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Week 5: Bengals-Jaguars preview

The Sports Xchange
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Cincinnati at Jacksonville

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at EverBank Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla. - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 707

*TV announcers: Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker

*Keys to the game: The Jaguars are asking a lot of rookie QB Blaine Gabbert, who averaged just 3.8 yards on 42 pass attempts last week. Jacksonville has scored 39 points all season and is facing a Cincinnati defense allowing just 3.1 yards per carry, so getting RB Maurice Jones-Drew untracked early could prove difficult. He had just three carries in the first half last week and needs to be given more of an opportunity to help out his young quarterback after the Jaguars converted just four of 15 third downs against New Orleans. Cincinnati has a very similar gameplan on offense - use the power ground game to protect a rookie quarterback. The biggest concern is awaiting the ruling on RB Cedric Benson's appeal of a three-game suspension.

*Matchup to watch - Bengals QB Andy Dalton vs. Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert: Both rookies have predictably struggled with consistency. Dalton has been hailed for his poise and leadership, and has alternated solid quarters with some truly ugly ones. Gabbert was wild on several throws last week, but the Jaguars have shown they won't shy away from letting the rookie fling the ball around and learn on the fly.

*Player spotlight - Jaguars WR Mike Thomas: Just 5-8 and lacking elite speed, Thomas is a good route-runner who needs to team with TE Marcedes Lewis to provide Gabbert with security blankets. Thomas' 20 receptions are nearly triple the amount of any other Jaguar this season.

*Fast facts: Benson has 5,050 career rushing yards. ... The Jaguars have been outscored 51-6 in the second half this season. ... Jaguars PK Josh Scobee has at least one field goal in 12 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in franchise history.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Jaguars have scored just 39 points on the season, but the Bengals aren't going to run away and hide from anyone. If RB Maurice Jones-Drew can find some holes against a stingy run defense, Jacksonville rights the ship.

*Our pick: Jaguars 16-13

Oakland at Houston

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Reliant Stadium, Houston - TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts

*Keys to the game: The Texans adapted offensively in Week 4 when WR Andre Johnson (hamstring) left the game in the second quarter, making RB Arian Foster the central focus. But without Johnson on the field, teams can be at ease dragging an extra defender toward the line to better match up with Foster. The Texans lack outside receiving threats who can win in man coverage, and the Raiders have diverse, physical personnel up front to push QB Matt Schaub out of his comfort zone in the pocket. The Raiders couldn't jumpstart their running game last week, when RB Darren McFadden was limited to 14 carries, but QB Jason Campbell continues to ring up big yardage totals without being pressured. The Raiders don't have a flag-bearing receiver, but TE Kevin Boss and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey made big contributions last week and playmakers Jacoby Ford and Denarius Moore are the kind of burners that force Houston into sub-packages. When the Raiders get that five-DB look, they'll power the ball with McFadden (6.2 yards per carry).

*Matchup to watch - Raiders receivers vs. Texans FS Danieal Manning: Teams are regularly getting behind Manning and the Raiders shouldn't have difficulty following suit by setting up play-action. Manning's lateral agility was also exposed last week by speedster Mike Wallace. The Raiders have a cadre of sprinter's to flood the deep third of the field and test Manning's discipline.

*Player spotlight - Texans FB James Casey: Schaub has been singing the praises of Casey, and the Texans are growing more creative in dictating matchups with the fullback/tight end hybrid. He has 4.5 speed at 6-3, 230, and uncanny agility for the position. If the Raiders don't get FS Michael Huff back from injury, Casey could have a huge day.

*Fast facts: The Texans are 3-30 under coach Gary Kubiak when they run fewer than 25 times. ... McFadden has averaged 102.6 rushing yards on the road since the start of the 2010 season, including six games with at least 95 yards.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

A lot rides on the health of Texans WR Andre Johnson. Without him, several matchups and overall strategy swings in Oakland's favor. With him, Houston is able to maintain better balance and stretch the field.

