GAME OF THE WEEK
Detroit Lions (7-4) at New Orleans Saints (8-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 8:20 ET, NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Last meeting: The Saints won 45-27 at home in 2009 with QB Drew Brees throwing six touchdown passes.
Streaking: Brees has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 38 consecutive games. The NFL record is 47 held by Johnny Unitas.
Mind games: Lions QB Matthew Stafford insists his fractured right index finger isn't an issue, and threw without gloves or a splint midweek. He has thrown nine interceptions the past three games, and several have simply been poor decisions into coverage. He'll face plenty of shifting alignments and pressure packages from the Saints and must be better with his decision making downfield to keep the Lions competitive in a high-paced game. The offense has faltered when one-dimensional, and RB Kevin Smith (high ankle sprain) might be replaced by Maurice Morris.
Star waves: DT Ndamukong Suh's suspension couldn't come at a worse time. The Lions' secondary is minus FS Louis Delmas, has multiple cornerbacks banged up and desperately needs the defensive line to dominate the game. Detroit is still deep enough up front to get to Brees in a big hurry. If not, he'll have his pick of mismatches downfield. New Orleans strung together five drives of 73-plus yards last week against a Giants defense similarly built around a strong pass rush with a depleted secondary.
Need to know: Lions WR Calvin Johnson has joined Hall of Fame WRs Lance Alworth and Jerry Rice as the only players in NFL history with 12-plus receiving touchdowns in three of their first five seasons. ... Brees has tied Dan Marino's NFL record of 27 career 350-yard passing games.
Tennessee Titans (6-5) at Buffalo Bills (5-6)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS, Spero Dedes, Steve Beuerlein
Game plan: Another shuffling of the Bills' line seemed to stabilize the offense and lift the confidence of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick last week. Fitzpatrick will have time to throw if the line can hold off DE Dave Ball (two sacks last week). He must take advantage of matchups on third downs, when CB Cortland Finnegan shifts to the slot and Fitzpatrick will have chances to hit WR Steve Johnson vertically. Third down has become a chronic weakness for Buffalo's defense. How they match up with RB Chris Johnson, coming off his breakout game of 2011, and speedy WR Nate Washington knowing they've generated little pass rush without blitzing is the Bills' pressing question.
Need to know: Titans QB Matt Hasselbeck completed 69.6 percent of his passes in September, compared to 55.9 percent in November. ... In his last nine games, Bills RB C.J. Spiller's longest rush was nine yards.
Kansas City Chiefs (4-7) at Chicago Bears (7-4)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots
Game plan: Caleb Hanie's first career start was predictably uneven, but the Bears will use mostly the same plan anticipating more man coverage outside and a safety in the box from the Chiefs. Marion Barber has stepped up to give the running game a jolt as Matt Forte seems to be missing fewer tacklers. The Chiefs, lacking a bell-cow runner, could start Tyler Palko for the third time or turn to Kyle Orton. The Bears match up well with the Chiefs' jumbo receivers, but 5-7 dynamo Tim Jennings can be too aggressive for his own good, a trait the Chiefs no doubt studied.
Need to know: The Chiefs have gone 27 possessions without a touchdown. ... The Bears have 16 takeaways in their last five games.
Atlanta Falcons (7-4) at Houston Texans (8-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m., FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
Game plan: The Falcons shouldn't mind speeding up the game with the no-huddle looks that have clicked for them lately, forcing Texans rookie first-time starter T.J. Yates to try to keep pace. QB Matt Ryan leads a Falcons offense that goes to sleep for stretches, but the stellar play of late from WR Roddy White (17-267 the past two games) has the passing game humming along. The Texans will use RBs Arian Foster and Ben Tate to set up play-action for Yates. The Texans were conservative in protecting a lead last week, but Yates has a strong arm and experience in a pro style offense, and Houston has to be able to exploit the Falcons' weak secondary.
Need to know: Atlanta is slated to play three straight games against rookie quarterbacks (Carolina, Jacksonville). ... The Texans had scored in 12 straight quarters before going scoreless in the third and fourth quarters at Jacksonville last week.
