Published October 12, 2011
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – If there's a game on this week's NFL 1 at the moment and potentially holds major ramifications to the conference playoff race down the road.
Unfortunately, only about 25 percent of the United States will be able to witness it within the comfort of their homes.
Now, one can't blame the NFL for lacking the foresight to realize Sunday's unexpected blockbuster showdown between the undefeated Detroit Lions and 4-1 San Francisco 49ers would be the marquee game of the Week 6 slate -- it's a scenario that truthfully nobody could have envisioned a month or two ago. And it's understandable why that contest is receiving second billing behind the star-studded Dallas-New England clash on the FOX lineup.
Still, it's a shame that those that aren't DirecTV subscribers or willing to make the trip to their local watering hole probably won't be able to see an intriguing head-to-head bout between the NFL's current top two teams in terms of point differential (Lions are first with a +70 margin, Niners second at +64). Instead, the entire nation will have the budding snoozer that is Vikings-Bears to look forward to as Sunday's stand-alone primetime telecast.
It's a great development for supporters of those two teams. Or for those that are fans of incomplete passes, false-start penalties and horrid offensive line play.
On the other hand, the game should be an exciting one, considering the wayward Vikings haven't been able to hold onto a lead of less than 28 points during their 1-4 start.
Again, neither the NFL nor the networks can be held accountable for placing what's become an unappealing matchup into this week's coveted Sunday night slot when the schedule was constructed back in the spring, just as no one's at fault for the exclusive broadcast between the Steelers and the Colts in Week 3 generating little wow factor because of Peyton Manning's neck injury. But since those less than ideal circumstances have in fact taken place -- whether intended or not -- it's fair to at least call the league's current scheduling policy into some question.
There's no debating that the flex-scheduling procedure instituted in 2006 has been a smashing success, ensuring that NBC's Sunday Night Football headliner features a meaningful and highly-watchable game over the final seven weeks of the season. Still, the current system doesn't prevent the possibility of a potential dud creeping into the mix, as this week's situation proves, and the objective should be to safeguard against such dilemmas.
Implementing the flex guidelines year round would solve those problems. Sure, there are logistics involved with making such a radical change, but it isn't anything that can't be worked out.
While the folks at FOX and CBS may offer some resistance over the prospect of losing a top-shelf game, they'd still have the ability to protect one of their broadcasts like they do under the present model. And the impact of time changes won't be as great on fans attending games as it initially would seem. Remember, most major college football programs don't finalize their kickoff times until a week or so prior to their games, and that predicament clearly hasn't had a negative effect on either attendance or the sport's popularity.
FOX probably wouldn't mind exchanging 49ers-Lions for Vikings-Bears anyway, as the latter offers two more established teams, a deep-rooted rivalry and the nation's third-largest media market. And assuming the average fan wants to watch the best game possible, both NBC and the NFL would come out as winners under the switch as well.
There's also another alternative the league could look into when negotiating its next television contract -- the prospect of multiple games on the same network running at one time in a particular market. With FOX having the FX channel under its umbrella and CBS a part owner of the CW Network, it's a doable measure that would take a step towards satisfying the viewer's desire for more football, while providing that person with a greater amount of choice as well.
For example, let's say you reside in Milwaukee, obviously deep in the heart of Packers' territory. If you've had enough of watching your beloved world champions beat the heck out of the hapless St. Louis Rams, wouldn't be nice to be able to change over to FX in the fourth quarter and catch the conclusion of Lions-Niners with the outcome still hanging in the balance?
If and when that day ever comes remains to be seen. Until then, the public will have to grin and bear watching the sad decline of a once-great Donovan McNabb unfold before its eyes this weekend, not to mention the worn-out scene of Jay Cutler being pummeled to a pulp under a relentless wave of pressure.
Of course, one may also have the option of tuning into Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and observing likely 3 1/2 hours of deliberation, somewhere around a dozen pitching changes and an endless barrage of promos for "House" and "The X Factor".
Come to think of it, I'll take Vikings-Bears after all.
