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Audibles: NFC East Week 12 preview

11/21/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
New York Giants (9-1) at Arizona Cardinals (7-3), 4:15 p.m. ET

Quarterback Kurt Warner played for the Giants during Eli Manning's rookie season and watched him struggle through a 1-6 finish. Warner's career appeared to be over, but he's emerged as an MVP candidate in Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley's offense.The Giants are banged up a bit right now at linebacker and in the secondary, but the defensive line will be ready to go. Warner does a great of job of getting the ball away quickly, but defensive ends Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka will get to him at some point.

The Cardinals have had decent production from rookie running back Tim Hightower, but it's not like they're interested in establishing the run. They'll line up in a lot of four wide-receiver sets and try to spread out the Giants. Warner has the luxury of throwing to Pro Bowl receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, who might be the best in the game at catching the ball in traffic. The Giants will try to keep Warner from finding his rhythm early in the game.

On offense, there's a chance the Giants could be without starting running back Brandon Jacobs and wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Jacobs could play if he has to, but the Giants have excellent depth with Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. Manning will turn to Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon if Burress can't go. Teams have been taking Burress out of games, but so far he hasn't shown a lot of frustration. This trip should bring back great memories for the Giants, who just won the Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz. But this isn't a sentimental team. Expect the Giants to win big Sunday.

San Francisco 49ers (3-7) at Dallas Cowboys (6-4) , 1 p.m. ET

Mike Singletary has San Francisco playing inspired football, so this one's not a given for the Cowboys. Tony Romo gave the Cowboys a huge lift in Washington last Sunday, but it was the defense that delivered the win.The Cowboys will put an extra defender in the box to slow down 49ers running back Frank Gore. Expect DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff to feed off quarterback Shaun Hill's inexperience.

The 49ers have almost completely ignored their offensive line over the past few years, and there's a chance they get overwhelmed. On defense, the 49ers are pretty solid at linebacker. Patrick Willis is a tackling machine, and he's not the type of player who will shy away from Marion Barber. Singletary, the former Baylor University and Chicago Bears great, told me last season that Willis had a chance to be one of the best middle linebackers to ever play the game. That's a pretty lofty goal, but Willis has been sensational early in his career.

The Cowboys have lost rookie running back Felix Jones for the season because of ligament damage in his big toe, but Barber can handle 18 to 20 carries per game. Look for Jason Garrett to put Terrell Owens in a lot of pre-snap motion again this week. He has to have a breakout game at some point. Perhaps playing against his old team will do the trick. The 49ers simply don't have enough firepower on offense to win this game. And I think the Cowboys will be able to run on the 49ers in the second half. The Cowboys' Pro Bowl-laden offensive line finally put it together against the Redskins. I expect them to do it again Sunday.

Washington Redskins (6-4) vs. Seattle Seahawks (2-8), 4:15 p.m. ET

If I'm a Redskins fan, this game scares me to death. Coach Jim Zorn is returning home to where he played and coached for years. He comes across as a very patient, cerebral guy, but he's also pretty emotional at times.Zorn needs to settle into a play-calling rhythm early in this game and not take needless chances. A team like the Seahawks is just waiting for something bad to happen. The Redskins can't be the team making mistakes.

This is a game where you need to get Jason Campbell going early. If he can hit a couple of downfield passes early, it will open up the running game for Clinton Portis.

The NFC Beast talked to London Fletcher on Tuesday. He's confident that the Redskins will respond well to their first two-game losing streak. The Redsk
ins haven't created a lot of pressure, but they should be able to get to Matt Hasselbeck. Zorn learned a lot working under Mike Holmgren. Nothing should surprise these two guys, but the Redskins will win because Zorn has more weapons.

Philadelphia Eagles (5-4-1) at Baltimore Ravens (6-4), 1 p.m. ET

Eagles fans can kiss their slim playoff hopes goodbye with a loss in Baltimore. The Ravens' vaunted defense was embarrassed by the Giants. It was the first time a team had run for 200 yards against them since 1997. But the Eagles are the last team you need to worry about running right now.

Coach Andy Reid refuses to commit to the running game, which makes his offense even more predictable. The Ravens will try to disrupt Donovan McNabb's rhythm early -- and he's been a notoriously slow starter this season. The Ravens' defense might be reeling, but I actually think rookie quarterback Joe Flacco handled himself pretty well against the Giants. He's a threat to run at any time, and he has a big arm.

The Eagles desperately need guard Shawn Andrews back in the lineup. The offense hasn't been the same without him. If the Eagles can get to 6-4-1, they'd at least be back in the conversation. But I don't see the Cowboys or the Redskins losing. It's must-win time.

John Harbaugh, obviously, has a great feel for the Eagles' personnel. This could be a really bad spot for the Eagles. McNabb's been way too streaky, and Ray Lewis and Co. will be in a horrible mood following last Sunday's 30-10 loss to the Giants.