NFL : GAME PREVIEWS 12/9

Re: NFL : GAME PREVIEWS 12/9

Game Preview for Dolphins vs Bills

(Sports Network) - The Buffalo Bills continue to offer their long-suffering fan base hope.

Dick Jauron's team, which will host the winless Miami Dolphins at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, has defied the odds to merit serious discussion in the AFC playoff picture.

Despite scoring a grand total of 13 offensive touchdowns on the year, and despite featuring an all-rookie backfield that is currently at half-strength, Buffalo enters Week 14 just a game out of the final Wild Card spot in the conference.

The team got to .500 last week by outlasting the Redskins, 17-16, in Washington. Rian Lindell kicked five field goals in the game, including the 36-yard game-winner in the final seconds.

A win over the Dolphins, who the Bills already defeated back in Week 10, would make the Bills 7-6 in advance of what could be a monumental matchup at currently 7-5 Cleveland in Week 15. The Browns currently hold the edge for the final playoff spot, with the similarly 7-5 Titans right behind.

Buffalo, which last reached the postseason in 1999, will conclude its 2007 regular season schedule with a home date against the Giants (Dec. 23) and a trip to Philadelphia (Dec. 30).

The stakes for Miami, meanwhile, are as obvious as stakes come.

The 0-12 Dolphins are running out of opportunities to avoid becoming the first 0-16 team in NFL history, and the first to go winless in a complete season since the 1976 Buccaneers lost all 14 contests in their initial year of existence.

What many expected to become the Fins' first win of the season last week instead emerged as a 40-13 loss to the previously two-win Jets.

That loss was Miami's most decisive of the 2007 season to date.

SERIES HISTORY

Miami leads the all-time regular season series with Buffalo, 49-33-1, but has lost six of the last seven in the series, including three straight. The Bills were 13-10 road winners when the teams met in Week 10, and swept last year's home-and-home, including a 21-0 blanking at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Dolphins last defeated the Bills at home during the 2005 season, and are 0-3 in Buffalo since last prevailing there in 2003.

Though the Dolphins lead the regular season series, the Bills hold a 3-1 edge in postseason games. Buffalo defeated Miami in a 1990 AFC Divisional Playoff, the 1992 AFC Championship, and a 1995 AFC First-Round Playoff, while the Dolphins were winners in a 1998 AFC First-Round Playoff.

Jauron is 3-1 in his head coaching career against the Dolphins, including a 27-9 loss for his Bears in Miami during the 2002 season. The Dolphins' Cam Cameron is 0-1 against both Jauron and Buffalo as a head coach.

WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL

With the opening day backfield of quarterback Trent Green and running back Ronnie Brown by now long gone due to injury, Miami will again have to make do with rookie signal-caller John Beck and running back Jesse Chatman. Beck, the No. 40 overall draft pick out of BYU, is still seeking his first touchdown pass as a pro and has not exactly been the answer to the team's offensive problems. The 26-year-old is a combined 46-of-84 for 318 yards with three interceptions in his three starts. Chatman (435 rushing yards, 1 TD, 23 receptions) has played reasonably well despite being bothered by a sore ankle, and if he is unable to go this week, rookie Lorenzo Booker and journeyman Samkon Gado will have to pick up the slack. Booker caught six passes for 63 yards in his most significant action of the year last week. Wideouts Marty Booker (31 receptions, 1 TD) and Ted Ginn, Jr. (18 receptions, 1 TD), will do their best to get open after combining for just seven catches for 55 yards against the Jets. The Miami offense has fallen to 29th in the league (281.5 yards per game).

Beck and company will have a chance to move the ball this week against a Bills defense that ranks just 30th in the league (370.3 yards per game), including 29th against the pass (254 yards per game) and 22nd (116.3 yards per game) against the run. That said, Buffalo did an excellent job against the Redskins attack last week, limiting Clinton Portis to just 50 yards on 20 carries, and holding Jason Campbell to 216 passing yards and two turnovers after the third- year pro had posted back-to-back 300-yard showings. Cornerbacks Terrence McGee (61 tackles, 2 INT) and Jabari Greer (37 tackles, 2 INT) were once again excellent in coverage, unheralded middle linebacker John DiGiorgio (87 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) posted a team-best 10 tackles to help stop Portis, and a formerly-suspect group of pass rushers notched three sacks of Campbell. End Aaron Schobel (41 tackles, 3.5 sacks), who has had a disappointing season one year removed from a Pro Bowl campaign, had one of the three sacks.

WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL

If you had told Bills fans before the season that by Week 14 their backfield would be occupied by quarterback Trent Edwards (1047 passing yards, 1 TD, 5 INT) and rookie Fred Jackson (116 rushing yards, 12 receptions), they probably would have expected to be fretting over the possibility of a winless campaign of their own. But to the contrary, Edwards has been efficient during his time in the lineup, and Jackson, a first-year player out of tiny Coe College, made the most of his first real opportunity last week. Subbing for the injured Marshawn Lynch (751 rushing yards, 6 TD, 15 receptions), who is regarded as questionable for this week with a knee problem, Jackson carried 16 times for 82 yards and also contributed a team-best 69 yards on four receptions out of the backfield versus the Redskins. Edwards threw for a season-best 257 yards in his first start since Oct. 28, hooking up five times for 67 yards with wideout Josh Reed (43 receptions). Lee Evans continues to lead the Bills in receptions (45), receiving yards (689), and TD catches (2). The Buffalo line has allowed 23 sacks on the year, but did not surrender one last week.

