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Crossing the Line - Week 17
By Todd Gray and Fritz Schlottman
December 26, 2003
 
New England vs. Buffalo

New England Offense

Sacked/G=2.0

Rush TDs/G=.60

Rush Avg.=3.4

Buffalo Defense

Sacks/G=2.4

Rush TDs Against/G=.7

Rush Avg. Against=4.4

New England Defense

Sacks/G=2.5

Rush TDs Against/G=.7

Rush Avg. Against=3.5

Buffalo Offense

Sacked/G=3.1

Rush TDs/G=1.14

Rush Avg.=3.9

When the Patriots have the ball - RB Antowain Smith's big game restored the Patriots' missing link - at least for one week and against one of the league's worst rush defenses. Smith (18 carries, 121 yards) burst through one big hole after another on his way to the Pats' first 100-yard rushing performance in 22 games. QB Tom Brady put together another efficient performance thanks in large part to great play along the line. Brady completed 15 of 25 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns and wasn't sacked.

Smith will be hard-pressed to duplicate his performance this week, although the Bills' rush defense suffered a rare mini-collapse against the Dolphins. Buffalo's defensive line let Ricky Williams get loose a few too many times, a performance aided by poor run support at key times from its linebacking unit. The Bills failed to generate consistent pressure on QB Jay Fiedler despite allowing only 37 passing yards and 169 total yards. Buffalo ultimately lost the time-of-possession battle, as well, thanks to a Bills offense that had trouble staying on the field for more than two minutes.

If Smith can shoulder the load on his own, expect RB Kevin Faulk to remain in the background. However, Faulk could quickly become the go-to back if Smith gets off to a plodding start.

When the Bills have the ball - On a day when the Bills' offense wasn't required to do a whole lot, it did next to nothing. Buffalo was dominated along the line of scrimmage and finished the game with more drives for negative yardage (4) than it had drives of more than 13 yards (3). QB Drew Bledsoe was sacked six times, harried on numerous occasions and committed two turnovers that led to 10 Miami points, and RB Travis Henry (24 carries, 67 yards) was bottled up all day.

New England's run defense was good against the Jets, but not its usual dominant self. The Pats allowed 109 yards rushing at 4.2 yards per carry, but more than made up for it with four sacks and five interceptions of QB Chad Pennington.

Henry has been a workhorse for the Bills lately, but it's difficult to envision much success for him against New England. It could easily be more of the same ol' ineptitude for the Bills' offense against the Pats. New England no doubt plans to capture home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, something that a win over Buffalo would give the Pats. New England has allowed only 68 points in seven home games this season, including only 22 points and one offensive touchdown over the past five games. Think Buffalo's offense is up to the task?

San Francisco vs. Seattle

San Francisco Offense

Sacked/G=1.7

Rush TDs/G=1.1

Rush Avg.=4.7

Seattle Defense

Sacks/G=2.5

Rush TDs Against/G=.6

Rush Avg. Against=3.9

San Francisco Defense

Sacks/G=2.7

Rush TDs Against/G=.8

Rush Avg. Against=4.1

Seattle Offense

Sacked/G=2.8

Rush TDs/G=1.1

Rush Avg.=4.6

When the 49ers have the ball - The 49ers injury-tested offensive line held up remarkably well, guiding QB Jeff Garcia to a mistake-free performance and springing RB Kevan Barlow for 154 yards on 30 carries. San Francisco rushed often against the blitz-happy Eagles, a strategy that rewarded the 49ers with several long runs.

RG Ron Stone (knee) is doubtful for Saturday's game. If Stone is unable to play, Kyle Kosier will start in hiss place.

Seattle's oft-invisible pass rush produced a season-high eight sacks after managing only 30 sacks in its previous 14 games, and helped limit the Cardinals to 79 yards rushing.

It's been more than three months and six games since the Seahawks last won a game on the road, and things haven't exactly gotten better of late. In fact, Seattle has allowed no fewer than 27 points during its six-game road skid. Barlow, while not a lock, can be expected to have a solid game, although the absence of Stone could hurt. Garcia, also, should find success against a Seattle defense that seems to disappear away from the comfort of home.

When the Seahawks have the ball - Injuries to QB Matt Hasselbeck and WR Darrell Jackson forced a big load onto RB Shaun Alexander's shoulders, and Alexander responded with 135 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries (6.4-yard avg.).

