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October 26, 2011

Arizona (1-5) at Baltimore (4-2), Sunday, 1:00 (Baltimore -13)

Storylines: Ravens return home after frustrating 12-7 Monday night loss at Jacksonville that dropped team half-game behind rival Pittsburgh for AFC North lead, while sagging Cardinals try to end five-game skid extended by 32-20 home loss to Steelers last Sunday...Arizona 0-3 on the road this season and has dropped 10 in a row away from home overall, while Baltimore 3-0 at home and has won 13 of last 14 contests at M&T Bank Stadium...Cardinals tight end Todd Heap comes back to Baltimore for first time since being released by Ravens in July and hopes to return from two-game absence (hamstring)...Running back Beanie Wells doubtful for Arizona after sustaining knee injury last week, while Ravens wide receiver Lee Evans (ankle) expected to sit out fifth straight game and guard Ben Grubbs (toe) questionable for Baltimore...Cardinals currently 28th in NFL in both scoring defense (25.5 ppg) and pass defense (274.2 ypg) and allowed 354 yards through the air to Steelers a week ago...Ravens yielding league-lows of 13.8 points and 272.7 total yards per game, but offense mustered just 146 yards and 11 first downs against Jaguars...Baltimore has plus-six turnover ratio at home this season, while Cardinals minus-four in that category on road.

Fast Fact: Heap spent first 10 NFL seasons with Ravens from 2001-10 and stands second in franchise history in receptions (467) and receiving yards (5492). He trails only Derrick Mason, who has visited M&T Bank Stadium twice already this season as a member of both the New York Jets and Houston, in each category.

Prediction: Joe Flacco rebounds from Monday's rough outing against Arizona's porous pass defense, while vaunted Baltimore defense will be at its havoc- wreaking best. Ravens 30, Cardinals 10.

Jacksonville (2-5) at Houston (4-3), Sunday, 1:00 (Houston -10)

Storylines: Battle of AFC South inhabitants that both delivered stellar defensive performances in Week 7, with Jaguars limiting conference contender Baltimore to 146 total yards and 11 first downs in 12-7 victory on Monday and division-leading Texans yielding just 148 total yards and 11 first downs in 41-7 road thrashing of Tennessee last Sunday...Win was Houston's most lopsided in franchise history...Texans All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson a possibility to play this week after missing last three games with hamstring strain, but safety Danieal Manning out after fracturing tibia against Titans...Houston fifth in NFL in scoring defense (18.7 ppg) and seventh versus run (99.3 ypg), while Jacksonville 6th in both total defense (299.7 ypg) and against the pass (196.3 ypg)...Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew third in league in rushing yards per game (96.7 ypg), while Texans' Arian Foster leads all backs in receiving yards (61.0 ypg) and amassed 234 yards from scrimmage (115 rushing, 119 receiving) and three touchdowns in last week's rout...Jacksonville last in NFL in passing yards (128.4 ypg) and total offense (252.4 ypg) and 31st in scoring (12.0 ppg), with rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert managing just 93 yards on 9-of-20 passing on Monday...Jaguars just 2-6 all-time at Reliant Stadium under head coach Jack Del Rio and handed 34-17 loss there in 2010 season finale.

Fast Fact: Foster became the first-ever Texans player and 32nd in NFL history to accumulate 100 rushing and receiving yards in a single game. Tennessee's Chris Johnson had been the last to accomplish the feat, doing so against Buffalo on Nov. 15, 2009.

Prediction: Short week and Gabbert's prolonged struggles put low-scoring Jaguars in a tough spot here. Texans 24, Jaguars 10.

Indianapolis (0-7) at Tennessee (3-3), Sunday, 1:00 (Tennessee -8.5)

Storylines: Matchup between struggling AFC South members that are each coming off history-making losses last Sunday, with still-winless Colts allowing franchise high for points in 62-7 drubbing at New Orleans and Titans dealt worst defeat ever at LP Field with 41-7 rout by division-rival Houston...Indianapolis off to worst start since 0-10 beginning in 1997 and haven't won since 23-20 home decision over Tennessee in 2010 regular-season finale...Colts also posted 30-28 decision in Nashville last December and have beaten Titans five straight times...Running back Joseph Addai questionable for Indianapolis with hamstring issue, while Tennessee wide receiver Damian Williams probable despite taking blow to head in last week's loss...Indianapolis 28th in scoring (15.9 ppg) and allowing league-worst 32.1 points per game, and also rank 30th in total defense (416.0 ypg) and 31st versus run (150.9 ypg)...Colts permitted 557 total yards (236 rushing) and 36 first downs to Saints...Titans last in NFL in rushing yards (64.3 ypg) and mustered just 148 total against Houston, while star running back Chris Johnson averaging just 2.9 yards per carry for season...Tennessee defense has given up 79 points and 396 rushing yards in back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Houston...Colts have not forced a turnover in four straight games for first time in franchise's 59-year history...Indianapolis placed veteran quarterback Kerry Collins (concussion) and fullback Chris Gronkowski (pectorals) on injured reserve this week.

