New York Jets at Denver
Thursday, 8:20 p.m. ET, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver - TV: NFL Network
*TV announcers: Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock, Alex Flanagan
*Keys to the game: The Jets aren't afraid to match the Broncos' unconventional option-hybrid offense with an off-kilter front that all but demands QB Tim Tebow put the ball in the air. The "Bears front" or "46" popularized by Buddy Ryan, father of Jets coach Rex Ryan, is one look Tebow will know well by kickoff. The Broncos lost RB Knowshon Moreno to a torn ACL last week, but hope to get Willis McGahee back from a left hamstring injury; he's likely a game-time decision. Third-stringer Lance Ball turned in 96 yards at Kansas City, but makes few tacklers miss and is a one-gear runner. The Broncos boast a fine kicking game and can play field position with the best of them. They're not built to rally, though, and Rex Ryan's confidence in his defense might set the stage for a very aggressive offensive approach. The Jets have been at their best when they've been able to use the run to set up play-action. That's particularly important with QB Mark Sanchez's protection breaking down against New England and Denver sporting a good pass rush.
*Matchup to watch - Jets ILB Bart Scott vs. Broncos QB Tim Tebow: Scott studies tendencies and he has never shied away from extra duty against a run-first outfit. The Jets can pair exotic linebacker blitzes with stout coverage from their corners, pinning Tebow in the pocket and putting him on the spot to prove he can move the ball through the air.
*Player spotlight - Broncos RB Lance Ball: Ball was already pushing Moreno for the primary backup job before the former first-round pick was lost for the season. Like McGahee, Ball is better between the tackles and fits the offense well.
*Fast facts: The Broncos are averaging 158.2 yards rushing and 159.9 yards passing per game this season. ... The Jets are 1-3 on the road, with an average margin of defeat of 12 points.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
This is a daunting matchup for the Broncos' offense. Potentially minus their top two running backs and against an aggressive defense, QB Tim Tebow will have to take more chances through the air. If Denver falls behind it could get ugly quickly.
*Our pick: Jets 26-13
Tampa Bay at Green Bay
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis. - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 711
*TV announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
*Keys to the game: Starting slow isn't an option for the Bucs if they want to hang around long. The Packers have smoked their opponents in the first quarter all season, whereas Josh Freeman and Tampa Bay -- outscored 108-50 in the first and third quarters combined this season -- seem to thrive when urgency hits overload stages late in the second half. Freeman has been loose with the ball and the takeaway-happy Packers are most vulnerable against power running. With LeGarrette Blount only modest as a blocker, Tampa's approach must remain conservative unless the score requires a shift to the two- or four-minute offense. The Packers might want to dial up RBs James Starks and Ryan Grant to zing the Bucs' weak defensive front -- Tampa yields 138.2 rushing yards per game -- but won't force it considering big plays have been easy to come by against Tampa (the Bucs allowed touchdown plays of 80 and 78 yards last week).
*Matchup to watch - Packers OGs T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton vs. Bucs DT Albert Haynesworth: Haynesworth, who was claimed off waivers from New England last week, started four days later and tied for third on the team with five tackles. Lang and Sitton have emerged as this generation's Mike Wahle and Marco Rivera in Green Bay.
*Player spotlight - Bucs RB Kregg Lumpkin: He's working to get up to speed with Freeman in the way Earnest Graham was, but Lumpkin has missed opportunities and had communication hiccups as a third-down back, a role that becomes profoundly important in a game where the score likely will require the Bucs to punch the throttle and never let up.
*Fast facts: The Bucs don't have a first-quarter touchdown this season. ... The Packers have lost three straight in the series.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The sliding Bucs won't gain traction in Wisconsin, where dropping their fifth in six games would make their 3-1 start feel like ages ago. The Packers should have their way with a team yet to score 27 points in a game this season.