Oakland Raiders (7-4) at Miami Dolphins (3-8)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
Game plan: The Raiders haven't lost since Carson Palmer's first start against Denver on Nov. 6, and he has more than done his part considering RB Darren McFadden and multiple key receivers have been out. Credit RB Michael Bush, who'll get a stiff test against a rested Dolphins defense playing gangbusters in the last four games. The Raiders' run defense is no stone wall, and Miami sets the table for QB Matt Moore to throw out of a moving pocket with short passes and inside runs to RB Reggie Bush. Moore will get one-on-one matchups outside and push the ball to WR Brandon Marshall, who has 98-plus receiving yards in four of Moore's seven starts.
Need to know: The Raiders are 1-8 in the Eastern time zone since the start of the 2008 season. ... Dolphins LT Jake Long has allowed five sacks this season.
Denver Broncos (6-5) at Minnesota Vikings (2-9)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m., FOX, Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin
Game plan: The Vikings have the pass rush to spare their secondary, but opposing quarterbacks complete 68.2 percent of their passes with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2011. That's enough to bring even run-first QB Tim Tebow out of his shell. The Broncos have a 249-125 run-to-pass ratio since Tebow's Oct. 16 start at Miami. They won't veer far from RB Willis McGahee and Tebow, but the Vikings are ninth in the NFL against the run. QB Christian Ponder's shortage of playmakers hasn't severely stunted his growth, but RB Toby Gerhart lacks speed through the hole if Adrian Peterson (ankle) is sidelined again and Denver's defense is chewing up third-and-long situations.
Need to know: Ponder has been sacked once per quarter in his last four starts. ... Tebow has zero turnovers in his last four games.
Indianapolis Colts (0-11) at New England Patriots (8-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS, Marv Albert, Rich Gannon
Game plan: The Colts fired their defensive coordinator and benched their starting quarterback this week - a tough preparation for red-hot Patriots QB Tom Brady (eight touchdowns, no interceptions the past three games). Dan Orlovsky gets the start for Indianapolis and although New England's secondary is the most vulnerable spot, he must get help from the ground game to control the clock. The Patriots should also be able to run the ball inside with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, which will help negate the Colts' lone defensive threats - DEs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Need to know: Orlovsky (seven starts) and Colts LB Ernie Sims played for the NFL's only 0-16 team (2008 Lions). ... The Patriots have scored 30-plus points eight times in 11 games. The Colts cleared 20 once.
Carolina Panthers (3-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m., FOX, Ron Pitts, Jim Mora, Drea Avent
Game plan: QB Cam Newton was efficient as a passer and dangerous running the ball at Indianapolis and should be able to do more of the same at Tampa Bay, which ranks 30th in the NFL against the run and 28th against the pass. Admittedly more comfortable running, Newton can dissect the Bucs' poor-tackling front seven but must be wary of a secondary that likes to jump routes. RB LeGarrette Blount cannot put the ball on the ground -- as he did twice at Tennessee last week -- if the Bucs' weary defense is to hold up. The ground game is critical, especially with QB Josh Freeman potentially a game-time decision (shoulder).
Need to know: The Bucs have lost six of their last seven, including five straight. ... Newton averages 304.2 yards passing on the road.
New York Jets (6-5) at Washington Redskins (4-7)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m., CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Game plan: Against defenses sure to employ the kitchen-sink approach to make the opposing quarterback buckle, neither team has the convenience of a dominant ground game. For the Redskins, creating room for rookie RB Roy Helu early is the best way to set QB Rex Grossman up to be efficient. He'll also get WR Santana Moss (finger) back in the lineup, but Washington is minus-11 in turnover ratio and can't have Grossman constantly taking shots against the Jets' corners. The return of LaDainian Tomlinson, a security blanket for Jets QB Mark Sanchez, taxes the Redskins secondary. Sanchez's accuracy can be an issue, but big targets in WR Plaxico Burress and TE Dustin Keller bail him out regularly.
Need to know: Moss needs 112 receiving yards to reach 9,000 for his career. ... Burress has four fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Game plan: The Bengals lost top CB Leon Hall in the first meeting, a 24-17 Steelers win on Nov. 13, and will be taxed by three- and four-receiver sets. However, the Steelers' offensive line lacks great athleticism, making it difficult to gain yards on the ground outside the tackles and allowing defenses to hone in on QB Ben Roethlisberger, who has a 42.8 completion percentage on third down the past three games. Bengals QB Andy Dalton continues to display excellent poise while continually playing from behind, although he did throw a pair of late picks in the first meeting that thwarted a comeback bid. Coach Marvin Lewis wants his offense to be more aggressive toward the end of the first half - the Bengals have been outscored 65-31 in the second quarter this season.