NFL POWER POLL
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SUICIDE POOL PIX
1. Green Bay (vs. St. Louis) -- Rams are the league's lowest scoring team and will be starting two backup cornerbacks against the most efficient passing attack in the game. No chance of an upset here.
3. New England (vs. Dallas) -- Patriots simply don't lose at home, at least during the regular season.
Registered an 8-5 record in my Week 5 picks, though survivor players taking this column's advice likely crashed and burned with Seattle's upset of the New York Giants, along with a 7-6 finish against the spread. Still residing in the red (37-38-2) for the season when it comes to the line, while my overall straight-up mark now stands at 47-30 (.610).
Buffalo (4-1) at N.Y. Giants (3-2), Sunday, 1:00 (N.Y. Giants -3)
Storylines: Upstart Bills aiming for first 5-1 start since 2008, while Giants had three-game win streak halted with 36-25 home upset loss to Seattle last Sunday...Buffalo leads NFL in takeaways (16) and turnover margin (+11) and forced five turnovers in 31-24 Week 5 victory over slumping Philadelphia...New York committed just four turnovers over first four weeks, but had five giveaways in setback to Seahawks...Guard Chris Snee doubtful for Giants with concussion, while defensive end Justin Tuck (groin/neck) could miss third straight game...Center David Baas (neck) expected to return for New York after missing last week, however, while running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) questionable...Bills to be without wide receiver Donald Jones (ankle) and offensive tackle Demetrius Bell (shoulder), while Pro Bowl nose tackle Kyle Williams (ankle) a question mark...New York defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy handed four-game suspension Tuesday for violating league's policy on performance-enhancing substances...Buffalo fourth in the NFL in rushing offense (138.2 ypg) and top back Fred Jackson third among individuals in yards from scrimmage (712)...Giants have allowed average of 159.3 rushing yards per game over last three weeks...Teams ranked 1-2 in red-zone efficiency, with New York converting league-best 80 percent of such drives into touchdowns and Bills owning 75 percent success rate...Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell served in same position with Buffalo from 2006-09 and went 3-4 as Bills' interim head coach to finish up 2009 season.
Fast Fact: The Bills have returned an interception for a touchdown in three consecutive games, the first time that's happened to the franchise since its first season of existence in 1960, when Buffalo did it four straight weeks (Nov. 20-Dec. 11).
Prediction: Bills have a way of luring their opponents into critical mistakes, and the sometimes-sloppy Giants are always a candidate to oblige. Bills 34, Giants 28.
Carolina (1-4) at Atlanta (2-3), Sunday, 1:00 (Atlanta -4)
Storylines: Clash of NFC South inhabitants currently residing in group's bottom tier...Defending division champion Falcons off to worst five-game start since 2007 and coming off 25-14 home setback to reigning Super Bowl winner Green Bay, while young Panthers suffered second straight loss with 30-27 defeat to rival New Orleans last Sunday...Atlanta swept 2010 season series between teams and has bested Carolina at Georgia Dome in three straight years...Falcons rookie wide receiver Julio Jones unlikely to play due to hamstring injury, while safety William Moore (shoulder) and nickel back Christopher Owens (concussion) questionable...Defensive end John Abraham (hip) and center Todd McClure (knee) both probable for Atlanta, though, after missing last week's loss...Linebacker Omar Gaither ruled out for Carolina with knee injury...Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez five receptions shy of tying Cris Carter (1,101) for third place on NFL's all-time list, and six catches short of Marvin Harrison (1,102) for second...Panthers fifth in NFL in both total offense (428.2 ypg) and passing yards (311.6 ypg), while rookie quarterback Cam Newton has accounted for 12 touchdowns (7 passing, 5 rushing) through first five games...Carolina wideout Steve Smith second in league in receiving yards (609)...Atlanta allowing 294.2 passing yards per game (28th overall) and surrendered 369 through the air to Packers in Week 5...Panthers 27th overall in rushing defense (135.2 ypg).
Fast Fact: Newton is the first player in NFL history with at least five passing and rushing touchdowns over his first five career games and is one rushing score shy of matching the Panthers' single-season record for a quarterback (Chris Weinke, 2001).
