NFL Nation: audibles 11

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Denver Broncos (5-4) at Atlanta Falcons (6-3), 1 p.m. ET

 

It was late last season and the Denver Broncos brought in kicker Matt Prater for the stretch run. Yes, a kicker.

Jason Elam was there, just like he'd been in Denver since 1993. Asked why Prater was brought in, the Broncos' brass bristled. No, it had nothing to do with Elam, who would be a free agent after the season, management said. Prater had a strong leg and the team was just looking at him as an option for kickoffs. Still, Elam was confused. The move made him wonder if his Denver days were about to end.

Elam, a career-long Bronco, said he could never imagine himself in another uniform. He is the most "clutch" kicker in team history. He had been a member of the Broncos' two Super Bowl-winning teams. He won four of Denver's seven victories in 2007 with last-second kicks. He's even married to a former Broncos cheerleader.

That was until March when Denver didn't pay him what he asked for and he signed with his home-state Atlanta Falcons. The Broncos, who now employ Prater as their field goal kicker, will visit Elam and the Falcons on Sunday.

While Elam's departure seemed unfathomable last season, it has worked out for both parties. Prater has a huge leg and has been excellent on field goals and on kickoffs. Elam has been his reliable self for the surprising Falcons.

Could Sunday's game come down to a game-winning field goal attempt by either Elam or Prater? That would be some good theater.

New Orleans Saints (4-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-8), 1 p.m. ET

  

It may have been lost in the Chiefs' three devastating losses in a row, but Tony Gonzalez is playing at an All-Pro clip.

The future Hall of Famer is playing like a 27-year-old. It seems Gonzalez' nontrade at the deadline has inspired him. He deserves a lot of credit. He wanted to be dealt to a contender last month. When potential deals fell apart, Gonzalez admitted he wasn't happy, but he said he promised he would give the team his all for the rest of the season.

Gonzalez wasn't kidding. Since the trade deadline, Gonzalez has made 29 of his 50 catches this season. He's playing with a purpose and Chiefs fans have another reason to salute this superstar.

Oakland Raiders (2-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-4), 1 p.m. ET

  

Tony Sparano should prove to the Oakland Raiders what a difference a new coach can make, even in just one season.

The Raiders will, in all likelihood, try to get it right again after the season, hiring a new coach for the fifth time in seven years. From Bill Callahan to Tom Cable, the Raiders have struggled mightily.

As the Raiders travel to Miami to face the resurgent Dolphins, who were 1-15 last season, they can look at Sparano and see hope for next year and another new Oakland head coach.

San Diego Chargers (4-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3), 4:15 p.m. ET

  

Like Gonzalez in Kansas City, the Chargers' tight end is getting his groove back.

Antonio Gates is coming off his two best games of 2008. Gates has 14 catches for 162 yards and two touchdown catches in the past two games. He has 38 catches this season.

Gates appears to be nearly 100 percent healthy after struggling to return from surgery on his left big toe. Gates didn't play in the preseason, and he said the toe injury hampered his play earlier in the year. At one point early on, Gates admitted that he didn't think he'd be able to help the Chargers this season.

But in the past two games, Gates has been playing at a high level. If the Chargers are going to win the AFC West title, their All-Pro tight end will likely be a major reason why.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Arizona Cardinals (6-3) at Seattle Seahawks (2-7), 4:05 p.m. ET

Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner has six interceptions and 10 sacks in his last two games at Qwest Field. Seattle won those games by scores of 42-21 last season and 21-10 in 2006.

"They've been the bullies on the block for a long time and for a confidence builder for your team, especially a team you hope can get into the playoffs and be successful, you have to be able to exorcise some of those demons," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

The Cardinals might not get a better chance than this one. Yes, the Seahawks are welcoming back Matt Hasselbeck and Deion Branch from injuries. Neither player appeared primed for a strong season when he was healthy, however.