Need to know: One game separates the top three teams in the AFC North. ... The Bengals have tied an NFL record with three wins this season after trailing by at least 10 points at halftime.
Baltimore Ravens (7-4) at Cleveland Browns (3-8)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 ET, CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker
Game plan: The Ravens are 2-3 on the road, with a reputation to playing to the level of their competition. But the offensive line is starting to gel and Baltimore can't take its foot off the gas in a tight playoff race. QB Joe Flacco wasn't sacked once last week and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is keeping RB Ray Rice involved even when the ground game stalls earl. The Browns must get a strong game out of RB Peyton Hillis. The Ravens might be without MLB Ray Lewis again, but had nine sacks in their last outing and Browns QB Colt McCoy simply isn't getting enough help from his wideouts to be consistently successful downfield.
Need to know: Flacco is 6-0 with a 101.9 passer rating career against the Browns. ... Browns WR Greg Little leads all NFL rookies with 47 catches.
Dallas Cowboys (7-4) at Arizona Cardinals (4-7)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jennifer Hale
Game plan: The Cardinals have won three of the four games QB John Skelton has started, but he has also thrown five interceptions the past two weeks and Kevin Kolb is expected to return after missing four games with turf toe. With RB Beanie Wells coming off a 228-yard game and Arizona needing to play keep away from Dallas' well-balanced offense, the ground game and special teams are the Cardinals' tickets to being competitive. Arizona doesn't generate pressure without blitzing and as long as Cowboys QB Tony Romo is careful with the ball, he'll find open receivers against a young coverage group.
Need to know: Murray has averaged 126.8 rushing yards the past six games. ... Cardinals rookie CB Patrick Peterson has set an NFL record with four punt-return touchdowns of at least 80 yards in a single season.
Green Bay Packers (11-0) at N.Y. Giants (6-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
Game plan: The Giants' offense has lacked balance and the ability to run outside the tackles with RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) sidelined. Unless he returns, the brunt of the offense again falls on QB Eli Manning. He'll rack up yards against a bend-but-don't-break secondary that has a league-high 22 interceptions and uses turnovers to generate a few extra possessions per game. That's lethal against Aaron Rodgers & Co. Without DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle), Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck must have monster games. If not, Rodgers will have his way against a defense that was just blistered for 363 yards and four touchdowns by Drew Brees. Green Bay has a plus-15 turnover margin.
Need to know: The Packers have won a franchise-record 17 consecutive games and are 11-0 for the first time. ... Manning is the fifth player in NFL history with at least 3,000 yards passing and 20 touchdowns in seven consecutive seasons.
St. Louis Rams (2-9) at San Francisco 49ers (9-2)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, FOX, Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jaime Maggio
Game plan: St. Louis' hand has been forced into more conservative gameplans due to significant shuffling along the offensive line. That even included RB Steven Jackson taking a snap from the Wildcat formation last week. But St. Louis has to open it up more against the league's No. 1 running defense. There's no doubt the Rams want to drag this into low-scoring game deep into the fourth quarter. That also plays into the hands of the 49ers, who want to address offensive line concerns of their own after a poor game in Baltimore. If the ground game is successful in setting up play-action, St. Louis' decent pass rush will be negated and the secondary exposed.
Need to know: Rams DE Chris Long has a sack in five consecutive games. ... The 49ers clinch the NFC West with a win or a loss by Seattle or Arizona.
San Diego Chargers (4-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8)
Kickoff: Monday, 8:30 ET, ESPN, Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden
Game plan: QB Blaine Gabbert was benched last week, the coach was fired, the team was sold and starting WR Jason Hill released. Other than that, it's business as usual for the Jaguars as they prepare to play host to a Monday night game. Gabbert is back at the helm and needs to do a better job of standing tall in the pocket and delivering the ball downfield to provide some type of complement to RB Maurice Jones-Drew. San Diego is in a freefall and traveling cross-country. But QB Philip Rivers lives and dies with the vertical passing game and gets to attack a secondary that has lost both starting cornerbacks to injury.
Need to know: The Chargers' six-game losing streak is their longest since a nine-game skid from 2002-03. ... The Jaguars begin a stretch of three games on national television in 11 days.
-- By Derek Harper & Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange