Today is Sunday, October 23, 2016.
|Sunday, October 23, 2016|
|National Football League|
|Seahawks||vs.||Cardinals||8:30 (EDT) Preview|
Little home-field edge when Seahawks visit Cards
Wednesday, October 19 at 9:38 PM (EDT)
Coach Bruce Arians is the first to admit his Arizona Cardinals did not play well during the first quarter of the season, digging an early hole during a 1-3 start in September.
However, after consecutive victories by a combined score of 61-24, the defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals (3-3) have a chance to close to within a half-game of the division lead when the Seattle Seahawks (4-1) visit University of Phoenix Stadium for Sunday night's prime-time tilt at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC.
"We've been playing better. Each season is a new year," Arians said. "We did not play well in September, surprising to me, but we did play very well the last two weeks, and hopefully we can continue that."
Granted, beating up on the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Jets, who are a combined 2-10, is a different animal than facing Seattle. The Seahawks are coming off a hard-fought win over the Atlanta Falcons, their first victory over a team with a winning record this season. It is fair to say this is a strong litmus test for teams that have combined to win 10 of the past 12 NFC West titles.
The Cardinals have won four of the past five meetings, but the Seahawks have a three-game winning streak at University of Phoenix Stadium, including a 36-6 victory in Week 17 last season after Arizona already clinched the division and a first-round bye in the playoffs.
"12s show up," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the team's fan base. "I was asked that by their press, too, they're aware of it as well. I guess our people like to get out of the Northwest and get down there, get to Arizona. I don't know. We have had great crowds down there, and they've been really good to us."
On the field, the Cardinals boast a dynamic weapon in running back David Johnson, who enters Sunday with 568 rushing yards (third in the NFL) and eight touchdowns on the ground to go with 20 catches for 265 yards through the air. Seattle counters with the league's third-ranked run defense and the top unit in yards allowed per game (283.6).
Arizona is still looking to get its passing game untracked, with Arians acknowledging too many potential big plays failed to be executed through six weeks. The Seahawks are fifth in fewest passing yards allowed, but they did get beat for a pair of late big plays to fall behind against Atlanta last week. One miscommunication resulted in Pro Bowl cornerback Richard Sherman yelling at defensive coordinator Kris Richard and inactive strong safety Kam Chancellor on the sideline.
"I mean it's another week, it's another opponent, everything starts over," said Sherman. "We're frustrated, if they're going to score, it's going to be a very difficult score. It's going to be something that was just a dog fight. We hate to give up easy ones."
Sherman may not shadow a receiver with the Cardinals sporting several playmakers. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer, with some of his receivers matched up against Seahawks cornerbacks DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane, will have a prime opportunity to regain his form. He enters with seven touchdowns against five interceptions and an 84.1 passer rating.
"It's been not as easy as in the past. We've missed some, they're there, we just haven't hit them," Arians said of the Cardinals' passing game. "We'll get our opportunities, and we just have to keep throwing at them."
Arians knows his team will be equally challenged on the other side of the ball. Arizona sports the league's No. 5 defense entering Sunday, but last year, it did not successfully handle the Seahawks' transformation to a more wide-open attack based on the throwing of quarterback Russell Wilson.
Wilson completed 19 of 28 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns in Week 17 last season, and he enters Sunday with a streak of 158 consecutive passes without an interception. In fact, he has thrown only two in 12 games dating back to Week 10 of last season.
He compiled those figures despite playing on right ankle and left knee sprains that clearly limited his mobility. Arizona has 19 sacks on the season and is facing a reworked Seattle offensive line that continues to experience growing pains, but Arians said the 5-foot-11 Wilson has developed into far more than a scrambling quarterback who hurts defenses on the run and on busted plays.
"Years ago everybody said, 'Make him stay in the pocket,'" Arians said. "Now you rush him and hope you can contain him because he's lighting everybody up from the pocket."
More to the point, Wilson is steadily getting closer to full health.
"We're just continuing to count on him to get out there and do his thing," Carroll said. "He feels better again, he's markedly improved than he has been the last couple weeks. Let's see how that goes.
"We're going to keep running the stuff and count on him to read the things out and do all that he knows how to do. We're not restricting him at all."
Arizona travels for a rematch against struggling defending NFC champion Carolina next week before hitting its bye week, while Seattle travels to New Orleans before returning home for a Monday night tilt against resurgent Buffalo and a trip to New England before playing host to Philadelphia. So the outcome of Sunday's game could have a significant impact on what will be at stake when the Cardinals pay a visit to Seattle on Christmas Eve in Week 16.
While Carroll harped on the importance of his "12s," Arians had a bit of a different take on why the home-field advantage might not be as significant as many assume. In his view, the crowd noise impacts his defense just as much in trying to contain Wilson & Co.
"I think one of the big things is the home-team defense is really hard to communicate," Arians said. "I think it's one of the reasons we play so well (in Seattle, where Arizona has won two of the past three years), that the defense has a tough time communicating because the crowd noise and the fans are into it. We've had some lack of communication at times."
Same name, different game as Beckham, Giants face Rams in London
Wednesday, October 19 at 7:31 PM (EDT)
The soccer nets all over England have taken a beating through the years from players like David Beckham, "bending" shots into their fabric.
Kicking nets all over the NFL have been abused by Odell Beckham Jr. -- hitting, kicking them and even proposing to one. David is an international soccer star who got his start in London, England. Odell Jr. hopes to "bend it" like his namesake as his team, the New York Giants, crosses the Atlantic to face the Los Angeles Rams, designated the "home" team.
Hopefully, there is enough column space in the United Kingdom tabloids for both Beckhams and their antics.
The Rams haven't been back in Los Angeles all week but will still be playing a home game this Sunday against the Giants. The game will take place in London, England, and is one of the "home" games the Rams sacrificed in Los Angeles to expand their brand globally.
This is the second of three NFL games that will be played in the United Kingdom in 2016, but the first time in Twickenham Stadium, home of the English rugby team.
