AFCN game match-ups - week 8

This week in the AFCN, the Cleveland Browns (2-4) travel to play the Houston Texans (0-6), the Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) host the Green Bay Packers (1-5), and the Ravens (2-4) travel to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2) on Monday night.

Complete Games Listings:

Sunday
Arizona Cardinals (2-4) at Dallas Cowboys (4-3)
Chicago Bears (3-3) at Detroit Lions (3-3)
Cleveland Browns (2-4) at Houston Texans (0-6)
Green Bay Packers (1-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-2) at St. Louis Rams (3-4)
Minnesota Vikings (2-4) at Carolina Panthers (4-2)
Oakland Raiders (2-4) at Tennessee Titans (2-5)
Washington Redskins (4-2) at New York Giants (4-2)
Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) at San Diego Chargers (3-4)
Miami Dolphins (2-4) at New Orleans Saints (2-5)
Philadelphia Eagles (4-2) at Denver Broncos (5-2)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1) at San Francisco 49ers (1-5)
Buffalo Bills (3-4) at New England Patriots (3-3)
Monday
Baltimore Ravens (2-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2)

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Cleveland Browns (2-4) at Houston Texans (0-6)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/30/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
SERIES: Third meeting. Browns lead 2-0. Terry Robiskie earned his only victory as an interim coach when the Browns beat the Texans 22-14 in the final game of the 2004 season. Robiskie was 0-4 before the game in Houston.
2005 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 26th (28th rush, 21st pass); defense 29th (28th rush, 23rd pass). Texans: offense 32nd (15th rush, 32nd pass); defense 30th (32nd rush, 20th pass)

PREDICTION: Texans 24-20

KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Trent Dilfer keeps his starting job for at least another game, but must take better care of the ball after turning it over eight times in the past three weeks. His job would be much easier if he received more help from his running game. While RB Reuben Droughns is on pace to become the franchise's first 1,000-yard rusher since 1985, the Browns do not have a rushing touchdown this season. The Texans allow 5.0 yards per carry and have been simply worn down on defense in most games because of the offense's inability to put drives together. With WR Andre Johnson likely to miss his third consecutive game, the Texans desperately need Jabar Gaffney to step up and take advantage of a Browns secondary playing without top CB Gary Baxter. Cleveland has only eight sacks, so this is Houston's best opportunity to provide QB David Carr sufficient time to look downfield.

FAST FACTS: Browns: Have won both previous meetings. ... Have forced at least one turnover in 19 consecutive games. Texans: Carr can tie a career record with a touchdown pass in his sixth consecutive game. ... RB Domanick Davis has scored a touchdown in 12 of his past 15 games.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Browns:
--WR Braylon Edwards will not start Sunday in Houston, but coach Romeo Crennel said Edwards' role will continue to grow.
--QB Trent Dilfer said he's anxious to redeem himself Sunday in Houston. Dilfer threw three interceptions against Detroit and has not played well in three weeks.
--WR Dennis Northcutt continues to be AWOL from the offense. Northcutt has just 15 inconsequential receptions this season, and he's had two punt returns for touchdowns called back by penalty. The Browns need plays, and Northcutt is one of the few people capable of making them.
--S Chris Crocker knows Houston has given up a lot of sacks, but said most of them came from a four-man rush. Crocker said it appears that David Carr's line has not protected him.
--DE Orpheus Roye leads all NFL defensive linemen in tackles with 40. Roye's contributions this season have been significant.

Texans:
--DE Gary Walker (shoulder) participated in his first practice Thursday but is still not expected to play Sunday.
--RG Zach Wiegert (ankle) remains out and is not expected to play Sunday.
--WR Andre Johnson (calf) is making limited appearances in practice but would not be 100 percent if he was to play Sunday.
--DE Travis Johnson did not start last Sunday because of a formation that was used. Junior Ioane replaced him, but Johnson remains the starter and will start there Sunday.
--RB Domanick Davis does not appeared slowed by a sprained wrist he injured last week. He will play Sunday.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Browns:
Leigh Bodden steps in at cornerback for the Browns this weekend against Houston.
Gary Baxter is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle, so Bodden goes to the starting linueup after replacing Baxter last week against Detroit.
Bodden played fairly well against the Lions, breaking up one pass and recording three tackles.
The weird thing is that the previous two weeks, Bodden hadn't even made the active roster.
Bodden started the opener against Cincinnati when Baxter was hurt, but struggled. He was inactive the next game due to a groin injury, and hardly played against Indianapolis before hitting the inactive list two consecutive weeks.
Baxter had played very solid football before being injured. His presence seemed to calm the secondary.
Bodden now must step in and see if he can do the same.

