NFL Nation: audibles NFC 15

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

New York Giants (11-2) at Dallas Cowboys (8-5), 8:15 p.m. ET

  

Could someone remind me what the Giants' controversy was all about? With the drama at Valley Ranch, it's hard to remember. When I talked to Giants defensive end Justin Tuck about the Cowboys' story, he had a long laugh. Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens has now come out and said he's not jealous of the Tony Romo-Jason Witten relationship, as was reported by ESPN's Ed Werder. But since we actually have a game occurring Sunday, let's talk about it a little bit.

The Cowboys like some of their matchups against the Giants' receivers. You'll see a lot more man-to-man coverage now that Plaxico Burress isn't playing. Terence Newman will probably cover Domenik Hixon. And look for rookie Orlando Scandrick to end up on Steve Smith quite a bit.

Now we know that running back Brandon Jacobs has been ruled out of Sunday's game and he'll be replaced by Derrick Ward. The Cowboys will still crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run, but Jacobs is a big loss. It's looking like Marion Barber will try to play now that he's been called out by owner Jerry Jones.

Back to the current controversy at Valley Ranch, coach Wade Phillips ordered his players not to talk about the "secret meeting" that took place between three receivers andJason Garrett on Monday. He wants them focused on Sunday's game, which seems like a good idea.

The Giants were embarrassed by their performance against the Eagles. They were beaten up at the line of scrimmage. The defensive line isn't producing sacks right now, but defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has decided to go back to some of the blitz packages that were working earlier in the season.

Cleveland Browns (4-9) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-5-1), 8:30 p.m. ET Monday

  

It didn't seem possible after the Ravens game three weeks ago, but now the Eagles are back in the playoff race. Quarterback Donovan McNabb is in a much better rhythm, and a lot of it has to do with the fact that Andy Reid is showing some commitment to the running game. This team will go as far as Brian Westbrook can take it. When he's healthy, he's a top-five player in this league. He's still banged up, but he'll be able to play against the Browns.

For whatever reason, the Eagles seem to play their best football late in the season. And the defense isn't getting enough credit for the way it played against the Giants. The defensive line won the battle up front and stopped the best running game in football.

The Eagles aren't getting a ton of sacks, but they're throwing off the rhythm of opposing quarterbacks. They're about to encounter a quarterback, Ken Dorsey, who's pretty limited. The Eagles will play a lot of press coverage in order to give their defensive ends and linebackers more time to get to Dorsey. The Browns are out of the playoff race and Romeo Crennel will probably get fired at the end of the season. But their biggest win of the season came on "Monday Night Football" against the Giants. The Eagles have struggled against inferior teams (see the Bengals), so it's important to take control of the game immediately.

Washington Redskins (7-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-11), 1 p.m. ET

  

Most of the attention has been on the Clinton Portis-Jim Zorn dispute this week, but the Redskins have to win a football game. There's been a lot of frustration because of the losing and all the injuries. This football team built its reputation around its running game in the first half of the season. After the loss to the Steelers dropped them to 6-3, the Redskins started seeing everyone stack the line of scrimmage with eight or nine players.

Receivers Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El can't get any separation right now, and quarterback Jason Campbell's confidence is not high. This was a team that has lost its identity. And the frustrating thing for Redskins fans is that their team had a relatively easy schedule in the second half.

Could Washington run the table and sneak into the playoffs? Stranger things have happened. But Todd Collins led that charge last season. This offense doesn't feel like it's about to take off, although the Bengals would be a good place to start.

To his credit, linebacker London Fletcher has continued to play unbelievably well despite the fact that he's injured. Zorn needs
to head off this controversy before he loses all the gains he made early in the season. Nothing helps a coach's credibility as much as winning. And the Redskins have to start Sunday.

Click here to access the NFL Pick Center, a service for ESPN Insiders where fans can view two different simulation models for every NFL game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-4) at Atlanta Falcons (8-5), 1 p.m. ET

  

Tampa Bay coordinator Monte Kiffin told his defense that it didn't suddenly become bad in Monday night's loss to Carolina. But it sure looked that way.

The Bucs, who have been known for their defense since the Tony Dungy days, got run over by Carolina. Poor tackling played a role, but that can be fixed. What might not be able to be fixed is that the Panthers showed you can get into a slugfest with the Bucs and win.

Tampa Bay's defensive line, particularly the interior, was getting blown off the ball by Carolina. You can bet that Atlanta coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey spotted all that on film and are ready to turn Michael Turner loose on the Tampa Bay defense.

Kiffin is reportedly leaving to join his son, Lane, at the University of Tennessee and a lot of Tampa Bay's defensive players are getting older (Derrick Brooks, Ronde Barber, Kevin Carter and Chris Hovan). With quarterback Jeff Garcia banged up, the Bucs need one more big game from this defense.

If that doesn't happen, the Bucs' playoff hopes could be in real trouble. And Atlanta's playoff hopes could be growing.

Denver Broncos (8-5) at Carolina Panthers (10-3), 4:15 p.m. ET

  

There was a playoff atmosphere in Charlotte for Monday night's huge victory against Tampa Bay, which brought on a lot of talk about the Panthers having a shot at the No. 1 seed.

That's all true and Carolina's got a big game coming up next week in New York against the Giants. But the Panthers haven't clinched anything yet and they have to take care of business in their final home game (they have a chance to go 8-0 in Bank of America Stadium).

