The Dallas Cowboys were not supposed to be facing a ``must-win'' game in Week 9.
But that's about how you can describe their meeting at the Meadowlands on Sunday with the New York Giants. They are two games behind New York in the loss column and they can't afford dropping another game back, especially in the NFC East, where all four teams are over .500 and none has more than three defeats.
This game couldn't come at a worse time for Dallas.
Quarterback Tony Romo is out with a broken pinkie and tight end Jason Witten has a broken rib that will hamper him if he plays at all. Both were key players in the Cowboys' two regular-season wins over the Giants last season, although Romo faltered in a playoff loss to New York.
f a soft early schedule.
The Super Bowl champs view that win as a stepping stone.
``I would not think there would be any kind of letdown,'' coach Tom Coughlin says. ``You are talking about only our second divisional game since Game 1. The fact that we are moving back into the division and that it is the Dallas Cowboys, they are coming off a win, a very physical game which they were able to win. I would think we will be very excited about the game.''
In addition to Romo, Dallas will be without cornerback Terrence Newman and perhaps Anthony Henry. Still, a defense that started rookie Michael Jenkins and first-year player Alan Ball at cornerback held Tampa without a touchdown in last week's 13-9 win, which ended a two-game losing streak and put the Cowboys at 5-3.
That prompted speculation the Cowboys might replace Romo's stand-in, 40-year-old Brad Johnson, with third-stringer Brooks Bollinger, whose legs might help him avoid New York's pass rush, which leads the NFL with 26 sacks.
``We'll talk about everything,'' Wade Phillips said when asked about Johnson after Dallas got just 172 yards of offense against the Bucs. ``We talk about our personnel and players and what we need to do to win the next ballgame, analyze what we did this last game, to things we need to change and if we're going to make some changes.''
When pressed, the Dallas coach said: ``OK, he's going to start.''
He didn't say Johnson would finish.
In other games Sunday, Detroit is at Chicago; Houston at Minnesota; Green Bay at Tennessee; the New York Jets at Buffalo; Arizona at St. Louis; Baltimore at Cleveland; Tampa Bay at Kansas City; Jacksonville at Cincinnati; Miami at Denver; Atlanta at Oakland; Philadelphia at Seattle; and New England at Indianapolis.
Pittsburgh is at Washington on Monday night.
San Diego, Carolina, New Orleans and San Francisco are off.
Green Bay (4-3) at Tennessee (7-0)
A potential trap for the NFL's last unbeaten team? The Titans have a short week after beating Indianapolis on Monday night, putting them four games ahead of everyone else in the AFC South.
No, says QB Kerry Collins, who has been effective because he's stayed upright behind an offensive line that has allowed just two sacks. ``I think that's what allowed us to put this streak together is the fact that regardless of what happened the week before, we are able to put it behind us and move on,'' Collins says.
The Packers are coming off a bye that followed an impressive win over the Colts. They used it to get healthy. CB Al Harris and S Atari Bigby could be back from injuries in a secondary that leads the NFL with 13 interceptions. Aaron Rodgers, who will throw into a secondary with an AFC-leading 12 picks, had time to rest a sore shoulder that bothered him for a month.

New England (5-2) at Indianapolis (3-4)
This has been the NFL's game of the year for the past few seasons, one reason it's in November - sweeps month for the networks. But it's tarnished this season by the injury to Tom Brady that leaves Matt Cassel as New England's quarterback, and the sluggish start of the injury-plagued Colts.
Although Peyton Manning looked less accurate and less decisive in Tennessee and seemed to lack zip on his passes, Bill Belichick thinks the Manning is healthy after two procedures on his knee before the season. ``He looked pretty good to me,'' said the Patriots coach, who used to list Brady as ``probable'' every week with a ``shoulder.''
``I don't think he is injured. He hasn't been on the injury report, so I am assuming he is not hurt.''

Pittsburgh (5-2) at Washington (6-2) (Monday night)
After losing to the Giants last week, the Steelers are 0-2 against the NFC East, 5-0 against everyone else. So a win against the Redskins would help with morale. Ben Roethlisberger, sacked five times by New York, has a sore shoulder but will play, and RB Willie Parker could be back too.
to throw an interception this season. That and the running of Clinton Portis, whose 944 yards rushing are more than 300 yards ahead of the rest of the league's running backs, are a major reason Washington is in solid playoff position.

