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  • Friday, October 24, 2014
    Manning rips Denver's scoreboard operator
    By The Sports Xchange

    Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning went off on the scoreboard operator at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in his post-game press conference Thursday night, saying "it wasn't his best night."

    • Manning, four days after setting the NFL's all-time passing touchdown record, wasn't happy when he heard the boos when the scoreboard operator showed San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' face.

      Manning heard the cheers when the picture immediately switched to a live shot of himself on the Broncos' sideline.

      "Our fans were great," Manning said. "But the scoreboard operator, it wasn't his best night."

      Manning also was irritated when the Broncos were trying to chew up the clock in the closing minutes of the 35-21 win over their AFC West rival and the crowd was going crazy. That forced Manning to try to quiet down a stadium of 76,907.

      "I have no problem with our fans, our fans are great. I've got a problem with our scoreboard operator. I've got to have a little talk with him," a serious Manning said. "I'm not sure what he's doing. He's playing music and showing our players dancing and getting the crowd fired up when we have the ball. I don't think we should be doing that. I don't think we should be showing their quarterback on the sideline. I thought that was kind of disrespectful."

      Manning went 25 of 35 for 286 yards and three touchdowns. With the victory, the Broncos (6-1) now own a 1 1/2- game lead over the Chargers (5-3) in AFC West.

  • Friday, October 24, 2014
    Broncos-Chargers: What we learned
    By The Sports Xchange

    DENVER -- Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders took a bow in the end zone after each of his touchdown catches. Quarterback Peyton Manning provided the encore performance.

    • Manning threw for three touchdowns, all to Sanders, and the Denver Broncos pulled away to beat the San Diego Chargers 35-21 Thursday night.

      Manning, who became the NFL's career leader in touchdown passes Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers, added to the mark with scoring passes of 2, 31, and 3 yards to Sanders.

      "We understand in this offense it can be anyone's night at any moment," said Sanders, a free agent acquisition from the Pittsburgh Steelers who recorded multiple touchdown catches in a game for the first time in his career. "I'm just happy tonight was my night."

      He shared it with Manning, who finished 25 of 35 for 286 yards. Sanders finished with nine catches for 120 yards, while wide receiver Demaryius Thomas had eight catches for 105 yards for his team-record fourth 100-yard game in a row.

      "We're trying to get everybody involved," Manning said. "Certainly, sometimes it's going to be one guy's night over another. But all of them played well, and of course Emmanuel was great down there around the end zone."

      Denver (6-1) earned its fourth win in a row since an overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 21. San Diego (5-3) lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.

      "They played their tails off. They were fighting," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said of his players. "But we didn't make enough plays, and that's what it comes down to."

      Up by seven at the half, the Broncos stretched their lead to 28-7 in the third quarter on Sanders' third touchdown catch of the night and running back Juwan Thompson's 2-yard scoring run.

      Cornerback Chris Harris' interception of a pass from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers led to Sanders' 3-yard touchdown early in the period.

      "It was definitely a momentum-changer," Broncos safety T.J. Ward said of Harris' interception. "They were looking to strike fast and get the momentum back, and we snatched it right from them. It was a great play by Chris."

      A pass-interference penalty against San Diego cornerback Richard Marshall got the Broncos inside the Chargers' 10-yard line, and Thompson scored the first of his two touchdowns two plays later.

      After Rivers' fourth-down, 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates pulled the Chargers within 28-14 with 2:39 remaining in the third, Denver responded with a second-chance touchdown.

      San Diego safety Eric Weddle picked off a pass by Manning in the end zone, but the play was negated by a defensive-holding call on fellow safety Marcus Gilchrist. Denver, on a first-and-goal from the 1, scored on the next play on a burst by Thompson for a 35-14 lead with 13:29 left to play.

      Rivers, who finished 30 of 41 for 252 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, later hooked up with Gates from 10 yards out to get one score back. However, Denver quashed the comeback when safety Rahim Moore intercepted Rivers in the late going.

      "It just goes back to the old adage, you give a good team tons of opportunities and you make certain mistakes, it's hard to overcome," Weddle said. "We had a team effort and didn't quit. We just didn't play good. They're better than us right now, and that's the reality of it."

      What the Broncos said:

      "We've just been grinding. We're just trying to keep our heads down and just keep working. That is what's been working for us -- going out there and taking it one snap at a time. If they get a first down, we come back, we play harder. We're really starting to jell." -- Linebacker Von Miller, on the Broncos' under-the-radar defense.

      What the Chargers said:

      "A little bit of a bump in the road. I think now the true test -- the true character of our team -- will definitely show. I got all the confidence in the world in the guys I fight with every single Sunday. Obviously, the coaching staff is tremendous. They put together a phenomenal plan every week. We just came up short today." -- Tight end Antonio Gates.

      What we learned about the Broncos:

      1. The Broncos may have the most explosive corps of receivers in the game, with seemingly every member capable of a breakout game. This time, it was wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who had three touchdown catches among his nine receptions for 120 yards. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas topped 100 receiving yards for the fourth game in a row. Wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas also have the capability to make game-changing plays.

      2. Linebacker Von Miller is back to his 2012 form, when he set a single-season team record with 18.5 sacks. Miller, who sustained a season-ending knee injury late last year, has come back strong this season. He has a league-leading nine sacks, and at least one in six consecutive games, the longest active streak in the league.

      --RB Ronnie Hillman is giving the Broncos' rushing attack a boost in the absence of Montee Ball (groin). Hillman gained 109 yards on 20 carries, and he had a 33-yard touchdown run negated by a holding call. He also is proving to be a capable receiver, giving the offense a chance to gain additional yards after the catch.

      --WR Emmanuel Sanders stole the show with three touchdown catches, but fellow WR Demaryius Thomas extended his remarkably productive run. Thomas had eight catches for 105 yards. It was the fourth game in a row in which he exceeded 100 yards, a team record.

      --LB Von Miller had one of the Broncos' two sacks, extending his sack streak to six games. It is the longest active streak in the NFL. Miller has nine sacks on the season, tops in the league.

      What we learned about the Chargers:

      1. Against the receiver-laden Denver offense, the Chargers missed their top cornerback Brandon Flowers, who was among the team's inactive players because of a concussion. Peyton Manning finished with a 124.2 passer rating against the Chargers' depleted secondary, the highest rating this season by an opposing quarterback against San Diego's defense.

      2. The Chargers' rushing attack remained productive in the absence of injured running back Ryan Mathews until being bottled up by the Broncos' defense. Quarterback Philip Rivers delivered a 17-yard scramble, and running back Branden Oliver had a 23-yard run. The Chargers' other 13 carries produced a total of 21 yards.

      --TE Antonio Gates had five catches for 54 yards and two touchdowns, pushing his career receiving-yards total to 9,610, enough o overtake Lance Alworth as the team's career leader. Alworth had 9,584 yards while playing for San Diego from 1962-70. "Obviously, it speaks volumes about my path since the day I set foot in the organization," Gates said. "But I think the understatement is everyone who helped me get to this point."

      --Rookie RB Branden Oliver, who had successive 100-yard rushing performances heading into Thursday's game, was limited to 36 yards on 13 carries by the Denver defense. Part of the problem of was San Diego was playing from behind for much of the night, giving the Chargers fewer opportunities to run the ball.

      --K Nick Novak did not attempt a field goal Thursday. His streak of making 31 field goals in a row remains intact.

  • Friday, October 24, 2014
    Sanders, Broncos race past Chargers
    By The Sports Xchange

    DENVER -- Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders took a bow in the end zone after each of his touchdown catches. Quarterback Peyton Manning provided the encore performance.

    • Manning threw for three touchdowns, all to Sanders, and the Denver Broncos pulled away to beat the San Diego Chargers 35-21 Thursday night.

      Manning, who became the NFL's career leader in touchdown passes Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers, added to the mark with scoring passes of 2, 31, and 3 yards to Sanders.

      "We understand in this offense it can be anyone's night at any moment," said Sanders, a free agent acquisition from the Pittsburgh Steelers who recorded multiple touchdown catches in a game for the first time in his career. "I'm just happy tonight was my night."

      He shared it with Manning, who finished 25 of 35 for 286 yards. Sanders finished with nine catches for 120 yards, while wide receiver Demaryius Thomas had eight catches for 105 yards for his team-record fourth 100-yard game in a row.

      "We're trying to get everybody involved," Manning said. "Certainly, sometimes it's going to be one guy's night over another. But all of them played well, and of course Emmanuel was great down there around the end zone."

      Denver (6-1) earned its fourth win in a row since an overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sept. 21. San Diego (5-3) lost back-to-back games for the first time this season.

      "They played their tails off. They were fighting," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said of his players. "But we didn't make enough plays, and that's what it comes down to."

      Up by seven at the half, the Broncos stretched their lead to 28-7 in the third quarter on Sanders' third touchdown catch of the night and running back Juwan Thompson's 2-yard scoring run.

      Cornerback Chris Harris' interception of a pass from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers led to Sanders' 3-yard touchdown early in the period.

      "It was definitely a momentum-changer," Broncos safety T.J. Ward said of Harris' interception. "They were looking to strike fast and get the momentum back, and we snatched it right from them. It was a great play by Chris."

      A pass-interference penalty against San Diego cornerback Richard Marshall got the Broncos inside the Chargers' 10-yard line, and Thompson scored the first of his two touchdowns two plays later.

      After Rivers' fourth-down, 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates pulled the Chargers within 28-14 with 2:39 remaining in the third, Denver responded with a second-chance touchdown.

      San Diego safety Eric Weddle picked off a pass by Manning in the end zone, but the play was negated by a defensive-holding call on fellow safety Marcus Gilchrist. Denver, on a first-and-goal from the 1, scored on the next play on a burst by Thompson for a 35-14 lead with 13:29 left to play.

      Rivers, who finished 30 of 41 for 252 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions, later hooked up with Gates from 10 yards out to get one score back. However, Denver quashed the comeback when safety Rahim Moore intercepted Rivers in the late going.

      "It just goes back to the old adage, you give a good team tons of opportunities and you make certain mistakes, it's hard to overcome," Weddle said. "We had a team effort and didn't quit. We just didn't play good. They're better than us right now, and that's the reality of it."

      Manning connected with Sanders for a touchdown for the second time with 32 seconds remaining in the second quarter, giving the Broncos a 14-7 halftime lead.

      The Broncos, given a reprieve when an apparent fumble by kick returner Andre Caldwell was overturned on replay review, drove 74 yards to the go-ahead score. Sanders outran Marshall, playing in place of injured Brandon Flowers (concussion), on a go route, and Manning hit him in stride for the touchdown.

      San Diego evened the score on its previous possession. Facing a third-and-20, Rivers found Gates open down the middle for a 31-yard completion to the 2-yard line. Wide receiver Keenan Allen caught a pass in the flat for the score on the next play.

