NFL Nation: audibles AFC 9

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Green Bay Packers (4-3) at Tennessee Titans (7-0), 1 p.m. ET

The Packers have gotten healthy and will come to Nashville well-rested following a bye, while the Titans played an emotional game Monday night and had a short week. I don't buy any trap game theories and Jeff Fisher has been very good at keeping his good teams from any sort of hangovers, but I do buy that this is a bad matchup for Tennessee and could be its first loss.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has rested up that sore shoulder and defensive backs Atari Bigby and Al Harris are set to rejoin a secondary that shut down the Colts in the last game it played. Bigby will help in run defense, where I suspect the Packers can load up, leaving their corners on islands to deal with unintimidating receivers.

That would mean Green Bay selling out to stop the run and taking their chances against Kerry Collins & Co. It's what Indy tried, but it didn't work for the Colts, in part because they threw two picks and turned the ball over on downs twice.

If the Packers protect the ball better, they could have a breakthrough.

The Titans are the NFL's lone remaining unbeaten team.

NFL's Last Unbeaten Team, Since 1997
YearTeamStartFinishFirst LossSeason Result
2008Titans7-0??TBD
2007Patriots16-016-0NoneLost Super Bowl XLII
2006Colts9-012-4vs. CowboysWon Super Bowl XLI
2005Colts13-014-2vs. ChargersLost Divisional Playoffs
2004Eagles7-013-3vs. SteelersLost Super Bowl XXXIX
2003Chiefs9-013-3vs. BengalsLost Divisional Playoffs
2002Raiders4-011-5vs. RamsLost Super Bowl XXXVII
2002Chargers4-08-8vs. BroncosMissed playoffs
2001Rams6-014-2vs. SaintsLost Super Bowl XXXVI
2000Vikings7-011-5vs. BucsLost NFC Championship Game
1999Rams6-013-3vs. TitansWon Super Bowl XXXIV
1998Broncos13-014-2vs. GiantsWon Super Bowl XXXIII
1997Broncos6-012-4vs. RaidersWon Super Bowl XXXII

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-8), 1 p.m. ET

The Jaguars have struggled with consistency all year, and their chance to pull things together and be a factor in the AFC playoff field is reliant on victories this week at winless Cincinnati and next week at, as of now, winless Detroit.

Jacksonville plays tight games -- all seven have been decided by a touchdown or less.

Cornerback Rashean Mathis has played well at times -- he helped shut down Denver's Brandon Marshall, for example. He's likely to draw T.J. Houshmandzadeh often. That's a guy you don't want to get going for a team desperate for any crumbs of momentum.

The Bengals are 0-8 for the fifth time in franchise history. Three of the four previous times the Bengals started 0-8, they won their ninth game.

Houston Texans (3-4) at Minnesota Vikings (3-4), 1 p.m. ET

The Texans are a bad road team and the Metrodome is a tough venue. Houston can prove a lot if it can win there, pulling to 4-4 after an 0-4 start.

Minnesota is ranked No. 2 against the run, forcing opponents to throw. The Texans have gotten pretty comfortable throwing it, ranking fifth in pass offense.

It could come down to which offensive star manages to have a better day, Minnesota running back Adrian P
eterson
or Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson. Surely the Vikings will want to slow Johnson with Antoine Winfield as often as possible. Of course, the Texans will work to get Johnson into some situations where Cedric Griffin is trying to cover him.

The Vikings are coming off a bye and are 15-4 all-time in their first game following a week off.

New England Patriots (5-2) at Indianapolis Colts (3-4), 8:15 p.m. ET

Safety Rodney Harrison often covered Dallas Clark in last year's game, a battle of unbeatens won by New England. Harrison is out of the picture now, done for the year like quarterback Tom Brady.

The prevailing thinking on this game is that the Colts will find more plays and that Peyton Manning should outduel Matt Cassel. But I am getting the feeling the Patriots are figuring out who they are and what they can do while Indianapolis is learning what it isn't and what it can't do.

Look for New England to try to get the ball to Wes Welker working out of the slot. He's got at least six catches in the first seven games of the year, a feat accomplished by only three players in league history before.

Colts cornerback Tim Jennings will work outside as a starter in place of Marlin Jackson, but it's unclear what Indianapolis will do in the nickel. The guy next in line at cornerback is Dante Hughes, who missed practice all week with an ankle injury. Behind him is Keiwan Ratliff, who was just re-signed. But the Colts could go with three safeties, finding a way to keep Melvin Bullitt involved even with Bob Sanders due back.

