GAME OF THE WEEK
San Diego Chargers (4-1) at New York Jets (3-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Last meeting: Chargers 48, Jets 29 on Sept. 22, 2008.
Creaky Gates: The Chargers' passing attack hasn't come together with All-Pro TE Antonio Gates (foot) on the sideline since the opener. Gates' return helps dictate underneath coverage by the Jets, who could opt to shift their man-heavy scheme to assign long-limbed CB Antonio Cromartie to cover Gates. If he sits, the Jets are a good bet to continue to rattle QB Philip Rivers, who has worked the ball regularly to outlet Ryan Mathews. Mathews, averaging 13.1 yards per reception, has sneaky speed and the frame to truck a safety or linebacker in the open field with a head of steam. Rivers has begun trusting fill-in TE Randy McMichael (12 targets in the last two games), who was a hot read in Denver.
Greene Machine: The less the Jets ask of QB Mark Sanchez (51 attempts, zero picks the past two games), the fewer mistakes he has made. The Chargers excel in third-down defense — Sanchez and the Jets converted just 13 of 40 in three losses this season — and have held three of their five opponents under 100 rushing yards. Getting more out of RB Shonn Greene on early downs can make life easier for Sanchez, but the Jets will work the ball to the edges to avoid being predictable. Greene isn't a big-play threat, he has only two rushing attempts over 12 yards in 93 attempts, and most teams are stopping him with base personnel. On pure athleticism, a matchup to watch is TE Dustin Keller and FS Eric Weddle. Keller averages 15.2 yards per reception and opponents are able to wait for plays to open up down the seam against San Diego's iffy pass rush.
Need to know: The Jets scored 10 points or less in their four home losses since December 2009. ... Gates caught eight passes for 132 yards in his last game against the Jets.
Washington Redskins (3-2) at Carolina Panthers (1-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jaime Maggio
Game plan:Headlines in Washington focused on the quarterback change — John Beck makes his first start since 2007 with Miami, replacing Rex Grossman — but the three offensive line starters expected to change might be the greatest storyline to follow. The Redskins can exploit the Panthers between the tackles with RBs Ryan Torain and Tim Hightower. Carolina is 31st in the NFL against the run, and the key to an efficient Beck has been keeping the passing game in a supporting role. The Panthers would be wise to lead with RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart given the Eagles' gawdy rushing totals last week at Washington before testing a secondary that has had multiple busted coverages in the last two games.
Need to know: Panthers QB Cam Newton has 2,054 total yards; the Redskins have 1,711 (1,162 passing, 549 rushing). ... Beck, 30, has four career starts - one less than Newton.
Atlanta Falcons (3-3) at Detroit Lions (5-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Sam Rosen, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin
Game plan:Falcons RB Michael Turner rushed for 220 yards the last time he saw the Lions, and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has kept the ball in Turner's hands with good success of late. That formula comes into play against a Lions defense ripped by the 49ers and Bears for 325 total rushing yards and 6.0 yards per carry the past two games. The Lions don't strive for offensive balance but incorporate their backs in the short passing game as an extension of the running game. With RBs Maurice Morris and Ronnie Brown possibly in for Jahvid Best, pass protection remains a hot-button issue. QB Matt Stafford took several hits and was sacked five times in Week 6 and DE John Abraham can overwhelm LT Jeff Backus if he's not given some blocking help on the edge.
Need to know: Turner has at least 20 carries and a touchdown in all three Falcons wins this season. ... The Lions have outscored opponents 118-36 in the second half.
Denver Broncos (1-4) at Miami Dolphins (0-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots
Game plan:The Dolphins are minus-seven in turnover margin and don't have the firepower to overcome turnovers, even against the Broncos. Denver turns to QB Tim Tebow after its bye week. The offense will stick with what has worked — RB Willis McGahee, who has three 100-yard games in four starts. Tebow isn't a strong downfield passer but his mobility presents problems for a poor tackling team and the Broncos' young, pesky receiving corps has put in a lot of time with Tebow. Matt Moore's decent weapons let him down Monday against the Jets and his aggressiveness can work against him facing a strong pass rush and veteran secondary. Rookie RB Daniel Thomas and versatile Reggie Bush can be a formidable pair only if the Dolphins (24.2 percent third-down percentage) sustain drives.
