GAME OF THE WEEK
N.Y. Giants (6-6) at Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, 8:20 ET, NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
Last meeting: The Cowboys won, 33-20, with backup QB Jon Kitna throwing for 327 yards and three touchdowns on the road on Nov. 14 last season.
Streaking: Giants QB Eli Manning is the fifth player in NFL history to throw for 3,000-plus yards and 20-plus touchdowns in seven consecutive seasons.
Take your best shot: Manning has been impressive in his ability to step up in the face of the pass rush to deliver on-target passes all season. He'll likely have to survive taking several good pops with C Kevin Booth and LG Mitch Petrus replacing injured starters, with NFL sacks leader DeMarcus Ware (15) moving around seeking the best mismatch. Dallas is ranked ninth in defending the run, but has given up some big chunks on the ground this season and Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw provided a spark in his return last week.
Loaded arsenal: If the Giants' pass rush continues to be sporadic, their injury-depleted secondary will be behind the 8-ball. The Cowboys hope to get WR Miles Austin back to a passing game that has seen Laurent Robinson emerge opposite Dez Bryant in his absence. Dallas works best when it develops balance with RB DeMarco Murray early to set up play-action - and it's those one-on-one matchups on the outside QB Tony Romo wants to exploit.
Need to know: The Giants have outscored the Cowboys 74-66 in winning their first two games at Cowboys Stadium. ... Robinson has seven touchdown catches in his past six games.
Houston Texans (9-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS, Marv Albert, Rich Gannon
Game plan: Rookie QB T.J. Yates might not have WR Andre Johnson (hamstring), but he'll have a lot of help, leaning on the NFL's third-ranked running game and second-ranked defense. The key is to avoid turnovers, allowing the Texans to leave the game in RB Arian Foster's hands in the fourth quarter. Rookie QB Andy Dalton has been pressured in the red zone, where the Bengals are 0-for-3 in each of the last two games. He sees another 3-4 defense after Pittsburgh (twice) and Baltimore were able to keep him guessing. The equalizer has been Dalton's penchant for perfectly placing the deep ball. He'll get a lot of one-on-one coverage outside from Houston.
Need to know: The Texans are third in the NFL with a plus-12 turnover margin. ... Cincinnati has been outscored 119-39 in the second quarter this season.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-8) at Miami Dolphins (4-8)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jaime Maggio
Game plan: The Eagles expect to get QB Michael Vick and WR Jeremy Maclin back, but they must improve on their league-high 29 giveaways and 21st-ranked red zone offense against a Miami defense that is playing strong man coverage on the outside while allowing just 3.2 yards per carry its past six games. The improvement of the Dolphins' offense has coincided with the coaching staff figuring out how best to use RB Reggie Bush. If he can be effective early, it sets the table for QB Matt Moore to attack the Eagles' safeties, who have struggled with assignment breakdowns.
Need to know: Eagles RB LeSean McCoy leads the NFC in rushing despite getting more than 18 carries in just four games. ... Miami has averaged 29.7 points in winning its past three home games.
New England Patriots (9-3) at Washington Redskins (4-8)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
Game plan: Redskins QB Rex Grossman has been sacked 18 times in 334 drop-backs, and his protection doesn't figure to improve with LT Trent Williams and TE Fred Davis suspended. But New England's secondary is the vulnerable spot of the defense so Grossman will need to be able to step up and complete passes downfield in the face of the pass rush. While Washington can apply pressure off the edges defensively, few quarterbacks have a quicker release than Tom Brady, who also enjoys the best combination of inside route-runners in the game in WR Wes Welker and TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
Need to know: The Patriots have scored 43 touchdowns, compared to the Redskins' 20. ... Roy Helu is the first Redskins rookie running back to rush for 100-plus yards in consecutive games.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-9)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX, Sam Rosen, Chad Pennington
Game plan: The Jaguars' play-calling has been extremely conservative, with very few vertical routes to test the development of QB Blaine Gabbert. Granted, he's playing behind a beat-up offensive line and has few proven downfield threats. RB Maurice Jones-Drew enters as the league's rushing leader while Tampa Bay is allowing and average of 168.8 rushing yards during its six-game losing streak. With QB Josh Freeman day-to-day with a shoulder injury, Josh Johnson could get his second straight start for the Bucs. While he's more mobile, the Jaguars' vulnerability is over the top against their depleted secondary.
