Minnesota Vikings (2-5): vs. Arizona Cardinals (3-4)
Sidney Rice isn't expected to be ready for Sunday's game against Arizona but the Vikings' wide receiver is getting closer to returning from hip surgery that he had in August.
Rice, who turned into a Pro Bowl player last season, is on the physically unable to perform list and started practicing on Wednesday.
That triggered a three-week window in which the Vikings can judge Rice's progress and see if he's ready to return this season. Indications are that Rice will be back sometime this month.
"It felt great," Rice said of getting back on the practice field. "It was awesome to be out there running around. It felt great when I was running. (It's) a little sore today, a lot of tightness in there."
Rice, who led the Vikings with 83 receptions for 1,312 yards and eight touchdowns last season, has refused to speculate on when he might return. The soreness he experienced is a normal part of the process and no cause for concern.
Rice's presence on the field would be especially important given that wide receiver Randy Moss was put on waivers.
"I'm excited to see him out there," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said of Rice. "It's good to have him just back out there practicing. He brings a certain energy with him.
"He looked good moving around. Always the next day you expect them to be sore, regardless of how much they've done up to this point. When you put them back on the field it's a different level of intensity. He's a little bit sore, just in terms of muscles and going at that speed. But he looked good and we'll continue to push. I know that he and the trainers have a plan on when he'll get back out there."
Getting him back will be a shot in the arm.
A crazy season that has seen the Vikings go from an NFC favorite to a near also-ran at 2-5 took another bizarre turn this week when coach Brad Childress informed the team he planned to place Moss on waivers. Moss had played in four games for the team since being acquired from New England for a third-round pick.
Childress' decision, which was made without the immediate input of owner Zygi Wilf and has caused friction at Winter Park, left the Vikings without a true No. 1 receiver and Childress facing the potential for an in-season dismissal a year after getting a contract extension.
In four games, Moss had 13 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns. But he also established to Childress that he wasn't the type of guy the coach wanted in the locker room.
So what's next? And who the heck is Brett Favre going to throw the ball to?
The Vikings won't have Rice against the Cardinals, meaning they are going to need more production from Bernard Berrian, who has only nine catches for 87 yards in seven games and four receptions while Moss was on the roster. Moss' departure also will have an impact on Percy Harvin. Harvin had to line up more outside at receiver and drew added coverage before Moss arrived. But in the four games Moss was around, Harvin thrived. He caught 19 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
The Vikings also are going to have to use Greg Lewis, Greg Camarillo and Hank Baskett on a more regular basis. The 6-3 Baskett has been inactive for the past four games, but he will become the Vikings' big receiver.
Matchups to watch
— Vikings CB Asher Allen, who has been picked on consistently of late, vs. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, who leads the team with 35 receptions for 403 yards and four touchdowns. Allen had a tough go of it last Sunday and it will be interesting to see if the Cardinals attempt to get this matchup at times. If it does happen, Allen is going to need some safety help. Fitzgerald, who is 6-3, 218 pounds, has a big advantage (literally) over the 5-9, 194-pound Allen. It also will be interesting to see if Chris Cook is able to rebound from a leg injury to help in this game. Cook is 6-2, 212 pounds and a far more physical corner who could jam Fitzgerald at the line of scrimmage.
— Vikings LT Bryant McKinnie, who is playing well this season, vs. Cardinals LB Joey Porter, who leads the Cardinals with three sacks. McKinnie has been criticized for his inconsistent effort at times but he has played well this season. A veteran like Porter figures to be a challenge for McKinnie as the Vikings will face yet another 3-4 defense that will have its own twists. Porter lines up on the right side so he figures to be picked up by McKinnie or left guard Steve Hutchinson at times. Protecting Brett Favre is key considering his lack of mobility because of a stress fracture in his left ankle and fracture in his left heel.
Chicago Bears (4-3): at Buffalo Bills (0-7)
The Bills are the NFL's only winless team, but there's no chance the 4-3 Bears will be looking past them when they square off Sunday at Toronto's Rogers Centre.
It's not just that the Bears are on a two-game losing streak, have lost three of their last four games and need some momentum before they embark on the difficult part of their schedule. It's more that the Bills are not playing like an 0-7 team.
