NFL Nation: audibles NFC 5

Posted by's Matt Mosley

Cincinnati Bengals (0-4) at Dallas Cowboys (3-1), 4:15 p.m. ET

This should be the game that puts the Cowboys back on track following last Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Redskins.

Terrell Owens will have 100 yards and a couple of touchdowns by the time the first half ends. Then, the Cowboys can rediscover their running game with Marion Barber and Felix Jones in the second half. Tony Romo has been instructed to only check out of running plays if the Bengals put all 11 men on the line of scrimmage.

Chad Ocho Cinco said some outlandish things Wednesday in order to pump life into what looks like a dud of a game. The one thing the Cowboys have to fix is covering the deep ball. The Eagles, Packers and Redskins all hit on deep balls and Braylon Edwards dropped one that would've gone for a touchdown for the sadsack Browns.

The Cowboys will try to make life miserable for Carson Palmer, which won't be anything new for him. The Bengals did take the Giants to overtime in the Meadowlands two weeks ago, but they're about to run into an angry team. The Bengals don't have a running game, so they'll be one-dimensional from the start. The one thing the Bengals have in their favor is that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer knows their personnel better than anyone. Cowboys get back in the winning column, and T.O. skips the "serious conversation" with Romo after the game.

Seattle Seahawks (1-2) at New York Giants (3-0), 1 p.m. ET

The Seahawks get starting receivers Bobby Engram and Deion Branch back for this game, but it won't matter. The Giants' defensive line will take quarterback Matt Hasselbeck out of rhythm early, and he'll hold the ball too long. He trusts Engram, but he won't click with Branch.

As Giants center Shaun O'Hara pointed out earlier this week, the Meadowlands crowd could play a big role in this one. A lot of fans remember that the Qwest Field crowd induced the Giants into 11 false starts three years ago. The Giants want their fans to be loud, in part, because Hasselbeck loves to audible at the line of scrimmage. He's been known to check into running plays on third-and-6, which has actually worked well against aggressive teams such as the Giants.

As Tom Coughlin pointed out Friday, the Seahawks have scored 31 points in the first quarter in the past two games. Mike Holmgren does a better job than anyone at scripting the first 15 plays. The only problem is that the Seahawks have only scored three points in the third quarter all season.

OK, I've done entirely too much research. Let's move on.

Washington Redskins (3-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (2-2) 1 p.m. ET
Can the Redskins do it two weeks in a row? I think it's possible -- especially if Brian Westbrook isn't at full speed. And I don't think he will be. He finally made it through a full practice Friday, but he's still a game-time decision. Eagles middle linebacker Stewart Bradley told me earlier Friday that the Eagles will have 15 different blitz packages out of their base defense and 11 more in their situational packages. Folks that's 26 blitzes in one game.

The average defensive coordinator might install five or six blitzes heading into a game. Wait, am I bogging down? The bottom line is that defensive coordinator Jim Johnson wants to bring pressure from all over the field against Jason Campbell. The Redskins quarterback has shown that he can burn you if you let him find any type of rhythm. The Eagles don't want to allow that. I'll be there for all the action.

Posted by's Pat Yasinskas

Atlanta Falcons (2-2) at Green Bay Packers (2-2), 1 p.m. ET

With quarterback Aaron Rodgers banged up and defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins gone for the season, the Falcons could be catching the Packers at the right time.

A few weeks ago, you would have looked at this game and said there was no way the Falcons could go into Lambeau Field and win. Now, that's not out of the realm of possibility.

But it won't be easy. Atlanta hasn't played well on the road and 70,000 Cheeseheads aren't going to make life easy for rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. He's been just fine in the two home games, where Michael Turner was able to run wild against Detroit and Kansas City. But the Packers aren't the Lions or the Chiefs.

Atlanta's two losses came when Tampa Bay and Carolina took the ball out of Turner's hands and put it into Ryan's. Think the Packers might try to follow that route?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1) at Denver Broncos (3-1), 4:05 p.m. ET

For a very long time, Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber has been one of the best and most dependable cornerbacks in the game. The last couple of weeks, however, Barber suddenly looks vulnerable.

He's had problems with slipping and there are questions about whether he's lost a step. We'll find out for sure Sunday as he goes against Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal.

The Tampa-2 defense is pretty good at covering over holes because the safeties give the corners plenty of help. But Denver's offense is clicking. If you thought Barber has been targeted the last couple of weeks, you haven't seen anything yet.

Kansas City Chiefs (1-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-1), 1 p.m. ET

On the surface, this looks like an easy game for Carolina and a tune-up before next week's division showdown with Tampa Bay.

If this sounds like a classic "trap'' game that's only because it is. Throw in the fact that left tackle Jordan Gross (concussion) will miss the game and right tackle Jeff Otah (ankle) is doubtful and Carolina has to take this game very seriously.

Quarterback Jake Delhomme has looked great in his return from Tommy John elbow surgery. But the absence of the starting tackles could prompt the Panthers to be cautious and not have Delhomme take many deep drops. Third-down back Nick Goings has missed some blocks this season and the role of the running backs as blockers will take on added importance with the injuries up front.

The one player the Panthers have to keep healthy is Delhomme.

Minnesota Vikings (1-3) at New Orleans Saints (2-2), 8:30 p.m. ET Monday

The latest injury news for the banged-up Saints is that rookie defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis will be out at least a couple of weeks with a knee problem. That's the last thing you want to hear when Adrian Peterson is coming to town.

More than ever, that puts the pressure on the offense. Particularly quarterback Drew Brees, who has kept this team respectable through all the injuries. Brees keeps putting up huge numbers, no matter who is around him.

