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NFL previews, Week 2

The Sports Xchange
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Week 2 NFL game previews

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--- Friday --- Sept. 14, 2012 --- Vol. X --- No. 2 ---

-- PRO FOOTBALL GAME SCOUT --

-- A PUBLICATION OF THE SPORTS XCHANGE --

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) at New York Giants (0-1)

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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver

PREDICTION: Giants 23-16

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Buccaneers packed defenders in every gap and dared Carolina to throw last week -- holding the Panthers to 10 rushing yards -- but the gameplan beckons a slaughter against a proven passing offense such as the Giants. The key to Tampa's attack -- the coverage skills of safeties Mark Barron and Ronde Barber, which helps the Bucs use base personnel against most any common formation. The Giants can find matchup problems with rookie RB David Wilson's speed and TE Martellus Bennett flexed to the slot. Bucs RB Doug Martin's wares as a blocker will be taxed -- Tampa Bay's OTs Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood can't mirror the Giants' multitude of speed rushers.

FAST FACTS: Of those with at least 200 receptions since 2008, Buccaneers WR Vincent Jackson leads the NFL with average of 17.88 yards per catch. ... Giants QB Eli Manning has a 13-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio in his last six games.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

BUCCANEERS

Doug Martin will continue to be the focal point of the Bucs offense under coach Greg Schiano.

He rushed 24 times for 95 yards and caught four passes for 23 yards in the 16-10 win over the Panthers.

At that rate, Martin could have 448 touches for a 16-game season. Only twice in Martin's career at Boise State did he have a bigger workload in a game than he did on Sunday.

"I do think it's a feel thing game to game," Schiano said. "But 28 touches, and you did the math real quickly, that's a lot of touches. Now has it been done? Sure. Has it been done by rookies? So it's not unheard of. But we'll go one game at a time and then you've just got to keep an eye on him as the season rolls on. How is he holding up? He's a finely conditioned athlete. He's very muscular, he works out a lot, which is going to help him I think handle some of the load. But at the end of the day, that's a tall order. So we'll see."

That workload looked as if it might get even heavier this week. Backup tailback LeGarrette Blount, the team's leading rusher the past two seasons, missed practice Wednesday and was sent by the team to a specialist in Charlotte, N.C., to undergo an MRI on his back and neck.

Blount suffered what general manager Mark Dominik referred to as a "stinger," in the second quarter of Sunday's 16-10 win over the Panthers and did not return to the game. But Blount was cleared by the specialist and returned to the practice field Thursday.

That's welcome news for Martin, who paid a price to gain yardage Sunday. His longest run, which came on the final series, was 15 yards. The rest of the time, he was pushing defenders backward.

"Yeah, it was a lot of tough yardage, a lot of YAC (yards after contact) yardage and I had to take whatever was given and it pretty much happened throughout the game," Martin said. "It's nothing unusual for me and I'm prepared for the workload when it comes."

GIANTS

The last time defensive ends Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Osi Umenyiora failed to register a sack against an opposing quarterback was Nov. 28, 2011, a 49-24 loss at New Orleans.

The last time that trio failed to register a sack and a pressure and hit against the quarterback?

Well, there's a first time for everything, and last week against Dallas, that trio reached that milestone against Dallas quarterback Tony Romo.

That's about as rare of an occurrence as one will find in the NFL as any. And it's also an occurrence that the trio hopes will not happen again this weekend when they host the Buccaneers.

The reasons for this rare failure are numerous, including players working outside of their assignment, just to name one.

"They ran it well, the ball was out quick and we broke down in containment which put the quarterback on the outside and gave him all day," said head coach Tom Coughlin.

"I think we pressed," added defensive end Justin Tuck. "I think we tried to make plays. We sacked (quarterback Tony Romo) twice, but for the most part, he stood there comfortably. Their offensive line played well, and did what it had to do to stifle our passing attack."

Tuck noted that the Giants' pass rushing problems started when they began failing to stop the Cowboys' rushing attack.

"I think in the first half we stayed with someone in his face a little bit because the running game was under control. (DeMarco) Murray got the ball moving a little bit and that's when things started to unravel for us a little bit as far as that goes. It starts with stopping the run."

So what can the Giants do moving forward to make sure that they are more productive with their pass rush this week against the Bucs?

"You just have to go out there and don't do anything extra," said Pierre-Paul "Don't try to hit the home run; don't try to get the sack going inside. Take care of your responsibility and be true to your technique."

They also can't look for excuses, such as the quarterback getting rid of the ball faster, because as Umenyiora pointed out, "We still have to find a way to get there, no matter what."

So how might the Giants approach this week if the Bucs employ a similar strategy that calls for quarterback Josh Freeman to get rid of the ball quickly or roll outside to avoid any pressure?

Simply avoid making the same mistakes they made last week, which according to Umenyiora, consisted of the fundamentals.

"We should have done a better job of getting our hands up," he said. "We knew we weren't going to be able to get to the quarterback, so we should have tried to get our hands up and knock the ball down. But we were pressing and a lot of times we were making inside moves and he was escaping the pocket and making plays on us that way. This week, if the same situation arises, we'll be more prepared for it."

When it's all said and done, Umenyiora thinks that fans will see a much different and improved Giants defense on Sunday.

"We know we're a better defense than what we went out there and played (against Dallas)," he said. "We're coached better than that and we are going to play better than that, that's for sure."

PERSONNEL NEWS

BUCCANEERS

--T Demar Dotson took reps with the first-team offense at right tackle as starter Jeremy Trueblood sat out with an ankle sprain he suffered in practice Wednesday.

--CB E.J. Biggers has returned to practice after missing all of the preseason with a foot fracture. The Bucs haven't ruled him out for playing Sunday.

--WR Arrelious Benn, who was inactive against the Panthers as a healthy scratch, expects to be in uniform Sunday against the Giants.

--CB Brandon McDonald, who was re-signed by the Bucs last week, has moved up the depth chart to the team's top nickel back, ahead of Myron Lewis.

INJURY IMPACT

--T Jeremy Trueblood suffered a right ankle sprain in practice Wednesday and did not practice on Thursday. He was wearing a sleeve on his left leg and spent time on the bicycle. If Trueblood can't go, the Bucs will start Demar Dotson.

G Carl Nicks has a sprained big toe and was limited in practice Thursday. Schiano says Nicks will play.

GIANTS

--WR Victor Cruz has been excused from the Giants' Friday practice in order to attend funeral services for his grandmother, Lucy, who passed away earlier this week.

--LT Sean Locklear will remain the starting left tackle for the time being, according to head coach Tom Coughlin despite the progress being made by Will Beatty. Locklear has been sharing reps with Will Beatty, but the distribution has favored Locklear, who has been with the starters since the spring while Beatty dealt with a back issue.

--CB Michael Coe is projected to get the start again on Sunday despite nursing a hamstring and despite the anticipated return of Prince Amukamara from a high ankle sprain.

--CB Prince Amukamara came through Thursday's practice fine, but it doesn't sound like he'll be starting on Sunday. "I know it's a slow process, and he's in the process," said head coach Tom Coughlin.

--WR Hakeem Nicks made it through the Thursday practice without any setbacks. "We're going to hope that he's going to be able to work on Thursdays," said head coach Tom Coughlin. "I think it was really good for him to be out here today on the grass. He moved well."

Nicks, however, admitted that there are some routes that create more pain for him than others, though he said he wasn't going to share that information with the media or with the coaches.

INJURY IMPACT

--DT Marvin Austin (back) was limited in Thursday's practice. Austin is likely to be active for Sunday's game, though if he does play, his snap count will be limited.

--C David Baas (hip) was limited in Thursday's practice, but is expected to start on Sunday.

--OT James Brewer (back) took his full load of practice reps. Brewer should be active on Sunday.

--CB Michael Coe (hamstring) was limited in Thursday's practice.

--WR Hakeem Nicks (foot) was limited in practice on Thursday, as per the plan laid out for him by the medical staff. Nicks is expected to be in the starting lineup on Sunday, but is right now not even close to being 100 percent.

--DE Adewale Ojomo (hamstring) missed his second practice this week and is unlikely to play on Sunday. Last week, Ojomo was a healthy scratch.

--LB Keith Rivers (hamstring) was limited in Thursday's practice.

--RB Da'Rel Scott (knee) took his full load of practice reps.

--CB Terrell Thomas, already on injured reserve, underwent surgery recently to repair the ACL in his right knee. Tge surgery is the third in the last seven years for Thomas.

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Oakland Raiders (0-1) at Miami Dolphins (0-1)

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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: Natural grass

TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots

PREDICTION: Raiders 22-16

KEYS TO THE GAME: Dolphins RB Reggie Bush had 115 yards from scrimmage at Houston in Week 1. The results for QB Ryan Tannehill imply more will be demanded out of the running game. Tannehill threw three picks at Houston -- two on tipped passes -- and his pedestrian receivers won't easily uncover even against average cornerbacks. The Raiders found tough sledding in the zone running game (2.1 yards per carry, 35 yards vs. Chargers) last week and Miami mowed down another zone-based ground game, keeping Houston under 100 (83 yards, 35 carries, 2.4-yard average). QB Carson Palmer hit RB Darren McFadden for 13 catches in Week 1, but coach Dennis Allen wants to get the other backs involved as well.

FAST FACTS: The Dolphins have won 12 of the past 15 meetings, including 34-14 in 2011. ... Palmer averages 293.4 passing yards in 10 starts as a Raider.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

RAIDERS

The Raiders will look to rotate players on a deep defensive line as a way to deal with the tropical conditions in Miami.

When the Raiders took the field for practice Thursday it was a breezy day with temperatures inching into the 60s.

In a season-opening 22-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the starting front four got most of the work. Defensive ends Matt Shaughnessy and Lamarr Houston had 48 and 46 snaps, respectively, while tackles Tommy Kelly and Richard Seymour had 46 and 42.

That was more than expected for Seymour in particular, given the amount of practice time he's missed in recent weeks with sore knees.

Two players considered valuable rotational reserves, defensive end Dave Tollefson and Desmond Bryant, had 24 and 16 snaps, respectively.

Raiders coach Dennis Allen sounds as if he'll look to even out the work load given the forecast which calls for temperatures in the mid-80s, humidity in the 70 percent range and even a chance of thunderstorms.

"Obviously when you really take into account the Miami heat, we're going to have to do a good job with our rotation and keeping those guys fresh and keeping them where they'll be at their best in the fourth quarter," Allen said.

Raiders players, especially those who are from southern states, are taking it in stride.

"Man, I'm from Jackson, Mississippi," Kelly said. "I'll be all right."

Middle linebacker Rolando McClain, from Decatur, Ala., wasn't overly concerned, either.

"It's just hot. It's not like you died or anything," McClain said. "It's just a little sun. Drink some water, you'll be fine."

DOLPHINS

Richie Incognito wants the NFL to know he's a reformed man who has worked hard to shed a dirty player label that he admits was "deserved."

Back in 2009, a Sporting News poll of 99 players labeled Incognito one of the NFL's dirtiest players. But the Dolphins' starting left guard has spent two-plus seasons trying to repair his image, working to clean up his act, and clear his name.

"I don't even talk to guys anymore on the field because I realized it was a trigger for me," Incognito said. "I'd talk and talk and talk and eventually something would happen."

By something, Incognito is referring to seeing opportunities to get in a cheap shot - do something borderline to someone he's heated with - and he'd jump on it. But those days are in his past.

However, when Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith accused Incognito of playing dirty in the 30-10 season-opening loss, most in NFL circles assumed he's guilty because of his reputation.

"A dirty player being let to play dirty ... Richie Incognito," Smith said to the Houston Chronicle in a rant about the NFL's replacement officials. "Everything that's illegal that can be done on the football field (Incognito) does it, but mainly he was hitting people after the play, sliding down on your leg grabbing your ankle and trying to twist to break your ankle and he was doing it right in front of the referees and he was still in the game."

But on Wednesday, Incognito had film cut-ups of the incident Smith specifically mentioned ready for any media member to see. The clip from his iPad shows that he's laying on Smith's leg preventing him from getting after a Dolphins player.

While questionable, it is far from dirty. And there was no visible twisting of any ankles.

"The eye in the sky don't lie and I'm falling back on that. It's a physical game and I get after people," Incognito said. "But I play it the right way.

"I'll never apologize for the way I play football. Physical, hard nose football from snap to whistle," Incognito tweeted. "Get with it or get run over by it."

The message Incognito wants to send to his teammates is that he's got their back, and the eighth-year veteran has grown up plenty since his frustrating, immature seasons with the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills.

"I've worked on myself. It's an ongoing thing," Incognito said. "I'm not saying I'm done with evolving. I know there is a lot of work ahead, but I've done a lot of work mentally and physically to change some things up."

PERSONNEL NEWS

RAIDERS

--WR Jacoby Ford (Lisfranc surgery) will likely be put on injured reserve and be out for the season, according to coach Dennis Allen.

--LB Miles Burris had three more tackles added to his game total of nine after review of the film by the Raiders staff, giving him 12 in his debut.

--CB Joselio Hanson did not play on defense in the opener, getting some snaps on special teams, even after starting cornerback Ron Bartell left with a broken shoulder blade.

--QB Carson Palmer broke 3,000 yards passing as a Raider with his 297 yards against San Diego. He has 3,050 yards in 11 games with Oakland.

--C Stefen Wisniewski opened with the first team and appears to be the likely starter against Miami.

--RB Taiwan Jones was limited with sore ribs after missing practice Wednesday and should be available to face Miami.

--LB Rolando McClain was limited with an ankle injury after missing practice Wednesday and should be available to face Miami.

