GAME OF THE WEEK
New England Patriots (5-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Last meeting: The Patriots won, 39-26, in Pittsburgh on Nov. 14 last season with QB Tom Brady throwing for 350 yards and three touchdowns.
Streaking: New England has 30-plus points in 13 of its past 14 games.
Truth in numbers: The Steelers are ranked No. 3 in overall defense, but are allowing 4.5 yards per carry. Brady is 6-1 in his career against Pittsburgh with 14 touchdown passes. He should get RB Kevin Faulk back and if the Patriots can run the ball effectively and incorporate their backs into passing game, the Steelers don't match up well downfield. TE Rob Gronkowski had three touchdowns in last year's meeting, and WR Wes Welker won't be shadowed by CB Ike Taylor, who isn't comfortable in the slot.
Attack, with caution: The Steelers are confident they can move the ball through the air on the Patriots, who allow a league-high 322.2 passing yards per game - 33.3 more than anyone else. New England has just 10 sacks, making it difficult to fully exploit Pittsburgh's offensive line issues. But the Steelers might also look to control the clock more through shorter passes to help keep their own defense fresh.
Need to know: Brady and Bill Belichick are tied with Dan Marino and Don Shula of Miami for the most wins (116) by a quarterback-head coach duo. ... The Steelers have a four-game home winning streak. ... Pittsburgh's defense has a league-low three sacks.
Indianapolis Colts (0-7) at Tennessee Titans (3-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots
Game plan: There are no quick fixes for all that ails the Colts but the team knows it cannot afford to fall behind on the road. They're slow starters -- three points in the first quarter on the road this season -- not built for a shootout and ill-equipped to rally because of poor third-down defense and little threat of takeaways. QB Matt Hasselbeck hasn't been boosted by the Titans' running game. He'll have chances short and over the middle to pick apart the Colts' zone defense. A patient Hasselbeck and more no-huddle looks -- with RB Javon Ringer replacing struggling Chris Johnson -- should boost Tennessee's ground game, as should Indianapolis' undersized front seven.
Need to know: The Colts haven't forced a turnover in their past 16 quarters. ... The Titans are averaging 3.0 yards per carry.
Arizona Cardinals (1-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Sam Rosen, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin
Game plan: The Ravens publicly decreed RB Ray Rice would get more work after he had eight carries in Monday's loss at Jacksonville. Rice, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, had 13 or fewer carries in three of the first six games. The growing concern is an offensive line not creating running lanes and allowing too much heat on QB Joe Flacco. The Cardinals yield just 3.8 yards per carry but their young secondary has been abused. The Cardinals might have a limited Beanie Wells (knee) at running back. Keeping the threat of the run alive is essential to QB Kevin Kolb's health. The left side of the line can't hold up against the Ravens' personnel and Kolb has been sacked multiple times in every game in 2011.
Need to know: Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has 16 catches in the last three games but was targeted 29 times. ... Flacco has one touchdown pass in his last three games (102 attempts).
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) at Houston Texans (4-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Marv Albert, Rich Gannon
Game plan: The Texans make no bones about it -- they're bringing everyone necessary to stop RB Maurice Jones-Drew to force the hand of rookie QB Blaine Gabbert, who will be given a play sheet full of quick passes. MJD has at least 84 yards rushing in every game this season and is second in the NFL with 677 rushing yards. Houston's AFC South lead is a credit to RB Arian Foster, equally dangerous as a receiver or runner in the two games WR Andre Johnson (hamstring) missed. With Johnson aiming to return, the Jaguars can stick with their plan of keeping everything in front of their safeties -- Jacksonville leads the NFL in fewest pass plays of 20-plus yards allowed -- and the front four dominated against Baltimore on Monday.
Need to know: The Jaguars have 11 sacks in the last four games. ... The Texans haven't allowed a first-quarter touchdown to the Jaguars in five straight meetings.
New Orleans Saints (5-2) at St. Louis Rams (0-6)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
Game plan: Diametric opposites in terms of offensive style and production, the Rams might have no choice but to attempt a four-corners style slowdown with RB Steven Jackson starring. The Saints outgain the Rams by an average of 166 yards per game, including a differential of 132.8 yards passing. Saints QB Drew Brees has eight interceptions, but the Rams can't count on New Orleans beating itself. Brees has a strong stable of backs to lean on and St. Louis is 32nd in the NFL against the run. The Saints also dictate tempo with their defense, using SS Roman Harper and LB Jonathan Casillas to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly. With the Rams' line beat up and QB Sam Bradford (ankle) gimpy, the stage is set for a blitzkrieg.
Need to know: The Rams have scored five touchdowns in six games. ... Brees threw five touchdown passes last week.
Miami Dolphins (0-6) at New York Giants (4-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
Game plan: The Dolphins average 15 points per game and scrounge for points in the second half because of inexperience and a lack of big-play threats. WR Brandon Marshall and RB Reggie Bush, touted as marquee performers, are scoreless in the last four games and haven't shown up in critical spots. The Giants, by comparison, are finding new weapons on both sides of the ball. Second-year DE Jason Pierre-Paul leads the team with 7.5 sacks and WR Victor Cruz, second on the team with 21 receptions, is fourth in the NFL in yards per reception (19.0) among players with at least 20 grabs. The Giants also welcome back a host of starters who got healthy over the bye week.
Need to know: Manning has been sacked 14 times; he was sacked 16 times in 2010. ... The Dolphins have 14 wins in their last 40 games, including nine on the road.