Texans:
For the first time in David Carr's career, he will have an opportunity to play against his friend and mentor, Trent Dilfer. They are both in the midst of personal struggles on the field, but they are looking forward to the opportunity of seeing each other during Sunday's Texans-Browns game.
Carr has respected Dilfer ever since the Carr attended a speech Dilfer gave when Carr was in seventh grade.
"The Godfather," Carr said of Dilfer. "He's a great guy. He's been instrumental long before this losing streak. When I first met him back in junior high, I was a fan. I still am. He's a great person and a great quarterback. I could go on and on about how I feel about him. I have as much respect for him as I do for anyone that I've ever been around."
The respect is mutual. Dilfer followed Carr's Fresno State career closely and helped advise Carr during his first couple seasons in the league.
"Dave has grown up a lot, and he handles his business very, very well," Dilfer said. "He is a very mature guy, a great father, a great husband. He does things the right way in life and doesn't really need a mentor anymore. Maybe the first couple years, I walked him through some things. But I look at him as a peer now."
The two have quite a bit they can talk about these days. Dilfer will start Sunday in hopes of playing well enough to keep his job even with rookie Charlie Frye waiting to replace him.
Carr has pressures of his own. He will try to lead the Texans to their first victory in seven tries.

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Green Bay Packers (1-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/30/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Bill Maas, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 10th meeting. Packers lead the series 5-4, which dates to 1971. They have won the last three meetings, all since 1992, when QB Brett Favre relieved an injured Don Majkowski in the first quarter and rallied Green Bay to a 24-23 victory at Lambeau Field. The teams' last meeting was Sept. 20, 1998, a 13-6 Packers win at Cinergy Field. It's the only Green Bay victory in three previous visits to Cincinnati.
2005 RANKINGS: Packers: offense 16th (30th rush, 6th pass); defense 14th (11th rush, 17th pass). Bengals: offense 4th (13th rush, 7th pass); defense 17th (27th rush, 10th pass)

PREDICTION: Bengals 21-14

KEYS TO THE GAME: The pressure continues to build on Packers QB Brett Favre with RB Ahman Green joining WR Javon Walker and RB Najeh Davenport on injured reserve. The Bengals' Achilles' heel is a run defense allowing 4.8 yards per carry, and the Packers need RB Tony Fisher to pick up the baton and take advantage. Otherwise, Favre will be forced to push the ball downfield to an injury-riddled receiving corps working against CBs Tory James and Deltha O'Neal, who are two of the better ballhawking corners in the league. The Packers can keep the game close as long as they contain Bengals RB Rudi Johnson. Cincinnati is 13-3 under coach Marvin Lewis when it runs the ball at least 30 times and if it reaches that mark Sunday, it means the Bengals will have been successful in setting up its very effective play-action passing game.

FAST FACTS: Packers: K Ryan Longwell needs four points to become the 35th player in NFL history to reach 1,000 for his career. ... Have not had a 100-yard rusher since Nov. 29, 2004 (Najeh Davenport). Bengals: Have had 12 different starting quarterbacks during Favre's 211 consecutive games started streak. ... Have a six-game winning streak against NFC teams.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Packers:
--RB Tony Fisher, set to make his second career start Sunday at Cincinnati, practiced Thursday after missing a day. Fisher underwent laser surgery Tuesday to repair a small hole in the retina of his left eye, caused when he was poked in the eye while covering a kickoff return last Sunday at Minnesota.
Fisher is on the injury report as probable. The fourth-year veteran has been elevated to starter in the wake of Ahman Green (torn quadriceps tendon) and Najeh Davenport (broken ankle) suffering season-ending injuries.
--C Mike Flanagan moved a step closer to returning to the starting lineup Sunday. He practiced for the second straight day, three weeks after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia.
Flanagan, though, remains questionable for Sunday.
--OLB Na'il Diggs was involved in team segments of practice Thursday for the first time since he torn the medial collateral ligament in his right knee Oct. 3. The strongside starter is questionable for Sunday but hasn't ruled out making an earlier than expected return to game action.
--FS Nick Collins practiced Thursday after being out the previous day to rest a bruised left quadriceps. The rookie starter is questionable for Sunday.
--DT Cullen Jenkins, who's nursing a strained calf, also returned to practice. He's probable for the upcoming game.
--OLB Robert Thomas practiced for the second straight day, though the weakside starter remains questionable for Sunday because of a stinger.
--FB Vonta Leach practiced after being out Wednesday to rest a stinger. He's probable for Sunday.
--CB Jason Horton (shoulder) practiced for the second straight day and is probable for Sunday.
--S Earl Little continues to be hampered by a pulled left hamstring that has kept him sidelined since he suffered the injury Oct. 3. The backup is questionable for Sunday.
--WR Robert Ferguson also was held out of practice for the second straight day and has been declared out for Sunday because of a torn lateral collateral ligament in his left knee. Antonio Chatman will replace Ferguson in the starting lineup.