      On the ensuing kickoff, officials on the field ruled that Caldwell fumbled the ball when tackled at the Denver 26-yard line by linebacker Kavell Conner. Under review, it was determined that Caldwell didn't lose control of the ball until after hitting the ground with his arm, and the fumble call was reversed.

      The Broncos broke a scoreless tie early in the second quarter when Manning and Sanders teamed up for the first time on a 2-yard touchdown pass.

      NOTES: The Broncos released S John Boyett from their practice squad after he was arrested this week for investigation of assault, theft and harassment in connection with an attack on a cab driver. ... San Diego LB Andrew Gachkar started in place of Manti Te'o, who missed his fourth consecutive game since sustaining a foot injury Sept. 21 at Buffalo. ... The Chargers also were without RB Ryan Mathews, sidelined since spraining his right knee in Week 2 against Seattle. ... Broncos LB Von Miller has at least one sack in six consecutive games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

  • Friday, October 24, 2014
    Seahawks' Wilson: 'Complete confidence in who I am'
    By The Sports Xchange

    RENTON, Wash. -- In typical Russell Wilson fashion, the Seattle Seahawks' third-year quarterback dismissed the notion of a divided locker room in the wake of last week's shocking trade of dynamic wide receiver Percy Harvin to the New York Jets.

    • A report by Mike Freeman of the Bleacher Report this week indicated there is a sentiment among some in the Seahawks locker room that Wilson isn't "black enough" and that some teammates view him as tied too closely to the front office.

      "I don't watch ESPN, I don't really read any of (your) articles," Wilson told reporters after Thursday's practice. "No offense, I stay away from it all. I think that's a major part of it for me because I have complete confidence in who I am, complete confidence in the person that I'm striving to be every day and the person that I'm working to be.

      "I'm an educated individual that wants to continue to learn and continue to get better at the game of football but also in life so that's where my focus is every day when I wake up. I don't pay attention to the outside stuff. It will never make me waiver in terms of my confidence, so that's where I am on that."

      Former Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson acknowledged this week that he broke up a fight between Harvin and former Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate the day before the Super Bowl in February, and there have been multiple reports that Harvin and Wilson nearly came to blows earlier this season.

      However, Wilson claims he and Harvin had no issues on or off the field.

      "We had a lot of similarities probably, if anything," Wilson said. "We're guys that want to compete at the highest level, want to win every single time we step on the field, want the ball in our hands to make the big play and everything.

      "I'm not sure why the media tries to blow everything out of proportion. It is part of it I guess. You have to deal with it but you also ignore it too. Like I always tell you guys, ignore the noise."

      To hear Wilson describe it, he played no role in Harvin being shipped out of town.

      "That's the front office side - I don't know much about it to be honest with you," Wilson said. "He's a great football player. For whatever reason, it didn't work here, but I know that he'll do a great job."

      The Seahawks have quickly gone from a team of overachievers who dismantled Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl to a dysfunctional locker room on the verge of a mutiny against its quarterback in the span of eight months - if one is to believe the media. But that "corporate" image Wilson is reported to have that rubs teammates the wrong way continues to hold strong as he attempts to lead the Seahawks out of a two-game losing streak that has the defending champions sitting third in their own division entering Sunday's game at the Carolina Panthers.

      "There's no division in our locker room. There's none at all," Wilson insisted. "If anything, I think we've continued to build, continued to grow. I truly believe that. I think that the guys that we have in the locker room, the guys that believe that we can still go 1 and 0 and still be a championship team; those are the guys that we have sitting in this room every day.

      "Every morning when we wake up, we're looking for one common goal and that's to win football games."

      One thing is clear: Wilson is confident in himself, and he's not about to alter his personality to please anyone.

      "My parents really instilled that in me, just to be confident in the man that I am and the player that I am," he said. "I've had a lot of experience. I have gone through a lot of ups and downs in my life. I've seen a lot of good things, I've seen a lot of bad but I've also had a lot of great things happen in my life too because I've always persevered. I think that's something that I try to keep my focus on.

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Titans' Lewan avoids assault trial
    By The Sports Xchange

    Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan will avoid a trial in an assault case after reaching an agreement Thursday.

    • According to multiple media reports, Lewan's attorney, John Shea, and the prosecutor told a judge in Ann Arbor, Mich., that a settlement was reached.

      Lewan, a rookie first-round pick from the University of Michigan, was charged with one count of misdemeanor aggravated assault and two counts of assault and battery relating to an incident in Ann Arbor in December. According to the Tennessean, two Ohio State fans alleged that Lewan assaulted them after the Buckeyes' win over the Wolverines.

      "We asked the judge to cancel next week's trial with anticipation of putting that resolution on the record a week from today. That's where things stand as of today," Shea said, according to the Tennessean. "Still some final steps being taken, but the parties anticipate the case will officially and on the record be resolved a week from today."

      The settlement is due to be announced Oct. 30, and Lewan will be in court then. The date falls during the Titans' bye week.

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    NFL roundup: Mettenberger named Titans starting QB
    By The Sports Xchange

    Tennessee Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt named rookie Zach Mettenberger the team's starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans at LP Field.

    • Jake Locker has missed the past two games with a thumb injury, and the elevation of Mettenberger could signal the end of Locker's days as the Titans' No. 1 quarterback.

      Mettenberger was a sixth-round selection in this year's NFL Draft, but he had a strong preseason, completing 69.1 percent of his passes for 659 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 97.6.

      Whisenhunt said the Titans plan to stick with Mettenberger, even when Locker gets healthy.

      Mettenberger has played in just one regular-season game, completing 2 of 5 passes for 17 yards and one interception.

      Last week, he was the backup to Charlie Whitehurst, who started against Washington. Whitehurst was 17-for-26 for 160 yards, two touchdowns and one interceptions in a 19-17 loss to the Redskins that dropped the Titans' record to 2-5.

      --All signs point to Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson returning to the field for Sunday's game in London against the Atlanta Falcons.

      Johnson missed the past two games because of an ankle injury, but after sprinting in the team's first workout in Bagshot, England, and then working agility drills on Wednesday, the All-Pro might be ready to go.

      --Lions running back Reggie Bush sat out practice with an ankle injury, making his status questionable for Sunday's game.

      --Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who has been sidelined since the first game with a knee injury, said he expects to return for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.

      Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft this year, had surgery Sept. 8 to repair a torn meniscus suffered during the first half of the Texans' season opener against Washington. He returned to practice Oct. 17.

      He was a game-time decision for Monday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers but did not play.

      --Redskins coach Jay Gruden said in a radio interview this week that quarterback Robert Griffin III should be back no later than the Nov. 16 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

      "I would guarantee Tampa, most likely, unless something happens between now and then," Gruden said on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday.

      The Redskins play the Cowboys and Vikings in their next two games, then have a bye.

      Griffin is recovering from a dislocated ankle, and Gruden said he still plans to start Colt McCoy on Monday against the Cowboys.

      --Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne missed a second straight day of practice with an elbow injury, putting into question his availability for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

      The Indianapolis Star reported Wayne is still expected to play Sunday.

      --Colts running back Trent Richardson also sat out practice Thursday with a hamstring injury. Pagano called Richardson day-to-day according to the Star.

      --The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed linebacker Orie Lemon from the Kansas City Chiefs' practice squad to the active roster, the Buccaneers announced.

      The Buccaneers have a roster spot available because defensive lineman Da'Quan Bowers was suspended for two games for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

      --Contract talks with wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas are on hold as the Denver Broncos focus on football.

      General manager and vice president John Elway first opened contract talks in the offseason but the sides have not closed the gap. The tandem caught 157 passes and 26 touchdowns last season when the Broncos set multiple records, and could exceed those totals in 2014.

      --Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell expected to draw the best out of Harvin, coaxing the type of play -- long gains after the catch to go with flashy returns -- that attracted the Seahawks to Harvin two years earlier, when Bevell strongly endorsed trading for the now 26-year-old enigma. But it was not to be.

      "I was disappointed. I did have a history with him, and I thought it would be a different outcome. But I guess that's just the way it went," Bevell told the Tacoma News Tribune.

      Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson also weighed in, saying he had no problems with Harvin during his time with the Seahawks and blaming the media for essentially making too much of the story.

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    NHL roundup: Senators-Leafs game rescheduled for Nov. 9
    By The Sports Xchange

    The game between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs in Ottawa that was postponed Wednesday because of shootings in downtown Ottawa was rescheduled for Sunday, Nov. 9 in Ottawa, the NHL announced Thursday.

    • The shootings on Wednesday resulted in the death of a Canadian soldier who was stationed at the National War Memorial and a gunman at Parliament Hill's Centre Block, according to Ottawa police officials.

      On Wednesday, the Maple Leafs were on lockdown at the team's hotel in downtown Ottawa, a team representative confirmed to ESPN.com.

      ---New York Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky was cleared for action and made his season debut Thursday night against the Boston Bruins.

      Visnovsky has been sidelined with back spasms and was limited to 24 games last season because of a concussion.

      ---The Tampa Bay Lightning reassigned defenseman Luke Witkowski to the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League today, the team announced. Witkowski was recalled to the Lightning on October 19 but did not see any game action.

      ---Detroit Red Wings right wing Johan Franzen missed his third straight game with a groin injury. He is on the short-term injured reserve

      .

      ---Defenseman Johnny Boychuk, traded by the Boston Bruins to the New York Islanders at the end of training camp for salary cap reasons, made his first return visit Boston Thursday. The fans chanted "Joh-nny Boy-chuk" after the first whistle.

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Cutler: No issues with Marshall
    By The Sports Xchange

    Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler apparently was not offended by wide receiver Brandon Marshall's postgame rant Sunday after a 27-14 home loss to the Miami Dolphins.

    • "He didn't come near me," Cutler said. "He didn't say my name. I don't think he attacked anybody personally with what he was saying.

      "He's an emotional guy. Whenever he gets frustrated, he's going to get emotional most of the time. He's going to speak from the heart and make sure everyone around him hears him. It wasn't anything that caught us off guard, or was off-putting. ... It was frustration coming out and him letting us know it was important to him."

      Cutler said he has since talked with Marshall, the Bears' Pro Bowl wide receiver, about what happened. Some of Marshall's remarks in the locker room supposedly were aimed at Cutler.

      "I talked to him on Monday," Cutler said. "He was good Monday. Brandon wants to win. He wants to see this team do as well as possible. I understand his frustration. We all go about it different ways when we're frustrated, and that's how Brandon handled it that moment. We moved past it.

      "I think some people are indifferent. I think some people are responding well to it. Like I said, I don't think anybody is taking it negatively. It was a frustrating loss for all of us. I think once guys left the locker room, that's where it died. We moved on Monday and Tuesday, and practiced on Wednesday. It's just one of those things."

      Bears management continues to defend Cutler and call him an elite quarterback despite his 10 turnovers in seven games this season and 82 interceptions and 20 lost fumbles since 2009.