INJURY IMPACT

--CB Pat Lee, who played 36 snaps against San Diego, draws the start opposite Shawntae Spencer because of broken scapula suffered by Ron Bartell.

--C Nick Guess will be activated and long-snap against Miami if starter Jon Condo is not cleared by doctors following a concussion.

--LB Travis Goethel got in some work with the first team Wednesday at middle linebacker as Rolando McClain rested an ankle sprain.

--WR Denarius Moore is likely to return against Miami, giving some relief to starters Rod Streater and Darrius Heyward-Bey, who were winded after playing 70 and 68 snaps, respectively.

DOLPHINS

--WR Brian Hartline is working with the first-team offense more because Ryan Tannehill needs to develop chemistry with the former starter. Hartline, who has been slowed by a calf injury, caught three passes for 50 yards against the Texans in the season opener.

--DT Kheeston Randall, a rookie seventh-round pick, is expected to receive significantly more snaps than last week because of Tony McDaniel's leg injury. Randall contributed two tackles in his first NFL game last Sunday.

--DT Ryan Baker, who was re-signed earlier this week, is expected to make the game-day roster because of his special teams work.

--WR Legedu Naanee is having his practice participation limited, possibly because he's been demoted to second team.

--FB Jorvorskie Lane is in the running to handle some of Miami's third-down and short yardage work.

--RB Lamar Miller, the team's second-round pick, continues to run with the second-team offense because of Daniel Thomas' injury.

--RB Marcus Thigpen's 72-yard punt return for a touchdown was just the second time an undrafted player has scored on a punt return in Dolphins history. The first occurred on Oct. 29, 2000 against Green Bay when Jeff Ogden returned a punt 81 yards for a score.

INJURY IMPACT

--DT Tony McDaniel (knee) missed his second straight practice because of a right leg injury he's been nursing for a full month and it is doubtful he'll play on Sunday.

--RB Daniel Thomas (concussion) sat out his second straight practice because of a concussion he suffered against Houston in Week 1.

--WR Anthony Armstrong (hamstring) did not practice for the first time this week.

--LB Jonathan Freeny (thumb) practiced without limitations.

--DT Randy Starks (groin) practiced without limitations.

--OT Jake Long (right knee) practiced without limitations and is expected to play on Sunday.

--OG John Jerry (right ankle) practiced without limitations and is expected to play on Sunday.

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Houston Texans (1-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1)

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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: Natural grass

TV: CBS, Marv Albert, Rich Gannon

PREDICTION: Texas 27-15

KEYS TO THE GAME: Even though they rushed for only 83 yards and averaged 2.4 yards per carry, the Texans will continue to pound the ball against the Jaguars. They have to run to set up their play-action game, and ran only two bootlegs against Miami because the running game was shut down. Arian Foster and Ben Tate were stuffed by the Dolphins, but expect them to combine for 30-35 touches Sunday. Even with a new coaching staff, Houston knows what's coming from the Jaguars: Maurice Jones-Drew from every angle. Only if Blaine Gabbert builds on a decent showing in Week 1 can the Jaguars slow Houston's pass rush. The Texans sacked Gabbert six times in the last meeting.

FAST FACTS: Since 2010, Jones-Drew leads the NFL with 3,007 rushing yards. Foster (2,919) is second. ... Foster has averaged 103.3 rushing yards in four career starts against Jacksonville.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

TEXANS

His awed teammates continue to be impressed with second-year defensive end J.J. Watt, whose nickname has become J.J. Swat.

In the 30-10 victory over Miami, the Texans were tied 3-3 late in the first half when he deflected the first of three Ryan Tannehill passes. It was intercepted by inside linebacker Brian Cushing, and the Texans capitalized for a 10-3 lead.

On the next Dolphins series, Watt deflected another pass. This one was intercepted by cornerback Kareem Jackson, and the Texans turned it into a 17-3 advantage.

"He turned the game around," coach Gary Kubiak said.

Watt, 6-5, 295, has picked up where he left off in the playoffs. In two playoff games, he had 14 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception return for a touchdown.

In the Miami game, he had 1.5 sacks to go with three deflections, giving him seven in his first 17 regular-season games.

"He's a beast," defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said.

On Sunday, the Texans play at Jacksonville. The last time they visited the Jaguars, Watt registered two sacks in the seven-point victory.

That Jacksonville game was Watt's coming-out party as a pass rusher. He finished his rookie season with 5.5 before erupting in the playoffs against Cincinnati and Baltimore. As a rookie, he led the team with 13 tackles for loss.

In passing situations, Watt moves inside to tackle and plays next to Antonio Smith, who had a career-high 6.5 sacks last season. Outside linebacker Brooks Reed lines up next to Watt. Reed had six sacks in 11 starts as a rookie. Like Watt, he's a relentless pass rusher who doesn't stop until he hears the whistle.

Watt and Reed were the first two picks last year. They're developing at a pace that excites their teammates and coaches and should depress a lot of opponents.

JAGUARS

The Jaguars seem likely to have seven players, including four starters, sidelined for the home opener against the Houston Texans Sunday.

Cornerback Derek Cox, who was limited Wednesday and Thursday, and linebacker Daryl Smith, who didn't practice either day, both figure to miss the game.

So do offensive linemen Cameron Bradfield and Eben Britton. And two backup defensive ends, George Selvie and Austen Lane, plus running back Rashad Jennings, who started the opener because of Maurice Jones-Drew's holdout, didn't practice and figure to miss the game.

So, the eight inactives will include seven injured players and only one healthy player is likely to be among the 45 players who dress.

With Cox out, William Middleton and Kevin Rutland will alternate at one corner and Kyle Bosworth will start at linebacker in place of Smith.

Coach Mike Mularkey hasn't named the starters in the offensive line but veteran Guy Whimper is likely to play right tackle in place of Bradfield. They have to decide if rookie Mike Brewster is ready to start in place of Britton.

The good news on the injury front is that veteran Rashean Mathis, who is returning from a torn ACL and is part of a four-player quarterback rotation with Aaron Ross, Middleton and Rutland, had 21 snaps against the Vikings and had no problems with his knee.

"It felt great," he said. "We're all happy with it."

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker wouldn't say if they'll give Mathis more snaps this week.

"We'll see how it goes," he said.

The cornerbacks will have a tough test when they line up against Andre Johnson.

Mathis said there are maybe only two receivers in the game who can match Johnson, but he didn't name them.

"It's like facing Peyton Manning," he said. "You know you're going up against one of the best."

Middleton said, "He's a phenomenal player."

The cornerbacks will be helped if the Jaguars defensive linemen can put pressure on quarterback Matt Schaub.

PERSONNEL NEWS

TEXANS

--P Donnie Jones didn't get off to a good start with a 43.6-yard gross and a 28.4-yard net. His net was terrible because the Texans allowed a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown against Miami. It was the only touchdown they surrendered. Jones punted well in the preseason, including a 40-yard net. The Texans haven't had a punter with a 40-yard net.

--FB James Casey, who's the lead blocker for Arian Foster and Ben Tate, caught one pass for 17 yards against Miami. Coach Gary Kubiak wants to get him more involved in the passing game. Casey has outstanding hands and is very good after making the catch.

--WR Trindon Holliday got off to a slow start. He returned one punt for 14 yards and averaged 15.7 on kickoff returns. He fumbled a kickoff in the end zone and brought it out to the 5-yard line, which infuriated his coaches. They want more returns like in preseason when he averaged 21 yards on punt returns and 39.9 on kickoff returns.

--QB Matt Schaub is playing in his sixth season with the Texans. Since he was acquired in 2007, he averages 7.99 yards per attempt. That ranks fourth in the NFL.

--LG Wade Smith, who hasn't missed a start since signing as a free agent in 2010, is coming off perhaps his worst game as a run blocker. His performance ranged from bad to mediocre. He needs to bounce back at Jacksonville and play the way he did the last two years.

--OLB Connor Barwin, who led the team with 11.5 sacks last season, was shut out against Miami. He didn't agree to a new contract. They'll open negotiations again after the season. They don't negotiate with players during the season because general manager Rick Smith believes it's a distraction. If Barwin stays healthy, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips thinks he can record at least 15 sacks rushing from the weak side.

INJURY IMPACT

--DE Antonio Smith (ankle) didn't practice but will start at Jacksonville.

--OLB Bryan Braman (hamstring) returned to practice but was limited. He should play against the Jaguars.

--ILB Brian Cushing (ribs) returned to practice and will start against the Jaguars.

--ILB Tim Dobbins (neck/nose) was limited in practice. He left the Miami game early and underwent tests on his neck that were negative. He should play against Jacksonville.

--OLB Brooks Reed (hip) was limited in practice. He was limited in practice last week but started against Miami. He's expected to start against the Jaguars.

JAGUARS

--DE Jeremy Mincey failed to get a sack in the opener in Minnesota and will attempt to record his first one against the Texans.

--CB Rashean Mathis, coming off a torn ACL last year, had just 21 snaps in Minnesota. He could get more against the Texans.

--K Josh Scobee will attempt to rebound after getting an extra point blocked and having a short kickoff that helped the Vikings mount a game winning drive.

--DT Terrance Knighton, who lost his starting job to C.J. Mosley, had a sack against the Vikings.

--WR Laurent Robinson had five catches in his first game as a Jaguar.

INJURY IMPACT

--DE Austen Lane didn't practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a foot injury and won't play against the Texans.

--DE George Selvie didn't practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a knee injury and won't play against the Texans.

--CB Derex Cox was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday with a hamstring injury and probably won't play against the Texans.

--LB Daryl Smith didn't practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a groin injury and probably won't play against the Texans.

--G Eben Britton didn't practice Wednesday and Thursday because of an ankle injury and probably won't play against the Texans.

--RB Rashad Jennings didn't practice Wednesday and Thursday because of a knee injury and probably won't play against the Texans.

--OT Cameron Bradfield didn't practice Wednesday and Thursday because of an ankle injury and probably won't play against the Texans.

--CB Mike Harris practiced Wednesday and Thursday with a hamstring injury and likely will play against the Texans.

--G Uche Nwaneri practiced Wednesday and Thursday with an ankle injury and is likely to play against the Texans.

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Cleveland Browns (0-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-1)

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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: Field Turf

TV: CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker

PREDICTION: Bengals 26-20

KEYS TO THE GAME: After a thumping at Baltimore, the Bengals try to get up off the mat and might be catching the right opponent at the right time. Dimitri Patterson is replacing Joe Haden as the Browns' starting left cornerback, putting A.J. Green in Andy Dalton's missile lock. The switch forces the Browns to play more zone defense than they normally would, and should also bring chances to TE Jermaine Gresham against speedy LB A.J. Fort. The Browns won't abandon RB Trent Richardson, and LB Rey Maualuga's aggressiveness can be used against him. Look for some low-risk passes early to get QB Brandon Weeden's passer rating (5.1) and chin up.

FAST FACTS: The Browns have one division win in the past two seasons (Oct. 3, 2010, 23-20 over Cincinnati). ... Four of the past six meetings have been decided by three points or less.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

BROWNS

Trent Richardson already was eager to improve on his first game as a pro and now Bengals linebacker Ray Maualuga has given the rookie from Alabama extra motivation.

Richardson rushed for 39 yards on 19 carries and caught one pass for five yards in a 17-16 loss to the Eagles. Richardson missed all four preseason games recovering from Aug. 9 knee surgery.

"He can run you over and you can miss a tackle," Maualuga told CBSSportsline. "At the same time, from what we've seen he didn't do anything spectacular. From running screens, missing passes, trying to find a hole when he's running the ball. He just didn't do anything spectacular from what I've seen."

Richardson grinned Thursday when told what Maualuga said. He did not insult the Bengals defense, which gave up 44 points in a 31-point loss to the Ravens on Monday night.

"I just laughed at it," Richardson said. "I'm going to let my game speak on Sunday. Stuff like that doesn't bother me, but it sparked something in me. I'll be ready to play, but that's all you'll get out of me."

The Bengals have dominated the Browns in Cincinnati recently. The Browns' only victory in Paul Brown Stadium since 2004 was in 2008 when they won, 20-12. The Bengals have won six of the last seven games with the Browns overall.

"We haven't beaten a lot of teams the last few years," Browns left Joe Thomas said. "If we're ever going to be the playoff team we want to be, we have to win in the AFC North."

The Browns are 6-24 in the AFC North over the last five years.

BENGALS

Considering that A.J. Green had some success against the Browns secondary and Joe Haden last year, Green could have an even bigger game on Sunday with Haden serving a four-game suspension for a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

In the two games last year, Green had four catches for 151 yards, but two of those went for 40 yards or more. One of those was for the go-ahead touchdown in the opener and the other was for 51 yards and set up the game-winning field goal in the game in Cincinnati.

"Joe's probably one of the premier corners, so I know they're going to miss him," Green said. "But this is the NFL. Those guys are going to step up whenever they get the chance. So just go out and play. I don't care who's out there."

The Browns will use Dimitri Patterson or Sheldon Brown against Green. They could also use Buster Skrine in nickel.

Green had five receptions for 70 yards in last Monday's 44-13 loss to the Ravens as he was moved around in a bunch of different spots. You can expect to see the same against the Browns. The emergence of Andrew Hawkins and Armon Binns also means that teams can not consistently double-team Green.

"We've got a lot more improvement to do, myself as well, making some of the big plays that I should have made. But it's Week 1 and we've just got a lot of football to play," Green said.

The Bengals have won three straight and five of the last six against the Browns.

PERSONNEL NEWS

BROWNS

--CB Buster Skrine is working with the first defense because LCB Joe Haden is suspended for four games.

--CB Dimitri Patterson is working as the nickel back and also at left cornerback. He says he can switch roles in a game.

--LB Scott Fujita has practiced the last two days without pain and might start on Sunday.