Bengals:
--LB David Pollack (knee) is questionable for Green Bay. He did not practice for the second consecutive day on Thursday.
--WR-KR Tab Perry (back) is questionable for the Packers. He did not practice Thursday or Wednesday. Running back Chris Perry and wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh are second and third, respectively, on the depth chart at kickoff return.
--WR Chris Henry (groin) is probable. He did not practice Thursday.
--DT John Thornton (back) is probable for Green Bay. He practiced Thursday.
--CB Keiwan Ratliff (hip) is probable. He practiced Thursday.
--RB Rudi Johnson, who has missed the past five Wednesday practices, practiced Thursday, as is his pattern. He is probable with a knee injury.
--C Eric Ghiaciuc (ankle) did not practice Wednesday or Thursday and is questionable for the game against the Packers on Sunday.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Packers:
Packers all-time leading scorer Ryan Longwell is sticking with second-year punter B.J. Sander as his holder despite a series of unaccustomed breakdowns in the kicking game in the early going this season.
Longwell, one of the more accurate placekickers in the history of the league, has misfired on three of his nine field-goal attempts. That equals his total of misses for the entire 2003 season and is only one fewer than his number of unsuccessful kicks last season.
The three misses this season essentially cost the 1-5 Packers a couple victories and a .500 record, which would have had them in first place in the mediocre NFC North.
Longwell sent a 42-yard attempt wide left in a 17-16 loss to Tampa Bay in Week 3.
At Minnesota last Sunday, he booted a 53-yard try wide right and later hooked a 42-yard attempt wide left, giving Vikings counterpart Paul Edinger the opportunity to split the uprights with a 56-yarder as time expired in the fourth quarter for a stunning 23-20 win.
Longwell didn't hide his frustration after the game. Without calling out Sander by name, Longwell attributed the second miss Sunday to a hold that wasn't to his liking.
A few days later, Longwell didn't take back what he felt was honest-to-goodness criticism.
"There was a new piece added to the puzzle this year," said Longwell, alluding to Sander's assuming the holding duties for the first time, "and I've seen the ball flying off my foot different than I ever have. It has never, ever done this at times. So, I think there's a frustration point that we expect things a certain way, and I hate missing field goals. As a competitor, you want it right all the time, and that's what we're trying to get at."
Perhaps more so than most kickers, Longwell is overly particular, almost obsessive, about how he wants the football set on the ground. He not only wants it tilted forward, so the sweet spot of the ball is exposed, he likes it tilted to the right, so it flies straight and doesn't tail to the left.
Sander, who also bungled his first hold in the season opener, preventing Longwell from attempting a chip-shot field goal, is coming to grips with how precise he must be with the holds. Sander explained that it's been a minuscule matter of being no more than a half-inch off with the proper placement.
"Holding is an exact science," he said. "And if it's a little bit off, it's tough. It's one of those things that if you're a quarterback and you make a bad throw, your receiver can make a great play on the ball. But in kicking, you're limited to the margin of error you have. It's an exact science."
Sander, a third-round draft pick who spent his rookie season on the bench after he bombed in the preseason, won both the punting and holding jobs in the preseason this year. Yet Sander isn't held in the same high regard on holds as punter Bryan Barker and quarterback Doug Pederson were by Longwell in recent years.
Nevertheless, Longwell gave Sander a vote of confidence this week, remaining hopeful things will work out the last two months of the season.
"He's a guy that's willing to work. We saw it with the punting (after last year), and we'll see it with the holding," Longwell said. "I think both of us are hypercompetitive as far as wanting to get this done. ... We don't want this holding thing to become a story any longer than it has to."
Either rookie quarterback Aaron Rodgers or fellow backup Craig Nall would be the team's fallback for the holder spot. However, both players worked with Longwell on only a limited basis during practice in the preseason. Rodgers has taken just a handful of snaps each week on the practice field during the season.