Need to know: Jones-Drew has 1,434 of the Jaguars' 3,297 total yards (43.5 percent). ... The Bucs converted 42.2 percent of third downs last year, but just 35.6 this season.
Kansas City Chiefs (5-7) at New York Jets (7-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Game plan: Jets RB Shonn Greene scored two touchdowns last week, equaling his total from all of last season (185 carries). The Jets have to run effectively, even if it means using Wildcat sets as they did last week. Kansas City's plan is simple: stop the run and force QB Mark Sanchez into throws he shouldn't make against the blitz. Chiefs QB Tyler Palko must get shorts fields to work with because he's not going to move the ball consistently CBs Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
Need to know: The Jets have had a turnover on special teams in four straight games. ... The Chiefs seek back-to-back road wins for the first time since 2004.
New Orleans Saints (9-3) at Tennessee Titans (7-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
Game plan: The Saints present any defense unique matchup challenges, but RB Darren Sproles and TE Jimmy Graham are the kind of playmakers that should frighten a Titans defense designed to win with power. The emergence of rookie MLB Colin McCarthy, Graham's college teammate, gives Tennessee a fighting chance against the run, but slowing down QB Drew Brees and the passing game is another story. The Titans will have to go to the air more often than they'd like, especially with QB Matt Hasselbeck slumping. They'll try to slow the game with resurgent RB Chris Johnson to set up the long ball.
Need to know: Titans WR Nate Washington leads the NFL with 24 third-down receptions. ... The Saints are on pace to set a record with 7,179 yards total offense in 2011.
Indianapolis Colts (0-12) at Baltimore Ravens (9-3)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker
Game plan: Colts QB Dan Orlovsky heated up in the fourth quarter last week, but faces a stellar front seven without the help of a strong ground game and also must contend with S Ed Reed, whose range is enough to deter deep throws to WRs Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne. Ravens RB Ray Rice had a career-high 204 rushing yards last week and leads all running backs in receiving yards. The Colts' woebegone defense likely will have to sacrifice safety help downfield to slow Rice, which sets the table for a passing game that has been far better at home.
Need to know: Ravens QB Joe Flacco is 25-5 at home with a 90.1 passer rating. ... The Colts have one touchdown and 13 total points in the first quarter all season.
Atlanta Falcons (7-5) at Carolina Panthers (4-8)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX, Ron Pitts, Jim Mora, Drea Avent
Game plan: QB Cam Newton was forced to throw under duress in what was a tight game in Atlanta on Oct. 16. Newton has shown improvement — especially decision-making from the pocket — in the five games since that 31-17 loss. A major boost from the running game, which features three players with 100 or more carries and a cumulative average of 5.0 yards per rush, gives Newton shelter and opens lanes downfield for WR Steve Smith (17.9 yards per catch). The Falcons have to figure out third down and red zone problems to put the Panthers away. With RB Michael Turner averaging 3.2 yards per carry the past two games while battling a sore groin, QB Matt Ryan's inconsistency as a deep passer has been exposed.
Need to know: Turner has five 100-yard games in the last six meetings. ... Carolina has 14 players on injured reserve, including eight starters.
Minnesota Vikings (2-10) at Detroit Lions (7-5)
Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX, Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin
Game plan: Vikings RB Adrian Peterson (ankle) might beg to play, but said he was only 70 percent midweek and QB Christian Ponder (hip) is also hurting. Lacking proven vertical threats, Minnesota is utilizing WR Percy Harvin heavily on shorter routes. The Lions erased a 20-point halftime deficit to win the Sept. 25 game at the Metrodome. QB Matthew Stafford's finger is almost healed, and attacking the Vikings' injury-ravaged secondary should come easily for an aggressive offense that rarely ticks down from attack mode. Detroit has been its own worst enemy with 30 penalties in the past three games.
Need to know: The Vikings' offense has scored 17 points or less in five of six road games. ... Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew had 11 catches for 112 yards in the last meeting.