      "Everything that I do is critiqued," Cutler said. "Every step that I take, every read that I make ... ball location. I think that's the farthest (thing) from the truth when we are in the meeting room."

      Coach Marc Trestman is fine with players expressing their feelings as long it's respectful and appropriate.

      "To me, this is commonplace and over a weekend of games, believe me, our locker room is not the only one where players express themselves when things haven't gone well," he said.

      Former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said on 87.7 FM in Chicago that Cutler has not performed like an elite quarterback.

      The Bears (3-4) face the New England Patriots on Sunday.

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Bevell disappointed Harvin failed in Seattle
    By The Sports Xchange

    RENTON, Wash. -- Conflicts and fisticuffs might be the lasting legacy of wide receiver Percy Harvin's abbreviated run with the Seattle Seahawks, and the one coach who had previous experience with Harvin as a pro with the Vikings was not pleased with the results.

    • Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell expected to draw the best out of Harvin, coaxing the type of play -- long gains after the catch to go with flashy returns -- that attracted the Seahawks to Harvin two years earlier, when Bevell strongly endorsed trading for the now 26-year-old enigma.

      "I was disappointed. I did have a history with him, and I thought it would be a different outcome. But I guess that's just the way it went," Bevell told the Tacoma News Tribune. "I think we have a phenomenal atmosphere here. It's led by coach (Pete) Carroll. I think he gives the guys great freedom to be who they want to be. I think he sets the tone for the whole program. It's an upbeat program. Obviously we are very positive here. It's just disappointing."

      Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson also weighed in Thursday, saying he had no problems with Harvin during his time with the Seahawks and blaming the media for essentially making too much of the story.

      "Percy and I never had differences," Wilson said. "He's a guy that, you know, we had a lot of similarities, probably, if anything. You know, guys that want to compete at the highest level, want to win every single time you step on the field. Want the ball in our hands, to make the big play and everything.

      "So I'm not sure why the media tries to blow everything out of proportion, it's part of it, I guess. You have to deal with it. But you also ignore it, too. Like I always tell you guys, ignore the noise. You know, Percy's a Virginia guy and I wish nothing but the best for him."

      For all of his playmaking potential, Harvin never became the serious offensive threat. He did have three touchdowns called back due to penalties at Washington this season, but most of his impact players were as a runner or returner.

      Harvin said in his first meeting with New York media that he wasn't thrilled with the way he was used in the Seahawks' offense.

      "I had many conversations with him about it, just about his role and the things that we would ask him to do. He never articulated that to me," Bevell said. "I mean, he caught a deep ball in the Washington game -- unfortunately it got called back. But the thing was we wanted to make sure he was going to be involved in the game and get the touches. You know, you can just double team somebody and just take him out of the game (with deeper balls). He never did. But we've moved on past that. It's left in the past."

      Carroll knows the best way to show that his team is past the chaos of last week is to beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

      As the team prepares for its third trip in three years to Carolina, Carroll insists that the Harvin trade is now in the past, leaving no mess behind that still has to be cleaned up.

      "We already have made that move," Carroll said "We're moving on."

      Maybe.

      Many will wonder, though, until the Seahawks again look like themselves, something they have not done the past two weeks in falling to 3-3 with losses to the Dallas Cowboys and the St. Louis Rams.

      Carroll points out Seattle could have won both games with just the change of a play here or a play there.

      "The margin of where we are vs. where we could be is so slight that the hope is very strong," Carroll said.

      In fact, Seattle had one of its best statistical showings of the season in the loss at St. Louis, outgaining the Rams 463-267, losing largely thanks to three big special teams play by the home team.

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Mettenberger named Titans' starting QB
    By The Sports Xchange

    Tennessee Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt named rookie Zach Mettenberger the team's starting quarterback for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans at LP Field.

    • Jake Locker has missed the past two games with a thumb injury, and the naming of Mettenberger could signal the end of Locker's days as the Titans' No. 1 quarterback.

      "We are going to go with Zach at QB this week," said Whisenhunt, who said the decision was made Tuesday. "We were still waiting to see where Jake's hand was going to be as far as whether he was going to be the backup or not depending on if he could do that. We feel good after two good days of practice with Jake that he can do that. So that's the order in which we're going to go from this point.

      "Unfortunately that (news) got out before we had the opportunity to announce that, but that's the direction we're going. We feel like it's an opportunity to see what Zach can do just like a number of our younger players that have already started to contribute, and we're looking forward to seeing where we go from here."

      Mettenberger was a sixth-round selection in this year's NFL Draft, but he had a strong preseason, completing 69.1 percent of his passes for 659 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 97.6.

      Whisenhunt said the Titans plan to stick with Mettenberger, even when Locker gets healthy.

      Mettenberger said it's his team now.

      "No matter who that guy is at the quarterback position, it's his team," Mettenberger said, according to ESPN.com. "I've got to step in and take control. I've done that this week, being vocal, making sure we're in the right calls, being on the same page. Absolutely, this is my team now."

      Mettenberger has played in just one regular-season game, completing 2 of 5 passes for 17 yards and one interception.

      This past week, he was the backup to Charlie Whitehurst, who started Sunday's game against Washington. Whitehurst was 17-for-26 for 160 yards, two touchdowns and one interceptions in a 19-17 loss to the Redskins that dropped the Titans' record to 2-5.

      "I think over the last couple weeks, (Mettenberger) has gotten the opportunity to get reps in practice to go with guys that are playing," Whisenhunt said. "There is no question he is a talented young player. And maybe it'll give us a spark. Offensively, we haven't exactly been lighting it up. So that's part of it in consideration."

      Locker, who was the eighth overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, is now the backup.

      "It's not easy, it's frustrating, it's disappointing," Locker said, according to ESPN.com. "There are still nine games left in the season. I will be Zach's backup, and there is a responsibility with that that I don't take lightly. Be prepared for the game and try to help Zach, in any way I can, have success."

      Whitehurst has been dropped to No. 3.

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Colts' Wayne, Richardson sit out practice
    By The Sports Xchange

    Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne missed a second straight day of practice on Thursday, putting into question his availability for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    • On Wednesday, Wayne and coach Chuck Pagano downplayed the significance of Wayne's elbow injury, although he did have an MRI on his elbow earlier in the week.

      But he was still not in the field Thursday either. The Indianapolis Star reported Wayne is still expected to play Sunday.

      Colts running back Trent Richardson also sat out practice Thursday with a hamstring injury. Pagano called Richardson day-to-day according to the Star.

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Gruden: Griffin should be back by Nov. 16 game
    By The Sports Xchange

    When Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will return remains an open question, with some reports suggesting he might play in Monday's game against the Dallas Cowboys.

    • But Redskins coach Jay Gruden said in a radio interview this week that Griffin should be back no later than the Nov. 16 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

      "I would guarantee Tampa, most likely, unless something happens between now and then," Gruden said on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Wednesday. "You've got a good bye week, you've got a couple weeks to make sure it's ready. Obviously Robert is a quick healer. He works extremely hard in the training room. So the process could be sped up a little bit depending on how he feels."

      The Redskins play the Cowboys and Vikings in their next two games, then have a bye.

      Griffin is recovering from a dislocated ankle, and Gruden noted Griffin will need considerable practice time to be ready to play in a game again. That suggests he is unlikely to play on Monday.

      Colt McCoy has been named the Redskins starting quarterback for Monday's game, assuming Griffin is not ready to play.

      After practice Thursday, Gruden said Griffin is "steadily progressing," but added that an announcement on his availability for Monday night's game against the Cowboys will not come until Monday.

      Gruden said he is proceeding as if McCoy will be the starter against the Cowboys.

      Gruden said Griffin took some reps with the first-team offense on Thursday and added that the absence of practice time is probably a bigger impediment to Griffin's return than the ankle injury at this point.

      "We're really tinkering here on thin ice as far as who we're giving the reps to," he said. "Every time we take Colt out of the (practice) getting ready for Monday night, we're taking away from his progression every time. So we have to get Colt the reps right now but we also have to make sure we're bringing Robert along at a good rate so he's ready to go when he's ready to go."

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Texans' Clowney expects to return Sunday
    By The Sports Xchange

    Houston Texans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who has been sidelined since the first game with a knee injury, said Thursday he expects to return for Sunday's game against the Tennessee Titans.

    • "I'm the best I'm going to be this season, I feel like," Clowney said, according to ESPN.com. "Take it and go ahead and play football."

      Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft this year, had surgery Sept. 8 to repair a torn meniscus suffered during the first half of the Texans' season opener against Washington. He returned to practice Oct. 17.

      He was a game-time decision for Monday night's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers but did not play.

      Clowney said there is still soreness in his knee. "But," he said, "there's some stuff you gotta push through and come out here and play."

      Texans coach Bill O'Brien has said Clowney will be eased back into the rotation when he returns.

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    NFL Week 8: What to watch for in all 15 games
    By The Sports Xchange

    San Diego Chargers (5-2) at Denver Broncos (5-1)

    • Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET, at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver - TV: CBS

      *TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

      *Keys to the game: Undrafted rookie RB Branden Oliver continues to play well for the Chargers, who struggled to maintain drives last week. The result was just 15 carries for Oliver, and the offense bogged down when some makeable plays in the passing game went by the wayside due to off-target passes or miscommunication. San Diego must be committed to Oliver early on Thursday night to sustain drives and shorten the game for its defense, but also to help the offensive line to cope with OLBs Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, the only tandem in the NFL to each have 7.0-plus sacks this season.

      Peyton Manning has the Broncos' offense humming at its best clip of the season. He's picking apart teams that attempt to blitz, so the Chargers' defensive line must get home. The problem is, that same defensive line is getting put on ice skates too often in the ground game. If RB Ronnie Hillman is adding a complement through the ground, Manning will pick apart a secondary thinned by injuries. Chiefs QB Alex Smith completed passes to eight different players last week against the Chargers, who are also now giving up 4.5 yards per carry on the season - a bad combination.

      *Matchup to watch - Chargers DT Cory Liuget vs. Broncos interior offensive line: San Diego began last week's game in the nickel package and will likely live in it against Manning. That puts a bigger weight on Liuget to clog up the running lanes and clear ILBs Donald Butler and Andrew Gachkar to make plays. Broncos LG Orlando Franklin wasn't thrilled about moving inside this season, but has helped add bulk and physicality between the tackles.

      *Player spotlight - Chargers CB Richard Marshall: With Brandon Flowers (concussion) likely out and Jason Verrett (shoulder) uncertain, Marshall is again in line for significant playing time, and he was attacked by Smith when in the game last week.

      *Fast facts: The teams have split the past 10 regular-season meetings. ... Manning has a 9-2 record on Thursday nights. ... Chargers TE Antonio Gates needs 29 receiving yards to break Lance Alworth's (9,584) career franchise record.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      The Chargers are only a half-game back despite last week's setback against Kansas City. Unfortunately for the Chargers, they're shorthanded on a short week, the Chiefs exposed some issues that weren't readily seen against lesser competition and San Diego runs into a Denver buzz saw that won't let up this week.

      *Our pick: 33-23

      Atlanta Falcons (2-5) vs. Detroit Lions (5-2)

      Sunday, 9:30 a.m. ET, at Wembley Stadium, London -- TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Thom Brennaman, Troy Aikman, Charissa Thompson

      *Keys to the game: It's Football 101, but the Falcons simply have to be productive on first and second down. With five offensive linemen on injured reserve, QB Matt Ryan doesn't have the time to allow vertical routes to develop, so he needs the support of the ground game to set up manageable third downs. Problem is, Detroit enters with the league's second-ranked run defense while the Falcons are averaging just 98.1 rushing yards per game -- a figure bolstered by a few big runs from Antone Smith, who has only 16 carries on the season. Atlanta expects a heavy dose of man coverage as opponents sit on underneath routes, but WR Roddy White said it's simply up to the Falcons' receivers to win their battles and break tackles after the catch to help out their quarterback.

      The Lions might be without WR Calvin Johnson (ankle) for the third consecutive game, but Golden Tate has stepped up in his absence and leads the team with 48 catches for 649 yards. That reliability has not been there in the past when Johnson was out of the lineup. Detroit's offensive plan needs to be more safe than exotic, as QB Matthew Stafford threw a pair of interceptions last week. RB Joique Bell had 20 touches last week and will again combine with Reggie Bush to help control field position and force the Falcons to prove they can drive the length of the field.

      *Matchup to watch -- Lions DTs Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh vs. Falcons C James Stone/Harland Gunn: The Falcons will start their third different center of the season following season-ending injuries to Joe Hawley and Peter Konz. James Stone finished last week's game, playing 56 of 66 offensive snaps, and has been working diligently with Ryan studying film. No film can prepare the undrafted rookie for the size, speed and strength the Lions' interior tandem will bring Sunday. Gunn has also been taking snaps at center in the event the Falcons don't feel comfortable going with Stone, who coach Mike Smith acknowledges, "just doesn't have any experience."

      *Player spotlight -- Lions DE Ziggy Ansah: He'll face plenty of one-on-one opportunities against rookie Jake Matthews, who is battling a nagging ankle injury.

      *Fast facts: Falcons DE Osi Umenyiora was born in London. ... Tate has three 100-yard receiving games over the past four weeks.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Since the injuries really started to mount four games ago, the Falcons' have scored 28, 20, 13 and 7 points. The regression is stark, yet understandable. And playing the league's top-ranked defense, which can dominate healthy offensive lines, isn't going to help.

      *Our pick: Lions 24-16

      Baltimore Ravens (5-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-2-1)

      Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati -- TV: CBS

      *TV announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Evan Washburn

      *Keys to the game: The Ravens have found the offensive balance that escaped them last season thanks to unlikely production from RB Justin Forsett, who enters averaging 5.8 yards per carry. That has alleviated pressure from QB Joe Flacco, who has been sacked just eight times. The offense has found its rhythm since a season-opening 23-16 home loss to the Bengals, as the Ravens have averaged 35.4 in the five ensuing games. Cincinnati's defense has fallen to 31st in yards allowed while struggling through playing several youngsters due to injury and must avoid the assignment breakdowns that have led to far too many big plays on the ground.

      The Bengals' approach will hinge largely on the availability of WR A.J. Green (toe), who could be a game-time decision. With or without Green, QB Andy Dalton needs the ground game to get untracked and for the offensive line to hold the fort better after struggling mightily with the Colts' speed packages last week, when Dalton was pressured on 30 percent of his dropbacks.

      *Matchup to watch -- Ravens NT Brandon Williams vs. Bengals C Russell Bodine: Bodine, a rookie out of North Carolina, gives up nearly 30 pounds in this battle, and will work with OGs Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler in an attempt to move Williams and clear more running lanes than the Bengals' backs have seen in recent weeks.

      *Player spotlight -- Bengals WLB Vontaze Burfict: It was back to basics for Burfict this week after he was forced out of last Sunday's game due to a neck injury. Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is stressing tackling with his head up, as Burfict has managed to play in just 33 percent of the defensive snaps this season. The Ravens had 77 yards in the 29 minutes Burfict played in the opener, but 232 in the 31 minutes after he left with a concussion.

      *Fast facts: The Bengals will play home games three consecutive weeks for the first time since 1997. ... Sunday will mark the first time since 1974 Cincinnati will finish a season series against a division rival before playing another team from within its division.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      As poorly as they have play over the past three games, the Bengals are 11-0-1 in their past 12 home games and are desperate to avoid falling three games behind the Ravens. Of course, having Green available would help immensely in that effort.

      *Our pick: Bengals 26-21

      Buffalo Bills (4-3) at N.Y. Jets (1-6)

      Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. - TV: CBS

      *TV announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon

      *Keys to the game: Buffalo bounds into New Jersey with a backfield consisting of players who might have needed nametags to be recognized by most of the Bills' offense a month ago. With Fred Jackson (groin) and C.J. Spiller (collarbone) out, Anthony Dixon is likely to start and share the load with the more explosive Bryce Brown. QB Kyle Orton was sacked six times last week, a fact that has Jets coach Rex Ryan licking his chops to unleash a blitz-heavy attack. To calm the wobbly offensive line and protect himself, Orton is unlikely to launch many deep throws and lean on his backup running back tandem to move the chains. Orton is third in the NFL with a 68.5 completion percentage because he works within his comfort zone -- passes of 7-15 yards.

      The Bills are having no issue getting the quarterback, but must gear up to corral RB Chris Ivory, who found his legs against New England with a 107-yard game. The Vikings found inside running lanes to exploit last week but Buffalo is fourth in the NFL against the run at 80 yards per game. If they hem in the running game, QB Geno Smith will be tested. The Bills lead the NFL in sacks with 24, and if they can generate pressure against a veteran Jets offensive line, Smith shows questionable decision-making and has nine turnovers while taking 15 sacks in seven games.

      *Matchup to watch - Bills OGs Erik Pears and Kraig Urbik vs. Jets DL Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson: Urbik was reinserted to the starting lineup at left guard this week for Cyril Richardson. ProFootballFocus.com rates the Bills' guard play as the NFL's worst by a wide margin. Richardson and Wilkerson can win with power and agility, and against Ryan's blitz packages, there is little help to offer inside.

      *Player spotlight - Jets WR Percy Harvin: At halfback, wide receiver and on returns, Harvin's speed invites attention. As a decoy or in a select package of plays, the Jets' need for playmakers is too steep not to involve the 26-year-old newcomer as heavily as possible.

      *Fast facts: New York is the only team in the AFC East the Bills have an all-time winning record against, but the Jets have won four in a row in New Jersey. ... Wilkerson has 9.5 sacks in his past 11 home games.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Well rested and fighting for positives to snap a six-game losing streak, the Jets find points on special teams and defense to win for the first time since Sept. 7.

      *Our pick: Jets 22-20

      Chicago Bears (3-4) at New England Patriots (5-2)

      Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. -- TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Sam Rosen, John Lynch, Pam Oliver

      *Keys to the game: The Bears chalked last week's post-game locker room drama involving WR Brandon Marshall calling out good friend QB Jay Cutler to heat-of-the-moment passion. But the fact is that Cutler has multiple turnovers in each of Chicago's four losses and one total in their three victories. RB Matt Forte continues to lead the league in catches, and coach Marc Trestman needs to be consistent in getting him touches to keep the chains moving and Cutler out of the pressure that leads to so many of his mistakes. The Patriots will be minus sack leader Chandler Jones (4.5).

      New England continues to shuffle its offensive line due to injuries and effectiveness, but the pressure on QB Tom Brady has subsided significantly from the start of the season. The Patriots had 37 pass attempts vs. 15 rushes last week, but the underneath passing attack complements the ground game and Shane Vereen's versatility led to leading the team with 43 rushing and 71 receiving yards in Week 6. The Bears can bring pressure from all four spots up front, but the rushers must be cognizant of Vereen and WR Julian Edelman in motion slipping out of the backfield and generating big plays. Rob Gronkowski could feast on a defense allowing almost 15 yards per catch to tight ends.

      *Matchup to watch -- Marshall vs. Patriots CB Brandon Browner: Much was made of Marshall's five-inch height advantage over Dolphins CB Cortland Finnegan last week, but Marshall finished with just 48 yards while catching six of the 10 passes thrown his way. Browner (6-4, 221) is nearly the physical identical to Marshall, but showed significant rust last week in his first game back from suspension and injury. Browner played 41 snaps and was called for two penalties, but his workload should ramp up this week.

      *Player spotlight -- Patriots RB Jonas Gray: Promoted from the practice squad hours before New England's Week 7 victory over the Jets, the former undrafted rookie had three carries for 12 yards while seeing 17 combined snaps on offense and special teams. At 5-10, 225 pounds, coach Bill Belichick likes his size as a complement to the 205-pound Vereen.

      *Fast facts: Chicago's opponents have scored a total of 37 points off Cutler's turnovers this season. ... Edelman has caught at least four passes in 13 consecutive games.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      The Patriots have a 12-game home winning streak and Brady has found a smooth rhythm with his reworked receiving corps. The Bears are alternately explosive and inconsistent on offense, and have too many breakdowns defensively to knock off one of the AFC's better teams on the road.

      *Our pick: Patriots 27-24

      Houston Texans (3-4) at Tennessee Titans (2-5)

      Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at LP Field, Nashville - TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

      *Keys to the game: A revived Arian Foster is the last thing Tennessee wants to see right now. The Titans are a dust storm of injuries and lineup changes as they spiral toward a third consecutive losing season. Foster is averaging 102.5 yards per game on the ground and is getting yards in bunches with 16 carries of at least 10 yards. Strong starts have been common under the heavily scripted Bill O'Brien's watch -- Houston led 13-0 in the second quarter Monday before falling at Pittsburgh -- and the Titans have been outscored 37-13 in the first quarter.

      Watch for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started 10 games for the Titans last season, to throw on first down to take advantage of the Titans' scheme slanted to stop Foster, then use play-action to take his shots down the field. LG Ben Jones will be largely responsible for keeping Titans DL Jurrell Casey (14.5 sacks in his past 20 games) at bay.

      The Titans are turning to Zach Mettenberger, the third starting quarterback for the team this season, as Jake Locker isn't ready to come back from a three-game absence because of a thumb injury and the team wants to get a good look at the rookie. The Titans will feature the running game, but the Texans are going to stack the line to challenge the confident Mettenberger to throw over the top. Third downs are the ongoing bugaboo for Tennessee, which is just 19 for 67 since Week 1.

      *Matchup to watch - Titans LT Taylor Lewan vs. Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney: With Mettenberger likely to see exotic looks designed to confuse, the Texans could slide the pass rushers around. Clowney, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, and Lewan (11th) have tangled before, in the 2013 Outback Bowl between Michigan and South Carolina when Clowney made the infamous helmet-propelling hit on RB Vincent Smith. Lewan is making his third consecutive start. Clowney returned to practice this week. The coaches are hoping he can return and play 20 to 30 snaps on passing downs to work his way back into football shape on the weak side.