Both teams enter the matchup 3-3 but with different tastes in their mouths as they travel overseas. The Rams are coming off an embarrassing defensive performance against the Detroit Lions in their 31-28 loss. This once-vaunted defense gave up 10 straight fourth-quarter points after the surprisingly potent offense had spotted them a seven-point lead.
The Giants head to England on Thursday riding high on the backs of one of the best offensive performances in 2016 by quarterback Eli Manning and Beckham Jr.
Their offensive production led to a 27-23 come-from-behind win over the Baltimore Ravens. In that game, Manning threw for 403 yards and three touchdowns. Beckham Jr. scored two of those touchdowns, including the -winning 66-yarder while pulling in 222 yards receiving, a career high.
But his aforementioned antics have drawn the ire of coach Ben McAdoo.
Beckham Jr. drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty after the winning touchdown grab when he ripped off his helmet in celebration.
That penalty didn't end up hurting the Giants, but McAdoo chided his fiery receiver after Beckham compounded his behavior by staging a mock marriage proposal to the kicking net, the same one Beckham slammed two weeks before.
"He (Beckham) came up to me right after, we had a discussion. We can't have (penalties)," McAdoo said. "He knows that and he wanted to fire up our kick coverage team and defense. He knows we can't have it. We need to keep our focus on the ballgame."
Manning, Beckham Jr. and the entire Giants offense will be going up against an up-and-down Rams defense that brought their own antics to the end of the game against the Lions.
While the Lions were in "victory" formation, one in which the quarterback simply takes the snap and kneels down, the Rams' defensive line fired off the football. This brought negative national attention to the team but had coach Jeff Fisher passing the buck after the game.
"This approach did not come from the sideline; it was not a call, it was not something that we practiced or that we preached," he said. "I think it was a byproduct of frustration. If the game's over, the game's over, pay respect to your opponent.
"You guys (the media and fans) don't realize all the stuff that goes on inside, up front between the offensive linemen and the defensive linemen. We'll address it and it's unlikely that it'll happen again."
The Rams' defense did not get any pressure on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, and the secondary allowed wide receiver Golden Tate to gain 165 yards.
The Los Angeles defensive front could be without Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers against the Giants. The secondary has injuries to cornerbacks Lamarcus Joyner and Trumaine Johnson.
That could make for a long day matched up against the Giants' high-powered offense.
The Rams' passing attack was incredible against the Lions, and quarterback Case Keenum had a career day. Keenum threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns, and at one point he completed 19 straight passes. Wide receiver Kenny Britt accounted for seven catches for 136 yards and both of Keenum's scores.
The Rams need to keep that formula going against a Giants passing defense that is ranked 22nd in the NFL and gives up an average of 266.8 yards per game.
|Bills||vs.||Dolphins||1:00 (EDT) Preview|
Bills pursue first five-game win streak since 2004
Wednesday, October 19 at 7:03 PM (EDT)
The Buffalo Bills have been the most dominant team in the AFC during the past month, winning four games in a row by an average of more than 17 points.
Buffalo has also beaten AFC East rival Miami in five of the last six meetings (four in blowout fashion), and coach Rex Ryan has won his last four trips to Miami, dating to his time with the New York Jets.
The Dolphins (2-4) will try to reverse those trends when they host the Bills (4-2) on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Bills are on a four-game winning streak for the first time since the start of the 2008 season and have not won five in a row since 2004.
"We know that we have a job to do in front of us this week, and those four games that we won in a row mean nothing," Ryan said. "We have to win this one. We're trying to win one game in a row this week, and that's kind of our approach to it."
Buffalo has taken a winning record into a game at Miami four times since 2000 and lost all four of those games.
Miami is 8-17 in division games since 2011, including a 31-24 loss in New England earlier this season. The Bills are the only team to defeat the Patriots this season, 16-0 in Foxboro, Mass.
The Dolphins are trending up after opening a four-game homestand last week with a 30-15 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
AFC Offensive Player of the Week Jay Ajayi rushed for 204 yards, the most by any player in the NFL this season. Ryan Tannehill did not turn the ball over and was not sacked for the first time this season, and the defense produced two sacks and two takeaways while holding the Steelers to 297 yards.
But Miami coach Adam Gase cautioned against using past results to predict future performance.
"Every week is so different, and you never know what team is going to come out on top every week," Gase said. "It doesn't matter where you are ranked in the power rankings. Nobody cares on Sunday. It's about guys going out there and doing their job and being ready for that game."
Buffalo leads the NFL in rushing for the second straight season, averaging 166.3 yards per game, and 211.8 yards in the four weeks since Ryan fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman and elevated running backs coach Anthony Lynn. The Bills' 312 rushing yards in last week's 45-16 win over the San Francisco 49ers was their highest output since 1992 and the most by any team in the past two seasons.
Stopping the Bills' ground game figures to be a daunting task for the Dolphins' 31st-ranked run defense.
"It's a daunting task to play football in the NFL," Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake said. "No matter which team you're playing, which week you're playing, you're going to be playing against the best of the best, the best to do it ever, the best in the world, so on and so on and so on.
"We did it last week and we're going to do it next week and the week after. That's just what happens when you play in this league."
The Bills, however, have some uncertainty in the backfield after Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy was unable to finish Wednesday's practice because of a tight hamstring. McCoy ranks second in the NFL in rushing with 597 yards and first in yards per carry (5.6) among running backs with at least 50 carries.
McCoy's backup, Mike Gillislee, is averaging 6.8 yards per carry and Tyrod Taylor is averaging 6.8 (fifth among quarterbacks). But as center Eric Wood noted, McCoy is "one of the best players in the league and we're a lot better with him than we are without him."
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is dealing with a hamstring injury and questionable to make his season debut Sunday.
"I'm leaving it up to the trainers," Dareus said. "We're taking things slow, but at the same time, we're making sure we don't fall backwards."
