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10/05/2013 10:59 PM
Preview: Eagles (1-3) at Giants (0-4)

Date: October 06, 2013 1:00 PM EDT

As bad as the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles have been, they still believe they are in contention in the mediocre NFC East.

The problem quite simply is whether either can put together four solid quarters to earn a victory.

The winless Giants host an Eagles team that has looked lost defensively while dropping three straight in Sunday's matchup of once-proud franchises headed in the wrong direction.

Philadelphia (1-3) and New York (0-4) have combined for 10 of the last 13 NFC East titles, but making that 11 in 14 seems unlikely given the way these teams are playing.

The Giants, who captured the franchise's fourth Super Bowl just two seasons ago, are off to their worst start since losing five straight to begin 1987 - when replacement players were used during part of that slide. New York has totaled seven points in consecutive losses and Eli Manning has thrown a league-high nine interceptions while getting sacked 14 times, five fewer than all of 2012.

The Eagles started 2013 under new coach Chip Kelly with a 33-27 victory at defending NFC East champion Washington. They haven't won since and are allowing 34.5 points per game after last Sunday's 52-20 loss at Denver.

The only team that has allowed more points through four games is New York, yielding an average of 36.5 thanks in part to an NFL-worst 16 turnovers.

The states of these teams has surprised participants in a rivalry that had major postseason ramifications in the past.

"I'm very surprised, especially when our division was picked to be amongst the top," Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said. "That's football, man. It goes to show you how you have to be on top of your game."

Dallas leads the East with a 2-2 mark and will be an underdog at home against unbeaten Denver this weekend. A loss by the Cowboys would pave the way for the Eagles to tie for the division lead or the Giants to pull within one game of first place.

"Guys know that and coach (Tom Coughlin) brought that up the other day, so we understand," Manning said. "There's a lot of football left to be played, but we've got to start playing football. We're a better team than what we've been playing like, but we've got to go out there and prove it."

Manning will try to get an offense untracked that has produced the fewest amount of points in consecutive games in Coughlin's 10 years with the club. The two-time Super Bowl MVP is getting hit more as a result of a patchwork offensive line that played without starters David Baas, Chris Snee and David Diehl in last Sunday's 31-7 loss at Kansas City.

Diehl will make his season debut and start at right guard against the Eagles, while Snee was placed on season-ending injured reserve Friday.

"They've got some injuries on the offensive line," Kelly said. "When you watch their games with who played against the Cowboys and who played in the opening game and then who played in the last game against the Chiefs was a little bit different."

Manning will continue to try to target Victor Cruz, fourth in the NFL with 425 yards receiving to go with four touchdown receptions. Cruz could be open often against a Philadelphia defense yielding 461.3 yards per game for the NFL's second-worst mark.

Defensive coordinator Billy Davis' unit will no doubt be eager to face a different Manning after Peyton Manning completed 28 of 34 passes for 327 yards and four scores last weekend.

"We obviously are not where we want to be right now, but we just have to keep rolling and learn from everything," safety Nate Allen said. "That's all you can do. We are just going to keep working, learn from this and work on the fundamentals and move forward."

Kelly's high-octane offense leads the NFC with 480.5 yards per game, but Vick has been sacked 14 times to match Eli Manning and the Jets' Geno Smith for the third-highest total in the league.

Whether the Giants can get to Vick remains questionable. New York's once-feared pass rush has produced four sacks to match winless Pittsburgh for the NFL's lowest total.

"We've been very frustrated that we only have four sacks as a unit," said defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who has been limited to one sack after offseason back surgery. "This is the New York Giants. Normally we have sacks off the roof, but right now it's not that way right now."

The Giants will have to be wary of LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher at 117.0 yards per game. Four of McCoy's 14 100-yard rushing efforts have come against New York.

The Eagles have won eight of the last 10 overall meetings, although their five-game road win streak in this series ended with a 42-7 defeat Dec. 30, 2012, in Andy Reid's last game as coach.

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10/05/2013 11:00 PM
Preview: Saints (4-0) at Bears (3-1)

Date: October 06, 2013 1:00 PM EDT

The New Orleans Saints are doing all they can not to get caught up in their best start in four seasons.

If they are to remain undefeated Sunday, the Saints must end a three-game road skid against the Chicago Bears, who are looking to bounce back from their first loss.

A year ago, New Orleans (4-0) was winless through four games under interim coach Aaron Kromer as the bounty situation and suspension of coach Sean Payton hung over the franchise.

The Saints, though, are again comfortable, confident and back to their winning ways with Payton having returned and Rob Ryan in charge of a much-improved defense.

They also aren't planning on letting anything hinder their focus on maintaining their best start since opening 13-0 during the Super Bowl season of 2009.

"You just got to tune out everything outside the locker room and focus on going to play a good opponent this week," said receiver Marques Colston, who has 21 receptions for 298 yards and a touchdown. "You've got to fight against human nature at all times, and 4-0 was obviously the start that we were looking, for but there's still a lot of football yet to be played.

"So it's focusing on the reason why we are sitting at 4-0 and just continuing to try to get better."

After totaling 39 points to beat Atlanta and Tampa Bay by a combined eight points, New Orleans has outscored Arizona and previously undefeated Miami 69-24 the last two weeks.

