NFL Nation: audibles 10 AFC

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Tennessee Titans (8-0) at Chicago Bears (5-3), 1 p.m. ET

Chris Johnson and Matt Forte are off to excellent starts, and their meeting Sunday is the first between such effective rookies in 43 years.

Johnson and Forte are the only rookie running backs who enter Week 10 among the top 10 backs in the league in rushing yards. Only twice before in history have rookie running backs ranked in the top 10 in rushing with at least 600 yards apiece squared off:

  • Dec. 12, 1965: Chicago's Gale Sayers (672) vs. San Francisco's Ken Willard (745)
  • Dec. 21, 1969: Washington's Larry Brown (827) vs. Dallas' Calvin Hill (869)

Both those games were won by the team with the back who entered the game with more yards. Entering the game, Johnson has 715 yards to Forte's 641.

The forecast calls for rain and snow, and both teams' preference would be to grind it out. The Titans have yielded some sizable gains to running backs in recent weeks.

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-5) at Detroit Lions (0-8), 1 p.m. ET

After a week of drama featuring a conflict between Jack Del Rio and linebacker Mike Peterson and some changes in the locker room intended to improve the team's focus, can the Jaguars get things back together?

Coming off a loss to previously winless Cincinnati, a loss to winless Detroit would make it difficult for Del Rio to hold the team together moving forward.

With the new-to-the-team Daunte Culpepper (Dan Orlovsky is injured and will not play) quarterbacking the Lions, might this be a game where Jacksonville can afford to take an occasional risk in coverage in order to send some blitzes? It would seem the Jaguars could make things a lot easier on themselves by rattling the quarterback early, but if Jacksonville doesn't get to him quickly, such an approach increases the risk of a big play from Calvin Johnson. And the first thing the Jaguars' defensive coaches probably said when they sat down to sketch out the game plan was, "We can't let Johnson beat us."

Matt Jones is averaging 11.6 yards a catch. For some reason, I picture him getting some yards after the catch in this one.

Indianapolis Colts (4-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2), 4:15 p.m. ET

It's hard to imagine sacks not being the story of this game.

Pittsburgh's defense is second in sacks per pass, but its offense is 31st in the same category.

Peyton Manning hasn't been sacked in his last three games and is going to get rid of the ball quickly, but the Steelers can certainly make things very difficult for him.

The question will be whether the Colts quick pass-rushers will be able to take advantage of a porous offensive line and get to the injured Ben Roethlisberger or his replacement, Byron Leftwich. Indianapolis has gone three games without a quarterback takedown.

The Colts have lost 12 straight games at Pittsburgh -- the third-longest active road losing streak in the league. That number gets a lot of attention but means nothing to the group with horseshoes on their helmets that will take the field Sunday.

Only nine current players were on the most recent team that lost at Pittsburgh (2002).

Baltimore Ravens (5-3) at Houston Texans (3-5), 1 p.m. ET

Opposing quarterbacks have posted a 97.2 passer rating against the Texans this year, with a 65.1 percent completion percentage, 8.09 yards per attempt, 12 touchdowns, six interceptions and 14 sacks.

To beat Baltimore, Houston has to fare better. But rookie Joe Flacco has led the Ravens to three consecutive wins while completing 60.5 percent of his passes for 620 yards with four touchdowns, no picks, four sacks and a 104.1 passer rating.

Defensive end Mario Williams is averaging a sack a game, and it's hard for offenses to predict where he might line up as he flips from one side to the other. The Texans hope he'll be able to beat left tackle Jared Gaither and right tackle Adam Terry.

A pounding or two from Williams could prompt Flacco to play more like he did in his first five games, when he absorbed 10 sacks, threw seven picks and fumbled five times.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Carolina Panthers at Oakland Raiders, 4:05 ET
This is what happens after you gain 77 yards of offense and three first downs in a 24-0 home defeat. This is what happens after you lose three games by a total of 87-13 under your interim head coach.

People wonder if firing the head coach really was the right idea. After weeks of intense speculation, Raiders owner Al Davis fired coach Lane Kiffin on Sept. 30. The Raiders had a 1-3 record, but the team was playing hard and competing under Kiffin.

Kiffin was replaced by offensive line coach Tom Cable. The Raiders aren't playing as hard.

They have the same 1-3 record under Cable as they did under Kiffin. But the Raiders haven't competed in the games they lost. They have been embarrassed. The team is going backward.

Was Oakland better off with Kiffin? This is the type of question that is asked when disasters happen.

Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers, 4:15 ET
It is all on Ron Rivera. Or at least it seems that way.

There is a new air of enthusiasm around the San Diego Chargers as they emerge from their bye week. For a preseason Super Bowl contender that floundered to a 3-5 record in the first half of the season, there is renewed hope.

And it's in the form of Rivera. All eyes will be on his defense when the Chiefs visit. The Chargers shook their foundation early in the bye week by firing defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. Rivera, the team's inside linebacker coach and former defensive coordinator in Chicago, is now in charge of the defense.

Under Rivera, the Chargers promise to be more aggressive than they were under Cottrell. The Chargers haven't had an interception or a sack in their last nine quarters. San Diego also is ranked last in the NFL in pass defense.

