Brown plays his cards perfectly in Palmer saga

After a weekend in which the coaches took infamous "handshake-gate" involving competitive Jims Harbaugh and Schwartz) or injury (Sean Payton's - on the players.

And more specifically, the quarterbacks.

This was supposed to be the week commemorating the second coming of Tim Tebow as a professional starting quarterback, but the popular young headliner and his Denver Broncos were upstaged by the team's longtime AFC West rivals when the Oakland Raiders pulled off a brazen and bombastic move that would surely have made the late Al Davis proud.

The Raiders declared themselves all-in for this 2011 season with their acquisition of Carson Palmer from the Cincinnati Bengals just prior to Tuesday's trade deadline, willfully paying an exasperatingly exorbitant price to lure the holdout quarterback out of his self-imposed exile.

In landing Palmer, a two-time Pro Bowl honoree with four seasons of 26 or more touchdown passes to his credit, Oakland obtains a proven field general that should help keep the early playoff contenders on the path to a possible postseason berth in the wake of starter Jason Campbell's likely year-ending shoulder injury, and what the team spent to finally persuade the ever- obstinate Mike Brown to end his personal crusade against his onetime franchise face was an emphatic, make-no-mistake statement to the rest of the AFC that it's going for broke this year.

No one -- the Raiders included -- considered Oakland a serious Super Bowl threat with the steady yet unspectacular Campbell at the command of the offense. The new hierarchy that's being led by head coach Hue Jackson clearly feels different about Palmer in spite of the 31-year-old's diminishing returns over the past few years, or else it wouldn't have further mortgaged a future that's already well in hock with Tuesday's blockbuster deal.

The Raiders parted with a first-round pick in next year's draft and a conditional second-rounder in 2013 in the swap. That's a reasonable barter if they're getting the Palmer of 2005 and '06 -- a mid-20's quarterback with elite arm strength who averaged nearly 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns during those two seasons.

But if it's the Palmer that's been both injury and turnover-prone over the past four years, the king's ransom Oakland just shelled out to the patient Bengals borders on lunacy -- especially in a situation where the team was essentially bidding against itself for Palmer's services.

The former No. 1 overall selection has accounted for 20 or more giveaways in three of the past five years, which includes a 20-interception season in 2010, and has compiled a 5-16 record over his last 21 starts. And while Palmer certainly can't be solely held to blame for that lack of success given the Bengals' often toxic locker-room concoctions, his evident regression in both performance and physical skills (the latter the result of a serious elbow injury sustained in 2008) has at least been a contributing factor.

Palmer finished 19th among full-time starters in quarterback rating last season and was 16th in that category in 2009. Incidentally, Campbell placed one spot ahead of his soon-to-be replacement in both years.

Campbell went 11-7 in his 18 starts with the Silver and Black, so assuming Palmer performs at a level comparable to his successor, Oakland should continue to be a viable threat in an AFC West lot that doesn't appear to possess a true juggernaut. But by shipping two premium picks and taking on the $43 million their new triggerman is due over the next 3 1/2 years, the Raiders obviously are expecting far more than simply remaining competitive.

And now with no selections in the first four rounds of the 2012 draft, Oakland better be right in believing the rewards of nabbing Palmer -- who's 0-2 in playoff games, by the way -- are worth the considerable risk.

In the short term, everyone's happy, with the impending free-agent Campbell the lone possible exception.

Palmer gets exactly what he wanted out of his standoff with Brown -- a move closer to his Southern California roots and an escape out of the incessant Cincinnati circus, though it's ironic he'll be joining an organization with an even greater dysfunctional reputation than the one he'll be leaving behind.

Jackson, the clear driving force behind the trade after gaining a much greater voice in personnel matters in the aftermath of Davis' recent death, gets a player he's both comfortable and familiar with, having coached Palmer for three years in Cincinnati as well as part of the former Heisman Trophy recipient's college career at USC.

And the Bengals, a longtime laughing-stock for their penny-pinching ways and affinity for stockpiling bad-seed players, continue an atypically recent string of prudent maneuvers with their bounty for Palmer.

Brown wisely retained head coach Marvin Lewis, whose composed demeanor and astute interpersonal skills have been a steadying influence upon a young and sometimes volatile player mix, despite the team going belly-up in 2010, while this past year's draft class appears to have produced a couple of home runs in new quarterback Andy Dalton and emerging star wide receiver A.J. Green.


The Sports Network's updated NFL Power Poll, which ranks all 32 league teams, can be found at: poll.htm


Find Fantasy Editor Steve Schwarz's latest analysis at: fantasy/index.aspx


1. New Orleans (vs. Indianapolis) -- Saints should be able to take out their frustrations from last week's tough divisional loss on a winless Colts team that struggles to consistently move the ball.

2. Dallas (vs. St. Louis) -- Battered Rams would have a tough time winning here even with Sam Bradford at 100 percent. Their chances are next to nil if A.J. Feeley winds up taking the snaps on Sunday.

3. Green Bay (at Minnesota) -- Leslie Frazier's not exactly easing Christian Ponder into a new role, as the unproven rookie makes his first start against a defending Super Bowl champion that's riding a 12-game winning streak.


Another ho-hum result in the selection department, with last week's picks producing an 8-5 straight-up record and an unconvincing 5-7-1 mark against the spread. Fellow Sports Network colleague Dean Perry did go a stellar 11-1-1 versus the line in Week 6, however, so keep an eye on his choices in the TSN Picks section located on our NFL page. My composite totals for the season are 55-35 (.611) in head-to-head games and 42-45-3 (.483) when factoring in the spread.

Atlanta (3-3) at Detroit (5-1), Sunday, 1:00 (Detroit -3.5)

Storylines: Lions attempt to bounce back from tension-filled 25-19 home loss to surging San Francisco this past week, which ended team's run of nine straight victories dating back to last season, while reigning NFC South champion Falcons aim for first winning streak of 2011...Atlanta has alternated losses and wins over initial six games, continuing trend with 31-17 triumph over visiting Carolina in Week 6...Leading rusher Jahvid Best unlikely to play for Detroit after sustaining concussion against the 49ers, with club acquiring veteran back Ronnie Brown prior to Tuesday's trade deadline...Status of Lions tight end Tony Scheffler also in doubt due to concussion, though linebacker Justin Durant on track to return from his head injury...Falcons rookie receiver Julio Jones tentatively expected to play after sitting out last week with hamstring strain...Atlanta rushed for season-high 166 yards against Panthers, with top running back Michael Turner gaining 139 yards and scoring two touchdowns...Falcons defense intercepted Carolina rookie Cam Newton three times last Sunday and has forced a turnover in 25 straight games, longest current streak in NFL...Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson leads league with nine touchdown catches, but was kept out of end zone for first time this year last week...Detroit just 28th overall in third-down conversions (30.5 percent), while Atlanta allowing league-worst 49.4 success rate in those situations...Lions cornerback Chris Houston, who spent first three NFL seasons with Falcons (2007-09), tied for second in NFL with three interceptions.

Fast Fact: Johnson, who played collegiately in Atlanta at Georgia Tech, became the fastest Detroit player to reach 300 career receptions after making seven catches for 113 yards against the 49ers. He achieved the mark in 66 games, four less than Herman Moore's previous team mark.

Prediction: Lions want to atone for a game they let slip away last week, and Falcons haven't been anything special so far this season. Lions 27, Falcons 20.


Chicago (3-3) vs. Tampa Bay (4-2), Sunday, 1:00 (Chicago -1)

Storylines: Game to be held at London's Wembley Stadium, marking fifth consecutive season the NFL has played a regular-season contest at the famed venue...Buccaneers making second appearance in England in three years, having previously dropped a 35-7 decision to New England at Wembley Stadium in 2009...Both teams coming off key victories over division opponents last Sunday, with Tampa Bay moving into first-place tie with New Orleans in NFC South after 26-20 home triumph over Saints and Bears routing slumping Minnesota by 39-10 count at Soldier Field...Bucs running back Earnest Graham rushed for season-best 109 yards against Saints and slated to make second straight start in place of injured regular LeGarette Blount (knee)...Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (ankle) also likely to miss second consecutive week for Tampa, while center Jeff Faine (biceps) questionable for Sunday's tilt...Offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and defensive lineman Matt Toeaina expected to remain sidelined for Chicago with knee injuries, but wide receiver Earl Bennett (chest) could return from four-game absence and fellow wideout Devin Hester (chest) also probable...Bears 29th in NFL in total defense (397.3 ypg), but yielded season-low 286 yards to Vikings while recording five sacks...Chicago running back Matt Forte leads league in yards from scrimmage (908) and tops all players at his position in receiving yards (381).

Fast Fact: Sunday's game will be the first in the five-year series at Wembley Stadium in which both participants sport records of .500 or better and posted wins in their previous outing.

Prediction: Buccaneers have been a hard team to figure out, but a performance on par with last week's strong effort would be enough to get past the as- inconsistent Bears. Buccaneers 20, Bears 16.


Denver (1-4) at Miami (0-5), Sunday, 1:00 (Miami -2)

Storylines: Former University of Florida star Tim Tebow returns to his home state for his first test of 2011 as the Broncos' starting quarterback, while the disheveled Dolphins will be out to halt an eight-game losing streak extending back to last year...Miami has also dropped six in a row at home and is 1-11 over its last 12 tilts at Sun Life Stadium...Denver has lost eight straight on the road and last three overall outings since Week 2 triumph over Cincinnati, and had Week 6 bye...Dolphins ended stretch of three consecutive road games with Monday's 24-6 defeat at rival New York Jets, with quarterback Matt Moore throwing two interception in first start in place of injured Chad Henne (shoulder)...Broncos suffered 29-24 home setback to San Diego on Oct. 9 in which displaced starter Kyle Orton went just 6-of-13 for 34 yards before giving way to Tebow after halftime...Denver traded top wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to St. Louis on Monday, but expected to get wideout Eddie Royal (groin) back from three-game absence and second-year pass-catcher Demaryius Thomas (Achilles/finger) set to make season debut...Broncos also placed defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (ankle) on injured reserve last week, while safety Brian Dawkins doubtful for Sunday due to neck problem...Moore spent four seasons with Carolina from 2007-10 under then-Panthers head coach and current Denver sideline boss John Fox, while Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall was a member of the Broncos from 2006-09 and faces ex-team for first time.

Fast Fact: The Broncos are 0-7 lifetime in Miami and have won only one of their last nine non-playoff matchups with the Dolphins, registering a 20-17 home decision on Dec. 12, 2004.

Prediction: Dolphin fans may still be seething over the team's inability to land an available Orton during training camp, but having Andrew Luck on the roster next year should help ease the pain. Broncos 24, Dolphins 16.


Houston (3-3) at Tennessee (3-2), Sunday, 1:00 (Tennessee -3)

Storylines: Winner to claim sole possession of first place in AFC South standings, with Titans presently owning half-game advantage on Texans for top spot...Houston has lost two straight and three of four following 2-0 start and enters contest off 29-14 defeat at AFC North-leading Baltimore last Sunday...Tennessee had Week 6 bye that followed 38-17 loss at defending conference champ Pittsburgh on Oct. 9, but owns 2-0 record at LP Field this season...Texans 2-7 lifetime as visitor in this series and dealt 31-17 defeat in Nashville during Week 15 of 2010 campaign...Houston All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson likely to miss third straight game with hamstring injury and fullback James Casey (pectorals) questionable for Texans, but quarterback Matt Schaub (hip/chest) probable...Safety Chris Hope (broken arm) out for Titans, but backfield mate Michael Griffin (elbow) and tight end Craig Stevens (ribs) each slated to suit up...Teams both ranked in top 10 in total defense, with Tennessee ninth in that category (326.0 ypg) and Houston 10th (328.7 ypg), and Texans currently tied for fourth overall with 17 sacks...Titans last in NFL in rushing offense (66.6 ypg), with standout running back Chris Johnson averaging just 3.0 yards per carry on season...Tennessee fifth in league in red-zone scoring percentage (64.3 percent), while Houston 28th in that department (36.4 percent).

Fast Fact: Titans linebackers coach Frank Bush served as the Texans' defensive coordinator from 2007-10 before being replaced prior to this season by Wade Phillips, who broke into coaching at the professional level with the Tennessee franchise as the Houston Oilers' defensive line coach in 1976.

Prediction: Texans' offense hasn't the same with Andre Johnson on the sideline, which could spell trouble against a tough and rested Tennessee defense. Titans 20, Texans 13.


San Diego (4-1) at N.Y. Jets (3-3), Sunday, 1:00 (San Diego -2)

Storylines: First meeting between expected contenders since Jets scored 17-14 road upset of second-seeded San Diego in 2009 AFC Divisional Playoffs, while Jets running back LaDanian Tomlinson, the all-time leading rusher in Chargers history, faces former team for first time since joining New York after stellar nine-year tenure with Bolts from 2001-09...AFC West-leading Chargers on three- game win streak and seeking first 5-1 start since 2002, while Jets ended string of three straight defeats with 24-6 triumph over lowly Miami on Monday...San Diego had Week 6 bye and posted 29-24 road decision over Denver on Oct. 9 in most recent test...New York 3-0 at home so far this season and have outscored opponents by 83-33 margin in those games...Chargers All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates hopeful to play after missing last three games with foot injury, and running backs Ryan Mathews (calf) and Mike Tolbert (concussion) and wide receiver Vincent Jackson (hamstring) all probable for San Diego...Chargers sixth in NFL in both total offense (416.2 ypg) and passing yards (293.4 ypg), while Jets first overall in pass efficiency defense and have yielded league-low three touchdowns through air...New York 28th in run defense (132.0 ypg), however, and have gained second-fewest rushing yards in league (80.8 ypg)...Jets cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie (2006-09) and Donald Strickland (2010) are both former Chargers, while offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was San Diego's QB coach from 2002-05...Chargers kicker Nick Novak, who spent training camp with Jets, is 11-for-11 on field goal attempts this season.

Fast Fact: Chargers head coach Norv Turner owns an 8-5 career record in games following a bye, including a 3-1 mark during his tenure in San Diego.

Prediction: A San Diego offense that's now closer to full strength will dominate on the stat sheet, but the Jets will win both the turnover battle and the skirmishes within the red zone. Jets 24, Chargers 23.


Seattle (2-3) at Cleveland (2-3), Sunday, 1:00 (Cleveland -3)

Storylines: Seahawks return from Week 6 bye to face Cleveland squad built by team president Mike Holmgren, who served 10 seasons as Seattle's head coach from 1999-2008...Charlie Whitehurst believed to get start for Seahawks in place of Tarvaris Jackson, who suffered pectoral strain in team's 36-25 win at New York Giants on Oct. 9...Browns leading rusher Peyton Hillis questionable after pulling hamstring in club's 24-17 loss at Oakland last Sunday, while cornerback Joe Haden (knee) expected to sit out second straight week...Seattle placed cornerback Marcus Trufant (back) on injured reserve Monday and traded former starting linebacker Aaron Curry to Oakland during bye...Cleveland ranks 30th in rushing offense (81.6 ypg) and managed only 65 yards on the ground versus Raiders, while young quarterback Colt McCoy just 13th in AFC in passer rating (78.1)...Seahawks 29th overall in rushing yards (83.0 ypg), but ran for season-best 145 yards in Week 5 win over Giants...Browns also 31st in the league in yards per play (4.5), while Seattle 29th in that category (4.7)...Cleveland allowing fourth-fewest passing yards in NFL (192.0 ypg), while Seahawks surrendering league-low 3.1 yards per rush attempt (3.1 avg.)...Browns backup quarterback Seneca Wallace spent first seven NFL seasons with Seahawks before being traded to Cleveland prior to 2010 campaign.

Fast Fact: Holmgren was at the helm of the Seahawks in each of the past three meetings between these teams, with Seattle coming out on top on two of those occasions.

Prediction: With neither team proficient at running the football, the game will come down to how the two quarterbacks fare, with McCoy rating a slight edge on the lightly-tested Whitehurst. Browns 21, Seahawks 20.


Washington (3-2) at Carolina (1-5), Sunday, 1:00 (Carolina -2.5)

Storylines: John Beck to make first start at quarterback since 2007 for Redskins in place of slumping Rex Grossman, who delivered 9-for-22, four- interception performance in last week's 20-13 home loss to Philadelphia and has thrown six picks over team's last two outings...Cam Newton-led Panthers try to end three-game skid, with each of those losses coming to 2010 playoff participants...Tight end Chris Cooley (fractured finger) and offensive tackle Trent Williams (ankle) to miss Sunday's game for Washington, while club placed starting guard Kory Lichtensteiger (torn ACL) on injured reserve Monday...Carolina put brittle offensive tackle Jeff Otah on IR Wednesday due to lingering back and knee problems...Panthers fifth in NFL in total offense (418.2 ypg) and passing yards (297.3 ypg), but were held to season-low 368 composite yards and had three turnovers in 31-17 Week 6 loss at Atlanta...Redskins third overall in scoring defense (16.6 ypg) and second in sacks per game (3.4 avg.), but allowed 192 rushing yards and 422 total to Eagles this past Sunday...Carolina 31st in league in rush defense (140.3 ypg) and surrendered 166 yards on the ground to Falcons...Panthers wideout Steve Smith second in NFL in receiving yards (675) and averaging NFC-best 21.1 yards per catch.

Fast Fact: Beck is 0-4 lifetime as a starter and last began a game on Dec. 9, 2007, while then a rookie with Miami. He was replaced by Cleo Lemon after just three series in the Dolphins' 38-17 loss at Buffalo that day.

Prediction: Panthers have hung tough with better teams than the Redskins, who'll have difficulty handling the multi-faceted Newton in much the same way they did against Michael Vick last week. Panthers 20, Redskins 13.


Kansas City (2-3) at Oakland (4-2), Sunday, 4:05 (Oakland -4)

Storylines: Carson Palmer expected to step in immediately for the injured Jason Campbell (collarbone) as Raiders' starting quarterback after being acquired from Cincinnati for two high future draft choices on Tuesday...Oakland a half-game back of first-place San Diego in AFC West and seeking ninth consecutive victory over a divisional foe...Defending division champion Chiefs riding two-game win streak after opening season with three straight defeats, and followed 28-24 triumph at Indianapolis on Oct. 9 with Week 6 bye...Raiders have also won past two contests, backing up big Week 5 road besting of Houston with 24-17 home decision over Cleveland last Sunday, and swept 2010 season series with Kansas City...End Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder) out and cornerback Chris Johnson (hamstring) questionable for Oakland defense that ranks 28th in total yards allowed (396.7 ypg) and against the pass (283.5 ypg), but held Browns to just 268 yards (65 rushing) a week ago...Chiefs piled up season-best 436 yards of offense in win over Colts, with quarterback Matt Cassel matching career high with four touchdown passes and running back Jackie Battle rushing for 119 yards on 19 carries...Kansas City wideout Dwayne Bowe finished with 128 receiving yards and two scores in Week 5 victory and has eclipsed 100-yard mark in three of last four games...Raiders second in NFL in rushing offense (160.0 ypg), with standout back Darren McFadden topping all individuals with 610 yards on the ground for season.

Fast Fact: The Chiefs had won seven straight times at the Oakland Coliseum prior to last season's 23-20 loss, while the visiting team has prevailed in eight of the last nine matchups in this series.

Prediction: Though it's asking a lot of a quarterback who hadn't practiced in close to 10 months prior to this week to go out and win a game virtually right off the street, but the playmaker-deficient Chiefs really aren't that tough an assignment for Palmer. Raiders 27, Chiefs 17.


Pittsburgh (4-2) at Arizona (1-4), Sunday, 4:05 (Pittsburgh -3.5)

Storylines: First meeting between teams since Super Bowl XLIII in February of 2008, when the Steelers rallied for a thrilling 27-23 victory to claim sixth Lombardi Trophy...Cardinals come out of Week 6 bye trying to end four-game losing streak extended with 34-10 setback at Minnesota on Oct. 9, in which team fell behind 28-0 after one quarter and committed four turnovers...Steelers half-game back of rival Baltimore in AFC North and enter game off back-to-back home victories over Tennessee (38-17) and Jacksonville (17-13)...Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt spent six years as a Pittsburgh assistant from 2001-06 before taking present position...Safety Troy Polamalu (head) and wide receiver Mike Wallace (hamstring) both probable for Steelers despite incurring minor injuries last week, but linebacker James Harrison (fractured eye socket) and defensive linemen Aaron Smith (foot) and Casey Hampton (shoulder) all to remain sidelined...Safety Kerry Rhodes out for Arizona after breaking foot against Vikings, while tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) questionable...Pittsburgh first in the NFL in both total defense (270.5 ypg) and pass defense (157.1 ypg) and is yielding 13.4 points over last five games...Steelers last in league in turnover margin (-10) and takeaways (2), while Cardinals have minus-four turnover ratio for season.

Fast Fact: Whisenhunt also has six members of his current staff with previous ties to the Steelers, including first-year defensive coordinator Ray Horton, assistant head coach Russ Grimm and offensive coordinator Mike Miller. In addition, three Arizona players -- linebackers Joey Porter (1999-2006) and Clark Haggans (2000-07) and defensive end Nick Eason (2007-10) all had prior stints with Pittsburgh.

Prediction: Steelers still haven't quite hit their stride, but Cardinals have way too many issues to pose a serious challenge unless the reigning AFC champs completely implode. Steelers 27, Cardinals 13.


Green Bay (6-0) at Minnesota (1-5), Sunday, 4:15 (Green Bay -9)

Storylines: Packers carry 12-game win streak (including postseason) dating back to last year into contest and are league's only current unbeaten, while struggling Vikings to turn to young quarterback Christian Ponder in the rookie's first career professional start...Ponder made NFL debut after relieving an ineffective Donovan McNabb in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's 39-10 loss at rival Chicago, which dropped Minnesota to 1-5 for first time since 2002...Green Bay continued roll with 24-3 home rout of winless St. Louis in Week 6 behind 303-yard, three-touchdown effort from quarterback Aaron Rodgers...Offensive tackle Chad Clifton to miss second straight game for Packers with hamstring injury, while nickel back Sam Shields doubtful due to concussion...Center John Sullivan and safety Jamarca Sanford both uncertain for Vikings after sustaining concussions last week, with cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck) questionable as well...Green Bay averaging league-leading 32.8 points per game and ranks third and fourth, respectively, in passing yards (325.2 ypg) and total offense (423.7 ypg), with Rodgers topping all signal- callers with 122.5 rating...Minnesota tied for fourth in NFL with 17 sacks, with end Jared Allen's 9 1/2 takedowns topping all individuals...Vikings third overall in rushing yards (142.2 ypg), while Packers fifth in run defense (84.0 ypg)...Green Bay swept 2010 home-and-home set with Vikings, but has lost in two of last three trips to Metrodome.

Fast Fact: The Packers are the seventh defending Super Bowl champion to begin the following season 6-0, joining the 1986 Bears, 1990 49ers, 1998 Broncos, 2000 Rams, 2004 Patriots and 2007 Colts.

Prediction: No one's been able to slow down Rodgers and Green Bay's devastating offense, and it's a real stretch to believe a wet-between-the-ears Ponder can keep up if this game becomes a shootout. Packers 30, Vikings 17.


St. Louis (0-5) at Dallas (2-3), Sunday, 4:15 (Dallas -13)

Storylines: Reeling Rams attempt to avoid third 0-6 start in last five seasons, while Cowboys have lost two straight and dealt tough 20-16 defeat at New England last week, with Patriots scoring go-ahead touchdown with 22 seconds left...Quarterback Sam Bradford probable for St. Louis despite injuring ankle in team's 24-3 Week 6 loss at powerhouse Green Bay, while wide receiver Brandon Lloyd to make Rams debut after being acquired from Denver on Monday...St. Louis may activate fellow wideout Mark Clayton (knee) from physically unable to perform list this week as well, but offensive tackle Roger Saffold questionable with leg bruise...Dallas to be without leading rusher Felix Jones (ankle) and defensive end Jason Hatcher (calf), while club placed guard Bill Nagy on injured reserve (broken ankle) Tuesday...Cowboys lead NFL in run defense (69.6 ypg) and stand fifth in total yards allowed (307.6 ypg), and unit forced four New England turnovers in last week's narrow loss...Rams averaging league-low 9.8 points per game and rank 31st in third- down conversions (27.0 percent), while defense currently last against the run (163.0 ypg) and 30th in total yards permitted (403.4 ypg)...St. Louis has lost four consecutive road games and 24 of its last 28 tests as the visitor...Dallas wide receiver Laurent Robinson spent 2009 and 2010 seasons with Rams.

