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Week 10: NFL Game Previews

The SportsXchange

SPOTLIGHT GAME

Atlanta Falcons (8-0) at New Orleans Saints (3-5)

Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

Last meeting: The Saints won, 45-16, at home last Dec. 26 with QB Drew Brees breaking Dan Marino's single-season passing record.

Streaking: The Falcons are 8-0 for the first time in team history and are the 15th team since 1978 to start 8-0.

Fundamentally speaking: Falcons coach Mike Smith pointed to his team's discipline and plus-10 turnover margin when asked how Atlanta is 5-0 in one-score games this season. The Saints are still last in the NFL allowing 471.2 yards per game and must generate turnovers to steal possessions. Problem is, New Orleans has just four interceptions for the season and is badly overmatched against WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White. If RB Michael Turner is moderately effective, it will make it difficult for the Saints' pass rush (15 sacks) to rattle QB Matt Ryan into mistakes.

Ground swell: Saints RB Chris Ivory took his frustration of not being involved for the first seven games out on the Eagles last week, rushing for 48 tough yards on 10 carries. If Darren Sproles is sidelined, Mark Ingram showed the ability to provide a spark out of the backfield. The bottom line is the Saints finally got some traction on the ground last week and gave their lineman an opportunity to go on the attack. The Falcons have allowed just 3.7 yards per carry over their past two games, but did have some tackling issues early in the season. New Orleans can throw the ball up and down the field, but needs to find that balance to be truly lethal in what will be a shootout if they're to pull the upset.

Need to know: The Falcons are 27-10 (.730) in one-score games under Smith overall. ... The Saints have won the past three meetings and 10 of the past 12.

Buffalo Bills (3-5) at New England Patriots (5-3)

Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts

Gameplan: The Patriots have won 22 of the past 24 meetings by dominating the turnover battle, and this season is no different. The Bills (minus-7) have to keep the game close enough to lean on their backfield tandem of C.J. Spiller (7.2 yards per carry) and Fred Jackson. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick can attack deep if he has time to find WR Donald Jones, who has seven catches for 191 yards in the past two games against the Patriots. New England keeps the throttle open, averaging an NFL-leading 32.8 points and 440.8 yards per game. He has looked to TE Rob Gronkowski early and often against Buffalo, especially in the red zone. The Bills can't sit back in a deep zone or they'll set up RB Steven Ridley for another big day. Ridley and Brandon Bolden combined for 243 rushing yards in the first meeting (a 52-28 Patriots victory at Buffalo in Week 4).

Need to know: Brady is 19-2 with 49 touchdowns against Buffalo. ... Fitzpatrick has 300-plus passing yards in three consecutive games. He had four touchdown passes in the first meeting.

Detroit Lions (4-4) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4)

Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Dick Stockton, John Lynch, Jennifer Hale

Gameplan: Vikings RB Adrian Peterson leads the NFL with 957 rushing yards less than a year removed from major knee surgery and despite a passing game that has regressed precipitously over the past three weeks. QB Christian Ponder has twice thrown for fewer than 64 yards during that stretch. He needs to make more plays downfield for Minnesota to extend drives and Peterson to stay involved (seven touches in the second half last week), but Ponder's options will be limited with WR Percy Harvin (ankle) likely out. The Vikings' tired run defense has allowed an average of 165.8 yards over the past four games. Detroit has a quick-strike passing game that has been made all the more lethal with RBs Mikel Leshoure (the tough yards between the tackles) and Joique Bell (strong receiver out of the backfield) providing a solid tandem.

Need to know: Detroit's offensive line has allowed the lowest percentage (4.9) of negative plays in the NFL this season. ... Vikings rookie PK Blair Walsh has 35 touchbacks on kickoffs and is 19 of 20 on field-goal attempts.

Oakland Raiders (3-5) at Baltimore Ravens (6-2)

Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf

Gameplan: The Raiders operate at highest efficiency this season in hurry-up mode, and a pass-heavy approach is likely to continue to cover for ankle injuries to RBs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson. Carson Palmer has been accurate within 12-15 yards of the line of scrimmage, the type of quick, rhythm read that will keep him upright against the Ravens' pass rush. Baltimore is likely to crank up the running game after Pro Bowl RB Ray Rice rushed for 98 yards on a season-high 25 carries in a 25-15 win over the Cleveland. The Raiders are vulnerable against the run but have also allowed 14 touchdown passes in eight games.

Need to know: The Ravens are 19-1 in their past 20 home games, the best record in the NFL, including 14 consecutive wins. ... Raiders PK Sebastian Janikowski leads the NFL with 38 field goals of 50-plus yards since 2000.

Tennessee Titans (3-6) at Miami Dolphins (4-4)

Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Spero Dedes, Steve Tasker

Gameplan: Jake Locker (shoulder) returned to practice and could start for the first time since Sept. 23. He's a threat to run -- among his eight rushing attempts this season are gains of 20 and 31 yards -- but like Dolphins rookie QB Ryan Tannehill, Locker is not as accurate throwing the ball with his feet moving. He can gain time to set up and throw if RB Chris Johnson can make a dent in the Dolphins' front seven in the early going. Johnson is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and has been the Titans' lone big-play threat. Miami's receivers are better horizontal route-runners and the Titans' porous secondary should give Brian Hartline and Davone Bess opportunities to spring a huge gainer when Tannehill puts the ball on their hands.

Need to know: Johnson leads the NFL in rushing since entering the league in 2008 (6,381). ... The Dolphins' Reggie Bush leads all running backs in receptions since entering the NFL in 2006 (357).

Denver Broncos (5-3) at Carolina Panthers (2-6)

Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

Gameplan: Broncos coach John Fox hasn't been in Carolina for a year-and-a-half, but he can still identify several of the Panthers' weaknesses. He'll test the run defense, invigorated since rookie Luke Kuechly moved to middle linebacker, and Carolina's overall depth from the jump, but Peyton Manning has the controls of the scheme. He's locked in with WRs Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, and has gone virtually untouched by defenders in the past five games, when his passer rating has exceeded 105.8 with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. Those are numbers the Panthers hoped were coming from Cam Newton in his second season. Circumstances have led to dialing back the offense, and the conservative approach is needed to save the Panthers' defense when matched against a fast-break passing game. RBs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams must help Newton keep the sticks moving to give Carolina a chance to make a play in the fourth quarter.

Need to know: Manning (419) is two touchdown passes from passing Dan Marino for second in NFL history (Brett Favre, 508). ... Newton is 8-0 when he doesn't commit a turnover.

San Diego Chargers (4-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4)

Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots

Gameplan: Both offenses sport high-octane quarterbacks who are at their best when they have strong ground support to limit the mistakes they are prone to when forced to be one-dimensional. The Bucs' offense has hit a new gear with rookie RB Doug Martin increasing his production on the ground four consecutive weeks and providing the explosive plays that were missing in September. Combed with the vertical threats of WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams and the Bucs can suddenly score with anyone. That includes the Chargers, who are more potent with LT Jared Gaither in the lineup to protect QB Philip Rivers' blind side. The Bucs have the league's worst pass defense (321.1 yards per game), and will be extremely vulnerable if RB Ryan Mathews gets off to a strong start.

Need to know: San Diego has won all five previous meetings. ... Bucs QB Josh Freeman has thrown for 1,556 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions over his past five games.

N.Y. Giants (6-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-5)

Sunday, 1:00 ET, FOX, Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick, Laura Okmin

Gameplan: Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said at least four of QB Andy Dalton's 14 interceptions aren't directly his fault. But too much of Cincinnati's offense falls on the second-year quarterback with lead RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. The Giants will focus on rolling coverage over the top of WR A.J. Green. Dalton goes where the coverage dictates, which translates to needing TE Jermaine Gresham and WR Andrew Hawkins to step up. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and QB Eli Manning might not be on the same page regarding the reasons for the offense's recent struggles, but the common goal is to regain the early-season rhythm the passing game enjoyed. Coughlin wants to see more precise adjustments at the line and more first downs to extend drives and find continuity in the offense.

Need to know: Manning needs two touchdowns passes to tie Phil Simms (199) for the most ever by a Giant. ... Green has a touchdown catch in seven consecutive games.

N.Y. Jets (3-5) at Seattle Seahawks (5-4)

Sunday, 4:05 ET, CBS, Marv Albert, Rich Gannon

Gameplan: The Jets are 29th in the NFL in run defense, allowing 141.4 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch is averaging 23 carries per game at home at 4.2 yards per tote. Despite Seattle's constant shuffling on the offensive line, the unit fires off the ball at home. The Jets' other problem is a weak pass rush (12 sacks) that will make it difficult to hem rookie QB Russell Wilson in the pocket, where he struggles to find passing windows. For the Jets to be competitive, RB Shonn Green must build on his 4.6-yard average per carry over his past three games. Seattle's defense has repeatedly blown gap assignments the past two weeks, and Greene can be particularly effective between the tackles.

Need to know: Jets QB Tim Tebow has touched the ball just 24 times on offense and has more pass attempts out of fake punts (two) than behind center (one). ... Wilson has thrown nine touchdown passes and no interceptions at home.

Dallas Cowboys (3-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-5)

Sunday, 4:25 ET, FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver

Gameplan: The Cowboys have a minus-11 turnover ratio, largely a result of QB Tony Romo's 13 interceptions - a combination of poor decisions and worse route-running by his receivers at times. The Eagles are minus-9, and have been hammered by atrocious red-zone offense. With RB DeMarco Murray expected to miss a fourth straight game with a foot injury, look for Cowboys coach Jason Garrett to open up the passing game. Romo has been very effective out of the no-huddle the past two weeks and Philadelphia's once-vaunted pass rush has a meager 11 sacks this season. Eagles coach Andy Reid keeps leaving QB Michael Vick in empty backfields behind a patchwork offensive line, but Vick too often doesn't recognize where the pressure is coming from and absorbs negative plays. RBs LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown provided a spark last week, and need to remain heavily involved as long as the Eagles keep the game within reach.

Need to know: Romo has thrown eight touchdowns and just three interceptions on the road this season. ... The Eagles have scored touchdowns on just 37 percent of their red-zone possessions.

St. Louis Rams (3-5) at San Francisco 49ers (6-2)

Sunday, 4:25 ET, FOX, Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jaime Maggio

Gameplan: WR Danny Amendola is expected to return for the Rams after missing three games, and would provide QB Sam Bradford with the security blanket he has been missing. In Amendola's absence, rookie Chris Given has emerged as a big-play threat in the vertical passing game who can keep the 49ers' safeties honest and help provide running lanes for Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson. Still, the Rams' offensive line figures to be overmatched. A better battle will be waged in the trenches when the 49ers have the ball. San Francisco has gotten back to its power ground game and needs to run the ball to set up play-action and prevent Rams DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn from having a big impact on the game.

Need to know: Givens has a reception of 50-plus yards in five consecutive games and is averaging 25.6 yards per catch. ... 49ers QB Alex Smith is 6-1 in his career against the Rams.

Houston Texans (7-1) at Chicago Bears (7-1)

Sunday, 8:20 ET, NBC, Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

Gameplan: Chicago's challenge is protecting Jay Cutler, while the Texans' trick is avoiding turnovers. The Bears' offensive line remains their Achilles heel, and the Texans' front seven can expose OTs J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi -- overmatched against former Wisconsin teammate J.J. Watt on the right side. Going conservative, even if it means max protection, is the Bears' best bet, but dangerously assumes their average blocking tight ends hold their ground. The Texans are 3-0 on the road because they execute flawlessly in a conservative offense. Their zone-blocking scheme emphasizes C Chris Myers' agility to get cut-off blocks on pursuing linebackers. Texans RB Arian Foster averages 132 yards per game since 2010, and is often utilized as a short-range receiver when teams crowd the line to clog cutbacks lanes.

Need to know: The Bears lead the NFL with a plus-16 turnover margin, including seven interception returns for touchdowns. ... Houston has given up two rushing touchdowns in its past 16 games.

Kansas City Chiefs (1-7) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)

Monday, 8:30 ET, ESPN, Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters

Gameplan: Head coach Romeo Crennel tried to provide the Chiefs a jolt by shaking up the secondary and replacing himself as defensive coordinator. The scheme won't change much, and the concern remains the run defense. Kansas City gives up 126 rushing yards per game, while the Steelers continue to pound the ball between the tackles despite a revolving door running back rotation due to injuries. If the Chiefs' front seven doesn't stand tall against the run, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger can play pitch and catch down the field even without WR Antonio Brown (ankle). Previously demoted Chiefs QB Matt Cassel gets another start due to Brady Quinn's concussion. Kansas City has an NFL-high 29 giveaways and must avoid negative plays. The ground game has sputtered of late and the Chiefs simply aren't equipped to play from behind.

Need to know: Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles has averaged just 2.8 yards on 29 carries over his past three games. ... The Steelers haven't lost a Monday night home game since 1991 (14 games).

--By Derek Harper & Jeff Reynolds, The Sports Xchange
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