Steelers at Cardinals by Jess Root of Revenge of the Birds
Impact Injuries: Todd Heap is still hampered by a hamstring injury, but the tight end corps are getting some help. Jim Dray, who has been out since after the final preseason game, has started practicing.
The X-Factor: For this game, the name of the game is familiarity. The Cardinals have been known for some time as Steelers West. Between Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm, Ray Horton and other players and coaches, there is plenty of familiarity of what the Steelers do. The question is can they stop them from doing what they do.
Don’t be surprised if: Don't be surprised to see a close game. Arizona is coming off of their bye and the Steelers have been anything but world-beaters outside of Heinz Field.
Follow Kent on Twitter: @senorjessroot
For more on the Cards click here
Falcons at Lions by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Impact Injuries: Wide receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) is not expected to play. Harry Douglas, who had a big 34-yard catch on a key third-and-12 in the win over Carolina, will replace the rookie in the lineup. The Falcons are hoping to get nickel back Christopher Owens back from the concussion protocol in time for Sunday’s game.
The X-Factor: Michael Turner. Turner ran for a season-high 139 yards on 27 carries last week. It will be important for him to get rolling so that Detroit’s defensive line can’t pin their ears back and concentrate on rushing the passer.
Don’t be surprised if: WR Harry Douglas turns in a big game. He was targeted just four times last week, but was open deep on two passes that were overthrown. If Douglas and Ryan would have connected, he’d likely been over 100 with two touchdowns.
Follow Darryl on Twitter: @AJCFalcons
For more on the Falcons click here
Ravens at Jaguars by Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times
Impact Injuries: Wide receiver Lee Evans remains sidelined with sprained left ankle that has hampered him since the preseason. Left offensive guard Ben Grubbs has a painful right turf toe and is questionable for this game. Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith has been out since the first game with a high left ankle sprain, but has returned to practice on a limited basis as well as veteran cornerback Chris Carr (left hamstring).
The X-Factor: The Ravens want to avoid falling prey to the dreaded trap game, particularly with the entire league and nation watching Monday night. Although the Jaguars (1-5) have lost five consecutive games, they’ve been competitive in all but one of those defeats. The Jaguars haven’t performed well in prime time, though. They lost their past three Monday night games, their last three Thursday night games and their last Sunday night game.
The Ravens (4-1) can’t afford to overlook a Jacksonville squad that has a great running back in Maurice Jones-Drew and a respectable defense. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio is coaching under a mandate from owner Wayne Weaver that he has to make the playoffs to save his job one more time. At this rate, he’s probably a dead man walking. Del Rio, though, might also throw caution to the wind against his old team, which once employed him as linebackers coach during its Super Bowl season.
Don’t be surprised if: The Jaguars can make this something of a contest. They have a stingy defense and an ability to hang with more talented teams despite ranking last in the NFL in total offense. With Maurice Jones-Drew in the backfield, the Jaguars have one consistent offensive threat while rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert learns on the job.
Follow Aaron on Twitter: @RavensInsider
For more on the Ravens click here
Redskins at Panthers by Greg Jones of Examiner.com
Impact Injuries: The Carolina Panthers on Wednesday placed right tackle Jeff Otah on season-ending injury reserve because of a sore knee and back. Undrafted rookie Byron Bell will replace Otah, who missed last week’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. Bell has started two games, and he has alternated with Otah in several games. Otah, a former 2008 first-round pick out of Pittsburgh, is probably the most talented offensive linemen on the team. The offensive line also includes Pro Bowler left tackle Jordan Gross and Pro Bowler center Ryan Kalil. But Otah’s injury gives the Panthers an excellent opportunity to see if Bell can become a starter and replace Oath, who has been on injured reserve three times since getting drafted.
The X-Factor: Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s ability to play well with six games under his belt will be enormous against the Washington Redskins and the following nine games. There is more than enough tape on Newton, so teams will be better prepared for the rookie signal caller. The Redskins have an excellent coaching staff, and it will be up to the Panthers coaching staff to continue to put Newton in situations to succeed.
Don’t be surprised if: Newton throws for more than 300 yards, and the Panthers rush for more than 100 yards against a No. 6 ranked defense. The running game has improved in the last three weeks, and Newton is a better quarterback going into Week 7. Newton is one of the best playmakers in the NFL, and he ranks fourth in passing yards (1,847). Only Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have passed for more yards.
Follow Greg on Twitter: @gjjones_sports
For more on the Panthers click here
Bears vs. Buccaneers by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune
Impact Injuries: The good news for the Bears is that wide receiver Earl Bennett could return from a chest injury after being sidelined since Week 2. Bennett is probably the target quarterback Jay Cutler is most comfortable with and he gives the offense a presence in the middle of the field that has quite frankly been missing with tight end Kellen Davis failing to develop in the passing game as expected, at least to this point. Rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi remains out with his right knee injury and could be back following the bye, which comes after the London game. Defensive tackle Matt Toeaina remains out with a sprained knee, and rookie second-round pick Stephen Paea showed well in his place last week.
The X-Factor: Generally, the team that has arrived first in London for the annual NFL regular-season game has fared best. It takes time to adjust to the time difference in London – six hours for the Bears and five for the Buccaneers. Tampa arrived Monday night, leaving a little more than 12 hours after they defeated the New Orleans Saints last Sunday. The Bears do not come in until Friday morning, opting to spend most of the week preparing for the game at their headquarters in Lake Forest, Ill. The Bears will practice Friday afternoon and if the players don’t decent sleep on the overnight flight, it’s going to be tough for them to put the finishing touches on preparation for the game. They don’t seem concerned by it and point out the game will kick off Sunday at noon Chicago time. The question is, how will their bodies feel when it’s 6 p.m. in London?
Don’t be surprised if: Even if they’re jet-lagged, the Bears’ defense should look fast against the Bucs, who have a slow offense. Tampa lacks a consistent explosive playmaker and it’s kind of a plodding offensive attack. That could play into Chicago’s favor, especially with running back LeGarrette Blount out with a knee injury.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradBiggs
For more on the Bears click here
Seahawks at Browns by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Impact Injuries: The Madden curse strikes again. Peyton Hillis suffered a pulled hamstring against the Raiders and will most likely sit. Montario Hardesty will replace him. Cornerback Joe Haden is likely to miss his second straight game, with Dimitri Patterson stepping in. Linebacker Scott Fujita suffered a concussion and will also likely sit.
The X-Factor: Will the Seahawks no-huddle offense foil the Browns' defense? The Browns' young unit is playing surprisingly well, ranking seventh overall and fourth against the pass. But the Seahawks have scored 64 points over the last two games after just 30 in the first three.
Don’t be surprised if: Colt McCoy, who's come under heavy fire lately for his spotty play, pulls it together and has good game. On three occasions, he's completed fewer than 50% of his passes. The Browns are last in the league with only eight plays of 20 yards or more.
Follow Mary Kay on Twitter: @MaryKayCabot
For more on the Browns click here
Rams at Cowboys by Charean Williams of the Star-Telegram
Impact Injuries: Starting defensive end Jason Hatcher will miss his third consecutive start with a calf injury, and running back Felix Jones will miss at least two weeks with a high ankle sprain. Marcus Spears will start in Hatcher’s spot, and DeMarco Murray is expected to get the bulk of the carries in place of Jones. Left guard Bill Nagy is out for the year with a broken ankle. Dallas signed Montrae Holland, who the Cowboys had released before the season, and he will start in Nagy’s spot since Derrick Dockery is out another week with a fractured tibia and sprained MCL.
The X-Factor: Receiver Dez Bryant has failed to catch a pass in the second half of three of the four games he has played. He has only two catches for 50 yards in the second half of games this season. Bryant was targeted only twice in the second half last week. Three of Tony Romo’s six interceptions have come on passes intended for Bryant, so there is some speculation that Romo has lost faith in Bryant.
Don’t be surprised if: Rookie DeMarco Murray rushes for 100 yards. The Cowboys rank 27th in rushing, and Felix Jones has only one 100-yard game. In fact, the Cowboys have had only two games this season when they have had 100 yards rushing as a team. But the Rams rank last in the league in rushing yards. Murray has 24 carries for 71 yards this season.