San Francisco's defensive line gave one of its best performances of the season, largely shutting down QB Donovan McNabb and the Eagles' three-headed rushing attack. The 49ers sacked McNabb five times and picked him off twice while allowing only one offensive touchdown.

The 49ers are more or less dominant on defense at home, which doesn't bode well for the road-weak Seahawks, and San Francisco should have little trouble mastering Seattle's O-line to the same degree that it did the Eagles' line last week.

Washington vs. Philadelphia

Washington Offense

Sacked/G=2.5

Rush TDs/G=.36

Rush Avg.=3.9

Philadelphia Defense

Sacks/G=2.3

Rush TDs Against/G=.8

Rush Avg. Against=4.5

Washington Defense

Sacks/G=1.8

Rush TDs Against/G=1.3

Rush Avg. Against=4.5

Philadelphia Offense

Sacked/G=2.9

Rush TDs/G=1.14

Rush Avg.=4.9

When the Redskins have the ball - The offensive line provided decent protection for QB Tim Hasselbeck, but didn't have nearly the same success in promoting the run despite recent progress in that area. RB Rock Cartwright finished with only 41 yards on 13 carries and the 'Skins ran for only 44 yards total.

Washington's running game has a good opportunity to end the season on a high note against the Eagles, who struggled mightily against the run versus the 49ers. Philadelphia allowed the highest rush total (209 yards) at home in more than 18 years and allowed the 'Niners a 12-minutes-plus advantage in time of possession.

When the Eagles have the ball - The Eagles came out flat and struggled to move the ball consistently all day against the 49ers. Philadelphia had three turnovers, ran for only 88 yards and allowed five sacks and consistent pressure on QB Donovan McNabb.

Washington's defense wasn't much better, allowing the league's worst offense to burn it for 429 total yards, including 191 rushing - this all on the heels of a 200-plus rushing performance allowed against Dallas the week before. The 'Skins did put some pressure on rookie QB Rex Grossman (two sacks), but not enough to rattle the QB into any outcome-shifting mistakes.

Tennessee vs. Tampa Bay

Tennessee Offense

Sacked/G=1.7

Rush TDs/G=.7

Rush Avg.=3.3

Tampa Bay Defense

Sacks/G=2.4

Rush TDs Against/G=.4

Rush Avg. Against=3.9

Tennessee Defense

Sacks/G=2.4

Rush TDs Against/G=.7

Rush Avg. Against=3.7

Tampa Bay Offense

Sacked/G=1.4

Rush TDs/G=.3

Rush Avg.=3.9

When the Titans have the ball - Finally, the Titans may have found a reliable running mate for venerable RB Eddie George in rookie RB Chris Brown. George ran well, gaining 79 yards on 19 carries (4.2 avg.), but it was Brown's spark (10 carries, 69 yards) that helped to give the Titans' their most dominant running game this season. Tennessee had a season-high 182 rushing yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the Titans' offensive line kept QB Steve McNair clean (zero sacks) and gave him ample time to throw throughout much of the game.

Tampa Bay comes to town with a run defense that is a shell of its former self, but it's a Buccaneer defense nonetheless and a great challenge for the Titans heading into the playoffs. Atlanta RB T.J. Duckett ground out 93 yards in 23 attempts against the Bucs, who failed to put significant pressure on QB Michael Vick, as well (zero sacks).

If Tampa Bay isn't frustrating the opposing QB, it's a safe bet the Bucs aren't winning, either. As usual, Tennessee will most likely look to George to establish the run, but Brown will have a chance to build on last week's momentum.

When the Buccaneers have the ball - On most days, 440 yards of offense indicates a strong performance by the offensive line. This wasn't the case with the Bucs on Sunday, although the line could have been worse. RBs Tomas Jones and Michael Pittman combined for 93 yards on 21 carries, but Tampa Bay was forced to abandon its running game after falling behind 30-7. QB Brad Johnson completed 34 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns (zero sacks), but many of these yards were gained as the Bucs tried to claw back from their aforementioned deficit, and Johnson did throw four interceptions.

RB Kenyatta Walker (knee) is questionable for Sunday's game against Tennessee.