Drew Brees threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns, including a pair to tight end Jimmy Graham, in a 38-17 rout of the Dolphins on Monday.

Completing 66.9 percent of his passes and coming off his 10th 400-yard passing game, Brees has thrown seven TDs and one interception the last two games after recording three of each in the first two. He completed 57.6 percent of his passes during the Saints' 0-4 start last season.

Graham has 23 receptions for 413 yards and five touchdowns in the last three games. Versatile running back Darren Sproles scored twice and made seven catches for 114 on Monday.

"To me, the last couple of games, we felt that rhythm," right tackle Zach Strief said. "We talk about getting into a rhythm and getting into a tempo and it's based on things working and execution. I think we're starting to feel that."

The Saints rank fourth in the NFL with 419.5 yards per game and are tied for seventh with 27.0 points a contest.

After giving up an average of 440.1 yards and 28.4 points in 2012, New Orleans ranks sixth with an average of 304.5 yards allowed and fifth at 13.8 points under Ryan.

"We all try to be, as coaches, very critical of ourselves, just like we'd be of players," Payton said. "I don't know that there's ever any complete satisfaction. It's not like a Snickers bar, so I think you're always looking to improve."

Though New Orleans beat the Bears 30-13 at the Superdome in the teams' last meeting Sept. 18, 2011, Payton is 0-3 with the Saints at Soldier Field, the most recent of those matchups coming in 2008. The slide began with a 39-14 defeat in the NFC championship game during the 2006 season.

Brees hasn't been at his best in Chicago either, completing 55.7 percent of his passes with seven TDs and six interceptions while going 0-4 there.

Chicago (3-1) rode a precise offense under new coordinator Kromer and its typically opportunistic defense to wins over Cincinnati, Minnesota and Pittsburgh, but it struggled on both sides of the ball in a 40-32 loss at Detroit on Sunday.

Jay Cutler threw two touchdowns but also had three interceptions and lost a fumble that was returned for a TD. The Bears defense forced three more turnovers but allowed Reggie Bush to run for 139 yards.

"I don't think what happened (last Sunday) means that it has to happen next week or the week after," coach Marc Trestman said. "It could, but we're working to prevent those situations from happening. We got guys committed to do that."

That starts with Cutler, who has completed a career-high 64.2 percent of his passes but has been intercepted six times and lost two fumbles.

"We sat in the meeting and Jay expressed his sense of accountability," Trestman said.

"We're just going to work together on the corrections. We've got to get back and work on fundamentals and techniques, not only at the quarterback position but throughout our team."

Poor tackling Sunday plagued a defense that's forced 14 turnovers but ranks 20th with 384.0 yards allowed per game and 26th with 28.5 points given up.

Chicago running back Matt Forte ranks among the NFL leaders with 120.0 total yards a contest. He caught 10 passes for 117 yards in the 2011 meeting with New Orleans.

Cutler, sacked six times in that contest, has thrown three TDs and one pick while going 1-1 against the Saints.
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10/05/2013 11:02 PM
Preview: Lions (3-1) at Packers (1-2)

Date: October 06, 2013 1:00 PM EDT

The Detroit Lions are heading to Lambeau Field atop the NFC North. Guaranteeing they stay there will require them to break another extensive road losing streak.

Two weeks after winning at Washington for the first time in 21 tries, the Lions will try to snap a 22-game Wisconsin skid against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Nineteen of those losses came at Lambeau while three were played in Milwaukee. The Lions' last road win against the Packers was Dec. 15, 1991 in Green Bay, and they'll look to snap that slide after ending a nearly 68-year drought at Washington with a 27-20 victory Sept. 22.

"It's the same mindset we have every time we play a road game," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "Lambeau's a tough environment but it's no different than any other place."

This will be a matchup of two of the three NFL teams averaging at least 400 yards of offense and 30 points.

Stafford and the Lions moved into a tie for first with a 40-32 home win over Chicago on Sunday. Detroit turned in its best rushing performance of the year, finishing with 159 yards after totaling 112 the previous two weeks.

Reggie Bush had his best game with the Lions, running for 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

The Packers rank eighth in rush defense at 93.3 yards allowed per game, though they're 28th against the pass at 311.0. Stafford's top target, Calvin Johnson, has 21 catches and 362 receiving yards in his last two visits to Green Bay.

The Packers could have starting safety Morgan Burnett back to help hold the Lions' offense in check. He missed the first three games with a hamstring injury.

"They have a very explosive offense," Burnett said. "They've got a lot of weapons with Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush; they've got (Brandon) Pettigrew at tight end, you've got Matthew Stafford at quarterback. They've got weapons, so you've got to trust your defense, trust your technique. You can't get out of line with guessing or anything, because they're a good team."

Hamstring injuries have left the statuses of linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Casey Hayward uncertain, though Matthews was back at full speed in practice Thursday and plans to play.

Stafford threw for 242 yards with a touchdown and interception against the Bears, and he wasn't asked to do much after the Lions built a 30-13 halftime lead.

Detroit's defense forced four turnovers for the second time this year with an effective pass rush, sacking Jay Cutler three times to double his season total. The Lions, though, were outscored 16-3 in the fourth quarter as Cutler threw for two TDs, and rattling Aaron Rodgers hasn't been quite as easy for Detroit.