*Our pick: Packers 34-23
Dallas at Washington
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at FedExField, Landover, Md. - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 709
*TV announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnson, Tony Siragusa
*Keys to the game: Redskins QB John Beck lacked the patience and the poise to hang in the pocket to wait for big-play opportunities downfield so Rex Grossman was reinstalled as the starter last week. The offense showed minimal improvement and must rediscover a consistent runner to balance the attack. The deep ball is not the true focus of a West Coast offense, but the Redskins' risk-averse approach has caused jail-break pass rushes to become regular and served to minimize the running game as defenders fill gaps and clog cutback lanes. The Redskins haven't scored in the first half in five straight games -- all losses -- and lack the ingredients to stage a big rally with just one touchdown in the last three games. The Cowboys have become less predictable and vastly more consistent since RB DeMarco Murray took over for Felix Jones. QB Tony Romo is fully healed from a rib injury and has found Murray and Laurent Robinson to be reliable receivers, helping Dallas spread the ball around and keep defenses guessing.
*Matchup to watch - Cowboys WR Dez Bryant vs. Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall: The running dialogue would also be worth the price of admission, but Bryant can bruise as a short-area receiver and has excellent body control downfield to make challenging receptions look simple. Hall's "ball or nothing" mentality makes him both a big-play threat on defense and risk worth taking for Romo all in one.
*Player spotlight - Redskins WR Leonard Hankerson: The first Washington receiver to post a 100-yard game since Rod Gardner in 2001, the record-setting former Miami Hurricane has 12 catches in the last two games, including 8-106 in the loss to the Dolphins last week.
*Fast facts: Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is in the midst of his first career five-game losing streak. ... The Cowboys last won three straight games to close the 2009 season.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Redskins shuffle personnel at a desperate pace, especially on the offensive line, essentially rolling the red carpet out for the Cowboys' pass rush to pummel QB Rex Grossman. Unless the Redskins surprise with a sharpened defensive effort, these are teams headed opposite directions.
*Our pick: Cowboys 32-19
Carolina at Detroit
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Ford Field, Detroit - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 710
*TV announcers: Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jennifer Hale
*Keys to the game: The Panthers lack the blue-chip defensive talent that made the difference for the Bears in thumping the Lions a week ago. Carolina must get a major impact from DE Charles Johnson in his matchup with RT Gosder Cherilus -- the secondary can't survive otherwise just as the Panthers' run defense can't afford to risk getting out of position by blitzing. The Lions are agile and athletic across their defensive front but their upfield pass rushers leave wide running lanes the Panthers can exploit. However, the Lions won't let up if they are near QB Cam Newton and want to set the tone as the physically dominant team. The Panthers can back them off a bit with screens, inside and delayed runs and continuing to mix it up on first down. Lions QB Matt Stafford was picked off four times at Chicago and with no running game to lean on, teams are learning he's too willing to launch the ball up for grabs against inside pressure. RB Jahvid Best (head) remains uncertain, which begs for the Lions to downshift a gear in their wide-open offense to incorporate more short throws that exploit Carolina's weakness -- its second-level personnel.
*Matchup to watch - Panthers CB Chris Gamble vs. Lions WR Calvin Johnson: Gamble has two picks in his last three games. He can jolt Johnson at the line and try to ride him off of his route using his height and reach. Johnson has a knack for beating the double-team and Stafford trusts him to catch it even when blanketed.
*Player spotlight - Lions DE Cliff Avril: Avril recorded his fourth sack in the last three games and also forced his third fumble in three games in last week's loss. He's vastly better on the fast track at Ford Field and his matchup vs. backup RT Byron Bell favors Detroit.
*Fast facts: Stafford had four interceptions last week after throwing four through the first eight games. ... Newton has been sacked 22 times.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
Cam Newton has prospered in heated environs before, but the Lions are uniquely talented at the right positions to make him feel plenty of pressure and take control of the game early.
