Published October 06, 2011
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – The New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers probably don't like one another very much, but the two teams do share quite a bit in common. Same can be said for the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons.
All four of the above posted double-digit victories and reached the playoffs in 2010, and entered this season harboring big plans predicated on those past accomplishments. And none has yet to play up to those lofty standards, with the combined crew compiling an overall record of 7-9 through the first four weeks while displaying little of the requisite consistency and proficiency of a contender.
The symptoms this quartet of ailing underachievers from the first quarter of the 2011 campaign have shown are similar ones as well. Each has been plagued by turnover problems, shown deficiencies on the defensive end that opponents have exploited, and been prone to costly in-game lapses that one normally wouldn't expect from teams coached by the likes of an Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin, Rex Ryan or Mike Smith.
But perhaps the most troubling of the issues all four of these expected powerhouses have experienced can be traced to the trenches, as shaky results from the offensive line have been instrumental to the early struggles in every one of these cases.
The Jets' identity during Ryan's highly-entertaining and successful first two seasons has been of a punishing run-oriented outfit that's provided an excellent complement to an outstanding defense. Ryan's self-coined "ground-and- pound" formula hasn't come close to matching its 2009 and '10 levels of effectiveness so far this season, however, with New York having produced meager averages of 71 rushing yards and 3.1 yards per attempt through the first month.
An ankle injury to invaluable center Nick Mangold that's kept the All-Pro lineman out of the last two games has certainly been a debilitating blow, though the Jets mustered a mere 45 rushing yards in their season-opening squeaker over Dallas with Mangold in the lineup.
Either way, the Jets have become far too reliant on Mark Sanchez to make plays, and the cover boy quarterback hasn't responded well to the increased burden. He's been a turnover machine over the first four games, giving the ball away nine times over that span.
Sanchez had four turnovers -- three of which ended up as defensive touchdowns -- in last Sunday's ugly loss in Baltimore, a contest in which New York rushed for a mere 38 yards.
"We have to be able to run the football better than we're running it," said Ryan. There's no doubt about that. We're maybe built differently than other teams, but we can get [passing] yards and all that kind of stuff. But we want to get wins and we have to run it better [to do that]."
The Steelers have been faced with a comparable dilemma during an uninspiring 2-2 start in which the defending AFC champions have put together a league-worst minus-10 turnover ratio, with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also accounting for nine giveaways in four games. Pittsburgh has been forced to use a different line combination in each of those outings, with center Maurkice Pouncey the lone regular to start all four matchups.
That makeshift front has contributed to the Steelers' averaging a pedestrian 93.8 yards per game on the ground and a beaten-up Roethlisberger having taken 14 sacks already this season.
Poor pass protection has also hampered the Falcons in the early going, with triggerman Matt Ryan sacked 13 times over the reigning NFC South titleholders' initial three games -- two of which ended in defeat. Ryan was sacked only 23 times total during the 2010 regular season, one reason why Atlanta was able to soar to the top of the conference standings with a 13-3 record.
The Eagles, possibly the most disappointing of the class of perceived heavyweights at the quarter point, have revealed a number of concerning flaws in losing three of their first four games, most of which have been in areas this offseason's most active spenders decided to go on the cheap while committing extensive resources to others. One of those spots has been on a front line that's had problems keeping Michael Vick out of harm's way, with the dynamic quarterback being forced to exit two of the club's setbacks due to injury.
While Philadelphia may be loaded with talent at the skill positions, defensive line and cornerback, no member of the interior grouping of rookie center Jason Kelce and guards Evan Mathis and Kyle DeVan would start on at least 20 teams at the moment, and the fact that trio makes under $2 million combined is a testament to their limited abilities.
Now, there's certainly enough time left in the season for all of these teams to correct their early mistakes, and the strong coaching staffs and proven track records each possesses make it more likely than not they'll manage to right the ship. There's still not much margin for error, however, especially when taking the upcoming schedule into consideration.