The Packers are 8-1 against the Lions with Rodgers starting, with the loss coming in a game he was knocked out of Dec. 12, 2010.

Green Bay is third in the league with 454.7 yards per game and second in scoring average at 32.0 points.

Running back Eddie Lacy hopes to have the chance to help sustain those gaudy numbers. He was at practice early in the week after being sidelined by a concussion sustained Sept. 15 in a 38-20 victory over Washington.

Without Lacy, however, the Packers have had a 100-yard rusher in back-to-back games after going the previous 44 without one.

"I'm fully aware of how we're viewed, but the reality is how our offense is implemented in practice and how we train, it starts with the run game," coach Mike McCarthy said. "Now, the way the games are played has a lot to do with the trend and the flow of the football game. Running the football is important."

James Starks ran for 132 yards against the Redskins and Johnathan Franklin had 103 on Sept. 22, though Green Bay lost 34-30 at Cincinnati the week before its bye.

Rodgers' 105.1 passer rating is among the league leaders, but the Bengals were able to get to him and create mistakes. They sacked him four times and forced him into two of his three interceptions this year, while holding him to 244 yards passing.

Rodgers had surpassed 250 passing yards in seven straight games since the Lions held him to 173 in a 27-20 victory Dec. 9.

The Packers have won nine in a row at home, with Rodgers getting picked off just four times in that span. Snapping streaks, though, isn't the main motivator for Lions coach Jim Schwartz.

"No. 1, it would be our fourth win of the year," he said. "No. 2, it would make us 3-0 in our division. It would give us another chance to put a loss on a division opponent. We certainly want to end the streak (in Wisconsin), but that's not our rallying cry. Our rallying cry is 'Green Bay' and 'division game.' Those are the things that will mean more to the players."

Detroit added veteran receiver Kevin Ogletree on Wednesday a day after he was cut by Tampa Bay. He adds much-needed depth for the Lions in the absence of No. 2 receiver Nate Burleson, out indefinitely with a broken left arm.
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10/05/2013 11:03 PM
Preview: Jaguars (0-4) at Rams (1-3)

Date: October 06, 2013 1:00 PM EDT

After a pair of ugly defeats, Jeff Fisher insists his staff can get the reeling St. Louis Rams back on track.

Perhaps a date with a Jacksonville Jaguars team already looking to the future can provide a good start.

The Rams hope to avoid their first four-game losing streak in Fisher's tenure Sunday when they attempt to deal the visiting Jaguars a 10th straight defeat.

Following a 35-11 loss to San Francisco on Sept. 26, St. Louis (1-3) has dropped consecutive contests by a combined 66-18 margin. They're the worst back-to-back defeats by a Fisher-coached club since 2009 when Tennessee lost to Indianapolis 31-9 and New England 59-0 a week later.

"We found out where our team is and what we need to do and where we need improve on,' Fisher said. "We've got a lot of work to do as a staff."

Since completing 63.4 percent of his passes for 651 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in his first two games, quarterback Sam Bradford has connected on just 53.9 percent of his attempts for 442 yards with two scores and one pick in his last two.

The Rams' struggling offensive line has been partly to blame, as they've allowed 11 sacks in the last two games after yielding none in the first two.

The offensive front hasn't paved the way in the running game, either. St. Louis ranks last in the NFL with 47.3 rushing yards per game after finishing with 18 yards on 19 carries against the 49ers.

Following the departure of Steven Jackson in the offseason, Daryl Richardson has a team-leading 114 yards while averaging only 2.7 yards per carry. Only the Jaguars (0-4) are averaging fewer yards per carry (2.3) than the Rams' 2.6.

Richardson indicated on his Twitter account that he will not be in the starting lineup Sunday. Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy are the top candidates for the spot, though Fisher said he has not made a decision.

"The biggest thing is we've got to keep trying to rush the ball,' Bradford said. "Just getting those guys comfortable running the ball.'

The Rams will try to avoid their first four-game skid under Fisher as they face a Jacksonville team that allows a league-worst 164.3 rushing yards per game and the third-highest scoring average at 32.3.

Coming off a 37-3 loss to Indianapolis - their franchise-worst ninth straight defeat and 16th in 17 games - the Jaguars made a made a move toward the future Wednesday by trading starting left tackle Eugene Monroe to Baltimore for undisclosed draft picks.

The Jaguars will move second overall pick Luke Joeckel, who started the first four games at right tackle, to the left side.

"It came out of nowhere for me," said Monroe, the eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft. "I'm just preparing to make the move. It's a fresh start."

Even with Monroe, the Jaguars had a difficult time finding any kind of spark offensively. They've scored a league-low 31 points and rank last in total offense with 224.0 yards per game - 50.8 fewer than 31st-ranked Tampa Bay.

Quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who missed the previous two games because of a hand injury, threw three interceptions against the Colts, though all of them bounced off receivers' hands.

Leading receiver Cecil Shorts has three drops in his last two games. Though he has a league-leading 52 targets, Shorts has 26 receptions for 337 yards.

Justin Blackmon might be able to provide a lift as he makes his season debut following a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Blackmon caught a team-high 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie.

The Jaguars are also only slightly ahead of St. Louis with 49.0 rushing yards per game despite having three-time All-Pro Maurice Jones-Drew in their backfield.