Fast Fact: Indianapolis quarterback Curtis Painter's 38.1 passer rating against the Saints last week was the worst by a Colts signal-caller since current San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh recorded a 29.2 rating at Miami on Aug. 31, 1997.

Prediction: Both of these teams have problems right now, but Colts' woes are more pronounced and more difficult to overcome. Titans 31, Colts 24.

Miami (0-6) at N.Y. Giants (4-2), Sunday, 1:00 (N.Y. Giants -10)

Storylines: Lowly Dolphins visit MetLife Stadium for second time in three weeks, having dropped 24-6 decision to the Jets on Oct. 17, and aim to end painful nine-game losing streak dating back to last season...Miami blew 15- point lead with under three minutes left in regulation in 18-15 overtime setback to Denver this past Sunday...Giants had Week 7 bye and will play third straight home game, having lost to Seattle on Oct. 9 and earning 27-24 win over AFC East member Buffalo the following Sunday...New York expected to get back defensive end Justin Tuck (groin), running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) and guard Chris Snee (concussion), all of whom missed Buffalo game with injuries...Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore probable despite bruising ribs against Broncos, but backup and ex-Giant Sage Rosenfels placed on non-football illness list Tuesday and team signed journeyman J.P. Losman...New York quarterback Eli Manning fourth in NFL in passer rating (101.1) and faces Miami's 30th-ranked pass efficiency defense...Giants lead NFC in red-zone touchdown percentage (68.4) and tied for tops in league with 21 sacks, while Dolphins 30th overall inside the red zone (33.3 percent) and have allowed eight sacks in Moore's two starts.

Fast Fact: The road team has prevailed in four of the five previous meetings between these teams, not including a neutral-site encounter in London won by the Giants in 2007.

Prediction: Giants are healthier than they've been all season and won't be severely tested by Miami's non-threatening offense. Giants 27, Dolphins 13.

Minnesota (1-6) at Carolina (2-5), Sunday, 1:00 (Carolina -3)

Storylines: Rookie quarterbacks to go head-to-head, with Christian Ponder making second career start under center for Vikings and 2011 No. 1 overall draft choice Cam Newton attempting to lead Panthers to second straight win...Newton posted career-best 127.5 passer rating and accounted for two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) in team's 33-20 home victory over Washington last week, while Ponder threw for 219 yards and two scores with two interceptions in 33-27 Week 7 loss to unbeaten Green Bay...Minnesota cornerback Chris Cook to miss second straight game after being suspended by team Tuesday due to recent felony domestic assault arrest, while team released veteran wide receiver Bernard Berrian Tuesday...Guard Anthony Herrera (knee) ruled out for Vikings and cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck), center John Sullivan (concussion) and safety Jamarca Sanford (concussion) all questionable...Panthers fifth in NFL in both total offense (416.6 ypg) and passing yards (288.4 ypg), while wideout Steve Smith second overall in receiving yards (116.9 avg.) and amassed 143 yards against Redskins...Vikings running back Adrian Peterson tops league in both rushing yards (712) and rushing touchdowns (8), one ahead of Newton in latter category, and racked up season-best 175 yards on ground in last week's loss...Carolina presently 29th in rushing defense (133.4 ypg).

Fast Fact: Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier and Panthers sideline boss Ron Rivera were both teammates on the Chicago Bears' famed 1985 Super Bowl champion team. The two also worked together as defensive assistants on the Philadelphia Eagles' staff from 1999 to 2002.

Prediction: Newton's Rookie of the Year credentials get a further boost in a matchup with a Minnesota secondary that's in tatters at the moment. Panthers 30, Vikings 24.