Minnesota Vikings (1-6) at Carolina Panthers (2-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnson, Tony Siragusa
Game plan: The Panthers' pumped-up running game, featuring QB Cam Newton and RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart all averaging better than 4.6 yards per carry, becomes essential to slowing down the Vikings' vaunted pass rush. Newton was blasted repeatedly last week in addition to four sacks. WR Steve Smith, averaging 116.9 yards per game, could light up the depleted secondary of the Vikings. Minnesota received a spark from rookie QB Christian Ponder in his debut, but the Vikings will have to live with some mistakes borne of inexperience. RB Adrian Peterson needs to pave the way to keep the rookie out of long passing downs, and Carolina allows 4.7 yards per carry.
Need to know: The Panthers lead the NFL with 41 plays of 20-plus yards. ... The Vikings have been outscored 70-13 in the third quarter.
Detroit Lions (5-2) at Denver Broncos (2-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 ET, FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jaime Maggio
Game plan: The Broncos will be creative in ways to attack the Lions' 28th-ranked run defense minus RB Willis McGahee (broken hand). That will include Knowshon Moreno, Lance Ball and QB Tim Tebow carrying the ball. What Denver doesn't want to see is Tebow run parallel to the line facing Detroit's vaunted pass rush, and he was wildly off-target on many of his pass attempts last week. QB Matt Stafford (ankle) is expected to play, but RB Jahvid Best (concussion) is not. The Lions' major dilemma offensively is the lack of a ground game. The Broncos' pass rush is led by rookie OLB Von Miller (6.0) and the Lions will struggle to move the ball consistently if they don't find some balance.
Need to know: The Lions are outscoring opponents 128-42 after halftime. ... Tebow has a 116.8 passer rating in the fourth quarter the past two games.
Washington Redskins (3-3) at Buffalo Bills (4-2)
at Rogers Centre, Toronto
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 ET, FOX, Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jennifer Hale
Game plan: With the offense trying to cope with significant injuries to several starters, the Redskins need their suddenly sagging defense to return to form. That's a tall task against the potent Bills, who are coming off their bye week. Buffalo's primary concern has to be the offensive line's poor pass protection against the Giants and the lack of a true vertical threat to stretch the field with WR Donald Jones (ankle) out. The Redskins turn to RB Ryan Torain to lead the ground game, and TE Fred Davis is key to helping QB John Beck move the chains. Buffalo gives up plenty of yards and doesn't rush the passer well, but the Bills have also forced 15 turnovers.
Need to know: The Redskins' offense will have seven different starters from just three games ago. ... The Bills are 0-3 in regular-season games in Toronto.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) at Seattle Seahawks (2-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker
Game plan: Bengals QB Andy Dalton will have an opportunity to carry the offense. Seattle allows just 3.2 yards per carry and Bengals RB Cedric Benson is suspended. But the Seahawks have been decimated by injuries at cornerback and typically have to resort to blitzes to survive. If Dalton can find them, WRs A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson should have winnable matchups. Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson (pectoral strain) is a likely game-time decision. Backup Charlie Whitehurst is coming off a very rough outing, but the return of RB Marshawn Lynch (back) at least provides a power back to help on first and second down.
Need to know: Cincinnati has lost 11 of its past 12 games on the West Coast. ... Opponents have committed an NFL-high 105 false starts (2.36 per game) at CenturyLink Field since 2005.
Cleveland Browns (3-3) at San Francisco 49ers (5-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Game plan: 49ers QB Alex Smith has a 95.2 passer rating because he's taking care of the ball while working against a lot of man coverage downfield. Cleveland's front seven and SS T.J. Ward will be charged with containing RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, who run behind an array of run-heavy formations featuring extra tight ends and linemen. The Browns did an excellent job last week of finally sticking with the ground game even with big gains difficult to come by. RB Monterio Hardesty also overcame early-season drops to provide versatility, and Peyton Hillis (hamstring) appears on track to return. Browns QB Colt McCoy sports a 5.5-yard average per attempt in part because the offensive line is struggling to pick up blitzes.
Need to know: Browns president Mike Holmgren got his NFL start with the 49ers in 1986 as their quarterbacks coach. ... Smith has a pass rating of 128.9 against the blitz this season.
Dallas Cowboys (3-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, 8:20 ET, NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Game plan: The Eagles toned down their "wide-9" defensive fronts that exposed their linebackers and led to shoddy run defense. But Dallas will still test that front seven, especially with RB DeMarco Murray coming off a 253-yard game. Philadelphia does rank sixth in the NFL with 18 sacks, gets DE Trent Cole back and Dallas doesn't need QB Tony Romo running for his life while attacking a secondary full of playmakers - even if they have underperformed to date. The Eagles' offense needs to keep RB LeSean McCoy involved. The offensive line has struggled in protection and QB Michael Vick is averaging just 5.54 yards per attempt against the blitz. However, given time he'll pick apart Dallas' secondary.
Need to know: Romo has a 111.7 passer rating in his last five wins in the series, compared to 39.7 in two losses during that span. ... Eagles LDE Jason Babin had 7.0 sacks through four games but none the past two with Cole out.
San Diego Chargers (4-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-3)
Kickoff: Monday, 8:30 ET, ESPN, Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden
Game plan: The Chargers had more than an eight-minute advantage in time of possession in a 20-17 victory over the Chiefs in Week 3. Kansas City has sorted out its new backfield mix more since then, and coach Todd Haley is throwing new wrinkles in to account for a lack of explosive playmakers - including CB Javier Arenas taking a direct snap last week. Chargers QB Philip Rivers has TE Antonio Gates back in the lineup, which should create more opportunities to test the Chiefs' suspect coverage over the top despite six interceptions last week against Oakland. Rivers threw two picks in the first meeting and is coming off a 16-of-32 game against the Jets.
Need to know: Rivers has 11 turnovers, only six less than he had all of last season. ... The Chiefs' defense has not allowed a point in its past six quarters.
--By Derek Harper and Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange