Published November 16, 2011
| Sports Network
Philadelphia, PA – Those who tuned into Monday's latest tier talent well aware of the impact the sum of its parts can reap.
One day earlier, the team that was supposed to be the reigning world champions' greatest threat to NFC superiority was coming apart at the seams.
It's not just the six-win differential that separates the still-perfect Packers from the current edition of the Philadelphia Eagles, this season's recipient of the dreaded underachiever's label, but the entirely disparate methods in which the two franchises have chosen to assemble their 2011 rosters may help explain how each has been able to get to their contrasting levels of success.
This year's Eagles are the latest cautionary tale of succumbing to the temptations of free agency, an often fatal formula that has triggered the downfall of two of their fellow NFC East residents -- Washington and Dallas -- in the not-so-distant past. The radical offseason personnel overhaul the perennial playoff participants underwent in their aggressive chase of elusive Super Bowl glory has harvested unexpectedly disastrous results, along with an underlying atmosphere of jealousy and single-mindedness that's threatening to destroy the solid foundation that one of the league's most consistently good teams over the past decade has built.
The Eagles' startling 21-17 home loss to a glaringly-deficient Arizona squad mired in an 11-game road losing streak and led by a backup quarterback with five career starts under his belt was merely a side note to the headline story in the City of Brotherly Love and Title Envy this past weekend -- the supposedly faulty alarm clock of DeSean Jackson. The disgruntled wide receiver was a no-show to a team meeting the day prior to the game for reportedly oversleeping and subsequently deactivated as punishment for his alleged irresponsibility.
Of course, there's ample evidence to suggest Jackson's actions weren't simply the result of being absent minded. The impending free agent has made no bones about his desire for a new contract, and while both his priorities and self- centered tactics can be called into question, it's understandable how a two- time Pro Bowler making just $600,000 this season can be a bit put off by the gobs of owner Jeffrey Lurie's money head coach Andy Reid and general manager Howie Roseman lavished upon new additions Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins during Philadelphia's offseason spending barrage before handing out a $100 million deal to quarterback Michael Vick.
While Jackson should rightfully be called out for being a needless distraction to a 3-6 team with its playoff prospects on life support in mid-November, Reid and the front office deserve their share of the blame for both fostering a culture of resentment and allowing the situation to escalate, and for gambling that a team with 21 newcomers would quickly and seamlessly jell into a championship outfit in a year where practice and training schedules have been curtailed by the lockout. They rolled the dice, and have so far come up craps.
Which brings us to this week, where the Eagles head to MetLife Stadium to battle the NFC East-leading New York Giants in the Sunday night showcase with their backs squarely against the wall and Vick, whose mediocre and turnover- prone play under center has been a contributing factor to Philadelphia's perilous predicament, possibly a bystander after fracturing a pair of ribs in the Arizona game. A win over their division rivals would keep the heralded "Dream Team" a viable contestant in the playoff chase -- albeit barely. A loss, and the Eagles will have a head start at formulating the roster for a 2012 run come January.
If Reid and Roseman truly have comprised a team with the makeup of a championship contender, it'll be revealed on Sunday.
NFL POWER POLL
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SUICIDE POOL PIX
1. New England (vs. Kansas City) -- Tom Brady's lost just once at home during the regular season in five years. Tyler Palko's not about to make it two.
2. Green Bay (vs. Tampa Bay) -- Sagging Buccaneers have been outscored 64-25 the last two weeks and are about to enter a hornet's nest against the NFL's highest-scoring team.
3. San Francisco (vs. Arizona) -- Cardinals have gotten a bit of a spark under fill-in quarterback John Skelton, but remain a flawed team that isn't up to the standards of its fundamentally-sound NFC West cohort.
Last week offered another example as to why the selections in this column should not be used other than to mock the author for his lacking prediction skills. Missed the mark on nine of 16 outright winners while going a slightly more competent 8-8 against the spread in my last go-around, which leaves me an unconvincing 87-59 (.596) in straight-up picks for the season and a rough 67-75-4 (.473) with the line involved. Hopefully you're all more impressed with my writing abilities.
