NFL Nation: audibles 10 NFC
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
And they say something has to give? Not necessarily, and that's probably bad for Seattle. It's tough to envision the Seahawks winning this game without scoring points on defense.
On offense, Seattle remains an injury-depleted team that needs an identity but isn't necessarily searching for one.
Yes, injuries explain a large part of the team's struggles. A healthy Matt Hasselbeck would probably give the offense a chance to lead with the passing game, the way coach Mike Holmgren likes it. But the Seahawks don't have a healthy Hasselbeck. They haven't had one for several weeks. Time to adjust?
The Seahawks could probably do more to exploit their straight-ahead running game. Seattle ranks among the NFL leaders with nine rushing plays of at least 20 yards, but the offense appears lost when the passing game fails to lead the way.
That needs to change, but it probably won't in Week 10. The Dolphins have allowed a league-low one rushing play longer than 20 yards. They own victories over the Patriots, Chargers, Bills and Broncos. The Seahawks appear ready to join the list.
The Rams have allowed a league-high 17 pass plays covering at least 30 yards. The Rams have allowed 26 sacks, sixth-most in the league. The Jets' defense has collected 29 sacks, third-most in the league behind the Steelers and Giants.
Steven Jackson missed practice all week for the Rams. The former Pro Bowl running back will not play against the Jets. His backups, Antonio Pittman and Travis Minor, have been slowed by injuries. Pittman could play, but unknown Kenneth Darby could start after taking most of the first-team reps in practice.
A diminished running game puts too much pressure on quarterback Marc Bulger. Rookie receiver Donnie Avery does offer big-play potential, but he'll have a harder time hurting defenses, at least in theory, without a running game to keep the safeties' attention.
Keep an eye on Bulger's body language. He showed more toughness and leadership while winning in Jim Haslett's first two games as head coach. That needs to extend to the tough times as well. Bulger could get lots more practice if Jackson remains unavailable.
San Francisco 49ers (2-6) at Arizona Cardinals (5-3), Monday Night Football, 8:30 p.m. ET
Let's call this one a do-over for interim coach Mike Singletary, interim quarterback Shaun Hill and the 49ers. Firing Mike Nolan before the bye week put Singletary in tough spot. The ensuing 34-13 home defeat to the Seahawks marked the first time all season the 49ers failed to compete.
There can be no excuses in Week 10. Singletary needs to project stability and control along with the fire and brimstone that comes naturally to him. Hill should help him do that by protecting the football better than predecessor J.T. O'Sullivan did, particularly now that Singletary appears to be calling for a more conservative approach from offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
The 49ers won in Arizona last season with Trent Dilfer at quarterback, but their defense was playing much more consistently. The current defense probably won't stop Kurt Warner and friends from building a lead. That will threaten Frank Gore's role for the 49ers, at which point the Cardinals' pass rush should feast on the 49ers' struggling line.
Strange as it sounds, this is close to a must-win game for the Cardinals. They face the Seahawks (road), Giants (home) and Eagles (road) over the next three weeks. Beating inferior opponents at home is all but required as the Cardinals move closer to a rare playoff berth.
Nice timing, Rex Grossman. You finally get back on the field -- or at least we think you're going to be -- and it's against unbeaten Tennessee. The Titans' physical defensive front won't give Grossman much time to get acclimated, assuming Bears starter Kyle Orton (ankle) indeed misses the game.
This game, however, likely will turn on each team's running games. The Bears will have to figure out a way to get tailback Matt Forte loose against a Titans defense that is holding opponents to 91.6 yards per game. Chicago's defense, meanwhile, will have its hands full with the Titans' duo of LenDale White and Chris Johnson.
Bears safety Mike Brown called out the defense earlier this week for playing below expectations. You'll see Sunday if his words had any effect.
Could the Lions sneak away with their first victory of the season? It's an awfully tempting prediction to make, considering their competitive play of late -- combined with the disarray the Jaguars have fallen into.
But then again, the Lions are set to throw a figurative Hail Mary on the first play of the game. Their apparent plan to start quarterback Daunte Culpepper less than a week after signing him eliminates convention and rationality from the discussion.
Does Culpepper have any feel for his new receivers? What about simple things like the center exchange? The Lions aren't likely to have their starting center, Dominic Raiola, who has a right hand injury.
Then there is the Lions' offensive scheme. Detroit coach Rod Marinelli has suggested that Culpepper has played in similar offenses before, but that doesn't mean four days is enough time to master it.
Dan Orlovsky's thumb injury leaves the Lions with only one other option, young No. 2 quarterback Drew Stanton. But they do not seem to trust Stanton yet. We'll know Sunday evening if the decision gives the Lions their first victory of the season -- or blows it for them.
You could make an argument that the passing game will determine the winner of this critical division matchup.
The Vikings' suddenly resurgent passing game will face the stiffest of tests Sunday at the Metrodome. The Packers have surged to the NFL's No. 5 ranking in pass defense, having intercepted a league-high 13 passes and holding opponents to a 51.3 completion percentage. Both figures are best in the league.
Quarterback Gus Frerotte has been prone to interceptions, having thrown eight in six games. The Packers, meanwhile, will have their full complement of defensive backs and a history of stopping the Vikings passing game over the past three seasons. In winning the past five games between the teams, Green Bay has held Minnesota quarterback to a 65.4 passer rating.
Meanwhile, the Vikings almost certainly will have to defend Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers without their top pass rusher. Packers left tackle Chad Clifton usually does a nice job with Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, but Allen's expected absence nevertheless will make a big difference. Rodgers completed 18 of 22 passes in the teams' first meeting, and the Vikings will have to find some way to slow him down.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
New Orleans Saints (4-4) at Atlanta Falcons (5-3), 1 p.m. ET
Since joining the Saints in 2006, quarterback Drew Brees has put up big numbers against most teams. But the numbers have been particularly big against the Falcons.
In four games against Atlanta, Brees has completed 91 of 133 passes (68.4 percent) with seven touchdowns, one interception and a 107.6 passer rating. In six of eight games this season, Brees has thrown for at least 300 yards.
Atlanta's defense might not have looked like much of a challenge at the start of the season, but this unit has come on strong. The Falcons are coming off a shutout of the Raiders. Granted, it was the Raiders, but shutting out any NFL team is a pretty major accomplishment these days. The Falcons are 3-0 at the Georgia Dome.
But the Falcons still haven't won a game against an NFC South opponent. To change that, they're going to have to find a way to defend Brees better than they have in the past.
Carolina Panthers (6-2) at Oakland Raiders (2-6), 4:15 p.m. ET
Talking to a member of the Panthers' organization the other day, I was more than a little surprised when he started saying how "worried'' Carolina is about the Raiders. I worry about them, too, but that's mainly because they seem to be the last company in America that still has an overhead projector.
Yes, I understand it's the classic formula for a trap game. The Raiders still have some talent -- unless they cut the rest of it before Sunday -- and they had to be embarrassed by last week's 24-0 loss to Atlanta.
But if the Panthers are half as good as I think they are, they have no excuse to not win this game. Same goes for next week when they play Detroit. The final six games on Carolina's schedule are difficult.
If they can just do what they're supposed to do these next two games, they'll be 8-2 and, at that point, they can start worrying about those last six games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
New York Giants (7-1) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (5-3), 8:15 p.m. ET
There are so many great story lines in this one, it's difficult to know where to start. Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo served under Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson in Philadelphia. Spagnuolo has taken what he learned from Johnson and added a few concepts. The Eagles are old at offensive tackle -- and you have to think Spagnuolo will take advantage of that. Both Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan will have to square off with Giants defensive end Justin Tuck at some point Sunday. Runyan is one of the nastiest blockers in the league, but I'm not sure he's capable of dealing with Tuck's lightning-quick first step.
I'll be surprised if the Eagles are able to run on the Giants, so Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg will have to look for Brian Westbrook on bubble screens and wheel routes. If the Eagles can pick up the blitz, Donovan McNabb will have some one-on-one opportunities against Corey Webster and Aaron Ross.
On defense, the Eagles have been solid against the run. They've held opposing teams to 3.5 yards per carry, and Clinton Portis was the only back who really gashed them. Look for Giants tight end Kevin Boss to help out quite a bit on defensive end Trent Cole. Coming off a 12 1/2-sack season, Cole has only had three in 2008. He's dangerous off the edge, though, and Giants left tackle David Diehl will have to be ready.
Our friends at Scouts Inc. gave the Eagles the advantage at running back and receiver. That was baffling to me, because the Giants appear to have more depth at both positions. I understand that Westbrook is a better all-around player than Jacobs, but the Giants are stacked at the position with Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.
The Giants also have more quality depth at receiver. Steve Smith has emerged as one of the most reliable third-down receivers in the division and Domenik Hixon has given New York another deep threat. The Eagles have a lot of weapons, but they don't have anyone in Plaxico Burress' league. Perhaps DeSean Jackson will get there at some point, but the Giants currently hold the edge at receiver.
The kickers might end up having a big say in this game. Andy Reid has stuck with David Akers through some rough times. And Tom Coughlin has stuck with veteran John Carney despite the fact that NFC Championship Game hero Lawrence Tynes has been healthy for the past month.
I think we're in for a superb football game. Something tells me the Giants will find a way to win.