*Our pick: Lions 30-20
Cincinnati at Baltimore
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 708
*TV announcers: Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
*Keys to the game: The Ravens waved the white flag on the running game early at Seattle, where Joe Flacco flung 52 passes but Ray Rice had just five rushing attempts. Rice and TE Ed Dickson combined for 18 catches, but Flacco has to rely on his outside targets -- Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith and Lee Evans - especially with the Bengals minus top CB Leon Hall (torn Achilles). Stretching the field would aid in springing Rice against the Bengals' nickel defense with inside runs and trap plays that have gouged Mike Zimmer's front seven in recent games. After a few poor throws in key spots against Pittsburgh, QB Andy Dalton must regroup quickly. The Bengals can try to pry open the Ravens' stingy defense with RB Cedric Benson after Marshawn Lynch's power style cause Baltimore issues last week, but Dalton has to be cautiously aggressive. Benson will draw more of a crowd if WR A.J. Green (right knee) can't play. Green is the receiver Dalton trusts even when covered, and the Ravens can tar and feather any quarterback in a one-dimensional offense.
*Matchup to watch - Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth vs. Ravens DE Haloti Ngata: Whitworth quietly runs with the elite at his position but had an off week against the Steelers, when he drew two penalties to run his season total to five. Ngata, a streamroller with surprising agility and freakish power, makes multiple blockers work on every snap.
*Player spotlight - Ravens LG Ben Grubbs: He has 63 career starts but just three this season because of a toe ligament problem. LT Bryant McKinnie said the offense finds another gear with Grubbs in the lineup, including helping McKinnie in his first year in the offense.
*Fast facts: Dalton has 14 touchdown passes, the most by a rookie in his first nine games since 1970. ... The Ravens are 17-3 at home since the start of 2009; all three losses were by three points or less.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Ravens' self-inflicted wounds at Seattle helped cancel out a critical victory at Pittsburgh. They'll be more than motivated for a brass-knuckles exchange with another AFC North unfriendly rival.
*Our pick: Ravens 23-14
Buffalo at Miami
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Sun Life Stadium, Miami - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 706
*TV announcers: Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots
*Keys to the game: The Dolphins are finding favorable matchups since sliding WR Brandon Marshall to the slot and moving him pre-snap to force defensive backs to show their hand. Coach Tony Sparano believes Marshall and TE Anthony Fasano are benefitting from RB Reggie Bush. Bush has proved a home-run threat the team lacked in 2010, with 139 yards and three touchdowns in 27 carries the last two games. The Bills had fits trying to wrap up Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray last week and they've allowed 120-plus rushing yards six times this season. The Dolphins' defense deserves plaudits, especially in the red zone, during the current two-game winning streak. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has turned in two clunkers since signing a new contract, and the Bills have only 16 points in the last two games. Fitzpatrick's quick release is a means for survival this week. The Dolphins have 15 sacks in the last four games. Working the ball to RB Fred Jackson as a receiver should open shallow crossing routes to WRs David Nelson and Stevie Johnson, provided Johnson can get healthy to recover from a down month. Jackson had 19 carries for 55 yards in two games against Miami last season.
*Matchup to watch - Bills RB Fred Jackson vs. Dolphins ILB Karlos Dansby: Dansby has turned in back-to-back solid performances. He has to be the first to the ball if the Dolphins are to keep Jackson from gliding into the secondary on cutback runs.
*Player spotlight - Bills OL Andy Levitre: Levitre opened the season at left guard, then moved to left tackle when Demetrius Bell and Chris Hairston were injured. With Harrison expected back this week and C Eric Wood gone for the season, Levitre is now expected to slide to center.
*Fast facts: The Bills haven't made the playoffs for 11 straight seasons. ... Miami has allowed 235 rushing yards (78.3) in the last three games.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Bills don't have pure pass rushers to speed up quarterbacks and of late can't rely on their offense to set the tempo. Unless Ryan Fitzpatrick, intercepted five times in the past two games, can find his groove again, the Bills are in for a long November.