Seattle needed a defensive touchdown to stay competitive with Miami in Week 10. The same might be true against the Cardinals unless the Seahawks can force Warner into mistakes. Arizona has scored more points than any team in the league through nine games. Warner has only six interceptions in nine games this season.

St. Louis Rams (2-7) at San Francisco 49ers (2-7), 4:05 p.m. ET

The 49ers' Mike Singletary and the Rams' Jim Haslett are fighting to keep their jobs beyond this season. The loser of this game will have a hard time making a case.

The Rams have scored 32 points in three games -- al defeats -- since Steven Jackson suffered a thigh injury. The 49ers have allowed 32.2 points per game during their current six-game losing streak.

The 49ers should be able to get their ground game going as long as Frank Gore's concussion doesn't hold him back. Look for 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz to hit on a couple of big plays against his former team. Also expect the 49ers to exploit pass-protection problems on the right side of the Rams' offensive line.

The Rams' best chance might be to isolate rookie receiver Donnie Avery against the 49ers' slower safeties. Recent opponents have taken away that option. Not having to worry about Jackson makes the task much easier.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Arizona Cardinals (6-3) at Seattle Seahawks (2-7), 4:05 p.m. ET

Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner has six interceptions and 10 sacks in his last two games at Qwest Field. Seattle won those games by scores of 42-21 last season and 21-10 in 2006.

"They've been the bullies on the block for a long time and for a confidence builder for your team, especially a team you hope can get into the playoffs and be successful, you have to be able to exorcise some of those demons," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

The Cardinals might not get a better chance than this one. Yes, the Seahawks are welcoming back Matt Hasselbeck and Deion Branch from injuries. Neither player appeared primed for a strong season when he was healthy, however.

Seattle needed a defensive touchdown to stay competitive with Miami in Week 10. The same might be true against the Cardinals unless the Seahawks can force Warner into mistakes. Arizona has scored more points than any team in the league through nine games. Warner has only six interceptions in nine games this season.

St. Louis Rams (2-7) at San Francisco 49ers (2-7), 4:05 p.m. ET

The 49ers' Mike Singletary and the Rams' Jim Haslett are fighting to keep their jobs beyond this season. The loser of this game will have a hard time making a case.

The Rams have scored 32 points in three games -- al defeats -- since Steven Jackson suffered a thigh injury. The 49ers have allowed 32.2 points per game during their current six-game losing streak.

The 49ers should be able to get their ground game going as long as Frank Gore's concussion doesn't hold him back. Look for 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz to hit on a couple of big plays against his former team. Also expect the 49ers to exploit pass-protection problems on the right side of the Rams' offensive line.

The Rams' best chance might be to isolate rookie receiver Donnie Avery against the 49ers' slower safeties. Recent opponents have taken away that option. Not having to worry about Jackson makes the task much easier.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Denver Broncos (5-4) at Atlanta Falcons (6-3), 1 p.m. ET

 

It was late last season and the Denver Broncos brought in kicker Matt Prater for the stretch run. Yes, a kicker.

Jason Elam was there, as he had been since 1993. Asked why Prater was brought in, the Broncos' brass bristled. No, it had nothing to do with Elam, who would be a free agent after the season, management said. Prater had a strong leg and the team was just looking at him as an option for kickoffs. Still, Elam was confused. The move made him wonder if his Denver days were about to end.

Elam, a career-long Bronco, said he could never imagine himself in another uniform. He is the most "clutch" kicker in team history. He had been a member of the Broncos' two Super Bowl-winning teams. He decided four of Denver's seven victories in 2007 with last-second kicks. He's even married to a former Broncos cheerleader.

Then in March, Denver didn't pay him what he asked for and he signed with his home-state Atlanta Falcons. The Broncos, who now employ Prater as their field-goal kicker, will visit Elam and the Falcons on Sunday.

While Elam's departure seemed unfathomable last season, it has worked out for both parties. Prater has a huge leg and has been excellent on field goals and on kickoffs. Elam has been his reliable self for the surprising Falcons.