It looks like Brees will get some more consistent help from the running game now that Deuce McAllister has shown he's got something left. Even without suspended guard Jamar Nesbit, the Saints have done a good job protecting Brees.

But the quarterback will have to be sharper (and quicker) than usual because the Minnesota defensive front is the best he's seen this year. If Brees can lead the Saints to a win in this one, they'll have a chance at a 4-2 start because Oakland comes to the Superdome next.

Posted by's Kevin Seifert

Chicago Bears (2-2) at Detroit Lions (0-3), 1 p.m. ET

The Lions have had two weeks to prepare for a Bears team that could be without both starting cornerbacks Sunday at Ford Field.

Charles Tillman (shoulder) and Nate Vasher (hand) are nursing injuries and might not be available to defend Lions receivers Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson. Detroit spent the first three weeks of the season trying to establish their running game, but an 0-3 record suggests the Lions should re-focus around their two best players.

Offensive coordinator Jim Colletto, in fact, has said he expects to sprinkle more passes into the early part of the game. This could all be subterfuge for a team that truly plans to run Rudi Johnson at the Chicago defense all day, but it makes too much sense to think otherwise.

The Bears most definitely will point tailback Matt Forte north to attack a Lions run defense that is giving up an NFL-worst 207.7 yards per game, but we're guessing Detroit will work harder to maximize Williams and Johnson.

Green Bay Packers (2-2) vs. Atlanta Falcons (2-2), 1 p.m. ET

Whether Aaron Rodgers or rookie Matt Flynn starts at quarterback, you have to figure the Packers will rely more heavily on their running game Sunday against the Falcons. Rodgers hardly practiced during the week and at best will play with a sore right shoulder.

If Flynn starts, the Packers aren't likely to put him into more pressure situations than necessary. That means it's time for Green Bay tailback Ryan Grant and his offensive line to step up after averaging 93.5 rushing yards per game as a team during the first quarter of the season.

The Falcons haven't been competitive on the road, losing by 15 points at Tampa Bay and Carolina, and their run defense is ranked No. 23 overall in the NFL.

The Packers would be well-advised to limit their risks on offense, control the ball and keep their injury-depleted defense off the field.

Minnesota Vikings (1-3) at New Orleans (2-2), 8:30 p.m. ET Monday night

This game could provide a surprise two-way aerial show for viewers of ESPN's Monday Night Football.

We know all about the Saints' high-flying offense, which averages an NFL-high 327 yards passing per game. But the Vikings, coming off their best passing day of the Brad Childress era, are actually licking their chops as well.

The Saints have one of the league's worst pass defenses, having given up almost 250 yards per game. Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson combined for 272 passing yards last week at Tennessee, and receiver Bernard Berrian is predicting big things for Monday night's matchup.

Posted by's Mike Sando

Seattle Seahawks (1-2) at New York Giants (3-0), 1 p.m. ET

The Seahawks' reliance on changing plays at the line of scrimmage presents special challenges in hostile environments. The offense struggled badly in that aspect of Seattle's opening-season defeat at Buffalo. Progress must be made for the Seahawks to take full advantage of receivers Bobby Engram and Deion Branch, who are back from injuries.

The Seahawks might be wise to stick with the straight-ahead running game that has worked whenever tried this season, starting in the second half of the Buffalo game. Julius Jones and the offensive line seem well suited to that style of play. It's also a good way to attack an aggressive defense that figures to swarm plays on the perimeter.

This is a huge game for a so-far-underwhelming Seattle defense. Injuries have slowed middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Seattle needs his best in this game. Slowing Brandon Jacobs is the best way for the Seahawks to force Eli Manning into mistakes.

Buffalo Bills (4-0) at Arizona Cardinals (2-2), 4:15 p.m. ET

The Cardinals went from 2-2 to 3-6 last season, one reason they couldn't catch Seattle in the division race. A loss to the Bills wouldn't necessarily hurt much in the short term because the Seahawks and 49ers also face tough matchups this week.

This is still a game the Cardinals need to win. They've lost two in a row. They've got the Cowboys coming to the desert in Week 6, a scary thought for the Arizona defense if it doesn't right itself against the Bills this week. A trip to Carolina follows a bye in Week 7. The possibility of a five-game losing streak looms if the Cardinals can't beat the Bills.

The Bills are better on both lines. They have the better running back. They are playing with greater confidence after four consecutive victories. But they don't need this game as badly as the Cardinals need it. Emotions and home-field advantage should serve as equalizers for the Cardinals in this game. I like their chances from that standpoint but wonder if they have the depth to overcome injuries to Adrian Wilson, Bert Berry and Anquan Boldin.

Big-play note: Buffalo's Lee Evans (six) and Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald (four) have combined for 10 pass receptions of at least 30 yards. Green Bay's Greg Jennings (four) is the only other player in the league with more than three.

New England Patriots (2-1) at San Francisco 49ers (2-2), 4:15 p.m. ET

The pressure is on the 49ers in more ways than one. The schedule is getting tougher and the offense is having a hard time protecting quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan.

I see a pattern developing. Last week, the Saints had six sacks against the 49ers after collecting only four in three previous games. This week, the Patriots come to Candlestick with only six sacks in three games. I see that number swelling.

The 49ers' offensive line will have a hard time dealing with Richard Seymour, Ty Warren, Vince Wilfork, Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas. Don't forget about Tedy Bruschi, either. The 49ers' blitz pickup could have problems dealing with the combinations New England figures to send toward O'Sullivan.

Look for the 49ers to hit on some big plays on third down. But will it be enough?



Thursday, 11/20
Sunday, 11/23
Monday, 11/24