*Our pick: Dolphins 23-21
Jacksonville at Cleveland
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 707
*TV announcers: Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker
*Keys to the game: Jaguars rookie QB Blaine Gabbert makes a lot of throws under duress, and the Browns' plucky secondary consistently jumps underneath routes on which the Jacksonville offense relies as a changeup to RB Maurice Jones-Drew. With Cleveland's consistent shortcomings on third down leading to a collectively heavy-legged defense in the second half most of the season, the Browns have fallen out of close games and, minus gamebreakers -- emerging rookie WR Greg Little averages just 10.2 yards per catch -- don't play well from behind. The Browns' critical weakness among many flaws for the past month is a stagnated rushing attack missing RBs Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and Montario Hardesty (calf) and a penetrable run defense. Hillis or Hardesty might return, but even with them the ground game has been mediocre at best. It's incumbent upon QB Colt McCoy not to miss open targets and stretch the defense over the top when protection holds up. In keeping tabs on Jones-Drew, the Browns cannot allow him to bounce off of first contact as Steven Jackson did regularly last week.
*Matchup to watch - Browns LT Joe Thomas vs. Jaguars DE Jeremy Mincey: Mincey has evolved into more than a try-hard run-stopping end. At 270 pounds he's stout against the run but he can test Thomas with his developing pass-rush moves. Mincey had 2.5 sacks last week to pump his season total to 4.5.
*Player spotlight - Jaguars CB Will Middleton: The third-year player out of Furman started four games earlier this season and is expected to be thrust into the starting lineup. Rashean Mathis, who often covered the opposing team's No. 1 receiver, was lost to a knee injury last week.
*Fast facts: McCoy has been sacked 43 times with 15 interceptions in his first 16 career starts. ... The Jaguars have allowed 11 points per game in the last four games. The Browns have averaged 10 points in their last four.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
Until the Browns get out of their own way and without the running game requisite to making a grindy ball-control style effective, the Jaguars are the pick as long as QB Blaine Gabbert takes care of the football.
*Our pick: Jaguars 22-13
Oakland at Minnesota
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Mall of America Field, Minneapolis - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 704
*TV announcers: Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots
*Keys to the game: In a scheduling quirk, the Vikings are playing on a short week following Monday night's game while the Raiders have had three additional days of rest after beating San Diego on Thursday. Raiders QB Carson Palmer shook off a significant amount of rust in the victory over the Chargers. With RB Michael Bush racking up 256 total yards, Palmer showed off plenty of arm strength in opening up the Raiders' vertical passing game - and the Vikings have had significant issues in their secondary most of the season. If RB Darren McFadden is out another game with a mid-foot sprain, Bush will again be the bell cow back. Oakland's main issue has been a spotty run defense. It's key for the Vikings that rookie quarterback Christian Ponder avoids early mistakes, Minnesota keeps the game close and RB Adrian Peterson remains the focal point of the gameplan.
*Matchup to watch - Raiders OLB Kamerion Wimbley vs. Vikings LT Charlie Johnson: Wimbley is coming off a four-sack game against the Chargers after recording just two through the Raiders' first eight games. Wimbley said he's been getting pressure all season, but his sacks tend to come in bunches. After abusing Chargers backup LT Brandyn Dombrowski last week Wimbley draws another favorable matchup in Johnson, who has been vulnerable to speed rushers since being signed as a free agent after the Colts didn't make an effort to keep him.
*Player spotlight - Raiders WR Denarius Moore: The rookie has built quick chemistry with Palmer and leads Raiders wideouts with an average of 17.2 yards per catch after reeling in receptions of 27, 33 and 46 yards against San Diego.
*Fast facts: Bush's 256 yards against San Diego was the fourth-highest single-game total in franchise history. ... The Vikings were 0-3 on Monday nights last season.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
QB Carson Palmer is coming off a strong game in stretching the field and showing excellent arm strength. With another 10 days between games to get even more comfortable in the Raiders' offense, Palmer can dice up a secondary that will struggle with Oakland's speed.