Indianapolis slowed the Titans strong run game last week. Sanders should give them a boost as the Colts try to do the same to New England. Then the question is about slowing Welker and Randy Moss and making Cassel uncomfortable. Those Patriots receivers have a lesser quarterback, but could be better suited to produce than their Colts counterparts, Marvin Harrison (not himself these days) and Reggie Wayne (missed two practices and was limited Friday with a knee injury).

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Baltimore Ravens (4-3) at Cleveland Browns (3-4), 1 p.m. ET

  

This is a battle of two hot teams that are quietly playing their best football of the season.

There's a lot on the line for the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns. The Ravens have a chance to solidify themselves as a legitimate playoff contender with a victory, while the Browns can get back to .500 at the midpoint of their season.

Both teams could be dangerous in the second half of the season. The Ravens appear to be getting their offense on track, averaging 28 points the past two games. If Baltimore can continue scoring at that clip along with its strong defense, the Ravens will be tough to beat. The Browns have won three of their last four games and finally are playing to the potential many expected coming into the season.

Quarterback play will be key on Sunday. The Ravens have an NFL-best 26-game streak of holding rushers under 100 yards, so Derek Anderson of Cleveland likely will have to win this game through the air. Baltimore rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is improving and has even flashed some unexpected athleticism running and catching the ball.

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (0-8), 1 p.m. ET

  

The Cincinnati Bengals need to win soon if they want to avoid a franchise record for futility. They will get their next chance Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Cincinnati is off to its fifth 0-8 start in team history and the first under head coach Marvin Lewis. The Bengals' all-time worst start was in 1993, when the team started 0-10.

The good news for the Bengals is the Jaguars have struggled against the AFC North. Both Cleveland and the Pittsburgh Steelers went into Jacksonville this year and walked out with victories. At home Cincinnati will try to make it 0-3 against its division for the Jags.

The biggest challenge for the Bengals lately has been keeping games close. Cincinnati has lost its past three games by an average margin of 23 points.

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at Washington Redskins (6-2), 8:30 p.m. ET Monday

  

For the second time in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in arguably the best game of the week against an NFC East team. Monday, it comes against the Washington Redskins as Pittsburgh needs to prove it can compete against the NFL's best division.

The Steelers are off to a fast start, but they are 0-2 against the NFC East. In addition, Pittsburgh's offense has been pummeled by the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles in those two losses, scoring just 20 combined points and giving up 13 quarterback sacks. Expect Washington to also bring a lot of pressure as teams continue to try to exploit the Steelers' inconsistent pass protection.

Pittsburgh's No. 1-ranked defense will look for a way to slow MVP candidate and NFL leading rusher Clinton Portis, who has 944 rushing yards in eight games. Portis is the type of running back that can give Pittsburgh trouble. The Steelers much prefer shutting down bigger tailbacks and matching their physicality for four quarters. Portis is more of a slasher with home-run potential.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-6), 1 p.m. ET

There is something interesting about the Kansas City Chiefs as we head to November.

Seriously.

Thank you, Tyler Thigpen. At 1-6, the Chiefs aren't exactly a compelling study heading into the final nine games of their slate. However, Thigpen added some intrigue to their season. A whole lot of it.

In his second NFL start, Thigpen, who was horrible in his first start, played shockingly well in the Chiefs' last-minute 28-24 loss to the Jets last Sunday. Thigpen threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns and he wasn't intercepted. He completed his first 10 pass attempts.

Thigpen outplayed Brett Favre for much of the game. With quarterbacks Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard out for the rest of the season with injuries, Thigpen will get plenty of chances to build upon his strong game.

It won't be easy this week against a fine Tampa Bay defense. But we're looking forward to seeing how Thigpen performs. Last week, there was little to look forward to in Kansas City, other than the draft. But Thigpen has brought some life to the Chiefs' world.

Miami Dolphins (3-4) at Denver Broncos (4-3), 4:05 p.m. ET

Are the Denver Broncos ready for the Wildcat?

At this point, it's no sure thing the Broncos' defense could handle Heathcliff, the cat. Don't be surprised if the Wildcat roars loud and proud in the Rocky Mountains.

Denver's defense has been a sieve. Without the services of the Bailey brothers, Champ (the star cornerback is out for a month with a groin injury) and Boss (the linebacker is out for the year with a knee problem that required surgery), it could be tough sledding for the Broncos.

Denver, which sits atop the AFC West with a 4-3 record, has struggled against the run and pass on defense. Trick plays just complicate matters. Confusion could be the order of the day for the struggling Broncos defense.

If Miami leaves Denver with a win, it will be on the strength of the Wildcat.

Atlanta Falcons (4-3) at Oakland Raiders (2-5), 4:15 p.m. ET

This is a battle of the highly drafted quarterbacks.

Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2007. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was the No. 3 overall pick this year.

Maybe Russell can learn something from the rookie.

Ryan has been outstanding this season. He has the look of a winner and the Falcons are flying fairly high at 4-3. Yes, Ryan is a rookie but he looks like he's on his way to being a star. Russell has struggled right along with the Raiders, who are 2-5. Like Ryan, this is essentially Russell's rookie season. He played sparingly as a rookie last season.

Russell has shown some signs that he could be a winning quarterback, but he is behind Ryan in his development. Beating Ryan and the Falcons could go a long way in Russell's development.

Posted by ESPN Research's Jeremy Lundblad

New York Jets (4-3) at Buffalo Bills (5-2), 1 p.m. ET

The Jets travel to Buffalo for what will be the Bills' first division home game of the season. The Bills haven't waited this long to host a divisional foe since 1998.

So while the Bills are sitting pretty at 5-2, they have lost their only AFC East game (Week 8 at Miami). While certainly not a must-win game, avoiding an 0-2 division record could be key to the Bills' playoff hopes.

The Bills have won their last three meetings with the Jets, and are 2-0 with Trent Edwards at the helm. Edwards will be without his second-favorite target wide receiver Josh Reed (Achilles/ankle injury) who is out indefinitely.

Brett Favre, Since 6-TD-Pass
Game vs. Cardinals
W-L2-1
Comp. pct.66.7
Pass yards676
TD-INT ratio3-7

The Jets faced weak opponents in their previous three games, but struggled to beat the Bengals and Chiefs, while losing to the Raiders.

Brett Favre needs a turnaround game. He has thrown seven interceptions in his past three games against teams with a combined record of 3-19. Considering the Jets won 2 of 3 games in spite of those turnovers is a tribute to Favre's ability in the clutch.

Statistically, the Bills are one of the best pass defenses Favre has seen all season. However, Buffalo was torched by Ted Ginn Jr. (career-high 175 yards) and the Dolphins last week.

The Jets' fourth-ranked run defense will likely be without linebacker David Harris, who is battling a pulled groin.

Miami Dolphins (3-4) at Denver Broncos (4-3), 4:05 p.m. ET

The Dolphins are in last place. The Broncos are in first. Yet their records are only one game apart.

For all of the hype surrounding Miami's "Wildcat" formation, the Dolphins rank 21st in the NFL in rushing. Since unveiling it against the Patriots in Week 3, the Dolphins rushing totals have decreased every week, as opponents became better prepared. Last week against the Bills, Miami netted only 52 rushing yards.

Enter the Broncos defense, which ranks near the bottom of the NFL in almost everything. Denver's run defense is particularly bad, ranking 31st out of 32 teams and coming off a Week 7 debacle against the Patriots. In other words, look for the Dolphins running back tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to come out strong.

Dolphins' Net Rushing Yards, Last 5 Games
DateOpponentNet Yards
9/21*at New England216
10/5San Diego167
10/12at Houston96
10/19Baltimore71
10/26Buffalo52
* Unveiled Wildcat formation

If the Dolphins defense can slow the Broncos' air attack - no easy task - Miami can win this. Chad Pennington has proven that he can keep the Dolphins in any game. He garnered AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his 300-plus yard performance against the Bills last week.

At 3-4, the Dolphins are only two games back of the division lead, and they are the only AFC East team with a winning divisional record. The Broncos are the second straight division leader that the Dolphins have faced.

New England Patriots (5-2) at Indianapolis Colts (3-4), 8:15 p.m. ET

Of the AFC's "final four" from last year's playoffs, only one team has a winning record. Who'd have thought it would be the team that lost the NFL MVP in Week 1?

Tied for the division lead at 5-2, the Patriots have to be content with their position given all of the setbacks they have endured. Contrast that with the Colts, who sit at 3-4 after consecutive road losses.

With Tom Brady at the helm, the Patriots were 3-0 in regular-season games in Indianapolis. But now it's Matt Cassel's turn to duel with Peyton Manning.

Coming off his first career fourth-quarter comeback in a Week 8 victory over the visiting Rams, Cassel still needs to prove himself on the road. In three games away from Foxborough, Mass., Cassel has a 74.1 passer rating with only one touchdown pass and three interceptions. His job won't get any easier against a Colts pass defense that ranks second in the NFL.

The game might come down to the effectiveness of the Patriots running back corps. Despite all of the injuries, the New England ground game has been a key to its success. LaMont Jordan (calf) is expected back, while it appears Sammy Morris (knee) will not be ready to go. The Colts allow an average of 144.1 rushing yards per game, tied for 26th in the NFL.

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