GAME OF THE WEEK
Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Last meeting: The Jets won in Foxborough in the divisional playoff round, 28-21, behind three Mark Sanchez touchdown passes while sacking Patriots QB Tom Brady five times.
Streaking: The Patriots have won 18 consecutive regular-season home games.
Brady in bunches: Brady is on a record pace for passing yards and had some success out-guessing Rex Ryan in 2010. He completed 72.6 percent of his passes with four touchdowns on Dec. 6 but was sacked nine times in three meetings. The Jets aren't generating the same type of push this season. With OLB Bryan Thomas, a stronghold of the run defense, out for the season, rookie RB Stevan Ridley (8.2 yards per carry) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis can be a factor as the Jets try to loosen up the man coverage downfield. The marquee matchup is WR Wes Welker (40 receptions, 616 yards this season) and CB Darrelle Revis, but how the Jets handle the Patriots' tight ends could be more telling, especially if Aaron Hernandez returns from a knee injury.
Pining for Mangold: The Jets' offense has been spinning its wheels in two games without All-Pro C Nick Mangold. The running game lacks spark, with a long gain of 13 yards since Week 2, and the Jets are 9-for-38 on third down the past three games. Sanchez endured 11 sacks and 26 hits through four games, including a bone-rattling shot in the middle of his back by DE Haloti Ngata in Baltimore last week. With or without Mangold, who plans to give it a go, the Jets should move the ball against an ailing Patriots defense that continually has faltered on third down and in the red zone. New England has the big bodies to turn back one-gear running back Shonn Greene, but the Patriots' second-level defenders exhibit shoddy tackling in the open field and struggle to cover elusive backs in the flat.
Need to know: The Patriots are averaging 7.5 yards per play (1st in NFL) while allowing 7.2 per play (32nd). ... The Jets allowed 38 first-half points to the Patriots in two regular-season games in 2010 and just three in the Jan. 16 playoff game.
Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker
Gameplan: The Bengals' defense has kept them in games, but running back Cedric Benson wants "a lot of love" when it comes to his role in leading the offense. With a pair of inconsistent rookie quarterbacks squaring off, Benson should get more than the 19.3 carries he's been averaging in what figures to be a low-scoring game. RG Bobby Williams, fresh off a four-game suspension, could step into the lineup to aid the run-blocking. The Jaguars need RB Maurice Jones-Drew to be a workhorse to protect QB Blaine Gabbert, but the Bengals are allowing a league-low 3.1 yards per carry.
Need to know: The Bengals have the league's top-ranked defense for the first time since the end of the 1983 season. ... The Jaguars' record is their worst through the first four games since starting 0-4 in coach Jack Del Rio's first season in 2003.
Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch
Gameplan: The Panthers' offense has sputtered when it counted most in losses to Arizona, Chicago and Green Bay. But keeping it close into the fourth quarter against Saints is priority No. 1. Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski called a more balanced game last week and needs to lean on RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to protect Carolina's injury-ravaged defense that will be severely outmanned. Saints QB Drew Brees was sacked three times behind a patchwork offensive line last week. But the Panthers have just six sacks all season and Saints RB Darren Sproles is tied for third in the NFL with 26 receptions as Brees' safety valve under pressure.
Need to know: Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 31 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in NFL history. ... DEs Charles Johnson (4.0) and Greg Hardy (2.0) have accounted for all of Carolina's sacks.
Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
Gameplan: The Steelers have injury concerns on both sides of the ball. QB Ben Roethlisberger (foot) might be gimpy behind a depleted offensive line that has given up 14 sacks and could start recently re-signed OT Max Starks - while blocking for RB Isaac Redman if Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring) can't go. Pittsburgh is averaging just 93.8 rushing yards per game and must improve on the ground to help protect Roethlisberger. The run defense is also struggling while looking at shuffling the linebacker corps with OLB James Harrison out. Titans RB Chris Johnson is coming off his first 100-yard game of the season and gets lead blocker FB Ahmard Hall back from suspension, so Tennessee should have an increasingly balanced attack.
Need to know: Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck has eight a 128.9 passer rating with six touchdowns in the red zone. ... The Steelers are allowing 119.5 rushing yards per game after leading the league at 62.8 last season.
Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Sam Rosen, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin
Gameplan: Both teams are seeking a rare complete game on both sides of the ball. Just when Arizona's defense stepped up last week - for the most part - the offense stalled on third downs and in the red zone. RB Beanie Wells needs to carry the unit while QB Kevin Kolb goes through some inconsistency in a new offense while facing a defense that thrives on explosive plays. QB Donovan McNabb gets at least one more start for Minnesota. RB Adrian Peterson continues to clamor for a bigger workload, but McNabb has to improve on his 58.6 completion percentage against one of the league's most vulnerable secondaries.
Need to know: The Cardinals are 6-for-26 on third down their past two games. ... Vikings WR Bernard Berrian has been targeted 16 times this season and has two catches.
Seattle Seahawks (1-3) at N.Y. Giants (3-1)
Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
Gameplan: The Giants listed eight players on their midweek injury report and would love to get through the Seahawks and Bills into their bye week without further damage. The key is to build an early lead and then turn the dogs loose on Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson, who has been sacked 14 times. The pass rush is also key because Jackson has started attacking downfield more with WR Sidney Rice healthy. Seattle's main strength is a run defense allowing 3.2 yards per carry, so the onus could be on QB Eli Manning to pick apart a poor secondary without making mistakes.