Both the Falcons and Jets have critical tests this Sunday against the NFL's two highest-scoring teams, Green Bay and New England, meaning offensive inefficiency must be kept to a minimum for either underdog to overcome its opponent's considerable firepower.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia don't have lay-ups coming their way this weekend either, with the Steelers hosting a 3-1 Tennessee team armed with a stifling defense and Roethlisberger hobbled by a sprained foot and the Eagles visiting a never-say-die Buffalo squad that knocked off the potent Patriots at home just two weeks back.
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SUICIDE POOL PIX
1. N.Y. Giants (vs. Seattle) -- Giants are riding three-game winning streak, while Seahawks have been outscored 57-17 in their first two road tilts and traditionally don't fare well on the East Coast.
2. Houston (vs. Oakland) -- Not a gimme for the Texans, as Raiders can score points and Andre Johnson won't play, but Houston's overall balance and home- field edge are obvious pluses.
3. New Orleans (at Carolina) -- A deplorable Carolina defense will be no match for Drew Brees and the Saints' enviable cast of weapons.
Finally got this prediction thing figured out. Last week was by far my best of the season, as I was able to correctly choose 12 of 16 winners while delivering a very encouraging 11-5 record against the spread. For the season, I'm 39-25 (.609) in straight-up selections and have compiled a nothing-special 30-32-2 mark (.484) versus the line.
Arizona (1-3) at Minnesota (0-4), Sunday, 1:00 (Minnesota -3)
Storylines: Matchup of struggling teams and quarterbacks who were former teammates, with the Vikings' Donovan McNabb and Arizona's Kevin Kolb having played together in Philadelphia from 2007-09...Reeling Vikings off to worst four-game start in nine years following last week's 22-17 loss at previously- winless Kansas City and attempt to avoid first 0-5 beginning since 1962...Cardinals have dropped three in a row by a combined eight points after season-opening victory, and led in second half in each of those defeats...Team allowed 14 points in final 5 1/2 minutes in 31-27 setback to New York Giants in Week 4...Including playoffs, Arizona 0-6 all-time at the Metrodome and suffered 27-24 overtime loss there last season...Cardinals running back Beanie Wells set career highs with 138 rushing yards and three touchdowns in loss to Giants, while Minnesota's Adrian Peterson third in NFL in rushing yards (376) for season...Vikings also third overall as a team in rush offense (157.0 ypg), but rank 31st in passing yards (154.8 ypg)...Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen second in NFL with 6 1/2 sacks and has five over last two games...Vikings signed fullback Ryan D'Imperio off practice squad and waived tight end Allen Reisner on Tuesday.
Fast Fact: The Cardinals' last victory over Minnesota on the road took place on Nov. 6, 1977, when the then St. Louis-based franchise posted a 27-7 win at Metropolitan Stadium.
Prediction: Hard to trust either of these teams, both of which have an affinity for giving games away, but Vikings have to win at some point. Vikings 23, Cardinals 16.
Cincinnati (2-2) at Jacksonville (1-3), Sunday, 1:00 (Jacksonville -2.5)
Storylines: Rookie quarterbacks to go head-to-head, with Jaguars' Blaine Gabbert set to make third career NFL start and Andy Dalton trying to notch third professional victory as Bengals' new signal-caller...Bengals running back Cedric Benson expected to suit up while three-game suspension for violating NFL's personal conduct policy remains in appeals process, while guard Bobbie Williams eligible to play after finishing out four-week ban for testing positive for banned substance...Cincinnati halted two-game losing streak with 23-20 home win over previously-unbeaten Buffalo last week, while Jacksonville suffered third straight defeat with 23-10 setback to visiting New Orleans this past Sunday...Bengals lead NFL in total defense (275.5 ypg) and have held last three opponents under 200 net passing yards...Jaguars last in the league with 39 points and averaging NFL-low 137.5 passing yards per game as well...Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew second overall in rushing yards (391) and averaging 5.1 yards per carry...Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox doubtful with groin injury, but defensive end Aaron Kampman (knee surgery) could make 2011 debut this week...Cincinnati wideout A.J. Green second among rookies in receiving yards (312) and had 118 on four catches in win over Bills...Bengals have lost seven straight times in Jacksonville, with team's lone win there coming in 1995.