--The Browns could mix their coverage of Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham with S T.J. Ward and Fujita or rookie LB L.J. Fort.

--OT O'Neil Cousins is improving from an ankle injury that sidelined him in practice last week. The injury left the Browns thin on the offensive line but they are deeper heading to Cincinnati.

INJURY IMPACT

--LB James-Michael Johnson missed practice Thursday with left rib and oblique injuries.

--S Ray Ventrone missed practice with a hand injury.

--OT Joe Thomas was limited with a knee injury.

BENGALS

--TE Jermaine Gresham has 17 receptions for 167 yards and two touchdowns in four games against the Browns. He led the Bengals in receptions in both games last season.

--CB Terence Newman is still likely to be the nickel corner even though Adam Jones played last week albeit limited.

--WR Armon Binns has moved ahead of Brandon Tate on the depth chart as the starting receiver.

INJURY IMPACT

--DE Carlos Dunlap (knee) was limited for a second straight day but there is the possibility he could see some snaps against the Browns. Robert Geathers is still expected to get the start.

--RB Bernard Scott (hand) was limited again but remains questionable for Cleveland as he works himself back into shape. Brian Leonard could see increased playing time again.

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Baltimore Ravens (1-0) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)

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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf

PREDICTION: Eagles 23-20

KEYS TO THE GAME: There's ample heat on both offensive lines. The Ravens persistently pounded their way through the Bengals' line and Philadelphia's front five was waylaid by a lesser defensive front of the Browns. Eagles QB Michael Vick and RB LeSean McCoy are elusive and move the chains with their quickness and speed. Vick isn't in a good rhythm even after a pass-heavy game plan in Week 1, and leading receiver Jeremy Maclin (hip) might not contribute this week. That creates a burden for the Eagles' secondary against QB Joe Flacco and the Ravens' varied offense. CB Nnamdi Asomugha is likely to check rising WR Torrey Smith, who has great speed but is showing signs of becoming a complete receiver. LT Michael Oher can smother the speed-rushing DE Trent Cole -- if he lands his initial hand punch.

FAST FACTS: The Ravens have 38 defensive touchdowns since 2003, tied for the NFL lead with the Packers. ... Eagles WR DeSean Jackson has just five TD catches in his past 23 games.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

RAVENS

The Ravens' defense faces an unpredictable challenge Sunday in Philadelphia: containing Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.

Although Vick threw four interceptions in a win over the Cleveland Browns, he also passed for 317 yards and two touchdowns.

And he remains one of the most unpredictable, athletic quarterbacks in the game.

"It's no secret who this guy is," Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "This guy is fantastic with the football, without the football, however you want to deal with it. So, I just think that we have to go in there and we have to play our game. You can't be enamored with what he does or not. He is Vick, and he is a very, very, very, very special talent, but we are ready to go play a full football game."

Added Ravens coach John Harbaugh: "He's just an unbelievable athlete. First of all, he can run like crazy. The thing you can never underestimate is his arm talent. He can really throw the ball; you can never underestimate that. He's very accurate, he's got a very quick release, he throws a BB out there. So, he's got just lots of talent."

As far as defending the multidimensional Vick, the Ravens are considered unlikely to use a spy to shadow him.

"Whether you spy him or not, either way you take somebody, you take the integrity of your defense," Lewis said. "You start to kind of compromise it a little bit. So, I just say that if you're going and you play your defense the way your defense should be playing, it should take care of itself. Anytime that you try to do something extra, for one player, no matter who it is, I believe it kind of messes up your scheme of things."

EAGLES

The Eagles' offensive line began last season as one of the team's biggest question marks. By season's end, that unit was playing as well as any in the NFL.

But an offseason injury to All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters - he ruptured his Achilles tendon not once but twice - was a big blow to the line. His absence certainly was felt last week as the line often struggled in a 17-16 win over the Cleveland Browns.

But offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg isn't ready to panic.

"You always have to start over," he said. "We have a new man playing as well. Last year means very little to the next year because you have to start it all over and get all of the hard work and preparation in. Our offensive line has done that.

"I do know this - they have an opportunity to become one of the best offensive lines in the league. We have a lot of work to do. We missed a couple of things last week assignment-wise. But we did some excellent things in the running game. But that's not good enough. The pass protection was excellent at times. We've got a lot of work to do there as well, and it's at all positions."

The Eagles signed athletic free agent Demetress Bell to replace Peters at left tackle, but he has struggled to learn offensive line coach Howard Mudd's blocking technique. He wasn't even activated for the Cleveland game.

King Dunlap, a 6-9, 330-pound fifth-year journeyman who had started just seven games prior to this season, started at left tackle against the Browns. He didn't play very well. Mudd's hope is that the light eventually will go on with Bell.

"He's done well," Mornhinweg said when asked about Bell. Yet rookie fifth-round pick Dennis Kelly was activated as the backup tackle last week rather than Bell.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

RAVENS

---QB Tyrod Taylor, the backup to Joe Flacco, has been imitating Michael Vick this week for the scout team. He's being mentored by Vick, a fellow Virginia Tech football standout, during the offseason.

--NT Terrence Cody is coming off the bench behind Ma'ake Kemoeatu. Both players had one tackle against the Bengals, but Cody played a dozen less snaps than Cody.

--WR Jacoby Jones and CB Lardarius Webb will continue to split up punt return duties. Both had one punt return for nine yards apiece against Cincinnati.

INJURY IMPACT

--DE Pernell McPhee missed practice the past two days because his surgically repaired right knee is bothering him. He said he expects to play Sunday, though.

--C Matt Birk, a six-time Pro Bowl center, returned to practice on a limited basis. Birk has a thigh injury.

--FS Ed Reed (strained right hamstring) was limited again. Reed is expected to play Sunday.

--OLB Paul Kruger (back) didn't practice for the second day in a row. He's still expected to play, but might not be 100 percent.

--OT Jah Reid (strained right calf) still isn't practicing, and won't play this week.

EAGLES

--WR Jason Avant likely would team with DeSean Jackson in most of the Eagles' two-wide receiver sets Sunday if Jeremy Maclin is unable to play.

--SLB Mychal Kendricks, whose coverage ability was one of the big reasons the Eagles selected him in the second round of the draft in April, will get a big test Sunday from the Ravens' two tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.

--RB Bryce Brown is expected to be the Eagles' No. 2 running back Sunday even if Dion Lewis's hamstring strain is completely healed.

--CB Brandon Boykin, the Eagles' fourth-round rookie who beat out Joselio Hanson for the nickel corner job, will have his hands full Sunday with Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who usually lines up in the slot when the Ravens use three-wide receiver sets.

INJURY IMPACT

--WR DeSean Jackson did not practice Thursday because of a hamstring strain. But coach Andy Reid said he expects Jackson to be ready to play Sunday. With Jeremy Maclin also hurting, the Eagles can ill afford to be without both of them.

--WR Jeremy Maclin, who is nursing a hip flexor strain, didn't practice for the second straight day. But coach Andy Reid said he is making progress.

--WR Riley Cooper, who is recovering from a broken collarbone, didn't practice Thursday and won't play Sunday.

--S Colt Anderson was a full practice participant for the second straight day and will play Sunday. Anderson is coming off a torn ACL. His return will be a big boost to the Eagles' special teams.

===================================================

New Orleans Saints (0-1) at Carolina Panthers (0-1)

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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: Natural grass

TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Mike Martz, Kristina Pink

PREDICTION: Saints 33-23

KEYS TO THE GAME: Neither team established the run in losing their openers. The Saints were sluggish out of the gate and wound up scrambling to claw back into the game for the final two-plus quarters, never truly trying to achieve balance with the run. The trouble is, the Saints have a huge task in keeping Cam Newton in check. They put little pressure on Robert Griffin III last week and allowed 182 yards after the catch. The Panthers add RB Jonathan Stewart to their backfield hoping to jump-start the offense. Tampa Bay dared Newton to throw downfield, a tactic the Saints used in the second meeting last season.

FAST FACTS: The Saints have won five of the past six meetings and swept the series two straight years. ... The Panthers are 2-for-21 in on third down in their past three regular-season games.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

SAINTS

After losing his first game as a head coach in the NFL, Saints offensive line coach/run game coordinator Aaron Kromer knew what to expect when he went to work the next day.

Kromer was prepared for the backlash after his team shockingly dropped a 40-32 decision to the Washington Redskins, calling the first day of the new work week "Overreaction Monday."

Kromer explained Wednesday that it happens all over the league, especially when expectations aren't met for one reason or another.

Because the Saints struggled on both sides of the ball against a Redskins team that everyone expected them to beat in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Kromer sensed the reaction (or overreaction) that was coming.

"Half the teams lost and half the teams won," he said Wednesday. "Every team that won was crowned a Super Bowl champion and every team that lost wasn't going to make the playoffs. We know that is far from the truth."

On Monday, Kromer noted that the New York Giants were 9-7 last season and barely got into the playoffs before a solid playoff run was capped by a victory in Super Bowl XLVI.

Those Giants also lost their regular-season opener -- to the Redskins -- which was why Kromer was trying to keep fans calm in the wake of their disappointing loss last Sunday.

Naturally, he didn't have to remind his team.

"It's a long season. ... It's 16 games and it's important to keep everything in perspective," said tight end David Thomas. "Every game is important but at the same time, win or lose, you have to move on and get ready for the next one. Obviously, last week was not what we expected."

PANTHERS

After their season-opening dud, much of the talk around the Panthers this week focused on their offensive ineptitude against the Buccaneers. And while Carolina certainly needs to click better offensively this Sunday, the Panthers defense has to find a way to make the Saints struggle for a second straight week.

By all accounts, New Orleans wasn't great offensively in its opener versus the Redskins, but they still scored 32 points -- more than three times what Carolina mustered in Tampa Bay.

"The Redskins did a great job," Panthers defensive back Captain Munnerlyn said. "They did a great job putting pressure on Drew Brees, but they still scored 32 points. That's pretty good. In the NFL, it's hard to score 32 points."

The Saints didn't have a hard time piling on points the last time they played the Panthers. In Week 17 last season, New Orleans scored 45 points, the most they've scored in 34 meetings between the two teams.

But many things have changed since then. Of the Panthers defensive starters that day, only four started last week against the Bucs. Meanwhile, the Saints have gone through a scandal, costing them the services of head coach Sean Payton, and perhaps leading to last week's sputtering start.

"We know what wins games, but unfortunately we shot ourselves in the foot with penalties and mental errors," Brees said. "It was one thing here or there just about every play, so that was the unfortunate thing. We know we are much better than what we put on the field the other day. A lot of motivation to get better this week."

And that's a scary prospect for the Panthers, who have started each of their past three seasons at 0-2. The Saints, who have gone 0-2 just once ('97) in their last 15 seasons, are unlikely to be out of sync again. Of course, that motivation can go both ways.

"We're upset, too. We want to win, too," Panthers defensive tackle Ron Edwards said. "We're coming in with a taste in our mouth that we've got to get out, so we've got to win this."

PERSONNEL NEWS:

SAINTS

--LCB Jabari Greer had full participation in practice again Thursday and could return to the lineup for the first time since having hernia surgery on Aug. 2 when the Saints play the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

--WR Joe Morgan, a first-year pro, could be the third wideout on the field at Carolina if Devery Henderson can't play because of a concussion.

--WR Courtney Roby could also be in the mix if newly-signed wide receiver Greg Camarillo can't get up to speed with the offense.

INJURY IMPACT

--WR Devery Henderson did not practice again Thursday because of a concussion and his availability for Sunday's game at Carolina is unknown.

--LCB Johnny Patrick was held out of Thursday's practice because of a right thigh injury and his status for this week's game is not known.

--DE Turk McBride missed his second straight practice Thursday with a left ankle injury and his availability for this week's game is unknown.

--SLB Scott Shanle was limited in practice again because of a right knee injury and his availability for Sunday was not known.

PANTHERS

--LB Jon Beason was originally credited with a team-leading 10 tackles against the Bucs, but the Panthers have upped that to 12. The season opener was Beason's first game since tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 1 of 2011.

--LB Kenny Onatolu missed practice Wednesday and Thursday to be home with his family after the death of his mother. Onatolu is expected to play against the Saints.

--DT Dwan Edwards, who the Panthers signed off waivers Sept. 2, already looks like an important addition. Edwards played more snaps than any Panthers defensive tackle Sunday and finished with six tackles and a sack.

INJURY IMPACT

--RB Jonathan Stewart practiced fully for the second straight day Thursday. He'll likely make his season debut Sunday. Stewart sat out Week 1 with a sprained ankle.

--WR Steve Smith cut Thursday's practice short after his sore right knee flared up. Smith, who's been practicing with a brace after tweaking his knee against the Bucs, is still expected to play Sunday.

--DE Greg Hardy missed Thursday's practice with an illness, which shouldn't keep him out against the Saints.

--G Mike Pollak was limited in Thursday's practice with a sore shoulder.

=================================================

Kansas City Chiefs (0-1) at Buffalo Bills (0-1)

=================================================

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: CBS, Spero Dedes, Steve Beuerlein

PREDICTION: Chiefs 29-24

KEYS TO THE GAME: Jamaal Charles isn't exactly the elixir the Bills' defense was looking for considering his career average of 7.4 yards per carry against Buffalo (54 carries for 398 yards). As long as K.C. keeps the game close and QB Matt Cassel avoids turnovers, Charles will remain the focal point. Having OLB Tambi Hali on the field beefs up the Kansas City defense and shortens the clock for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to get the ball out to WR Stevie Johnson. RB C.J. Spiller is averaging 6.0 yards per carry in his past 15 games and racked up a career-best 169 on the ground last week. But the interception-plagued Fitzpatrick must limit his mistakes downfield - a task made more difficult with a cast of no-names rotating as the No. 2 receiver.