Need to know: The Broncos have never won in Miami (0-7) and are 1-8 in the last nine meetings overall. ... The Dolphins have only one touchdown in their past 11 quarters.
Chicago Bears (3-3) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2)
at Wembley Stadium, London
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
Game plan:The Bucs have used more press coverage outside than the traditional two-deep zone, but against the Bears' average receiving corps they might use the Cover-2 to minimize RB Matt Forte's damage. Forte leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage and Chicago continues to find ways to get him the ball in the open field. Last week, the Bears used mostly max protection with great success, but two-man routes are scrambled by disciplined zone coverage. With RB LeGarrette Blount (knee) likely out, RB Earnest Graham plays the Forte roll as a crutch for QB Josh Freeman. Freeman doesn't often force the ball into tight spots, opting for short checks to Graham and TE Kellen Winslow. Need to know: Bears QB Jay Cutler's teams are 24-0 when he has a 100-plus passer rating. ... Freeman made his NFL debut in London in 2009.
Houston Texans (3-3) at Tennessee Titans (3-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Marv Albert, Rich Gannon
Game plan:Minus OLB Mario Williams, Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips was far more aggressive in his blitz packages last week. But job No. 1 is containing Titans RB Chris Johnson who has ripped off 227 combined rushing yards the past two meetings in Nashville. Meanwhile, QB Matt Hasselbeck is a rhythm passer who gets rid of the ball quickly and is making a milquetoast receiving corps passable. Without WR Andre Johnson (hamstring), Texans QB Matt Schaub has to pick his spots to take advantage of Kevin Walter's size and Jacoby Jones' speed. Without dialing a few deep tosses, teams have smothered RB Arian Foster in Johnson's absence. In turn, the Texans are using him as a short-area receiver, and the tank-like Foster isn't easy to bring down in the open field.
Need to know: The Texans are 3-7 vs. Tennessee under coach Gary Kubiak. ... Texans WR Derrick Mason needs one catch to pass Art Monk for 11th on the NFL's all-time receptions list.
Seattle Seahawks (2-3) at Cleveland Browns (2-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Ron Pitts, Jim Mora, Drea Avent
Game plan:Browns coach Pat Shurmur is looking for greater efficiency from his offense. He has whittled down the list of running plays in his playbook, and the bulk of those will be called for RB Montario Hardesty with Peyton Hillis (hamstring) unlikely to play. The Browns are also seeing more zone coverage with QB Colt McCoy averaging just 5.5 yards per attempt and might filter in more no-huddle. The Seahawks ran a lot of no-huddle in their last game and are comfortable with QB Charlie Whitehurst running the offense if Tarvaris Jackson (pectoral strain) doesn't start.
Need to know: Seahawks' undrafted WR Doug Baldwin leads all rookies with nine receptions on third down. ... Browns president Mike Holmgren was the Seahawks' coach from 1999-2008.
Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) at Arizona Cardinals (1-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 ET, CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
Game plan:The Cardinals have to be able to get after Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, and they have to do it quickly. Arizona can't match up with Pittsburgh's three- and four-receiver sets, and S Rashad Johnson is replacing injured Kerry Rhodes. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton was the Steelers' secondary coach and knows how to devise blitz packages, but they're only effective if RB Rashard Mendenhall (146 rushing yards last week) is contained. The Cardinals need RB Beanie Wells healthy and running hard coming out of their bye. Pittsburgh's run defense has been a weakness and QB Kevin Kolb hasn't been consistent in long passing situations.