N.Y. Jets (5-4) at Denver (4-5), Thursday, 8:20 (N.Y. Jets -6)
Storylines: Thursday night clash of AFC clubs currently one game out of first place in their respective divisions...Resurgent Broncos seeking third straight victory and fourth win in five games with Tim Tebow as starting quarterback, while Jets aim to bounce back from damaging 37-16 home loss to AFC East-rival New England that halted team's three-game win streak...New York visiting Sports Authority Field at Mile High for second consecutive year, having rallied for 24-20 triumph there during Week 6 of last season...Denver running back Willis McGahee considered game-time decision after straining hamstring in this past Sunday's 17-10 win at Kansas City, while understudy Knowshon Moreno suffered season-ending torn ACL during contest...Jets running back LaDanian Tomlinson doubtful after spraining knee against Patriots, while safety Brodney Pool ruled out and rookie receiver Jeremy Kerley questionable due to knee injuries...Broncos second in the NFL in rushing offense (158.2 ypg) and averaging 228.8 yards per game on the ground in Tebow's four starts...Team rushed 55 times for 244 yards against Chiefs last week, with Tebow completing just 2-of-8 pass attempts but throwing 56-yard touchdown strike to wideout Eric Decker in fourth quarter...New York second overall in pass efficiency defense and tied for fourth in interceptions (13), but allowed 329 yards and three touchdowns to New England's Tom Brady in Week 10.
Fast Fact: Tebow became the first quarterback to attempt fewer than 10 passes and complete two or less while taking all his team's snaps in a victory since New England's Steve Grogan went 2-of-5 for 13 yards in his team's 3-0 win over Miami in the infamous "Snowplow Game" on Dec. 12, 1982.
Prediction: Jets start out slow after a short week, but Rex Ryan adjusts to Denver's gimmicky offense and shuts down Tebow and his mates in the second half. Jets 30, Broncos 17.
Buffalo (5-4) at Miami (2-7), Sunday, 1:00 (Miami -2)
Storylines: First 2011 meeting of AFC East inhabitants headed in opposite directions, with slumping Bills having dropped two straight and three of four after 4-1 start and Dolphins on two-game winning streak after losing first seven tests of the season...Miami has prevailed in four of last six matchups between the teams, but Buffalo recorded first victory in Sun Life Stadium since 2007 with 17-14 decision last December...Rising Dolphins have outscored opponents 51-12 during current surge and coming off 20-9 triumph over visiting Washington last Sunday, only team's second win in last 14 outings at home...Bills 1-3 on road this year and began stretch of three consecutive away tilts with forgettable 44-7 defeat at Dallas in Week 10, club's worst loss since 2007...Buffalo second in AFC with plus-four turnover margin but have seven giveaways during present slide, with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing three interceptions against Cowboys...Miami signal-caller Matt Moore has completed 71.1 percent of his pass attempts with three touchdowns and one pick over team's two straight wins...Bills running back Fred Jackson leads NFL in rushing yards (917) and recorded sixth 100-yard game of season last week...Wide receiver Stevie Johnson questionable for Buffalo after hurting shoulder against Cowboys, but safety George Wilson (shoulder) probable and linebacker Chris Kelsay (calf) set to return from two-game absence...Bills kicker Rian Lindell (shoulder) ruled out, however, and team placed center Eric Wood (torn ACL) on injured reserve Tuesday.
Fast Fact: Fitzpatrick, the AFC's Offensive Player of the Month in September, has completed just 35-of-62 passes (56.5 pct.) for 337 yards and two touchdowns with five interceptions for a 48.9 quarterback rating in Buffalo's two November losses.
Prediction: Bills have been done in by turnovers lately, but get back on track against a Miami team that's rarely forced mistakes out of its opponent. Bills 24, Dolphins 21.
Carolina (2-7) at Detroit (6-3), Sunday, 1:00 (Detroit -7)
Storylines: Matchup of struggling teams led by former No. 1 overall picks at quarterback, with Matthew Stafford's Lions having lost three of four since sizzling 5-0 start and NFC South cellar-dwelling Panthers on two-game skid and seek first road victory under rookie sensation Cam Newton...Stafford probable despite fractured right finger and star wide receiver Calvin Johnson (head) also slated to play for Detroit, but running back Jahvid Best to sit out fourth straight game with concussion...Tight end Jeremy Shockey (hip, ribs) probable for Carolina, which is 0-3 as the visitor this season...Lions fifth in NFL with plus-eight turnover margin but had six giveaways in 37-13 defeat to fellow NFC North member Chicago last week, in which Stafford threw four interceptions and attempted franchise-record 63 passes...Panthers sixth overall in total offense (400.0 ypg), but were held to 279 yards in 30-3 home setback to Tennessee in Week 10...Game features two of league's premier wideouts, with Carolina's Steve Smith second in receiving yards (951) and Johnson third in that category (98.3 ypg) along with NFL-best 11 touchdown catches...Detroit 27th in the NFL in rushing offense (93.6 ypg), while Panthers 28th in run defense (137.6 ypg) and allowed 172 yards on the ground to Titans last week...Lions outscoring opponents by 156-66 margin in second half this season.
Struggling Lions have lost three of four since sizzling 5-0 start and return home off error-filled 37-13 throttling by fellow NFC North member Chicago last Sunday, while NFC South cellar-dwelling Panthers have dropped two straight and seek first road victory under rookie quarterback Cam Newton...
Fast Fact: Panthers are 4-1 all-time against the Lions, with Detroit's lone win in the series a 24-9 decision in Charlotte on Oct. 24, 1999 in the first-ever meeting between the teams.
Prediction: Lions aren't at their best with Stafford ailing, but still should score enough on Carolina's deplorable defense. Lions 27, Panthers 20.
Cincinnati (6-3) at Baltimore (6-3), Sunday, 1:00 (Baltimore -7)
Storylines: Key showdown between AFC North contenders both a half-game behind first-place Pittsburgh in division standings and who both lost last week...Steelers vaulted into top spot with 24-17 victory at Cincinnati combined with Baltimore's 22-17 upset setback at Seattle this past Sunday...Ravens 4-0 at home this season and have won six straight times at M&T Bank Stadium, where club is 14-1 in its last 15 games, while Bengals 4-1 on the road in 2011 and have won three straight as the visitor...Teams split 2010 series, with Baltimore recording 13-7 decision in regular-season finale...Matchup of two of NFL's top defenses, with Ravens second in points allowed (16.9 ppg), third in yards surrendered (284.7 ypg) and tied for third against the run (90.3 ypg) and Cincinnati second in rush defense (86.8 ypg) and fifth in both total (304.2 ypg) and scoring defense (18.2 ppg)...Bengals rookie receiver A.J. Green expected to play despite hurting knee last week, but cornerback Leon Hall sustained season-ending torn Achilles in loss to Steelers...Baltimore wideout Lee Evans (ankle) a possibility to make first appearance since Week 2...Cincinnati rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has 10-to-3 touchdown-to- interception ratio on the road, but was picked off twice by Pittsburgh last Sunday...Bengals wide receiver Jerome Simpson had career-best 12 catches totaling 123 yards in team's Week 17 loss at Baltimore last season.
Fast Fact: The Bengals, who downed Tennessee by a 24-17 count in Week 9, have won and lost consecutive games by identical scores for second time in franchise history. Cincinnati followed a 28-21 defeat at San Francisco in 1996 with a triumph over Jacksonville by the same totals the subsequent Sunday.
Prediction: Ravens always come to play at home and will be seething over another inexplicable loss, while Dalton displays some growing pains against a top-tier defense for a second week in a row. Ravens 23, Bengals 13.
Dallas (5-4) at Washington (3-6), Sunday, 1:00 (Dallas -7.5)
Storylines: Cowboys enter FedEx Field riding two-game win streak and closed within a game of first-place New York Giants following 44-7 dismantling of Buffalo last week, while sagging Redskins attempt to avoid first six-game slide since 1998...Rex Grossman to make second straight start at quarterback for Washington and threw two interceptions in return to action during team's 20-9 setback at Miami in Week 10...Longtime division rivals met in Dallas on Sept. 26, with Cowboys claiming narrow 18-16 victory behind six field goals from kicker Dan Bailey and 115 rushing yards from running back Felix Jones...Jones set to return from four-game absence due to ankle sprain but will back up rookie DeMarco Murray, who's racked up 601 rushing yards over last four outings and had 135 yards and a touchdown in rout of Bills...Washington defense permitting 149.2 rushing yards during current five-game skid...Wide receiver Miles Austin and cornerback Mike Jenkins out for Cowboys with hamstring injuries, however, while Redskins placed rookie receiver Leonard Hankerson (hip) and defensive lineman Kedric Golston (knee) on injured reserve Monday while re-signing veteran wideout Donte Stallworth...Redskins running back Tashard Choice, claimed off waivers from Dallas on Oct. 31, faces ex-team for first time but questionable to play (hamstring)...Safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (knee) also a question mark for Washington, while wide receiver Santana Moss (broken hand) out and offensive tackle Jammal Brown (groin) doubtful...Cowboys have won in two of last three visits to FedEx Field, but suffered 13-7 loss there in 2010 season opener and are 1-3 on the road this year.
Fast Fact: Dallas quarterback Tony Romo went 23-of-26 for 270 yards and three touchdowns against the Bills last week, becoming just the fifth player to complete at least 88.5 percent of his pass attempts and throw for three scores in a game since 1933. He joined Chris Chandler (1995), Rich Gannon (2002), Tom Brady (2009) and Drew Brees (Oct. 23 vs. Indianapolis).
Prediction: A much healthier Washington team played the Cowboys to the wire back in Week 3 and could do so again this time around, but the end result will likely be the same. Cowboys 19, Redskins 13.
Jacksonville (3-6) at Cleveland (3-6), Sunday, 1:00 (Even)
Storylines: Jaguars shoot for first winning streak of 2011 and earned initial road victory of the season with a 17-3 verdict over downtrodden Indianapolis last Sunday, while offensively-challenged Browns suffered third straight loss and fifth defeat in last six games with 13-12 ousting by visiting St. Louis in Week 10...Matchup of two of league's lowest scoring teams, with Jacksonville averaging just 12.8 points per game (31st overall) and Cleveland 29th in that category (14.6 ppg)...Both participants have netted under 20 points in all but one of their games this season...Jaguars also last in the NFL in total offense (243.6 ypg) and passing yards (122.1 ypg) and managed just 251 yards against Colts...Browns 30th in both total yards (294.1 ypg) and rushing offense (87.0 ypg) and won't have top running back Peyton Hillis for fifth straight week due to lingering hamstring injury...Fellow running back Montario Hardesty (calf) doubtful for Cleveland and wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (concussion) questionable, while safety T.J. Ward (foot) ruled out for contest...Jacksonville placed veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis (torn ACL) and offensive lineman Eben Britton (back) on injured reserve Monday, while signing cornerback Ashton Youboty and defensive end George Selvie...Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew fourth in the league in rushing yards (854) and faces Browns' 30th-ranked run defense (142.8 ypg)...Jacksonville claimed wide receiver Brian Robiskie off waivers from Browns on Nov. 2 and could make Jaguars debut this week.
Fast Fact: Jaguars own a 5-1 lifetime record as the visitor in this series, with their only loss at Cleveland Browns Stadium a 23-17 setback in 2009 in the club's most recent appearance at the venue.
Oakland (5-4) at Minnesota (2-7), Sunday, 1:00 (Oakland -1)
Storylines: Rested Raiders enter week holding one-game edge atop AFC West and head to Metrodome off 10-day hiatus, while NFC North bottom-feeding Vikings face quick turnaround after brutal 45-7 loss at still-unbeaten Green Bay on Monday...Oakland seized division lead with 24-17 road ousting of San Diego on Nov. 10 and owns 3-1 away record this year...Raiders running back Michael Bush amassed 242 yards from scrimmage (157 rushing, 85 receiving) against Chargers in place of usual starter Darren McFadden, who's expected to miss second straight game with sprained foot...Wide receiver Jacoby Ford (foot) and cornerback Chris Johnson (hamstring) also doubtful for Oakland, while safety Michael Huff questionable with ankle sprain...Minnesota 30th in NFL and pass defense (272.8 ypg) and lost top cornerback Antoine Winfield for season after fracturing clavicle against Packers, while safety Husain Abdullah sustained concussion and is questionable...Raiders fourth in the league in rushing offense (156.2 ypg) and Vikings fifth in that category (145.2 ypg), with Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson fifth individually in rushing yards (854) and tied for first with 10 touchdowns on the ground...Vikings defensive end Jared Allen tops NFL with 13 1/2 sacks and has one in club-record 11 straight games, while Oakland linebacker Kamerion Wimbley had career-best four sacks against Chargers in Week 10.