FAST FACTS: Fitzpatrick has an NFL-high 20 interceptions since signing a new contract prior to Week 8 last season. ... The Chiefs are 1-7 in their past eight visits to Ralph Wilson Stadium.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

CHIEFS

There have been many ups and downs in Tamba Hali's life, going back to growing up in Liberia where he was dodging bullets and death squads. While not a life and death situation, this week Hali is wrapping up a traumatic moment in his football life as he returns from a one-game NFL suspension that forced him to miss the season opener against Atlanta.

"It wasn't fun screaming at the TV," Hali said when asked what he was doing when the Chiefs and Falcons were playing last Sunday. "I stayed home with my daughter and my Mom came over and watched the game."

Just what substance caused Hali to come up positive in the NFL testing program wasn't something he wanted to discuss this week.

"I can't elaborate on anything; Roger (Goodell, NFL commissioner) could definitely fine me for anything," Hali said. "The league has to do whatever they have to do. I agree with it. I have no dispute. That's how it works."

Hali did apologize to the league and the Hunt family for the unwanted attention. "This is not the type of light that they want the organization to be in," said Hali. "I truly am sorry for the embarrassment. I just wanted to move forward and get better as a team and as an individual."

His punishment continues this week as he will play against Buffalo for free, since he was fined two game checks for the infraction. Hali just wants to get back on the field and get the first victory of the season.

"The guys in the locker room are not too pleased with our result from last week, regardless of how we played defense, offense or special teams," Hali said. "I think coming into this game it'll be a lot more emotional and that will have to settle down. We'll have to play with a little bit more poise and get a win out there."

Head coach Romeo Crennel is hoping that Hali's return will help pump up his teammates a bit, especially the defense that struggled to get Atlanta off the field last Sunday.

"I think the way he approaches the game and the way he plays down-in and down-out, that impacts the guys around him because I think they want to play up to that level that he plays," Crennel said. "If we can get guys playing up to the level that he plays, then you can lift the team."

There were no great insights that Hali could bring to the table after watching the game at home.

"I think as a whole we just need to continue to work and get better," Hali said. "Every guy has to do their job. We have to continue to study film, study our opponents. I don't think we played bad. I think the team we played was able to execute. We just need to be on top of our game. That's something we were lacking."

BILLS

It didn't take long for defensive end Mario Williams to feel the pressure of signing the richest contract ever for a defensive player in NFL history.

Williams had one tackle, no sacks and was generally a non-factor in the Bills' dismal 48-28 loss to the New York Jets last Sunday. This week, he makes his debut in front of the home fans against the Kansas City Chiefs and anything less than a monster game will give critics even more fuel.

"We definitely didn't do what we needed to do to win," Williams said. "The biggest thing was that we didn't get sacks. We got back there but if we don't get him down on the ground before he throws the ball, even if you hit him, it doesn't matter. You have to get him with the ball. Starting with myself we definitely have to put the quarterback on his back with any means necessary."

Chiefs quartereback Matt Cassel was sacked three times and threw two interceptions in a loss to Atlanta and the Bills are hoping for similar success. Williams will square off against veteran free-agent right tackle Eric Winston, his longtime teammate in Houston.

Compounding Williams' miserable day in the eyes of fans and media against the Jets was his whining about the play of Jets tackle Austin Howard. Williams said Howard was punching him in the face every play, in his mind, illegal hands to the face. He complained to the officials all game to no avail.

This week, Williams said he wasn't blaming the replacement zebras.

"No, I mean I was just saying in general," he said. "I was just directing that to one instance. I wasn't saying that about holding anything back. I was just letting it known that if it is going to be like that then we will find different ways to do things. It wasn't about me and my play. I was just talking directly to the officials. That's all I was doing."

It was revealed that Williams played with a sore wrist which is still bothering him.

"I had a little freak deal a couple weeks ago," he said. "Unfortunately, it was right before the regular season. But it is something, like I said, by any means I have to take care of it and put everything aside and get to the quarterback."

Also on the hot seat is fellow free-agent defensive end Mark Anderson, who also was a no-show against the Jets. Williams and Anderson are earning $58 million in guaranteed money.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

CHIEFS

--LT Branden Albert will enjoy a homecoming on Sunday in Buffalo. Albert was born in nearby Rochester, New York and spent most of his boyhood years there. He moved to Maryland to live with an older brother when he was in high school. "I've played against the Bills a lot but it always has been here (in Kansas City)," Albert said. "This will be the first time some people in my family will get a chance to see me play in Buffalo."

--FS Kendrick Lewis wants desperately to get back on the field after missing a month due to a shoulder injury. "I have to be smart about it," Lewis said. "I want to get well as soon as possible, so it makes me go harder with my rehab and treatment. I'll be in there two or three times a day trying to get back out there." Lewis has not been given a prognosis on when he may return to action.

--QB Matt Cassel said he has not spent much time looking at tape of Buffalo's 41-7 pasting of the Chiefs in last year's season opener. "It's two completely different teams," Cassel said. "You've got a different defensive coordinator in Dave Wannstedt, so really for us it's about seeing what they're doing this year in the preseason and getting prepared for that."

--WR Jon Baldwin was asked if he re-introduced himself to QB Matt Cassel after not getting a single pass thrown his way in last Sunday's opener against Washington. "I wasn't really thinking that; I was just ready whenever my number was called," Baldwin said. "I'll be ready again. There's nothing else I can do. I just keep working hard and make the play when it's coming to me."

INJURY IMPACT

--CB Brandon Flowers took part in some of the full-team portions of practice on Thursday as he tries to return from a foot injury that has kept him out of full participation for more than six weeks. Flowers chances to play against Buffalo figure to be no better than 50-50.

-- CB Jalil Brown took part in the full-team portions of Thursday practice with the Chiefs, as he comes back from a groin injury he suffered two weeks ago. Brown's chances to play against Buffalo figure to be no better than 50-50.

--FS Kendrick Lewis increased his level of participation in practice on Thursday as he continues to come back from a shoulder injury. Despite his progress he does not figure to be active on Sunday against Buffalo.

--NT Anthony Toribio increased his level of participation in practice on Thursday as he continues to come back from an ankle injury. Despite his progress he does not figure to be active on Sunday against Buffalo.

--DE Allen Bailey increased his level of participation in practice on Thursday as he continues to come back from an ankle injury. Despite his progress he does not figure to be active on Sunday against Buffalo.

--WR Devon Wylie did not practice on Thursday due to a hamstring injury and does not figure to be an active player on Sunday against Buffalo. The fourth-round draft choice out of Fresno State saw special teams time in the season opener.

BILLS

--QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who led the NFL in interceptions a year ago with 23, faces a Kansas City defense Sunday that gets the services of injured CB Brandon Flowers and LB Tamba Hali back. Fitzpatrick was woeful against the New York Jets, throwing three interceptions that helped put his team in an early 21-0 hole. A third pick was returned for a touchdown.

--DT Marcell Dareus was back at practice Thursday after missing a day to be with his family in Alabama after the murder of his younger brother in a triple shooting last weekend. He will play Sunday against the Chiefs. He thanked his supporters on twitter and called for the removal of guns from the streets.

--WR T.J. Graham, a third-round pick who had an impressing training camp but was inactive against the Jets, will start Sunday against the Chiefs. The team will try and capitalize on his raw speed if not his knowledge and experience at the NFL game, which made the coaching staff reluctant to dress him for the opener. Depth is gone with an injury to David Nelson (torn ACL).

--LG Andy Levitre will make it 50 for 50 on NFL starts against the Chiefs on Sunday at home. He entered the league in 2009.

INJURY IMPACT

--DE Mario Williams has a sore wrist that may hamper his ability to push off blocks. He's practicing fully this week for his home debut Sunday against the Chiefs.

--QB/WR Brad Smith is getting closer to being fully recovered from his groin injury suffered in the team's final preseason game. He runs the club's Wildcat package and his use as a receiver is needed after losing David Nelson with an ACL injury.

--WR Stevie Johnson, who had offseason groin surgery, is practicing through discomfort and will be ready for Sunday's home opener against the Chiefs. Johnson had hoped to be fully healthy this season but with games underway has resigned himself to the fact that isn't likely.

--RT Erik Pears, who was relieved on a few series by Chris Hairston against the Jets, remains the team's starter coach Chan Gailey said. Pears is coming off a groin issue.

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Arizona Cardinals (1-0) at New England Patriots (1-0)

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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jennifer Hale

PREDICTION: Patriots 30-20

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots limited Tennessee to 1.3 yards per carry last week, and face another opponent in Arizona that wants to use the run to set up the pass. That's especially true with QB Kevin Kolb getting the start. He led a game-winning drive in relief last week - but it was one drive out of the pre-planned no-huddle offense. The question is how he performs over four quarters in the base offense and in the face of pressure. Patriots QB Tom Brady will face his own pressure from the Cardinals' wide array of blitz packages. But few offenses in the league are better equipped to burn pass-rushing linebackers, and New England uncovered a new ground threat in Stevan Ridley (125 rushing yards in Week 1).

FAST FACTS: Cardinals DE Calais Campbell has six career blocked field goals. ... Brady has 125 career victories in 160 starters, the fastest quarterback in NFL history to reach the milestone.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

CARDINALS

Kevin Kolb has a chance to reclaim the starting quarterback position that he lost to John Skelton in the preseason.

Skelton suffered an ankle sprain in the fourth quarter last week. The injury isn't as severe as the Cardinals feared, but it appears he's going to miss at least a couple of games.

Kolb played well in his only series, guiding the Cardinals to the go-ahead touchdown using a no-huddle attack.

The challenge is far greater Sunday in New England. Not only is Kolb starting on the road, but the Cardinals won't be able to stay in the no-huddle the whole game.

The number of plays is limited, and there is the danger of going three-and-out.

That would put the defense back on the field, and that group is probably going to be playing plenty anyway.

But the no-huddle can be a good change of pace for the Cardinals. Like many quarterbacks today, Kolb grew up running the spread offense from a no huddle approach. He's comfortable in it and it can put him in rhythm.

PATRIOTS

Wes Welker has been the heart of the Patriots passing attack since he joined the team in 2007 via trade from the Dolphins as a virtually unknown slot option.

Randy Moss was the flash in the early days, breaking records as a Hall of Fame deep threat.

The last two years Welker has worked with the evolution of the young stud tight ends in New England - All-Pro Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, both of whom got lucrative contract extensions this summer.

Save for the season in which he bounced back from a torn ACL without missing a single regular-season game, Welker has been a 100-catch machine. He's caught more balls than anyone in the game since 2007. He's turned from unknown to Pro Bowler to All-Pro.

The only thing Welker hasn't been able to grab (other than that ill-fated throw from Brady in the Super Bowl loss to the Giants last February) is his own long-term contract extension. He was slapped with New England's franchise tag this offseason and is playing under that $9.5 million tender after the sides couldn't agree on a longer deal.

That lack of a contract that will keep him in New England, combined with Welker's limited role in the Patriots' season-opening win over the Titans last Sunday have some wondering if Welker is being phased out of the offense in Foxborough.

Welker was targeted just five times in Tennessee, caught only three passes for a mere 14 yards. The only game with less yardage in his Patriots career was the one in which he tore his ACL in Houston in the 2009 season finale.

Quarterback Tom Brady clearly downplayed the idea that Welker isn't going to be a big factor in the Patriots passing attack this season.

"Every week is a little bit different," Brady said Wednesday. "There are different opportunities on different weeks for different players. I think the thing that is important to remember is it's a 16-game season so you start getting up there and play 600 or 700 plays every year and when you need it most you have to be fresh. I think that goes for all of us. It's hard to ... there's really a fine line. You're not pacing yourself by any stretch but at the same time, look it's Week 1. We have a lot of football to play and we're going to need everybody. There are going to be games where Wes has not as many opportunities and there are going to be games where he has a ton of opportunities. It all depends on how the game may play out or the situation of the game.

"But he's a huge part of this offense and what we do on a weekly basis. I'm sure there won't be too many games where he doesn't get a lot of opportunity."

The Patriots ran the ball 35 times in the opener for 162 yards. It's unlikely the team will be able to maintain that production every week moving forward. That, among many other factors, could lead to more reliance on the passing game as has been the case in recent years, and by extension more chances for Welker.

While Gronkowski and Hernandez are clearly the focal point of the passing attack for the future - especially given their combined $90 million extensions signed this offseason - Welker will remain a productive force for the Patriots for at least another season. It may not be the 120-plus catches of two of the last three seasons, but it can still be a formidable part of the New England attack.

"Certainly Wes had some opportunities in the game and made the most of a few of those. Then we had some other opportunities we didn't quite hit," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "Wes' role is the same as we've always gone. We'll go each week and try to do what we think is best to help us win."

Welker, for now, seems to taking that same mentality.

"At the end of the day it's about winning ballgames," Welker said earlier this week. "However we need to do that or whatever we need to do, that's what we're going to do. That's the ultimate goal every time we go out there on Sunday, and however I can contribute, whether it's a big day in stats or not, or blocking, or however I need to do it, that's what it's going to be, and I'm just trying to do my part as far as that goes."

PERSONNEL NEWS:

CARDINALS

--LT D'Anthony Batiste held up well last week in his first start at tackle. Batiste wasn't perfect and Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons applied some pressure. But overall, Batiste performed well against an excellent pass rusher.

--RT Bobby Massie, the fourth-round pick, played well last week in his first NFL game. Massie did a solid job in pass protection, but like all the team's linemen, needs to improve run blocking.

--WR Larry Fitzgerald needs three receptions to reach 700 for his career. At 29, he will be the youngest player to reach that mark. Andre Johnson holds the record now. He was 30 when he did it.

--RB Ryan Williams fumbled in his second NFL carry. Williams gained nine yards on eight carries and was upset about his lack of production. Williams could start again if Beanie Wells continues to be bothered by a hamstring strain.

--DE Calais Campbell blocked a field goal last week. It was the sixth blocked kick of his career. He had three a year ago.

INJURY IMPACT

--QB John Skelton (ankle) hasn't been ruled out but he's not going to play. Skelton didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday.

--CB Jamell Fleming (shoulder) has been limited in practice this week but should play.

--SS Adrian Wilson (ankle) has been limited in practice but should play.

--OLB O'Brien Schofield (knee) continues to be bothered by a sore knee. Quentin Groves is the backup and could receive more snaps than he normally would.

PATRIOTS

--S Cyhl Quarles joined the Patriots practice squad Sept. 12. The 6-3, 212-pound rookie free agent out of Wake Forest spent the summer with the Ravens before he was cut at the end of training camp Aug. 31.

--TE Alex Silvestro was released from the New England practice squad Sept. 12.

--TE Rob Gronkowski has been a big part of the Patriots offense in his two-plus seasons in New England. But he's just one of many weapons in Tom Brady's aerial arsenal. That includes offseason addition Brandon Lloyd, the team's best outside receiver since Randy Moss was traded away in 2010. "He's a great player and I love playing with him," Gronkowski said of Lloyd. "He's a great teammate. Just having players like him, Wes Welker, and Aaron Hernandez around us is always good. It always benefits. You just can't look at one person at a time in our offense. You have to watch everyone because we have great players all around I think."

--DL Justin Francis earned the wrestling-like championship belt this week that's given to the team's practice player of the week, known as the "Dirt Show" player of the week. Though he was inactive on game day, the undrafted rookie was rather proud of his efforts in helping New England prepare for its season-opening win over the Titans. "That means a lot to me," Francis said, looking up to the belt on the shelf in his locker. "I plan on that belt being there all year."

INJURY IMPACT

--G Dan Connolly did not practice on Wednesday thanks to a head injury suffered in the season opener in Tennessee. Connolly has a history of concussions previously in his football career, but returned to the practice field on Thursday as New England had perfect attendance.

--RB Shane Vereen returned to the practice field with limited participation this week as he works his way back from a foot injury suffered in the preseason.

--S Patrick Chung was listed as full participation on this week's practice report with the shoulder injury suffered this preseason. Chung started the season opener in Tennessee and rotated through at safety with fellow starter Steve Gregory as well as rookie second-round pick Tavon Wilson.

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Minnesota Vikings (1-0) at Indianapolis Colts (0-1)

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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin

PREDICTION: Colts 22-19

KEYS TO THE GAME: The good news for the Colts is they're unlikely to get boat-raced out of the stadium like Chicago did to them in Week 1. RB Donald Brown averaged 5.3 yards - but on only nine carries. As long as the Colts stay within a score and Brown stays involved in the gameplan, QB Andrew Luck won't be hung out to dry behind an offensive line that must double-team DE Jared Allen and pray the rest of the protection holds up. Vikings RB Adrian Peterson made an impressive comeback in Week 1 and is the catalyst for second-year QB Christian Ponder to continue to enjoy working off play-action. Indianapolis' pass rush is a major concern if OLB Dwight Freeney (ankle) is out.

FAST FACTS: The Vikings' defensive line had a streak of 25 straight games with at least on sack snapped last week. ... Colts WR Reggie Wayne needs 62 receiving yards to pass Michael Irvin (11,904) for 20th place in NFL history.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

VIKINGS

Adrian Peterson proved once again that it's never a good idea to doubt Adrian Peterson.

The four-time All-Pro running back had two goals when he tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments at Washington on Christmas Eve: 1, Return in time for the season opener, and 2, Be as good or better than he was before the gruesome injury.

Peterson met the first goal when he started in Sunday's 26-23 overtime win against Jacksonville at Mall of America Field. And by touching the ball 18 times with 17 carries for 84 yards (4.9) and two touchdowns, one would assume he also met the second goal.

Not so, says Peterson. He said he's at only 95 percent of his former self. And that five percent, he says, is a big deal.

"It don't sound like much from the outside looking in, but I know my game and I know where I want to be," Peterson said. "And it's going to be huge once I get to 100 percent. Like night and day. Seriously.

"I'm just keeping that in mind. I'm excited just to continue to strengthen this leg and do what I need to do to get there and push to be 100 percent. So I really can go out and perform the way I want to."

It seems like Peterson is all the way back. But if he says he's still got five percent to go and that five percent is a big deal, one would be wise to believe him.

COLTS

Despite an inconsistent performance in last week's 41-21 season-opening loss to Chicago, Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano isn't ready to start making wholesale changes to the team's offensive line.

That means that the same five starters -- left offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo, left offensive guard Seth Olsen, center Samson Satele, right offensive guard Mike McGlynn and right offensive tackle Winston Justice -- are expected in the lineup Sunday when the Colts face off against the Minnesota Vikings.

Olsen, who struggled a bit against the Bears, will once again fill in for projected started Joe Reitz, who continues to nurse a sore knee. Justice incurred a concussion in the Chicago game but should be back in his normal position this week.

Offensive guard/tackle Trai Essex, who was signed to a free-agent contract earlier in the week, could work his way into the game at some point. Essex is familiar with Indianapolis' offense and blocking schemes after playing for Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin in Pittsburgh.

"Obviously there is history there. He knows the offense. He knows the calls so he's a plug-in guy. He also gives you great versatility. He's played all five spots in the past so he can play inside, he can play outside. He gives you great versatility there," Pagano said.

Arians agrees.

"He should be able to help this Sunday. Because he knows the offense, he's been in it for a long time. He gives us great balance. He's started in all five positions over the last seven years (with the Steelers)," he said. "He played a full game at center with one week of practice, he's that type of guy. He's very versatile and very smart. He's a really a good addition to our ball club. He brings great depth."

Pagano knows that the offensive line has to play better against a Minnesota defense that can get after the quarterback.

"Here are a bunch of new guys in there (on the Indianapolis offensive line). They are learning the new system," he said. "We make no excuses. They'd be the first to tell you that they're going to play better. They want to play better.

"If we can stiffen up in certain situations and firm up the protection for (rookie quarterback) Andrew (Luck). Obviously if he can step up in the pocket, he's going to find guys down the field and make plays."

PERSONNEL NEWS:

VIKINGS

--CB Antoine Winfield missed Thursday's practice to attend the funeral of his younger brother, Anthony Travis, 30, who was shot and killed in Akron, Ohio a week ago. Winfield, one of the most respected players in the locker room, gained even more respect for how he carried himself and played in Sunday's win over the Jaguars.

--TE John Carlson has had zero impact on the team since being targeted as the No. 1 priority in free agency. Carlson, who signed a five-year, $25 million deal, got off to a bad start when he sprained a knee on the second day of camp. He missed the entire preseason. His Vikings debut was a dud. He was targeted only once and couldn't catch a poorly thrown ball inside the Jaguars' 5-yard line. It's too early to write him off, but the Vikings are a long way from realizing the benefits of the multiple tight end formations with Carlson and Kyle Rudolph.

--TE Kyle Rudolph continues to get better in the offense and more in tune with quarterback Christian Ponder. In the first game of his second NFL season, Rudolph set career highs in catches (five) and yards receiving (67). He caught a 29-yarder down the seam that's exactly what the team is looking for from its big pass catching tight ends.

--PR Marcus Sherels wasn't spectacular, but he was his usual dependable self with two returns for 22 yards in last week's opener. Sherels also had a sure-handed fair catch in traffic late in the game.

--RB Toby Gerhart spent the entire offseason and preseason preparing himself to be the workhorse back as the Vikings eased Adrian Peterson back in slowly following his left knee reconstruction a little more than eight months ago. But Peterson came out as his old self in the opener. He carried the ball 17 times, while Gerhart got only six carries for 18 yards. The Vikings will look for ways to get Gerhart the ball more. He's also an exceptional receiver out of the backfield.

INJURY IMPACT

--C John Sullivan missed Thursday's practice to rest a sore ankle. He will return to practice Friday and will play in Sunday's game. If there's a setback, the Vikings have a quality veteran backup in Joe Berger, who can play center and both guard positions very well for a backup.

--LB Marvin Mitchell (ankle) was limited in practice and might be able to play on Sunday. He missed last week's game. He's a backup and special teamer.

--S Andrew Sendejo (ankle) was limited in Thursday's practice and might be able to play on Sunday. He missed last week's game. He's also a backup and a special teamer.

--WR Jarius Wright (ankle) was limited in Thursday's practice and might be able to play on Sunday. He too missed last week's game. He's the sixth receiver on the team and a backup punt returner.

COLTS

--WR Austin Collie (concussion) is expected to play Sunday against the Vikings. Collie has not suited up since he was hurt against Pittsburgh in the second preseason game. Collie, though, was held out of Thursday's practice. "He could line up anywhere. He has the position flexibility to do anything. He would start out wide and go from there," offensive coordinator Bruce Arian said. "Austin hasn't really been out there, other than that one practice, for about a month."

--OT Winston Justice (concussion) went through a full practice on Thursday and is expected to start against the Vikings on Sunday. Justice was hurt in the Chicago game last and did not return.

--WR T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) should be ready to go after missing last week's game with the Bears. Hilton was hurt against Washington in the preseason and hasn't been in a game situation for about a month. He did go through a full workout on Thursday. "I'm glad to have him back, but he hasn't been out there for three weeks," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said.

--S Joe Lefeged downed three punts last week at Chicago, including two inside the Bears' 5-yard line. He's hoping for a repeat performance Sunday against the Vikings. "Pat is a great punter and I know where that ball is going to be. I know where he is going to put it," Lefeged said. "You get a peak at the ball a little bit when you're running down the field, if you beat the controllers."

--As the most experienced wide receiver on the Colts' young roster, it's natural that Reggie Wayne has become the favorite target of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. "Reggie knows where to go. He trusts that he knows where to go. That usually happens on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday," offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. "On Sunday you're going to throw to that guy. He's the steady force in Andrew's diet of OTAs, training camp and everything. I wouldn't be surprised if that ball goes towards him again."

INJURY IMPACT

--OLB Dwight Freeney (ankle) will probably be a game-time decision against the Vikings. Freeney was hurt in the first quarter of last week's game with Chicago and never returned. "Right now the situation is kind of discuss it with the trainers and stuff. If he happens to be ready, then it'll be a game-time decision. And if he's ready to work, we'll put him in there of course," defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said.

--OG Joe Reitz (knee) will not play against the Vikings. Reitz has been nursing a sore knee since training camp. He returned to practice two weeks ago but was inadvertently kicked in the knee during practice. He hasn't been able to participate in workouts since that happened.

--LB Pat Angerer (foot) is out indefinitely. Angerer sufferd a fractured foot in the first quarter of the Colts opening preseason game with St. Louis. He hopes to return after the sixth week of the season.

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Washington Redskins (1-0) at St. Louis Rams (0-1)

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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jaime Maggio

PREDICTION: Redskins 27-22

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Rams' underrated defense did a commendable job against the Lions last week until a fourth-quarter meltdown. The key this week will be containing RB Alfred Morris and the underneath passing game that QB Robert Griffin used so efficiently against New Orleans. St. Louis wants to back RGIII into long passing downs, keep him between the tackles and test the rookie's decision making under pressure - especially if WR Pierre Garcon (foot) is out. However, that also requires getting more production out of the offense. QB Sam Bradford was efficient last week, but the running game was virtually non-existent - and that was before more injuries along the offensive line ratcheted up the issue.

FAST FACTS: This will mark the fifth consecutive season the teams have met. ... The Redskins acquired Griffin after trading up with the Rams for the No. 2 overall pick in April.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

REDSKINS

Most observers had no problem picking the line as the biggest question mark on Washington's offense before the season began last Sunday at New Orleans. After all, right tackle Jammal Brown was on the physically unable to perform list after hip surgery and has been replaced by Tyler Polumbus, who was signed off the street last November. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger hadn't taken contact since tearing his right ACL last Oct. 16. Left tackle Trent Williams missed the final four games of 2011 while serving a suspension for multiple failed drug tests. And right guard Chris Chester was sidelined for the first two games this preseason with a sprained ankle.

But after the Redskins scored 10 points in each quarter to upset the favored Saints 40-32 while generating 464 yards and keeping possession for 39:10, there were smiles all around from the guys up front.

"It's fair to say there were a lot of question marks going into the game," Lichtensteiger said. "There was a little doubt creeping into my mind (whether) I was going to just jump back in there and not miss a beat, but it all went pretty smooth. It was on to prove any doubters wrong and I think we did that. But I wouldn't say we've arrived. It was just one game. It was very rewarding for me just to be out there and I felt like I helped the team. Our operation was good, which is a credit to the coaching staff for preparing us and simulating (the crowd noise in the Superdome) for weeks. But we have to go out and do it and we did."

Center Will Montgomery, the line's only starter who didn't have any issues this summer, was also pleased.

"We had a pretty good showing," Montgomery said. "That's what we're capable of doing. If we execute, there's no reason we can't do that week-in and week-out."

Not only did the line help rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III win NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors in his debut with a league-leading 139.9 passer rating, it committed just one false start (by Williams) compared to three for the Saints who had a much quieter building when they were on offense and just two holding penalties both by Lichtenstieger who admitted to getting a little tired as the game rolled on and the Redskins dominated possession.

"We had (71) snaps and it started to wear on me a little bit," he said. "I started to feel a little barking from the knee, and after the game every square inch of my body was barking at me. But winning definitely makes it feel better and, thankfully, the (next) two days kind of got everything back in place."