*Our pick: Oakland 27-17
Seattle at St. Louis
Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at Edwards Jones Dome, St. Louis - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 712
*TV announcers: Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jaime Maggio
*Keys to the game: Both offenses have rediscovered their power ground games to move the chains with more regularity in recent weeks. Rams RB Steven Jackson has 417 rushing yards over the past three games, while Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch is riding the first consecutive 100-yard rushing games of his career. They have helped a pair of offenses that don't perform well without good balance because of inconsistent offensive line play and receivers who struggle to get a lot of separation. Rams QB Sam Bradford's longest completion last week was 24 yards. He'll be working against tall, lanky CBs in Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, who are physical but lack speed and experience. Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson continues to gut it out through a pectoral injury, which clearly affects his ability to step into deeper throws downfield.
*Matchup to watch - Seahawks OTs Russell Okung/James Carpenter vs. Rams DE Robert Quinn: The Seahawks will need to give Carpenter help against Chris Long as the rookie has struggled in pass protection. But Quinn has emerged as the wild card for the Rams. The 14th overall pick in April was slowed by a knee injury in training camp and was inactive in Week 1. It has been a quick maturation ever since. Quinn made an impact on special teams and now is earning more snaps on a weekly basis, although he failed to get on the stat sheet last week.
*Player spotlight - Rams LCB Justin King: Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson throws an overwhelmingly high percentage of his passes to the right side of the field, putting King directly in his crosshairs.
*Fast facts: The Seahawks have won 11 of the past 12 meetings, although the one loss came in St. Louis last season. ... Rams QB Sam Bradford has just a 67.1 passer rating at home this season.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Seahawks suffered a physical toll in upsetting Baltimore last Sunday. With more youth forced into the lineup for a team that already self destructs with penalties, Seattle will struggle to travel to beat a Rams team that is starting to play very solid defense.
*Our pick: Rams 23-16
Arizona at San Francisco
Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at Candlestick Park, San Francisco - TV: FOX; DirecTV: 713
*TV announcers: Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin
*Keys to the game: QB Kevin Kolb (turf toe) could be a late-week decision for the third consecutive week for the Cardinals, although backup John Skelton has proven capable of moving the offense in leading consecutive victories. San Francisco's stout run defense shouldn't have to commit additional resources toward containing RB Beanie Wells, and the 49ers will attack the Cardinals' suspect pass protection. Both Cardinals quarterbacks tend to force the ball in WR Larry Fitzgerald's direction, and he responded last week with a pair of touchdowns and a spectacular key catch late in the game at Philadelphia. 49ers RB Frank Gore is dealing with ankle and knee injuries, which could leave more of the backfield load to rookie Kendall Hunter. QB Alex Smith did step up last week and moved the ball in a pass-heavy attack when the ground game stalled. Smith doesn't push the ball vertically a ton, but he does utilize TEs Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker heavily.
*Matchup to watch - Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. 49ers CB Carlos Rogers: Rogers had a reputation in Washington for having terrible hands and dropping an inordinate amount of interceptions. He's working on building a new reputation in San Francisco as Rogers' five interceptions are already three shy of his total in Washington ... in six seasons. Of course, Fitzgerald is his own animal with his ability to make acrobatic catches in traffic and use his leaping ability to get the ball at its highest point.
*Player spotlight - 49ers RB Anthony Dixon: The forgotten man in the backfield this season, Dixon could play a key role in short-yardage situations if Gore is out or limited because Hunter is just 5-7, 199 pounds.
*Fast facts: Arizona snapped an 11-game road losing streak last week. ... San Francisco as a seven-game winning streak.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The 49ers are rolling and they won't overlook a divisional opponent, even if they have the NFC West all but sewn up. San Francisco will stop the run and put the onus on Arizona's passing game, which isn't equipped to be effective in a one-dimensional attack.
*Our pick: 49ers 20-12
San Diego at Chicago
Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET, at Soldier Field, Chicago - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 714
*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
*Keys to the game: Few teams needed three extra days of rest more than the Chargers, who were physically battered in losing three games in 11 days. The offensive line is of particular concern, with QB Philip Rivers getting sacked six times by Oakland and LT Marcus McNeill's status uncertain due to a neck stinger. San Diego needs to get RBs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert untracked early to help protect Rivers, who has 18 turnovers this season - including already tying his career high with 15 interceptions. Chargers RB Matt Forte is going to enjoy watching film this week of Raiders RB Michael Bush racking up 256 total yards against San Diego. If Forte is picking up positive yards on first and second down, QB Jay Cutler will benefit from better protection and he'll have more man coverage to exploit downfield.
*Matchup to watch - Chargers QB Quentin Jammer vs. Bears WR Devin Hester: Jammer is coming off one of the poorest games of his career as he was routinely torched by Raiders WR Denarius Moore. He said afterward that San Diego needing to get better as a team starts "with me." He faces another quick receiver in Hester, and Jammer has to do a better job of being physical with Hester off the line of scrimmage and not winding up in a trail position.
*Player spotlight - Chargers WR Vincent Brown: The rookie third-round pick is starting to become a factor after a leg injury derailed his training camp. Nine of his 11 receptions have come in the past two games, including a pair in very tight coverage against Oakland, and Malcom Floyd (hip) remains uncertain.
*Fast facts: The Chargers have lost four consecutive games for the first time since they started the 2003 season 0-5. ... This is only the fifth meeting in Chicago, with San Diego's only win coming in 1970.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The proverbial wheels appear to be coming off the Chargers' bus. Yes, the extra rest will help, but the issues run deeper than injuries. QB Philip Rivers isn't protecting the ball and Bears RB Matt Forte is the ideal dual threat to keep San Diego's defense off-kilter.
*Our pick: Bears 30-20
Tennessee at Atlanta
Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET, at Georgia Dome, Atlanta - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 705
*TV announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
*Keys to the game: WR Harry Douglas has stepped up to provide a spark for the Falcons' offense, catching eight of the team-high 14 passes thrown his way against New Orleans. He again figures to play a prominent role in the gameplan with Julio Jones expected to miss at least a week with another hamstring injury. Douglas' speed can help stretch the field and keep the safeties from being overly aggressive in run support. Tennessee jumped on Carolina last week and never let up. The Titans won't find the going quite as easy in Atlanta, where the Falcons can't afford another home loss in the tight NFC playoff race. RB Chris Johnson had a breakout game in Carolina and QB Matt Hasselbeck is spreading the ball around to just about everyone eligible to catch passes. Atlanta's secondary is a weakness, but Hasselbeck needs support from Johnson because he lacks a true No. 1 receiver.
*Matchup to watch - Titans LDT Sen'Derrick Marks vs. Falcons RG Joe Hawley: The right guard spot has been troublesome for Atlanta since Harvey Dahl signed with St. Louis as a free agent. Hawley, who started three games earlier in the season for injured C Todd McClure, has now taken over from Garrett Reynolds. Marks made strides last season but underwent offseason shoulder surgery and missed most of training camp. At 6-2, 294, Marks has good size and has improved his strength.
*Player spotlight - Falcons DT Jonathan Babineaux: The Falcons' defensive line has consistently applied pressure since Babineaux returned from a knee injury five weeks ago. He has been playing with a knee brace, which he hopes to ditch in the near future, but Babineaux has still been able to get in the backfield and make impact plays.
*Fast facts: Johnson has joined Earl Campbell and Eddie George as the only players in franchise history with 5,000-plus career rushing yards. ... Atlanta was 5-of-16 on third down last week.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Falcons flat out can't afford to drop the second leg of a three-game home stretch, and they're still playing solid football on both sides of the ball. They'll show up focused and use a balanced offensive gameplan to control the tempo from the outset.