The hits just keep on coming for the Miami defense, which this week placed perennial Pro Bowl middle linebacker Zach Thomas (migraines) and safety Cameron Worrell (knee) on a crowded season-ending injured reserve list. A defense that ranks 16th in the league overall (329 yards per game) now consists of ever-reliable end Jason Taylor (39 tackles, 8 sacks, 1 INT), blossoming linebacker Channing Crowder (78 tackles, 0.5 sacks), and very little else. Taylor had two of the Dolphins' six sacks against Jets quarterback Kellen Clemens last week, while Crowder managed six tackles for a team that was gutted for 163 yards on the ground. Outside linebacker Joey Porter (52 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 INT) also made an impact, intercepting his second pass in as many games. The secondary is the element of the Miami defense that has been most affected by injury, with players like waiver-wire safety Lance Schulters (9 tackles) and cornerback Jason Allen (35 tackles, 2 INT) now counted on to contribute significant minutes. Miami is third in the NFL against the pass (179.3 yards per game), but has also faced 33 fewer aerial attempts than any other team. The Fins rank last in the league against the run (149.7 yards per game), and have faced 21 more rushing attempts that any other team.

FANTASY FOCUS

Few fantasy managers will be firing up the satellite to watch this game, though there are a couple of players on the Buffalo side who will be counted on for contributions. Provided Lynch misses another game, which seems probable, Jackson should be able to ring up his first 100-yard effort against the Dolphins and their NFL-worst run defense. The Bills passing attack probably won't set the world on fire, though no one in the Miami secondary has the ability to cover Evans. Lindell, who is an NFL best 20-of-22 on field goals this year, is also a solid play. Miami doesn't have a player worth mentioning for fantasy purposes.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

On a neutral field, you'd have to give the Dolphins a chance here, since Miami took Buffalo to the wire the last time these teams played and the Bills have not exactly become a juggernaut since. But in the cold environs of Western New York, where the weather is expected to be in the low 30s with precipitation, the Fins figure to look less comfortable than they have been for the season's first three months. Buffalo will ride Jackson and move the clock offensively, while a rejuvenated defense hassles Beck and covers his receivers like a blanket from start to finish.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bills 23, Dolphins 7

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Re: NFL : GAME PREVIEWS 12/9

Game Preview for Cardinals vs Seahawks

(Sports Network) - Prior to the start of the 2007 season, there was a persistent question about whether anyone would rise up and take the NFC West from the three-time defending division champion Seattle Seahawks.

When the Arizona Cardinals visit Qwest Field on Sunday, that question could be answered once and for all.

A win for Seattle (8-4) will lock up the franchise's fourth consecutive division crown, sending Arizona (6-6), the team's closest West competitor at the moment, into a crowded pool of Wild Card hopefuls.

The Seahawks have gotten closer to realizing their divisional destiny by going on a four-game winning streak, including back-to-back road victories over the Rams (24-19) and Eagles (28-24).

In turn, Mike Holmgren's club has remained in the mix for a first-round bye in the NFC, as it currently stands two games back of 10-2 Green Bay for such a distinction. As Week 14 begins, the Hawks hold the No. 3 position in the conference.

The opponent trying to negatively impact Seattle's chances, the Cardinals, currently own the second of two Wild Card positions in the conference.

A thrilling 27-21 win over the Browns last week helped Ken Whisenhunt's squad even up its record at 6-6, and a favorable tie-breaker has Arizona listed ahead of similarly 6-6 Detroit and Minnesota on the final playoff line in the conference.

With a triumph in Seattle, Arizona can both boost its Wild Card chances and move the franchise closer to its first division title since moving to the desert in 1988.

Due to their head-to-head win over the Seahawks in Week 2, the Cardinals would need only to finish in a tie with Seattle to claim the division, based on a would-be home-and-home sweep.

The Cardinals' final three games are at New Orleans (5-7) and at home against Atlanta (3-9) and St. Louis (3-9).

Seattle finishes up at Carolina (5-7), at home against Baltimore (4-8), and at Atlanta (3-9).

SERIES HISTORY

Arizona leads the all-time series with the Seahawks, 9-8, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 23-20 home win in Week 2. The teams split a home-and-home last season, with Seattle coming up a 21-10 winner at Qwest Field in Week 2 and Arizona returning the favor with a 27-21 home victory in Week 14. The Cardinals are 0-4 in Seattle since last winning there in 2002.

Holmgren has a 7-4 record against Arizona in his career, with all of those games coming during his tenure with Seattle. The Cardinals' Whisenhunt is 1-0 against both Holmgren and the Seahawks as a head coach, and was the offensive coordinator on Pittsburgh's Super Bowl win over Seattle following the 2005 season.

WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL

An Arizona offense that ranks 16th in the league (331.2 yards per game) has some injury concerns as Week 14 begins, most notably in the receiving corps. Anquan Boldin (48 receptions, 6 TD) is considered doubtful after dislocating a toe in last week's win over the Browns, an injury that occurred in a game in which Larry Fitzgerald (75 receptions, 6 TD) was absent due to a groin injury. Fitzgerald's return this week is considered probable, and Bryant Johnson (38 receptions, 1 TD) will likely start in place of Boldin. The quarterback throwing them the ball, Kurt Warner (2178 passing yards, 15 TD, 9 INT), has multiple touchdown passes in four straight games. The Cardinals will also try to establish Edgerrin James (922 rushing yards, 6 TD, 13 receptions), who recorded just his second 100-yard game of the year when he went for 114 against Cleveland last Sunday. James' high game of 2007 came in Week 2 against the Seahawks, when he rushed 24 times for 128 yards and a touchdown. James is 76 yards shy of his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season.

The Seahawks have been a middle-of-the road defensive unit for most of the year (104.2 yards per game), but have built a reputation of excelling in the area of big plays. That reputation was reinforced last week, when middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (90 tackles, 4 INT, 1 sack) intercepted Philadelphia quarterback A.J. Feeley three times. Tatupu, who also had a pick against the Cardinals back in Week 2, was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts. End Patrick Kerney (42 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 1 INT) and linebacker Julian Peterson (61 tackles, 9 sacks, 2 INT) have helped make up a relentless Seattle pass rush. Peterson had an interception and the only sack of Feeley last Sunday. An underrated secondary led by cornerback Marcus Trufant (62 tackles, 4 INT) has given up an NFL-low seven touchdown passes on the year, including one to Arizona tight end Leonard Pope back in Week 2.

