GAME OF THE WEEK
Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) at Baltimore Ravens (6-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
Last meeting: The Ravens won 13-7 on Jan. 2, 2011, behind five takeaways -- two of them interceptions by FS Ed Reed.
Streaking: The Ravens have won 11 straight games following a loss.
Sting Rays: The Ravens' three losses all came to teams using a base 4-3 defense. Not only is it incumbent on the offensive line to get the very athletic front of the Bengals blocked, but working toward balancing the play-calling must be a focal point. Baltimore gave RB Ray Rice just 13 total carries in shocking losses at Jacksonville and Seattle. Feeding the ball to Rice benefits QB Joe Flacco, especially after the Bengals had breakdowns in deep coverage last week without CB Leon Hall (torn Achilles). WR Torrey Smith's deep speed could be an x-factor; he might also replace David Reed (two fumbles last week) on kick returns. The Ravens are also hopeful WR Lee Evans can return after missing seven games. Defensively, DL Haloti Ngata (quad) said he's almost full strength while MLB Ray Lewis has thrived in this series and has called for the defense to rise to the occasion.
Stripes to earn: Rookie QB Andy Dalton's moxie has the Bengals in contention, but favorite target WR A.J. Green (knee) could be a game-time decision. The good news is Seattle had success pounding the ball against Baltimore last week, and RBs Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott will get plenty of touches as Cincinnati attempts to set Dalton up in manageable situations. The Bengals need big games from their defense and special teams to combat the Ravens, who have 29-plus points in all four home games (4-0). The defensive matchups without Hall favor Baltimore downfield -- Pacman Jones or Kelly Jennings could start -- but coordinator Mike Zimmer's scheme is predicated upon not getting beat deep.
Need to know: The Bengals (86.8 yards per game) and Ravens (90.3) rank second and third defending the run. ... Flacco is on pace to finish with 641 pass attempts. The franchise record of 549 was set by Vinny Testaverde in 1996.
Carolina Panthers (2-7) at Detroit Lions (6-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jennifer Hale
Game plan: The Panthers might have to send extra defenders to consistently pressure QB Matt Stafford. The payoff could be rich. Stafford was pressured and picked off four times at Chicago last week and is playing with a gloved hand to protect a broken finger, without the crutch of a consistent running game. The Panthers will attack the Lions' hyper-aggressive front seven with their triple-threat running game -- QB Cam Newton and RBs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams -- while taking their shots downfield to WR Steve Smith and TE Greg Olsen. Newton's ability to extend plays could be deflating to the Lions' defense, but Detroit runs deep up front and Newton has been sacked 12 times the past three games.
Need to know: The Panthers have been penalized 31 times in the last three games. ... The Lions scored 19 or fewer points in all three losses this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6) at Cleveland Browns (3-6)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker
Game plan: The Browns must load up to stop the run, but more bodies hasn't improved Cleveland's run-stuffing success as the defense allows 142.8 yards per game. To contain RB Maurice Jones-Drew, the Browns have to show better tackling and not have the initial defender to fall off tackles. The inability to score touchdowns -- two in the last 16 quarters -- forces the Browns to rely heavily on special teams. QB Colt McCoy would get a modest boost if RB Monterio Hardesty (calf) can return, but the passing game still lacks consistent downfield threats.
Need to know: The Browns are 1-of-7 scoring touchdowns in the red zone the past four games. ... Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert's longest completion in the past four games was 24 yards.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) at Green Bay Packers (9-0)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
Game plan: The Packers' receiving depth challenges defensive coordinators to pick their poison, and with little pass rush to speed up QB Aaron Rodgers' progressions the Bucs will be in the same boat. Tampa Bay has allowed 175 rushing yards or more in four of its past five games, so living in nickel and dime formations ice dicey - especially given Rodgers' mobility. The Bucs will have to find a way to keep pace. QB Josh Freeman says he hasn't regressed, but he also hasn't thrown a touchdown in the first quarter all season. Tampa Bay can't pull its slow-starting act and survive - Green Bay gives up yards in big chunks, and Freeman must capitalize on drives and not settle for field goals.
Need to know: The Bucs are 1-5 when they score 20 points or less. ... The Packers have scored 39 touchdowns this season; the Bucs have 15.
Dallas Cowboys (5-4) at Washington Redskins (3-6)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
Game plan: Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is sticking with QB Rex Grossman, whose biggest issue is the lack of a consistent ground game or playmakers downfield. That has made red zone production particularly troublesome. Washington kept its 18-16 loss at Dallas in Week 3 respectable with solid defense. Problem is, the Cowboys' offense has become far more dynamic with the emergence of RB DeMarco Murray and WR Laurent Robinson stepping up big with Miles Austin (hamstring) out. The main goal for the Cowboys is QB Tony Romo facing a familiar opponent who knows his tendencies and can create turnovers.
Need to know: Dallas seeks its first three-game winning streak since the end of the 2009 season. ... The Redskins are averaging 12.3 points per game since Week 2.
Buffalo Bills (5-4) at Miami Dolphins (2-7)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Marv Albert, Rich Gannon
Game plan: Injuries remain a bugaboo for Buffalo, which is shuffling its offensive line yet again. WR Stevie Johnson (shoulder) hasn't made a major impact in the last two games, just as the Dolphins have turned up the heat to outscore Kansas City and Washington 51-12. Pinning RB Reggie Bush inside is mandatory for the Bills, who've allowed 11 rushing touchdowns and 4.6 yards per carry. Buffalo has just 15 sacks, and 10 came against the Redskins. Dolphins QB Matt Moore has completed more than 70 percent of his passes the past two games, looking downfield to WR Brandon Marshall frequently, a matchup that certainly doesn't favor the Bills.