      *Player spotlight - Texans WR Andre Johnson: The all-time great has been quiet against the Titans, but Tennessee now lacks a lock-down cover man. Johnson has gone seven games since scoring in the series (Dec. 19, 2010), but seemed to click with Fitzpatrick late in last week's game.

      *Fast facts: The Texans have 17 losses since the start of last season -- 12 by seven or fewer points. ... The Titans have one first-quarter touchdown and two in the fourth quarter this season.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Unable to sustain drives and cash in red-zone chances, the Titans must gamble to get an upper hand. Coach Ken Whisenhunt and Tennessee are whiffing at a high percentage, leaving the door open for Houston to land the knockout blow.

      *Our pick: Texans 21-13

      Miami Dolphins (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)

      Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at EverBank Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla. -- TV: CBS

      *TV announcers: Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein

      *Keys to the game: The Dolphins continue to run the ball very effectively -- averaging 136.3 yards per game despite the season-ending injury to Knowshon Moreno. Third-year back Lamar Miller remains undersized for a true lead back role, but has improved his blocking and receiving skills, and the ground attack is complemented by Daniel Thomas and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who scampered for 30 yards on a read-option on 3rd-and-1 last week. The versatility of the ground game is working to keep the pressure of Tannehill to make pinpoint passes, though he hit 14 in a row last week for the second time this season. The Jaguars' defense is steadily improving as several new parts begin to mesh, and the 15th-ranked run defense must step up against Miller despite the season-ending injury suffered by MLB Paul Posluszny last week.

      Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is the new best friend of Jaguars rookie QB Blake Bortles after rushing for 127 yards on 22 carries last week. It served as the long-awaited help from the ground game that Bortles desperately needs to keep the chains moving. The Dolphins sport a deep and fast defensive line capable of blowing up the pocket, so Jacksonville must stay in manageable down and distances.

      *Matchup to watch -- Dolphins Ss Louis Delmas and Reshad Jones vs. Jaguars TE Clay Harbor: Miami interchanges its safeties, and Delmas and Jones will alternate staying back and moving forward in run support depending on the situation. Jones has been lauded by the coaching staff for his performance in two games since returning from suspension, including 16 tackles and a pick. Harbor is emerging as Bortles' safety blanket in the absence of injured Marcedes Lewis, catching all six of his targets last week for 34 yards following his first touchdown of the season in Week 6.

      *Player spotlight -- Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry: The rookie from LSU continues to develop as one of Tannehill's favorite targets. Landry has 22 receptions for 232 yards and one touchdown -- three more receptions and 37 more receiving yards than veteran Brian Hartline, who logs far more snaps.

      *Fast facts: The Dolphins have lost 11 player games to suspensions this season. ... The Jaguars' defense is second in the NFL with 22 sacks.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Miami has quietly played three very solid games in a row and has the defensive line depth to pressure Bortles (5 TDs, 10 INTs) into multiple mistakes.

      *Our pick: Dolphins 26-16

      Minnesota Vikings (2-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-5)

      Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa -- TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Justin Kutcher, David Diehl, Laura Okmin

      *Keys to the game: The Vikings hit the road determined to improve the protection for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has been sacked 13 times the past two weeks. They will also see former head coach Leslie Frazier, who now oversees a Bucs defense ranked last in points allowed (34.0 per game), total yardage (422.8) and pass defense (294.5). Tampa Bay ranks 25th in sacks per pass play, and no individual has more than two. That's music to the ears of the Vikings' offensive line, which ranks last in sacks allowed per pass play.

      The Bucs had a bye week to digest their latest embarrassing effort, a 48-17 setback to the Ravens in Week 6. For Tampa Bay to push the game into the fourth quarter, it must run the ball effectively behind Bobby Rainey, who has been far more effective than Doug Martin (2.9 yards per carry). QB Mike Glennon has played well at times, but the offensive line doesn't hold protection for long. A quick start is critical -- Glennon has a 30.2 passer rating on his first 10 pass attempts of games and the Bucs have too often found themselves staring at massive early deficits.

      *Matchup to watch -- Vikings LT Matt Kalil vs. Bucs DE Michael Johnson: Kalil is tied for the league lead in both sacks allowed (eight) and pressures (27). Johnson is tied for the team lead in sacks, but that's not saying much with just 2.0. The Bucs clearly expect more production for the five-year, $43.75 million deal they gave Johnson over the offseason.

      *Player spotlight -- Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon: The former triple-option quarterback at Georgia Southern has impressed with his big-play potential and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. However, at just 5-9 while still learning the intricacies of the position, he also ranks as the league's worst pass-blocking back, according to Pro Football Focus.

      *Fast facts: The Bucs have won the past six meetings dating back to 2002, the final season the teams were NFC Central rivals. ... McKinnon has been charged with two sacks allowed and five pressures in 24 snaps as a pass protector, per Pro Football Focus.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Bridgewater has shown poise and good decision-making when given decent time to survey the field. The Bucs don't rush the passer well, and therefor are limited in their ability to exploit the Vikings' biggest weakness.

      *Our pick: Vikings 28-20

      St. Louis Rams (2-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-3)

      Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo. -- TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Dick Stockton, Donovan McNabb, Kristina Pink

      *Keys to the game: The Rams are increasingly relying on their impressive rookie class, including RB Tre Mason, who logged 18 carries for 85 yards against Seattle last week. Second-year QB Austin Davis, who had struggled with bouts of poor decision making under pressure, thrived with a more conservative game plan as he completed 17 of 20 passes and a pair of touchdowns. Twelve of those completions went to backs and tight ends. The Rams will be content to play a field position game and rely on their high risk/high reward special teams to come up with a game-changing play or two.

      Chiefs QB Alex Smith has an enormous experience edge on his counterpart and has been playing excellent football over the past month. He, too, will take what the defense gives him as Kansas City has no desire to let the Rams' resurgent defensive line dictate the game. Smith has to be careful against St. Louis' aggressive young secondary that tends to gamble -- leading to big plays one direction or the other. RBs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis combined for 35 touches last week and are the best counter-weapons to a d-line that likes to get upfield, often leaving the league's 28th-ranked run defense exposed.

      *Matchup to watch -- Rams DT Aaron Donald vs. Chiefs RG Zach Fulton: Donald worked his way into the starting lineup two games ago and wreaked all kinds of havoc against Seattle last week, including five tackles and a sack. Fulton is a sixth-round rookie who has started all six games, but is still learning on the fly. He'll have a difficult time contending with the quickness of the 6-1, 285-pound Donald, but the Chiefs will be hard-pressed to protect Fulton much while also coping with Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers and William Hayes up front.

      *Player spotlight -- Rams LG Greg Robinson: Robinson also moved into the starting lineup two weeks ago. At 6-5, 332, his future is at left tackle while the Rams give the 22-year-old a softer landing spot inside. Raw but supremely athletic for his size, Robinson has upgraded the interior run-blocking.

      *Fast facts: Rams leading rusher Zac Stacy (240 rushing yards) logged only one offensive snap last week and had no carries. ... Smith has a 110.4 passer rating with eight TDs and 1 INT over his past three games.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      The Rams unloaded the special teams bag of tricks at home last week and still barely held off rival Seattle. On the road against a solid playoff contender, St. Louis' youth is too much to overcome in the din of Arrowhead.

      *Our pick: Chiefs 28-20

      Seattle Seahawks (3-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-3-1)

      Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte -- TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Jenny Dell

      *Keys to the game: The Seahawks are eager to see if the offensive chemistry that developed over the second half of last week's loss at St. Louis carries over. Following the Percy Harvin trade, Seattle is focused on returning to a run-first scheme that filters in the read-option with QB Russell Wilson when teams overplay RB Marshawn Lynch. One area of concern is fullback, where Lynch's backup, Robert Turbin, saw snaps for the first time in his life after Derrick Coleman suffered a broken foot in pre-game warmups last week. Turbin could see more action as a lead-blocker Sunday, which in turn would lead to more carries for Christine Michael.

      WR Doug Baldwin caught seven passes for 123 yards and a touchdown back in the slot position he produced from so consistently last season. Carolina's run defense has plummeted to 26th, but the Panthers will attempt to bottle up Lynch and Wilson between the tackles and force the Seahawks' receivers to gain separation.

      Seattle's coaches have taken note of the improved mobility shown by Panthers QB Cam Newton in recent weeks. Carolina is still searching for a more consistent ground presence with Jonathan Stewart averaging just 3.8 yards per carry last week, and gaining positive yardage on first and second down will be key. The Seahawks have struggled to generate pressure much of the season, but coach Pete Carroll indicated tweaks to the scheme to free up pass rushers -- potentially through increased blitzes.

      *Matchup to watch -- Seahawks CB Richard Sherman vs. Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin: The rookie Benjamin leads Panthers wide receivers with 34 catches for 477 yards and five touchdowns. At 6-5, 240, he presents an interesting physical matchup for the 6-3, 195-pound Sherman, who has yet to record an interception this season.

      *Player spotlight -- Seahawks DL Michael Bennett: The team's most consistent pass rusher last season, Bennett has three of the team's seven sacks this season but Carroll is looking to spring him for more pressure with increased snaps inside on passing downs.

      *Fast facts: Wilson has won both career meetings against Carolina. ... The Panthers have allowed 37-plus points in four of their past five games and a total of 195 through seven games. They allowed 241 all of last season.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Both teams rolled through the regular season to earn first-round byes in 2013 but enter this week battered, bruised and in need of a victory to avoid slipping further behind in the NFC. The defending champs showed life in the second half last week -- something the Panthers' defense hasn't displayed in more than a month.

      *Our pick: Seahawks 27-23

      Philadelphia Eagles (5-1) at Arizona Cardinals (5-1)

      Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. - TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale

      *Keys to the game: The Cardinals are third in the NFL with a plus-seven turnover ratio, which keeps them in every game and pinches opponents who are loose with the ball. The Eagles (minus-1) spread the ball around but their pace-based offense thrives on the running game. It finally got what was expected of LeSean McCoy, who averaged 95.3 yards from scrimmage in three career games against the Cardinals, before the bye week.

      The Eagles are known for their shotgun offense, but QB Nick Foles was under center for 22 of 71 offensive plays in Week 6. Thirteen of those plays were McCoy runs, providing him more time to read the defense and for coach Chip Kelly to implement more cut-back runs to keep the defense honest.

      Cardinals QB Carson Palmer is 10-2 in his past 12 starts and while he's not running the level of flammable offense Foles does for the Eagles, Palmer has settled in as a perfect extension of coach Bruce Arians. While veering away from LB Connor Barwin (six sacks in his last three games), Palmer should have time to look for his diverse collection of pass catchers. Jitterbug rookie WR John Brown is elusive after the catch but the Eagles will try to stick him off the snap to disrupt Palmer's timing. The Eagles expect to be in plenty of nickel and dime packages with Arizona's ability to go to four- and five-receiver sets.