Bengals:
The Bengals' productive offense in terms of points scored and total first downs could be prolific if it could improve performance in both the red zone and on third down.
The Bengals enter the game Sunday tied for 10th in scoring offense with their opponents, the Green Bay Packers, at 24 points per game. The Bengals are fourth in the league in first downs with 149, ranking behind only Seattle, Indianapolis and New Orleans, all of whom, like the Bengals, have played seven games.
But the Bengals are 30th in the NFL in third-down efficiency at 31.3 percent and 25th in scoring touchdowns on offensive possessions inside the opposition's 20-yard line at 44.8 percent.
The Bengals lead the league with 29 red-zone possessions, and yes, they twice ran out the clock at the end of the game with the ball inside the 20-yard line, against Minnesota and at Chicago. And three of the touchdown failures in the red zone have been the result of offensive penalties that took six points off the scoreboard.
Coach Marvin Lewis thinks the red-zone problems are more physical than mental.
"I think we know what to do and how to do it, (and) now we've got to finish it," he said. "I think that's been more of our woes. I don't think we can create or design any more new plays, so maybe we'll just keep running those ones that we get close and don't score on and go that way."
The third-down struggles could be alleviated if the offense would do better on first down, coordinator Bob Bratkowski said.
"The first thing is to make sure we stay in the more third and 2-to-6 range," he said. "We've had too many third and 7-to-10s. Those make it harder."
The Bengals are 12th in the NFL with an average first-down gain of 5.59 yards. On the shorter third-down plays, Bratkowski can call either pass or run plays. He doesn't have to go strictly with the pass.

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Baltimore Ravens (2-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-2)
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GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Monday, 9:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/31/05
SURFACE: Grass
TV: ABC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Sam Ryan
SERIES: 19th meeting. The Steelers lead the series, 12-6, and hold a 5-3 advantage in games played in Pittsburgh. This marks the first time in the rivalry that the teams will meet on Monday night. The Ravens haven't won in Pittsburgh since 2001. In their last meeting, the Ravens lost 20-7 because it failed to establish the run and couldn't stop it on defense. They allowed a season-worst 183 yards on the ground. Offensively, five trips inside Pittsburgh's 36-yard line produced a measly seven points.
2005 RANKINGS: Ravens: offense 25th (20th rush, 20th pass); defense 2nd (9th rush, 1st pass). Steelers: offense 20th (7th rush, 24th pass); defense 8th (6th rush, 18th pass)

PREDICTION: Steelers 23-12

KEYS TO THE GAME: With MLB Ray Lewis expected to miss the game with a hamstring injury, the Steelers have that much more reason to run the ball. Baltimore has the league's top pass defense, and Pittsburgh doesn't want to put QB Ben Roethlisberger in the position of having to force the ball downfield. Look for the Ravens to move S Will Demps toward the line of scrimmage and gamble that their corners can hold up downfield. Baltimore can't afford to allow big plays on defense because its offense isn't capable of firing back. The struggling offensive line gets another stiff test against the Steelers' aggressive 3-4 scheme. The Ravens ideally would like QB Anthony Wright to take a few more shots downfield to help soften the run defense, but that won't be possible if the pass protection can't hold up against the Steelers' various blitz packages.

FAST FACTS: Ravens: Have lost by an average of 13 points during their four-game losing streak at Heinz Field. Steelers: Are 10-0 on Monday nights at home under coach Bill Cowher. ... WR Hines Ward needs 12 receptions to break John Stallworth's team career record of 537.

PERSONNEL NEWS:
Ravens:
--QB Kyle Boller took all the snaps as the scout-team quarterback and might be able to play as soon as next week. He is doubtful with a toe injury and could serve as the No. 3 quarterback in Pittsburgh.
--DE Anthony Weaver did not practice and likely won't play against the Steelers. He is questionable with a toe injury. He is moving around well but is having trouble planting. He would be replaced by Jarret Johnson.
--WR Mark Clayton practiced but did not participate in every drill. He could return to the starting lineup after missing last Sunday.
--RB Jamal Lewis blamed some of his struggles on worrying about being an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. He has yet to gain 100 yards in six games this season. There is a chance Chester Taylor could receive more carries next game.
--RT Orlando Brown keeps splitting time at right tackle with Tony Pashos to keep him fresh for the latter part of the season.
--RB Chester Taylor could receive more carries Monday night. Coach Brian Billick didn't say he was going to rely on Jamal Lewis exclusively this week.

Steelers:
--QB Tommy Maddox continues to serve as No. 3 in practice, getting snaps only with the scout team. He will stay that way unless No. 2 Charlie Batch gets into a game and does not play well.
--WR Hines Ward leads the Steelers with 21 receptions, but his numbers are way off his stats from the past four Pro Bowl years on a team that has thrown the fewest passes - 128 - of any in the NFL.
--RB Duce Staley has taken a few snaps on third downs in practice, but the Steelers plan to keep Verron Haynes in that role because of his blocking ability.
--KR Quincy Morgan, who got the job because of injury, will keep it after averaging 35.5 yards on four kickoffs in three games.
--LB Clark Haggans returns to start on the left side Monday night. Although he's missed the past three games, Haggans leads the defense with three forced fumbles, and his three sacks are one off the team lead.

INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Ravens:
Jamal Lewis said his season-long struggles are the result of the burdens of becoming an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
The Ravens running back has yet to gain 100 yards in six games this season, the longest rut of his career. He has run for 326 yards and has averaged 2.6 yards a carry.
"You want to play hard (but) you want be careful for your own health because this is my last year on my deal," Lewis said. "It doesn't get into your preparation, but it does sink into the back of your mind. When you're busting your tail for this organization, next year, who knows where you might be? It's something that plays a part."
Lewis, 26, has one year remaining on the six-year, $35.5 million contract he signed in July 2000, when he was the team's top draft pick and the No. 5 selection overall.
Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has publicly admitted he promised Lewis a new contract after the former University of Tennessee star rushed for 2,066 yards in 2003, but negotiations came to a halt when Lewis was indicted on federal drug charges in February 2004.
During training camp nearly two weeks ago, Lewis said he accepted a plea bargain with federal authorities to serve a four-month prison sentence because team officials guaranteed that the short term would not affect his new contract offer.
According to Lewis and his agent Mitch Frankel, the Ravens have not entered negotiations.
"I must admit that at the beginning of the season, I felt kind of like the organization did turn against me," Lewis said. "Like Deion (Sanders, Ravens nickel back) and (former Ravens director of player development) Earnest Byner told me, 'Don't let them take that passion from me.' That's when I had turn it around.
"I just kind of found out I'm not a youngster anymore, and this is really a business. There are two sides to it. There's the organization, and there's the locker room. I've learned and I know how to approach it. I have to take care of myself, I have to go out play hard and practice hard and just know I have to get the job done. I have a job to do, and that's to run the football, and that's the only thing I have to do."
Lewis also expressed frustration over an offense that ranks last in the NFL in scoring. The Ravens have averaged 11.5 points per game.
"I gave and gave and gave over the last five, six years," Lewis said. "I gave it all. Sometimes it's got to be a change. I expect for it to be easier for me sometimes. I expect I don't have to beat up on defenses all the time. Maybe one day it'll ease up. That's what I'm looking for. Hopefully, that day will come. If not, five or six years from now, I'm going to be torn down. We have to get it together.
"You do get frustrated and get tired from it. Like I said, the running game is what we've depended on in the past and that's what always worked. Right now, it's not clicking. So, who's to blame? The 2,000-yard rusher. That's who's to blame. I'll take that. I don't care. Say it's me or whatever. Give me excuses or whatever. I don't mind."

Steelers:
The Baltimore Ravens may be reeling at 2-4 and playing without the past two NFL defensive players of the year Monday night, but the Pittsburgh Steelers expect another brutal game with their longtime rivals.
Linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed are out for the game, and it looks as though the Ravens should be easy pickings for the 4-2 Steelers at Heinz Field on Halloween.
"The fact that they are 2-4 makes them much more dangerous because this becomes a very, very important game for them," Steelers coach Bill Cowher said. "They can't afford to fall 31/2 games back, because Cincinnati is the one that we're all chasing. Look at the players on that team, they're used to winning."
Cowher can't stand Ravens coach Brian Billick and his condescending ways. Billick ticked off Cowher when Baltimore beat the Steelers at Heinz Field in 2001. Billick reminded everyone that he had never lost in Pittsburgh, and was 3-0 there. Since then, Billick has lost the past four games he's coached in Pittsburgh, including a playoff game after the 2001 season.
There's nothing more Cowher would love to do than stick it to Billick on Monday night. He hears the rumors that Billick may be on his way out if he does not get the Ravens into the playoffs, and Cowher would like to assist his exit. Perhaps it has something to do with Billick's earning a Super Bowl ring in such a short period of time. Cowher has 14 years, 134 regular-season victories and no ring.
The Steelers coach tried to make the Ravens out to be the defending Super Bowl champs all week, and his players seemed to buy it.
"We're playing a team whose backs are against the wall," Cowher said. "They're in a corner. This is a quality football team that has been a big rival of ours through the years. We recognize what kind of challenge we have in front of us and what type of game this is going to be Monday night."
"They're off to a rough start," All-Pro guard Alan Faneca said. "We've had our rough starts around here, too. But you can turn the season around. Two years ago, in the last game of the season up there, it didn't mean anything to us and really didn't mean anything to them. But they played their starters because it was us. They felt no matter what, you still had to beat us. That kind of shows you what kind of rivalry game it is between the two of us, how we feel each other and how we respect each other."
 


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