Need to know: Rice has 11 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns in two games. ... Manning has six touchdowns, no interceptions and a 68.3 completion percentage the past two weeks.
Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Chris Myers, Tim Ryan
Gameplan: RB Fred Jackson is fourth in the league in rushing, and the Bills would be wise to pound him away at the Eagles' soft run defense. While Philadelphia's secondary hasn't lived up to its lofty hype, it is still chock full of playmakers and the Eagles can get after the quarterback. Plus, the Bills need to protect their own defense, which is allowing 275.5 yards per game through the air. QB Michael Vick enjoys excellent mismatches downfield but, while the Bills don't have an imposing pass rush, Vick does have to be concerned about King Dunlap filling in for injured LT Jason Peters.
Need to know: Vick needs 71 rushing yards to pass Randall Cunningham (4,928) for the most career rushing yards by a quarterback in NFL history. ... Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has a 123.6 passer rating in the second half this season.
Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots
Gameplan: The Colts spent yet another week scrambling personnel to compensate for significant injuries. QB Curtis Painter is expected to get another start and while he knows the offense well, the line is struggling in pass protection and the ground game lacks a big-play element. Painter has a strong arm, and anything explosive out of the offense is likely to come from attacking the Chiefs' secondary. Look for Kansas City to come in pounding away at an injury-riddled front seven and only take vertical shots when DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are resting.
Need to know: Chiefs QB Matt Cassel has seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a 111 passer rating in his past four October games. ... The Colts have won the past five meetings at home, including playoffs.
Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Gameplan: Without WR Andre Johnson (hamstring), the Texans have no qualms about repeating their second-half gameplan from Week 4 -- hand it to RB Arian Foster. Foster can expect plenty of green grass going at a Raiders defense ripped for 168.7 rushing yards per game since shutting down Denver in Week 1. Oakland can counter with the NFL's top rushing attack. Darren McFadden, who has four runs of 40-plus yards, eases life in the pocket for QB Jason Campbell. The Texans' defense has improved and leads the AFC with 12 sacks, but protecting the deep third of the field is a chronic concern that won't rest with the Raiders' convoy of deep threats.
Need to know: The Raiders have an NFL-low two sacks. ... Foster compiled 189 total yards (133 rushing) and two scores in a 31-24 win at Oakland last season.
Sunday, 4:05 ET, FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
Gameplan: The 49ers opened up the offense in last week's comeback at Philadelphia, but they've largely won with great run defense and solid game management by QB Alex Smith. How the Buccaneers choose to match up with TE Vernon Davis, a big target who can't be allowed a clean release against a zone defense, dictates whether Smith takes more vertical chances. LB Patrick Willis has been vital to the Niners in this matchup with four sacks in two career meetings. He'll see plenty of downhill power back LeGarrette Blount while spying on mobile QB Josh Freeman.
Need to know: Freeman has a 61.6 passer rating in the red zone, and that includes a dropped interception in the end zone last week. ... San Francisco is tied for the NFL lead with a plus-eight turnover margin.
Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Marv Albert, Rich Gannon
Gameplan: The Broncos won't face the same type of aerial bombardment they did at Green Bay last week unless TE Antonio Gates (foot) and WR Vincent Jackson (hamstring) get healthy in a hurry; Jackson is far more likely to play. That won't spare them from the challenge of slowing QB Philip Rivers and RB Ryan Mathews. Mathews had 149 yards from scrimmage in each of his last two games and went for 120 and three touchdowns at Denver in Week 17 last season. The Broncos' defense has been whipped on third down and in the red zone. To shake mediocrity on offense, pressure falls to the front five to spring RBs Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno to then give QB Kyle Orton room to attack downfield.
Need to know: Rivers is 8-2 vs. Denver with 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. ... The Broncos have lost eight of the last 10 meetings.
Sunday, 8:20 ET, NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Gameplan: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers hasn't been sacked since Week 1. The risk in using zone blitz or sending defensive backs off the edge is that Rodgers can quickly puncture an off-kilter defense. He can run or throw on the move and has a 122.6 rating in three starts against the Falcons, who know their corners will be taxed. Keeping the game close means getting the ball in RB Michael Turner's hands enough to keep the Packers from dominating a beleaguered offensive line. However, Green Bay yields just 71 rushing yards per game, and Falcons QB Matt Ryan isn't nearly as effective when he doesn't work off play-action.
Need to know: Rodgers leads the NFL with a 124.6 passer rating and could become the fifth player since 1970 to record single-game passer ratings over 100 in five straight games. ... The Packers sacked Ryan five times in the 2010 playoff meeting.
Monday, 8:30 ET, ESPN, Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden
Gameplan: The Bears won't contain Lions WR Calvin Johnson with bracket coverage but might invite QB Matt Stafford to try secondary targets -- WRs Nate Burleson and Titus Young, TE Brandon Pettigrew and RB Jahvid Best -- or check to running plays with Best. The Bears' goal is to limit explosive plays and make Johnson work. A futile pass rush might get to Stafford if the Bears can manipulate matchups for DE Julius Peppers, who could see significant snaps against RT Gosder Cherilus. Chicago must score points, and the approach starts with more straight-ahead running from Matt Forte, who remains the Bears' top big-play threat as a receiver behind a rickety offensive line.
Need to know: The Bears have allowed 100-plus rushing yards in all four games. ... Bears QB Jay Cutler was sacked eight times but completed 72.1 percent of his passes against Detroit last season.
--By Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange
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