Prediction: One of these weeks the Falcons are going to finally put it all together, and the still-developing Panthers could be the unfortunate victims. Falcons 31, Panthers 20.
Indianapolis (0-5) at Cincinnati (3-2), Sunday, 1:00 (Cincinnati -7)
Storylines: Still-winless Colts in the midst of longest losing streak since 2001 after last weekend's 28-24 defeat to visiting Kansas City, but have bested Bengals seven consecutive times, including 23-17 triumph in Indianapolis last November...Cincinnati posted second straight win with 30-20 triumph at Jacksonville in Week 5 and one victory shy of matching entire 2010 total...Curtis Painter to make third straight start at quarterback for Colts, who are expected to be without running back Joseph Addai (hamstring), offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo (ankle) and possibly cornerback Jerraud Powers (hamstring)...Indianapolis blew 24-7 second-quarter lead against Chiefs and had second-half advantages in losses to Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh in previous two contests...Bengals lead NFL in total defense (279.6 ypg) and rank third against the pass (191.0 ypg)...Colts 30th overall in total offense (287.0 ypg) and rushing yards (82.0 ypg), but registered season bests in yards (355) and points against Chiefs...Indianapolis wideout Pierre Garcon has compiled 271 receiving yards and four touchdowns over last two weeks and averaging 38.7 yards per catch during that span...Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. Green tops all rookies in receiving yards (402)...Colts signed veteran defensive tackle Dan Muir on Monday.
Fast Fact: The Bengals' last win over Indianapolis was a 28-13 road decision on Nov. 9, 1997, a year before the Colts drafted Peyton Manning with the No. 1 overall pick. Indianapolis lost its first 10 contests of that season.
Prediction: Unlike years past, the Bengals have become the team that finds a way to win close games and the frazzled Colts invent new methods on how to lose them. Bengals 20, Colts 16.
Jacksonville (1-4) at Pittsburgh (3-2), Sunday, 1:00 (Pittsburgh -12.5)
Storylines: Jaguars enter Heinz Field having lost four straight since season- opening win over Tennessee and fell to 0-3 with rookie Blaine Gabbert as starting quarterback with last Sunday's 30-20 defeat to Cincinnati...Steelers fresh off 38-17 home triumph over Tennessee behind five touchdown passes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and own five-game win streak at Heinz Field dating back to last season...Linebacker James Harrison (fractured orbital bone) and end Aaron Smith (foot) to miss second straight week for Pittsburgh, while nose tackle Casey Hampton (shoulder), guard Chris Kemoeatu (knee) and rookie offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (shoulder) both questionable...Steelers leading rusher Rashard Mendenhall probable, though, after being held out of Tennessee game with sore hamstring...Defensive end Aaron Kampman (knee) slated to make season debut for Jacksonville, but status of cornerbacks Derek Cox (groin) and Drew Coleman (concussion) and offensive tackle Eugene Monroe (shoulder) uncertain...Jaguars released punter Matt Turk on Tuesday and signed ex-Lion Nick Harris to take his place...Pittsburgh yielding league-low 174 passing yards per game and ranks second in total defense (282.8 ypg) and fourth (tied) in scoring defense (17.8 ppg)...Jacksonville averaging 11.8 points per game (31st overall) and last in the NFL in both total offense (270.6 ypg) and passing yards (150.0 ypg)...Steelers tied for last in league in turnover margin (-10) and have NFL-low two takeaways.
Fast Fact: Roethlisberger and Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace connected on their 10th career touchdown pass of 40 yards or more in last week's victory, trailing only Indianapolis' Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne (12) for the most among any active player combination from that distance.
Prediction: Jacksonville's defense has actually been pretty good and could prevent a blowout, but Steelers own clear edge in experienced talent and still have a sense of urgency at this point. Steelers 17, Jaguars 9.