*Our pick: Texans 29-27

New Orleans at Carolina

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C. - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 708

*TV announcers: Dick Stockton, John Lynch

*Keys to the game: The Panthers surprisingly have shown the firepower through the first quarter of the season to keep pace with an offensive juggernaut like the Saints, but a few things must fall into place for Carolina to truly threaten the upset. The first is for New Orleans' offense to continue to stall in the red zone - which it did three times in the second half last week. The Panthers also have to build on the balance they displayed in Chicago with RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combining for 134 yards on 18 carries. Rookie QB Cam Newton hasn't been fazed by much in the early going, but he will see some exotic blitz packages from Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Drew Brees and the Saints present a difficult matchup for Carolina's injury-depleted defense. The Panthers tightened up the secondary against the Bears, only to watch RB Matt Forte rush for 205 yards, and the Saints will rotate in three running backs to prevent becoming too one-dimensional.

*Matchup to watch - Saints RB Darren Sproles vs. Panthers linebackers: Sproles is playing the Reggie Bush role better than Reggie Bush did for New Orleans. He had 188 all-purpose yards last week, and presents a matchup nightmare with Carolina starting two reserve linebackers and being powerless to stop Chicago's once-dormant ground game.

*Player spotlight - Saints TE Jimmy Graham: Graham credits former teammate and current Panther Jeremy Shockey for being a mentor last season. The student is quickly outpacing the teacher. While Shockey was dropping a touchdown pass last week, Graham was hauling in 10 balls for 132 yards.

*Fast facts: Graham has seven touchdowns in his past seven games. ... Panthers WR Steve Smith is the franchise's all-time leader with 9,255 receiving yards.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Panthers are assembling a good corps of young playmakers on offense. But the defensive shortcomings have been all too apparent and the Saints will come in determined to shut down a divisional upstart.

*Our pick: Saints 34-27

Tennessee at Pittsburgh

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 704

*TV announcers: Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf

*Keys to the game: The Titans are winning games on the strength of their play in the trenches, while offensive line issues are threatening to derail the Steelers' season. QB Ben Roethlisberger has been taking a weekly beating due to poor line play, and now has a foot injury, while RB Rashard Mendenhall's slow start (3.0 yards per carry) won't be helped by a hamstring injury. If the Titans can continue to apply pressure (10 sacks), the Steelers again will find it difficult to capitalize on their deep group of receivers working downfield. QB Matt Hasselbeck is engineering a surprisingly potent Tennessee passing attack that didn't miss a beat following WR Kenny Britt's season-ending injury. Pittsburgh's defense hasn't been able to completely silence critics who claim the unit has aged quickly. Houston rushed for 180 yards last week while the Steelers failed to register a single sack.

*Matchup to watch - Titans RB Chris Johnson vs. Steelers front seven: After three extremely listless performances, Johnson found his stride with a 101-yard effort at Cleveland. As Hasselbeck continues to tear apart secondaries, the running lanes should only get bigger for Johnson. The NFL's reigning No. 1 run defense, the Steelers are giving up 119.5 yards per game on the ground and 4.8 yards per carry, including four runs of 20-plus yards.

*Player spotlight - Titans DE Derrick Morgan: The 2010 first-round pick has 3.5 sacks in seven career games, including two in the past three weeks, and opportunities to make impact plays are abundant working against the Steelers' offensive line.

*Fast facts: Johnson rushed for 101 yards last week after totaling 98 through the first three weeks. ... Roethlisberger has three touchdown passes, five interceptions and has been sacked 14 times.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Every time the Steelers are counted out, they seem to rise from the ashes to show they still have plenty of kick. As long as the run defense rebounds from a poor game in Houston, the Steelers edge out a very needed victory at home.

*Our pick: Steelers 24-23

Arizona at Minnesota

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Mall of America Field, Minneapolis - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 710

*TV announcers: Sam Rosen, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin

*Keys to the game: The Cardinals' offense is far more potent with a healthy RB Beanie Wells in the backfield. He ripped off 138 yards on 27 carries last week, and that production should help combat the strong pass rushes the Cardinals have faced when they end up too one-dimensional. The leash on Vikings QB Donovan McNabb continues to get shorter, but he has an excellent opportunity to win back some support against a Cardinals secondary that has been repeatedly beat over the top this season. Look for the Vikings to move WR Percy Harvin around seeking the best mismatches. They did get back to feeding the ball to RB Adrian Peterson more consistently at Kansas City, but the Cardinals allow just 3.6 yards per carry and will try to dare Kolb to beat them.