Fast Fact: Jaguars have been outscored by a 51-6 margin in the second half through the season's first four weeks.
Prediction: Focus will be on the young quarterbacks, but underrated Cincinnati defense will wind up as the determining factor here. Bengals 20, Jaguars 13.
Kansas City (1-3) at Indianapolis (0-4), Sunday, 1:00 (Indianapolis -2.5)
Storylines: Clash of 2010 playoff participants that have fallen on hard times, with injury-plagued Colts off to worst four-game start since 1998 and Chiefs beginning season with three straight losses prior to 22-17 win over Minnesota last weekend...Curtis Painter expected to make second consecutive start at quarterback for Indianapolis after throwing for 281 yards and two touchdowns in Monday's 24-17 loss at Tampa Bay...Colts likely to be without rookie offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo (ankle), while guard Ryan Diem (ankle) questionable and defensive tackle Eric Foster suffered season-ending dislocated ankle in Monday's contest...Team also placed reserve offensive tackle Ben Ijalana (knee) on injured reserve Wednesday...Kansas City has dropped seven of last nine road tilts, which includes 19-9 defeat at Lucas Oil Stadium during Week 5 of 2010 campaign, and has never won in five lifetime visits to Indianapolis...Chiefs rank just 30th in both scoring (12.3 ppg) and passing yards (159.8 ypg) and 29th in total offense (270.5 ypg), while Indianapolis 30th in total yards (270.0 ypg) and 28th in both scoring (15.8 ppg) and rushing offense (83.0 ypg)...Kansas City kicker Ryan Succop tied franchise record with five field goals in last week's win, while outside linebacker Tamba Hali tied for AFC lead in sacks (4)...Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon had touchdown catches of 87 and 59 yards against Buccaneers.
Fast Fact: Chiefs center Casey Wiegmann enters Sunday's matchup with a streak of 163 consecutive starts and hasn't missed a snap in the last 10,363 offensive plays he's been eligible to participate in.
Prediction: Painter wasn't half bad on Monday, and Colts do have a few more weapons on offense than the depleted Chiefs. Colts 20, Chiefs 16.
New Orleans (3-1) at Carolina (1-3), Sunday, 1:00 (New Orleans -6.5)
Storylines: Showdown of NFC South inhabitants with explosive offenses, with Drew Brees-led Saints second in total yards (454.0 ypg) and passing yards (335.0 ypg) and Panthers third in both categories (440.0 ypg, 334.8 ypg) behind exciting rookie Cam Newton...New Orleans riding three-game win streak and racked up 503 total yards in 23-10 triumph at Jacksonville last week, while Carolina amassed 543 yards and got three-touchdown day out of Newton in 34-29 Week 4 loss at Chicago...Center Olin Kreutz questionable and offensive tackle Zach Strief doubtful for Saints after both missed last Sunday's tilt with knee injuries...Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble (concussion) expected to return from one-game absence, but tight end and ex-Saint Jeremy Shockey (finger, head) questionable...Return to Bank of America Stadium for New Orleans kicker John Kasay, who served in same role for Panthers' first 15 seasons (1995-2010) before being released in July...Saints' Jimmy Graham leads all NFL tight ends in receiving yards (367) and coming off 10-catch, 132-yard performance against Jaguars...Carolina 31st in rushing defense (143.8 ypg) and surrendered 224 yards on the ground to Bears last week...Saints tied for 3rd in NFL in sacks (13), while Panthers' offensive line has not allowed one in two straight games...Carolina released safety Sean Considine and waived defensive end George Selvie during week, while signing outside linebacker Antwan Applewhite.
Fast Fact: Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 31 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in NFL history behind only Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas (47) and Brett Favre (36).