Jones-Drew is averaging 2.4 yards per attempt after managing 23 yards on 13 carries Sunday.

"It's been pretty tough,' Jones-Drew said. "It's been the same every year, though. People load the box when they play us. We just have to go back to what we do best and that's all of us getting back on the same page and running the ball with a mindset of let's get it going.'

Jones-Drew might be able to find some holes against the banged-up Rams, who have allowed 412 yards on the ground the past two weeks. St. Louis also has lost safety T.J. McDonald for at least six weeks with a broken right leg, while cornerback Cortland Finnegan and linebacker Will Witherspoon are day-to-day with hamstring injuries.

The Rams brought in some help by signing outside linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, who was waived at the beginning of a four-game suspension to start the season.

Jones-Drew ran for 133 yards and three touchdowns in Jacksonville's 23-20 overtime win over St. Louis in 2009.

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10/05/2013 11:04 PM
Preview: Chiefs (4-0) at Titans (3-1)

Date: October 06, 2013 1:00 PM EDT

While the Kansas City Chiefs try to remain undefeated, the Tennessee Titans hope an injury to their starting quarterback won't derail the team's strong start.

The Chiefs look to go 5-0 for the first time in 10 years Sunday when they visit a Titans team trying for its first three-game winning streak in two seasons.

After enduring the overall frustration of a franchise-worst 2-14 season in 2012, Kansas City is only focused on trying to maintain its best start since going 9-0 in 2003.

"We try not to even think about last year," receiver Dwayne Bowe said. "Every day we go day-by-day, and right now we're 4-0 and the target is on our back, and we have to keep pushing."

There are plenty of reasons why the Chiefs only should look forward. A win Sunday would make Kansas City the first team to win its first five games the season after winning two or fewer contests.

"The team is totally in, the coaches, the players," Bowe said. "It's all a family right now. We're a family organization. On all three sides of the ball we're doing good."

Kansas City has scored 26 or more points in three of four contests after doing so twice in 2012.

Despite throwing his first two interceptions of the season, Alex Smith threw three of his seven touchdowns in last Sunday's 31-7 rout of the New York Giants. With a victory this weekend, Smith would join Mike Livingston as the only quarterbacks to win their first five starts with the Chiefs.

Running back Jamaal Charles has overcome a quad injury and foot problems to rank third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 125.5 per game.

"He wants the ball, which you appreciate," coach Andy Reid said. "I really appreciated it after I saw his feet and the blisters on them (last Sunday). The kid is a tough kid. He likes to play."

Charles, listed as probable, won't have rookie right tackle Eric Fisher blocking for him, as he's been ruled out this week due to a concussion suffered against the Giants.

The Chiefs allow a league-best 10.3 points per contest and have recorded an NFL-high 18 sacks.

Dustin Colquitt leads the league with 15 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line, and should be ready after he sprained his knee last weekend.

"We come out here and try to perfect our craft every single day and every practice," tight end Sean McGrath told the Chiefs' official website. "We just want to be as prepared as we can to face an opponent the next week."

Kansas City expects to face a serious challenge in Nashville, where the Titans (3-1) have won four in a row and will try to win three straight overall for the first time since Sept. 18-Oct. 2, 2011.

Tennessee will attempt to do so without quarterback Jake Locker, who, according to coach Mike Munchak, will miss a "few weeks" after suffering a sprained hip in the third quarter of last Sunday's 38-13 win over the New York Jets.

The third-year signal-caller, who missed five games with a shoulder injury during Tennessee's 6-10 season of 2012, completed 62.2 percent of his passes, threw six touchdowns, no interceptions and posted the AFC's third-best passer rating of 99.0 though four games.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, who posted three straight 3,000-yard seasons in Buffalo, gets the start after he went 3 of 8 for 108 yards and a TD against the Jets.

"I was brought here for a reason, and the reason I was brought here was to help Jake out and be ready for a situation like this if it came up," said Fitzpatrick, who has thrown eight touchdowns and two picks while going 4-1 against the Chiefs.

He could have Kenny Britt back in the mix after the receiver missed last Sunday's contest with a rib injury.

With Fitzpatrick at the helm, the Titans have a chance to become the first team in the Super Bowl era to go the first five games of a season without committing a turnover. Tennessee and Kansas City are tied for the NFL lead in turnover differential at plus-9.

"It's discipline by the team," Munchak told the Titans' official website. "It's important to them. We work on it everyday. Hopefully it continues."

A Tennessee defense that is allowing 17.2 points per game (seventh in the league) and has recorded 14 sacks hopes for a better effort than the last time these teams met.

Bowe had 153 receiving yards and a TD and Charles amassed 117 total yards and scored twice in Kansas City's 34-14 home win over the Titans in 2010.

Britt had four receptions for 89 yards and a touchdown in that contest.

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10/05/2013 11:05 PM
Preview: Panthers (1-2) at Cardinals (2-2)

Date: October 06, 2013 4:05 PM EDT

Following the most lopsided win in the franchise's 19-year history, the well-rested Carolina Panthers are feeling confident entering a five-game stretch against teams without winning records.

Coming off their bye week, the Panthers hope to put together another all-around dominant performance Sunday against an Arizona Cardinals team that is struggling to put points on the board.

Carolina (1-2) dropped its first two games by a combined six points before bouncing back with a 38-0 rout of the visiting Giants in Week 3.

"We have to be realistic because we've not arrived by any stretch of the imagination,' coach Ron Rivera said. "We have to approach each week as a learning situation, a growing situation and keep shooting for the top of the mountain.'

Rivera's defense paved the way in the team's first shutout since 2008, allowing 150 total yards after giving up 806 in the previous two weeks. The Panthers also sacked Eli Manning seven times and forced three turnovers despite playing without four starters on defense and missing four defensive backs.

Free safety Charles Godfrey was lost to a season-ending Achilles injury the previous week, cornerback Josh Thomas (concussion) and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (hamstring) were injured, and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott benched struggling three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason for Chase Blackburn.

Thomas is expected to play and Edwards is optimistic that he'll be ready as the Panthers begin a stretch of games against Arizona (2-2), Minnesota (1-3), St. Louis (1-3), Tampa Bay (0-4) and Atlanta (1-3).

"We know exactly what we've got to do to keep winning,' said safety Robert Lester. "That's the mindset we're going to keep, that's the mindset we're going to have going into Arizona.'

The Cardinals couldn't get anything going for three quarters Sunday before scoring 10 points in the final 3:06 to beat Tampa Bay 13-10 and end a nine-game road losing streak.

Quarterback Carson Palmer hit Larry Fitzgerald for a game-tying 13-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but he also threw two interceptions in the first half. Running back Rashard Mendenhall lost the first of his two fumbles in the opening half to set up Tampa Bay's only touchdown.

Arizona finished with 296 total yards - 248 passing by Palmer - three turnovers and 10 penalties for 90 yards. After totaling 49 points and 738 yards in their first two games, the Cardinals have put up 20 and 543 yards in their last two.

They also traded struggling left tackle Levi Brown to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, and he'll likely be replaced by Bradley Sowell, who was claimed off waivers from Indianapolis on Sept. 1.

"If it was one guy, it'd be easy to fix," coach Bruce Arians said of the offensive woes. "Seems like we've got eight or nine guys on each play playing extremely well and two guys, and they keep swapping it out, decide to not do the right thing.'

Andre Ellington is making a bid for more playing time in the backfield after rushing four times for 29 yards against the Buccaneers. He's averaging 6.2 yards per carry on the season - 2.8 more than Mendenhall.

Carolina's DeAngelo Williams is coming off his best effort, rushing for 120 yards on 23 carries against the Giants. Williams has averaged 125.3 yards on 6.0 per carry over his last four games dating back to last season.

Rookie Kenjon Barner, a sixth-round draft pick out of Oregon, is targeting Sunday to make his NFL debut after spraining his foot in the preseason. Jonathan Stewart, however, remains out while recovering from offseason ankle surgery.

The Panthers, third in the league with 151.0 rushing yards per game, could have a difficult time against an Arizona team that ranks second against the run (75.0 ypg) after limiting Tampa Bay's Doug Martin to 45 yards on 27 carries.

The Cardinals also are getting starting linebacker Daryl Washington back from a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

Quarterback Cam Newton hopes Washington won't be too much of a detriment after completing 36 of 65 passes for 452 yards with five scores and two interceptions in his last two contests. Newton also has rushed for 60 yards and a score on 11 carries over that span.

"We have to keep going and get the mentality of 'We can win - and we will win,'" said Newton, who threw for a career-low 125 yards in a season-opening loss to Seattle.

Newton faces the Cardinals for the first time since his NFL debut in 2011 when he was 24 of 37 for 422 yards - a record for any rookie in his opener - with two touchdowns and one pick in a 28-21 loss in Arizona.

With that victory, the Cardinals snapped a seven-game regular-season losing streak to the Panthers.

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10/05/2013 11:06 PM
Preview: Broncos (4-0) at Cowboys (2-2)

Date: October 06, 2013 4:25 PM EDT

John Fox insists it's not just coach-speak when he says his unbeaten Denver Broncos have plenty of room for improvement.

He, of course, isn't referring to their stellar aerial game led by Peyton Manning, who Sunday will face a Dallas Cowboys defense that hasn't been very good against the pass.

Manning is off the best start of his career heading into his first visit to Dallas' $1.2 billion stadium. He leads the league in completions (117), completion percentage (75.0), yards (1,470), touchdowns (16) and passer rating (138.0) while not throwing an interception.

Manning went 28 of 34 for 327 yards and four touchdowns - two each to Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker - before sitting out the fourth quarter of a 52-20 win over Philadelphia on Sunday. Denver set a team record for points.

The Broncos are averaging league bests of 44.8 points and 483.0 yards of offense. Last week's win was a team-record 15th straight in the regular season, and Manning extended his streak of throwing at least one TD pass to 27 games.

"He's efficient, man,' defensive back Champ Bailey said. "And hopefully he gets better - I don't know how, but hopefully he does - because this guy's a prime example of what it takes to be a great quarterback in this league.

"I know a lot of quarterbacks wish they could do it like that.'

Despite Manning's success, Fox doesn't think his team is perfect despite the Broncos (4-0) getting off to such a solid start. He may be nitpicking, but he'd like to see more from the running game and better defense in the fourth quarter.