New Orleans (5-2) at St. Louis (0-6), Sunday, 1:00 (New Orleans -13.5)

Storylines: Saints own NFL's highest-scoring offense (34.1 ppg) and enter Edward Jones Dome after setting franchise record for points in 62-7 blowout of winless Indianapolis last week...Hapless Rams fell to 0-6 with 34-7 drubbing by Dallas this past Sunday and may have backup quarterback A.J. Feeley make second straight start with reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of Year Sam Bradford battling ankle sprain...Wide receiver Danario Alexander (hamstring), offensive tackle Jason Smith (concussion), linebacker Brady Poppinga (calf) and cornerback Justin King (groin) could all miss game for St. Louis as well...Rookie running back Mark Ingram questionable for New Orleans with bruised heel...Rams allowing 28.5 points per game (31st overall) and are last in league in rush defense (183.8 ypg) after surrendering whopping 294 yards on the ground to Cowboys...Saints amassed season-bests of 236 rushing yards and 557 total last week, with quarterback Drew Brees throwing five touchdown passes in rout...New Orleans second overall in total offense (467.1 ypg) and passing yards (341.0 ypg) and converting league-best 57.9 percent of third-down attempts...Brees has touchdown pass in 34 consecutive games and delivered three scoring strikes in 31-13 home win over Rams last December...Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles each tied for second in NFL with 45 receptions.

Fast Fact: Saints are 26-9 when scoring on their first offensive possession of a game since Sean Payton took over as head coach in 2006.

Prediction: Won't matter if it's Bradford or Feeley taking the snaps, as deplorable St. Louis defense will have no answer for Brees and his vast array of weapons. Saints 34, Rams 10.

Detroit (5-2) at Denver (2-4), Sunday, 4:05 (Detroit -3)

Storylines: First home start of 2011 for popular Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who helped lead team to thrilling 18-15 overtime win at Miami last week with two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) in final 2:44 of regulation...Quarterback Matthew Stafford uncertain to start for Lions, who suffered second straight loss following sizzling 5-0 start with 23-16 home setback to visiting Atlanta in Week 7, after injuring ankle against the Falcons, and running back Jahvid Best likely to sit out second straight game with concussion...Denver leading rusher Willis McGahee out after fracturing hand against Dolphins, while defensive end Elvis Dumervil (ankle) doubtful...Detroit 3-0 on road this season and have won five straight as visitor since stopping NFL-record 26-game away losing streak last December, but are 0-3 in Denver since last prevailing there in 1971...Lions wideout Calvin Johnson leads NFL with 10 touchdown catches and has eclipsed 100 receiving yards in three consecutive games...Broncos rookie linebacker Von Miller has notched sack in five straight outings, while Stafford has been sacked eight times during Detroit's two-game slide...Denver rushed for season-high 183 yards last week and faces Lions' 28th-ranked run defense...Lions tight end Tony Scheffler spent first four pro seasons with Broncos (2006-09) and meets former team for first time since being traded to Detroit prior to 2010 campaign.

Fast Fact: With last week's rally against the Dolphins, the Broncos became the first team to overcome a deficit of 15 or more points with three minutes to go since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

Prediction: Talented Lions can still win if reliable vet Shaun Hill has to replace Stafford, but gritty Broncos aren't going to make it easy. Lions 23, Broncos 20.

Washington (3-3) vs. Buffalo (4-2), Sunday, 4:05 (Buffalo -6)

Storylines: Game to be held at Rogers Centre as part of the Bills' Toronto Series, a five-year agreement between the team and the city that began in 2008...Buffalo has lost its three previous home dates at the venue, most recently a 22-19 defeat to Chicago last November...John Beck to make second straight start at quarterback for Redskins, who have dropped two in a row following 3-1 start and handed 33-20 setback at Carolina last Sunday...Bills have lost two of three after 3-0 beginning, including 27-24 ousting by the New York Giants on Oct. 16, and had Week 7 bye...Ailing Washington lost running back Tim Hightower to season-ending torn ACL and wide receiver Santana Moss (broken hand) for over a month in Carolina loss, while placing tight end Chris Cooley (knee, finger) on injured reserve Tuesday...Linebacker London Fletcher, who owns streak of 214 consecutive games played, also questionable for Redskins with hamstring strain...Buffalo put brittle pass rusher Shawne Merriman (Achilles) on IR Tuesday, while defensive tackle Kyle Williams (foot), offensive tackle Demetrius Bell (shoulder) and wide receiver Donald Jones (ankle) all expected to miss Sunday's tilt as well...Redskins tied for NFL lead with 21 sacks, while Bills have allowed league-low seven...Buffalo third overall in scoring (31.3 ppg) and tops AFC with plus-nine turnover margin...Bills running back Fred Jackson second in league in rushing (100.2 ypg) and faces Washington defense that's surrendered 183.5 yards per game on ground during present skid.