WHEN THE SEAHAWKS HAVE THE BALL

A Seattle offense that transformed from a balanced attack to a pass-happy system somewhere around midseason enters Week 14 ranking 11th in the league with 342.9 yards per game. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's 187 passing yards last week marked his lowest total since Week 5, though that figure had something to do with a number of short fields given up by the Philadelphia offense. Hasselbeck (3074 passing yards, 20 TD, 10 INT) threw TD passes to Bobby Engram (72 receptions, 4 TD) and Nate Burleson (34 receptions, 5 TD) in the win. In Week 2, the veteran threw for 281 yards, but a key fumble on an exchange with Shaun Alexander (557 rushing yards, 3 TD, 12 receptions) in the waning moments set up the Cardinals for the winning score. Alexander rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries in that contest. Deion Branch (36 receptions, 2 TD) caught seven passes for 122 yards in the defeat.

As banged up as the Cardinals are offensively, it is the defense that is the real concern as the team attempts to make a playoff push. Safety Adrian Wilson (heel), cornerback Eric Green (groin), and defensive end Bertrand Berry (triceps) have all been lost for the year in the past month. The short-handed secondary gave up 304 yards through the air to the Browns' Derek Anderson last week, though the team got a lift from a 71-yard interception return for a TD by cornerback Rod Hood (39 tackles, 4 INT) in the first quarter, one of two picks for him on the day. Fellow d-backs Antrel Rolle (43 tackles, 3 INT) and Terrence Holt (47 tackles) will have to help Holt with the Seattle receivers this week. The team's top pass rushers at this stage - linebacker Karlos Dansby (71 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INT) and tackle Darnell Dockett (49 tackles, 8 sacks) - are also counted on for their run-stopping ability on an Arizona defense that ranks 11th in the league in rushing defense (99.7 yards per game). The Cardinals are 14th in NFL total defense (322.8 yards per game).

FANTASY FOCUS

The Seahawks spread the football out offensively, which generally prevents their principles from being reliable fantasy options. Players like Hasselbeck, Branch, and Engram will likely give you something, but don't count on them to carry your team. Actually, the most reliable Seattle starter might be the team's defense, which consistently piles up sacks and doesn't surrender a wealth of big plays. On the Arizona side, it's hard to know what impact Fitzgerald's injury will have on his production, but both he and Warner remain solid fantasy options. James, who rarely goes over 100 yards and gets taken out in goal line situations, is not.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

A month ago, this would have been a fascinating game. As it stands currently, the Seahawks should roll. A young Arizona team is simply too injury-scarred on both sides of the football to win a difficult road game, and you have to believe that Seattle smells blood in the water. Holmgren's team, which has by the way played its best football of the season over the past month, has been in many of these situations before over the past half-decade, and isn't about to blink against an inferior opponent. Look for the Seahawks to jump out to an early lead and keep the Cardinals at arm's length thereafter.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Seahawks 31, Cardinals 13

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Re: NFL : GAME PREVIEWS 12/9

Game Preview for Vikings vs 49rs

(Sports Network) - In this week's NFL version of "can you top this?", Adrian Peterson wins.

The ex-Oklahoma running back, who entered the fray this spring amid questions about his long-term durability, has been nothing short of remarkable over 13 weeks of rookie-year critic-answering with the Minnesota Vikings.

Not only is the 6-foot-1, 217-pounder already atop the league's rushing list with 1,197 yards in just 184 carries - a remarkable 6.5-yard average - but he's also made entry No. 1 in the all-time record book after a 296-yard blitzing of the San Diego Chargers in a 35-17 Week 9 win.

And just to prove the mid-season jaunt was no fluke, he proved fully recovered from a dinged-up knee last week, going for 116 more yards on just 15 carries in a 42-10 throttling of the Detroit Lions.

"He said he feels as good as he has felt all year long," Vikings head coach Brad Childress said, of Peterson. "That is what (trainer Eric Sugarman) said to me. He came in and treated and was off to the races."

On the other side, it's what could have been.

San Francisco plays host this week featuring running back Frank Gore, who led the NFC in 2006 with 1,695 yards while helping the 49ers to a 7-9 record that many assumed would mean full-fledged contention in the conference's West division this time around.

Needless to say, it hasn't gone quite as planned.

The University of Miami product has battled injuries and loaded-up defenses throughout a disappointing 2007, reaching 100 yards only once while a once- promising season has deteriorated to a 3-9 "playing out the string" embarrassment.

The Niners won their first two outings, but followed up the mini-streak with an eight-game losing skid that's plunged them into basement-sharing status with the equally inept St. Louis Rams.

"It's hard to win a football game when you turn the ball over five times," coach Mike Nolan said after a 31-14 debacle at Carolina last week. 'We came back and made it 17-14 and I felt we were doing very well. Then we turned the ball over on a punt. The turnovers hurt us. In all of our losses that's been a factor."

SERIES HISTORY

The all-time regular season series between the Vikings and 49ers is tied, 18-18-1, with San Francisco evening the series by virtue of a 9-3 home win during Week 9 of last season. The Vikings won the previous matchup, a 35-7 tilt at the Metrodome in 2003. The Vikings are 0-5 in regular season games played in the City by the Bay since last winning there in 1986.

In addition to the regular season series, the teams have an extensive postseason history together, having met in the playoffs a total of five times. San Francisco has a 4-1 edge in the postseason series, winning NFC Divisional Playoff games at home in 1988, 1989, and 1997, and on the road in 1970. The Vikings' lone postseason win over the 49ers came in 1987 at what is now known as Monster Park. Including playoff games, the Vikings are 0-7 in San Francisco since the '87 triumph.

Nolan is 1-0 head-to-head against both Minnesota and Childress.

WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL

In addition to all else, Peterson's 10 touchdowns have all but guaranteed him both his conference's Rookie of the Year and a fair chance at Pro Bowl honors as well. Veteran Chester Taylor has provided a second quality option, averaging 103.7 yards per game over the last three weeks. He had 96 yards in his last game against San Francisco. The dual attack has taken a good deal of heat off of young QB Tarvaris Jackson, who had his best game last week when he threw for a pair of touchdowns. Overall, he's completed 96-of-168 passes for 1,104 yards and five touchdowns. Bobby Wade leads the team with 34 receptions, and rookie Sydney Rice has a TD reception in three of his last four games.

The Niners are near equal to Minnesota overall with a 346.2-yard per week defensive average, but have failed to create a lot of opportunities while the team has sunk to a minus-9 turnover ratio. End Bryant Young leads the Niners with 6.5 sacks, while veteran ex-New England Patriot linebacker Tully Banta- Cain has a fumble recovery for a touchdown in two straight games. San Francisco is 38-20 when Young records at least one sack. Rookie linebacker Patrick Willis leads the team in tackles, while backfield mates Walt Harris and Nate Clements have also been productive, sharing the lead with three interceptions. Harris had an INT in the teams' last meeting and Clements has two interceptions and a forced fumble over the last four games.

WHEN THE NINERS HAVE THE BALL

Gore can still become the fifth player in team history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He's rushed for 536 yards and caught 20 passes for 192 yards in his last five December games. His production will take the heat off whomever starts at quarterback, be it former No. 1 overall pick Alex Smith or former Super Bowl winner Trent Dilfer. Smith is questionable with right shoulder and right forearm issues, while Dilfer completed just 14-of-29 passes and was picked off four times last week. Wide receiver Arnaz Battle has at least one catch in 32 straight games and looks for his third straight with a TD reception. Darrell Jackson, an offseason acquisition from Seattle, has 17 catches and two TDs in his last two against the Vikings.

The Vikings figure to match up well against Gore and Co. with a rushing defense that's permitted an NFL-stingiest 70.5 yards per game. Safety Darren Sharper leads the NFL with 47 interceptions since 2000, and his teams are 7-2 in nine games against the Niners. Up front, defensive end Kenechi Udeze had an interception last week and linemate Kevin Williams had a sack. Rookie end Brian Robison leads the team with 4.5 sacks, while safety Dwight Smith has a unit-best four interceptions. Overall, the Vikings surrender 349.3 total yards per week.

FANTASY FOCUS

Peterson has risen to "must-play" status in just 13 weeks, making him the primary weapon in this game. Gore is a quality commodity in his own right, but could struggle against a defense that'll likely load up and force whatever quarterback plays to move the offense. Outside of that on either side, the offensive pickins are slim. Defensively, Minnesota has a plus-6 turnover ratio.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Vikings are making the dreaded trip to the West Coast, which will be a quality barometer toward identifying whether they're a legitimate playoff contender or just a mediocre team on a hot streak. Expect a full dose of Peterson either way, which should be good enough to handle a Niners team eager to reach the finish line.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vikings 17, Niners 7

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Re: NFL : GAME PREVIEWS 12/9

Game Preview for Chiefs vs Broncos

(Sports Network) - In past years, a December showdown between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs usually played a part in determining the AFC West champion. But this time there won't be much more than pride on the line when the two storied rivals meet this Sunday at Invesco Field at Mile High.

Denver lost significant ground to the first-place San Diego Chargers in the AFC West standings with last Sunday's disappointing 34-20 loss at the hands of the hated Oakland Raiders, while the Chiefs have taken themselves virtually out of the playoff picture with defeats in five consecutive games.

The 5-7 Broncos now sit two games behind San Diego with four to play and are mired in a two-game losing streak after a forgettable performance against the Raiders. Denver's season-long troubles on defense plagued the club once again, as Oakland racked up 175 rushing yards on the afternoon and received three passing touchdowns from quarterback Josh McCown.

The Broncos didn't show much on offense either, netting just 292 total yards against a relatively soft Raiders defense and committing four turnovers. Second-year quarterback Jay Cutler threw two interceptions and completed just 16-of-32 passes in arguably the most ineffective game of his young career.

At least Denver will have top rusher Travis Henry in uniform on Sunday, after the troubled back was able to get a one-year suspension for violation of the NFL's drug policy overturned on Tuesday due to a procedural error by the league.

Kansas City's problems have come on the offensive side, as the Chiefs have averaged a paltry 12 points over their last four defeats and rank 30th in the NFL in both total yards (280.7 ypg) and scoring (14.3 ppg).

One explanation for Kansas City's meager output is the absence of star running back Larry Johnson, who will sit out a fifth straight game with a sprained foot. Rookie Kolby Smith has filled in quite capably, though, having compiled 233 rushing yards over the team's two most recent setbacks.

The Chiefs' current slide is their longest since a five-game skid from November 5-December 4, 2000. Kansas City has not dropped six in a row since the 1998 campaign.

The latest loss, a 24-10 decision at San Diego last Sunday, dropped the Chiefs to 4-8 on the season and came without the services of recently-promoted starting quarterback Brodie Croyle, who sat out with a back bruise. The second-year pro is expected to make his third NFL start in this matchup, however.

Croyle relieved deposed starter Damon Huard during the second half of Kansas City's 27-11 home defeat to the Broncos in Week 10 and finished with 162 yards and an interception on 17-of-30 passing. He then started the team's next two contests before getting hurt in a loss to Oakland on November 25.

SERIES HISTORY

Kansas City holds a 52-42 lead in its all-time series with Denver, but was a 27-11 home loser when the teams met in Week 10. The home team had won the previous nine games in the series, including a conventional home-and-home split of last year's series. The Chiefs are 0-6 in Denver since last winning there in 2000, and dropped a 9-6 overtime decision at Invesco Field at Mile High last season.

The two storied franchises have met just once in the postseason, with the Broncos claiming a 14-10 road victory in a 1997 AFC Divisional Playoff.

Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan is 14-15 against Kansas City in his career, including 12-14 since taking over in Denver in 1995. The Chiefs' Herm Edwards is 2-3 against both Shanahan and the Broncos as a head coach, including 1-2 since arriving in K.C.

WHEN THE CHIEFS HAVE THE BALL

Kansas City has fielded one of the NFL's best rushing attacks over the past few years, but the team has failed to establish a strong run game this season even when Johnson's been healthy. The Chiefs average a meager 85.6 yards per week on the ground (29th overall), although Smith (252 rushing yards, 2 TD) has breathed some life into the offense since taking over as the starter. The fifth-round draft choice ran over the Raiders for 150 yards and two scores two weeks ago and followed up with 83 yards on 21 carries against a tough San Diego defense last Sunday. A shaky offensive line has been partly to blame for the Chiefs' rushing struggles and could be without starting tackles Damion McIntosh (knee) and Chris Terry (personal) this week. That doesn't bode well for Croyle, considering the front wall has yielded a poor 42 sacks this year.

Croyle (614 passing yards, 2 TD, 2 INT) is considered Kansas City's quarterback of the future, but the ex-Alabama star has been understandably inconsistent in his limited action. He played very well in his first career start, nearly leading the Chiefs to a road upset at Indianapolis in Week 11, but went just 12-of-23 for 145 yards and an interception versus Oakland in his subsequent outing. Despite the club's year-long erratic play at quarterback, tight end Tony Gonzalez (72 receptions, 4 TD) has turned in another Pro Bowl- caliber season, while rookie receiver Dwayne Bowe (54 receptions, 4 TD) looks like a future star. He had a season-best nine catches for 105 yards against the Broncos last month.

Denver limited the Chiefs to just 67 rushing yards earlier this season, a rare stout effort by a defense that's been bullied on a week-to-week basis. The Broncos are surrendering a woeful 149.1 yards per game on the ground (31st overall) and also sit next-to-last in the league in points allowed (27.4 ypg). In an effort to improve on those poor numbers, the team released aging tackle Sam Adams on Tuesday and will insert promising rookie Marcus Thomas (12 tackles, 1 INT) into an every-down role. Two of the defense's few bright spots have been middle linebacker and leading tackler D.J. Williams (109 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and Hamza Abdullah (37 tackles), who's done well since replacing veteran Nick Ferguson (55 tackles) at strong safety in midseason.

Despite a No. 9 overall ranking in pass defense (202.8 ypg) and the presence of two quality cornerbacks in perennial Pro Bowler Champ Bailey (59 tackles, 2 INT) and Dre' Bly (37 tackles, 4 INT, 11 PD) in the secondary, the Broncos really haven't been overly strong against opposing aerial assaults this year either. After McCown's surprising three-touchdown effort last week, Denver has now given up 20 passing scores in 2007. Bailey and Bly did have interceptions in the Week 10 win over the Chiefs, while the defense added four sacks in one of its best games of the year. Rookie reserve Tim Crowder (14 tackles, 4 sacks) had two of those takedowns, while speedy end Elvis Dumervil (28 tackles, 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) has been the team's best havoc-wreaker.

WHEN THE BRONCOS HAVE THE BALL

As is the case with most young quarterbacks, Shanahan has had to endure growing pains from Cutler (2598 passing yards, 13 TD, 12 INT), who's had his share of highs and lows in his first full season as a starter. The rocket- armed 24-year-old has fared well at home, however, having posted a strong 94.3 passer rating and a 69 percent completion percentage in Denver's six games at Invesco this year. Cutler's got plenty of weapons to work with, as second-year wideout Brandon Marshall (65 receptions, 4 TD) has enjoyed a terrific sophomore campaign and the injury-plagued Javon Walker (20 receptions) is a top-flight receiver when healthy. Veteran Brandon Stokley (39 receptions, 4 TD) had 102 receiving yards last week, but injured his knee during the game and is considered questionable for Sunday. Denver's also been pleased with the play of young tight end Tony Scheffler (29 receptions, 3 TD), who's been more involved in the offense recently.

The Broncos' eighth-rated rushing offense (120.8 ypg) is keyed by a stable of capable backs headlined by Henry (629 rushing yards, 3 TD), although he's still trying to regain form after sitting out three straight games with a partially torn knee ligament. He struggled in his return to action last week, gaining just 49 yards on 15 carries but also scoring twice on short runs. Henry will be pushed for time by exciting rookie Selvin Young (413 rushing yards, 1 TD, 25 receptions), who came through with a career-best 109 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs in November, and possibly fellow youngster Andre Hall (206 rushing yards, 2 TD), provided he can come back from a high ankle sprain that forced him to miss the Oakland game.

Kansas City's seasoned defense has been good against the pass but vulnerable to strong running games like Denver's, as evidenced by the Broncos' 141 rushing yards in the Week 10 meeting. The Chiefs were even more submissive against San Diego last week, as reigning league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson piled up 177 yards and two scores on just 23 carries. Making matters worse, linebackers Derrick Johnson (75 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INT) and Donnie Edwards (85 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) could miss Sunday's tilt. Johnson is dealing with the recent death of his father, while the 34-year-old Edwards' streak of 149 straight starts is in jeopardy after he injured his hamstring last week. Even with those two in the fold, the Chiefs have ranked only 21st versus the run (115.8 ypg).