Denver averaged 86.0 yards rushing in its first two contests, though that has increased to 152.5 over the last two. The Broncos have allowed a touchdown in the final quarter of each game.

"It's still early in the season and I expect us to get better," Fox said. "People look at me funny when I say that, but there's still a lot of areas we need to improve at and can improve at."

The last time Manning faced the Cowboys, he went 36 of 48 for 365 yards and two touchdowns, but also threw four interceptions in Indianapolis' 38-35 overtime loss Dec. 5, 2010.

Dallas (2-2) is hoping it can have that kind of success against Manning this time around as well, especially after allowing 506 yards and 20 unanswered points in a 30-21 loss to San Diego on Sunday.

The Cowboys gave up 401 yards and three touchdowns through the air and are tied with Minnesota and the New York Giants for worst in the league with 10 TD passes allowed.

They rank 27th in the league in pass defense at 304.5 yards per game.

"Yeah, we made mistakes, but it's never going to happen again,' defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. "People say never say never, but I feel like it's never going to happen again playing a game like that. That's just the way I feel about it.'

Coach Jason Garrett realizes that Manning is just a part of the challenge his defense faces this week. Welker is tied for the NFL lead with six touchdown receptions and Thomas is tied for sixth with 393 receiving yards.

"He's obviously as good of a quarterback who has ever played this game, and he's got a lot of weapons," Garrett said. "Not only do you have this incredibly good quarterback who has a great understanding of what he wants to do, but he's got some weapons to do it with."

Tony Romo is having a solid season with eight touchdowns and one interception while ranking fourth with a 105.0 passer rating. He's completed 72.4 percent of his passes - his career best in a full season is 66.3 percent in 2011 - after going 27 of 37 for 244 yards and two touchdowns last week, both to Dez Bryant.

DeMarco Murray ran for 70 yards against the Chargers and is third in the league with 356 on the season, but Denver is allowing a league-low 74.0 rushing yards per game. The Broncos are 30th with an average of 316.3 passing yards allowed, but Garrett believes that number has been inflated due to Denver holding large leads in each contest.

"If you analyze the statistics, they've been ahead in a lot of games and teams have had to throw the ball and not run it quite as much," Garrett said. "They're very stout against the run, and they're willing to give up those (passing) yards to win the ballgame."

Broncos weakside linebacker Danny Trevathan is questionable after suffering a knee injury toward the end of Wednesday's practice. Trevathan, a second-year pro, is second on the team with 30 tackles and 24 unassisted tackles and has a sack, an interception and four pass breakups.

Denver has won four straight meetings with Dallas, taking the most recent one 17-10 on Oct. 4, 2009.

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10/05/2013 11:07 PM
Preview: Texans (2-2) at 49ers (2-2)

Date: October 06, 2013 8:30 PM EDT

A decisive and much-needed victory helped the San Francisco 49ers end their recent two-game slide and regain some confidence.

Now, they hope to prevent the Houston Texans from doing the same when the teams meet Sunday night at Candlestick Park.

After being outscored 56-10 in consecutive losses to Seattle and Indianapolis, San Francisco (2-2) looked dominant on both sides of the ball during a 35-11 win at St. Louis on Sept. 26.

"You want that response," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I thought the team stared adversity in the face (with) a lot of grit and determination. The guys played with great energy and great toughness."

After rushing for 142 yards in the first three games, Frank Gore ran for 153 and a touchdown against the Rams. Teammate Anquan Boldin caught five passes for 90 yards and a TD following the same two-game stretch in which he had six receptions for 74.

Colin Kaepernick completed 47.3 percent of his passes while throwing four interceptions, no touchdowns and taking six sacks versus Seattle and Indianapolis. Against the Rams, he went 15 of 23 for 167 yards but threw two TDs without a pick.

"We know the talent we have on this team," Kaepernick said. "We know what we're capable of."

A defensive unit that gave up 356 rushing yards to the Seahawks and Colts held the Rams to 18 even without stars Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith in the lineup.

"Really, a good team win when you look at the defense,' Harbaugh said. "... What was most impressive was the way the guys played together as a unit."

As Smith remains out indefinitely while attending a rehab facility following his second drunken-driving arrest, it's uncertain if Willis will return from a groin injury. Offensive lineman Joe Staley is expected to play after he injured his leg at St. Louis.

Like the 49ers, Houston (2-2) is a Super Bowl hopeful mired in a mediocre start and looking to avoid a third consecutive defeat.

"We're not where we want to be, but there's a long, long way to go," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "We're a very capable football team, but we've got to be a more consistent football team."

After beating San Diego and Tennessee by a combined nine points, the Texans were blown out 30-9 at Baltimore, then blew a 17-point halftime lead in last Sunday's 23-20 overtime loss to Seattle.

That defeat prompted the team to hold a players-only meeting Monday.

"This isn't fun, man. I was sick of it after one loss," said defensive end J.J. Watt, who has recorded all 3 1/2 of his sacks in the last three games.

"We'll get it fixed. Everything that's wrong will be fixed. I can promise that."

Quarterback Matt Schaub needs to show some improvement after throwing six interceptions already - one of which has been returned for a TD in three straight games.