Robert Woods, the Bills' top receiver with Sammy Watkins on injured reserve for at least another month, has been wearing a walking boot on his left foot this week.
|Browns||vs.||Bengals||1:00 (EDT) Preview|
Bengals hope to break out vs. lowly Browns
Wednesday, October 19 at 7:53 PM (EDT)
The Cleveland Browns are the lone remaining winless team in the NFL.
The Cincinnati Bengals are part of a different list -- considered one of the league's biggest underachievers.
The Bengals (2-4) have dropped four of their past five games and attempt to break out of their doldrums when they host the lowly Browns (0-6) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
Cincinnati expects to be part of the postseason for the sixth consecutive season but the slow start threatens to halt that streak.
The Bengals edged the New York Jets in their opener before things disintegrated. Three of Cincinnati's losses have been by 12 or more points, including last Sunday's 35-17 setback against the New England Patriots.
"We're kind of behind right now, with the way this season has gone, and we've got to get it back on track," quarterback Andy Dalton said. "You can't try to do too much, you've just got to play your game and do that to the best of your ability. You can't try to do more than you need to. That's the biggest thing: you can't press."
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis has been preaching that there's no reason to panic. He outlined to his squad to just stay the course and, well, play better.
"We have to play good fundamental football," Lewis said. "We have to out-play the other team, out-execute them, out-score them and not have negative plays. Our margin for error has not been very good thus far this season so we have to create our breaks."
First-year Cleveland coach Hue Jackson, a close friend of Lewis who spent the past four seasons on Cincinnati's coaching staff, can relate to a lack of breaks.
The Browns are on their third quarterback in rookie Cody Kessler after losing Robert Griffin III (shoulder) and Josh McCown (collarbone) to injuries. Cleveland suffered a big defensive loss when free safety Jordan Poyer suffered a lacerated kidney in last Sunday's 28-26 loss to Tennessee.
"He was playing well," Jackson said of Poyer. "It's is a blow for us because he is one of our better players."
Kessler enjoyed a strong performance in the loss to the Titans by passing for 336 yards and two touchdowns.
The former USC standout was a third-round draft pick due to questions about his arm strength. He said he isn't concerned with what the critics say but is fixated on how to help end Cleveland's longstanding losing ways -- which includes nine consecutive losses and 16 of 17 dating back to October of last season.
"I take it very personal, as do a lot of guys in this locker room," Kessler said of the losses. "It just makes you compete that much harder and keep working harder because we have been really close in some of these games.
"We just have to put together a full game and I have to put together a full game and a complete game and just continue to keep working. Obviously, it will get to you, but you can't let it knock you down. You can't let it knock you back. You have to stay positive and keep moving forward."
The Browns are averaging 110.7 yards per game on the ground but have struggled the past two games -- averaging just 33.5 yards in losses to the Titans and New England Patriots.
Cincinnati ranks ninth in defending the run (89.8) and dodged a bullet when controversial linebacker Vontaze Burfict was fined $75,000 on Wednesday but didn't draw a suspension for an incident against New England last Sunday.
Burfict was disciplined for delivering an apparent stomp to Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount during a pileup of players. Burfict reportedly is appealing the fine and Lewis is supporting him.
"We were not in the wrong here, in my opinion," Lewis said. "And it's unfortunate. That's what I have told and stood on and will continue to."
Burfict missed the first three games of this season due to a suspension for his repeated violations of safety rules, including his actions during last season's playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap (four sacks) has played well for the Bengals, who will look to silence a Cleveland offense averaging 18.8 points, tied for 26th in the NFL.
Cincinnati's offense is faring worse at 18.2 points per game (29th) despite Dalton ranking third in the NFL with 1,757 passing yards and receiver A.J. Green corralling an NFL-best 42 catches.
The Bengals could have standout tight end Tyler Eifert at their disposal for the first time this season. Eifert, who caught 13 touchdown passes last season, returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the first six games due to ankle and back injuries.
|Colts||vs.||Titans||1:00 (EDT) Preview|
Titans hope to keep mini-streak going at home against Colts
Wednesday, October 19 at 9:20 PM (EDT)
There was a rare sight in Nissan Stadium last week.
Tennessee Titans fans, which have rarely had reason to cheer for the last two years as their team has gone 2-14 at home, actually were able to influence a couple of Cleveland possessions in the second half by making enough noise to force false start penalties.
"What a difference this place is when we have the crowd noise like we had," Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey said after a 28-26 win. "What an ally for this team to have support like that from this fan base."
The Titans are in position to gain even more support this week. If they can beat the Indianapolis Colts in the second of their three-game homestand, it will give them their first three-game winning streak since Week 2-4 of the 2011 season.
What's more, a victory would also enable Tennessee (3-3) to keep pace with front-running Houston (4-2) in the AFC South while also keeping Indianapolis (2-4) in the division basement.
"We're on the right track," Mularkey said. "We have a lot still to work on and still to do, but all it's doing is confirming we're going the right direction."
The Colts could have made that claim as well if they hadn't collapsed in the last seven minutes of the fourth quarter and in overtime last week in Houston. But they hacked up a 23-9 lead and then, predictably, lost 26-23 on Nick Novak's field goal.
That come-from-ahead defeat intensified calls for the job of Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano, but he appears to be safe for now. It's not likely Pagano has spent much time worrying about his job security, given that the task of rallying his team after such a brutal defeat is probably a bit more important.
"There are no pity parties in this building," Pagano said. "There are no pity parties in football. You watch the tape, make the adjustments and corrections and move on.
"We know exactly where we are at, what is ahead of us."
What's ahead of the Colts is an opponent that has not only gained confidence with its first back-to-back wins since the last two games of the 2013 season but is itching to snap a nine-game losing streak against them.
The last time the Titans beat Indianapolis was Oct. 30, 2011, when the Colts were enduring a 2-14 season that gave them the right to draft quarterback Andrew Luck with the first pick in the 2012 draft. Until an injury and turnover-plagued 2015, Luck had earned three straight playoff trips.
Now, he and Indianapolis are trying to avoid a precarious situation.
"We understand how hard it is to win in this league," Luck said. "We understand that the best team on that day will win. More often than not, we realized we have no one to blame but ourselves."
The blame lies mostly with a defense ranked 25th against the rush, 29th against the pass and 30th overall. The Colts are allowing a whopping 29 points per game, leaving too big a load on Luck's big shoulders.
Meanwhile, Tennessee has made clear strides by improving on both sides of the scrimmage line. A young offensive line led by first-round pick Jack Conklin and Taylor Lewan has helped veteran running back DeMarco Murray rediscover his Dallas mojo of 2014, as he has rushed for 526 yards in six games and given the offense an identity.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota has played well the last two weeks, throwing for three touchdowns in wins over Miami and Cleveland. And the defense has gotten after the quarterback, notching six sacks in each game.
Mularkey said part of the reason for the defense's improvement is the presence of veteran coordinator Dick LeBeau and his varied zone blitzes that test an offensive line's ability to adjust on the fly.
"There's a lot of moving parts. There's a lot of pre-snap disguising. That's the beauty of coach LeBeau," Mularkey said. "He's done this for a long time, and he can keep finding ways to get the matchups. It's really impressive in how he does it. He does it week in and week out."
The byproduct is contention for a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2008 or enjoyed a winning season since 2011.
"I don't care about rankings, all those things," Mularkey said. "This is going to be a tough game."
|Raiders||vs.||Jaguars||1:00 (EDT) Preview|
Raiders-Jaguars could be shootout of young guns
Wednesday, October 19 at 7:15 PM (EDT)
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- One third-year quarterback has his team tied for first in the AFC West.
Another has an opportunity to put his team squarely into the thick of things in the AFC South.
The development of Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles will be on display Sunday at EverBank Field in a game between two teams trying to take a step toward snapping long playoff droughts.
"We'll always be tied together because we were in the same class," Bortles said. "Derek's an awesome guy, obviously an awesome quarterback. (He's) been doing a good job."
Both Carr and Bortles were selected in the 2014 draft by teams needing a fresh start after years of losing -- and losing big.
Carr went 36th overall to a Raiders franchise that hasn't achieved a winning record since losing Super Bowl XXXVII following the 2002 season.
Oakland was 29-51 in the five seasons prior to drafting Carr.
Bortles went third overall to a Jaguars franchise that had been even worse during that time frame.
Jacksonville was 26-54 from 2009-2013 and hasn't made a trip to the playoffs since the 2007 season.
So far in their young careers, Carr and Bortles have given their franchises reasons to be optimistic about the future.
Carr has the Raiders (4-2) tied with the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos for first in the AFC West and is proving to be a dependable quarterback who limits turnovers and can take advantage of the dynamic players he has around him.
He is tied for fifth in the league with 12 passing touchdowns and has the fewest interceptions (three) of any quarterback with at least 225 attempts.
Carr is completing 66.5 percent of his passes and averaging 7.1 yards per attempt.
"He is impressive," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. "We had him at the Senior Bowl. "His demeanor, his competitiveness. He is very, very accurate. He has the ability to extend plays.
"We watched him today extending plays, making big plays down field. You talk about a guy that is playing with a lot of poise and confidence right now. He is playing at a real high level."
The season hasn't been as smooth for Bortles, but he managed to play well enough during victories over Indianapolis in London and at Chicago in the last two games to keep the Jaguars (2-3) within 1.5 games of the Houston Texans.
Bortles has eight passing touchdowns with seven interceptions this season while being sacked 14 times as part of an offense that has seemed to regress.
The Jaguars were 14th in the league in scoring last season (23.5 points per game) but have tumbled to 21st (20.2 points per game) with inconsistent play.
Jacksonville has season a big improvement from its revamped defense, led by a pair of rookies.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey knocked away a pass from Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery in the fourth quarter to seal a victory for the Jaguars last week. That came after defensive end Yannick Ngakoue earlier notched his fourth sack of the season -- joining Terrell Suggs as one of two players in NFL history to register at least four sacks and an interception in the first five games of their career.
Jacksonville's defense has gotten fourth-quarter stops against Green Bay, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Chicago this season. The Jaguars will need another strong effort defensively against Carr and his talented receivers.
Second-year receiver Amari Cooper surpassed 1,000 receiving yards as a rookie and is on pace to be even better this season. In six games, Cooper is fourth in the league with 585 receiving yards (97.5 per game) and is averaging 16.3 yards per catch.
Michael Crabtree has also been strong and is tied for the league lead with five receiving touchdowns.
A shootout could be ready to unfold between Raider coach Jack Del Rio's current and former team.
Oakland is last in the league in yards allowed (444.8 per game) and 24th in scoring defense (27.2 points per game) this season.
That could mean more big plays for Bortles and his own pair of talented receivers, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns.
Each team should be mostly healthy heading into Sunday. Let the best third-year quarterback win.
"I love the culture that we've built here," Carr said. "Whenever you have four wins and two losses and you feel not very good about how you've been playing as a team, that's a good thing because you know that there is more out there for your team.
"You know that there are bigger possibilities. But we are what we've earned, and we hope to earn some more."
|Ravens||vs.||Jets||1:00 (EDT) Preview|
Jets-Ravens might be battle of replacement QBs
Thursday, October 20 at 1:58 AM (EDT)
The last time Geno Smith faced the Baltimore Ravens, he was in his 11th start as a rookie in 2013.
He didn't fare very well, completing just 9 of 22 passes and throwing two interceptions as his New York Jets lost 19-3 in Baltimore.
It was part of a forgettable rookie season for the quarterback, who completed just 55.8 percent of his passes and threw 21 interceptions vs. 12 touchdowns. He wasn't much better in his second season, which is why the Jets traded for Ryan Fitzpatrick in March 2015 and ended up making him the starter.
However, with Fitzpatrick benched Wednesday, Smith is back at the helm -- at least for now.
As the Jets (1-5) host the Ravens (3-3) on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET on CBS, his task is to try to spark an offense that ranks last in scoring (15.8 points per game) and No. 2 in turnovers (15).