Prediction: Newton will put on another dazzling display for his growing legion of fans, but brutal Carolina defense won't have an answer for New Orleans' multi-faceted attack. Saints 34, Panthers 28.
Oakland (2-2) at Houston (3-1), Sunday, 1:00 (Houston -6)
Storylines: AFC South co-leading Texans aiming for first 4-1 start in franchise's 10-year existence and delivered 17-10 win over defending conference champion Pittsburgh last Sunday in opener of two-game homestand...Raiders try to bounce back from 31-19 home defeat to New England in Week 4, in which team gained 504 yards but quarterback Jason Campbell threw two costly interceptions...Houston to be without All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, who pulled hamstring in victory over Steelers, while No. 2 running back Ben Tate questionable with groin strain...Status of Oakland running back Michael Bush also uncertain due to ankle sprain...Two of NFL's top rushing teams on display, with Raiders leading league in that category (178.8 ypg) and Texans fourth overall (148.5 ypg)...Oakland running back Darren McFadden tops all individuals in rushing yards (468), while 2010 rushing champion Arian Foster coming off 155-yard, one-touchdown display in Houston's win over Pittsburgh...Raiders tied for 30th in scoring defense (28.3 ppg) and rank 29th in yards allowed (409.8 ypg) and 28th against the run (136.0 ypg)...Houston has held opposition to 13 points or less in all three wins and permitting AFC-low 40 percent touchdown rate (6-of-15) in red zone thus far...Texans outscoring foes by a 76-13 margin in the first half.
Fast Fact: The Texans gained a total of 115 gross yards in their opening drive last week, the most by any team on a single possession since Washington amassed 117 against Houston on Sept. 24, 2006.
Prediction: Texans get out to another fast start, and Raiders showed last week they're not real good at playing catch-up. Texans 27, Raiders 17.
Philadelphia (1-3) at Buffalo (3-1), Sunday, 1:00 (Philadelphia -2.5)
Storylines: Sputtering Eagles have lost three straight following Week 1 win at St. Louis and seeking to avert first four-game skid since 2005, while surprising Bills suffered first defeat of 2011 with 23-20 setback at Cincinnati last Sunday...Philadelphia squandered 20-point second-half advantage in shocking 24-23 home loss to San Francisco in Week 4 and has failed to hold on to fourth-quarter leads in last three games...Eagles to be without defensive end Trent Cole (calf) and offensive tackle Jason Peters (hamstring), while team placed defensive tackle Antonio Dixon (torn triceps) on injured reserve Tuesday and signed fellow lineman Derek Landri...Offensive tackle Demetrius Bell (shoulder) ruled out for Buffalo, but club hopeful cornerback Terrence McGee (hamstring) can return from three-game absence...Bills 2-0 at home this year, having posted comeback wins over Oakland and New England...Eagles second in NFL in rushing offense (163.5 ypg) and Bills rank fifth in that category (137.0 ypg), while Philadelphia 30th overall in run defense (139.5 ypg) and Buffalo allowed 171 yards on ground to Bengals last week...Bills also 27th overall in total defense (405.0 ypg), but tied for AFC lead with plus-seven turnover margin...Eagles last in NFC with minus-six takeaway/giveaway ratio...Philadelphia tied for tops in NFL with 15 sacks, with defensive end Jason Babin having amassed league-best seven.
Fast Fact: Through the first four games, Philadelphia linebackers have yet to record a sack, interception, forced fumble or fumble recovery.
Prediction: Eagles may be really banged up and a bit fragile right now, but they're still the more talented of these two teams and clearly the more desperate one as well. Eagles 31, Bills 24.