That's why this matchup is scary. Denver's been inconsistent all year. But the Broncos have the ability to throw the ball all over the field and can score points in bunches. Carolina's pass defense hasn't been exactly stellar the last month.

Veteran cornerback Ken Lucas was burned several times Monday night and there's a growing concern he might be slowing down. Rookie free safety Charles Godfrey has shown he still is capable of rookie mistakes.

The Panthers are in great shape pretty much everywhere else. They've got to get the secondary fixed and win this game. Then, it will be time to truly start the talk about the No. 1 seed.

Click here to access the NFL Pick Center, a service for ESPN Insiders where fans can view two different simulation models for every NFL game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Detroit Lions (0-13) at Indianapolis Colts (9-4), 1 p.m. ET

The Lions have lost 20 of their past 21 games dating back to last season. Indianapolis is one of the NFL's hottest teams after winning six consecutive games. Not a good combination, huh?

We're moving into some historic airspace with these Lions. A defeat in Indianapolis would make Detroit only the third team to lose its first 14 games in a season since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. (In case you're wondering, no one has started a season 0-15.)

Do the Lions have any chance of escaping infamy this Sunday? It wouldn't appear so, but give Detroit credit for refusing to submit. Rather than take a flyer on young quarterback Drew Stanton, the Lions have dusted off longtime backup Dan Orlovsky -- who is still recovering from a fractured hand -- because he might give them a marginally better chance to compete.

But unless Orlovsky can play safety and intercept a few Peyton Manning passes, his return is not likely to do the trick.

Green Bay Packers (5-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9), 1 p.m. ET


The Packers have lost eight of 11 games after a 2-0 start, but it's not as though they're getting blown out week after week. Half of their losses, in fact, are by three points or less.

If nothing else, that small disparity should give the Packers hope for finishing out their season strong -- that, and a schedule that includes a road game this weekend against a team that has lost five of six at home. The Jaguars' only home victory came Sept. 28 against Houston.

More important, the Packers' beleaguered defense will hardly have to contend with a top-flight offense. Jaguars tailback Fred Taylor went on injured reserve last week, and quarterback David Garrard has been out of sorts all season. Even considering their recent lot, the Packers should feel confident as they walk into Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

Minnesota Vikings (8-5) at Arizona Cardinals (8-5), 4:05 p.m. ET

The Vikings spent about $45 million in guarantees to improve their pass defense last winter for games just like these. Defensive end Jared Allen ($31 million) and safety Madieu Williams ($13 million) have brought measurable improvement, but will it be enough to stop MVP candidate Kurt Warner?

Warner has brutalized the Vikings in three career starts against them, completing 67 of 86 passes for 881 yards and five touchdowns with one interception for a 123.9 passer rating. His quick release figures to negate much of Minnesota's improved pass rush, and the receiving duo of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin guarantees there will be at least one mismatch on the field at all times.

With quarterback Gus Frerotte (back) yielding to Tarvaris Jackson, the Vikings have no choice but to slow down the game and hope their running attack can eat up huge chunks of clock. They'll need to do it just to maintain their one-game lead over hard-charging Chicago in the NFC North.

Click here to access the NFL Pick Center, a service for ESPN Insiders where fans can view two different simulation models for every NFL game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Minnesota Vikings (8-5) at Arizona Cardinals (8-5), 4:05 p.m. ET

Kurt Warner has five touchdown passes, one interception and a 3-0 record in three career starts against the Vikings.

For all the talk about Arizona needing to establish a ground game, Warner continues to carry the offense. Arizona almost certainly isn't going to run the ball effectively against the Vikings' usually stout run defense.

MVP honors might be his to lose after the Saints' Drew Brees failed to put up impressive numbers while fading from the playoff picture during a Thursday night defeat. Warner needs 313 yards passing to move past Brees for the NFL lead after 13 games.

And with a division title already in hand, Warner could be on his way -- unless the Vikings' Adrian Peterson upstages him, always a possibility.

Seattle Seahawks (2-11) at St. Louis Rams (2-11), 1 p.m. ET

The loser moves up in the 2009 draft order, no consolation for a couple of coaches with uncertain futures.

While Seattle's Mike Holmgren plans to coach again in 2010, the Rams' Jim Haslett needs a late push to make his case for coming back next season. The Seahawks haven't won since Oct. 26. The Rams haven't won since Oct. 19. Together, the teams have lost 13 games in a row.

The Seahawks have looked better recently, particularly with a healthy Seneca Wallace leading the offense in Week 14. Neither team is good enough to trust as a favorite, however.

San Francisco 49ers (5-8) at Miami Dolphins (8-5), 1 p.m. ET

The 49ers' chances took a hit when Frank Gore suffered a sprained ankle against the 49ers. His expected absence could put more pressure on Shaun Hill, not necessarily a bad thing as the 49ers continue to evaluate their quarterback situation.

If Hill leads the 49ers to victory without support from Gore, ownership might have a hard time replacing interim coach Mike Singletary and possibly Hill. But after winning their last two games despite suffering nine fumbles, losing only two, it's fair to wonder if this is when the breaks even out.

Click here to access the NFL Pick Center, a service for ESPN Insiders where fans can view two different simulation models for every NFL game.

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