*Matchup to watch - Cardinals LT Levi Brown vs. Vikings DE Jared Allen: Allen has been on a tear with five sacks over his past two games, while Kolb has been dropped 12 times through four games. Brown is going to struggle with Allen's quickness off the edge, and will likely require a chip from a tight end or running back on obvious passing downs.

*Player spotlight - Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph: Visanthe Shiancoe (six) and Rudolph (three) combined for nine catches against the Chiefs. Getting production out of the tight end position is important to coordinator Bill Musgrave's offense, and Minnesota envisions Rudolph emerging as a significant contributor.

*Fast facts: Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald is the franchise's all-time leader with 8,565 receiving yards. ... The Vikings are 0-4 for the first time since 2002. ... The Cardinals have converted just 14 of 47 third downs this season.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

If the Vikings can put together four quarters of solid football, QB Donovan McNabb stands an excellent chance of putting points on the board consistently working against Arizona's suspect secondary.

*Our pick: Vikings 23-21

Seattle at N.Y. Giants

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 711

*TV announcers: Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver

*Keys to the game: The Giants have an excellent opportunity to reach their bye week at 5-1 with a pair of home games. Seattle traditionally struggles mightily in the Eastern time zone, and coach Pete Carroll has even tried starting practices at 10 a.m. Pacific to help prepare his players for the time change. The Seahawks are allowing just 3.2 yards per carry and can cause some problems if QB Eli Manning isn't protected working off play-action. But Seattle also has only five sacks on the season and its cornerbacks struggle to hold coverage without the help of a strong pass rush. The Giants similarly need to get to the passer quickly to protect their injury-thinned secondary. If DE Justin Tuck (groin/neck) can return, they have plenty of weapons to attack an offensive line that has struggled to protect QB Tarvaris Jackson.

*Matchup to watch - Seahawks CB Brandon Browner vs. Giants WR Mario Manningham: Manningham had just one catch for 10 yards last week, but can expect plenty of action against Browner, who has been targeted by every opponent this season. Primarily working against the CFL import, Falcons rookie WR Julio Jones caught 11 of the 17 passes thrown his way last week. Manningham can get over the top of defenses, and Browner lacks the speed to stick with him if he doesn't get a solid jam at the line.

*Player spotlight - Giants DE Osi Umenyiora: The drama of a contract issue and knee surgery seemingly behind him for now, Umenyiora wasted no time making his presence felt with a pair of sacks and a forced fumble in Arizona. He draws LT Russell Okung this week.

*Fast facts: Seahawks running backs gained 37 yards on just 12 carries last week. ... Giants WR Victor Cruz has 208 receiving yards the past two weeks.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Giants QB Eli Manning is coming off consecutive strong games and won't face consistent pressure from the Seahawks, leaving him free to play pitch and catch against a mediocre-at-best group of corners.

*Our pick: Giants 27-17

Philadelphia at Buffalo

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y. - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 709

*TV announcers: Chris Myers, Tim Ryan

*Keys to the game: Protection for QB Michael Vick has been spotty through the first four games, and now the Eagles are likely forced to start King Dunlap in place of injured LT Jason Peters. Fortunately for the left-handed Vick, that's not his blind side and the Bills aren't a particularly strong pass-rushing team. Still, look for RB LeSean McCoy to be featured heavily in the gameplan early on to take some stress off the pass blocking. The Eagles also have a concern on defense with DE Trent Cole likely out, although Darryl Tapp stands a good chance to return. Buffalo will attack the Eagles' much-maligned run defense with RB Fred Jackson in an attempt to set up their spread passing attack to go after Philadelphia secondary that certainly hasn't lived up to expectations thus far.

*Matchup to watch - Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo vs. Bills head coach Chan Gailey: Andy Reid's huge gamble to move Castillo from offensive line coach to defensive coordinator is looking like an enormous bust so far, although a strong argument can be made that the Eagles are simply overmatched at linebacker and safety. The critics could be in for a field day as the back seven faces maybe its most daunting challenge yet. Gailey is a creative offensive mind who has taken a group of relative unknowns and created a force to be reckoned with by spreading the field and looking for mismatches to exploit.