"I felt it was time for a change," New York coach Todd Bowles said. "We got up there in the turnover category. We hadn't put any points up. We're trying to get a spark somewhere, so I made the change."
The Ravens hope they don't have to make a change at the same position.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has been sacked 11 times over the past three games -- all losses -- and is dealing with a sore right shoulder that kept him out of practice Wednesday.
"I have a little shoulder soreness," Flacco said. "A little bit of rest right now is probably the best thing."
Coach John Harbaugh said Flacco still has a "legitimate chance to play" against the Jets. Backup Ryan Mallett would start if Flacco cannot.
In two games filling in for an injured Flacco last season, Mallett completed 58 of 97 pass attempts (59.8 percent), with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"Ryan (could be) a starter in this league," Harbaugh said. "That will not be a problem if he plays. I'll feel very confident if Ryan Mallett is out there playing."
That said, Harbaugh clearly would prefer his starter.
"Joe will be out there if he can be," the coach said. "There's no tougher guy than Joe. To me, he will be out there. It's my belief he'll be out there."
Considering the quarterback situations in this game, both teams will try to run the ball. However, the ground yardage might be hard to come by.
The Ravens could be without top pass rusher Terrell Suggs (torn biceps), but they still have the top run defense in the NFL, giving up just 69.7 yards per game.
The Jets' running attack ranks 19th at just 92.5 yards per game. Part of that is a lack of carries -- Matt Forte and Bilal Powell have combined for just 28 the past two weeks. Smith, a more mobile quarterback than Fitzpatrick, could help that effort.
The Jets also will hope Smith can take advantage of an injury-ravaged Ravens secondary and get the ball to top wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who has 27 receptions for 433 yards and two touchdowns.
Baltimore hopes to have starting cornerback Jimmy Smith back in the lineup after he sustained a concussion last week against the Giants. But the secondary is also dealing with several other injuries: Tavon Young (undisclosed), Jerraud Powers (groin) and Shareece Wright (hamstring). The status of that trio is uncertain.
The Ravens also will try to establish their running game, with Terrance West working to take some pressure off an offensive line that has not been able to protect Flacco. West has emerged as Baltimore's top back, rushing for 208 yards on 32 carries in the past two games.
Of course, the Jets have almost as staunch a run defense as the Ravens, ranking sixth in the NFL at 85.5 yards allowed per game. Baltimore's reshuffled line will have to contend with Leonard Williams (five sacks) and company.
Bowles plans to make a few personnel moves on defense, although he would not give any details.
"(None) that I feel like revealing," Bowles said, "but I've made some changes."
One potential switch would be benching cornerback Buster Skrine, who was flagged for four penalties Monday night in New York's 28-3 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. He could be replaced by Marcus Williams, who has nine interceptions in 27 career games.
|Redskins||vs.||Lions||1:00 (EDT) Preview|
Redskins go for five in a row vs. Lions
Wednesday, October 19 at 6:10 PM (EDT)
DETROIT -- Jay Gruden would like to see his defense produce more turnovers. As long as that unit remains stingy about giving up points, the Washington Redskins coach isn't going to fret over the lack of takeaways.
The Redskins (4-2) forced only one turnover over the last two games but they haven't allowed an offensive touchdown over the last seven quarters.
That allowed them to extend their winning streak to four games.
They will be seeking their first five-game streak since 2012 when they play at Detroit on Sunday.
"It's been good," Gruden said of his defense. "The first two victories, we got a lot of takeaways and gave up a lot of yards. The last two weeks, we haven't given up a lot of yards but we haven't gotten any takeaways.
"Imagine what we could do if we don't give up a lot of yards and we get takeaways. We'd be pretty good. But I'm happy with the way they're playing. We're not giving up big plays, momentum-swinging type plays."
Many Redskins fans weren't happy with the play of quarterback Kirk Cousins during the first two games. The catcalls have quieted somewhat during the winning streak, in which Cousins has thrown eight touchdowns and three interceptions.
One of those turnovers was returned for a touchdown by Philadelphia last Sunday but the Redskins still emerged with a 27-20 victory.
Washington achieved offensive balance in that game, rolling up 493 total yards, and hope that trend continues. Matt Jones led three running backs who combined for 231 rushing yards with a career-high 135 on 16 carries.
"If we can put up 500 yards of offense 16 times, we'd be a pretty good offense," said Cousins, the former Michigan State star who will be playing in his home state for the first time as a pro.
"There's always going to be plays where you feel like you could have had 600 yards of offense or 700 yards of offense, but we did some good things. We ran the ball well and made the plays we had to make but we're always going to go back and say, 'How can we be better?'"
The Redskins can get off to a 3-0 start on the road for the first time since 1999 with a win. They're also shooting for their sixth straight road victory, something they haven't done since 1991.
They hope tight end Jordan Reed can return after missing the Eagles game with a concussion.
Detroit (3-3), which will complete a stretch of three home games, has won two straight on late field goals by Matt Prater.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who will be playing in his 100th career game, has thrown seven touchdown passes over the last two games while completing 75 percent of his passes without an interception.
Stafford's 14 touchdown passes tie him for third place in the league but he shrugs off praise over his recent outings.
"It's the same way I feel when people say I'm terrible and I'm the reason we're losing; I don't pay too much attention to it," he said. "We're winning games because we have talented players on this team.
"On the offensive side of the ball, my job is just to get the ball in their hands and let them go. They've been doing that the last couple of weeks."
The Lions required fourth-quarter comebacks in all of their victories, which Stafford considers a mental edge.
"We're a tested team," he said. "We haven't come out on the right end of all those, like we wish we could have, but that's what the NFL is all about. Games come down to the fourth quarter a majority of the time.
"No question we'd like to be up 21 in the fourth quarter of every game but it doesn't happen that way. There are evenly-matched teams in this league and you've got to go out there and make the plays to win the game."
Detroit hopes that its No. 1 running back, Theo Riddick, will return this week after missing the 31-28 victory over Los Angeles last Sunday with an ankle injury.