There is too much talent on this defense for the follies to continue. The Chargers' offense is playing well enough to win. The team's Super Bowl run is being halted by the defense.

If San Diego makes it to the playoffs, it will be because Rivera turns around the defense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Buffalo Bills (5-3) at New England Patriots (5-3), 1 p.m. ET
As if this game weren't significant enough on its own merit, consider the likelihood it will produce the AFC East's only losing team in Week 10. Take a gander at the other two matchups. The division should go 3-1.

Trends are favorable for the Patriots. They've never lost to the Bills in Gillette Stadium and have won nine straight in the series and 14 of their past 15 meetings. The Patriots beat the Bills last year by a combined score of 94-17.

The Bills are struggling on offense and hurting on defense. They'll play without safety and captain Donte Whitner and Pro Bowl defensive end Aaron Schobel.

Through their first four games they averaged 27.3 points for and 13.8 against. Over their next four they've scored 18.3 points and allowed 26.5 points.

Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards has struggled against 3-4 defenses, which the Patriots use. He has thrown three interceptions, lost two fumbles and been sacked three times over his past five quarters against the Jets and Dolphins (both 3-4 teams).

Buffalo's run offense ranks 26th. Marshawn Lynch hasn't rushed for more than 83 yards and is coming off a 16-yard performance.

New England somehow has maintained effectiveness on a week-to-week basis despite injuries that would appear catastrophic. Quarterback Matt Cassel continues to mature and give the Patriots increased confidence.

The Patriots have allowed an average of 13.7 points over their past three games.

St. Louis Rams (2-6) at New York Jets (5-3), 1 p.m. ET
After last Sunday's victory over the Bills, in which quarterback Brett Favre left his six-shooters in the locker room, the Jets claimed they merely were taking what the defense was giving them.

In that case, we should find out exactly who the Jets prefer to be on offense Sunday in the Meadowlands. They're playing a defense against which they should be able to do whatever they want.

The Rams rank 30th in total defense, 29th against the run and 28th against the pass.

The Jets last week seemed to be gravitating toward a running offense behind Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. Players told me in the locker room that is the identity they want even though they have the most prolific passer in NFL history.

The Rams can go ahead and accept the fact they won't be able to run on the Jets.

The Rams are averaging only 94.1 yards a game on the ground, and Steven Jackson is not completely healthy. But that's what the Rams do best, believe it or not. They rank 27th in passing offense at 168.9 yards a game.

Seattle Seahawks (2-6) at Miami Dolphins (4-4), 1 p.m. ET
The Dolphins are one game out of first place and have an amazingly kind schedule ahead. They will play their next three games at home, starting with Sunday's cross-country visit from the moribund Seahawks.

The Dolphins have won two in a row, but the last time they did that, they dropped their next two games against teams (Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens) they should've fared better against.

Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said Thursday his ripening club can't afford to experience another letdown.

"Based on the fact that we've already been down this road before, this ain't our first rodeo," Sparano said. "We've kind of done this already. We lost two games. We won two games.

"At the end of the day, I hope that we're not going to learn the same way. We're not going to have to go through the same problems. I don't know what's going to happen out there on Sunday, but I think we'll go into it understanding that this is an important game."

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Indianapolis Colts (4-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2), 4:15 p.m. ET
The Pittsburgh Steelers face an always dangerous Indianapolis Colts squad as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) remains a game-time decision.

Pittsburgh has a tough decision to make with Roethlisberger because it has to consider its long-term prospects, but at the same time the Steelers cannot afford to drop many home games during the second half of the season. Backup quarterback Byron Leftwich will get the start if Roethlisberger cannot go. Last week Leftwich filled in well, throwing for 129 yards and a touchdown in two quarters during a 23-6 victory over the Washington Redskins.

This contest was going to be tough regardless, because it appears the Colts are finally gaining traction. They beat the New England Patriots last week and also welcomed back Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders.

Sunday marks the first of three consecutive home games for Pittsburgh, which offers the team a chance to add to its momentum. The Steelers also face the San Diego Chargers (3-5) Nov. 16 and the Cincinnati Bengals (1-8) at Heinz Field Nov. 20.

Baltimore Ravens (5-3) at Houston Texans (3-5), 1 p.m. ET
This was a game that was scheduled for Week 2, but damage to Reliant Stadium caused by Hurricane Ike forced the NFL to reschedule. Now both teams meet Sunday with higher stakes in November.

The Ravens have won three straight and positioned themselves well through the first half of the season. Baltimore is riding high offensively, having scored a season-high 37 points last week in a victory over the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens have averaged an impressive 31 points the past three games.

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and tailback Ray Rice have been red hot and are no longer playing like first-year players. The defense has been solid for the most part and expects a healthy Samari Rolle (neck) to return Sunday. Rolle's return is needed to help negate the strong receiving corps of Houston, led by Andre Johnson.

The Ravens are just one game behind the Steelers for first place in the AFC North. A fourth consecutive victory will continue to put pressure on Pittsburgh for the top spot, as the two teams meet again next month in Baltimore.

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