Could Sunday's game come down to a game-winning field-goal attempt by either Elam or Prater? That would be some good theater.

New Orleans Saints (4-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-8), 1 p.m. ET

  

It may have been lost in the Chiefs' three devastating losses in a row, but Tony Gonzalez is playing at an All-Pro clip.

The future Hall of Famer is playing like a 27-year-old. It seems Gonzalez's nontrade at the deadline has inspired him. He wanted to be dealt to a contender last month. When potential deals fell apart, Gonzalez admitted he wasn't happy, but he promised he would give the team his all for the rest of the season.

Gonzalez wasn't kidding. Since the trade deadline, Gonzalez has made 29 of his 50 catches. He's playing with a purpose and Chiefs fans have another reason to salute him.

Oakland Raiders (2-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-4), 1 p.m. ET

  

Tony Sparano should prove to the Oakland Raiders what a difference a new coach can make, even in just one season.

The Raiders will, in all likelihood, try to get it right again after the season, hiring a new coach for the fifth time in seven years. From Bill Callahan to Tom Cable, the Raiders have struggled mightily.

As the Raiders travel to Miami to face the resurgent Dolphins, who were 1-15 last season, they can look at Sparano and see hope for next year and another new Oakland head coach.

San Diego Chargers (4-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3), 4:15 p.m. ET

  

Like Gonzalez in Kansas City, the Chargers' tight end is getting his groove back.

Antonio Gates is coming off his two best games of 2008. Gates has 14 catches for 162 yards and two touchdown catches in the past two games. He has 38 catches this season.

Gates appears to be nearly 100 percent healthy after struggling to return from surgery on his left big toe. Gates didn't play in the preseason, and he said the toe injury hampered his play earlier in the year. At one point early on, Gates admitted that he didn't think he'd be able to help the Chargers this season.

But in the past two games, Gates has been playing at a high level. If the Chargers win the AFC West title, their All-Pro tight end probably will be a major reason why.

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Dallas Cowboys (5-4) at Washington Redskins (6-3), 8:15 p.m. ET

  

The Cowboys aren't officially calling this a must-win game, but they might as well. Quarterback Tony Romo returns after missing three games with a broken right pinkie. I've had an up-close look at the splint, and it gives him a lot more flexibility than the previous one. Romo's still experiencing some pain when he throws longer routes, but he says it's not affecting his passes.

The Cowboys have hinted at tweaks they've made to the offense throughout the week. From what I've been told by sources at Valley Ranch, those tweaks include a lot more no-huddle and more pre-snap motion for Terrell Owens. You might recall that it was Washington that provided the blueprint for how to defend T.O. in press coverage. The good news for the Redskins is that cornerback Shawn Springs should finally be able to play again. Springs, Carlos Rogers and Fred Smoot should give the Redskins a lot of options. And it looks like cornerback DeAngelo Hall will be ready to go.

The Redskins will probably be without running back Clinton Portis, who is nursing a knee sprain. Portis shredded the Cowboys defensive line at Texas Stadium earlier this season, so it would be a huge loss. Ladell Betts is a capable backup, but he's also been sidelined with a knee injury. Coach Jim Zorn has talked about teaching Shaun Alexander some different things, but he's not a good option.

The Redskins will try to take a couple of shots early at Pro Bowl cornerback Terence Newman, who is returning from a sports hernia. Santana Moss burned Newman on a deep ball in the Redskins' win, and Jason Campbell will look to find him on several hitches and screens. Moss' hamstring wasn't right against the Steelers, and it affected how Campbell played. That said, look for a big game from Chris Cooley. At some point, he'll be matched up with Ken Hamlin or Keith Davis. And that's not a good situation for the Cowboys. Cooley's learned his trade by studying Cowboys tight end Jason Witten -- and he's learned well.

The Redskins can lose this game and still be in the hunt for a playoff game. If the Cowboys lose, they can pretty much rule themselves out.

Baltimore Ravens (6-3) at New York Giants (8-1), 1 p.m. ET

  

Cowboys-Redskins is a great rivalry, but this might be the game of the week. The Giants have been unbelievable on the ground with the combination of Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. The Ravens do a superb job of stopping the run. In fact, they hold teams to under 70 yards per game. Everyone is anxious to see that first collision between Jacobs and Ray Lewis, who's never backed down from a challenge.

The thing that impresses me most about Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is that he's at his best when the stakes are highest. He's been excellent on third downs, which is also true for Giants quarterback Eli Manning. He was 7-of-10 on third down against the Eagles, and six of those passes went for first downs. The absence of Plaxico Burress in training camp allowed Manning to bond with young receivers such as Steve Smith and Domenik Hixon. In fact, Smith's become one of the better third-down receivers in the league this season. He does a great job of getting separation from cornerbacks in tight spots.

On defense, the Giants will try to rattle Flacco early. I think you'll see Justin Tuck use a lot of his inside moves to apply pressure. It drove the Giants nuts that they didn't have any sacks against Donovan McNabb. If they have less than four sacks against the Ravens, I'll be surprised. The Ravens' defense will be a great test for Manning and the offense, but New York will find a way to win.

Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-8), 1 p.m. ET 

  

The Eagles can't afford to sleepwalk through this game. Honestly, they're not good enough to do that. The Bengals pushed the Cowboys and Giants to the brink earlier in the season and then beat the Jaguars.

I think Andy Reid will actually try to establish the
run against the Bengals. All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook sat out a portion of practice Friday, but Reid was just being cautious. Westbrook has been asking for an opportunity to find some rhythm in the running game, and he may get that chance.

The Eagles were gashed by the Giants in the running game. That's not going to happen against the Bengals. But this team still has enough offensive firepower to worry the Eagles' secondary. With the addition of Asante Samuel, the Eagles were supposed to be an elite secondary. That hasn't quite been the case, though.

The Eagles will have an opportunity to work on their performance in the red zone and in short-yardage situations. For some reason, Reid seems to be at his worst in those important situations. Against the Giants, he used a lot of misdirection with the speedy DeSean Jackson. This isn't the type of game the Eagles need to win 21-17. They need to win impressively in order to get some confidence back. And stop trying to convince me that they played well enough to win the Giants game. The final score wasn't an indication of what took place on the field.

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Baltimore Ravens (6-3) at New York Giants (8-1), 1 p.m.

Two of the NFL's hottest teams will square off when the Ravens travel to play the Giants.

Baltimore and New York have combined to win eight straight, so expect a high-quality game involving two clubs playing their best football of the season. Something also has to give when the NFL's top rushing offense (New York) meets the league's No. 1 run defense (Baltimore).

Surprisingly, three of New York's toughest games this year have come against the AFC North. The Cleveland Browns handed New York its only defeat last month, the Bengals forced overtime before losing 26-23, and the Giants' 21-14 win over the Steelers came down to the final quarter.

The Ravens, who are averaging 33.5 points in the past four games, are hoping to provide New York with another huge challenge. Baltimore is 1-3 this year against teams currently holding winning records and a win over the defending Super Bowl champs would go a long way to garnering more respect nationally.

Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-8), 1 p.m.

The Cincinnati Bengals had two weeks to prepare for this game, and they hope the extra time will help them pull off another upset Sunday at home against the Philadelphia Eagles. Cincinnati is coming off its first win of the season over the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago.


Cincinnati has been deprived of the long ball since starting quarterback Carson Palmer was sidelined by an elbow injury. Current starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's longest completion this year has been for 22 yards, despite having weapons such as receivers Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

The Eagles are probably better than their 5-4 record indicates. Playing in the NFC East is tough, with four teams jockeying for playoff position. Cincinnati also knows how hard it is to win against the NFC East. The Bengals are 0-2 this year, despite competitive games on the road against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

A win Sunday would be the team's first two-game winning streak since Dec. 23-30 of last year.