Follow Charean on Twitter: @NFLCharean
For more in the ‘Boys click here
Broncos at Dolphins by Lindsay Jones of the Denver Post
Impact Injuries: The Broncos returned from the bye week at full strength, with all 53 players practicing for the first time all season. Key returns include wide receivers Demaryius Thomas (Achilles, finger), who is expected to make his 2011 debut, and Eddie Royal (groin), both of whom should help Tebow and try to make up for the loss of Brandon Lloyd.
The X-Factor: How could it be anyone other than Tim Tebow? The 2010 first-round pick quarterback will make his first start of 2011 after replacing Kyle Orton midway through the Broncos last game. Tebow has injected noticeable energy into the huddle and locker room, but the key will be if he is able to translate his enthusiasm into good quarterback play for a team desperately needing a win. It will be interesting to see how much the Broncos? coaching staff has tweaked the offensive scheme over the bye week to account for the different playing styles of Tebow and Orton, and if the Broncos can surprise the Dolphins defense, coached by former Broncos defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.
Don’t be surprised if: The key defensive match-up for the Broncos pits former teammates against each other. Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall and Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey spent plenty of time practicing against each other when they were teammates here in Denver from 2006-2009, and Bailey ? the team?s top corner ? is energized by the idea of trying to shut down Marshall.
Follow Lindsay on Twitter: @PostBroncos
For more on the Broncos click here
Falcons at Lions by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press
Impact Injuries: Jahvid Best suffered his second concussion of the season last week, and since their trade for Ronnie Brown fell through after Jerome Harrison was diagnosed with a brain tumor the Lions are woefully thin at running back. Maurice Morris is the expected starter. Linebacker Justin Durant and Tony Scheffler both returned to practice on Thursday after missing the 49ers game with concussions and could be back for the Falcons.
The X-Factor: Ford Field. After years of struggling to sell out their stadium, the Lions suddenly have one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL. According to STATS LLC, opponents have committed 15 false-start penalties at Ford Field this year, most of any venue in the league. The place is ear-splitting, the Lions’ relentless pass rush helps make opposing offensive lines antsy, and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has taken his share of hits this year.
Don’t be surprised if: Morris has a surprisingly effective day at running back. The 10-year vet has been used sparingly so far this season – just nine carries for 20 yards – but he’s delivered big games in fill-in situations for the Lions in the past. Last year, Morris rushed for 109 yards to help snap the Lions’ record 26-game road losing streak against Tampa Bay when Best was bothered by turf toes, and after Kevin Smith tore his ACL in 2009 Morris delivered a 126-yard game in a loss to Arizona.
Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveBirkett and @freeplions
For more on the Lions click here
Green Bay Packers
Packers at Vikings by Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette
Impact Injuries: Last week against St. Louis was the first time all season the Packers were able to use their rotation of Erik Walden and Frank Zombo at right outside linebacker. Zombo had missed the first five games of the season because of the broken scapula he sustained in the preseason. The platoon system at the spot opposite Clay Matthews worked beautifully. Walden and Zombo combined for nine tackles and one quarterback hit while alternating series. But somewhere along the way, Zombo sustained a hyper-extended knee. Even though he finished the game, he won’t be available for Sunday’s game at Minnesota. Zombo sets the edge against the run better than Walden, who is more of a pass rusher. Considering the Packers will face one of the game’s premier running backs, Adrian Peterson, that could be a substantial loss.
The X-Factor: Marshall Newhouse. The second-year pro has performed well in relief stints at both tackle spots, making two starts at right and one at left this season. But he hasn’t yet faced anyone like Jared Allen, who has a league-leading 9½ sacks in six games. The last time the Packers started an unheralded and inexperienced tackle in the Metrodome was in 2009, when Allen Barbre got the call at right tackle. Allen and the Vikings’ made mincemeat out of Barbre. The Vikings sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times, and Allen had 4½ of them. So it was no surprise to hear Packers coach Mike McCarthy say this week: “This will be Marshall Newhouse’s biggest challenge so far this year.”
Don’t be surprised if: The Packers catch the ball better this week. In the last two games, they have dropped 10 passes. One of them, off the hands of Greg Jennings, turned into an interception for the Rams. Two of Rodgers’ three interceptions this season have come on balls that were off the hands of his receivers. McCarthy put in an extra period of pass-catching drills in practice this week.
Follow Rob on Twitter: @RobDemovsky
For more on the Pack click here
Texans at Titans by Steph Stradley of the Houston Chronicle
Impact Injuries: WR Andre Johnson (hamstring surgery) and FB James Casey (pectoral muscle) are not expected to return. Matt Schaub is on pace for the most QB sacks of his career and has been hit pretty hard even when not sacked. He's a tough player who has played through injuries in the past but will be interesting to see if it effects his performance this week.
The X-Factor: Can the Texans fix their 4th quarters? The Texans defense has significantly improved from previous years but is worst in the league in allowing 4th quarter scoring (9.8). The Texans offense is 8th in the league in yards per game, 3rd in the league in time of possession. They are 3rd in the league in 1st quarter scoring but 23rd in the league in scoring in the 4th quarter. They closed out their 4th quarter in their win against the Steelers, but fell apart in their losses to the Saints, Raiders and Ravens. Finishing is an emphasis for this team but are they just running out of gas without playmakers Mario Williams and Andre Johnson? Williams played many snaps, and though rookie Brooks Reed did a good job in replacing him the last game, that is a lot of quality snaps to replace over the course of a season.
Don’t be surprised if: The only thing predictable about this divisional matchup is often something very strange happens. Would not be surprising if the game gets a little punchy. Texans-Titans games in the past have resulted in brawls on the field and on the sidelines.
Follow Steph on Twitter: @StephStradley
For more on the Texans click here
Colts at Saints by Brad Wells of StampedeBlue.com
Impact Injuries: Joseph Addai did not practice Wednesday, and once again looks like a long shot to play. Rookies Drake Nevis and Anthony Castonzo also did not practice. I don't anticipate them suiting up. This means that the Colts o-line will, once again, be a patchwork. While Jeff Linkenbach has performed well as left tackle while Castonzo nurses an ankle injury, Ryan Diem and Mike Pollak have struggled at the guard spots. The biggest potential injury worry is Antoine Bethea. He sat out Wednesday. Bethea is the only quality defensive back the Colts have in a secondary that has played absolutely terrible so far this season. Considering they are going up against Drew Brees and the Saints passing game Sunday night, if Bethea cannot play, my suggestion to you lovely readers out there is to start Drew Brees if you have him in fantasy. Actually, start him regardless of whether Bethea plays or not. This Colts secondary couldn't cover Boise State's receivers.
The X-Factor: Last week I said Delone Carter, and it was Donald Brown who scored on an 18-yard touchdown against the Bengals. This week, I'll say Dallas Clark. The Colts will need to throw to keep up with the Saints, and Clark is starting to find a bit of a comfort zone with Curtis Painter. Clark had 53 yards and a touchdown last week. He might perform even better against a Saints defense that is suspect.
Don’t be surprised if: Drew Brees sets the single game passing record. This game has blowout written all over it. The Colts are undermanned, and their secondary could be without Antoine Bethea. Drew Brees shredded this defense in the Super Bowl two years ago, and that was when the Colts pass defense was marginally good. Now, it's a joke, and Brees should have a field day.
Follow Brad on Twitter: @StampedeBlue
For more on the Colts click here
Ravens at Jaguars by Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union
Impact Injuries: Offensive lineman Eben Britton’s back tightened up on him suddenly Sunday morning. He was a late scratch against the Pittsburgh Steelers and didn’t practice on Thursday. Linebacker Clint Session was limited Thursday with an old elbow injury he recently aggravated.
The X-Factor: Maurice Jones-Drew is on pace for a career year. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said he sees similarities between Jones-Drew and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis – who Del Rio coached in Baltimore and who will likely spend a lot of time hitting Jones-Drew Monday. He said both have an infectious intensity and passion for the game.
Don’t be surprised if: This is a defensive struggle. The Jaguars defense held the Steelers to less than 60 yards of total offense in the second half of Sunday’s game.
Follow Tania on Twitter: @taniaganguli
For more on the Jags click here
Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs at Raiders by Joel Thorman of ArrowheadPride.com
Impact Injuries: None. The Chiefs have two guys listed on the injury report -- Jackie Battle and Le'Ron McClain -- but both have been full participants and are expected to play. Battle's presence is particularly important considering he emerged in Week 5 as perhaps the Chiefs top running back following the Week 2 season ending injury to Jamaal Charles. The biggest injury in this game comes from Oakland where Jason Campbell went down with a broken collarbone last week leading to the arrival of Carson Palmer.
The X-Factor: Carson Palmer. The new Raiders QB is expected to start with just three days of practice so his readiness is clearly the key to this game. If he's not prepared, the Chiefs can stack the box and stop what the Raiders do best, which is run the ball. Oakland has an elite run game with Darren McFadden shouldering the load so the best way to beat Oakland is to shut him down and make Palmer, who hasn't been in uniform in 10-plus months, beat the Chiefs secondary.
Don’t be surprised if: The Chiefs stack the box early and often. Going into every game, the Chiefs say their No. 1 goal is stopping the run and that's especially true this week. The Raiders run game is strong, and Carson Palmer has little experience in Oakland's offense, so KC will likely do all they can to stop the run and that means stacking the box early and often. They'll let Carson Palmer beat them but they won't let Darren McFadden be the reason they lose this game.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @ArrowheadPride
For more on the Chiefs click here
Broncos at Dolphins by Ben Volin of the Palm Beach Post
Impact Injuries: The one starter who might not play is FS Reshad Jones, who has missed practice all week with a knee injury. Backup Tyrone Culver has been practicing in his place all week, and the Dolphins also signed Gerald Alexander for depth. But the Dolphins are relatively healthy this week. WR Brandon Marshall (quad) and RB Reggie Bush (groin) sat out of Wednesday’s practice but were back to full participation on Thursday and are expected to play. Same with CB Vontae Davis, who was limited in Thursday’s practice with a hamstring injury but shouldn’t hold him out of the game.
The X-Factor: Dolphins inside linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett. Everyone in the stadium knows the Dolphins are going to try to keep Tim Tebow in the pocket and make him win the game with his arm. Expect the Dolphins to regularly drop seven and eight men into coverage to make sure Tebow doesn’t have any 1-on-1 matchups with his receivers. But someone’s got to make sure Tebow doesn’t scramble up the middle, and that’s where Dansby and Burnett come in. If they can “spy” Tebow properly and keep him behind the line of scrimmage, the Dolphins will have a good chance of stopping the Broncos’ offense.
Don’t be surprised if: The Dolphins finally score some points and win a game. They are 0-5 and have only six touchdowns in five games, but they’ve played four of the top 11 defenses this year in Houston, San Diego, Cleveland and the Jets. The Broncos have the 24th-ranked defense, are 31st in points allowed (28 per game) and could be just what the doctor ordered for the Dolphins’ anemic offense.
Follow Ben on Twitter: @BenVolinPBP
For more on the Phins click here
Packers at Vikings by Jeremy Fowler of the Pioneer Press
Impact Injuries: Wide receiver Percy Harvin (ribs) and right tackle Phil Loadholt (knee) have been limited in practice this week. Both are expected to play. Cornerback Antoine Winfield (neck) is in danger of missing his third consecutive game, and he hasn't participated in a full practice since Sept. 30.
The X-Factor: Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, who makes his starting debut against the defending world champion and 6-0 Packers. Good luck, rook. From the fans to Vikings coaches, everyone in the Metrodome will be eager to see how the team's first-round pick can perform under intense pressure -- and whether he can deliver an accurate pass from the pocket with Clay Matthews looming from the edge.
Don’t be surprised if: The Vikings defense overpursues quarterback Aaron Rodgers' potent playaction passing attack -- where Rodgers throws for first downs on more than half his passes -- with linebackers plugging passing lanes instead of blitzing. Rodgers can beat Minnesota from the pocket, but the Vikings want to contain him when possible and hope Jared Allen and Brian Robison get home off the edge.
Follow Jeremy on Twitter: @VikingsNow
Fore more on the Vikes click here
New England Patriots
New Orleans Saints
Colts at Saints by Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune
Impact Injuries: The Saints have a lot of injury question marks scattered throughout the roster. Tight end Jimmy Graham, who has emerged as the offense’s go-to guy, missed practice Thursday after feeling soreness in his ankle Wednesday. It’s unclear how severe the injury is. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma missed practice Wednesday and Thursday with a lingering knee injury, though he has been playing through it for several weeks. Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (ankle), defensive end Turk McBride (shoulder) and linebacker Will Herring (hamstring) also missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, leaving their status in doubt.
The X-Factor: The Saints need to figure out how to start taking the ball away from opponents. They have just four takeaways through six games. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact problem since defensive coordinator Gregg Williams remains aggressive with blitzes and a frequent mix of defensive looks to try and confuse quarterbacks. But something has to change, and a date with young Colts quarterback Curtis Painter could help.
Don’t be surprised if: The Saints feed Mark Ingram more than usual. The Saints know that they need to establish a more consistent and efficient run game. And they know it wouldn’t hurt to let one part of their three-headed tailback monster try and get in a rhythm. They may make a stronger emphasis on running the ball early, and ideally they can run the ball a lot late if they can build a lead against the Colts.
Follow Mike on Twitter: @miketripletttp
For more on the Saints click here
New York Giants
New York Jets
Chargers at Jets by Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News
Impact Injuries: Although Nick Mangold (ankle) didn’t practice on Wednesday and Thursday, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie (groin) was limited, both are expected to start on Sunday. Cornerback Donald Strickland will return after missing one game with a concussion. Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua (knee) may be out.
The X-Factor: Eric Smith. The Jets safety will have the daunting challenge of trying to slow down All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates, who appears in line to return from a nagging foot problem that has sideline him for the past month. Although the Jets will play some form of bracket coverage on Gates, Smith will likely be responsible trying to neutralize Philip Rivers’ favorite target.
Don’t be surprised if: Shonn Greene finally tops 25 carries. The third-year running back has struggled in his first season as the feature back, but has showed some promising signs in recent weeks. He’s coming off back-to-back 21-carry games and should be able to exploit a Chargers’ run defense that allows 4.6 yards per carry and has given up 21 runs of 10+ yards.
Follow Manish on Twitter: @TheJetsStream
For more on the Jets click here
Chiefs at Raiders by Vittorio Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle
Impact Injuries: Kicker Sebastian Janikowski is nursing a hamstring injury, but the team is still planning on him being out there. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve and is out for the season, but former tackle Desmond Bryant has done a nice job taking his place. Fullback Marcel Reece (ankle) and cornerbacks Chris Johnson (hamstring) and Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) appear to be out for another game.
The X-Factor: How will Carson Palmer look after just four practices with the team? Coach Hue Jackson would prefer that running back Darren McFadden carry the load against the Chiefs, but will surely ask Palmer to chuck a couple passes deep to keep the defense honest.
Don’t be surprised if: Newly acquired Aaron Curry has a big game. The Raiders are blitzing a lot more these days, as Jackson is throwing out the old vanilla defense, and that was the former Seahawks? bust forte coming out of college.
Follow Vittorio on Twitter: @VittorioTafur
For more on the Raiders click here
Steelers at Cardinals by Michael Bean of BehindTheSteelCurtain.com
Impact Injuries: As has been the case every week this season, the Steelers enter Week 7 with a number of injuries on both sides of the ball. Particularly noteworthy is the possibility of Casey Hampton (shoulder) and Chris Hoke (neck) -- the top two nose tackles on the depth chart -- both being out against the Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers have survived the loss of Hampton this past two weeks thanks to Hoke's solid play, particularly in Pittsburgh's Week 5 win over Tennessee. If both can't go, Dick LeBeau will have to get creative with how he deploys his front seven. Also, Maurkice Pouncey was limited in Thursday's practice with an elbow injury. With Doug Legursky, the team's emergency option at center, injured as well, the Steelers would unquestionably be in big trouble if Pouncey weren't able to play.
The X-Factor: Which of these two defenses are going to force turnovers? Despite sporting the top-ranked scoring defense, the Pittsburgh Steelers' inability to create turnovers remains problematic. Pittsburgh has forced only two turnovers through six weeks -- one fumble recovery and one interception. Arizona's defense has been more opportunistic, but not by much. Ray Horton's defense only has seven takeaways, the 21st fewest, though Arizona has played one fewer game than Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger's two interceptions in the teams' last regular season meeting back in 2007 were a big reason why the Cardinals defeated the Steelers 21-14 at home early on in Mike Tomlin's first year at the helm. For just the second time this season, Roethlisberger did not throw an interception last game. If he can make it two straight games without turning the ball over, Pittsburgh's chances at winning grow exponentially.
Don’t be surprised if: Steeler Nation knows just how creative Ken Whisenhunt is as a play caller and game planner. Be it the myriad gadget plays Whis dialed up at just the right time, or how he surprised opposing coordinators with his pass-first, run-later strategy in the 2005 Super Bowl run, Whisenhunt's unpredictability and innovative approach to game planning. Who knows what it might look like, but don't be surprised if the Arizona Cardinals take some well-calculated risks and have a well-designed plan of attack offensively. They've had two weeks to prepare for the Steelers and their backs are squarely against the wall at 1-4.
Follow Michael on Twitter: @btsteelcurtain
For more on the Steelers click here
San Diego Chargers
Chargers at Jets by Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune
Impact Injuries: Antonio Gates (foot) and Vincent Jackson (hamstring) had less than a full week of practice but are expected to play. The more pertinent question is how much they play. Philip Rivers needs all his weapons in order to counter the Jets' aggressive defense.
The X-Factor: Chargers protection. Few teams blitz as much as the Jets, and the Chargers have been awful against the blitz. Help for the line -- in the form of tight end Randy McMichael blocking and utilization of the running backs in pass protection and pass routes -- is in order.
Don’t be surprised if: Ryan Mathews could be in line for another big day (he has at least 118 scrimmage yards in every game) as the Chargers continue to emphasize the run and the passes to their backs, especially since they go against the best secondary they have faced.
Follow Kevin on Twitter: @sdutChargers
For more on the Bolts click here
San Francisco 49ers
Seahawks at Browns by Danny Kelly of FieldGulls.com
Impact Injuries: Seahawks starting QB Tarvaris Jackson has a pectoral strain that might keep him out on Sunday. If so, backup Charlie Whitehurst will get the start. TE Zach Miller is attempting to come back from a head/neck injury and if he's unable to go the Seahawks will be down to one healthy tight end. Starting C Max Unger has been in a walking boot this week so his status is up in the air.
The X-Factor: Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch: the Browns defend against the pass well but their run defense is suspect. If Seattle can get Lynch going early, this will allow them to matriculate down the field and control the time of possession. If they can keep the Browns offense off the field they'll take their home field crowd out of the game and control momentum.
Don’t be surprised if: You see the Seahawks go no-huddle. The Hawks ran the no-huddle offense early and often two weeks ago on the road against the Giants and they had a lot of success with that strategy. It keeps defense on their heels and guessing, and puts their offense in the tempo that they like. If helps to take the opposing pass rush out of the game and prevents them from getting changes in personnel on the field. It forces the Seahawks' young offense to stop over-thinking and just start playing.
Follow Danny on Twitter: @FieldGulls
For more on the Seahawks click here
St. Louis Rams
Rams at Cowboys by Tony Softli of 101 ESPN
Impact Injuries: QB – Sam Bradford; Lt High Ankle Sprain – Bradford sustained the injury in the last series vs. Green Bay. He is currently wearing a walking boot and has a significant limp to his normal walking motion. The Big Easy is receiving around the clock treatment, in order to play on Sunday vs. the Dallas Cowboys. Status; Questionable.
The X-Factor: The Rams acquired WR Brandon Lloyd in a trade this week for a 2012 6th round draft pick (conditional 5th if Lloyd exceeds 30 plus receptions) from the Denver Broncos. The nine year veteran is a native of Missouri, (Kansas City) and is coming off his first Pro Bowl Season in 2010 with 77 receptions (NFL best), 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns. A journey man that is currently on his fifth NFL club (San Francisco, Washington, Chicago, Denver and St. Louis)
The trade was a no brainer and instant upgrade over the current receivers on the roster. Having played in the Josh McDaniel’s offense, he is very accustomed to the route tree, terminology and play calling. With one practice under his belt, he quickly adjusted to his surroundings at Rams Park, and stood out in practice sessions with his route running skill set, ability to create good separation from defenders with a gazelle like smooth stride, while climbing the ladder and snatching balls out of the air.
Look for this newcomer to be inserted early and often, with the hope of some early production, could force the Dallas defense to adjust and change their plan of attack, not allowing them to pin their ears back and come get the quarterback, respecting the run skills of Steven Jackson and play action will make it interesting down the field.
Don’t be surprised if: Those that sustain high ankle sprains are generally our 2-4 weeks, and in some cases longer depending on the severity of the injury. The young man from Oklahoma City has the toughness, grit and determination to get back on the field and lead his team to their first win of the season, against the Dallas Cowboys.
When Bradford was asked about playing on Sunday, he said; “From everything I understand the joint is stable, so it is going to be about my pain tolerance and how much I can tolerate on Sunday. I’m definitely, I’m doing everything I can to play, whether we were playing in Dallas or in Alaska, I’m going to do everything I can to play every Sunday. I’ve had this Dallas game circled for a while now knowing that it is about as close to home as I get. It’d mean a lot for me to play down there, so hopefully I’ll be ready.”
Don’t be surprised if the former Oklahoma Sooner, Putnam City North high school All-American (Oklahoma City, OK) and the face of the St. Louis Rams franchise, pulls a Willis Reed “vintage moment” on game day and performs at a high level, despite the injury to his lower leg.
Follow Tony on Twitter: @SoftliSTL
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bears vs. Buccaneers by Rick Brown of The Ledger
Impact Injuries: Running back LeGarrette Blount is likely out. While Earnest Graham filled in great for him last week (109 yards), Bucs will miss Blount’s aggressive style. Also, watch out for linebacker Mason Foster who hurt his ankle. He should play but will he effective?
The X-Factor: Tampa Bay’s kicking game against Chicago’s Devin Hester. Devin Hester may go down as the best returner in NFL history. The reason why Tampa Bay went to get punter/kickoff specialist Michael Koenen was the squad was burned last year on a kickoff return by Atlanta’s Eric Weems in a loss that could have cost the team a playoff spot. Don’t look for the squad to make that same mistake against the dangerous Hester.
Don’t be surprised if: Tampa Bay blitzes more than 60 percent on passing downs. Bucs know how Chicago’s offensive line has been ridiculed and knows that Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler has been sacked 19 times. The Bucs want to keep him uncomfortable which could lead to turnovers.
Follow Rick on Twitter: @LedgeronBucs
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Texans at Titans by Terry McCormick of TitanInsider.com
Impact Injuries: Craig Stevens' ribs had him limited against Pittsburgh, but he should be able to do more on Sunday, which should help not only in the run game but as a sneaky-type receiver down the seam.
The X-Factor: Cortland Finnegan agitated the Houston Texans last year in his fight with Andre Johnson. Johnson won't play Sunday because of a hamstring injury, but Finnegan has picked his play up and can be an impact player on the defense for the Titans.
Don’t be surprised if: Donnie Avery actually gets into the receiving act this week. Signed three weeks ago, Avery has been getting a longer look in practice this week and might make his first catch as a Titan this Sunday.
Follow Terry on Twitter: @terrymc13
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Redskins at Panthers by John Keim of the Washington Examiner
Impact Injuries: Anthony Armstrong (hamstring) is practicing after missing the past two games. His deep speed has been missing, but he only had five catches for 46 yards in the first two-and-a-half games before getting hurt. Free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe (knee) did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. He looked slow after getting hurt vs. the Eagles. If he can’t play, Reed Doughty would start opposite LaRon Landry. Both are better at strong safety.
The X-Factor: The Redskins’ offensive line. Forget the QB change, the Redskins have new starters at three positions along the line: left tackle (Sean Locklear), left guard (Will Montgomery, shifting from center) and center (Erik Cook). The Redskins did not have a great line to begin with, but they worked well together. And in the stretch zone, that’s imperative. But if they can’t run the ball well, then the offense will struggle. Cook, at 6-foot-6, is the NFL’s tallest starting center. Locklear is better suited for right tackle and Montgomery is stronger at center. It’ll be interesting.
Don’t be surprised if: The Redskins show a lot of cover zero looks only to drop back into zone. They’ve used this tactic well at times this season and it fooled young QB Sam Bradford and the Rams. There’s a good chance it would fool Cam Newton as well. The Redskins have been burned a couple times off this look, but in each game an opposing offensive linemen has guessed wrong as to who was rushing and it’s led to sacks or incompletions.
Follow John on Twitter: @john_keim
For more on the Skins click here