"I don't even look at teams' records," Bears running back Matt Forte said. "It's the NFL. Everybody is good, so I don't worry about records."
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
"We realize they haven't won a game," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "But watching them on video, they will get your attention."
The Bills' problems stopping the run -- they're last in the NFL -- have been well documented, but they're No. 6 in passing yards allowed and No. 9 in average gain per running play.
"They're playing better," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "They've got talent. I'm worried about the offense. They move the ball well. They have good running backs. The offensive line plays well together. And the quarterback's throwing it good. So it's a big challenge for us on the road. We'll see how good we are."
In the five games that Ryan Fitzpatrick has started at quarterback, the Bills are averaging 22.8 points after scoring a total of 17 in the first two games. Fitzpatrick's 91.1 passer rating is 11th in the NFL, and he's thrown 12 touchdown passes vs. five interceptions.
"Fitzpatrick has done a great job since they moved him in," Smith said. "He's a tough guy. I don't know if I've seen him slide. He won't run out of bounds. He just has a running back mentality, which is good to have at the quarterback position."
With five of their next eight games against teams with winning records plus two against the underachieving but dangerous Vikings, the Bears cannot afford a loss Sunday.
"This next stretch in November will determine quite a bit," Smith said. We feel like we're in great shape to make our run. We have all of our guys that we feel comfortable with. We're in good health."
Matchups to watch
— Bears QB Jay Cutler, who has tossed seven interceptions in just 5 1/2 games, including five picks in his last 2 1/2 games, vs. Bills FS Jairus Byrd, who tied for the NFL lead last year as a rookie with nine interceptions.
— Bears reconfigured offensive line, which is expected to be on its fifth different configuration for this game, and has allowed a league-high 31 sacks, vs. a Bills defense that has registered just 11 sacks this season.
Detroit Lions (2-5): vs. New York Jets (5-2)
Rookie running back Jahvid Best wasn't sorry to see October go.
After earning NFL rookie of the month honors for his work in September, Best's production sharply declined in October.
He amassed 307 total yards and five touchdowns in three games in September, but managed 1 fewer yard (306) in four games last month and hasn't scored since Week 2. He averaged 3.26 yards per rush and 6.65 per reception in October.
He has just 297 rushing yards and is averaging merely 3.3 yards a carry on the season; not exactly what the Lions envisioned when they traded up to the first round to draft him at No. 30.
Leon Halip/Getty Images
"But ultimately it boils down to the running back. It's his responsibility to make plays and make people miss. He's been nursing an injury that affected his ability to play. He's put that in the rear view mirror and we expect good things from him the rest of the year."
Best has battled two separate turf toe injuries this season, one on each foot. But before playing the Redskins last Sunday, Best said he was as close to 100 percent as he's been.
Yet, he managed just 48 yards in 12 carries against the Redskins, and 20 yards came on one run. Although he said he felt he had the same explosiveness, there wasn't much evidence of it. He looked tentative, so much so that the Lions benched him in favor of veteran Kevin Smith for most of the second half.
It will be imperative for the Lions to find some way to run the ball against an aggressive, free-blitzing Jets defense this week. The Lions are averaging 38 points per game at home while Rex Ryan says his Jets defense is the "best in the NFL." In his teleconference with Detroit media, Ryan was asked if he thought the Lions would reach their average against his defense. Ryan said, "Nope, I don't. I don't believe that's going to happen. Come out and prove me wrong, but I doubt it."
Matchups to watch
— Lions WR Calvin Johnson vs. Jets CB Darrelle Revis. Johnson is a quiet guy, but he lives for these types of confrontations. Jets coach Rex Ryan said Revis would be on Johnson most of the time, though Antonio Cromartie, who is bigger than Revis, will play him some, as well. Truth is, there hasn't been any single coverage that Johnson hasn't been able to beat. Expect the Lions to throw at least 15 passes in Johnson's direction and unlike in past years, he will beat you over the middle.
— Lions DL (particularly DT Ndamukong Suh) vs. Jets OL (particularly guard Matt Slauson). The Lions were able to shut down the Redskins' run game and make them one-dimensional. That, more than anything, led to the seven-sack performance. The Jets' running game is more diverse and will be tougher to slow down.
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