*Player spotlight - Bills LT Chris Hairston: Rather than affect two positions by sliding LG Andy Levitre over to replace injured LT Demetrius Bell, Gailey is taking a gamble by giving the rookie fourth-round pick an opportunity to protect the blind side.

*Fast facts: Vick needs 70 rushing yards to break Randall Cunningham's (4,928) NFL record for career rushing yards by a quarterback. ... The Bills have interception returns for touchdowns in consecutive games for the first time since 2009.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Eagles have injury concerns in the trenches and poor linebacker play is a major concern. But they're backs are also firmly against the wall and they'll respond with a big outing against a vulnerable defense.

*Our pick: Eagles 30-27

Kansas City at Indianapolis

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 706

*TV announcers: Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots

*Keys to the game: The Chiefs are still figuring out how to divvy up the workload in the backfield with RB Jamaal Charles out for the season. Undersized Dexter McCluster had 10 touches last week and his versatility can help combat the aggressive pass rush of Colts DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Contain them and the Colts' defense becomes quite vulnerable as it attempts to cope with several significant injuries. Indianapolis returns home on a short week and will have to get production out of its ground game. The Chiefs allow just 4.0 yards per carry and have the ability to stop RB Joseph Addai and back the Colts' lackluster passing attack into dangerous down-and-distance situations.

*Matchup to watch - Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali vs. Colts LT Anthony Castonzo: Just the sixth rookie offensive lineman to start a regular-season opener for the Colts since 1996, the past four weeks have been a trial by fire for Castonzo, who has struggled while facing some of the league's premier pass rushers. Next on the docket is Hali, who has three sacks in the past two weeks and possesses the ability to change the course of the game if he's able to break free in the Colts' backfield.

*Player spotlight - Colts MLB Pat Angerer: Already viewed as the heir apparent to Gary Brackett entering the season, Angerer was thrust into the starting role in the middle with Brackett's season-ending injury. Angerer is a tackling machine who can still be exploited in coverage.

*Fast facts: Last week, Donald Washington became the third player this season to start at strong safety for the Chiefs. ... Chiefs QB Matt Cassel has a 68.1 passer rating when playing from behind this season.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Chiefs are searching for answers on offense, but at least QB Matt Cassel and WR Dwayne Bowe are back to producing big plays. It doesn't take much offense to slip by the Colts at this point.

*Our pick: Chiefs 20-16

Tampa Bay at San Francisco

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at Candlestick Park, San Francisco - TV: FOX

*TV announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

*Keys to the game: The 49ers remain rooted in power football, and the offensive line performed well against the Eagles' agile but undersized front last week. The Buccaneers are similar in their one-gap approach and might even bring a more exotic plan against QB Alex Smith, who has been sacked 14 times in the last three games. The 49ers take few risks, and prefer to pound the ball right into the teeth of a defense with RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter; they combined for 165 yards on 24 carries last week. The Buccaneers haven't been as committed to RB LeGarrette Blount but he remains essential as a second option to cool, heady QB Josh Freeman. Even when Blount, who had 18 carries in the first two games, is stopped in his tracks, the Buccaneers have to challenge the 49ers' power-based front seven to set up downfield throws. WR Mike Williams got off to a slow start after a smashing rookie debut in 2010, but he and TE Kellen Winslow prosper when the running game clicks.

*Matchup to watch - 49ers C Jonathan Goodwin and LG Mike Iupati vs. Bucs DT Gerald McCoy: Goodwin anchors an offensive line of maulers that must contend with a high-energy, agile defensive front. McCoy creates good pressure from the inside and is likely to command tandem blocks to keep him out of the 49ers' backfield.

*Player spotlight - Buccaneers MLB Mason Foster: The rookie has the instincts and physical skills to fill the stat sheet against the Niners' vanilla offense. He has been effective where Barrett Ruud wasn't -- getting to inside running plays before they have a chance to start.