Fast Fact: The Rams own an 11-10 edge in their all-time regular season series with Dallas and are one of only two NFC teams to sport an overall winning record against the Cowboys. San Francisco is the other.

Prediction: Erratic Cowboys make just enough mistakes to allow the Rams to hang around, but Dallas' talent edge ultimately wins out. Cowboys 23, Rams 13.


Indianapolis (0-6) vs. New Orleans (4-2), Sunday, 8:20 (New Orleans -14)

Storylines: Teams off to vastly different starts to face one another for first time since Saints' stunning 31-17 victory in Super Bowl XLIV that capped 2009 season...New Orleans head coach Sean Payton to call game from press box after fracturing tibia and tearing knee ligaments in a sideline collision during last week's 26-20 loss at Tampa Bay...Still-winless Colts off to worst beginning since dropping first 10 tests of 1997 campaign and coming off 27-17 setback at Cincinnati in Week 6...Running back Joseph Addai (hamstring) and rookie offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo (ankle) both doubtful for Indianapolis, while Saints offensive tackle Zach Strief (kiss) expected to miss fourth straight game...New Orleans leading receiver Jimmy Graham tied NFL record for tight ends with fourth straight outing of over 100 receiving yards after seven-catch, 124-yard effort against Buccaneers...Saints second in league in total offense (452.2 ypg), passing yards (344.3 ypg) and third-down conversions (56.3 percent), while Colts 27th overall in total defense (392.5 ypg) and 30th versus the run (136.7 ypg)...Indianapolis also 31st in total offense (284.7 ypg) and averaging just 13.7 points on the road this season...New Orleans, which had four-game win streak halted with last Sunday's defeat, averaging 35 points in two previous home victories in 2011.

Fast Fact: Curtis Painter's 746 combined passing yards over his last three games are the most by a Colts quarterback who's made his initial three NFL starts with the franchise, surpassing the currently-injured Peyton Manning's 683 in 1998.

Prediction: Saints' chances for a letdown lessened with last week's frustrating loss, and beaten-down Colts don't appear to have the horses to keep pace here. Saints 34, Colts 17.


Baltimore (4-1) at Jacksonville (1-5), Monday, 8:30 (Baltimore -8)

Storylines: Jaguars aiming to end five-game losing skid and still in search of first victory with rookie Blaine Gabbert at quarterback, while AFC North- leading Ravens registered third straight win with methodical 29-14 home triumph over Houston last week...Jacksonville coming off 17-13 setback at Pittsburgh in Week 6 in which league's bottom-ranked offense was held to a mere 76 passing yards and 209 total, with Gabbert sacked five times...Jaguars also 31st in NFL in scoring (12.0 ppg), while Baltimore yielding league-low 14.2 points per game and sits third overall in total defense (286.2 ypg)...Jacksonville signed wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker for second tour of duty with club on Wednesday, two days after being released by St. Louis, and also inked tight end Martin Rucker off Cowboys' practice squad while placing tight end Zach Miller (shoulder) on injured reserve...Ravens wideout Lee Evans likely to miss fourth straight contest with ankle injury, but guard Ben Grubbs (toe) on track to return from four-game absence...Offensive linemen Eugene Monroe (back) and Eben Britton (shoulder) both questionable for Jaguars...Baltimore running back Ray Rice third in league in yards from scrimmage (140.0/gm) and compiled 161 (101 rushing, 60 receiving) in win over Texans...Ravens have won in seven of last eight matchups with Jags, though teams haven't met since 2008.

Fast Fact: Ravens have outscored the opposition 59-7 in the first quarter this season, while Jaguars have managed just 10 points during the opening period during their five-game skid.

Prediction: Viewers on the East Coast likely won't have to stay up late to know the final outcome if the Ravens are able to get out to yet another fast start. Ravens 23, Jaguars 10.