NFL Nation: audibles 6
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
This will be an interesting matchup of strengths Sunday when the Indianapolis Colts play host to the Baltimore Ravens.
Indianapolis has been inconsistent, but its strength remains on offense. Baltimore enters the game with the NFL's top-rated defense. Something has to give.
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning is 4-2 against the Ravens in the regular season and averages 283 yards passing per game. He also has a win over Baltimore in the playoffs in 2006, so there is a track record of success for Manning.
Baltimore is coming off back-to-back heart-breaking losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans. The Steelers overcame a 10-point deficit in the second half to win 23-20 in overtime Sept. 29, and Tennessee scored the winning touchdown with less than two minutes left during the Titans' 13-10 win last week.
The Ravens need to get a win to create some momentum. They have five of their next six games away from M&T Bank Stadium.
Head coach Marvin Lewis will try to prevent the first 0-6 start of his career when the Cincinnati Bengals travel to face the New York Jets.
The Bengals are one of four winless NFL teams remaining, but they are getting more competitive. They've lost their past three games by an average of 6.7 points per game, including last week's solid outing in a 31-22 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Quarterback Carson Palmer will not start because of his inflamed right elbow.
The Jets are coming off a bye week after putting up 56 points in a victory two weeks ago against the Arizona Cardinals. New York quarterback Brett Favre has nine touchdown passes in his last two starts.
Coming off a bye week, the Cleveland Browns will try to right their season against arguably the NFL's hottest team in the New York Giants.
Despite lofty expectations, the Browns are off to a disappointing 1-3 start and need this win to keep their postseason hopes alive. Cleveland had 15 days to get healthy and prepare for this game against the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Browns are the second-most penalized team in the NFL and need to be much more disciplined. Starting quarterback Derek Anderson has twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdown passes (three).
The last time these two teams met -- in a preseason game that featured starters in the first half -- the Giants jumped to a 30-3 lead.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
The Colts have yet to win at Lucas Oil Stadium, and they are eager to christen the building with a victory. In their two wins, they've come back from 15- and 17-point deficits.
Baltimore, meanwhile, is surely tired of hearing how it has beaten no one, with wins over Cincinnati and Cleveland and losses to the two stronger teams it has faced -- Pittsburgh and Tennessee.
We've got what's supposed to be a good offense against the Ravens' defense, which is top-rated in the NFL. Can the Colts' O-line get Peyton Manning enough time to attack matchups in a secondary that's without cornerback Samari Rolle, his replacement Fabian Washington and safety Dawan Landry? (I don't know that it can.)
On the other side, can Indianapolis' undersized and struggling run defense contain bruiser Le'Ron McClain? He seems to be the type of back who's ideal to run against the Colts. (I think he'll do well.)
A lot of people thought the officials overdid it in the Tennessee-Baltimore game last week in an attempt to keep it under control. That was physical vs. physical. This is finesse vs. physical. The Colts talked early this week about the trend that's reduced holding calls and how officials aren't calling it if it isn't material to the play. They'd love to see a broader interpretation of what is potentially material in this game.
Before the season started, Houston was regarded as the up-and-comer with a chance to move up in its division while many thought the new regime in Miami would need at least a year before we saw results.
Things have turned out differently so far, as the Texans are winless and the Dolphins have beaten the two finalists from the AFC last season.
Miami has already passed its 2007 win total and is on its first win streak since November 2006. Running back Ronnie Brown leads the AFC with six rushing touchdowns and has back-to-back 100-yard games.
Miami has been quite good against the run, but the Texans have shown if they can't get Steve Slaton going with handoffs, they're willing and able to get him the ball in space with short passes.
His fate probably mirrors his team's, and when he doesn't have the ball he'll need to help block a couple of dangerous linebackers who will be coming at Matt Schaub from the edges.
Yes, the Buccaneers found a way to slow the Broncos last week.
Still, I feel that for the Jaguars to win this crucial game, they'll need to follow the script that worked for them in Indianapolis: run it determinedly, win time of possession by a good margin and make it so Jay Cutler feels like he's got to guide a scoring drive every time the Broncos' offense makes it on the field.
Even in that scenario, Jacksonville may well be missing its best player in safety Reggie Nelson. Without the smart, dynamic safety, the Jags are limited in what blitz risks they are able to take. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said this week that his guys have been missing by inches. Cutler's big arm, pocket awareness and accuracy -- his .678 completion percentage at home is the NFL's best -- have the potential to turn the inches into feet.
Jacksonville ranks 19th in rushing. That's nowhere near strong enough considering what the Jaguars want their identity to be. If they come home 3-3 instead of 2-4, it's going to be because Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew start to re-establish that M.O.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
To date, it's the game of the year in the NFC South. Although there's a long season ahead, that statement still might be true at the end of the year.
Carolina has a chance to create some pretty good distance from the pack with a victory and some help from Chicago. But the Bucs have a chance to climb into very good position as they get their original "starting'' quarterback back. That's Jeff Garcia.
People have been talking a lot about Tampa Bay's inability to play with any consistency on offense. Maybe that can change as the Bucs switch back to the guy who was supposed to be running the offense in the first place.
After Monday night's train wreck (the loss to Minnesota), the Saints face a must-win situation. The good news is they've got the Raiders coming to town. But New Orleans no longer can take anything for granted.
A victory won't cure all New Orleans' problems, but it sure would help keep the season alive. With games in Charlotte and London (vs. San Diego) coming up before the bye week, the Saints won't be inside the Superdome again until late November.
If they lose this game, November probably won't matter.
All of the sudden, Atlanta fans are asking why the Falcons don't get any respect. The reality is the Falcons gained plenty of that when they went into Lambeau Field and won last week.
Sure, there's still room for skepticism. Remember, after what the Falcons went through last year, this is a process. Beating a good team at home would be the next logical step in that process.
It also would give the Falcons the same number of wins they had all of last year and go a long way toward erasing the memories of a nightmare season.
Free advice to the Bears: Hold on when the whistle blows for the opening kickoff. ESPN Research points out the Falcons have outscored opponents 56-0 in the first quarter of their two home games this season. They've also outgained their visiting foes by 350 yards in the first quarter (385-35).
The Bears have displayed an improved passing game over the past two weeks, but most of their yards have come after attaining a lead. That's not to say they can't throw from behind, but this might not be the week they would want to find out.
Six days after they seemed headed to 1-4, the Vikings are planning to be 3-3 when Sunday is over. It's true that any NFL team can beat any other NFL team at any point, but we're still in the process of confirming the Lions still have their league charter.
We can only hope Lions coaches were hiding some schematic secret earlier this week when they indicated they were scrapping their three- and four-receiver sets against a defense that is far more susceptible to the pass than the run. I can't see any way the Lions manage more than 80 yards rushing Sunday.
On the other hand, it does look like the kind of game Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson could get healthy for in a hurry. Peterson hasn't rushed for more than 80 yards in a game since straining his hamstring Sept. 14 against Indianapolis. Last season, Peterson had only one 100-yard game after spraining his right knee in Week 10. Yes, you guessed it. He rushed for 116 yards on 15 carries against the Lions in Week 13.
Here's one way to look at this game: The Seahawks' offense might actually be more undermanned than the Packers' defense. Don't believe us? Seattle might have no choice but to start former Packers receiver Koren Robinson. Yikes.
This has been an interesting week in Green Bay. Coach Mike McCarthy admitted he laid into his team Wednesday, but by Friday morning he was complimenting them on a strong week of practice.
Depending on how this game goes, the Packers could look back on this week as the point where they regained the swagger of a playoff-caliber team. Or, it could be the time when it became apparent they need to take a step back.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
The Cowboys have spent the week dealing with distractions caused by Adam "Pacman" Jones' latest incident. Even if Jones plays -- and all indications are that he will -- the Cowboys' secondary will have its hands full with the Cardinals' passing attack. I expect the Cowboys to play quite a bit of man-to-man coverage in an attempt to give DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis more time to rush Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. I'd be shocked if the Cardinals are able to run on the Cowboys. They won't even pretend to keep the Cowboys' defense honest, although the Redskins gashed the Cowboys with the run.
Expect the Cardinals to take a page out of the Redskins' game plan and jam Terrell Owens at the line of scrimmage. It worked for Washington and it worked for the Bengals for three quarters. T.O. doesn't do well against anyone who gets physical with him at the line of scrimmage. I think the Cowboys will put up enough points to win, but it should be an entertaining game.
The Redskins can't let the Rams hang around for too long in this one. How will the Rams perform under interim head coach Jim Haslett? Well, I don't think much will change. Jason Campbell will look to get Santana Moss and Chris Cooley involved early and then the Redskins should coast home with Clinton Portis and the running game.
There's a chance this game is close for a half. The Redskins have strung together two emotional NFC East wins on the road. Jim Zorn has spent the week reminding players of the proverbial trap game. This one won't be pretty, but the Redskins will improve to 5-1. In fact, they'll be 7-1 at the midway point. Just a remarkable story. So much for this team being last in the NFC East. I don't see them fading at all. Players such as safety Chris Horton keep improving every week.