*Fast facts: The 49ers had four pass plays of 25 yards or more last week and four in the previous three games combined. ... The Buccaneers have won four of their last five road games since a 21-0 win at San Francisco last season.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Bucs trek cross-country on a short week, but the Niners' miniscule margin for error makes them imposters at 3-1 unless the shaky offensive line can prove it has come together for good.

*Our pick: Buccaneers 24-17

San Diego at Denver

Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET, at Sports Authority Field, Denver - TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Kenny Albert, Rich Gannon

*Keys to the game: The Broncos are averaging just 20.25 points per game, but two of their three losses are by three points. That's a credit to Denver's defense, which showed well before being blasted for 49 points at Green Bay in Week 4. The Chargers swept two games last season, including the season finale, and averaged 34 points. RB Ryan Mathews ran for 120 yards and three touchdowns in Week 17 at Denver as a rookie and has raised his game in '11. Mathews and bowling ball backup Mike Tolbert could get plenty of work if WR Vincent Jackson (leg) is slowed. The Broncos haven't mustered much of a running attack, leaving QB Kyle Orton to win games on his own. The Broncos' 11 turnovers and nine sacks allowed further stunt the offense's growth, and the Chargers have multiple sacks in three of their four games. One bright spot for Denver is WR Eric Decker. A possession receiver with good agility, he has five total touchdowns and leads the team with 20 catches for 270 yards.

*Matchup to watch - Broncos SS Brian Dawkins vs. Mathews: While TE Antonio Gates (foot) has been out, Mathews has blossomed as a receiving threat, catching 16 of 18 passes intended for him since Week 2 for 181 yards. He has three catches of 20-plus yards this season.

*Player spotlight - Chargers FS Eric Weddle: Signed to a five-year, $40 million contract in the offseason, Weddle has made money plays with back-to-back game-clinching interceptions the last two weeks. He also bagged a pick on his last visit to Denver.

*Fast facts: The Chargers are 4-1 in Denver since 2006, averaging 35.8 points. Their lone loss was 39-38 in 2008. ... Through four games in 2010, Orton had 1,419 yards and six touchdown passes in 175 attempts. This season, he has 945/8/142.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Chargers have the balanced offense coach Norv Turner covets and young defenders such as Eric Weddle and OLB Larry English could produce big games facing a team with no real knockout potential.

*Our pick: Chargers 31-20

N.Y. Jets at New England

Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET, at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. - TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

*Keys to the game: The Patriots' reliance on Tom Brady and the passing game is not a new phenomenon -- New England has two 100-yard rushing performances in the last 33 games -- but coach Bill Belichick might have a new weapon in the backfield in rookie Stevan Ridley. The preseason sensation has 16 carries for 139 yards and a 33-yard touchdown in the past two games, overtaking Danny Woodhead as the complement to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Ridley adds a missing element behind the constant threat of Brady to underneath options Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. The Jets have had issues stopping the run the past two games, and haven't been able generate their own ground game with C Nick Mangold (ankle) out. QB Mark Sanchez completed just 31 percent of his passes last week in the latest example of how much he tends to struggle when he's unable to set up an effective play-action.

*Matchup to watch - Jets centers vs. Patriots DTs Vince Wilfork and Albert Haynesworth: The 700-pound wall of humanity the Patriots offer at the heart of their four-man line could hasten Mangold's return to the lineup. Backup Colin Baxter and LG Matt Slauson, who played center for one series last week, were pushed around by Baltimore.

*Player spotlight - Patriots WR Wes Welker: With 28 catches in the past three regular-season meetings, Welker has punched his ticket to Revis Island. With 40 receptions in 2011, the Patriots haven't been shy about needling the ball to him against tight man coverage.

*Fast facts: Patriots QB Tom Brady has passed for 1,553 yards in the first four games, second in NFL history to Kurt Warner, who had 1,557 with the Rams in 2000. Brady is on pace to finish the season with 6,212 passing yards. Dan Marino holds the all-time single-season record (5,804). ... Sanchez has eight touchdowns and seven interceptions in his career vs. New England.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Jets appear to be in need of a compass to find the swagger that made them a threat in the AFC East. The Patriots kick them another notch backward with QB Tom Brady taking full advantage of his wide array of receiving options.