Fast Fact: Fletcher has never missed a game in his 14-year career, which includes a five-year stint with the Bills from 2002-06, and has started 169 consecutive contests.

Prediction: Redskins are really banged up and suddenly struggling on the defensive end, which doesn't bode well against a rested Buffalo team that's quite proficient at putting up points. Bills 30, Redskins 21.

Cincinnati (4-2) at Seattle (2-4), Sunday, 4:15 (Cincinnati -3)

Storylines: Surprising Bengals return from Week 7 bye and riding three-game win streak, but won't have leading rusher Cedric Benson available due to suspension for violating NFL's personal conduct policy...Tarvaris Jackson uncertain to start at quarterback for Seahawks after sitting out club's 6-3 loss at Cleveland last Saturday with chest injury...Tight end Zach Miller (concussion) doubtful for Seattle and running back Marshawn Lynch a question mark after missing Browns game with back spasms, while team also placed cornerback Walter Thurmond (broken leg) on injured reserve Monday...Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (ankle) unlikely to play for Cincinnati, while weakside starter Thomas Howard (hamstring) questionable...Bengals second overall in total defense (278.5 ypg) and forced three turnovers, including game-sealing fumble return from end Carlos Dunlap, in 27-17 victory over Indianapolis prior to bye...Seahawks 31st in NFL in total offense (262.8 ypg) and rushing yards (80.0 ypg) and managed mere 137 total yards and nine first downs under substitute quarterback Charlie Whitehurst against Browns...Including playoffs, Seattle 7-4 at CenturyLink Field under head coach Pete Carroll...Cincinnati has lost three straight on the road to Seahawks since an overtime win at the Kingdome in 1994.

Fast Fact: Bengals are 2-5-1 under head coach Marvin Lewis after a bye and winless in four road outings in such situations, including a 39-32 defeat at Atlanta last season.

Prediction: CenturyLink Field can be a very difficult atmosphere for a young quarterback, but the Bengals' Andy Dalton is showing that he's no ordinary rookie. Bengals 20, Seahawks 13.

Cleveland (3-3) at San Francisco (5-1), Sunday, 4:15 (San Francisco -9)

Storylines: NFC West-leading 49ers off to first 5-1 start since 1998 and recorded fourth straight victory prior to Week 7 bye with tension-filled 25-19 win at then-unbeaten Detroit on Oct. 16...Browns halted two-game losing streak with uneventful 6-3 decision over visiting Seattle last Sunday in which defense held Seahawks to 137 total yards...Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis expected to play after missing last week's game with strained hamstring, but wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi doubtful and tight end Ben Watson questionable after sustaining concussions in win...Wide receiver and ex-Brown Braylon Edwards set to return from four-game absence due to knee injury for San Francisco...49ers sixth in league in rushing offense (131.5 ypg), with top back Frank Gore having gone for 125 yards or more in team's last three tests...San Francisco second overall in both scoring defense (16.2 ppg) and run defense (74.7 ypg) and haven't allowed individual 100-yard rusher in 28 consecutive games, longest active streak in NFL...Cleveland second in pass defense (172.0 ypg) and has permitted fourth-fewest yards in the league (291.5 ypg)...Niners are 7-2 in last nine games at home dating back to last season, while Browns have won three in a row against NFC opponents following their Week 7 triumph over Seahawks.

Fast Fact: 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was a three-year starter at quarterback for the University of Michigan from 1984-86, while Browns head coach Pat Shurmur was a starting offensive lineman at rival Michigan State from 1985-87.

Prediction: San Francisco's impressive efficiency under Harbaugh results in another win, though this one may not come with a lot of style points. 49ers 23, Browns 16.

New England (5-1) at Pittsburgh (5-2), Sunday, 4:15 (New England -3)

Storylines: Marquee matchup between AFC division leaders with tremendous recent track records, as Steelers are defending conference champions and Patriots earned No. 1 seed in 2010 AFC Playoffs...Teams also met at Heinz Field during Week 10 of last season, with New England coming through with 39-26 victory behind 350-yard, three-touchdown effort from quarterback Tom Brady...Including playoffs, Steelers have gone 8-1 at home since that loss and enter contest on three-game overall win streak after 32-20 ousting of Arizona last week...AFC-leading Pats have also won three in a row and entered Week 7 bye off 20-16 comeback decision over Dallas on Oct. 16...New England has won following its bye in each of last eight years and is 9-2 after the break under head coach Bill Belichick...Patriots top NFL in total offense (474.5 ypg) and passing yards (350.5 ypg), while Pittsburgh surrendering league-low 171.9 passing yards per game and stand third in both total defense (279.0 ypg) and scoring defense (17.4 ppg)...Outside linebacker James Harrison (fractured eye socket) to miss fourth straight week for Steelers, but nose tackle Casey Hampton (shoulder) expected to return from three-game absence...Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward questionable after spraining ankle versus Cardinals...New England linebacker Jerod Mayo a possibility to play after sitting out team's last two games with knee sprain...Steelers wideout Mike Wallace has had a catch of 40-plus yards in six straight games, the longest streak since St. Louis' Isaac Bruce in 2000.