Need to know: Pittsburgh is expected to start its seventh different offensive line combination in seven games. ... Wells has a touchdown in all four games he has played in this season.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-3) at Oakland Raiders (4-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 ET, CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Game plan:Last week it was OLB Aaron Curry, this week it will be QB Carson Palmer thrust into the starting lineup for the Raiders following a midweek trade. Palmer knows coach Hue Jackson and his system well, but he hasn't played in a live game since last season. Look for Oakland to pound with RBs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush early in an attempt to set up vertical shots for Palmer to his speedy group of receivers - his questioned arm strength will be tested. The Chiefs need more production out of RBs Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle, and coach Todd Haley is stressing maximizing every yard possible with Kansas City lacking explosive plays.
Need to know: Chiefs OLB Tamba Hail has four sacks in the past four meetings. ... Palmer has 38 turnovers in his past 32 games.
Green Bay Packers (6-0) at Minnesota Vikings (1-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, FOX, Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
Game plan:Vikings QB Christian Ponder was more effective throwing on the move during the preseason. Combined with the poor pass protection in Chicago last Sunday night, look for offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to give the rookie plenty of bootlegs and to move the pocket. Of course, the most important factor is RB Adrian Peterson being effective against eight- and nine-man fronts. The Packers have a plus-seven turnover margin and a big-play secondary, so Ponder's accuracy will be put to the test. Green Bay's offense has been rolling, but it is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. That could open the door for DE Jared Allen to have a major impact rushing QB Aaron Rodgers' blind side against LT Marshall Newhouse.
Need to know: Of Allen's 92.5 career sacks, 10 have come against the Packers. ... Green Bay's 12-game winning streak ties a franchise record.
St. Louis Rams (0-5) at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jennifer Hale
Game plan:The Rams acquired WR Brandon Lloyd to provide a legitimate No. 1 receiver who can stretch the field and create more running lanes for RB Steven Jackson. Lloyd and QB Sam Bradford had better find quick chemistry because Dallas is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry. The Cowboys' own ground game has sputtered and rookie DeMarco Murray and Tashard Choice will fill in for Felix Jones (high ankle sprain). OG Montrae Holland is also taking over for Bill Nagy, so QB Tony Romo will be tasked with making smart decisions while on the move. St. Louis' secondary has been decimated by injuries and WRs Miles Austin and Dez Bryant had to enjoy watching that game film this week.
Need to know: Jackson is averaging 115.4 yards from scrimmage per game since 2006. ... Cowboys LB Sean Lee leads all NFL linebackers with three interceptions.
Indianapolis Colts (0-6) at New Orleans Saints (4-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, 8:20 ET, NBC, Al Michaels, Chris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Game plan:It won't be completely open season on the Colts defense. The Saints have a minus-7 turnover margin and don't want to give DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis an opportunity to change the game. The Saints are averaging a modest 4.2 yards per carry but can chip away at an undersized defensive front with RBs Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas and use third-down back Darren Sproles to combat the pass rush. Colts QB Curtis Painter has a strong arm and the Saints' secondary is susceptible to big plays - if Painter has time to set his feet, which defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will try to prevent. New Orleans is also allowing 5.1 yards per carry.
Need to know: Freeney needs 1.5 sacks to become the 20th player in NFL history with 100 for his career. ... Saints coach Sean Payton will be in the coach's box after Monday surgery on a torn MCL and fractured left knee suffered last Sunday.
Baltimore Ravens (4-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5)
Kickoff: Monday, 8:30 ET, ESPN, Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, Sal Paolantonio
Game plan:QB Joe Flacco's 51.4 completion percentage has been a concern in Baltimore, topped perhaps only by the poor pass protection he continues to receive. If Jacksonville's defense can feed off the primetime atmosphere and keep this a low-scoring game, the Jaguars can be competitive in a field-position battle. The Jaguars don't want to feed rookie QB Blaine Gabbert to the dogs - the dogs being a Ravens pass defense allowing opposing quarterbacks a 65.9 rating this season. Baltimore is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry, but Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew has continued to be effective in a one-dimensional offense. He's the key, because Gabbert has been sacked 13 times in four starts behind a poor pass protecting unit.
Need to know: Flacco has been sacked 10 times and hit 28 others this season. ... Gabbert has at least one touchdown pass in all four starts.
— By Derek Harper and Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange