NFL Nation: audibles NFC 6
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.