Fast Fact: Belichick and Brady enter Sunday's game tied with Don Shula and Dan Marino for the most victories (116) of any coach/quarterback combination in the Super Bowl era.

Prediction: Steelers have had some trouble stopping teams with diverse offenses that can spread you out in the recent past, which is exactly what the Patriots were able to do in last year's meeting. Patriots 28, Steelers 24.

Dallas (3-3) at Philadelphia (2-4), Sunday, 8:20 (Philadelphia -3.5)

Storylines: Pivotal primetime clash between bitter NFC East rivals, with Cowboys one game behind first-place New York Giants in division standings and disappointing Eagles two games off pace in last...Dallas has won four of last five meetings with Philadelphia, including home triumph in 2009 NFC Playoffs, and has left Lincoln Financial Field victorious in each of past two seasons...Eagles coming off big 20-13 road win over Washington, however, that stopped four-game losing streak and preceded team's Week 7 bye...Cowboys halted string of back-to-back defeats with 34-7 rout of short-handed St. Louis last Sunday behind franchise-record 253 rushing yards from rookie DeMarco Murray...Primary running back Felix Jones to miss second straight week for Cowboys with high ankle sprain, while backfield mate Tashard Choice (shoulder) questionable and defensive end Jason Hatcher (calf) probable...Defensive end Trent Cole (calf) and offensive tackle Jason Peters (hamstring) each set to return from two-game absences for Eagles...Philadelphia offense averaging league-best 170 rushing yards per game, while Dallas first in NFL in run defense (69.7 ypg)...Eagles running back LeSean McCoy has scored touchdown in all six games this season...Philadelphia has league-high 17 giveaways and ranks last in NFC with minus-eight turnover margin, but had four takeaways against Redskins, with safety Kurt Coleman garnering three interceptions.

Fast Fact: Eagles are 12-0 following a bye week since Andy Reid took over as head coach in 1999 and have outscored the opposition by an average of 10.6 points per game in those victories.

Prediction: Cowboys have been the better of these two teams through the first half, but it's still hard to ignore Eagles' amazing success after the bye under Reid. Eagles 27, Cowboys 24.

San Diego (4-2) at Kansas City (3-3), Monday, 8:30 (San Diego -3.5)

Storylines: Key showdown between AFC West contenders, with defending division champion Chiefs closing within one game of first-place Chargers following last week's results...Kansas City has won three straight following 0-3 start and posted 28-0 road shutout of fellow division member Oakland this past Sunday, in which Chiefs came up with six interceptions of Raider quarterbacks...San Diego had string of three consecutive victories end with 27-21 Week 7 loss at New York Jets...Chargers have prevailed in six of last seven tests with Kansas City, including 20-17 verdict in San Diego on Sept. 25, but Chiefs topped Bolts by 21-14 count at Arrowhead Stadium in 2010 season opener...Kansas City has won eight of last 10 home games and seeks first four-game win streak since 2004...Chargers All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates (foot) probable for Monday's tilt, but offensive tackle Marcus McNeill (neck) doubtful and wide receiver Malcom Floyd (hip) questionable...Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers named AFC Defensive Player of Week after recording two interceptions and scoring a touchdown in rout of Raiders...San Diego running back Ryan Mathews compiled 149 yards from scrimmage (98 rushing, 51 receiving) in club's Week 3 win over Chiefs...Chargers fifth in NFL in total defense (297.3 ypg) and rank third against the pass (175.7 ypg), while Kansas City 30th overall in passing offense (173.7 ypg) and 26th in total yards (303.0 ypg).

Fast Fact: Chiefs are 4-0 at home and 5-1-1 all-time when playing on Halloween, which includes a 34-0 victory over the Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium on October 31 of the 1999 season.

Prediction: Todd Haley has the Chiefs believing once again, and erratic Chargers are hard to trust in big games on the road. Chiefs 24, Chargers 20.

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