*Our pick: Patriots 27-17

Green Bay at Atlanta

Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, at Georgia Dome, Atlanta - TV: NBC

*TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

*Keys to the game: Atlanta painfully recalls the last visit from the Packers and QB Aaron Rodgers, who fricasseed the Falcons for three touchdown passes, a rushing score and was 31-of-36 for 366 yards in a 48-21 whipping in the playoffs on Jan. 15. Rodgers hit on 73 percent of his passes through four games and the Falcons haven't improved dramatically in the secondary. There is pressure on the Atlanta offense to work out the considerable kinks that are leading to kinks in QB Matt Ryan's neck. He's been sacked 13 times and pressured on more than one-fourth of his dropbacks - although the protection was solid in Seattle last week. The Falcons are better equipped for a shootout this time around. Afforded time, Ryan can find one of his three targets with 21 or more catches this season -- Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. The Packers, though, can engulf one-dimensional offenses with widebodies up front and an active secondary with eight picks in four games.

*Matchup to watch - Ryan vs. Packers DB Charles Woodson: Woodson roams inside and out and has lined up as a linebacker, safety and cornerback in the past three games. It's up to Ryan to determine through pre-snap diagnosis whether Woodson is camouflaging coverage or tipping his hand.

*Player spotlight - Packers WR Jordy Nelson: Nelson averages 19.5 yards per catch with three touchdowns, two of which covered 50 and 84 yards. He's easy to lose track of with WR Greg Jennings and TE Jermichael Finley drawing heightened attention in the secondary.

*Fast facts: The Packers have won 10 straight games, including postseason, their longest streak since getting 12 in a row in 1961 and '62. ... The Falcons have 10 100-yard rushing games since the start of 2010. Only Houston, with 11, has more.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Falcons have allowed 31 and 28 points in their two wins and while Atlanta is equipped to score with most any team, it doesn't have the weapons to contend with Green Bay's offensive machine (37.0 ppg).

*Our pick: Packers 37-27

Chicago at Detroit

Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Ford Field, Detroit - TV: ESPN

*TV announcers: Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden

*Keys to the game: The rest of the NFL is finding there might not be an easy recipe to win all four quarters against Detroit. The Lions overcame a 27-3 deficit to take down Dallas last week on the heels of flipping a 20-0 halftime hole Week 3 at Minnesota. The Bears had more offensive line trouble last week -- RG Chris Spencer became the third injured starter up front since Week 2, necessitating another shuffle of the front five -- which puts their ability to grind the game into a field-position battle into some doubt. The Lions' front four attacks relentlessly up the field. That's both scary for QB Jay Cutler and promising for RB Matt Forte, as wide running lanes are available if he makes the first-level defenders miss. The Cowboys confounded Matthew Stafford and attacked the Lions' remaining weaknesses -- edge blocking on offense and the defensive secondary -- to build the huge lead. But Chicago's defense has become pliable. The Bears' zone-heavy scheme was shredded by Steve Smith on a combination of inside and vertical routes, and is ill-equipped to go toe-to-toe with WR Calvin Johnson, who has two touchdown grabs in all four games this season. Even with coverage shaded to Johnson, the Lions' personnel can dent the Bears' pass defense unless Chicago gets better safety play, a position at which they've been dogged by injury.

*Matchup to watch - Bears MLB Brian Urlacher vs. Lions RB Jahvid Best: More of a threat as a receiver than straight-ahead runner just as Urlacher is best tracking laterally as opposed to taking on blockers straight ahead, Best is a challenge to square up and tackle in the open field.

*Player spotlight - Bears WR Devin Hester: Hester remains the Bears' top home-run threat, primarily as a returner. He had a 69-yard punt return touchdown last week. Given the inconsistency of the Bears' offense, the defense and special teams will have to come up big.

*Fast facts: The Lions have won an NFL-best eight consecutive regular-season games. ... The Bears are 9-0 when Forte rushes for at least 100 yards.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Lions haven't played on Monday Night Football since 2001, but they've proven to be ready for primetime. Detroit enjoys good matchups on both sides of the ball, and its defensive line is capable of controlling this game.

*Our pick: Lions 30-19

Copyright (C) 2011 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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