World-Herald NFL editor John Rodino breaks down the league's Week 10 matchups, including key statistics and what to watch for.
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Game of the Week: Texans (7-1) at Bears (7-1)
Time: 7:20 p.m.
Line: Bears by 1
Last meeting: Texans won 31-24, Dec. 28, 2008
Lowdown: As they say in horse racing, the Bears are stepping up in class, first with the AFC-leading Texans and then the NFC West-leading 49ers in San Francisco a week from Monday night. Veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher became the latest Bears defender to score on an interception return in last week’s blasting of the Titans. Chicago has a club record seven pick-sixes — no other NFL team had returned six for touchdowns through the first seven games of any season. Sometimes it seems it doesn’t matter if Jay Cutler and the offense show up. The Texans survived their hiccup against Green Bay (which also beat the Bears) with two victories. Houston and Chicago are tough against the run, so AFC rushing leader Arian Foster and the Bears’ Matt Forte face challenges.
Prediction: Bears 20-17
Falcons (8-0) at Saints (3-5)
Line: Falcons by 2½
Last meeting: Saints won 45-16, Dec. 26, 2011
Lowdown: New Orleans has won six of the past eight against Atlanta. The Saints gave hints they could hang with the unbeaten Falcons in last Monday’s victory over the Eagles. Except for a rough patch in the third quarter, New Orleans’ defense didn’t break. End Cameron Jordan had three of the seven sacks of Michael Vick. The Falcons showed they’re more than an aerial power in edging Dallas last week, riding Michael Turner’s running and a tough defense.
Prediction: Saints 31-27
Lions (4-4) at Vikings (5-4)
Line: Lions by 2½
Last meeting: Vikings won 20-13 on Sept. 30
Lowdown: Detroit’s special teams gave up a kick return touchdown and a punt return score in Minnesota’s earlier victory, but no return TDs since. Steady linebacker Stephen Tulloch and the defense actually rank high despite a tendency to give up long plays. They still must beware of Adrian Peterson and the Vikings’ running game, but they’re catching a struggling Christian Ponder. Ponder has thrown for less than 70 yards in two of the past three games.
Prediction: Lions 21-16
Broncos (5-3) at Panthers (2-6)
Line: Broncos by 4
Last meeting: Panthers won 30-10, Dec. 14, 2008
Lowdown: Perhaps lost in Peyton Manning’s roller coaster ride to victory against the Bengals last week was Von Miller’s three-sack effort against Andy Dalton. The Broncos sacked Dalton, a pocket passer, five times. That’s a good sign for a good defense that has to play better these next two months. Carolina dual-threat QB Cam Newton offers a different test. The Panthers’ spirits must be up after finally winning a close game, against the Redskins.
Prediction: Broncos 27-20
Chargers (4-4) at Bucs (4-4)
Line: Bucs by 3
Last meeting: Chargers won 41-24, Dec. 21, 2008
Lowdown: Productive linebacker Donald Butler and the Chargers’ top-5 rushing defense are on alert. Rookie Doug Martin ran for a franchise-record 251 yards in the Bucs’ victory over the Raiders last week. He became the first back since at least 1940 to score on three TD runs of at least 45 yards in one game, according to STATS LLC. As for the Bolts, which Philip Rivers will we see? The efficient passer who carved up the Chiefs, or that other inconsistent guy?
Prediction: Chargers 28-23
Titans (3-6) at Dolphins (4-4)
Line: Dolphins by 6
Last meeting: Dolphins won 29-17, Nov. 14, 2010
Lowdown: Perhaps it was premature to talk about the Dolphins and the playoffs. They’ve been in a lot of low-scoring games, like last week’s close loss to the Colts. Miami has good defense but not many options for gifted rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Titans, who earlier fell to the Colts in overtime, lost one of the ugliest games in club history to the Bears last week. Five turnovers. And they’ve given up under 30 points in only two games this season.
Prediction: Dolphins 24-16
Bills (3-5) at Patriots (5-3)
Line: Patriots by 13
Last meeting: Patriots won 52-28 on Sept. 30
Lowdown: The previous meeting was a wake-up call for the Patriots, who had been out of sync. The Bills led 21-7 in the third quarter before Tom Brady and Co. reeled off six touchdowns. The Pats have scored less than 29 points only once in the past four games (3-1). Buffalo gave New England fits in splitting last season’s series. The Bills have struggled lately, and couldn’t get backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson going in last week’s loss to the Texans.
Prediction: Patriots 35-17
Raiders (3-5) at Ravens (6-2)
Line: Ravens by 7½
Last meeting: Ravens won 21-13, Jan. 3, 2010
Lowdown: Oakland’s defense was shredded by Bucs running back Doug Martin and quarterback Josh Freeman last week. The Raiders, forced to pass 61 times, still got within three points late. The Raiders had no running game after Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson left with ankle injuries. They’re out for this one. Clutch receiver Torrey Smith and the Ravens showed their mettle by following a loss with a victory for the 15th straight time.
Prediction: Ravens 23-14
Giants (6-3) at Bengals (3-5)
Line: Giants by 4
Last meeting: Giants won 26-23 in OT, Sept. 21, 2008
Lowdown: One week after Peyton, the Bengals face the other Manning. Eli had a rare off day and the Giants’ offense was stuffed, especially in the second half, by the Steelers last week. Coach Tom Coughlin let everyone know he wasn’t happy with any phase of New York’s game. Of course, the Bengals’ defense isn’t the Steelers. Cincinnati might be wise to borrow the Steelers’ formula and commit to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and the running game.
Prediction: Giants 32-21
Jets (3-5) at Seahawks (5-4)
Line: Seahawks by 6½
Time: 3:05 p.m.
Last meeting: Seahawks won 13-3, Dec. 21, 2008
Lowdown: Let’s see. The Seahawks are extremely tough at home — 4-0, including last week’s game against the Vikings. They can be tough on teams with unsettled quarterback play (see the Vikings’ Christian Ponder). The Seahawks, who sacked Ponder four times, greet Mark Sanchez and the Jets. New York, coming off a bye, has dropped four of its past five.
Prediction: Seahawks 16-13
Rams (3-5) at 49ers (6-2)
Line: 49ers by 12½
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: 49ers won 34-27 on Jan. 1
Lowdown: The Rams, coming off a pummeling by the Patriots in London, have dropped three straight. Rumors swirled that they wanted to trade Steven Jackson before the Nov. 1 deadline. He should be their main hope Sunday, going on the ground and trying to make it a low-scoring game. The 49ers give up little through the air. Overshadowed by that defense, San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith has been mostly efficient and effective.
Prediction: 49ers 30-14
Cowboys (3-5) at Eagles (3-5)
Line: Cowboys by 2½
Time: 3:25 p.m.
Last meeting: Eagles won 20-7 on Dec. 24, 2011
Lowdown: This is being called an elimination game in the NFC East. The Eagles’ red zone and offensive line troubles were magnified in last Monday night’s loss to New Orleans. The Saints entered 25th in the league in sacks and got Michael Vick seven times. The Sean Payton rumors kicked in the morning after Dallas lost to Atlanta, touting the suspended free agent Saints coach as one who could fire up the Cowboys’ offense.
Prediction: Cowboys 21-20
Monday’s game: Chiefs at Steelers (7:30 p.m., ESPN). Open date: Cardinals, Browns, Packers, Redskins Capsules and predictions by John Rodino. Predictions not related to point spreads. Record last week: 11-3 Season: 85-47. Information from the Associated Press was used in this outlook.