The teams haven't played since 2013, when the Lions pulled out a 27-20 victory.
|Saints||vs.||Chiefs||1:00 (EDT) Preview|
Chiefs strive for consistency against Saints
Wednesday, October 19 at 9:33 PM (EDT)
There's a question that many in the NFL, Kansas City and even within the walls of Arrowhead Stadium want to see answered Sunday.
Kansas City (3-2) hosts the New Orleans Saints (2-3) this weekend and it's unclear which version of the Chiefs will show up for the game.
Will it be the team that got smashed in a 29-point loss to Pittsburgh nearly three weeks ago? Or will it be the squad that rebounded after a bye week and last Sunday in Oakland dominated a then 4-1 Raiders team, winning by 16 points and controlling all three phases of the game?
Offense and defense have been up and down for the Chiefs. Ahead are 11 games and a wide-open path to first place in the AFC West.
"What we're trying to do is not be that yo-yo team that plays great and then they don't play too good," veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "We have a personality and that's fear nothing and attack everything. That's how we should play every game."
They'll need to play the Saints with no fear and aggression. New Orleans has won their last two games and possesses one of the NFL's most productive offenses, led by veteran quarterback Drew Brees. The Saints are averaging 413.4 yards per game and rank No. 2 in the league behind only Atlanta.
New Orleans is the league's top passing team, with an average of 335.4 yards per game from Brees to a wealth of receivers, led by Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and rookie Michael Thomas.
"I think there are times in a season when you gain momentum and generally it's a little further out than where we are at right now with wins and losses," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "We've had runs here in a number of seasons; I don't know at what point you say they have some momentum, but I think it would be a little too early right now."
The Chiefs' defense knows they'll have their hands full with Brees. The Kansas City unit has undergone a few changes since last Sunday. Two starters -- defensive end Allen Bailey (pectoral muscle) and inside linebacker Justin March-Lillard (hand) -- went to injured reserve after the victory over the Raiders.
Plus, starting cornerback Phillip Gaines (knee) continues to be bothered by a knee injury that he suffered early in the 2015 season. His status for Sunday is very questionable.
Still, there are enough playmakers on the field -- Johnson, Tamba Hali, Dontari Poe, Eric Berry and especially Marcus Peters -- that the defense can put up a good fight against any offense, or at least any that doesn't have Big Ben running the attack.
"I see them as a really stout group," Brees said. "I see them as a really big front that can apply some pressure to the quarterback. I see a secondary that really has a lot of cover guys.
"You've got safeties all over the field that can cover, you have corners that can cover and you have linebackers that can cover. It seems like the defense has been pretty opportunistic this year. They've been able to take the ball away quite a bit."
As good as Brees and the New Orleans offense has been, the defense has struggled and ranks next to last in yards allowed (419.4 per game average.) The Saints have given up 168 points, or 33.3 per game.
Against Carolina last Sunday, the Saints had 13 hits on the quarterback and knocked down nine passes but still gave up 38 points. Luckily for the Saints, they scored 41 points for the victory.
"There were just a lot of plays that they made that were directly related to us playing the wrong technique," Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro said. "One time you don't use your help, or play the right leverage and you are giving up an out with a guy right in front of you that is not acceptable.
"If you keep doing that in the future, it is going to cost you some games. We need to get that fixed now. It is an easy thing to fix, but it needs to be fixed now."
|Vikings||vs.||Eagles||1:00 (EDT) Preview|
Vikings' Bradford returns to Philadelphia to face Wentz
Wednesday, October 19 at 1:29 PM (EDT)
Sam Bradford goes back to Philadelphia on Sunday for the first time since the Eagles traded him to the Minnesota Vikings, and he is bringing all of his knowledge of rookie starter Carson Wentz and the offensive system of first-year coach Doug Pederson.
The Vikings (5-0) are on top of the NFC and Bradford has won all four of his starts since replacing Shaun Hill under center in Week 2. Bradford landed on his feet and said he has recovered from the ego bruising that comes from being traded for the second time in three years. The Eagles decided to hitch their wagon to Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, and pulled the trigger on a deal that brought a first-round pick in 2017 in return.
"You could tell early on, he wants to be great," Bradford said of Wentz. "I think it showed up on the field."
While Wentz is winning, Pederson said Wednesday his plan was to fully redshirt Wentz in 2016, using Bradford as his No. 1 quarterback and backup Chase Daniel in case of emergency. The No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams, has not yet played this season.
"My plan was for him to sit the whole year," Pederson said.
That changed when general manager Rick Spielman and the Vikings' front office collectively signed off on forfeiting multiple picks, including the first-rounder next April, for Bradford. The Eagles had declared Bradford off the market publicly after signing him to a two-year, $35 million contract. But Bradford asked for a trade when Wentz was drafted and only relented when it became evident he wasn't moving despite tepid interest from Denver and the New York Jets.
"Initially, I was a little shocked (the trade) was going to be a possibility," Pederson said.
The Sept. 3 trade also netted the Eagles a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018.
Defending Wentz, who has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,186 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception with a passer rating of 99.9, might be easier for Pederson than protecting him. With right tackle Lane Johnson starting a 10-game suspension, the Redskins attacked rookie replacement Halapoulivaati Vaitai with a variety of blitzes and twice outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan beat him on pure effort for sacks of Wentz.
The Vikings have 19 sacks and lead the NFL with a plus-11 turnover differential. But Pederson, who rarely used a tight end to help Vaitai last week, said the Eagles will make adjustments and Vaitai will be better.
"Was it perfect? Was it pretty? No. Were there assignment errors? Yes," Pederson said. "And I'm not going to stand here and point the finger at 'Big V' because that's not what happened. There were enough mistakes all around in this football game that cost us this game."
The Vikings are one of the league's biggest surprises. Not because Bradford is off to a great start -- six touchdowns and zero interceptions, a 70.4 completion percentage and 109.8 passer rating -- but because personnel issues have caused a weekly juggling act by coach Mike Zimmer and Spielman. With 10 players on injured reserve, including starters Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson and Ryan Kalil, the offense has been functional even when leading receiver Stefon Diggs was unavailable for Week 5.
