Wk 17 NFL Game Preview Capsules

We preview the other games around the league, starting with the game that will crown the NFC East champion and No. 4 seed in the playoffs: the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants.


Dallas Cowboys (8-7) at N.Y. Giants (8-7)

Kickoff: Sunday, 8:20 ET, NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

Last meeting: The Giants won, 37-34, at Dallas on Dec. 11 when DE Jason Pierre-Paul blocked a game-tying field-goal attempt by PK Dan Bailey.

Streaking: Dallas has a six-game losing streak on "Sunday Night Football."

Talk to the hand: The pressure is squarely on the arm - or hand - of Cowboys QB Tony Romo. He's expected to play, but a big factor in the cold and often windy conditions of MetLife Stadium will be how much swelling remains in his bruised right hand. Romo has not traditionally played well in games of this magnitude, but he must step up with these rivals often squaring off in shootouts. Romo would be helped tremendously if RB Felix Jones is fully recovered from his hamstring injury and able to contribute early.

Encore performance: Giants QB Eli Manning threw for 400 yards in the first meeting, in large part because he wasn't sacked. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride did an excellent job of providing LT David Diehl help working against OLB DeMarcus Ware with the Giants playing from behind without handcuffing the passing game. The Giants would love to establish a solid ground game early, giving Manning more security - and one-one-one matchups - working off play-action.

Need to know: This will be the 100th meeting. Dallas leads the series 56-41-2. ... WR Victor Cruz has set a Giants record with 1,358 receiving yards this season.

Detroit Lions (10-5) at Green Bay Packers (14-1)

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin

Game plan: How well backup QB Matt Flynn operates the Green Bay offense might decide the outcome with the Packers expected to rest many key players. Lions FS Louis Delmas (knee) will be out for a fifth straight game, leaving lanes for Flynn to exploit in the middle of the field. The Packers' patchwork offensive line might get LT Chad Clifton back, but must hold its water or the Lions' active front seven could have a big day. QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson give Detroit the electrifying pitch-catch combo teams adjust their pass coverage to stop, which clears TEs Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler as well as emerging rookie WR Titus Young to work against single coverage.

Need to know: The Lions' last win at Lambeau Field was in 1991. ... The Packers are 10-1 against the Lions in the Mike McCarthy era.

Indianapolis Colts (2-13) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-11)

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Spero Dedes, Steve Beuerlein

Game plan: The Colts would like to keep it on the ground enough to keep the Jaguars guessing, but Jacksonville's injury-plagued secondary is inviting and the Colts have significant matchup advantages on the outside. Forcing mistakes out of QB Blaine Gabbert, a rookie operating in a risk-averse offense, first requires the Colts being able to limit RB Maurice Jones-Drew's damage. Jones-Drew rushed for 114 yards on 25 carries, and added 23 yards receiving (137), of the team's total of 251 yards in a Nov. 13 win at Indianapolis.

Need to know: As a starter with the Colts, Orlovsky has a passer rating of 95.0 in the fourth quarter. ... Six of the last eight meetings have been decided by seven points or less.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-11) at Atlanta Falcons (9-6)

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jaime Maggio

Game plan: The Bucs are minus-14 in turnover margin but are leaning toward letting QB Josh Freeman direct traffic from the shotgun. They were successful with that look and three- and four-wide receiver sets the past two games and New Orleans threw at will against Atlanta on Monday night. Freeman will have to lead a consistent scoring effort because the Bucs' defense has collapsed down the stretch and Falcons QB Matt Ryan has a trio of targets in WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones and TE Tony Gonzalez that Tampa Bay's secondary can't cope with at this stage.

Need to know: The Falcons are in the postseason for consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history. ... The Bucs held Atlanta to 30 yards on 15 carries in the first meeting, a 16-13 win at home.

New York Jets (8-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-10)

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf

Game plan: QB Matt Moore was on a short leash in a 24-6 loss to the Jets in October. Much has changed, including vastly improved play from RB Reggie Bush, who is expected to play through a knee injury and averages 5.0 yards per carry. He'll get the ball on inside counters and misdirection as he did in the first meeting - 10 carries, 71 yards - to slow down the Jets' edge rushers trying to expose fill-in LT John Jerry. The Dolphins' sledgehammer run defense allows only 3.6 yards per carry, but the Jets will counter with no-huddle looks that have caused hiccups for the Miami secondary - as long as QB Mark Sanchez protects the ball.

Need to know: Sanchez has one interception in five starts vs. the Dolphins. ... Bush has four straight 100-yard rushing games.