Philadelphia (1-4) at Washington (3-1), Sunday, 1:00 (Philadelphia -1)
Storylines: Spiraling Eagles dealt fourth straight loss with mistake-filled 31-24 defeat at Buffalo last week and seeking to avert first five-game in- season skid since 1998...NFC East-leading Redskins coming off Week 5 bye and posted 17-10 victory at St. Louis in last outing on Oct. 2...Washington 2-0 at home this season but have lost to Philadelphia at FedEx Field in four of past five years, including 59-28 shellacking last season in which Eagles racked up franchise-record 592 total yards and received six-touchdown (4 passing, 2 rushing) performance from quarterback Michael Vick...Philadelphia last in the NFL in giveaways (15) and turnover margin (-10), with Vick throwing four interceptions against Bills last Sunday...Defensive end Trent Cole (calf) and offensive tackle Jason Peters (hamstring) expected to miss second straight game for Eagles...Running back Tim Hightower (shoulder) and wide receiver Anthony Armstrong (hamstring) both probable for Redskins, while cornerback Phillip Buchanon eligible to return from four-game suspension for violating league's performance-enhancing drug policy...Washington leads NFL in sacks per game (3.75) and had seven in Week 4 win over Rams, and currently third overall in scoring defense (15.8 ppg) and sixth in yards allowed (296.5 ypg)...Eagles averaging league-best 165.6 rushing yards per game and third in total offense (445.6 ypg), but 30th in rushing defense (140.2 ypg) and allowing NFL-worst 80 percent touchdown rate in red zone...Redskins punter Sav Rocca spent first four NFL seasons with Eagles before joining Washington over summer.
Fast Fact: Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan owns a 10-5 career record in games following a bye week, though last season's home blowout loss to the Eagles took place under the same scenario.
Prediction: Eagles simply can't be trusted, and Redskins will be looking for payback for last year's beating. Redskins 24, Eagles 16.
San Francisco (4-1) at Detroit (5-0), Sunday, 1:00 (Detroit -4.5)
Storylines: Marquee matchup between early-season surprises, as undefeated Lions off to best five-game start since 1956 and NFC West-leading 49ers 4-1 for first time since 2002...Detroit has won nine straight dating back to last season, club's longest streak since a nine-game run from 1953-54, following Monday's 24-13 triumph over rival Chicago...49ers have prevailed in last three contests and delivered most lopsided win since 1987 with 48-3 trouncing of Tampa Bay this past Sunday...San Francisco to be without wide receivers Braylon Edwards (knee) and Josh Morgan (ankle), but nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga (staph infection probable)...Linebacker Justin Durant (concussion) and safety Amari Spievey (hamstring) both questionable for Lions...Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson has league-high nine touchdown catches, most in NFL history over a season's first five weeks, while quarterback Matthew Stafford presently third in touchdown passes (13)...Detroit fourth overall in scoring (31.8 ppg) and tied for fourth in scoring defense (17.8 ppg)...49ers allowing 15.6 points per game (2nd overall) and tied for fourth in rush defense (76.4 ypg), and haven't permitted individual 100-yard rusher in last 27 games...Lions running back Jahvid Best totaled career-best 163 rushing yards on only 12 carries against Bears...San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith third in NFL with 104.1 passer rating and has committed just two turnovers in first five games...Niners lead NFC with plus-10 turnover margin, while Lions second in that category (+8).
Fast Fact: 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, a former quarterback at the University of Michigan, spent the 1998 season with the Baltimore Ravens, where current Lions sideline boss Jim Schwartz was then working as a defensive assistant.
Prediction: Sound San Francisco squad gives upstart Lions all they can handle, but the Stafford-Johnson connection comes through in crunch time once again. Lions 26, 49ers 23.