New York Jets (4-3) at Buffalo (5-2)
The Bills played their first AFC East game of the season and fell flat in Miami. That left them tied for the lead with New England and needing to hold serve at home in a division where no one is out of the picture.
Brett Favre is being booed by Jets fans and taking a beating from the New York media after throwing three interceptions in a 28-24 escape over downtrodden Kansas City. If there is someone at fault, it is Jets management for going old - with Favre and others - in a short-term attempt to become respectable.

Houston (3-4) at Minnesota (3-4)
The Texans have won three straight, all at home, and are getting a superior season from Andre Johnson, who leads the league with 56 catches and 772 yards receiving. Mario Williams, who has seven sacks, continues to demonstrate he was a legitimate No. 1 overall pick in 2006 over Vince Young and Reggie Bush.
The Vikings had a week off to try and fix a sluggish offense and awful special teams that gave up two TDs in a 48-41 loss to the Bears before their bye. They also are dealing with the potential suspension of their two stalwart defensive tackles, Kevin and Pat Williams, who have been identified among those testing positive for a banned diuretic.

Arizona (4-3) at St. Louis (2-5)
Old ties: Kurt Warner goes back with the Cardinals to the city where he won a Super Bowl and two MVP trophies. And the Cardinals, 1-3 on the road, go back to the home they left two decades ago for warmer climes.
The Rams are 2-1 since Jim Haslett took over from Scott Linehan and their loss was respectable: 23-16 to New England in Foxborough last week in a game that was pretty even. They played that one without RB Steven Jackson, who is expected back this week.

Miami (3-4) at Denver (4-3)
The Dolphins' up-and-down fortunes reflect a team in transition yet on the rise - they've already tripled their win total from last season. Second-year receiver Ted Ginn Jr. stood out last week, but two of their standouts have been veterans: LB Joey Porter, who leads the league in sacks with 10 1/2, and QB Chad Pennington, who has been steady since being signed after being released by the Jets when they got Brett Favre.
The Broncos lead San Diego by two games in the AFC West, but are not especially respected around the NFL. That's because they are third from last in yards allowed and 1-3 on the road.

elphia (4-3) at Seattle (2-5)
Brian Westbrook returned from ankle and rib injuries last week and showed with 209 yards from scrimmage, 167 of them rushing, why he's not only Philadelphia's MVP but could be the MVP in the league if he could stay healthy.
The Seahawks continue without Matt Hasselbeck, who has knee and back issues that have sidelined him indefinitely. So Seneca Wallace remains the QB.

Baltimore (4-3) at Cleveland (3-4)
A hard game to figure between two teams trying to catch Pittsburgh in the AFC North. A lot depends on two quarterbacks who have been erratic: Derek Anderson and Baltimore rookie Joe Flacco.
Flacco has proven himself versatile, catching a pass last week in the win over Oakland that helped keep the Ravens solidly in the playoff race. The Browns now have won three of four after an 0-3 start, keeping alive hopes that were so high after a 10-6 record last year.

Jacksonville (3-4) at Cincinnati (0-8)
Two disappointing teams, although the Jaguars aren't close to the Bengals, who without Carson Palmer, are on course for 0-16. Their final game is with one-win Kansas City in what might be the highlight of the last weekend.
before last week's loss to Cleveland and went on injured reserve.

Tampa Bay (5-3) at Kansas City (1-6)
The only encouraging development for the Chiefs is the performance of third-string QB Tyler Thigpen, who threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-24 loss to the Jets last week that might easily have been a win.
The Bucs fell a game behind Carolina in the NFC South by losing in Dallas despite holding the desperate Cowboys to just 172 yards. The biggest problem was discipline: four penalties on a the drive before the half in which Dallas got the only TD of the game.

Atlanta (4-3) at Oakland (2-5)
The Falcons have offensive line woes. Rookie left tackle Sam Baker is scheduled to undergo back surgery and his backup, veteran Todd Weiner, injured a knee in Philadelphia last week, forcing Atlanta to re-sign veteran Wayne Gandy.
Oakland is likely to be without rookie RB Darren McFadden, who missed last week's game with Baltimore with an injury to his left toe after a right toe injury earlier in the season. ``I can't just say it's the shoes' fault,'' said McFadden, who changed his college shoe brand when he entered the NFL. ``They don't do anything but just get worn. So, I can't say it's the shoes. It's one of those things you just have to push through it.''

o (4-3)
The Bears have to be wary of a team that beat them twice last season, once with Rex Grossman at quarterback and the second time with Brian Griese.
But this year's Chicago QB is Kyle Orton, one of the more pleasant surprises in the NFL. He has 10 touchdown passes and just four interceptions and is tied with Donovan McNabb for 11th in the NFL in passer rating, ahead of both Manning brothers and Ben Roethlisberger, among others.

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