Is it really a good idea for the Browns to talk trash when they have a 1-3 record? This was a team that has shrunk in the face of major expectations. I want to believe that we'll see a close game, but I think Eli Manning and the Giants' receiving corps will shred this secondary.
And the Browns are picking on the wrong guy. Running back Brandon Jacobs is coming off his best game of the season, and he'll be looking to punish the Browns. Playing a game without starting wide receiver Plaxico Burress only helped the Giants gain confidence.
This is a game in which defensive end Justin Tuck will serve notice that he's a player to be reckoned with. Giants fans already know it, but the rest of the nation will get to see it Monday.
Call it the Mediocre Bowl. I guess you could argue that the 49ers have exceeded our expectations while the Eagles have faded fast after a strong start. The Eagles won't have All-Pro running back Brian Westbrook. Correll Buckhalter should fill in nicely, but we thought the same thing two weeks ago against the Bears.
Andy Reid is running out of excuses. This team makes mistakes at key moments in games. I'm thinking you might want to dial up Donovan McNabb on a quarterback sneak if you have another goal-line situation. The Eagles came out with what looked like an aggressive game plan against the Redskins. But after the first couple of drives, the offense went into a holding pattern.
On defense, the linebackers must do a better job of tackling or Frank Gore will have a big day. He has over 600 yards from the line of scrimmage. You better account for him on every play. I think the Eagles win going away, but I've written those words before and been wrong.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Dallas Cowboys (4-1) at Arizona Cardinals (3-2), 4:15 p.m. ET
Pull up a stat sheet for this one. Both offenses should find openings in the passing game. Playing at home gives the Cardinals a much better shot at the upset as long as crowd noise and an active defense make the Cowboys think on offense.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt came to the desert hoping to develop an identity in the running game. It was a nice idea, but Kurt Warner and the passing game remain the strength of this team on offense. The Cowboys' running game faces a favorable matchup in a close game, so the Cardinals might need to generate more points than usual.
Arizona's ability to flood the Dallas defense with multiple receivers should be a key to this game even though Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin likely will not play. Arizona used three or more wide receivers nearly 70 percent of the time against Buffalo even though the Cardinals led the game most of the way. A similar philosophy makes sense this week against a Dallas defense with issues in the secondary. Cornerback Terence Newman will not play.
Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson, though fined for his hit on Trent Edwards in Week 5, needs to stay aggressive. Arizona lacks the personnel to defend Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens. Physical, hard-hitting play from Wilson could serve as an equalizer.
Green Bay Packers (2-3) at Seattle Seahawks (1-3), 4:15 ET
The Seahawks entered the season expecting their defense to compensate for injuries at receiver, a rusty quarterback and any growing pains associated with replacing key offensive assistants, notably Jim Zorn. Five weeks into the season, that isn't happening. Not only that, but the offense is far worse off than expected.
Usually the home field would be enough for me to predict a Seahawks victory against almost any opponent. Not this week. Yes, the Packers are struggling as well. But trusting the Seahawks isn't a good idea, even at home.
Matt Hasselbeck's knee injury prevented him from practicing with a patched-together group of receivers. That means Hasselbeck won't be comfortable with his knee and he still won't be comfortable with his receivers. That's a terrible combination for a Seattle team accustomed to a baseline level of efficiency through the air.
The Packers' Greg Jennings leads the league in receptions of at least 20 yards. The Seattle defense has allowed more pass plays of that distance than all but two NFL teams. That combination gives the Packers a chance to win in Seattle.
Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) at San Francisco 49ers (2-3), 4:15 ET
Cracks are forming in the 49ers on both sides of the ball. The Eagles' blitzing ways should force 49ers quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan into more mistakes, even though the 49ers figure to hit on some big plays from time to time.Donovan McNabb and the Eagles have to like their matchups in the deep passing game. The 49ers lack speed at safety and they've been having more breakdowns than usual in coverage. Look for Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson to show why teams erred in letting him slip to the Eagles in the draft. Jackson went to Cal and will presumably be on his game for this one.
St. Louis Rams (0-4) at Washington Redskins (4-1), 1 p.m. ET
The Jim Haslett era faces a brutal opening 1-2 punch with games against the Redskins and Cowboys. Both opponents are fully capable of shredding a struggling Rams defense with serious issues in the secondary.
The Rams need to compete hard and prevent a total collapse on defense. Those are modest goals, but the Rams mostly need to keep their confidence intact.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
The Jets emerge from their bye with a marvelous opportunity to assert themselves in the AFC East race.