St. Louis (0-4) at Green Bay (5-0), Sunday, 1:00 (Green Bay -15)
Storylines: Powerful Packers put 11-game winning streak (including postseason) on the line against disappointing Rams squad still in search of first victory of 2011...Green Bay, which recorded 25-14 road verdict over Atlanta last Sunday, has also won seven straight at Lambeau Field...St. Louis, which has lost 23 of its last 27 road tests, had Week 5 bye following 17-10 home setback to Washington on Oct. 2...Hard-luck Rams placed wide receiver Danny Amendola (triceps) and cornerback Bradley Fletcher (torn ACL) on injured reserve Monday, while signing wideout Nick Miller and corner Brian Jackson...Packers offensive tackle Chad Clifton sidelined indefinitely after injuring hamstring against Falcons, but fellow lineman Bryan Bulaga (knee) on track to return from two-game absence...Green Bay averaging league-high 34.6 points per game, while quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads NFL in passer rating (122.9), touchdown passes (14) and completion percentage (71.7)...St. Louis last in league in scoring (11.5 ppg) and 31st in total offense (279.5 ypg)...Rams also 31st in scoring defense (28.3 ppg) and surrendering NFL-worst 179.8 rushing yards per week...Packers rank 30th in pass defense (299.8 ypg) but have compiled 10 interceptions, with cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Morgan Burnett tied for league lead with three each...St. Louis cornerback Al Harris spent eight seasons with Green Bay before being released by club last November.
Fast Fact: Rodgers is the fifth quarterback since the 1970 merger to amass a passer rating of 100 or better in a season's first five games, joining John Hadl (1973), Roger Staubach (1976), Carson Palmer (2005) and Tom Brady (2007).
Prediction: Packers aren't going to be seriously tested by a St. Louis team that's an absolute mess right now, even with an extra week to prepare. Packers 38, Rams 17.
Cleveland (2-2) at Oakland (3-2), Sunday, 4:05 (Oakland -6.5)
Storylines: Raiders begin stretch of three straight home games and play at the Coliseum for first time since passing of legendary owner Al Davis...Oakland returns after emotional 25-20 win at Houston last Sunday, one day after Davis' death, with team rallying from early eight-point deficit...Browns had Week 5 bye that followed 31-13 home loss to Tennessee on Oct. 2...Raiders rookie quarterback Terrelle Pryor placed on active roster Wednesday after completing five-game suspension for manipulating NFL's eligibility rules as a collegian...Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder), cornerback Chris Johnson (hamstring) and fullback Marcel Reece (ankle) all uncertain to play for Oakland, while Cleveland defensive end Marcus Benard out after fracturing hand in motorcycle accident Monday and top corner Joe Haden (knee) questionable...Raiders running back Darren McFadden leads NFL in rushing yards (519) and team ranks second overall in that category (161.8 ypg)...Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski tied NFL record with three field goals of 50 or more yards in last Sunday's victory...Browns quarterback Colt McCoy set club record for completions (40) and threw for career-best 350 yards in Week 4 loss to Titans...Raiders 31st overall in total defense (422.4 ypg) and surrendered 473 yards to Texans, while Cleveland ranks 25th in rush defense (124.5 ypg).
Fast Fact: Davis became the youngest head coach in pro football history when he was hired at age 33 by the then-AFL's Raiders in 1963. His mark would later be broken by 32-year-old John Madden, whom Davis hired to take over Oakland in 1969.
Prediction: Raiders will once again be on an emotional high that will help overcome team's defensive deficiencies, plus the Browns aren't all that threatening on offense. Raiders 23, Browns 21.
Houston (3-2) at Baltimore (3-1), Sunday, 4:05 (Baltimore -7.5)
Storylines: Ravens own half-game lead atop AFC North and return to action after a Week 5 bye, while Texans have dropped two of three following 2-0 start and aim to rebound from 25-20 home loss to Oakland last Sunday...Baltimore on two-game win streak, including 34-17 triumph over visiting New York Jets on Oct. 2, and are 12-1 over last 13 outings at M&T Bank Stadium...Ravens have taken all four lifetime meetings with Texans, including 34-28 overtime decision in Houston last December...Texans All-Pro wideout Andre Johnson to miss second straight week with hamstring strain, while top pass rusher Mario Williams sustained season-ending pectorals tear in last week's loss and fullback James Casey (pectorals) also unlikely to play...Veteran wideout Derrick Mason, a member of the Ravens from 2005-10, to make Houston debut after being acquired from the New York Jets on Tuesday...Wide receiver Lee Evans (ankle), guard Ben Grubbs (toe) and safety Tom Zbikowski (concussion) all uncertain to return for Baltimore...Ravens allowing league-low 14.3 points per game and rank second overall in run defense (72.5 ypg) and third in total defense (284.5 ypg)...Baltimore also owns plus-seven turnover margin and had four takeaways in Week 4 triumph over Jets...Houston sixth in NFL in rushing offense (132.8 ypg) and compiled 403 net passing yards in loss to Raiders, but tied for last in red-zone efficiency (33 percent)...Texans running back Arian Foster averaging 130 yards from scrimmage per game and amassed 184 (68 rushing, 116 receiving) against Oakland.