"We still have a long season left," Spielman said. "I would say we're pretty happy with the retuns we've got at this point."
Credit goes beyond the adjustments made to the roster since the start of the season for the Vikings.
Minnesota leads the NFL in defense, allowing 12.6 points per game, thanks to heavy investments in the core of Zimmer's defense, including first-round picks Harrison Smith at safety, Xavier Rhodes at cornerback, linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
How much Bradford might help the Vikings prep for Wentz and diagnose what is on Pederson's play sheet is "overrated" according to Zimmer. Pederson worked himself into a huff on Monday when he said "only one person" has seen the entire playbook. That person is Pederson.
"Honestly, I think all that stuff's overrated," Zimmer said, with a qualifier that he has grilled Bradford for intel on the Eagles. "I've looked at and people have left stuff in locker rooms when they've played us before and I can't even decipher it. I don't think he was there very long with Doug, really, he wasn't there during the spring and he wasn't there all that long. I think you go watch the tape and do the best you can."
|Buccaneers||vs.||49ers||4:05 (EDT) Preview|
Bucs, 49ers will try to exploit porous run defenses
Friday, October 21 at 7:30 PM (EDT)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers both will be missing their top running backs when they face off in Santa Clara, Calif., on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, FOX), but that might not matter much considering how poorly both teams are playing against the run.
The 49ers, fresh off yielding 312 rushing yards in a blowout loss at Buffalo, are giving up a league-worst 174.3 yards per game on the ground, and the Buccaneers are surrendering 103.8.
So, even with Tampa Bay still missing Doug Martin (hamstring) and San Francisco going without Carlos Hyde (ankle), both offenses have a chance to move the ball on the ground Sunday.
Without three top defensive linemen, the Bucs (2-3) gave up 136 yards and two touchdowns to Carolina's backup running backs last week. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who missed the 17-14 win over the Panthers due to a calf strain, returned to practice Wednesday on a limited basis and could be available. However, defensive end Robert Ayers (high ankle sprain) and tackle Clinton McDonald (hamstring) did not practice Wednesday and appear unlikely for Sunday.
That could open the door for a big game by Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers on the ground. In his first start of the season last week, a 45-16 loss at Buffalo, Kaepernick led the 49ers (1-5) with 66 rushing yards on eight attempts.
The 49ers will hope for more out of Mike Davis (13 yards on five runs) and Shaun Draughn (one carry for two yards) as well. Davis was stopped on a key fourth-and-1 play after Hyde was sidelined.
Draughn has done this before: He rushed for more than 50 yards three times and scored one touchdown after replacing an injured Hyde as the starter in Week 8 last season.
"You'll see both those guys," San Francisco coach Chip Kelly said, adding the 49ers will rotate all of their backs with Hyde ruled out Friday.
The Bucs are in the same spot. With Martin experiencing a setback in his recovery from a hamstring strain, Jacquizz Rodgers will get the call again. The 5-foot-6 tailback is coming off a 101-yard game in Tampa Bay's win over Carolina.
Kelly is very familiar with Rodgers, a former Oregon State star who played against Kelly's Oregon team in the Pac-12.
"Yeah, he was just an unbelievable player in college and very, very difficult to defend," Kelly said. "I think he doesn't get enough credit for how physical he is just because he's not the biggest back in the world, so you automatically think that he's a nifty, nimble, make-you-miss type of guy. He can do that, but he's also a very physical runner, very sturdy, has great balance, great vision.
"He's a handful, and we have to be very aware of him in their run game because really the run game sets up everything else up for them."
Rodgers won't be the only skill player filling a void for the Bucs, who this week placed top receiver Vincent Jackson on injured reserve with an ACL injury. Donteea Dye and Adam Humphries will be counted on to make up for Jackson's absence -- filling in behind Mike Evans, who caught six passes for 89 yards and a score against the Panthers.
"Every time with these injuries, guys just keep stepping up," Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston said. "We really depend on these guys, and we lean on them.
"Obviously, Donteea is going to have to step up. This is the moment he's been waiting for. He had a couple of big catches in the game when Vincent got hurt (in 2015), so we trust those guys and we're depending on them. And they know that."
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said, "Any time you lose a player and team leader of Vincent's caliber, it is a setback for your team. Vincent is a very tough-minded player and a great competitor. Even though he doesn't recall when he injured his knee, he was still out there the entire game and made two crucial catches on our final drive to set up the game-winning field goal.
"I know that being placed on injured reserve is difficult for him, but I also know he will maintain a strong presence in our locker room and will help our younger guys prepare and develop because that's the type of team-first leader he is."
|Chargers||vs.||Falcons||4:05 (EDT) Preview|
Chargers try to sustain momentum vs. red-hot Falcons
Thursday, October 20 at 3:35 AM (EDT)
Earlier this month, the Atlanta Falcons battled last season's Super Bowl teams in back-to-back weeks and emerged with two victories.
The San Diego Chargers haven't recorded consecutive victories -- against anyone -- since 2014.
That illustrates the gulf between the teams as the Chargers (2-4) head to Atlanta to face the Falcons (4-2) on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, FOX).
Atlanta was unable to make it a trio of impressive wins when it stumbled late in a 26-24 loss at Seattle on Sunday. However, the home victory over the Carolina Panthers and the road win over the Denver Broncos stamped the Falcons as legitimate NFC contenders.
The team is receiving contributions from all over the field.
"We have had some games where different groups came through," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "Two weeks ago certainly the defensive line had a big day. Two weeks before that, the quarterback and receivers had one. We have had games where the special teams have been involved."
The Chargers, meanwhile, got a needed victory last Thursday, beating the Broncos 21-13 and taking some of the heat off embattled coach Mike McCoy.
"You know how I feel about momentum, week to week," San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. "But we are now like, 'Guys, that's how you beat a good team. That's what it feels like.'"
Now the Chargers are charged with repeating the feat against Atlanta so they can post their first winning streak since November 2014. San Diego also owns just one win in its past 12 road games.
"Atlanta is a team that is as hot as any," Rivers said. "That will be a big one."
Rivers, who threw for a season-low 178 yards against the Broncos, undoubtedly will need to improve upon that figure if the Chargers are to have a chance against the Falcons. San Diego ranks 12th in the league in passing yards per game (263.3) but just 22nd in rushing yards per game (91.8).
The Falcons' rush defense is stingy, ranking 11th at 94.2 yards per game, but opposing quarterbacks are finding success. Atlanta is tied for 26th in pass defense, yielding 285.3 yards per game.
The Chargers' leading receiver, Travis Benjamin, didn't practice Wednesday due to a knee ailment. Even if he is absent Sunday, however, Rivers is well-stocked in terms of receiving weapons, thanks in part to an impressive pair of tight ends.
Hunter Henry is the first rookie tight end to score touchdowns in three consecutive weeks since Jimmy Graham accomplished the feat in 2010. Henry is benefitting from the guidance of veteran tight end Antonio Gates.
"It's awesome to have that kind of guy on your side," said Henry, an Arkansas product who has 19 catches for 310 yards. "He's arguably the best ever playing this position so being among his presence is an honor. And I'm happy to call him a good friend."
The young Atlanta defense, which includes six players in their first or second year, expects to improve as the season continues.
"We have to keep working, we have to keep pushing because you saw in the second half (against Seattle), we came out fighting," Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen said. "We came out working. ...
"With (good teams), you have to be really detailed and you can't give them anything extra. Once they catch the ball, you have to get them down right then. Once you see the quarterback scramble, you have to get on your guys."
The Falcons' offensive attack is both balanced and dangerous. Behind quarterback Matt Ryan, Atlanta ranks second in passing yards per game (329.5), while the rushing attack is ninth at 112 yards per game.
Wide receiver Julio Jones leads the league with 656 receiving yards on 31 catches.
"Any time you go against a player like Julio you have to know where he is every snap," McCoy said. "That is the type of player he is."
San Diego is strong against the run (83.5 yards per game, fifth in the league) but susceptible against the pass (279.7 yards per game, 24th in the NFL).
The Chargers maintain that their attitude is on the rise after they held off Denver to end their three-game losing streak.
"It's just a new start," San Diego nose tackle Brandon Mebane said. "The season hasn't gone how we want it to, but this is a new start."
|Patriots||vs.||Steelers||4:25 (EDT) Preview|
Pats insist Steelers are no patsy despite Big Ben's absence
Thursday, October 20 at 12:36 PM (EDT)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- One thing you can always count on in sports is that the New England Patriots will never say anything bad about an upcoming opponent.
Even when someone like Ben Roethlisberger isn't going to play.
"It's tough to see any injury for any player, and he's obviously dealing with a significant one, but I'm sure they'll still be ready to go," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Wednesday, looking ahead to New England's visit to Pittsburgh to meet the Roethlisberger-less Steelers on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS).
"They've got a lot of good players, especially on defense," Brady said. "It's a very veteran group, and they play well at home. They lost two games on the road, but we're not playing them on the road. We're playing them at home where they've won them all, so it's going to be a big challenge for us."
Roethlisberger, injured Sunday during a loss to the Miami Dolphins, underwent left knee surgery and is expected to miss four to six weeks. Landry Jones, who has been no more than so-so during his chances the past two years, is the quarterback as the 4-2 Steelers look to down the 5-1 Patriots.
"He's obviously a good quarterback," running back Le'Veon Bell said on a conference call Wednesday. "I think he has a lot of good things that he can bring to the table. We've just got to, as a whole entire offense, help him out and get him comfortable and get him confident in himself, and that's when he really will start striking."
Bell, of course, and wide receiver Antonio Brown still have to be dealt with, but not having Roethlisberger with those guys has to make a difference.
Asked about Bell, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "Oh my God. Oh yeah, tremendous player. Great hands, catch the ball, very quick, makes people miss. Strong, breaks tackles, excellent balance, tough, doesn't run out of bounds, fights for extra yardage. Great player."
Brady returned from his four-game Deflategate suspension two games ago and came out on fire. With Rob Gronkowski recovered from his hamstring injury, Brady is 57 of 75 for 782 yards with six touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Brady is 6-2 lifetime against the Steelers with 22 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. His two pick-free games this year extended the team's run of no interceptions through the first six games.
The scary thing about Brady's numbers is that he thinks he can even be better, that he has yet to work out all the kinks from the suspension.
"No ... I'm not going to dispute his assessment of his game," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Obviously, from my perspective, he's Tom Brady. He's got six touchdowns, no interceptions and completing 76 percent of his balls, so from my perspective, we face a stiff challenge. But I'm not going to question his perspective regarding his game."
Last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower dominated the game on that side of the ball, tackling Andy Dalton in the end zone for a safety to start the New England charge, then adding another half-sack later in the second half. He finished with 13 tackles and was named AFC defensive player of the week.
The Steelers, who are 3-0 at home, wasted no time in declaring Roethlisberger out of this game, with Tomlin perhaps even sending a mild shot at other coaches (Belichick) when it comes to injury reports.
"We're a transparent group. We don't hide. We are who we are," he said. "He had a surgical procedure to address his knee issue, so to eliminate any potential questions or distractions regarding his availability and get firmly focused on the task at hand with the man playing quarterback that's playing quarterback this week, that's the approach."
Jones, who has thrown only one pass this season, was 16 of 29 for 209 yards with one touchdown pass and two interceptions in a loss at Kansas City last season. He had three TD passes and four picks in 2015.
Sunday also will be the first game for Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount against the team that released him in 2014 -- after he walked off the bench during a game. Blount has been outstanding so far this season, scoring six touchdowns in six games.
"We're still very tight," Bell said of Blount. "Me and him still talk a lot to this day. Obviously, he's doing great things on the field. I watch his games, he watches my games, we still critique each other and talk about some of the things we did good, some of the things we did bad with one another."