San Francisco 49ers (10-2) at Arizona Cardinals (5-7)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 ET, FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jennifer Hale
Game plan: The Cardinals registered a season-high five sacks in upsetting Dallas last week, but they gambled with a heavy dose of blitzes. 49ers QB Alex Smith is third in the league with a 107.5 passer rating against the blitz, thanks in large part to the league's No. 7-ranked running game that creates manageable passing downs. More important, San Francisco owns the league's top-ranked defense, although ILB Patrick Willis (hamstring) isn't likely to play. Still, the onus is on QB Kevin Kolb to build on last week's strong second half and overtime. Arizona failed to capitalize on pass plays early in a loss at San Francisco three weeks ago and constantly played from behind.
Need to know: The 49ers are allowing just 13.4 points per game. ... The Cardinals' defense has allowed just five touchdowns in its past five games.
Chicago Bears (7-5) at Denver Broncos (6-6)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:05 ET, FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston
Game plan: QB Caleb Hanie has thrown six interceptions in two starts in place of injured Jay Cutler, but Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz said part of the issue has been being too conservative with the offense. He wants to be more aggressive in getting Hanie throwing downfield early. Unfortunately, that will require doing it without the threat of RB Matt Forte (knee) and in the face of Denver's strong pass rush. Martz could be throwing a smokescreen because it's a field position game against Tim Tebow. Chicago's Cover-Two typically prevents many completions over the top and the Bears will bank on the defense playing strong assignment football against the Broncos' read-option.
Need to know: Chicago has 17 takeaways in its past six games. ... Denver has scored 17 points or less five times during its 6-1 record the past seven games.
Buffalo Bills (5-7) at San Diego Chargers (5-7)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots
Game plan: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has averaged 37.2 pass attempts during Buffalo's five-game losing streak. It's a result of the Bills constantly digging themselves out of early holes, and Fitzpatrick has struggled in a one-dimensional attack. He needs RB C.J. Spiller to be a factor from the outset. That would also help the Bills' defense, which faces a similar dilemma to Jacksonville's, which was torched by Chargers QB Philip Rivers on Monday night. Buffalo doesn't rush the passer well and has youth in the secondary - a frightening combination against San Diego's vertical attack.
Need to know: Fitzpatrick tied a franchise record by completing passes to 10 different receivers last week. ... Rivers has 21-2 career record in December.
Oakland Raiders (7-5) at Green Bay Packers (12-0)
Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Game plan: The Packers have turned an NFL-high 23 interceptions into 67 points, which has been the saving grace for the league's second-worst pass defense. By contrast, Oakland leads the NFL with 67 plays of at least 20-plus yards. Translation: the Raiders should move the ball, but how well they capitalize on those drives will determine how competitive the game is. Oakland's power ground game will also take aim at Green Bay's banged-up linebacker corps. But will it be enough with the Packers averaging 35 points per game? QB Aaron Rodgers gets rid of the ball quickly enough to negate the Raiders' pass rush, meaning Oakland must find a way to disrupt his rhythm and generate a few turnovers because the Packers simply have too many downfield weapons.
Need to know: The Raiders have allowed 210.6 rushing yards in their five losses. ... Green Bay has allowed 58 plays of at least 20 yards, including 51 through the air.
St. Louis Rams (2-10) at Seattle Seahawks (5-7)
Kickoff: Monday, 8:30 ET, ESPN, Mike Tirico, Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden
Game plan: It could be more a battle of attrition than talent and gameplans. QB Tom Brandstater, re-signed to the Rams' practice squad last week, was taking snaps with the first team midweek with Sam Bradford (ankle) more likely to be available than A.J. Feeley (thumb). Both teams have also been hit hard by injuries along the offensive line. Seattle has lost three starters, but RB Marshawn Lynch has still managed to rush for 100-plus yards in four of the past five weeks — with the lone exception being 88 yards in a 24-7 Week 11 win at St. Louis.
Need to know: Rams DE Chris Long has a sack in six consecutive games. ... The Seahawks have averaged 141 rushing yards in their last five games; the Rams allow a league-high 157.8 per game for the season.
— By Derek Harper & Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange
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