*Our pick: Falcons 26-19
Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants
Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET, at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. - TV: NBC
*TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
*Keys to the game: The Eagles' quick-strike passing game is struggling, with QB Michael Vick (broken ribs) and WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder/hamstring) having to battle to get on the field this week and WR DeSean Jackson returning from being benched against Arizona. The one constant has been RB LeSean McCoy, and coach Andy Reid got away from utilizing him enough last week - including calling nine consecutive pass plays with a seven-point fourth-quarter lead. McCoy had 24 carries in the first meeting, a 29-16 Giants victory Sept. 25. That game was dominated by Giants QB Eli Manning, who torched Philadelphia's highly-touted secondary for four touchdowns. The Giants didn't get much going on the ground last week and could be without Ahmad Bradshaw (fractured foot) for a third consecutive game. The Giants' biggest concern needs to be long passing downs, as the Eagles' pass rush is still dangerous.
*Matchup to watch - Eagles QB Michael Vick vs. Giants secondary: New York's secondary has been decimated by injuries, but it hasn't been a fatal blow thanks to a strong pass rush. The Giants picked Vick off once in the first meeting, recovered one of his three fumbles and didn't give up a single touchdown to him on the ground or through the air. Vick is struggling with his accuracy, turnovers and now broken ribs, and he'll need to step up in the face of an opponent that knows his tendencies.
*Player spotlight - Eagles WR DeSean Jackson: Jackson's disappointing season hit a new low with his benching last week for missing a meeting. He has just eight catches for 93 yards and no touchdowns over the past four games and has struggled with some drops. Supposedly the Eagles' most electrifying receiver, Johnson has only one catch of 20-plus yards since Week 6
*Fast facts: McCoy has set a franchise record with a touchdown in nine consecutive games. ... Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul has 14 sacks in his past 15 games.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Eagles' season is on the brink, and the Giants would love nothing more than to be the straw that breaks Philadelphia's back. The Giants should be able to run the ball and set up play-action, and defensively they'll handle the Eagles' struggling offensive line.
*Our pick: Giants 24-20
Kansas City at New England
Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. - TV: ESPN
*TV announcers: Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden
*Keys to the game: Rather than Matt Cassel returning to New England looking to right the Chiefs??? sinking offense, the Patriots are expected to face Tyler Palko making his first career start. Palko has thrown just 13 regular-season passes, and could be just the tonic the Patriots??? battered defense needs despite a courageous effort in Sunday night???s victory over the Jets. While New England???s pass defense has been mostly horrid, the run defense has been respectable. But that???s where the Chiefs must attack and be productive in order to keep Palko out of constant third-and-long situations ??? especially with the Patriots??? pass rush coming off a breakout game. The back end of Kansas City???s defense has been inconsistent since S Eric Berry was lost for the season. Patriots QB Tom Brady will take a few early deep shots and soften the underbelly of a defense also allowing 134 yards per game on the ground.
*Matchup to watch - Chiefs LCB Brandon Flowers vs. Patriots WR Chad Ochocinco: After rumors last week that he might not be with the team much longer, Ochocinco responded with a 53-yard reception against the Jets that eclipsed his total for any single game all season ??? and then wasn???t targeted again for the rest of the game. Flowers has quietly emerged as one of the league's top young cover men and will likely be left alone to contend with Ochocinco.
*Player spotlight - Chiefs RB Dexter McCluster: While Jackie Battle has been doing a respectable job as the lead back, McCluster brings more big-play flair. He had 14 touches against Denver and the Chiefs desperately need the second-year back to generate a few big plays.
*Fast facts: Palko has played in four career games, with no starts. ... Brady and coach Bill Belichick have won 117 games together, the most of any quarterback/coach tandem in NFL history.
WHO WILL WIN AND WHY
The Patriots aren???t likely to take the beleaguered Chiefs lightly, not with former GM Scott Pioli coming to town and the Jets still nipping at their heels. Kansas City will struggle to keep it competitive with inexperienced QB Tyler Palko facing a defense that will vary its pressure packages.
*Our pick: Patriots 31-13
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