Brown said Wednesday that he feels much better two weeks after surgery and hopes to return for Week 7, but for now the Redskins feel much more confident that everything's in place up front.

RAMS

It is one of the scariest moments that takes place on an NFL field. Suddenly, there is a man down, not moving, and the worst is contemplated. As coaches and medical personnel huddle around the player, no one else knows what's really happening.

When the cart is called, and the player strapped in, prayers are plentiful. The game goes on, but everyone has to be wondering about the unknown.

That was the case Sunday in Detroit, when Rams tackle Rodger Saffold got tangled up with blitzing Lions safety John Wendling and while the players twisted around, Saffold's head hit the back of defensive tackle Sammie Hill.

Saffold said, "I collided with his back and it pushed my head down a little too far."

Anxious moments followed, and eventually good news was communicated that Saffold had suffered a "significant strained neck."

Still, who could have imagined that after spending the night in Detroit with part of the time in the hospital, Saffold would be back on the practice field three days later and improving through the week to potentially be back at his left tackle spot Sunday afternoon against the Washington Redskins.

Saffold was limited Wednesday, but fully participated Thursday, working with the first unit. Unless he has a setback or experiences issues after Thursday's work, he is expected to start Sunday.

"I'm actually quite amazed, especially the way he was taken off the field on Sunday," running back Steven Jackson said. "For him to be with us now on Thursday, considering he may be playing Sunday, it was big for him. If he's 100 percent, I truly believe he's going to try to go and if not, we all understand."

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said, "It's good to see him out here. He's dialed in to the meetings and we'll see what happens."

Wednesday, Saffold said, "Right now, we're taking it day to day. I'm getting movement back, more and more every day. The pain is getting less every day. I've really been putting a lot of work into using all of my off time to getting ready.

"I definitely thank everybody for their prayers and their thoughts. I'm just glad to be out here walking. It's a blessing to be able to be on the field with the guys."

Recalling those anxious moments when he was down, Saffold said in addition to the pain there was tingling in his arms. He said he thought to himself, "Am I going to be able to play? How long is this going to keep me out? You just don't want to move so you don't mess it up any further. Once I heard (trainer) Reggie's (Scott) voice, that's when I knew I was going to be OK. When they asked me to move everything, I was able to move. Thatwas definitely a good first sign. I was just real nervous because I have never been through anything like that before."

Asked if is surprised by Saffold's recovery, coach Jeff Fisher said, "I'm not surprised at all based on the information that we had immediately and the information that we got that evening and then how quickly he's coming around."

PERSONNEL NEWS:

REDSKINS

--SS Brandon Meriweather (knee), who hadn't been played since injuring his left knee in the first half at Chicago on Aug. 18, is out one to three weeks after spraining his left MCL and PCL during practice on Sept. 2. D.J. Gomes, who set up the clinching touchdown last Sunday at New Orleans with a 49-yard interception return, will start again at St. Louis.

--WR Pierre Garcon, who left the New Orleans game in the first half with a foot injury, was very limited on Thursday after not working on Wednesday and is very questionable for the Rams' game. Aldrick Robinson took his place in the second half against the Saints and could be in line to start against the Rams.

--CB Josh Wilson, who came down hard on his back in the late going against the Saints, practiced again on Thursday and should start at St. Louis.

--NT Chris Baker, who injured an ankle in the Aug. 29 preseason finale against Tampa Bay and was inactive at New Orleans, took full practice again on Thursday.

--OLB Brian Orakpo, who missed the final two preseason games with a strained pec and shoulder, started last week and has practiced both days this week. Orakpo should remain in the lineup at St. Louis.

RAMS

--OL Quinn Ojinnaka will likely start at left guard and also be the backup center.

--QB Kellen Clemens, who was released when the Rams cut the roster to 53 players, was re-signed Thursday giving the team three quarterbacks again. After being released, Clemens had remained in St. Louis and his gear was still in his locker. Clemens will be the backup to starter Sam Bradford.

--DT Darell Scott, who had recovered from recent knee surgery and practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, was waived Thursday.

INJURY IMPACT

--G Rokevious Watkins didn't practice for the second consecutive day because of an ankle injury suffered Sunday against Detroit.

--DT Matt Conrath remains out of practice because of a knee injury suffered in the final preseason game .

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Dallas Cowboys (1-0) at Seattle Seahawks (0-1)

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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

PREDICTION: Cowboys 20-17

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Seahawks' defense is predicated upon the physical front seven stopping the run, creating long passing downs and then attacking the passer. If Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray has early success and QB Tony Romo has the threat of the ground game as an asset, he has more weapons than Seattle's secondary can cope with if the front four can't apply pressure on its own. And the Seahawks must keep this a low-scoring game. RB Marshawn Lynch has to fight for every yard behind a mediocre offensive line and rookie QB Russell Wilson, while poised, must make quick decisions despite having a receiving corps that lacks the ability to separate off the snap.

FAST FACTS: Romo is 3-0 with eight touchdown passes and one interception in the past three meetings. ... The Seahawks are expected to start RG john Moffitt over rookie J.R. Sweezy, a converted defensive tackle who started the opener.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

COWBOYS

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten was considered more inspiration than player in the 24-17 season opening victory against the Giants.

He caught just two passes but was hailed for playing in the game less than a month after suffering a lacerated spleen and just a day after being cleared to return by doctors.

Witten, however, doesn't see himself as a hero but rather a teammate and competitor who will do what it teaks to help his team win.

"I think there's a mindset around this team all training camp, all offseason, not just with me but everybody of taking advantage of the opportunity and doing whatever it takes, don't let excuses get in the way of what you want to accomplish," Witten said. "It's not easy. Sometimes you're going to be in adverse situations, obviously that was one for me, but I really wanted to play in the game and help out there."

Witten, who has led the team in receptions the last five seasons, is ready to get back to his normal dominant role against the Seahawks. He will wear protective padding but is ready to go full tilt on Sunday.

"I guess you can never say never as far as always (being) 100 percent," Witten said, "but I think it's one of those deals where you don't know when those situations are going to come up. I've got padding there. I'm going to do those things, but the good news is unlike an ankle or a hamstring or some things where it can linger in there for weeks. This is something that I feel good when I'm out there practicing and running around.

"I don't see any setbacks that will get in the way here and (I can) go back to being my normal self, get to practice and get the stuff going for a big game this week."

That's certainly what coach Jason Garrett expects, though he believes Witten's role was just as important in the season opener for his inspiration and opportunities his presence on the field opened up for his teammates.

"Well, to us he was a big factor in the game last week," Garrett said. "From an inspirational standpoint, for him to be able to play in that ball game, I think that gave everybody a lift. I thought he blocked well. He ran routes well. They gave him a lot of attention, which freed up some other guys. We anticipate Wit being Wit. He was Wit the other night. He's just one of those guys you can count on in so many different ways on your football team as a run blocker, as a pass receiver. Obviously, he's shown that throughout his career. So we're going to give him some chances like we always try to do."

SEAHAWKS

Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson says his confidence isn't shaken after a so-so effort in his first game as a pro, a 20-16 loss last week against NFC West division rival Arizona.

Although he was sacked three times and hit another seven, Wilson said he felt he handled Arizona's defensive pressure packages OK, and that the speed of the game wasn't any different than what he faced during the preseason.

"I wouldn't say it was any faster," Wilson said. "I think more than anything we have to capitalize on some plays, whether it's me making the right throw at the right time, or just reaching out for the first down in terms of runs."

Wilson said the fact that he played against Arizona's 3-4 defense last week should help in the preparation for the Dallas Cowboys, another 3-4 team, this weekend.

"They're very, very similar," Wilson said. "Most 3-4 defenses are for the most part. They've got a lot of talent up front. They fly around and make plays. They bring different types of pressure, just like Arizona did. And so we just have to be prepared for it, and when we have that opportunity to block it up, there's a lot of green grass behind it. And so we have to capitalize on those."

One of the areas Seattle would like to improve is red-zone offense. The Seahawks were just 1 of 4 inside the red zone against the Cardinals.

"The biggest thing is that that we have to capitalize down there no matter what the situation is," Wilson said. "Whether it's a run or a pass we want to get seven, not three points.

"That's one area that we have to keep growing and improving in. You want to be top in the league always in that situation. I think the main thing is getting the ball in the end zone."

Wilson said he did have a few moments during last week's game to take in the situation and understand he was starting in his first NFL game.

"Of course I was," Wilson said. "I got out there, and I didn't forget that. It's one of those things that, the main goal and the main focus for me is just to win the game, and help our football team win whatever way possible. And so it wasn't too big or too small, or anything like that."

PERSONNEL NEWS:

COWBOYS

--WR Kevin Ogletree's biggest satisfaction about his breakout performance against the Giants was the smile he put on his brother's face. Ogletree's brother, Calvin, is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head suffered in January. Kevin said it wasn't hard to feel the emotion on the other side of the line. He got to visit his brother before the game and then talked to him after his 118-yard, two touchdown performance. "Oh yeah, he was happy. He called me, you know, stoked," Ogletree said, talking to reporters Thursday at Valley Ranch. "Asking me about the interviews, if you guys asked about me. His memory's not great. I told him everything that goes on. It put a smile on his face."

--LB DeMarcus Ware has been limited in practice for precautionary reasons by a lingering hamstring issue. But he says he is fine and won't have any limitations in the game against the Seahawks. "I went through all of the drills and the stuff I needed to do, so I was good," Ware said. "It's just something you just muscle through, and after a while, it just heals up, and you keep rolling. You figure out how to play with it and keep going."

--DL Sean Lissemore signed a three-year contract extension with the Cowboys that takes his contract through 2016. Lissemore had two years left on his original deal. He will get $3.1 million in guaranteed money and could earn $10.92 million, including incentives, over the next five years. His agent Wes Bridges said the Cowboys approached them about doing an extension and Lissemore directed him to get something done even though he possibly could have gotten more as a free agent. Bridges said Lissemore wanted to be in Dallas and didn't want to go through a protracted negotiation process.

--CB Lequan Lewis, signed on Tuesday, could play against the Seahawks on special teams. He said he is ready to finally have a home. "I'm very excited about being active," Lewis said. "It's a long road for me. This is my fourth team (and) I think I finally found a home. I'm not going to get comfortable just being here. I want to make an impact to make sure I stay and make sure that reaper don't come back after me."

SEAHAWKS

--WR Sidney Rice did not practice for a second straight day because of a knee issue, making his availability for Sunday's game against Dallas uncertain.

--TE Zach Miller (foot) did not practice on Thursday a day after being a limited participant on Wednesday.

--RB Marshawn Lynch (back) was a limited participant for a second straight day.

--OT Russell Okung (knee) was a limited participant on Thursday after sitting out of Wednesday's practice.

--WR Charly Martin (chest) has been ruled out of Sunday's game against Dallas.

--WR Golden Tate (knee) was a full participant at practice for a second straight day.

--DL Greg Scruggs (hamstring) was a full participant for a second straight day.

--CB Byron Maxwell (shoulder) was a full participant for a second straight day.

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Tennessee Titans (0-1) at San Diego Chargers (1-0)

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GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: Natural grass

TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts

PREDICTION: Titans 23-22

KEYS TO THE GAME: As much as QB Philip Rivers loves to stretch the field, the Chargers relied heavily on the quick passing game last week. It should be a similar story with RB Ryan Mathews (broken clavicle) likely out another week and an undrafted rookie protecting Rivers' blind side. There is little pop in the ground game minus Mathews and San Diego knows Tennessee is struggling to find an offensive identity with RB Chris Johnson coming off a lackluster opener. WR Kenny Britt will play between 15-25 snaps in his return to the Titans, and QB Jake Locker - playing through a left shoulder injury - is likely to target CB Marcus Gilchrist, expected to play in the nickel package in place of Shareece Wright (ankle).

FAST FACTS: Johnson managed only four rushing yards in the Week 1 loss to New England. ... The late Junior Seau, who committed suicide in May, will have his No. 55 jersey retired by the Chargers on Sunday.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

TITANS

Chris Johnson hasn't hit the panic button yet, despite a career-low four yards rushing on Sunday on 11 carries against the New England Patriots.

While there is plenty of blame to go around for both Johnson and the Titans offensive line, the Titans' own situation of being down 21-3 didn't help matters either.

"It's not a thing where you can blame Chris Palmer for not giving me enough reps, because we've got to pass the ball," Johnson said. "It's a situation where early in the game where we've got to execute our plays and keep the game close or be winning, so we can continue to run the ball and run our offense."

Johnson was spouting the company line in that regard on Thursday, as moments later coach Mike Munchak said the same thing.

"That's why it's hard when you're getting hammered on justifying why he only had what he had," Munchak said. "The problem is, you have to do well with the few you get. When you don't, and in his case, we had four or five bad runs out of his share, it gets magnified more when you don't get as many carries. The goal was to get more carries. Like I said, if we didn't fall behind 21-3, we would have stuck with the run."

Johnson said that he knows he will be the target of the criticism because his production has not been the same since his holdout a year ago. And when it hits an all-time low, the scoffers go to an all-time high.

"At the end of the day, when everything doesn't go right, I know the finger is going to get pointed at me because I'm the main focal point and I got the big contract or whatever. But at the end of the day, I've just got to continue to work like all the other offensive players," Johnson said.

Munchak and the Titans aren't placing all the blame on Johnson, because the coach said Monday that Johnson would still get the lion's share of the carries. Tennessee, however, has begun tinkering with the offensive line, signing veteran guard Deuce Lutui and hinting that they would be very confident in putting him in if Leroy Harris' troublesome knee situation doesn't improve.