The Bucs would love to run all day against the Titans, but it's a safe bet that's not going to happen. Tennessee allows a league-low 80.4 yards rushing per game, with much of that figure being established against more formidable attacks than the one the Bucs bring to the table. The Titans allowed 51 yards and a touchdown to Houston rookie Domanick Davis, and QB David Carr broke loose for 40 yards on four scrambles, but Tennessee effectively forced Houston to the air for much of the game.

Kansas City vs. Chicago

Kansas City Offense

Sacked/G=1.3

Rush TDs/G=.36

Rush Avg.=4.5

Chicago Defense

Sacks/G=1.1

Rush TDs Against/G=.7

Rush Avg. Against=4.3

Kansas City Defense

Sacks/G=2.1

Rush TDs Against/G=1.2

Rush Avg. Against=5.2

Chicago Offense

Sacked/G=2.6

Rush TDs/G=.9

Rush Avg.=4.0

When the Chiefs have the ball - It's no surprise that the Vikings torched the Chiefs for 450-plus yards and 45 points. What's shocking is that Kansas City didn't make this game a 60-minute scorefest against Minnesota's poor - albeit resurgent - defense. RB Priest Holmes had 55 yards and three touchdowns, but he managed only five carries for 16 yards as the Chiefs were on their way to a 24-0 first-half deficit. QB Trent Green didn't have such a silver lining to add to his totals, despite not being sacked and facing consistent but hardly overwhelming pressure. Green connected with less than 50 percent of his passes and was sacked twice.

Not even a month-and-a-half ago, the Chiefs' home tilt this weekend against the Bears looked like a great opportunity to rest key players for the playoffs and walk away with a win nonetheless. However, home-field advantage is now at stake for Kansas City, and Chicago - with its sights set on an eight-win season - can no longer be considered among the league's doormats. The Bears, though weak against the pass against the Redskins, held Washington to 44 rushing yards on 18 carries.

This remains the Chiefs' game to lose, and there's every reason to believe that Holmes, with 25 rushing touchdowns this season, will break his tie with Emmitt Smith for the most rushing TDs in a season.

When the Bears have the ball - Chicago has had three starting QBs this season, and the third one may be the best. Rookie Rex Grossman was given great protection my the Bears' patchwork offensive line and responded by connecting on 19 of 32 passes for 249 yards and two TDs. Grossman did throw an interception and had two fumbles (none lost), but as rookie mistakes go, he fired below par.

RB Anthony Thomas shredded the Redskins for a season-high 141 yards and ran especially well in some key third- and fourth-down situations. There's little reason he can't put up similar numbers this week unless Kansas City builds a large early lead.

The Chiefs' have plummeted to last in the league against the run and also rank 30th in total yards allowed, and if things are going to get better, it sure didn't show against the Vikings. Minnesota gained 223 yards on the ground and led 31-0 before the Chiefs' seemed to know what hit them. Kansas City has allowed five runs of 45 or more yards in the past four games and 11 of 25 yards or more.

Miami vs. New York Jets

Miami Offense

Sacked/G=1.9

Rush TDs/G=.9

Rush Avg.=3.8

New York Defense

Sacks/G=2.2

Rush TDs Against/G=1.1

Rush Avg. Against=4.3

Miami Defense

Sacks/G=2.7

Rush TDs Against/G=.7

Rush Avg. Against=3.3

New York Offense

Sacked/G=1.8

Rush TDs/G=.5

Rush Avg.=4.0

When the Dolphins have the ball - The Dolphins' season may have slipped down the tubes, but their effort was solid against a stingy Buffalo defense. Miami's offensive line, inconsistent for much of the year, helped to spring RB Ricky Williams for 111 yards on 29 carries. Just as importantly, it was a performance that helped the Dolphins earn a five-and-a-half minute advantage in time of possession. QB Jay Fiedler had much less success statistically - to say the least - but his 46 passing yards (yes, 46) were put to good use, for what that's worth. Fiedler was sacked twice and threw one interception, but otherwise avoided big mistakes.

The Jets' No. 30 rush defense lived down to expectations, once again, allowing the run-challenged Patriots to amass 133 yards at 5.5 yards per carry and enabling RB Antowain Smith to look about as good as he's ever looked. New York's D-line and linebacking corps also put little pressure on QB Tom Brady (zero sacks) and in general did little to help the Jets win.