Fast Fact: Bush's 242 yards from scrimmage last week was the most by a Raiders running back since Clem Daniels compiled a franchise-record 256 (200 rushing, 56 receiving) against the New York Jets on Oct. 20, 1963.
Prediction: Up-and-down Raiders win when they stop the run and lose when they can't, and will have a challenge on their hands from the dangerous Peterson. Vikings 31, Raiders 27.
Tampa Bay (4-5) at Green Bay (9-0), Sunday, 1:00 (Green Bay -14.5)
Storylines: Powerhouse Packers try to extend franchise-best winning streak to 16 games (including postseason) and aim for 10th consecutive victory at Lambeau Field, while floundering Buccaneers have lost three in a row and have been outscored 64-25 in back-to-back defeats to New Orleans (27-16) and Houston (37-9)...Green Bay averaging league-best 35.6 points per game and reached 45- point mark for second straight week in Monday's 45-7 blowout of Minnesota...Packers also 3rd in passing yards (306.9 ypg) and fourth in total offense (409.7 ypg), while quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads NFL in passer rating (130.7), completion percentage (72.9) and touchdown throws (28) after tossing four scoring strikes against Vikings...Tampa Bay 31st in total defense (401.2 ypg) and 28th against the pass (263.0 ypg), and have surrendered average of 185.7 rushing yards during current losing skid...Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman has NFC-high 13 interceptions and has thrown seven picks over last three outings, and faces Green Bay defense that tops league in interceptions (17)...Packers offensive tackle Chad Clifton to miss fifth straight game with hamstring injury, while outside linebacker Frank Zombo (hamstring) also out for Green Bay...Tampa Bay just 5-15 all-time at Lambeau Field, but posted 38-28 upset win in last visit there in 2009.
Fast Fact: Rodgers is the third quarterback in NFL history with at least three touchdown passes in a season's first nine games, joining Kurt Warner in 1999 and Tom Brady in 2007. Both Warner's Rams and Brady's Patriots reached the Super Bowl that year.
Prediction: No need to overthink this one. Green Bay has its foot on the gas pedal all year long, while problem-strewn Bucs are beginning to show signs of packing it in. Packers 38. Buccaneers 16.
Arizona (3-6) at San Francisco (8-1), Sunday, 4:05 (San Francisco -9.5)
Storylines: NFC West battle between teams currently on a roll, with scorching 49ers having won seven in a row to take commanding five-game lead atop division and Cardinals on two-game surge following string of six straight losses...John Skelton expected to make third consecutive start at quarterback for Arizona in place of injured regular Kevin Kolb (toe) and put up career bests of 315 passing yards in three touchdowns in 21-17 upset win at Philadelphia last week...San Francisco running back Frank Gore probable despite sitting out most of team's 27-20 Week 10 triumph over New York Giants with bruised knee and sore ankle...Tight end Todd Heap questionable for Cardinals with lingering hamstring injury, while safety Kerry Rhodes (foot) and rookie tight end Rob Housler (groin) likely to remain sidelined...San Francisco on longest winning streak since 11-game run in 1997 and have bested Arizona four straight times, including 38-7 rout at Candlestick Park in 2010 season finale, while Cardinals had lost 11 straight on road prior to last Sunday's breakthrough...49ers defense yielding league lows of 15.3 points and 73.2 rushing yards per game and haven't allowed individual 100-yard rusher in 31 consecutive contests, longest active streak in NFL...San Francisco also tops league with plus-13 turnover margin and seventh in rushing offense (130.9 ypg), with Gore registering four straight 100-yard efforts prior to last week...Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald had season-high 146 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches against Eagles and put together 11-reception, 125-yard output in last meeting with Niners.
Fast Fact: 49ers quarterback Alex Smith leads the NFL with a 131.0 passer rating in the game's final two minutes this season.
Prediction: Cardinals have been far more competitive in recent weeks, but knocking off a San Francisco squad that's been extraordinarily efficient in all phases on the road would still qualify as a stretch. 49ers 20, Cardinals 13.
Seattle (3-6) at St. Louis (2-7), Sunday, 4:05 (St. Louis -2)
Storylines: First meeting between NFC West inhabitants since last year's regular-season finale in Seattle, in which Seahawks came through with 16-6 triumph to capture division title at 7-9...Both teams victorious last time out, with Seattle pulling off 22-17 home shocker over AFC contender Baltimore and Rams escaping with 13-12 decision at Cleveland for second win in three games following 0-6 start...Seahawks have prevailed in 11 of last 12 matchups between the clubs, but had string of five straight wins at Edward Jones Dome snapped with 20-3 loss there last season...Cornerback Al Harris and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui incurred season-ending ACL tears for St. Louis last Sunday, while offensive tackle Jason Smith (concussion) doubtful and tight end Lance Kendricks (foot), wide receiver Danario Alexander (hamstring) and running back Cadillac Williams (calf) all questionable...Wide receivers Sidney Rice and Doug Baldwin and safety Kam Chancellor all hopeful to play for Seattle after each sustained concussions against Baltimore, but team placed rookie guard John Moffitt (knee) on injured reserve Tuesday...Rams running back Steven Jackson averaging 139 rushing yards and 27 carries over last three weeks, while Seahawks counterpart Marshawn Lynch has 244 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in past two games and takes on St. Louis defense ranked last against the run (150.6 ypg)...Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka tied franchise single-game record with five field goals last week.
Fast Fact: All four NFC West teams (Arizona, San Francisco, St. Louis, Seattle) all won their games last week for the first time since the division was realigned by the NFL in 2002.
Prediction: Hard to trust the erratic Seahawks on the road, but Lynch could be set up for another big day against submissive St. Louis defense and Rams continue to be hit awfully hard by injuries. Seahawks 17, Rams 13.
San Diego (4-5) at Chicago (6-3), Sunday, 4:15 (Chicago -3.5)
Storylines: Interconference clash of clubs with contrasting recent results, as red-hot Bears are riding four-game win streak and error-prone Chargers have lost four straight times following 4-1 start, team's longest slide since 2003...San Diego's latest setback a 24-17 home defeat to rival Oakland on Nov. 10, which dropped Bolts one game behind first-place Raiders in AFC West standings...Chicago opened two-game home stretch with 37-13 throttling of co- NFC North member Detroit last Sunday, in which defense forced six turnovers and intercepted Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford four times...Bears have 12 takeaways over past three games, while Chargers have turned in over nine times in three most recent losses and quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown NFL-high 15 interceptions...San Diego also gave up six sacks to Oakland in last outing and likely to be without offensive tackle Marcus McNeill (neck) and guard Kris Dielman (concussion), while guard Louis Vasquez questionable with sprained ankle...Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips (foot) also doubtful for Chargers, and status of wide receiver Malcom Floyd (hip) and inside linebacker Takeo Spikes (concussion) uncertain...Rookie offensive tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) to remain sidelined for Chicago and team placed guard Chris Williams (wrist) on injured reserve Monday while signing defensive end Chauncey Davis...Bears defense allowing 70.5 rushing yards during four-game win streak.
Fast Fact: Bears defensive backs Charles Tillman and Major Wright each returned interceptions for touchdowns against the Lions last week, the first time Chicago has done so in a game since Mark Carrier and Jeremy Lincoln had pick- sixes of Green Bay's Brett Favre on Dec. 5, 1993.
Prediction: Don't be fooled by the Chargers' reputation. They really are as bad a team as they've looked the past few weeks. Bears 27, Chargers 20.
Tennessee (5-4) at Atlanta (5-4), Sunday, 4:15 (Atlanta -6)
Storylines: Falcons attempt to rebound from tough 26-23 overtime loss to NFC South leader New Orleans last week, highlighted by head coach Mike Smith's ill- fated decision to go for it on fourth down in his team's own territory, while Titans have won two of last three games and come in off impressive 30-7 victory at Carolina...Tennessee has prevailed in 13 of last 14 matchups with NFC teams and aims for eighth consecutive interconference road triumph...Atlanta had three-game win streak halted by Saints and suffered just third loss in past 13 regular-season tests at the Georgia Dome...Falcons rookie receiver Julio Jones a question mark after injuring hamstring in last week's defeat, while offensive tackle Sam Baker (back) to miss fourth straight game...Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud questionable for Titans with groin strain...Tennessee last in the NFL in rushing offense (81.3 ypg) but rolled up season-best 172 yards on the ground against Panthers, with struggling running back Chris Johnson breaking out for 130 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries...Atlanta tied for third overall in run defense (90.3 ypg) and limited New Orleans to 41 rushing yards a week ago...Falcons running back Michael Turner averaging 107 rushing yards over last four outings, while wideout Harry Douglas registered career bests of eight catches and 133 receiving yards against Saints.