Need to know: Marshall had 19 catches in two games vs. Buffalo last season. ... The Bills averaged 30.1 points in the first seven games, 9.0 in the past two.
Oakland Raiders (5-4) at Minnesota Vikings (2-7)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots
Game plan: Minus CB Antoine Winfield and ranked 30th against the pass, the Vikings would appear easy pickings for Raiders QB Carson Palmer to build on the downfield passing game he worked so productively against San Diego. But Minnesota still has an excellent pass rush that can flip games. The Raiders' run defense is spotty and that's where the Vikings must attack heavily with RB Adrian Peterson out of the gate. Stay close, own time of possession and win the turnover battle and they stand a chance.
Need to know: Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and Raiders coach Hue Jackson were assistants on Marvin Lewis' Bengals staff in 2004. ... The Vikings have sold out 140 consecutive games.
Seattle Seahawks (3-6) at St. Louis Rams (2-7)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 ET, FOX, Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jaime Maggio
Game plan: Both offenses have taken a step forward in recent weeks thanks to rejuvenated ground games. Rams RB Steven Jackson has 417 yards on 5.2 yards per carry the past three games, but faces a big defensive line that forced Baltimore into a one-dimensional approach last week. QB Sam Bradford will attack tall, rangy but not overly fast CBs Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman. Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson is still playing through a pectoral strain, but has been effective moving within the pocket -- although his ability to step into some passes requiring extra zip is limited.
Need to know: Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch has his first career consecutive 100-yard rushing games. ... Jackson has 707 total yards in his past six home games against Seattle.
Arizona Cardinals (3-6) at San Francisco 49ers (8-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 ET, FOX, Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin
Game plan: The Cardinals won't rush QB Kevin Kolb (turf toe) back to the field with John Skelton winning consecutive games and impressing coach Ken Whisenhunt with his ability to shake off mistakes. Arizona's tackles struggle in protection. RB Beanie Wells' ability to be productive against the league's top-ranked run defense is critical. San Francisco's offense would appear to be no-nonsense - use the power ground game to set up play-action. But the 49ers are mixing up their run formations and staying away from tendencies. The Cardinals are 24th against the run and struggle with gap control up front.
Need to know: Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has 70 career touchdowns, passing Roy Green for the franchise record. ... 49ers CB Carlos Rogers has five interceptions, three shy of his six-year total in Washington.
Tennessee Titans (5-4) at Atlanta Falcons (5-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Game plan: Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck is a rhythm passer who has spread the ball to 12 receivers this season. The Falcons face a dilemma because their secondary is a weakness and they have just 10 sacks in the past eight games, but Titans RB Chris Johnson is also coming off a 130-yard game and is second on the team in receptions. If Falcons rookie WR Julio Jones (hamstring) is sidelined, Harry Douglas has emerged as the vertical threat to complement Roddy White. But Atlanta has to improve its red-zone offense after settling for three field goals inside the 29-yard line against the Saints.
Need to know: Johnson is averaging 4.7 yards per carry the past two games. ... Ryan has 10 interceptions after throwing nine all of last season.
San Diego Chargers (4-5) at Chicago Bears (6-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Game plan: The Chargers love to stretch the field, but safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright have been doing a good job of limiting big plays. More important, San Diego could be minus as many as three offensive line starters and QB Philip Rivers already has 19 turnovers. Look for the Chargers to try to establish the ground game and use RBs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert heavily in the underneath passing game. Chicago averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in last week's rout of Detroit. Look for RB Matt Forte to get plenty of touches against a defense allowing 4.5 yards per carry.
Need to know: Rivers' 15 interceptions has already tied a career high. ... Bears QB Jay Cutler has thrown just six interceptions. His low in four previous seasons as a full-time starter is 14.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-6) at N.Y. Giants (6-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 8:20 ET, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Game plan: The Giants could face one of three quarterbacks - Michael Vick, who has two broken ribs, Vince Young or Mike Kafka. Eagles coach Andy Reid says the Eagles' game plan will not change and neither should the Giants' on defense. Expect RB LeSean McCoy to get more than the 17 touches he had against Arizona, especially if WR Jeremy Maclin (hamstring, shoulder) is out. The Giants won, 29-16, in Philadelphia in Week 3 with QB Eli Manning tossing four touchdowns. With RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) potentially missing his third game, D.J. Ware could get more work in tandem with Brandon Jacobs (3.2 yards per carry).
Need to know: The Eagles have a minus-7 turnover margin. ... Giants WR Mario Manningham has a touchdown catch in three consecutive games.
Kansas City Chiefs (4-5) at New England Patriots (6-3)
Kickoff: Monday, 8:30 ET, ESPN, Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, Suzy Kolber
Game plan: With QB Tyler Palko making his first career start, the Chiefs are ill equipped to attack the Patriots' makeshift secondary. Of more concern is Palko's ability to read the various pressure packages he'll see. Kansas City has to play ball control and set up single coverage on the outside through a strong ground game. The Chiefs' 26th-ranked run defense has been worn down by facing big deficits, but coverage is the first concern. QB Tom Brady can look for the kill shots early, pushing the safeties back and then letting his committee of backs do the brunt of the work. The Patriots' one red flag is making sure OLB Tamba Hali is accounted for.
Need to know: Palko has 13 career pass attempts. ... Brady has 3,032 passing yards, and needs 295 to set an NFL record for the most through the first 10 games of a season.