Fast Fact: Ravens have won eight of their last nine games following a bye week and are 3-0 under head coach John Harbaugh under such situations.
Prediction: Ravens are rested and usually excel at home, while Texans come in minus their best player on both offense and defense. Ravens 30, Texans 13.
Dallas (2-2) at New England (4-1), Sunday, 4:15 (New England -7)
Storylines: Patriots attempt to tie 1999-2000 St. Louis Rams' NFL record for consecutive regular-season games with 30 or more points after reaching mark for 13th straight contest in last Sunday's 30-21 victory over rival New York Jets...Verdict also extended quarterback Tom Brady's league-record streak of consecutive regular-season home wins to 30 straight, while team has prevailed in last 19 non-playoff tilts at Gillette Stadium...Cowboys back in action after Week 5 bye and vie to rebound from frustrating 34-30 home loss to Detroit on Oct. 2, in which team blew 24-point second-half lead and quarterback Tony Romo threw three interceptions...Dallas wide receiver Miles Austin slated to return from two-game absence due to hamstring strain, while fellow wideout Dez Bryant (quadriceps) and cornerback Orlando Scandrick (hamstring) also probable for Dallas...Linebacker Jerod Mayo (knee) and running back Danny Woodhead (ankle) projected to miss second straight week for New England...Patriots lead NFL in total offense (495.2 ypg) and passing yards (366.6 ypg) and rank second overall in scoring (33.0 ppg)...New England wideout Wes Welker tops league in catches (45) and receiving yards (740) and averaging 166.3 yards per game over last three weeks...Cowboys first in NFL in rushing defense (61.8 ypg) and fourth in total defense (291.8 ypg) under first-year coordinator Rob Ryan, a one-time Patriots assistant...Patriots have averaged 167.5 yards on the ground over past two games, with leading rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis compiling career-best 136 yards and two touchdowns against Jets.
Fast Fact: Welker's 740 receiving yards are the most in professional football history by a player over the first five weeks of a season, surpassing Charley Hennigan of the AFL's Houston Oilers in 1961.
Prediction: Erratic Dallas offense will have a tough time keeping up with Brady and the ultra-precise Patriots. Patriots 31, Cowboys 17.
New Orleans (4-1) at Tampa Bay (3-2), Sunday, 4:15 (New Orleans -4.5)
Storylines: Showdown between top two teams in NFC South, with first-place Saints one game up on Buccaneers in the standings...New Orleans riding four- game win streak extended with 30-27 decision at divisional-foe Carolina last Sunday, while Tampa Bay had won three in a row prior to 48-3 trouncing by San Francisco in Week 5, which matched worst loss in franchise history...Visitor has won last four meetings between clubs, with Saints outscoring Bucs by 69-13 margin in victories at Raymond James Stadium in 2009 and 2010...Tampa Bay running back LeGarrette Blount doubtful after suffering knee injury against 49ers, while defensive tackle Gerald McCoy ruled out with high ankle sprain...Center Olin Kreutz questionable and offensive tackle Zach Strief doubtful for New Orleans with knee injuries...Buccaneers safety Tanard Jackson reinstated by NFL on Tuesday after serving over year-long suspension and could participate in Sunday's tilt...Saints second in NFL in total offense (452.0 ypg) and passing yards (336.6 ypg) and converting league-best 58.7 percent of third-down chances...New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has thrown touchdown pass in 32 consecutive games, while teammate Darren Sproles leads all running backs in catches (31) and ranks second in receiving yards (264) at his position...Buccaneers second in NFL in penalties (44) and penalty yardage (360) and were flagged nine times for 96 yards in last week's loss.
Fast Fact: Saints tight end Jimmy Graham has eclipsed 100 yards receiving in three straight games, the first tight end to accomplish that feat since Tony Gonzalez did so in four consecutive weeks from Oct. 15-Nov. 5, 2000.
Prediction: Buccaneers usually struggle when matched up with a heavyweight, especially one that's on as good of a roll as the Saints are at the moment. Saints 30, Buccaneers 20.
Minnesota (1-4) at Chicago (2-3), Sunday, 8:20 (Chicago -3)
Storylines: Longtime division rivals well behind in NFC North standings to square off, with slumping Bears having lost three of last four games following 24-13 setback at red-hot Detroit on Monday...Vikings earned long-awaited first victory of 2011 with 34-10 home rout of Arizona last Sunday, but have lost 11 of last 13 on road and haven't topped Chicago at Soldier Field since 2007...Bears swept 2010 season series with Minnesota and have won last three encounters between clubs...Chicago defensive end Julius Peppers on track to play despite spraining knee in Monday's loss, but defensive tackle Matt Toeaina (knee) questionable and offensive tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) and wide receiver Earl Bennett (chest) remain sidelined...Vikings wide receiver Bernard Berrian expected to be active after being benched for disciplinary reasons last week, but cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck) questionable...Minnesota tied for second in NFL with 16 sacks and end Jared Allen leads league with 8 1/2, while Bears have surrendered 18 sacks through first five weeks...Chicago running back Matt Forte tops league in yards from scrimmage (785) and has back-to-back 100-yard rush efforts, but faces Vikings' fourth-ranked run defense (76.4 ypg)...Bears 29th in total defense (419.6 ypg) and 28th versus run (135.6 ypg), while Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson second overall in rushing yards (498) and scored three touchdowns against Cardinals last week.
Fast Fact: Bears had six false-start penalties during the first half of Monday's defeat, more than any NFL team has been whistled for over the course of an entire game this season according to STATS, LLC.
Prediction: Hard to have faith in either of these teams right now, but defensively-challenged Bears appear to have more problems than the inconsistent Vikings. Vikings 20, Bears 17.
Miami (0-4) at N.Y. Jets (2-3), Monday, 8:30 (N.Y. Jets -7)
Storylines: Battle between slumping AFC East rivals, with reeling Dolphins on seven-game slide dating back to last season and Jets having lost three in a row following 2-0 start...Matt Moore to start at quarterback for Miami after Chad Henne placed on injured reserve last week with separated shoulder, while team signed veteran Sage Rosenfels on Oct. 6 to serve as backup...Henne suffered injury in Dolphins' 26-16 defeat at San Diego on Oct. 2, with club having Week 5 bye...New York coming off 30-21 setback at AFC East co-leader New England last Sunday and have lost three straight at home to Miami, including 10-6 setback last December...Jets traded unhappy wide receiver Derek Mason to Houston for conditional draft choice on Tuesday...Cornerback Vontae Davis and rookie running back Daniel Thomas both probable for Dolphins after missing San Diego game with hamstring injuries...Reserve cornerbacks Donald Strickland (head) and Isaiah Trufant (hamstring) both expected to sit out for Jets...Miami 31st in NFL in pass defense (307.0 ypg) and 28th in total yards allowed (414.5 ypg), while New York 26th against the run (134.8 ypg) and surrendered 152 rushing yards to Patriots last week...Dolphins last in league in third-down conversions (26.5 percent), while Jets holding opponents to 31 percent success rate (2nd overall) in those situations.
Fast Fact: Moore will be the 16th quarterback to start a game for Miami since Hall of Famer Dan Marino's retirement after the 1999 season. That list includes Rosenfels, who started once for the team during both the 2004 and 2005 campaigns.
Prediction: Dolphins always seem to play the Jets tough, but this game's too important for Gang Green to let slip away. Jets 20, Dolphins 13.