Johnson just wants a collective effort to make the run game successful.

"I really don't know what's going on with that. I just know I've got to do my part and hopefully they'll do their part and we'll be OK," he said.

CHARGERS

The Chargers are at home on Sunday when facing the Tennessee Titans. And quarterback Philip Rivers said the impact of the 12th man can't be overstated.

"The fans and the energy that they bring makes this a tough place for other teams to come and play," Rivers said. "I know that our team feeds off that energy, and we've had a lot of success at home over the years."

But last year only saw a 5-3 mark, which was among the reasons the Chargers' year ended playoff-free for the second consecutive year.

"We know how important it is to win at home, and the home opener is always exciting," Rivers said.

If the Chargers are to reach 2-0, they will likely do so without Pro Bowl running back Ryan Mathews.

Mathews was cleared for contact for the first time since breaking his clavicle in the preseason opener. While he worked on Thursday, it was in a limited role and he never did get struck during the workout.

"We don't hit much in practice," Mathews said.

While Mathews' body language, and verbally, says he wants to go it's clear the Chargers aren't going to rush him into action. Especially against the Titans, the Chargers' most welcoming opponent considering that the Falcons, Chiefs, Saints and Broncos are on-deck after that.

Pro-Bowl tight end Antonio Gates didn't work on Thursday, meaning two of the Chargers' key offensive weapons were unable to go at full speed. Gates is down with sore ribs, but knowing his pain tolerance, he should play on Sunday.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

TITANS

--WR Kenny Britt will probably play about 15 to 25 plays in certain packages as he plays for the first time since tearing his ACL and MCL nearly a year ago against Denver.

--LB Will Witherspoon finished up as the MIKE linebacker in the nickel last week after Colin McCarthy hurt his ankle. The middle will likely be his full-time role this week with McCarthy unlikely to play.

--LB Zach Brown may also benefit Colin from McCarthy's absence as he will likely take over the WILL linebacker role from Witherspoon.

--S Robert Johnson continues to get the endorsement of the coaching staff and is holding on to his starting spot ahead of veteran Jordan Babineaux. The 2010 fifth-round pick won the job in camp.

--WR Kendall Wright showed glimpses of his potential in the season opener with five catches, even though he gained just 37 yards. The Titans will be looking for more big plays this week from the rookie.

--RB Darius Reynaud has assumed more than just the return role, as he is getting reps as a third-down back and spelling Chris Johnson with Javon Ringer out.

INJURY IMPACT

--DT Sen'Derrick Marks practiced for a second straight day and should play Sunday vs. San Diego after missing the season opener.

--QB Jake Locker continues to increase his workload as he comes back from a left shoulder injury from last week. He will start and play on Sunday.

--WR Nate Washington missed a second straight day with what the team terms a "leg contusion," though there has been plenty of speculation that he might have suffered a concussion on a hit from Jerod Mayo.

--LB Colin McCarthy likely won't play on Sunday with an ankle injury. The Titans are hopeful of having him back next week.

--RB Javon Ringer is out of the hospital but out of this week's game against the Chargers because of an elbow infection.

--G Leroy Harris was back at practice on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday to rest his sore knee.

--T Mike Otto will miss another week as he comes back from hand and knee surgeries in preseason.

CHARGERS

--RB Ronnie Brown still figures to get his share of carries Sunday, regardless if Ryan Mathews is able to go.

--LT Mike Harris gets his second NFL start on Sunday. Harris, an undrafted rookie, received high marks from his debut on Monday night.

--CB Marcus Gilchrist will fill the role at nickel back with Shareece Wright likely being out this week.

--TE Randy McMichael could see increased playing time if Antonio Gates' rib injury limits him.

--DT Antonio Garay was able to work for the second straight day and it appears his ankle injury has healed enough for him to go on Sunday. Garay could be the starter.

--Recently signed OL Reggie Willis is getting more work at tackle than at guard. Willis is the team's lone backup at that spot.

INJURY IMPACT

--TE Antonio Gates (ribs) didn't practice but did swim in the team pool. He should play on Sunday.

--RB Ryan Mathews (clavicle) did have limited work and has an outside shot at playing on Sunday.

--WR/KR Robert Goodman (concussion) was cleared and able to practice. He could be back returning kicks this weekend.

--CB Shareece Wright (ankle) didn't practice and it appears he won't go this week.

--CB Quentin Jammer (thumb) was able to practice and should start on Sunday, while wearing a thick bandage on his hand.

--LT Jared Gaither (back) didn't practice and will not play on Sunday.

=======================================================

New York Jets (1-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1)

=======================================================

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: Natural grass

TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

PREDICTION: Steelers 24-20

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Jets were pleased with the protection afforded QB Mark Sanchez and the production from young WRs Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley against Buffalo, but they'll need more than 3.3 yards per carry against Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense eager to bounce back from a tough outing at Denver. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects to see more wrinkles from the Wildcat, including the potential for Tim Tebow throwing the ball for the first time this season.

The Steelers lacked pop in their running game at Denver, but they were still able to string together multiple lengthy drives with QB Ben Roethlisberger utilizing the underneath passing game - he targeted his tight ends and running backs 15 times. RB Rashard Mendenhall (knee) might return this week, and Tomlin said Jonathan Dwyer has earned more snaps as well. If CB Darrelle Revis (concussion) is out, Kyle Wilson would be elevated to the starting lineup and further expose the Jets to the speed of WRs Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.

FAST FACTS: Sanchez is 2-0 with a 92.3 passer rating in his career against Pittsburgh. ... The last meeting was the Steelers' only loss in nine all-time home games against the Jets. ... The Jets won, 22-17, at Pittsburgh on Dec. 19, 2010. ... The Steelers have won nine consecutive home openers, the second-longest streak in the NFL behind New England's 10.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

JETS

Rex Ryan isn't exactly eager to find out if the Jets can remain unbeaten when All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis is inactive. But he's even less eager to put Revis at risk by playing him this week against the Steelers if he's not fully recovered from the concussion he suffered in the waning moments of the season opener.

"If he's not 100 percent, then Darrelle won't play," Ryan said at his press conference Thursday. "It's as simple as that."

Revis' official designation was the same Thursday as it was Wednesday: Cleared for physical activity but held out of practice. Ryan said the Jets wouldn't put Revis on the plane to Pittsburgh and make him a game-time decision, so he'll likely need to be declared ready for contact -- both by the Jets and in independent neurologist -- and return to practice Friday in order to have a shot at playing against the Steelers.

The Jets went 3-0 without Revis in the lineup in 2010, when he missed consecutive games against the Dolphins (Sept. 26) and Bills (Oct. 3) with a hamstring pull and sat out the season finale against the Bills in order to rest for the playoffs. Of course, those Dolphins and Bills combined to win a mere 11 games and didn't have a 1-2 punch as dangerous as the Steelers' combination of Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown.

But even though the Jets would clearly miss Revis this weekend -- their praise of backup Kyle Wilson notwithstanding -- Ryan said he wouldn't rush Revis back, even if the NFL didn't have a "checks and balances" system in place intended to preserve the safety of players who have suffered head injuries.

"I know (we) would never put a player out on the field if there was a higher risk of him getting injured," Ryan said. "There's no way in heck I'd do it, and I'm sure every coach in the league feels the same way."

STEELERS

Of the past four NFL defensive players of the year, two wore the uniform of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sunday, when the New York Jets bring their 48-point offense to Heinz Field, both of those players could be missing from the lineup.

Linebacker James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu have not practiced all week. Harrison has a knee problem that dates to the spring. Polamalu has a strained calf from playing in Denver last week.

"James is the player of the year a few years ago so you know he's a great player," defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "But we've played without him and Troy, who won the (defensive) MVP award, we've played without him. Our guys know what's required of them -- they have to step up and fill the vacancy and push on. We miss those guys, we'll be happy when we get them back, but it should never be a factor in who wins the game."

Harrison missed five games last season. He was an ironman before that. This is the first time since he became a starter in 2007 he's missed an opener and now it looks as though he'll miss the first two games.

Polamalu has a better chance at playing.

The Steelers had the No. 1 defense last season in fewest points and yards allowed in the NFL, and also were No. 1 against the pass. However, their sacks (35) and turnovers (15) were woefully low and without Harrison and Polamalu, that does not bode well going against the team that scored more points than any in Week 1.

"He's the enforcer," cornerback Ike Taylor said of Harrison. "He's the old-school kind of linebacker who brings that type of emotion and physicality to the game."

Chris Carter would make his second start for Harrison and, if Polamalu cannot play, Ryan Mundy would start at strong safety. Last week, Mundy started for Ryan Clark at free safety.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

JETS

--QB Tim Tebow may already be unhappy in New York. The New York Daily News reported Thursday that an NFL source indicated Tebow would ask for a trade if he ends the season as the clear backup to Mark Sanchez. Tebow took only nine snaps and was a non-factor in the season-opening win over the Bills while Sanchez threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns.

--G Brandon Moore made his 122nd straight start in the season opener against the Bills and played in his 126th game overall, the seventh-most for an offensive lineman in Jets history.

--WR Stephen Hill will be attempting to make history for the second time in as many weeks when he takes the field Sunday in Pittsburgh. Hill became the fifth player in the last 25 years to catch two touchdowns in his NFL debut, but none of his predecessors -- Randy Moss in 1998, Anquan Boldin and Charles Rogers in 2003 and Alex Smith in 2005 -- caught a touchdown pass in their second NFL game.

INJURY IMPACT

--TE Dustin Keller (hamstring) did not participate in practice Thursday, a day after he was a limited participant. Keller, who suffered the hamstring injury making his only catch of the preseason against the Panthers on Aug. 26, was limited to one catch against the Bills in the regular-season opener.

--WR Jeremy Kerley (sore lower back) was a limited participant in practice Thursday, one day after he sat out practice. Coach Rex Ryan was hopeful that Kerley, who scored two touchdowns against the Bills, would play Sunday.

--DB Isaiah Trufant (ankle) was downgraded to did not participate in practice, one day after he was limited. His absence Sunday would further weaken a Jets secondary that may already be without All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis

--OL Dennis Landolt (knee) has already been listed as out for Sunday's game against the Steelers. Landolt was injured during a one-on-one drill Aug. 7 and didn't play in any of the Jets' preseason games.

STEELERS

--RB Jonathan Dwyer, promised more chances after he led all Steelers backs in the opener, returned to practice after missing one day with a foot injury.

--TE Heath Miller was targeted seven times in Denver, caught four and scored once. He was wide open for a second TD that was tipped. Coordinator Todd Haley has said that Miller is a valuable asset in the passing game and he will take advantage of it.

--LB Jason Worilds could rotate with Chris Carter on the right side if James Harrison does not play. Worilds had a sack in the opener.

--NT Steve McLendon played almost as many snaps as starter Casey Hampton in Denver, and that rotation should continue this Sunday vs. the Jets.

--RB Chris Rainey is expected to return some punts with the team at home. The Steelers were reluctant to have the rookie do that in his first game on the road.

INJURY IMPACT

--LB Stevenson Sylvester (knee) did not practice again and will not play.

--OT Max Starks missed Thursday after having a bad reaction to medication. He should practice Friday and play Sunday.

=======================================================

Detroit Lions (1-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-0)

=======================================================

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: Natural grass

TV: NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

PREDICTION: 49ers 24-19

KEYS TO THE GAME: Lions QB Matthew Stafford targeted TEs Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler a combined 18 times last week, and the duo will need to be heavily involved again to complement a running game that isn't likely to produce much against the 49ers' stout front seven. Stafford threw three interceptions last week, was fortunate not to have more and there's concern about WR Calvin Johnson's foot injury. The 49ers' offense suddenly has balance with QB Alex Smith in the system for the second season and given more downfield weapons to complement Frank Gore & Co. San Francisco prides itself on winning the turnover battle. Detroit's front seven must have a monster game vs. the run and try to keep Smith out of pitch-and-catch play-action situations.

FAST FACTS: The 49ers' Justin Smith (16) and the Lions' Ndamukong Suh (15) lead all NFL defensive tackles in sacks since 2010. ... The 49ers have gone 26 consecutive quarters without committing a turnover.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

LIONS

The strength on strength matchup on Sunday in Candlestick Park will feature the Lions offense against the 49ers defense.

"This is one of the toughest challenges we've had to face as far as playing an opponent and a defense like this, on the road and all of those things," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "But our guys are up for challenges and this one here I think they're pretty excited about it."

The 49ers had the stingiest run defense last season and they have allowed the fewest points at home (14.4, tied with the Ravens) than any team since 2009. As they did in Green Bay last week, they take away the run and force teams into playing one-dimensional football, then they load up their elite pass rush and wreak havoc.

"This will be a game where we have to have a certain amount of success doing both (run and pass)," Linehan said. "If this defense forces you to be one-dimensional, it makes it pretty tough."

The Lions had some success last year using running back Jahvid Best in the passing game. They were able to line him up as a wideout and disrupt the flow of the 49ers defense. Best had 73 receiving yards against the 49ers.

"Jahvid Best isn't going to play," coach Jim Schwartz said, bluntly, when asked if the Lions could replicate Best's role. Best (concussion) is on the physically unable to perform list.

Kevin Smith will start again at running back. He does not possess the same kind of downfield threat in the passing game that Best did. Stefan Logan could do some of the same things, but he was used sparingly in the opener.

"Look, you are going to have to earn your plays against this team," Linehan said. "They don't give you much. You have to beat them. They don't beat themselves."

If there has been a weakness - and it's negligible -- it's been against the vertical passing game. Enter Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford.

"We feel we have a potent offense and this is a great test," Johnson said. "We can get our shots, we just have to find them. We have to find those spots especially if they bring pressure - those are the opportune times to get explosive plays."