Chicago Bears (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (3-12)

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

Game plan: One big ingredient lacking during Chicago's five-game losing skid - special teams impact plays. Devin Hester has been bothered by a sore ankle and the offense has struggled to punch it into the end zone when it does manage to sustain a drive. The Vikings are winless in the NFC North and susceptible to pass coverage breakdowns. Minus RB Adrian Peterson, struggling QB Christian Ponder must challenge the Bears' shaky safeties with TE Kyle Rudolph and top playmaker Percy Harvin.

Need to know: Vikings DEs Jared Allen (18.5) and Brian Robison (7.0) have 25.5 sacks. ... Bears DE Julius Peppers had two sacks in the last meeting and owns seven in eight games vs. Minnesota.

Washington Redskins (5-10) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-8)

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Ron Pitts, Charles Davis, Drea Avent

Game plan: The Eagles won the first meeting 20-13, but had problems against double-moves and with miscommunication involving their safeties. With rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett in the starting lineup for Philadelphia, QB Rex Grossman will let it rip as long as his tackles keep pressure from Eagles bookends Jason Babin and Trent Cole at a minimum. To slow them, Washington will pound the ball with Evan Royster and maybe Roy Helu (toe/knee) even in some passing situations. The Redskins don't have the team speed to contend with the Eagles' explosive playmakers, although Philadelphia will be hampered if RB LeSean McCoy (ankle) is out or limited.

Need to know: The Eagles have allowed 26 touchdown passes this season. ... The Redskins are 19-40 in the NFC East since it realigned in 2002 (eliminating Arizona).

Carolina Panthers (6-9) at New Orleans Saints (12-3)

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver

Game plan: The Panthers had a counter for almost every punch Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams drew up in the Oct. 3 comeback win by the Saints, and Carolina's running game, which can use power and speed, gave New Orleans fits. The Saints' matchups are just are problematic for the Panthers' thin defense. TE Jimmy Graham and RB Darren Sproles were identified by Panthers coach Ron Rivera as gamebreakers his team had no answer for in the earlier meeting. Unless the Panthers rattle Drew Brees, who has 12 300-yard games and six in a row, they'll have to hope they get the ball last.

Need to know: Panthers QB Cam Newton has an NFL rookie record 34 total touchdowns. ... Saints RB Darren Sproles is the first player to have 1,200 yards from scrimmage and 1,200 on kick returns in a single season.

San Francisco 49ers (12-3) at St. Louis Rams (2-13)

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jennifer Hale

Game plan: The biggest problem for the Rams is the 49ers are motivated to win and secure a first-round bye. St. Louis was able to run the ball successfully against Pittsburgh last week and will attempt to establish RB Steven Jackson. QB Kellen Clemens is expected to start in place of Sam Bradford (ankle) and the Rams' offensive line won't hold up in third-and-long. The bigger concern is St. Louis' league-worst run defense. San Francisco will pound away with RBs Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter and set up its highly efficient passing attack.

Need to know: The Rams have 15 players who have played in every game, including four starters, compared to 22 players who appeared in every game last season (11 starters). The 49ers have 30 players who have appeared in all 15 games, and 12 starters.

Tennessee Titans (8-7) at Houston Texans (10-5)

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker

Game plan: The Texans need to build some momentum after consecutive losses, and hope the return of WR Andre Johnson will open up the passing game a bit for QB T.J. Yates. Houston relies heavily on RBs Arian Foster and Ben Tate and an effective screen game - but the Titans want to force the rookie quarterback to beat them. Tennessee's own passing attack has begun to flourish with the emergence of TE Jared Cook the past two weeks. The Texans are counting on the return of defensive coordinator Wade Phillips to provide a spark. More important, they need to contain RB Chris Johnson so they can back QB Matt Hasselbeck into longer passing situations.

Need to know: Cook has consecutive 100-yard receiving games for the first time in his career. ... The Texans scored a season-high 41 points in the first meeting.

Buffalo Bills (6-9) at New England Patriots (13-3)

Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Don Criqui, Randy Cross

Game plan: The Bills rallied from a 21-0 deficit to shock the Patriots, 34-31, at home in Week 3. But Buffalo's offense lacks that level of firepower with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing 13 touchdowns vs. 16 interceptions since that day. RB C.J. Spiller is starting to come into his own, and is a versatile threat as a runner and receiver that coach Chan Gailey needs to utilize to help the Bills sustain drives. The defense isn't likely to pick Tom Brady off four times again, and he still threw for 217 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting. WR Wes Welker also caught 16 passes and the Bills will struggle to get off the field on third down.

Need to know: Buffalo hasn't swept the season series since 1999. ... The Patriots have won the past 10 meetings at home.