Seattle (1-3) at N.Y. Giants (3-1), Sunday, 1:00 (N.Y. Giants -10)
Storylines: Giants aim for fourth straight win and third this season over NFC West opponent, having topped St. Louis in Week 2 and rallying from 10-point fourth-quarter deficit for 31-27 triumph at Arizona last Sunday...Seahawks coming off 30-28 home loss to Atlanta and are 0-2 on road this season, and club has lost six straight as visitor (including playoffs)...Defensive end Justin Tuck (neck, groin) and center David Baas (shoulder) both questionable for New York, while wide receiver Mike Williams uncertain to play for Seattle after sustaining concussion last week...Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor (quadriceps) also questionable, while guard Robert Gallery (groin) to miss fourth straight game...Seattle last in NFL in total offense (254.0 ypg) and 31st in rushing yards (67.5 ypg), but had season-best 372 yards against Falcons and quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw for career-high 319 yards and three touchdowns...Giants quarterback Eli Manning currently third in league in passer rating (105.6) and threw for 321 yards in Week 4 win over Cardinals...New York wide receiver Hakeem Nicks amassed personal-best 162 yards on 10 catches this past week, and had 128 yards on six grabs in Giants' 41-7 rout of Seahawks last November... New York released wide receiver Brandon Stokley and cornerback Brian Williams on Wednesday, while signing corner Justin Tryon...Seahawks placed linebacker Matt McCoy (knee) on injured reserve and waived fullback Eddie Williams on Tuesday, while signing linebacker David Vobora.
Fast Fact: Seahawks are 1-6 lifetime on the road against the Giants, with the lone victory a 17-12 decision on Dec. 11, 1983.
Prediction: Seahawks are a bad road team, and Manning is playing as well as just about any quarterback on the planet right now. Giants 31, Seahawks 14.
Tennessee (3-1) at Pittsburgh (2-2), Sunday, 1:00 (Pittsburgh -3.5)
Storylines: Streaking Titans set sights on fourth consecutive win and come in off 31-13 road ousting of Cleveland in Week 4, while struggling Steelers try to bounce back from 17-10 loss at Houston last Sunday...Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on track to play despite spraining left foot against Texans, but All-Pro linebacker James Harrison (fractured eye socket) ruled out and running back Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring) questionable...Offensive linemen Jonathan Scott (ankle) and Doug Legursky (shoulder), defensive end Brett Keisel (knee) and cornerback Bryant McFadden (hamstring) all probable for Steelers, however, and team re-signed onetime starting left tackle Max Starks on Wednesday...Tennessee safety and former Steeler Chris Hope out for Sunday after fracturing arm last week, but fullback Ahmard Hall set to return from four-game suspension for violating NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy...Pittsburgh forced seven Titans turnovers in 19-11 win in Nashville last season, but currently last in NFL with minus-10 takeaway-to-giveaway ratio...Tennessee yielding league-low 14 points per game, while Steelers lead NFL in pass defense (157.5 ypg) and rank second in total yards allowed (277.0 ypg)...Pittsburgh wideout Mike Wallace third among individuals in receiving yards (454) and averaging 18.2 yards per catch...Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck fourth in NFL with 104.7 passer rating, highest of 14-year career.
Fast Fact: Tennessee running back Chris Johnson has never rushed for more than 69 yards in three career games against Pittsburgh and was held to 34 yards on 16 carries in last year's meeting.
Prediction: Titans have been better on defense and at quarterback than the ailing Steelers, and Pittsburgh's problems are real. Though this will be viewed as an upset, it probably shouldn't. Titans 20, Steelers 17.
Tampa Bay (3-1) at San Francisco (3-1), Sunday, 4:05 (San Francisco -3)
Storylines: Matchup of NFC division leaders, with new-look 49ers off to best three-game start since 2002 and up-and-coming Buccaneers attempting to go 4-1 for first time since 2005...Tampa Bay recorded third straight victory with 24-17 Monday-night decision over Indianapolis, led by 127-yard, one-touchdown effort by running back LeGarette Blount...San Francisco rallied from 20-point third-quarter deficit for 24-23 upending of host Philadelphia last week, with quarterback Alex Smith throwing for 201 yards and two scores after intermission...Buccaneers recorded 21-0 shutout of 49ers at Candlestick Park last November in which defense surrendered just 189 total yards and six sacks...San Francisco tied for first in NFL in takeaways (11) and turnover margin (+8) and have forced three or more turnovers in three of first four games...Tampa Bay rushed for season-best 192 yards against Colts, while 49ers currently fourth overall in run defense (74.0 ypg)...San Francisco just 29th in passing yards (177.5 ypg) and 28th in total offense (270.8 ypg), but amassed season highs in both categories (278 passing, 442 total) in last week's win over Eagles...Bucs have held last two opponents to a combined 92 rushing yards.
Fast Fact: The 49ers have not allowed an opposing running back to rush for 100 yards in 26 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Prediction: You may not believe in Smith, but the 49ers clearly have the utmost faith in first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh. 49ers 17, Buccaneers 13.
N.Y. Jets (2-2) at New England (3-1), Sunday, 4:15 (New England -9.5)
Storylines: Grudge match between bitter AFC East rivals who last squared off in 2010 AFC Divisional Playoffs, with Jets knocking off top-seeded Patriots at Gillette Stadium by 28-21 score...New York handed humbling 45-3 loss in Foxborough during Week 13 of last year's regular season, though, and enter contest on two-game losing streak...New England bounced back from Week 3 upset loss at Buffalo with 31-19 road triumph over Oakland last Sunday, extending team's streak of regular-season tilts with 30 or more points to 12 straight...Jets All-Pro center Nick Mangold possible to play after missing last two games with high ankle sprain, but outside linebacker Bryan Thomas done for season after tearing Achilles' tendon in last week's 34-17 loss at Baltimore...Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo sidelined indefinitely after spraining knee against Raiders, while running back Danny Woodhead (ankle) doubtful for game and tight end Aaron Hernandez (knee) questionable...New England signal-caller Tom Brady leads NFL in passing yards (1553) and touchdown throws (13), and enters matchup with NFL-record 29 straight home victories as a starter in regular-season play...Patriots also top league in total offense (507.8 ypg) and passing yards (384.8 ypg) and tied for second in scoring (33.8 ppg), while wideout Wes Welker leads all individuals in receptions (40) and receiving yards (616)...Jets second overall in pass defense (180.3 ypg) and holding opposition to league-low 52.1 percent completion rate...Patriots defensive end Shaun Ellis spent first 11 seasons with New York from 2000-10 and faces former mates for first time.
Fast Fact: Brady has thrown multiple touchdown passes in 13 consecutive regular season games, tied with Peyton Manning for the longest streak in NFL history.
Prediction: Rex Ryan's defense will frustrate Brady at times, but Jets have too many issues right now to believe they'll come out of Foxborough with a win. Patriots 28, Jets 20.
San Diego (3-1) at Denver (1-3), Sunday, 4:15 (San Diego -4)
Storylines: AFC West-leading Chargers look to run current win streak to three games, while fellow division member Broncos try to avoid third straight loss...San Diego ran 2011 home record to 3-0 with 26-16 victory over Miami last Sunday, but lost to New England in Week 2 in only road outing to date...Denver returns home off 49-23 defeat at Green Bay this past week in which defense allowed 507 total yards and quarterback Kyle Orton threw three interceptions...Chargers tight end Antonio Gates expected to sit out third straight game with foot injury, but wide receivers Vincent Jackson (abdomen) and Malcom Floyd (groin) and cornerback Quentin Jammer (hamstring) all presumed probable...Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey (hamstring) slated to return from three-game absence, but wide receiver Eddie Royal (groin) doubtful...San Diego has won eight of last 10 meetings between teams and completed 2010 series sweep with 33-28 triumph in Denver in Week 17...Chargers running back Ryan Mathews third in NFL in yards from scrimmage (542) and totaled 120 rushing yards and three touchdowns in most recent matchup with Broncos...Denver running back Willis McGahee has recorded back-to-back 100-yard games, while wide receiver Eric Decker has notched four touchdown catches in team's last three tests...Broncos 28th in NFL in scoring defense (27.8 ppg).
Fast Fact: Jackson amassed 108 yards and a score on just three catches last week, and all 20 of his receptions this season have gone for either a first down or a touchdown.
Prediction: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers seems back on track after an error-prone first few weeks, and that's bad news for a Denver defense that's had trouble stopping anybody. Chargers 31, Broncos 24.
Green Bay (4-0) at Atlanta (2-2), Sunday, 8:20 (Green Bay -6)
Storylines: Rematch of 2010 NFC Divisional Playoff held at Georgia Dome, in which Packers rolled to 48-21 victory over top-seeded Falcons en route to eventual Super Bowl XLV title...Green Bay riding 10-game win streak including playoffs and registered 49-23 dismantling of Denver a week ago behind 408-yard, six-touchdown (4 passing, 2 rushing) performance from star quarterback Aaron Rodgers...Falcons held on for 30-28 road decision at Seattle last Sunday and are 21-2 all-time at home during the regular season when quarterback Matt Ryan starts, which includes 20-17 verdict over Packers last November...Green Bay running back Ryan Grant probable after sitting out last week with bruised kidney, while offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) questionable to return...Atlanta slated to get back linebacker Stephen Nicholas (calf), defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux (knee) and running back Jason Snelling (concussion) for Sunday's tilt...Packers lead NFL in scoring (37.0 ppg) and rank fifth in both total offense (429.3 ypg) and passing yards, while Rodgers tops all quarterbacks with 124.6 passer rating...Green Bay defense allowing league-worst 335.8 passing yards per game, but have eight interceptions and stand second against the run (71.0 ypg)...Falcons have allowed 13 sacks through first four games, and Ryan was taken down five times in last January's playoff loss to Packers.
Fast Fact: Rodgers became the first player in NFL history to produce 400 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and two rushing scores in a single game with last week's outburst, and threw for 366 yards and three touchdowns while hitting on 31-of-36 attempts in last year's postseason win over Atlanta.
Prediction: Falcons will be playing with a sense of urgency and have the home crowd on their side, but that still may not be enough to slow down a Green Bay team that's been close to unstoppable. Packers 34, Falcons 30.
Chicago (2-2) at Detroit (4-0), Monday, 8:30 (Detroit -6)
Storylines: Remarkable Lions have began season with four straight victories for first time since 1956 and bring eight-game win streak dating back to last season into first Monday Night home appearance since 2001...Detroit rallied from 24-point third-quarter deficit for thrilling 34-30 triumph at Dallas last Sunday, one week after overcoming 20-0 halftime hole to down Minnesota...Bears halted two-game skid with 34-29 home verdict over Carolina in Week 4 and have won six straight matchups with Lions, including 24-20 decision at Ford Field last December...Chicago running back Matt Forte leads NFL in yards from scrimmage (634) and rushed for career-best 205 yards against Panthers...Detroit wideout Calvin Johnson had fourth straight game with two touchdown catches last week and tops all players in that category (8)...Lions tied for league lead in turnover margin (+8) and tied for second in scoring (33.8 ppg), but rank just 29th in rushing offense (74.5 ypg)...Bears 31st overall in total defense (425.8 ypg) and 29th against the pass, and surrendered 543 total yards (374 passing) to Panthers last week...Linebacker Justin Durant (concussion) probable for Lions and rookie defensive tackle Nick Fairley (foot) could make anticipated NFL debut on Monday, but safety Amari Spievey (hamstring) doubtful...Rookie offensive tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) and wideout Earl Bennett (chest) not expected to play for Chicago.
Fast Fact: Forte became the third player in Bears history to rush for 200 yards in a game last week, joining Hall of Famers Gale Sayers (1968) and Walter Payton (1977) on that exclusive list.
Prediction: Chicago's well-known problems on the offensive line have received plenty of attention, but few have noticed how bad the Bears have played on defense lately. Lions 30, Bears 20.