San Diego Chargers (4-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3), 4:15 p.m.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are trying to avoid their third straight home loss with Sunday's game against the always-dangerous San Diego Chargers.

Surprisingly, Pittsburgh has lost its way at Heinz Field, dropping two home games in three weeks to the New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts. A big reason for their struggles has been the inconsistent play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has eight interceptions in his last three games.

The turnovers have put Pittsburgh's top-rated defense in bad spots and allowed teams to score more than 20 points in two of the past three games. Both were losses.

Chargers tailback LaDainian Tomlinson looks to be getting over his slow start and will be a key player against Pittsburgh's top-rated defense. The Steelers haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, and Tomlinson has hit the century mark eight times in his last 22 games.

Cleveland Browns (3-6) at Buffalo Bills (5-4), 8:30 p.m. Monday

Two of the coldest teams in the AFC face off on "Monday Night Football" when the Buffalo Bills host the Cleveland Browns.

These teams have combined for five straight losses, but it appears that Cleveland could have the toughest time bouncing back. The Browns became just the fifth team to blow second-half leads of at least 13 points in back-to-back games in losses to the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos.

There has been talk inside and outside the locker room of players quitting during their most recent 34-30 loss to Denver after giving up 21 fourth-quarter points. Now Cleveland has little to play for as the back-to-back losses have all but eliminated the Browns from postseason contention.

Someone who does have a lot on the line is second-year quarterback Brady Quinn. He threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start against Denver and is solidifying his spot as Cleveland's quarterback of the present and future.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans (3-6) at Indianapolis Colts (5-4), 1 p.m. ET

The Texans ran the ball effectively in the first matchup, getting 156 yards out of Steve Slaton, Ahman Green and Sage Rosenfels. Slaton should be fresh after the odd, middle-of-the-season break he got last week. But Indianapolis has improved quite a bit against the run since their first meeting in early October, yielding an average of 90 yards a game since then. Safety Bob Sanders missed the first game but will be part of the run-stuffing efforts this time.

Houston will need to find some running room, because if the Colts manage to put the game on Rosenfels' shoulders, he may not be equipped to handle it. He blew a 17-point lead late in the last game with three turnovers and is fresh off a four-interception game against Baltimore.

Despite injuries that have thinned them out at cornerback, the Colts have been getting good work out of safeties Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt as extra defensive backs. If Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis can apply some heat, Rosenfels could be rushed into making turnovers.

Tight end Owen Daniels has been an excellent complement to receiver Andre Johnson as a pass-catcher for Houston. Daniels actually has 10 more catches than the always-dangerous Dallas Clark. For the Texans to hang in this game, Daniels will need to make a big contribution.

Houston's defense needs to minimize big plays, but history suggests it will struggle to do so. Peyton Manning has 31 touchdowns and only five interceptions in his career against Houston.

Teams With Best Winning Percentage vs. One Team*
TeamsW-LPct.
Colts vs. Falcons13-1.929
Colts vs. Texans12-1.923
Titans vs. Texans11-2.846
Steelers vs. Jets15-3.833
49ers vs. Bucs15-3.833
Browns vs. Falcons10-2.833
* Minimum 10 games
Source: ESPN Stats & Information

Tennessee Titans (9-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-5), 4:15 p.m. ET

Jeff Fisher and Jack Del Rio, coaches out of USC who aren't big fans of one another, stoked the fires this week. Del Rio talked about how his team is looking for pebbles since it is facing Goliath and said kickoff time was moved so that the country could watch Tennessee get to 10-0. Fisher countered that the Titans amounted to underdogs on the road.

I doubt the Titans will have the pass-rush success they had in the opener, when they took David Garrard down seven times. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has admitted he tried to do too much, and with three subs playing on the offensive line, Garrard didn't have time to take the shots downfield that his coach was calling for. Still, look for the Jaguars to try to beat Cortland Finnegan and Nick Harper with some double moves.