Throwing the ball on Kansas City has been more of a challenge for opponents, as the Chiefs have yielded just 197.3 passing yards per game (7th overall) and only 10 touchdowns through the air. Jared Allen (47 tackles, 9 PD) has been a dominant force from his defensive end spot, having racked up a league-best 11 1/2 sacks despite being suspended the season's first two games. Second-year man Tamba Hali (34 tackles, 5 sacks) has performed well on the other side, while thirty-somethings Ty Law (38 tackles, 2 INT, 8 PD) and Patrick Surtain (46 tackles, 2 INT) are a pair of savvy cornerbacks.

FANTASY FOCUS

With two defenses that struggle to stop the run, look for the running backs to take center stage in this matchup. Smith should have a third straight productive outing and has proven to be solid No. 2 fantasy back, but the position is a little more unsettled on the Denver side. Henry will surely be motivated but appears to not yet be at 100 percent health, meaning he could lose touches at the expense of Young and possibly even Hall. As for the quarterbacks, Croyle is not yet worthy of starting status and Cutler will be facing a tough Kansas City pass defense, which makes him a risky play. Marshall has been remarkably consistent and is a good option as a No. 2 wide receiver or flex player, but hold off on using either Walker or Stokley because of health concerns. For the Chiefs, Gonzalez is an obvious must-start at tight end and Bowe's been very productive as well, although there's a chance his numbers could drop this week with Croyle under center and Kansas City likely having success running the ball.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

One would think that the Broncos would be able to rise to the occasion in a rivalry game with their playoff hopes currently on life support, but Denver was in the same situation a week ago and laid an egg against the Raiders. Fortunately, the team catches a Kansas City squad that's suffered injuries in a number of key areas and is clearly playing with an eye on next season. The Chiefs always play hard under Herm Edwards and their defense should be able to keep them in the game, but expect the Broncos to eventually wear them down with the run and keep their home dominance in this series intact.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 26, Chiefs 17

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Re: NFL : GAME PREVIEWS 12/9

Game Preview for Steelers vs Patriots

(Sports Network) - In their past two games, the New England Patriots have played with fire.

On Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers will look to turn that blaze into an inferno.

The Patriots, heavy favorites in recent narrow wins over the Eagles (31-28) and Ravens (27-24) have encountered fourth-quarter deficits in both of those contests, only to rally late.

This past Monday night in Baltimore, it took a 13-play, 73-yard drive furthered by several defensive penalties to keep Bill Belichick's team unbeaten. A controversial eight-yard touchdown pass from Tom Brady to wideout Jabar Gaffney in the final minute ended up being the game-winning score, though a desperation heave from Ravens signal-caller Kyle Boller to wideout Mark Clayton fell two yards shy of giving the home team a miracle win.

This week, the Patriots will be trying to avoid such drama while also becoming the fifth team in NFL history to start 13-0. Following the Steelers battle, New England will take on the 3-9 Jets, 0-12 Dolphins, and 8-4 Giants to end the regular season.

Vying to send New England to the right-hand column of the standings for the first time this year is a Steelers club that has spent most of the year just below the Patriots and Colts on the NFL radar.

Pittsburgh was a 24-10 winner over the Bengals this past Sunday night, upping its record at Heinz Field to 7-0 this season, but Mike Tomlin's club knows it must play better away from the Steel City in order to earn league-wide respect.

The Steelers - who play three of their final four games away from Pittsburgh - are just 2-3 in away games under Tomlin, with none of the three losses coming against a team currently sporting a winning record.

The Black and Gold's most recent sojourn resulted in a 19-16 overtime loss to the Jets, an opponent that was 1-8 entering that game.

A win in New England, while also altering the perception of the AFC power structure, could also give the Steelers their first division title since 2004. Pittsburgh would also need the Browns (7-5) to lose to the Jets on Sunday in order to secure the crown.

SERIES HISTORY

The Steelers have a 12-6 edge in their all-time regular season series with the Patriots, but were 23-20 home losers when the teams last met, in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl season of 2005. The Steelers won the previous regular season matchup, taking a 34-20 decision at Heinz Field against a then-6-0 New England team in 2004. The Pats won the most recent game between the two in Foxborough, a 30-14 affair in 2002. Pittsburgh last won in New England in 1997.

The teams have also met in the playoffs four times since 1996, with the Patriots winning a 1996 AFC Divisional Playoff (28-3), the Steelers returning the favor with a victory in a 1997 AFC Divisional Playoff (7-6), and New England prevailing in the 2001 (24-17) and 2004 (41-27) AFC Championships. The 1997, 2001, and 2004 meetings were all played in Pittsburgh.

Belichick has a 7-9 mark against the Steelers, including 4-1 since coming to New England. Pittsburgh's Tomlin will be meeting both Belichick and the Patriots for the first time as a head coach.

WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL

In order to pull off the upset in New England, the Steelers are going to require a stronger offensive effort than the one they managed against the Bengals a week ago. Running back Willie Parker (1093 rushing yards, 2 TD, 17 receptions) rushed 28 times for 87 yards in the win, but also lost two fumbles and nearly lost two more. With backup Najeh Davenport (320 rushing yards, 3 TD, 13 receptions) a question mark to play due to a lingering foot injury, the rushing load could once again fall completely on Parker's shoulders. Also needing to avoid miscues will be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (2564 passing yards, 25 TD, 11 INT), who completed 21-of-32 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in wet, slippery conditions last week. Roethlisberger has now failed to cross 200 yards in three straight outings after reaching the plateau in six consecutive previous starts. New Steelers touchdown reception king Hines Ward (57 receptions, 6 TD) will be looking to build on a Week 13 that saw him tie, then pass, John Stallworth on the team's all-time TD catch list with his 62nd and 63rd scores. Ward had 11 receptions for 90 yards on the night. Potentially assisting a Steelers attack that ranks 14th in the league overall (332 yards per game) is the return of wide receiver Santonio Holmes (39 receptions, 7 TD), and left tackle Marvel Smith, who have each missed the last two games with ankle and back problems, respectively.

The reputation of the Patriots defense took a hit in Monday night's win over the Ravens, as a lightly-regarded Baltimore attack more or less had its way with New England. Baltimore running back Willis McGahee carried 30 times for a season-high 138 yards and a touchdown in the contest, and Boller was an efficient 15-of-23 passing for 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns with an interception. The defensive play of the night for the Patriots was turned in by safety James Sanders (55 tackles, 2 INT), who intercepted an overthrown Boller pass in the fourth quarter to deny the Ravens in adding to a then-seven point lead. A pass rush that will be without Rosevelt Colvin due to an undisclosed injury for the remainder of the year did not manage a sack of Boller, an ominous sign for the unit. Outside linebacker Mike Vrabel (60 tackles, 9.5 sacks), who had four tackles in the victory, continues to lead the Pats in sacks. Inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi (70 tackles, 2 sacks) had 12 tackles in Baltimore, and remains the team leader in stops. In the secondary this week, cornerbacks Asante Samuel (27 tackles, 6 INT) and Ellis Hobbs (50 tackles, 1 sack) figure to match up with Ward and Holmes, respectively. The Patriots are third in the league in total defense (289.4 yards per game) following Monday night's struggles.

WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL

The offensive numbers for the Patriots are gaudy, and will remain so. New England quarterback Tom Brady leads the NFL in passing yards (3696), touchdown passes (41), and passer rating (123.4), receiver Randy Moss (75 receptions) paces the league in touchdowns (17), and New England is No. 1 in NFL total offense (425.3 yards per game), passing offense (304 yards per game), scoring offense (39.1 points per game), and touchdowns (61). Belichick's club has also committed the fewest turnovers in the league (10), and paces the NFL in turnover margin (+17). That said, wideouts Moss and Wes Welker (84 reception,s 7 TD) come off their quietest outings of the season, as the duo combined for just seven catches and 52 yards versus the Ravens. Running back Laurence Maroney (511 rushing yards, 2 TD) turned in a game-high 79 receiving yards on just two receptions, though he never got untracked in the running game while managing just 44 yards on 13 totes. Wideout Donte Stallworth (40 receptions, 3 TD) tallied three grabs for 68 yards in the win. his second-most productive day of the season. Brady, who has rarely been pressured this year, was sacked three times in Baltimore.

Call it the unstoppable force against the irresistible object. While New England is setting records for offense, the Steelers come into this week ranked No. 1 in the league in total defense (230.8 yards per game), passing defense (154 yards per game), scoring defense (12.9 points per game), touchdowns allowed (17), and rushing touchdowns allowed (3). A defense that last week prevented the Bengals from scoring points on seven of their nine trips into Pittsburgh territory and forced Carson Palmer into the lowest completion percentage of his career (17-of-44, 38.6 percent) will need to keep New England's offensive efficiency relatively low. Helping matters is the expected return of safety Troy Polamalu (42 tackles), who has been out two games with a knee injury. Other stars on the unit include run-stuffing nose tackle Casey Hampton (17 tackles) and outside linebacker James Harrison (75 tackles, 8.5 sacks), both of whom are likely Pro Bowl-bound. The key matchups for Pittsburgh will be in the secondary, where cornerbacks Deshea Townsend (41 tackles, 2 INT), Ike Taylor (53 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack), and Bryant McFadden (15 tackles, 1 INT) will be attempting to match up with New England's fleet of receivers.

FANTASY FOCUS

The Patriots have been as close to a fantasy sure-thing as you'll ever hope to see, though owners of Pats like Moss and Welker had to be disappointed by those players' relatively weak showings in Baltimore. Given that the Steelers secondary is not as strong as that of the Ravens, look for both receivers' numbers to improve on Sunday. Brady is the league's fantasy MVP as well as its real MVP, and Maroney actually had a decent fantasy week with over 120 combined yards against the Ravens.

On the Pittsburgh side, Parker has been as reliable a running back as you'll find in the NFL this year, though his fumbles hurt more than a few owners last week. Roethlisberger's numbers have tapered off, but he is still a worthwhile start, as is Ward, who always seems to come up with some catches even when he is not scoring touchdowns. The Steeler defense is a risky play this week given the Patriots' offensive proficiency. Might be best to keep them on the bench.

Both kickers and defenses are a decent play.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

After playing a couple of nail-biters in a row, a Patriots team that Belichick describes as "tired" can't be jacked up about playing the physical Steelers on a short week. The fact that the Steelers are a run-first, stop-the-run-styled team does not necessarily bode well for a New England club that neither stopped Willis McGahee nor established Laurence Maroney on Monday night. Still, at the end of the day, you have to wonder about the Steelers' obvious inconsistency away from Heinz Field this season, as well as their occasional problems at covering opposing passing attacks. Expect that Pittsburgh will make enough mistakes to harm their chances in a difficult road environment, and for the Patriots to walk away as a 13-0 team when all is said and done.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 27, Steelers 17

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Re: NFL : GAME PREVIEWS 12/9

Game Preview for Browns vs Jets

(Sports Network) - It's "back to reality" time for the New York Jets.

Now that their one-week vacation in south Florida -- and the NFL's closest thing to a guaranteed get-well game -- is history, the league's consensus second-worst team returns to the iced-over swamps of Jersey and a late afternoon visit from everything they'd expected to be this year...a viable playoff contender.