Baltimore Ravens (11-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)

Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts

Game plan: Going to Cincinnati without No. 1 WR Anquan Boldin would be a bigger concern for Baltimore if rookie WR Torrey Smith hadn't fried the Bengals' secondary for 165 yards in the Nov. 20 game, a 31-24 Ravens win. Setting up deep shots is key for QB Joe Flacco, whose eyes might drift to the inside pass rush of underrated DT Geno Atkins (8.0 sacks) with shuffling to cover injuries on the interior line. RB Ray Rice had 147 total yards in the first meeting and his versatility to key to buying Flacco time. The Bengals abandoned the run and had good success picking on the Ravens' nickel defense. QB Andy Dalton passed for 373 yards but was intercepted three times. With WR A.J. Green available this time, Dalton will be cleared to attack outside the hashes, so as to avoid safety Ed Reed.

Need to know: The Ravens have allowed two punt return touchdowns in 2011; Bengals PR Brandon Tate has one touchdown and averages 10.6 yards per return.

Seattle Seahawks (7-8) at Arizona Cardinals (7-8)

Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, FOX, Sam Rosen, Chad Pennington, Jody Jackson

Game plan: The Seahawks won the first meeting, 13-10, but the Cardinals have a healthy RB Beanie Wells for the rematch and he'll try to attack the Seahawks' stout front seven. With the status of QB Kevin Kolb (concussion) uncertain, John Skelton could get another start. Although struggling with accuracy, Skelton has shown the ability to produce big plays and Seattle's big cornerbacks are susceptible to double moves. The Seahawks are extremely reliant on RB Marshawn Lynch to drive the offense. Cardinals DE Calais Campbell had 2.5 sacks and four hits in the first meeting, and QB Tarvaris Jackson is struggling with a small and thin receiving corps.

Need to know: Lynch has an NFL-high 855 rushing yards since Week 9. ... The Cardinals have rallied from six fourth-quarter deficits this season. The NFL record is seven.

Kansas City Chiefs (6-9) at Denver Broncos (8-7)

Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

Game plan: Chiefs QB Kyle Orton began this season as Denver's quarterback and will close it with a chance to keep the Broncos out of the playoffs. He has brought stability to the Chiefs' passing attack, but must avoid mistakes like the pair of interceptions he tossed last week. This figures to be a game of field position that will be decided by limiting turnovers and being efficient in the red zone. Tim Tebow completed just two passes in Denver's 17-10 Week 2 win at K.C. Denver averaged 4.4 yards on an astounding 55 rushes that day, and similar success would set Tebow up for a few shots over the top against single coverage.

Need to know: The Chiefs have lost nine of their past 10 games at Denver. ... Broncos RB Willis McGahee is the second player in NFL history (Ricky Watters) to rush for 1,000-plus yards with three different teams (Buffalo, Baltimore).

San Diego Chargers (7-8) at Oakland Raiders (8-7)

Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Marv Albert, Rich Gannon

Game plan: Will the Chargers relish the opportunity to play spoiler, or will their lackluster season conclude on the same note? Chargers RB Ryan Mathews is a big key with QB Philip Rivers' continued struggles with turnovers behind a depleted offensive line. Mathews can also help control the clock a bit after San Diego's secondary was blitzed for 299 yards and three completions of 40-plus yards in the first meeting. However, RB Michael Bush is wearing down from a heavy workload since Darren McFadden went down to a foot injury, and QB Carson Palmer might not have the luxury of such an effective play-action attack in the rematch.

Need to know: Rivers needs 186 passing yards to become the fifth player in NFL history with 4,500-plus yards in consecutive seasons. ... Oakland has 155 penalties. The NFL single-season record is 158 by the 1998 Chiefs.

Pittsburgh Steelers (11-4) at Cleveland Browns (4-11)

Kickoff: Sunday, 4:15 ET, CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots

Game plan: The Steelers will likely be scoreboard watching. If Baltimore is beating the Bengals handily, Pittsburgh will be tempted to remove more starters early knowing it will be playing next week as runner-up to the Ravens in the division. QB Ben Roethlisberger appears ready to return after resting his injured ankle last week, as does C Maurkice Pouncey (ankle). Still, expect Pittsburgh to hammer away at the Browns' 30th-ranked run defense with a conservative game plan. QB Seneca Wallace is likely to start his third straight game. But the real key is RB Peyton Hillis, who has 211 rushing yards the past two weeks and must have success against stacked fronts because Wallace lacks the weapons to stretch the field.

Need to know: Batch is 5-2 as a starter with the Steelers. ... Cleveland has four rushing touchdowns, compared to 13 last season.

--By Derek Harper & Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange

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