Even without a huge sack total, the Titans can still force the Jags to put the game on
Garrard's shoulders and make him string together long, methodical drives in which he can't make many mistakes. Jacksonville ran well against the horrible Lions, and the Titans have given up more than they'd like on the ground lately. Still, any confidence gained last week can be crushed in a hurry by Tennessee.

Albert Haynesworth said that keeping Garrard from large rushing gains is a key. In two of his last three games, the quarterback has contributed a significant chunk to the run totals.

Speaking of Haynesworth, how will guard Uche Nwaneri hold up working as the primary blocker of the big and agile defensive tackle? Center Brad Meester has regained some strength since returning from a biceps injury, but Cleveland's big tackle, Shaun Rogers, had a monster game against the Jags' interior guys just three weeks ago.

The weekly undefeated update: The Titans are just the 14th team since the 1970 merger to start 9-0 or better. Nine of the previous 13 teams reached the Super Bowl and six clubs came away with a championship. The Titans have won 12 straight regular-season games dating back to last season, a franchise record.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Chicago Bears (5-4) at Green Bay Packers (4-5), 1 p.m. ET
What a huge game this will be for the Packers, no matter how the day unfolds. A victory, combined with a Minnesota loss. suddenly makes the NFC North a three-way fight over the final six weeks of the season.

On the other hand, a Bears victory at Lambeau Field would leave the Packers two games out in the division and in a tiebreaker disadvantage with the Bears. It would also turn their current slump -- five losses in seven games -- into a more serious downturn.

The Bears are hoping Kyle Orton will start at quarterback, but the bigger issue is their defensive mismatch against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his array of weapons. If Tennessee's Kerry Collins can approach 300 yards against them, what will Rodgers do?

Detroit Lions (0-9) at Carolina Panthers (7-2), 1 p.m. ET
Just when the Lions were starting to get competitive (at least), they upended their quarterback situation and now are back in preseason mode.

Detroit is hoping to be more competitive in Daunte Culpepper's second start since joining the team, but the truth is they have started from scratch. Backup Drew Stanton will continue to have some sort of role as well, possibly on the goal line. We challenge you to come up with many recent examples were NFL teams have consistently won with a pre-determined quarterback rotation. There aren't many.

The Lions' best bet is to hope for self-destruction from the Panthers, who struggled last week at Oakland but have played well at home this season. They're 6-0 at Bank of America Stadium -- well, 5-0 at this moment. But it seems like 6-0 is just a formality.

Minnesota Vikings (5-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3), 1 p.m. ET
The Vikings' recent history in Tampa has drawn the interest of a few skeptics this week. And yes, it's true the Buccaneers have won the past five games at Raymond James Stadium and eight of the past 10 between the two in Tampa.

But the bigger obstacle for Minnesota might be the Bucs' quick-hitting pass game, which can take the legs out of a good pass rush. Tampa Bay quarterbacks have only been sacked 10 times this season, and the Vikings might not get many hits on quarterback Jeff Garcia. If the game plays out that way, Minnesota will be robbed of one of its most valuable game-changing strengths.

There is also some curiosity about what Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin might come up with after two weeks to prepare for tailback Adrian Peterson and quarterback Gus Frerotte. Tampa Bay has 12 interceptions this season, and Frerotte has been more than willing to serve them up of late. It's a bad combination for the Vikings.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

Oakland Raiders (2-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-4), 1 p.m. ET

One of the NFL's worst clubs -- and perhaps the most dysfunctional -- will make the arduous cross-country trip to play a team that has won three straight.

The Dolphins should make it four in a row and remain within a game of the first-place New York Jets. A victory also would tie the Dolphins with the 6-4 New England Patriots.

West Coast teams are 0-12 this year when playing in the Eastern time zone.

Miami hasn't won six of their first 10 games since 2003. Considering the Dolphins are coming off a 1-15 season, new coach Tony Sparano is a serious coach-of-the-year candidate, although the Atlanta Falcons' Mike Smith has to be the front-runner.

The Dolphins are tied for eighth in the league in total offense, and Chad Pennington has them seventh in passing offense at an efficient 244.4 yards a game.

The Raiders are 25th in total defense, but they're most forgiving against the run, ranking 29th with an incredibly generous 158.1-yard average per game against them.

Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown like that number.

Cleveland Browns (3-6) at Buffalo Bills (5-4), 8:30 p.m. ET Monday

If the desperate Bills can't beat the Browns at home, their season might as well be over.

The Bills have lost three straight in the AFC East, guaranteeing them no better than a .500 divisional record, and that sounds ambitious with the Jets, Patriots and Dolphins playing so well lately and evolving on offense.

The Bills, meanwhile, have been regressing on offense and getting injured on defense. A loss on Monday would give the Bills four in a row and five losses out of six games after their hot 4-0 start.

Cleveland is an attractive opponent for the occasion. The Browns have lost three of their past four games and have surrendered 71 points in their past two games -- both at home.

Bills offensive coordinator Turk Schonert should be able to figure out ways for quarterback Trent Edwards and running back Marshawn Lynch to thrive on Monday night. Edwards is playing poorly, and Lynch hasn't been getting carries befitting a workhorse.

Strong safety and captain Donte Whitner might return from his separated shoulder after missing just one week, and that could provide a spark. But the Bills were losing with Whitner in the lineup, too.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Minnesota Vikings (5-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3), 1 p.m. ET

Cadillac Williams' return to the active roster drew a lot of attention in Tampa this week. But Williams might end up being the most insignificant running back in Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.

If he plays at all, Williams' role will be limited. The story here is Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson against Tampa Bay's defense. Coordinator Monte Kiffin is going to have to pull out all of his tricks to find a way to slow Peterson. If that means putting the game in the hands of quarterback Gus Frerotte, the Bucs will take their chances.

But Tampa Bay has to counter with some sort of running game of its own to help keep Peterson off the field. That could be a little dicey because Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn are banged up. Both should be able to play, but even healthy backs have a tough time running against Minnesota's front four.

Detroit Lions (0-9) at Carolina Panthers (7-2), 1 p.m. ET

Judging by the reaction in Charlotte, you would think the Panthers lost to Oakland. That's not the case. They just played a horrible game and were lucky it came against one of the league's worst teams.

Now, they get a team that might be even worse and they get them at home. You don't get points for style in the NFL, but it is important for the Panthers to come out and show that last week was nothing more than a blip.

This team has a rough schedule coming after this game and the Panthers need to head into that stretch with momentum. It would help a lot of quarterback Jake Delhomme can bounce back from an awful outing in Oakland and calm the fears in Charlotte.

Denver Broncos (5-4) at Atlanta Falcons (6-3), 1 p.m. ET

There's been a lot of talk about the challenge that Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and the Denver passing game presents for the Atlanta secondary.

That's a legitimate concern, but it's time to start realizing Atlanta has a good secondary. If last week's performance against New Orleans didn't convince you, the Falcons have another chance to make a huge statement against the Broncos.

Cornerback Chris Houston looks like he's breaking out right in front of us and former Bronco Domonique Foxworth will start on the other side and try to use some of the inside information he has on the Denver offense.

Houston and Foxworth will get plenty of help from emerging rookie Chevis Jackson and the underrated safety tandem of Lawyer Milloy and Erik Coleman.

New Orleans Saints (4-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-8), 1 p.m. ET

It's really tempting to write the Saints off and say their season is over. But you can't really do that right now.

Coach Sean Payton is getting destroyed by the fans in New Orleans, the defense is as bad as it was a year ago and everybody's second-guessing the trade for tight end Jeremy Shockey. But the fact is the Saints have a chance to get back to .500 against a bad team.

On the flip side, if the Saints find a way to lose this game, you officially can say their season is over.

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