There's a colossal difference between 2-2 and 1-3. The distinction is substantially more than one mere victory, and the Jets made sure they went into their off week in an optimistic mind frame by rolling up 56 points on the Arizona Cardinals, a team that has defeated two other AFC East teams.
The Jets' next three opponents have a combined record of 2-12, including the winless Bengals. Then the Jets visit the Oakland Raiders and host the Kansas City Chiefs before heading to Buffalo for a potential first-place battle. After that, the Jets host the St. Louis Rams in Week 10.
New York on paper is better than four of those five teams. The bye week should have assisted Brett Favre's development within the Jets offensive system, and running back Jesse Chatman is back from a four-game suspension.
If the Jets can solve their defensive problems -- 83 points allowed the past two games -- this will be a rewarding few weeks for them.
Two AFC East clubs are playing winless opponents, but the Texans are dissimilar from the Bengals in that they don't deserve to have a zero in their left column.
The Dolphins, who've won two in a row against preseason Super Bowl candidates, should remain humble. Not only are there enough players left in the locker room who went through last year's debacle, but also they're actually underdogs Sunday.
Miami has evolved from laughingstock to one of the NFL's most entertaining teams. But don't get suckered into thinking it's all about Ronnie Brown and the Wildcat offense. Chad Pennington has been highly efficient, and the defense has come alive.
The Dolphins didn't beat the Chargers last week because of their offense but by holding them to 10 points. They snuffed LaDainian Tomlinson on fourth-and-goal from the 1. The Dolphins rank eighth in total defense and seventh in rush defense.
The bicoastal rivalry, offering a rematch of last year's AFC championship game, surely has lost some of its zip. No Tom Brady, no Shawne Merriman, no Chris Chambers. Tomlinson has been ineffective. We don't have the Junior Seau story line anymore, either.
When the schedule makers selected the prime-time matchups, nobody could have guessed both teams would have losses to the Dolphins.
Revenge, venomous talk and Super Bowl overtones aren't nearly as heavy for the latest installment. The Patriots need to maintain some sans-Brady momentum from last week's triumph in San Francisco, while the Chargers are desperate to not fall too far behind the Denver Broncos.
The Patriots have won 11 of the past 13 meetings, but this one will be a difficult task. They stayed out West after beating the 49ers, and while all feedback from the Patriots has been glowing about the decision, it didn't work out too well for the Cardinals, who pulled a similar maneuver but lost to the Washington Redskins and Jets.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
The Tom Cable era begins in the Big Easy.
But is anything ever easy for a Raiders head coach?
Cable is Oakland's' fifth head coach since 2003. The past three Oakland coaches -- Norv Turner, Art Shell (in his second stint as head coach) and Lane Kiffin -- all lost their debuts. Cable is certainly used to losing. He was 11-35 at his alma mater, Idaho, in his previous head coaching post.
Still, Cable had the reputation in the NFL as one of the best offensive line coaches. He is a tough coach who now is in charge of a 1-3 team that is trying to rebound from a turbulent first month of the season.
The Big Easy? I think not.
Think the NFL isn't a week-to-week proposition?
All eyes are on the Denver offense this week. Yes, the Denver defense is off the hook after leading the team to a 16-13 win over Tampa Bay last week as Denver improved to 4-1 and increased its surprising lead in the AFC West to two games. The Denver defense allowed 113 points in the three previous games.
With the Denver defense stepping it up, it's all about the Denver offense. After scoring a cumulative 114 points in its first three games, Denver has scored 35 points combined in the past two games.
The Broncos had just one play for more than 20 yards against Tampa Bay. With receiver Eddie Royal and tight end Tony Scheffler likely out this week because of injury, the Broncos will be challenged even more to display the firepower they displayed in first three weeks of the season.
Yes, in the NFL, it's all week-to-week.
Lost in the Chargers' sea of high-profile injuries and yet another slow start is no small issue: The Chargers' offensive line, one of the best in the NFL, has yet to become a cohesive unit. It, too, has been banged up. And it has shown.
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, who is nursing sore ribs, has been knocked around the past couple of weeks. Both Oakland and Miami put constant pressure on Rivers.
It's out of character in San Diego, but it's to be expected. Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick is just getting back into the swing of things after having offseason foot surgery. Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill missed two games with a neck stinger and guard Mike Goff missed much of practice last week.
The unit rarely has practiced together. Add the fact that right tackle Jeromey Clary is a new starter and it is no mystery why Rivers isn't having much time.
There have been plenty of trouble spots in San Diego, but the offensive line hasn't had time to work together as it heads into Sunday's game against New England. The Patriots have one of the most active pass rushes in the league.