Despite those struggles, Kubiak has no plans to make a change.

"He's our quarterback," he said. "I don't see a lack of confidence. I see poor decision-making situations. It's something he has to handle and something we have to help him handle."

Schaub should remain comfortable relying on running back Arian Foster, who recorded 171 total yards last Sunday after totaling 227 in the first three games.

Houston allowed an average of 91.3 rushing yards through the first three weeks of the season, but yielded 179 to the Seahawks.

Stopping Kaepernick and Gore could be even tougher if linebacker Brian Cushing is unable to play after he suffered a concussion against Seattle. Cushing, who leads the team with 33 tackles, is being put through the league's mandatory concussion protocol.

The Texans and 49ers split their previous two meetings with each winning at home by three points.

In Houston's 24-21 victory over San Francisco in 2009, Schaub went 20 of 30 for 264 yards with two TDs and no interceptions. One of those touchdowns went to tight end Owen Daniels, who caught seven passes for 123 yards.

Vernon Davis had three TD receptions for the 49ers in that contest, but Gore was held to 32 yards on 13 carries.

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10/05/2013 11:09 PM
Preview: Chargers (2-2) at Raiders (1-3)

Date: October 06, 2013 11:35 PM EDT

While the San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have turned back the clock in coach Mike McCoy's up-tempo attack, the development of Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrell Pryor has been stunted a bit due to a concussion.

Pryor appears to be on track to return as these banged-up AFC West rivals meet Sunday night with the Chargers looking to move above .500 by beating the Raiders for the 17th time in 20 meetings.

This contest was moved to an 8:35 p.m. PDT kickoff because the Oakland Athletics are hosting Game 2 of the AL division series Saturday night and it takes too long to convert the Coliseum to play an afternoon game.

The Raiders (1-3) hope to benefit from the switch as they try to recover from several injuries and prepare for a San Diego offense that has been difficult to stop under its new coach.

"It's a divisional game, so we know it's going to be a tough, competitive football game," Oakland coach Dennis Allen told the team's official website. "I think they've got good players, and again, we're going to have to play well to beat them."

Pryor, the team's second-leading rusher with 198 yards, completed 19 of 28 passes for a career-high 281 yards and a touchdown before being knocked out in a 37-21 loss at Denver on Sept. 23. He missed last Sunday's 24-14 loss to Washington.

Pryor returned to practice Wednesday and was working with the first team. He is once again symptom free and appears on target to resume his starting role Sunday.

He plans to be the same player he was before the injury, not worried about taking another hard hit.

"I just try to make the right decisions and the smart decisions and be a smart person and player," Pryor said. "Obviously, if there's three guys coming cramming down on me I don't want to challenge all three of those guys so get down. Just be myself and play football. That's how I have to play."

He made his first career start in last season's finale at San Diego, connecting on 13 of 28 attempts for 150 yards with two scores and one interception in a 24-21 loss.

Leading rusher Darren McFadden (hamstring) and center Stefen Wisniewski (knee) are not expected to play against the Chargers (2-2), while fullback Marcel Reece (knee) does not have a timetable for his return.

Rashad Jennings may have to assume the backfield duties after gaining 45 yards on 15 carries while catching eight passes for 71 yards against Washington.

"If you have the right mentality nothing really changes," Jennings said. "You prepare that you're carrying the load always. We hope he's healthy. He's a big part of this team. Whatever role I'm asked to take on I'll be ready for it."

San Diego also suffered a big loss when it had to place Dwight Freeney on injured reserve after the linebacker tore his quadriceps last weekend. Freeney leads the team with 15 quarterback hurries and three hits.

"Anytime you lose a great player like Dwight Freeney, it's a blow to your team," McCoy said. "That's offense, defense, special teams, in your league. When you lose one of the greatest players of all-time on your team, with an injury like that, in a game, that's tough."

McCoy, a former offensive coordinator with the Broncos, has certainly provided a lift for a San Diego team that ranks seventh in the NFL with 27.0 points per game and eighth in total offense with an average of 396.3 yards.

Following a two-year stretch in which he threw 35 interceptions and posted an 88.7 passer rating, Rivers has returned to the form that has earned him four trips to the Pro Bowl.

He completed 35 of 42 passes for 401 yards with three scores and one pick in last Sunday's 30-21 win over Dallas. Rivers' 83.3 percent completion rate was the highest in NFL history for a 400-yard passing game.

He's only been intercepted twice while ranking second in the league in completion percentage (73.9), touchdowns (11) and passer rating (118.8), trailing Denver's Peyton Manning in each category.

"I feel in sync," Rivers said. "I have a rhythm and I'm comfortable in the pocket when we get that no-huddle going."

Rivers is 6-1 as a starter in Oakland and has thrown for 306.0 yards per game with seven touchdowns and two picks in his last four there.

Gates has particularly benefited from Rivers' resurgence with 23 receptions for 315 yards and two scores in his last three games. The five-time All-Pro tight end had 10 catches - his most since 2007 - for 136 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys.

He's hauled in a TD in four of his last six meetings with the Raiders.