      *Matchup to watch - Cardinals RB Andre Ellington vs. Eagles LB Mychal Kendricks: Philadelphia's top defensive player could return just in time for a grueling workout, shadowing three-down back Ellington and emerging backup Stepfan Taylor, the focal points of the Arizona offense who are more dangerous as receivers than runners. *Player spotlight - Eagles TE Zach Ertz: So committed to the running game are the Eagles that they've moved away from Ertz in base packages, leaving him to play just over half of the offensive snaps because he is a liability as a blocker. But he's also a knockout in the red zone and caught two touchdowns last season in a win over Arizona.

      *Fast facts: Of the teams to start 6-1 since the 1970 merger, 89 made the playoffs, only 17 did not. ... The Eagles have converted just 40 percent of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. In the past 10 years, only one team has reached the postseason with a red-zone touchdown rate lower than 40 percent.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Arizona's underrated home-field edge could come into play but only if the steady Cardinals keep the game close into the fourth quarter. A back-and-forth game would eventually see the Cardinals tap out.

      *Our pick: Cardinals 27-23

      Indianapolis Colts (5-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)

      Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh - TV: CBS

      *TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

      *Keys to the game: Blitzburgh no more, the Steelers are trying to find pressure without further loosening a defense that has many gaps. Head coach Mike Tomlin sees Andrew Luck as a more dangerous quarterback when he escapes the pocket and coverage breaks down. The Steelers will drop seven or eight and try to find a hot hand among CBs William Gay, Brice McCain and Cortez Allen to contain the AFC's leading receiver, T.Y. Hilton (47 receptions for 711 yards).

      The two teams to beat Luck's bunch this season -- Denver and Philadelphia -- outscored the Colts. That's easier said than done, considering the Colts limit opponents to a 26 percent conversion rate on third down and have 21 sacks and 12 takeaways. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger's offensive line is spotty, but it can plow, and the team's top two backs are over 5.0 yards per carry. Starter Le'Veon Bell was held in check Monday by the Texans but broke loose catching passes, an avenue that could open again this week facing a 3-4 defense for the fifth time in eight games.

      *Matchup to watch - Colts CB Vontae Davis vs. Steelers WR Antonio Brown: Brown needs more help, but his production and reliability are the one constant for the Steelers. Roethlisberger looks for Brown first and Davis, one of the most underrated cover men in the NFL, has speed and the strength to redirect at the line.

      *Player spotlight - Colts WR Donte Moncrief: The speedy rookie, along with Hakeem Nicks, will see more targets this week with Reggie Wayne (elbow) likely to be limited or out. Moncrief caught nine of 11 passes Luck threw in his direction through the first seven games.

      *Fast facts: With a win, Roethlisberger would have 100 wins in 150 career starts. ... The Steelers have won eight of the past 10 meetings. ... Luck is gunning for a franchise-record sixth consecutive 300-yard passing game.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Bell becomes the focal point for the Steelers, who grind out a home victory to set up a primetime slugfest with AFC North rival Baltimore in Week 9.

      *Our pick: Steelers 27-23

      Oakland Raiders (0-6) at Cleveland Browns (3-3)

      Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland - TV: CBS

      *TV announcers: Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots

      *Keys to the game: Injuries at the heart of the offensive and defensive lines caused a major letdown at Jacksonville last week and the Browns are still making adjustments. The massive defensive line combo of Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin is unlikely to be back, which suits the Raiders just fine. Interim head coach Tony Sparano wants to be physical and establish the run, and Cleveland was flattened by a weakling running game of the Jaguars a week ago. A steady diet of Darren McFadden will be thrown at the Browns' 32nd-ranked run defense (155.2 yards per game), until they establish they can stop Oakland's downhill attack.

      Raiders rookie QB Derek Carr is becoming a strong leader with poise and presence despite a lackluster supporting cast. The Browns are solid in the secondary but with a makeshift front seven, Carr could have more time to pick his spots.

      The Browns have a no-nonsense rushing attack ranked sixth in the NFL at 133.5 yards per game and use their backs to finish drives with a league-best eight touchdowns. Jacksonville thwarted the inside running game with speed, and took away the anticipated counter-punch of play-action passes from Brian Hoyer. Hoyer is just 24 for 58 in the past two games, and an early bout of inaccuracy could bring Johnny Manziel into the equation. Watch for TE Jordan Cameron, who has just 10 catches all season, to be heavily targeted in the first half.

      *Matchup to watch - Browns FS Tashaun Gipson vs. Carr: Carr is careful with the ball. The rookie second-round pick has thrown eight touchdowns compared to five interceptions in six games. Gipson preys on mistakes and forced throws with four interceptions already in 2014 - three a direct byproduct of QB pressures - and seven picks in his past nine games.

      *Player spotlight - Raiders DE Benson Mayowa: With LaMarr Woodley (biceps) out the Raiders will turn back to Mayowa, a noted athlete with pass-rushing skills who was strong against the run last week when Woodley went down. He spent last season with the Seattle Seahawks and made the Raiders primarily because of his athleticism. "You have to do it all," Mayowa said. "You can't be a one-trick horse these days. To stay around, it's play all three downs."

      *Fast facts: The Browns have won five of the past seven meetings. ... Raiders PK Sebastian Janikowski has 46 career field goals of 50-plus yards, six shy of Jason Hanson's NFL record.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Cleveland gets back to the winning ground game to move over .500 with another one-win team (Tampa Bay) visiting next week.

      *Our pick: Browns 27-20

      Green Bay Packers (5-2) at New Orleans Saints (2-4)

      Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans - TV: NBC

      *TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

      *Keys to the game: Unleashing Eddie Lacy on the ground in front of a big throng of family and friends as he plays his first NFL game not far from his New Orleans-area home would make for a nice story. Yet, QB Aaron Rodgers, who has an 18-1 TD-to-INT ratio, and his potent receiving cast led by Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will look to go to town against the Saints' injury-ravaged pass defense, provided the quarterback is able to continue to dazzle inside and outside the pocket in the face of New Orleans' exotic pressure packages.

      Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will get some notes from his brother Rex, whose Jets defense sacked Rodgers a season-high four times -- but was toasted for three TDs and 346 yards.

      Drew Brees has enjoyed meetings with Rodgers, throwing for no less than 323 yards in all three head-to-head matchups. But to give his defense a breather, Brees and the Saints must get the ground game going. RB Pierre Thomas is gone for 2-4 weeks with a shoulder injury, putting the onus back on Mark Ingram in his second week back from a month-long absence with a thumb injury. The Packers are 31st in the NFL at 147.9 rushing yards per game allowed. Ingram and Khiry Robinson would love to see TE Jimmy Graham (shoulder) back on the field, the one player the Packers defense would follow with multiple defenders, but his availability is highly questionable.

      *Matchup to watch - Packers WR Randall Cobb vs. Saints DB Rafael Bush: Bush is a safety who plays the slot in nickel packages. He could be in for a long night the way Cobb is piling up numbers. He leads all receivers with a career-best eight touchdowns.

      *Player spotlight - Saints LT Terron Armstead: In just his eighth career start, Armstead's feet are held to the fire against a four-linebacker rotation that features Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. Armstead is quick and athletic, but he'll also need supreme discipline with little help expected on the flanks.

      *Fast facts: Rodgers enters with no interceptions in his past six games, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer Bart Starr's 50-year-old team record. ... The Saints are 6-0 in home Sunday night games and have won 19 straight in the building with coach Sean Payton on the sidelines.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      New Orleans is more desperate but ill-equipped to withstand a shootout with the Packers unless Graham can have an impact and the defense shows more fight than it has to date.

      *Our pick: Packers 34-24

      Washington Redskins (2-5) at Dallas Cowboys (6-1)

      Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas - TV: ESPN

      *TV announcers: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters

      *Keys to the game: Whether Colt McCoy or rehabbing Robert Griffin III gets the nod, the Redskins are intent on getting more out of the running game. Alfred Morris averages 120.5 rushing yards in four career games against the Cowboys, but Rod Marinelli's Dallas defense is playing as if all the chips are on the table each week, spearheaded by MLB Rolando McClain.

      McCoy won't challenge much downfield but Dallas remains vulnerable at safety, and the Redskins could get Jordan Reed and Niles Paul on the field together at full strength for the first time in six weeks.

      The Cowboys have a six-game winning streak on the legs of RB DeMarco Murray, the NFL's leading rusher with 913 yards and seven touchdowns. Even if Murray isn't on his game, the Cowboys should thrive passing the ball downfield against a spackled-over secondary.

      *Matchup to watch - Cowboys WR Dez Bryant vs. Redskins CB Bashaud Breeland: Epic and entertaining one-on-one matchups with DeAngelo Hall made this rivalry one to watch in recent seasons. Hall is gone for the year and the Washington cornerback crew has been smoked repeatedly. Breeland, a rookie, could get the nod over David Amerson. The other doesn't get a picnic either, covering Terrance Williams, who averages 17.8 yards per catch.

      *Player spotlight - Redskins LB Trent Murphy: The second-round pick might not be ready to start, but here he comes with Brian Orakpo gone for the season. Murphy has short-area burst and stamina, but rushing from the right side against Cowboys LT Tyron Smith has been futile for most foes over the past two seasons.

      *Fast facts: Washington is minus-9 in turnover margin. ... Bryant has 27 touchdowns in his past 31 games. ... Dallas has won five of the past seven meetings. ... Griffin III had four TD passes and 304 yards in his previous MNF start at Dallas.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      While the Redskins search for an identity under coach Jay Gruden, the Cowboys establish the run quickly and have their way with a Washington defense waylaid by injuries.

      *Our pick: Cowboys 31-17

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Week 8 Preview: Packers at Saints
    By The Sports Xchange

    Green Bay Packers (5-2) at New Orleans Saints (2-4)

    • Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans - TV: NBC

      *TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

      *Keys to the game: Unleashing Eddie Lacy on the ground in front of a big throng of family and friends as he plays his first NFL game not far from his New Orleans-area home would make for a nice story. Yet, QB Aaron Rodgers, who has an 18-1 TD-to-INT ratio, and his potent receiving cast led by Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will look to go to town against the Saints' injury-ravaged pass defense, provided the quarterback is able to continue to dazzle inside and outside the pocket in the face of New Orleans' exotic pressure packages.

      Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will get some notes from his brother Rex, whose Jets defense sacked Rodgers a season-high four times -- but was toasted for three TDs and 346 yards.

      Drew Brees has enjoyed meetings with Rodgers, throwing for no less than 323 yards in all three head-to-head matchups. But to give his defense a breather, Brees and the Saints must get the ground game going. RB Pierre Thomas is gone for 2-4 weeks with a shoulder injury, putting the onus back on Mark Ingram in his second week back from a month-long absence with a thumb injury. The Packers are 31st in the NFL at 147.9 rushing yards per game allowed. Ingram and Khiry Robinson would love to see TE Jimmy Graham (shoulder) back on the field, the one player the Packers defense would follow with multiple defenders, but his availability is highly questionable.

      *Matchup to watch – Packers WR Randall Cobb vs. Saints DB Rafael Bush: Bush is a safety who plays the slot in nickel packages. He could be in for a long night the way Cobb is piling up numbers. He leads all receivers with a career-best eight touchdowns.

      *Player spotlight – Saints LT Terron Armstead: In just his eighth career start, Armstead's feet are held to the fire against a four-linebacker rotation that features Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews. Armstead is quick and athletic, but he'll also need supreme discipline with little help expected on the flanks.

      *Fast facts: Rodgers enters with no interceptions in his past six games, tying Pro Football Hall of Famer Bart Starr's 50-year-old team record. ... The Saints are 6-0 in home Sunday night games and have won 19 straight in the building with coach Sean Payton on the sidelines.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      New Orleans is more desperate but ill-equipped to withstand a shootout with the Packers unless Graham can have an impact and the defense shows more fight than it has to date.

      *Our pick: Packers 34-24

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Week 8 Preview: Colts at Steelers
    By The Sports Xchange

    Indianapolis Colts (5-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)

    • Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh - TV: CBS

      *TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson

      *Keys to the game: Blitzburgh no more, the Steelers are trying to find pressure without further loosening a defense that has many gaps. Head coach Mike Tomlin sees Andrew Luck as a more dangerous quarterback when he escapes the pocket and coverage breaks down. The Steelers will drop seven or eight and try to find a hot hand among CBs William Gay, Brice McCain and Cortez Allen to contain the AFC's leading receiver, T.Y. Hilton (47 receptions for 711 yards).

      The two teams to beat Luck's bunch this season -- Denver and Philadelphia -- outscored the Colts. That's easier said than done, considering the Colts limit opponents to a 26 percent conversion rate on third down and have 21 sacks and 12 takeaways. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger's offensive line is spotty, but it can plow, and the team's top two backs are over 5.0 yards per carry. Starter Le'Veon Bell was held in check Monday by the Texans but broke loose catching passes, an avenue that could open again this week facing a 3-4 defense for the fifth time in eight games.

      *Matchup to watch – Colts CB Vontae Davis vs. Steelers WR Antonio Brown: Brown needs more help, but his production and reliability are the one constant for the Steelers. Roethlisberger looks for Brown first and Davis, one of the most underrated cover men in the NFL, has speed and the strength to redirect at the line.

      *Player spotlight – Colts WR Donte Moncrief: The speedy rookie, along with Hakeem Nicks, will see more targets this week with Reggie Wayne (elbow) likely to be limited or out. Moncrief caught nine of 11 passes Luck threw in his direction through the first seven games.

      *Fast facts: With a win, Roethlisberger would have 100 wins in 150 career starts. ... The Steelers have won eight of the past 10 meetings. ... Luck is gunning for a franchise-record sixth consecutive 300-yard passing game.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Bell becomes the focal point for the Steelers, who grind out a home victory to set up a primetime slugfest with AFC North rival Baltimore in Week 9.

      *Our pick: Steelers 27-23

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Week 8 Preview: Eagles at Cardinals
    By The Sports Xchange

    Philadelphia Eagles (5-1) at Arizona Cardinals (5-1)

    • Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz. - TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale

      *Keys to the game: The Cardinals are third in the NFL with a plus-seven turnover ratio, which keeps them in every game and pinches opponents who are loose with the ball. The Eagles (minus-1) spread the ball around but their pace-based offense thrives on the running game. It finally got what was expected of LeSean McCoy, who averaged 95.3 yards from scrimmage in three career games against the Cardinals, before the bye week.

      The Eagles are known for their shotgun offense, but QB Nick Foles was under center for 22 of 71 offensive plays in Week 6. Thirteen of those plays were McCoy runs, providing him more time to read the defense and for coach Chip Kelly to implement more cut-back runs to keep the defense honest.

      Cardinals QB Carson Palmer is 10-2 in his past 12 starts and while he's not running the level of flammable offense Foles does for the Eagles, Palmer has settled in as a perfect extension of coach Bruce Arians. While veering away from LB Connor Barwin (six sacks in his last three games), Palmer should have time to look for his diverse collection of pass catchers. Jitterbug rookie WR John Brown is elusive after the catch but the Eagles will try to stick him off the snap to disrupt Palmer's timing. The Eagles expect to be in plenty of nickel and dime packages with Arizona’s ability to go to four- and five-receiver sets.

      *Matchup to watch – Cardinals RB Andre Ellington vs. Eagles LB Mychal Kendricks: Philadelphia's top defensive player could return just in time for a grueling workout, shadowing three-down back Ellington and emerging backup Stepfan Taylor, the focal points of the Arizona offense who are more dangerous as receivers than runners. *Player spotlight – Eagles TE Zach Ertz: So committed to the running game are the Eagles that they've moved away from Ertz in base packages, leaving him to play just over half of the offensive snaps because he is a liability as a blocker. But he's also a knockout in the red zone and caught two touchdowns last season in a win over Arizona.

      *Fast facts: Of the teams to start 6-1 since the 1970 merger, 89 made the playoffs, only 17 did not. ... The Eagles have converted just 40 percent of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns. In the past 10 years, only one team has reached the postseason with a red-zone touchdown rate lower than 40 percent.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Arizona's underrated home-field edge could come into play but only if the steady Cardinals keep the game close into the fourth quarter. A back-and-forth game would eventually see the Cardinals tap out.

      *Our pick: Cardinals 27-23

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Buccaneers sign LB Lemon
    By The Sports Xchange

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed linebacker Orie Lemon from the Kansas City Chiefs' practice squad to Tampa Bay's active roster, the Buccaneers announced Thursday.

    • The Buccaneers have a roster spot available because defensive lineman Da'Quan Bowers was suspended for two games for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

      Lemon played in five games for the Dallas Cowboys in 2012. He spent the 2013 offseason and preseason with the Kansas City Chiefs, before being released and signing to the Arizona Cardinals' practice squad. In November 2013, Lemon was signed to Dallas' active roster from the Cardinals' practice squad, playing in three games for the Cowboys.

      He spent this preseason with the Cowboys, before being released following Week One and signing onto the Chiefs' practice squad.

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Week 8 Preview: Raiders at Browns
    By The Sports Xchange

    Oakland Raiders (0-6) at Cleveland Browns (3-3)

    • Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland - TV: CBS

      *TV announcers: Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots

      *Keys to the game: Injuries at the heart of the offensive and defensive lines caused a major letdown at Jacksonville last week and the Browns are still making adjustments. The massive defensive line combo of Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin is unlikely to be back, which suits the Raiders just fine. Interim head coach Tony Sparano wants to be physical and establish the run, and Cleveland was flattened by a weakling running game of the Jaguars a week ago. A steady diet of Darren McFadden will be thrown at the Browns' 32nd-ranked run defense (155.2 yards per game), until they establish they can stop Oakland's downhill attack.

      Raiders rookie QB Derek Carr is becoming a strong leader with poise and presence despite a lackluster supporting cast. The Browns are solid in the secondary but with a makeshift front seven, Carr could have more time to pick his spots.

      The Browns have a no-nonsense rushing attack ranked sixth in the NFL at 133.5 yards per game and use their backs to finish drives with a league-best eight touchdowns. Jacksonville thwarted the inside running game with speed, and took away the anticipated counter-punch of play-action passes from Brian Hoyer. Hoyer is just 24 for 58 in the past two games, and an early bout of inaccuracy could bring Johnny Manziel into the equation. Watch for TE Jordan Cameron, who has just 10 catches all season, to be heavily targeted in the first half.

      *Matchup to watch – Browns FS Tashaun Gipson vs. Carr: Carr is careful with the ball. The rookie second-round pick has thrown eight touchdowns compared to five interceptions in six games. Gipson preys on mistakes and forced throws with four interceptions already in 2014 - three a direct byproduct of QB pressures - and seven picks in his past nine games.

      *Player spotlight – Raiders DE Benson Mayowa: With LaMarr Woodley (biceps) out the Raiders will turn back to Mayowa, a noted athlete with pass-rushing skills who was strong against the run last week when Woodley went down. He spent last season with the Seattle Seahawks and made the Raiders primarily because of his athleticism. "You have to do it all," Mayowa said. "You can't be a one-trick horse these days. To stay around, it's play all three downs."

      *Fast facts: The Browns have won five of the past seven meetings. ... Raiders PK Sebastian Janikowski has 46 career field goals of 50-plus yards, six shy of Jason Hanson's NFL record.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Cleveland gets back to the winning ground game to move over .500 with another one-win team (Tampa Bay) visiting next week.

      *Our pick: Browns 27-20

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Week 8 Preview: Texans at Titans
    By The Sports Xchange

    Houston Texans (3-4) at Tennessee Titans (2-5)

    • Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at LP Field, Nashville - TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa

      *Keys to the game: A revived Arian Foster is the last thing Tennessee wants to see right now. The Titans are a dust storm of injuries and lineup changes as they spiral toward a third consecutive losing season. Foster is averaging 102.5 yards per game on the ground and is getting yards in bunches with 16 carries of at least 10 yards. Strong starts have been common under the heavily scripted Bill O'Brien's watch -- Houston led 13-0 in the second quarter Monday before falling at Pittsburgh -- and the Titans have been outscored 37-13 in the first quarter.

      Watch for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started 10 games for the Titans last season, to throw on first down to take advantage of the Titans' scheme slanted to stop Foster, then use play-action to take his shots down the field. LG Ben Jones will be largely responsible for keeping Titans DL Jurrell Casey (14.5 sacks in his past 20 games) at bay.

      The Titans are turning to Zach Mettenberger, the third starting quarterback for the team this season, as Jake Locker isn't ready to come back from a three-game absence because of a thumb injury and the team wants to get a good look at the rookie. The Titans will feature the running game, but the Texans are going to stack the line to challenge the confident Mettenberger to throw over the top. Third downs are the ongoing bugaboo for Tennessee, which is just 19 for 67 since Week 1.

      *Matchup to watch – Titans LT Taylor Lewan vs. Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney: With Mettenberger likely to see exotic looks designed to confuse, the Texans could slide the pass rushers around. Clowney, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft, and Lewan (11th) have tangled before, in the 2013 Outback Bowl between Michigan and South Carolina when Clowney made the infamous helmet-propelling hit on RB Vincent Smith. Lewan is making his third consecutive start. Clowney returned to practice this week. The coaches are hoping he can return and play 20 to 30 snaps on passing downs to work his way back into football shape on the weak side.

      *Player spotlight – Texans WR Andre Johnson: The all-time great has been quiet against the Titans, but Tennessee now lacks a lock-down cover man. Johnson has gone seven games since scoring in the series (Dec. 19, 2010), but seemed to click with Fitzpatrick late in last week's game.

      *Fast facts: The Texans have 17 losses since the start of last season -- 12 by seven or fewer points. ... The Titans have one first-quarter touchdown and two in the fourth quarter this season.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Unable to sustain drives and cash in red-zone chances, the Titans must gamble to get an upper hand. Coach Ken Whisenhunt and Tennessee are whiffing at a high percentage, leaving the door open for Houston to land the knockout blow.

      *Our pick: Texans 21-13

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Lions WR Johnson 'going good' in England
    By The Sports Xchange

    All signs are pointing to Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson returning to the field for Sunday's game in London.

    • Johnson missed the past two games but after sprinting in the team's first workout in Bagshot, England, and then working agility drills on Wednesday, the All-Pro might be ready to go against the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley Stadium.

      "We're doing everything from straight-forward running to moving laterally as well," Johnson said. "Things are going good. We're moving in a positive direction."

      Head coach Jim Caldwell could go the conservative route, resting Johnson with a bye week ahead to guarantee he's back with the 5-2 Lions at full strength for the second half of the season.

      In Johnson's absence, free-agent aquisition Golden Tate picked up his production. Tate is on pace for 102 receptions and five touchdowns.

      Meanwhile, Lions running back Reggie Bush sat out Thursday's practice with an ankle injury, making his status questionable for Sunday's game.

      He missed much of the second half of last Sunday's victory over New Orleans, gaining just 10 yards on four rushing attempts. Bush has rushed for 171 yards this season, but has also caught 25 passes for 161 yards.

      If Bush can't play, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick are likely to get most of the carries for the Lions.

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Week 8 Preview: Seahawks at Panthers
    By The Sports Xchange

    Seattle Seahawks (3-3) at Carolina Panthers (3-3-1)

    • Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte -- TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Jenny Dell

      *Keys to the game: The Seahawks are eager to see if the offensive chemistry that developed over the second half of last week's loss at St. Louis carries over. Following the Percy Harvin trade, Seattle is focused on returning to a run-first scheme that filters in the read-option with QB Russell Wilson when teams overplay RB Marshawn Lynch. WR Doug Baldwin caught seven passes for 123 yards and a touchdown back in the slot position he produced from so consistently last season. Carolina's run defense has plummeted to 26th, but the Panthers will attempt to bottle up Lynch and Wilson between the tackles and force the Seahawks' receivers to gain separation.

      Seattle's coaches have taken note of the improved mobility shown by Panthers QB Cam Newton in recent weeks. Carolina is still searching for a more consistent ground presence with Jonathan Stewart averaging just 3.8 yards per carry last week, and gaining positive yardage on first and second down will be key. The Seahawks have struggled to generate pressure much of the season, but coach Pete Carroll indicated tweaks to the scheme to free up pass rushers -- potentially through increased blitzes.

      *Matchup to watch -- Seahawks CB Richard Sherman vs. Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin: The rookie Benjamin leads Panthers wide receivers with 34 catches for 477 yards and five touchdowns. At 6-5, 240, he presents an interesting physical matchup for the 6-3, 195-pound Sherman, who has yet to record an interception this season.

      *Player spotlight -- Seahawks DL Michael Bennett: The team's most consistent pass rusher last season, Bennett has three of the team's seven sacks this season but Carroll is looking to spring him for more pressure with increased snaps inside on passing downs.

      *Fast facts: Wilson has won both career meetings against Carolina. ... The Panthers have allowed 37-plus points in four of their past five games and a total of 195 through seven games. They allowed 241 all of last season.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Both teams rolled through the regular season to earn first-round byes in 2013 but enter this week battered, bruised and in need of a victory to avoid slipping further behind in the NFC. The defending champs showed life in the second half last week -- something the Panthers' defense hasn't displayed in more than a month.

      *Our pick: Seahawks 27-23

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Week 8 Preview: Vikings at Buccaneers
    By The Sports Xchange

    Minnesota Vikings (2-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-5)

    • Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa -- TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Justin Kutcher, David Diehl, Laura Okmin

      *Keys to the game: The Vikings hit the road determined to improve the protection for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has been sacked 13 times the past two weeks. They will also see former head coach Leslie Frazier, who now oversees a Bucs defense ranked last in points allowed (34.0 per game), total yardage (422.8) and pass defense (294.5). Tampa Bay ranks 25th in sacks per pass play, and no individual has more than two. That's music to the ears of the Vikings' offensive line, which ranks last in sacks allowed per pass play.

      The Bucs had a bye week to digest their latest embarrassing effort, a 48-17 setback to the Ravens in Week 6. For Tampa Bay to push the game into the fourth quarter, it must run the ball effectively behind Bobby Rainey, who has been far more effective than Doug Martin (2.9 yards per carry). QB Mike Glennon has played well at times, but the offensive line doesn't hold protection for long. A quick start is critical -- Glennon has a 30.2 passer rating on his first 10 pass attempts of games and the Bucs have too often found themselves staring at massive early deficits.

      *Matchup to watch -- Vikings LT Matt Kalil vs. Bucs DE Michael Johnson: Kalil is tied for the league lead in both sacks allowed (eight) and pressures (27). Johnson is tied for the team lead in sacks, but that's not saying much with just 2.0. The Bucs clearly expect more production for the five-year, $43.75 million deal they gave Johnson over the offseason.

      *Player spotlight -- Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon: The former triple-option quarterback at Georgia Southern has impressed with his big-play potential and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. However, at just 5-9 while still learning the intricacies of the position, he also ranks as the league's worst pass-blocking back, according to Pro Football Focus.

      *Fast facts: The Bucs have won the past six meetings dating back to 2002, the final season the teams were NFC Central rivals. ... McKinnon has been charged with two sacks allowed and five pressures in 24 snaps as a pass protector, per Pro Football Focus.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Bridgewater has shown poise and good decision-making when given decent time to survey the field. The Bucs don't rush the passer well, and therefor are limited in their ability to exploit the Vikings' biggest weakness.

      *Our pick: Vikings 28-20

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Week 8 Preview: Dolphins at Jaguars
    By The Sports Xchange

    Miami Dolphins (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6)

    • Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at EverBank Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla. -- TV: CBS

      *TV announcers: Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, Steve Beuerlein

      *Keys to the game: The Dolphins continue to run the ball very effectively -- averaging 136.3 yards per game despite the season-ending injury to Knowshon Moreno. Third-year back Lamar Miller remains undersized for a true lead back role, but has improved his blocking and receiving skills, and the ground attack is complemented by Daniel Thomas and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who scampered for 30 yards on a read-option on 3rd-and-1 last week. The versatility of the ground game is working to keep the pressure of Tannehill to make pinpoint passes, though he hit 14 in a row last week for the second time this season. The Jaguars' defense is steadily improving as several new parts begin to mesh, and the 15th-ranked run defense must step up against Miller despite the season-ending injury suffered by MLB Paul Posluszny last week.

      Former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is the new best friend of Jaguars rookie QB Blake Bortles after rushing for 127 yards on 22 carries last week. It served as the long-awaited help from the ground game that Bortles desperately needs to keep the chains moving. The Dolphins sport a deep and fast defensive line capable of blowing up the pocket, so Jacksonville must stay in manageable down and distances.

      *Matchup to watch -- Dolphins Ss Louis Delmas and Reshad Jones vs. Jaguars TE Clay Harbor: Miami interchanges its safeties, and Delmas and Jones will alternate staying back and moving forward in run support depending on the situation. Jones has been lauded by the coaching staff for his performance in two games since returning from suspension, including 16 tackles and a pick. Harbor is emerging as Bortles' safety blanket in the absence of injured Marcedes Lewis, catching all six of his targets last week for 34 yards following his first touchdown of the season in Week 6.

      *Player spotlight -- Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry: The rookie from LSU continues to develop as one of Tannehill's favorite targets. Landry has 22 receptions for 232 yards and one touchdown -- three more receptions and 37 more receiving yards than veteran Brian Hartline, who logs far more snaps.

      *Fast facts: The Dolphins have lost 11 player games to suspensions this season. ... The Jaguars' defense is second in the NFL with 22 sacks.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      Miami has quietly played three very solid games in a row and has the defensive line depth to pressure Bortles (5 TDs, 10 INTs) into multiple mistakes.

      *Our pick: Dolphins 26-16

  • Thursday, October 23, 2014
    Week 8 Preview: Bears at Patriots
    By The Sports Xchange

    Chicago Bears (3-4) at New England Patriots (5-2)

    • Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. -- TV: FOX

      *TV announcers: Sam Rosen, John Lynch, Pam Oliver

      *Keys to the game: The Bears chalked last week's post-game locker room drama involving WR Brandon Marshall calling out good friend QB Jay Cutler to heat-of-the-moment passion. But the fact is that Cutler has multiple turnovers in each of Chicago's four losses and one total in their three victories. RB Matt Forte continues to lead the league in catches, and coach Marc Trestman needs to be consistent in getting him touches to keep the chains moving and Cutler out of the pressure that leads to so many of his mistakes. The Patriots will be minus sack leader Chandler Jones (4.5).

      New England continues to shuffle its offensive line due to injuries and effectiveness, but the pressure on QB Tom Brady has subsided significantly from the start of the season. The Patriots had 37 pass attempts vs. 15 rushes last week, but the underneath passing attack complements the ground game and Shane Vereen's versatility led to leading the team with 43 rushing and 71 receiving yards in Week 6. The Bears can bring pressure from all four spots up front, but the rushers must be cognizant of Vereen and WR Julian Edelman in motion slipping out of the backfield and generating big plays. Rob Gronkowski could feast on a defense allowing almost 15 yards per catch to tight ends.

      *Matchup to watch -- Marshall vs. Patriots CB Brandon Browner: Much was made of Marshall's five-inch height advantage over Dolphins CB Cortland Finnegan last week, but Marshall finished with just 48 yards while catching six of the 10 passes thrown his way. Browner (6-4, 221) is nearly the physical identical to Marshall, but showed significant rust last week in his first game back from suspension and injury. Browner played 41 snaps and was called for two penalties, but his workload should ramp up this week.

      *Player spotlight -- Patriots RB Jonas Gray: Promoted from the practice squad hours before New England's Week 7 victory over the Jets, the former undrafted rookie had three carries for 12 yards while seeing 17 combined snaps on offense and special teams. At 5-10, 225 pounds, coach Bill Belichick likes his size as a complement to the 205-pound Vereen.

      *Fast facts: Chicago's opponents have scored a total of 37 points off Cutler's turnovers this season. ... Edelman has caught at least four passes in 13 consecutive games.

      WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

      The Patriots have a 12-game home winning streak and Brady has found a smooth rhythm with his reworked receiving corps. The Bears are alternately explosive and inconsistent on offense, and have too many breakdowns defensively to knock off one of the AFC's better teams on the road.

      *Our pick: Patriots 27-24