A surprising 7-5 through 12 games after a woeful 4-12 experience in 2006, the Cleveland Browns reach Week 14 of 2007 in the driver's seat for the AFC's second wild-card slot -- a race they lead by virtue of tiebreaker over fellow 7-5 Tennessee and by a game over 6-6 Buffalo.

But for the Jets, even after their 27-point Mardi Gras in Miami "improved" them to 3-9...reality bites.

"It was kind of an insult to everybody," New York's Chris Baker said of the Dolphins game, which winless Miami nonetheless entered as a one-point favorite. "We were hearing, 'This is Miami's chance.' We wanted to show them, 'This isn't the game you're going to win.' That's how we went about it throughout the week."

Against legitimate opposition, the road's been a little rougher.

New York is a mere 1-9 in 10 games against non-finned opponents, with only a shocking Week 11 upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers standing between them and an ignominy even greater than their already precipitous plummet from 2006 playoffs to 2008 draft board.

"They (stink), too," Miami defensive end Jason Taylor said, "but they beat us and they go home happy."

Meanwhile, the spike in Cleveland has been as dramatic as the dive in East Rutherford.

The Browns stumbled to three losses in their initial five games early on, before a 5-1 stretch through October and November got them within a game of the Steelers and the North Division lead.

A loss to Arizona last week complicated matters, though, and will force Romeo Crennel's team to decisively take care of business over a final quarter in which the opposition has a combined 16-32 record.

Step one...end the Jets' winning streak at, uhhhh...one.

"I could have done a much better job getting those guys prepared, and getting those guys to understand the ramifications of their actions and the choices they make on the field." Crennel said after the loss to the Cardinals. "We're going to have to work on that and try and get some things done there.

"We have four games to go. The next one is on the road. We got to put everything we have into it to play a lot better then we played (Sunday) on the road."

SERIES HISTORY

Cleveland holds an 11-7 advantage in its all-time series with the Jets, including a 20-13 home win when the teams met in Week 8 of last season. The Jets were a 10-7 road winner in the previous meeting, in 2004. The Browns took a 24-21 decision when the clubs last faced off at the Meadowlands, in 2002. New York last defeated Cleveland at home in 1990.

In addition to the regular season series, the teams played a memorable postseason game, with Cleveland scoring a 23-20 overtime win at home in a 1986 AFC Divisional Playoff.

Crennel is 1-0 against both the Jets and head coach Eric Mangini since arriving in Cleveland. Crennel and Mangini both served on Bill Belichick's staff with the Patriots from 2001 through 2004, with Mangini taking over defensive coordinator duties after Crennel was hired by the Browns in 2005.

WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL

Derek Anderson has emerged as the most surprising signal-calling story of 2007, keeping Brady Quinn on the sidelines while completing 223-of-406 passes for 3,062 yards and 24 touchdowns -- good for third in the conference. He's connected often with second-generation tight end Kellen Winslow, who's caught 65 passes overall for five touchdowns and 909 yards, best in the NFL at his position. In his only career game against the Jets, Winslow caught seven passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. In the backfield, veteran Jamal Lewis has engineered a resurgence of his own, going for eight touchdowns (third in the AFC) while rushing 197 times for 803 yards. Lewis' teams are 20-3 in his career when he carries the ball at least 25 times.

The defense took center stage against the Dolphins, forcing five turnovers -- three interceptions, two fumbles -- and consistently harassing rookie QB John Beck. Rookie linebacker David Harris, who stepped into a starting role when Jonathan Vilma was lost for the season with a knee injury, leads the team with 82 tackles, while fellow rookie Darrelle Revis is third with 75. Defensive end Shaun Ellis is a half-sack away from passing franchise icon Mo Lewis for fifth on its all-time sack list. He shares the 2007 team lead at four with Dewayne Robertson. Safety Kerry Rhodes aims for a fourth consecutive game with an interception and, with one more, can establish a new single-season personal best.

WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL

Kellen Clemens picked up his second win of the season as "starter of the month" for the Jets, completing 15-of-24 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown against the Dolphins -- even in the absence of leading receiver Jerricho Cotchery with a finger injury. Laveranues Coles, who'd been dinged up with a concussion and a sore ankle for the last several weeks, returned and caught five balls for 69 yards, including a 32-yarder. Running back Thomas Jones went for 75 yards on 24 carries and scored his first touchdown of the season against Miami. Jones is up to 838 yards on the season over 231 carries -- a 3.6-yard average. As a unit, the Jets average a still-anemic 288.4 total yards, while giving up 351.3 per week.

Cornerback Leigh Bodden has been a bellwether of good things for the Browns' defense in 2007. Cleveland is 4-0 in games in which he records an interception, and he shares the team lead in the category at four with defensive back Sean Jones. Lineman Robaire Smith and linebacker Kamerion Wimbley share the team lead with four sacks apiece. As a unit, though, the Browns have suffered, allowing 389.9 yards per week and entering the week with a decidedly un-playoff-like turnover ratio of minus-1.

FANTASY FOCUS

Anderson and Co. have been responsible for big numbers throughout the season. Wideout Braylon Edwards has already established the best season of his young career with 62 catches for 1,043 yards and 12 touchdowns, each of which are career-highs. Lewis is also a good gamble against a Jets defense that's bent but not broken against all levels of foes. For New York, Clemens could connect frequently with Coles and Cotchery, provided either are healthy. Jones, meanwhile, has been hot and cold all season and is risky. Defensively, neither team is a high-end proposition.

OVERALL ANALYSIS


The Jets have (gasp!) won two out of three, but have flopped every other time they've been poised to start a run. And, now that they neither have the motivation of an 0-11 opponent nor a chance at a playoff berth, the true reality of an ugly year may set in. Cleveland is hardly a behemoth of an opponent, but an edge in offensive talent and the always cited "more to play for" intangible could decide things.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Browns 24, Jets 14

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