The Chargers have won 16 of 19 in the series but took last year's two meetings by a combined 11 points.
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10/06/2013 10:33 AM
Week 5 Tip Sheet

October 6, 2013

Chiefs (-3, 38 ½) at Titans - 1:00 PM EST

Kansas City: 4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS
Tennessee: 3-1, 3-0-1 ATS

Last week's results: The Chiefs dominated the winless Giants, 31-7, the third victory by double-digits this season. Kansas City has won all three games against NFC East opponents, while allowing 16 points in each of its four contests this season. The Titans cruised past the Jets as 3 ½-point favorites, 38-13, the fourth straight home victory since the end of last season.

Previous meeting result: Kansas City crushed Tennessee, 34-14 in December 2010 as four-point home favorites. Dwayne Bowe hauled in 153 yards receiving and one touchdown, while Chris Johnson was limited to 58 yards on the ground for the Titans. Tennessee has won each of the last two meetings with Kansas City at LP Field.

Betting notes: Since Week 10 of last season, the Chiefs are 10-1-1 to the 'under' the past 12 contests, including a 5-0-1 'under' mark on the highway. The Titans have cashed in just two of the last six opportunities in the home underdog role, while losing three of those games by double-digits.

Patriots (-1, 45) at Bengals - 1:00 PM EST

New England: 4-0 SU, 2-2 ATS
Cincinnati: 2-2 SU, 2-1-1 ATS

Last week's results: New England put together another solid performance in a 30-23 road triumph at Atlanta last Sunday night. The Patriots cashed outright in their first underdog role of the season, while racking up 448 yards of offense to even up their ATS mark at 2-2. Cincinnati's roller-coaster season continued after getting shut down at Cleveland as short away favorites, 17-6. The Bengals gained only 266 yards of offense, while dropping to 0-2 on the highway.

Previous meeting result: The Patriots have won each of the last four matchups, including a 38-24 victory in the 2010 season opener as five-point home 'chalk.' New England dominated Cincinnati in each of the past two visits to Paul Brown Stadium, winning by 21 and 25 points.

Betting notes: New England has failed to cover four of the last six games in the road favorite role, but the Pats are 5-1 straight-up in this stretch. The Bengals have won five of their previous six home contests, while posting a 7-2 mark to the 'under' in the last nine games at Paul Brown Stadium.

Seahawks (-3, 44) at Colts - 1:00 PM EST

Seattle: 4-0 SU, 4-0 ATS
Indianapolis: 3-1 SU, 2-2 ATS

Last week's results: Seattle rallied to stun Houston in overtime, 23-20, erasing a 20-3 deficit to cash as one-point road favorites. The Seahawks won in spite of being outgained by 206 yards, while covering nine of 10 games since last December. The Colts routed the hapless Jaguars, 37-3 for their second straight win, while outscoring their last two opponents, 64-10.

Previous meeting result: Indianapolis crushed Seattle at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2009 by a 34-17 count as 10-point favorites. The teams have split the last eight matchups since 1991, with a majority of those games coming when the Seahawks played in the AFC.

Betting notes: Seattle is seeking road wins in successive weeks for the first time since 2007, while posting a 5-10 SU record on the highway under Pete Carroll when coming off a victory. The Colts won and covered in all four opportunities as a home underdog last season.

Saints (-1, 50 ½) at Bears - 1:00 PM EST

New Orleans: 4-0 SU, 3-1 ATS
Chicago: 3-1 SU, 1-2-1 ATS

Last week's results: The Saints took care of the previously unbeaten Dolphins on Monday night, 38-17 as seven-point home favorites. New Orleans has cruised to three victories at the Superdome, while limiting each of its four opponents to 17 points or less. The Bears were stymied early in last Sunday's 40-32 defeat at Detroit, as Chicago trailed by as many as 24 points. Chicago turned the ball over four times, while hitting the 'over' for the fourth time in four games.

Previous meeting result: The Bears have won each of the last three matchups against the Saints at Soldier Field, but New Orleans destroyed Chicago at the Superdome back in 2011. The Saints took care of the Bears, 30-13 in Week 2 of the '11 season, which included three touchdown passes by Drew Brees.

Betting notes: New Orleans owns a 5-2 SU and 4-3 ATS record in the last seven games in the road favorite role, with the lone SU win/ATS loss coming at Tampa Bay in Week 2. The Bears have drilled the 'over' in six straight games since last December, while posting a 1-6-1 ATS record the past eight games at Soldier Field.

Broncos (-7 ½, 57 ½) at Cowboys - 4:25 PM EST

Denver: 4-0 SU, 3-0-1 ATS
Dallas: 2-2 SU, 3-1 ATS

Last week's results: The Broncos' offense continues to look unstoppable after trouncing the Eagles, 52-20. Denver has topped the 37-point mark in all four games this season, while easily cashing the 'over' each time. The Cowboys blew a 21-10 lead in a 30-21 setback at San Diego last Sunday as a short road favorite, as Dallas hasn't been able to win consecutive games this season.

Previous meeting result: Denver rallied past Dallas as a short home underdog in 2009 by scoring the final 10 points of a 17-10 triumph. Even though these teams meet infrequently, the Broncos have won each of the last four matchups dating back to 1998.

Betting notes: The Broncos have cashed the 'over' in seven of the last eight games since Week 15 of last season, while winning seven consecutive road contests. The Cowboys have covered two of their last three opportunities as a home 'dog since 2010, but have lost each contest straight-up.
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