Fast Fact: Falcons have been whistled for 58 penalties through the first nine games, which matches their entire infraction total from all of last season.
Prediction: Underrated Atlanta defense allows Falcons to bounce back in a game they really need to have. Falcons 24, Titans 17.
Philadelphia (3-6) at N.Y. Giants (6-3), Sunday, 8:20 (N.Y. Giants -4.5)
Storylines: Key showdown between longtime NFC East rivals, with staggering Eagles three games back of first-place Giants in the standings following two straight losses...Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick highly questionable to play after fracturing two ribs in last Sunday's 21-17 loss to Arizona, with veteran Vince Young the presumed favorite to start under center...Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson to suit up after being benched last week for skipping team meeting, but leading receiver Jeremy Maclin doubtful due to sprained shoulder, with ex-Giant Steve Smith a candidate to take his place...New York running back Ahmad Bradshaw could miss third straight week with foot fracture, while linebacker Michael Boley (hamstring) questionable...Giants had three-game win streak snapped with tough 27-20 loss at NFC West-leader San Francisco last week, but delivered 29-16 road victory over Eagles on Sept. 25 behind four Eli Manning touchdown passes, including two to wide receiver Victor Cruz...Philadelphia had bested New York six consecutive times prior to that defeat, including memorable 38-31 triumph at MetLife Stadium last December in which Jackson had deciding punt-return touchdown on game's final play...Eagles also to be without cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (ankle), but safety Nate Allen probable after missing last week with concussion...Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy second in NFL in rushing yards (906) and has scored a touchdown in every game this season (12 total)...Giants own plus- six turnover margin in 2011, while Eagles minus-seven in that category, the second-worst figure in the NFC, and had three miscues in teams' earlier meeting.
Fast Fact: Young has won each of his two career starts against the Giants, both of which came during his tenure with the Tennessee Titans, and completed 66.7 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions in those games.
Prediction: Though Eagles are in obvious desperation mode, Giants have been the more consistent team and should benefit from Vick's likely unavailability. Giants 28, Eagles 20.
Kansas City (4-5) at New England (6-3), Monday, 8:30 (New England -14.5)
Storylines: First head-to-head bout between teams since 2008 season opener, a 17-10 Patriots' home win in which New England quarterback Tom Brady sustained year-ending torn ACL and was replaced by current Chief Matt Cassel...Cassel out indefinitely after injuring right hand in Kansas City's 17-10 loss to Denver last Sunday, however, with journeyman Tyler Palko to make first career NFL start in his place...Patriots snapped two-game losing streak and regained sole possession of first place in AFC East with big 37-16 victory over rival New York Jets in Week 10, with Brady throwing for 329 yards and three touchdowns and defensive end Andre Carter recording club-record 4 1/2 sacks...New England 20-1 in last 21 regular-season tilts at Gillette Stadium, with only loss coming to New York Giants on Nov. 13...Chiefs have dropped two straight since ripping off four straight wins from Oct. 2-31 and have mustered just 13 points in those defeats...Kansas City 27th overall in both scoring (15.7 ppg) and passing offense, while Patriots defense giving up league worsts of 308.9 passing yards and 412.0 total yards per game and expected to be without cornerback Devin McCourty (shoulder) and linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee) on Monday...Safety Patrick Chung (foot) on track to return for New England after sitting out against Jets, however...Patriots top NFL in passing yards (326.0 ypg) and rank second in total offense (431.9 ypg) and third in points scored (28.8 ppg)...Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel served in same capacity with New England from 2001-04 and was part of Pats' last three Super Bowl wins.
Fast Fact: Patriots have won nine of their last 10 contests on Monday Night Football and have averaged 34.8 points per game in those victories.
Prediction: Injury-ravaged Chiefs don't seem to stand much of a chance against potent Pats, who could be primed for yet another big second-half run. Patriots 35, Chiefs 10.