-catch, 39-yard performance Sunday against Detroit. Rudolph showed a glimpse into why the Vikings drafted him with an off-balance 20-yard catch late in the fourth quarter of the 26-23 loss. Without a visible deep threat, the Vikings should attack the middle of the field with Chiefs safety Eric Berry out for the season. Rudolph will likely be a big part of that plan.
Don’t be surprised if: The Vikings decrease wide receiver Bernard Berrian’s snaps. Berrian has played 132 snaps on the year with one catch for 17 yards to show for it. If he and quarterback Donovan McNabb fail to connect deep, the Vikings might increase the workload of backup Devin Aromashodu in hopes of stretching the field.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @VikingsNow
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New England Patriots
Patriots at Raiders by Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald
Impact Injuries: The early-week illness for guard Logan Mankins shouldn’t be an issue, as he practiced on Thursday. He’d have to lose a foot to miss the game. But the nagging back injury for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is more troubling. He missed the Bills game, practiced Wednesday, then was out Thursday. They need him to help stop the run. Tight end Aaron Hernandez’s knee may keep him out, too.
The X-Factor: Safety Patrick Chung was out for the Bills game with a broken thumb, but he’ll almost certainly play this week. It’s clear he’ll improve a struggling secondary, but how much? The Patriots hope its enough to stop an explosion of big plays. Then, of course, there is the question of how well he can tackle w