But the Lions have to dictate the play. If they are facing second-and-long, third-and-long situations, it could be a long night.

"We are studying them with all the respect they deserve," receiver Nate Burleson said. "We give them all the credit they need so we can prepare the right way. Hopefully they are doing the same. We're not in this locker room knocking them and we're not on the practice field knocking them.

"We are preparing as if these guys are the best team in the league. They deserve that credit."

That is not to say, however, that the Lions are conceding anything against them.

"We have a lot of respect for our opponent," Schwartz said. "But we also have a lot of confidence in our own ability and what we can do to affect the game."

49ERS

The 49ers have only played one game and already there's a controversy in the locker room. Linebacker NaVorro Bowman said on "Takeaway Thursdays" where the defense emphasizes interceptions and fumbles, that the defense can create seven or eight in one afternoon.

Quarterback Alex Smith, who just beat Steve Young's record with 185 straight completions without an interception, said that might be an exaggeration. Nevertheless, "Takeaway Thursdays" may be part of the reason why the 49ers were so stingy giving up the ball and so profligate at creating turnovers last year.

Their plus-28 turnover ratio was tops in the league and ranked tied for second in league history. So far this season, the 49ers are plus-1 in turnover ratio. Bowman's fourth-quarter interception of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the turning point in the 49ers' 30-22 win.

Meanwhile, the offense is on a streak of 26 straight quarters without a turnover.

"There's a lot of different statistics and they all have different correlations to winning," Smith said. "In the history of the NFL, the strongest correlation to winning and losing is the turnover ratio."

Bottom line? The 49ers are fine with bickering about the number of turnovers created on "Takeaway Thursday" because it seems to make a impact on Sundays.

PERSONNEL NEWS:

LIONS

--DE Cliff Avril and 49ers LT Anthony Davis engaged in a brief Twitter war after the Lions' home loss last season. "He doesn't like me, man. I don't know why," Davis told reporters in San Francisco Wednesday. "I don't need any new friends. It's cool. It's not about one person going against one guy." Avril was asked on Thursday, half-jokingly, what he had against Davis. "I don't even know the guy, so I can't not like him," he said. "We got into a little something there last year but I haven't even thought about that. I just want to go out, play a good game and try to get a win."

--WR Nate Burleson has had the unique privilege of playing wingman to two of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history - Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson. "When I was playing with Randy, I thought to myself, 'I will never play with another receiver like this, he was the best I've ever seen,'" Burleson said. "Now that I'm playing with Calvin, I am saying, 'I will never play with another receiver like this, he is the best I've ever seen.' At the end of the day, you will be able to put in their career highlight tapes and it will be up to the discretion of the viewer. But in my opinion, yeah, I am going with my guy."

--WR Titus Young will not face further discipline from the team for his foolish 15-yard personal foul penalty last week (he head-butted Rams DB Janoris Jenkins). "He's responded very well," Linehan said. "He worked hard this week and he's ready to contribute. We have great leadership on this team and Titus is still a young player. Just being accountable like he's been, that's a great place to start."

--RB Mikel Leshoure will return from his two-game suspension on Monday. Linehan was asked what his plans were for Leshoure when he got him back. "Get his pads on and give him the ball," he said. Leshoure has been working out with trainers the last two weeks as he serves his suspension for violating the league's code of conduct.

INJURY IMPACT

--WR Calvin Johnson (foot) was back at practice Thursday. The Lions held him out Wednesday, more as a rest day than anything else. "My foot's good," he said. "Just wanted to give it a day to rest yesterday so that I could get out here and stress it today. You want to stress it on a day like today because it's a big run day for us so you can see how it would respond in a game."

--CB Chris Houston (ankle) remains on track to play Sunday. He practiced for the second day in a row, though he was again limited.

--CB Bill Bentley (concussion) was still not cleared Thursday. His status for Sunday is questionable. If he can't play, Jacob Lacey would start at right cornerback against the 49ers.

--DT Corey Williams (knee) missed practice both Wednesday and Thursday, but he was on the field and doing mental reps with his position group. He is expected to play Sunday.

--DE Lawrence Jackson (calf) missed his second day of practice and is questionable for Sunday.

--OLB Travis Lewis (quad) remained out on Thursday. He's not likely to dress on Sunday.

--S Louis Delmas (knee) still has not returned to practice. He's been out since his surgery on Aug. 7.

49ERS

--OLB Aldon Smith only played six of seven snaps last week in Green Bay as a linebacker. Because of the multi-receiver sets by Green Bay, he was mostly in as a pass-rushing linebacker.

--CB Carlos Rogers' sack of Aaron Rodgers on Sunday was the first sack by a cornerback in the Jim Harbaugh/Vic Fangio era.

--CB Perrish Cox was so hyped up for the season opener after being away for a year, he said he almost cramped up.

--OG Leonard Davis, all 355 pounds of him, could catch a pass. In the 49ers jumbo offense, he did declare himself eligible once.

--S Trenton Robinson was the only rookie to play in the team's opener, and the sixth rounder only played on special teams.

INJURY IMPACT

--WR/PR Ted Ginn Jr. (ankle) missed Thursday's practice, meaning he's likely out for Sunday night's game.

--RB Brandon Jacobs (knee) also missed Wednesday and Thursday's practice and probably won't play against the Lions either.

--LB NaVorro Bowman (shoulder) returned to practice Thursday and should be ready for Sunday night.

--P Andy Lee's right thumb is black and blue and he's wearing a brace. But Lee practiced both Wednesday and Thursday.

=======================================================

Denver Broncos (1-0) at Atlanta Falcons (1-0)

=======================================================

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET

GAMEDATE: 9/16/12

SURFACE: Natural Grass

TV: ESPN, Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters

PREDICTION: Falcons 30-25

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons racked up 376 total yards of offense at Kansas City despite RB Michael Turner averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. Denver has a far superior pass rush and if CB Champ Bailey can lock down one half of the field, Atlanta won't be able to move the ball at will through the trio of WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White and TE Tony Gonzalez unless the running game steps up. The Broncos' offense picked up dramatically when it went to the no-huddle against Pittsburgh. With the Falcons down injured CB Brent Grimes, expect Denver to keep the tempo up and for QB Peyton Manning to spread the field and test the linebackers in coverage against TEs Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen.

FAST FACTS: Of the Steelers' 35 sacks in 2011, 28 came at home. ... Falcons coach Mike Smith's 26-6 (.813) home record is the third-best in the NFL since 2008 behind New England and Baltimore.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:

BRONCOS

It didn't matter whether you were leaning against the wall that blocks the Broncos' practice fields from public view or driving along one of the nearby roads a half-mile from team headquarters; you were going to hear noise for most of a two-hour period at midday Thursday, whether you liked it or not.

The noise, supplied by massive speakers abutting the Broncos' practice fields, is necessary, because Monday's game with Atlanta will be the first time this year that the Broncos and their Peyton Manning-led offense will have to execute their still-new system in a hostile road environment.

In the preseason, the first-team offense only had one possession on the road -- and it came in the preseason opener at Chicago, where the crowd noise was more like a tepid Wednesday night Royals-White Sox game on the city's south side than the typical Soldier Field din.

For three quarters of work in two other preseason games and the entire regular-season opener Sunday, Denver's offense could operate in relative silence, with Manning's cadence easily picked up by microphones because the Broncos' home fans were so quiet. The Georgia Dome throng Monday night will offer no such favors.

"I don't know if it's the dome just as much as it's the crowd," said Manning. "This has been a playoff team for the last number of years and it's an exciting team to watch, so I think it's just a loud place to play."

Domes have never caused Manning many problems, as the climate-controlled environment has counter-balanced any issues from increased noise. Manning has a 113.6 passer rating in 16 career road games played in domes or retractable-roofed buildings, compared with an 86.9 rating for all other road games. Of course, it's also worth noting that nine of those games took place at expansion Houston from 2002-10, when the Texans never made the playoffs -- but if those games are eliminated, Manning's road/indoor rating is even higher, at 118.3.

The difference this time is that Manning won't have an offense that is used to reading his hand signals without a vocal accompaniment.

"Communication is definitely a challenge," tight end Jacob Tamme said. "That's something that the dome can make a little bit of a difference. The main thing is that it's our first road game and it's a challenge for us to communicate and make sure we're on the same page."

And that's where the speakers come in.

"Practicing with the crowd noise, it gets you as ready as good as you can. It's hard to simulate 80,000 people in the stands, but I think communication will be important this week," Manning said.

FALCONS

With the loss of Brent Grimes, the Falcons have to juggle their secondary.

Dunta Robinson will move back out to right cornerback and Christopher Owens will take over at nickel back, Falcons coach Mike Smith said on Thursday.

Owens won that position in training camp in 2010, but, in part because of injuries, did not retain the spot. Veteran Brian Williams took over, but Owens returned to the lineup and tried to play with a bad back in the playoffs.

Owens' play against star quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Monday night at the Georgia Dome will be key for the Falcons' defense, which struggled on third downs in the season opener at Kansas City.

Last season, the Falcons were one of the worst teams in the league on third downs, normally the key play for the nickel back who's inserted as the team's fifth defensive back. The opponents converted 93 of 211 third downs (44 percent), which ranked tied for 30th in the league.

Robinson played inside at the nickel back spot against Kansas City.

"We started out real good for a few plays, but then we let them get a third down," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "We don't want that to be our nemesis going forward. We are playing a very good third-down team this week."

The Falcons will continue to focus on improving on third down. The Broncos converted 5 of 9 (56 percent) of their third downs against Pittsburgh last week.

Kansas City converted 11 of 16 (69 percent) third downs against the Falcons. Only Buffalo's defense had a lower third-down conversion percentage in Week 1 at 71 percent (10 of 14).

Nolan believes that defenses sometimes have to go through some adversity to improve. The unit did cover up its miscues after making some halftime adjustments and created three turnovers to help flip a close game into a 40-24 victory.

"Sometimes that happens early in the season," Nolan said. "We played well enough to win the game and that's the key."

PERSONNEL NEWS:

BRONCOS

--LT Branden Albert will enjoy a homecoming on Sunday in Buffalo. Albert was born in nearby Rochester, New York and spent most of his boyhood years there. He moved to Maryland to live with an older brother when he was in high school. "I've played against the Bills a lot but it always has been here (in Kansas City)," Albert said. "This will be the first time some people in my family will get a chance to see me play in Buffalo."

--FS Kendrick Lewis wants desperately to get back on the field after missing a month due to a shoulder injury. "I have to be smart about it," Lewis said. "I want to get well as soon as possible, so it makes me go harder with my rehab and treatment. I'll be in there two or three times a day trying to get back out there." Lewis has not been given a prognosis on when he may return to action.

--QB Matt Cassel said he has not spent much time looking at tape of Buffalo's 41-7 pasting of the Chiefs in last year's season opener. "It's two completely different teams," Cassel said. "You've got a different defensive coordinator in Dave Wannstedt, so really for us it's about seeing what they're doing this year in the preseason and getting prepared for that."

--WR Jon Baldwin was asked if he re-introduced himself to QB Matt Cassel after not getting a single pass thrown his way in last Sunday's opener against Washington. "I wasn't really thinking that; I was just ready whenever my number was called," Baldwin said. "I'll be ready again. There's nothing else I can do. I just keep working hard and make the play when it's coming to me."

INJURY IMPACT

--CB Brandon Flowers took part in some of the full-team portions of practice on Thursday as he tries to return from a foot injury that has kept him out of full participation for more than six weeks. Flowers chances to play against Buffalo figure to be no better than 50-50.

-- CB Jalil Brown took part in the full-team portions of Thursday practice with the Chiefs, as he comes back from a groin injury he suffered two weeks ago. Brown's chances to play against Buffalo figure to be no better than 50-50.

--FS Kendrick Lewis increased his level of participation in practice on Thursday as he continues to come back from a shoulder injury. Despite his progress he does not figure to be active on Sunday against Buffalo.

--NT Anthony Toribio increased his level of participation in practice on Thursday as he continues to come back from an ankle injury. Despite his progress he does not figure to be active on Sunday against Buffalo.

--DE Allen Bailey increased his level of participation in practice on Thursday as he continues to come back from an ankle injury. Despite his progress he does not figure to be active on Sunday against Buffalo.

--WR Devon Wylie did not practice on Thursday due to a hamstring injury and does not figure to be an active player on Sunday against Buffalo. The fourth-round draft choice out of Fresno State saw special teams time in the season opener.

FALCONS

--QB Matt Ryan's 5-yard touchdown run against Kansas City was the fifth rushing touchdown of his career. He had two last season, one in 2008 and one in 2009. "That wasn't a designed run," offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said.

--LS Josh Harris felt some pain for Oakland's backup long snapper Travis Goethel, who was forced into action after Pro Bowl snapper Jon Condo suffered a concussion. If something does happen to Harris in a game, center Todd McClure is the Falcons' backup long snapper and has taken some snaps with the punt team and field-goal team.

--RB Michael Turner only had 11 carries last week. When he has 21-plus attempts, his teams are 27-2 (.931)

--WR Roddy White in his past 10 games vs. AFC teams has 80 catches for 1,186 yards (118.6 per game) and 10 TDs.

--TE Tony Gonzalez aims for his fourth game in a row with a touchdown against Denver.

--DE John Abraham has 113 sacks, most among active players.

INJURY IMPACT

--WR Roddy White (groin) was limited in practice, but is expected to play on Monday.

--WLB Sean Weatherspoon (hamstring) was limited in practice but is expected to play. If Weatherspoon can't play, Michael Peterson would take his spot in the base defense and Akeem Dent in the nickel package.

--LB Robert James (knee) was limited in practice, but is expected to play.

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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