When the Jets have the ball - It was difficult to find a silver lining in the Jets' performance on offense against the Patriots, although it may have been Curtis Martins' 89 rushing yards against the Pats' tough run defense. That may not sound like much, but it was a heck of a lot better than New York's passing game fared: QB Chad Pennington threw five interceptions and was dumped four times.

LG Dave Szott sprained his left knee and is questionable for Sunday's game. G Jonathon Goodwin will continue to be the primary back-up in Szott's absence, and G Brandon Morre should see some time at that spot, as well.

Pennington will most likely have ample opportunity to break out of his five-game slump, as Martin will be hard-pressed to run for anything near 100 yards against a Miami defense that's tough enough against the run without being ticked about missing the playoffs. The Dolphins' defensive line had arguably its finest showing of the season against the Bills, harassing QB Drew Bledsoe all afternoon and shutting down RB Travis Henry.

New Orleans vs. Dallas

New Orleans Offense

Sacked/G=2.3

Rush TDs/G=.7

Rush Avg.=4.5

Dallas Defense

Sacks/G=2.0

Rush TDs Against/G=.5

Rush Avg. Against=3.5

New Orleans Defense

Sacks/G=1.9

Rush TDs Against/G=.8

Rush Avg. Against=4.7

Dallas Offense

Sacked/G=2.3

Rush TDs/G=.7

Rush Avg.=3.9

When the Saints have the ball - The Saints' pass blocking was great, but their run blocking left something to be desired. RB Deuce McAllister struggled to gain 50 yards on 21 carries (2.4-yard avg.) and New Orleans gained not a single first down running the ball against the league's No. 2 defense against the run. QB Aaron Brooks did find success through the air (296 yards, two TDs), but the Saints' one-dimensional offense wasn't enough.

RGs LeCharles Bentley (ACL) and Spencer Folau (knee) missed Sunday's game and are done for the season. LG Kendyl Jacox (knee) returned against the Jaguars after a five-game hiatus, which allowed RG Montrae Holland to spell Bentley and Folau at right guard.

Dallas' defensive line accounted for all five of the Cowboys' sacks and helped limit the Giants to only 54 yard on the ground. The Saints do not match up well against the Cowboys top-ranked defense, and will probably end up throwing the ball more than they would like. It's hard to imagine Dallas' defense coming into this game flat with a division title and home-field advantage early in the playoffs at stake, but that's probably what it will take for the Saints to spring McAllister for significant yardage.

When the Cowboys have the ball - Dallas struggled to run the ball consistently and the Cowboys' offensive line couldn't keep the pressure off of QB Quincy Carter (3 sacks). RB Troy Hambrick ran for only 36 yards on 12 carries, but FB Richie Anderson chipped in with 34 yards in limited duty and Carter earned 26 yards on five scrambles. Carter made the most of what time he was allowed in the pocket, completing 68 percent of his passes (17 of 25) for 240 yards and a touchdown.

Sunday's game at New Orleans presents Dallas with a fine tune-up for the playoffs. Hambrick will be expected to produce against one of the league's weakest defenses against the run, as was evidenced by RB Fred Taylor's 194 yards on 34 attempts. Taylor ran for 20 or more yards four times as the Saints allowed a season-high 243 yards on the ground. If the running game fails the Cowboys, Carter should be able to take advantage of the Saints' suspect secondary.

Saints' DT Willie Whitehead (knee) will likely miss his fourth straight game. DT Kenny Smith, who has started the past two games in Whitehead's place, will get the nod again should Whitehead remain on the sidelines.

Houston vs. Indianapolis

Houston Offense

Sacked/G=2.4

Rush TDs/G=.36

Rush Avg.=3.9

Indianapolis Defense

Sacks/G=2.1

Rush TDs Against/G=1.1

Rush Avg. Against=4.5

Houston Defense

Sacks/G=1.2

Rush TDs Against/G=.9

Rush Avg. Against=4.4

Indianapolis Offense

Sacked/G=1.2

Rush TDs/G=1.0

Rush Avg.=3.6

When the Texans have the ball - Surprisingly, the Texans' offensive line held its own against the Titans' front four, allowing only one sack and providing QB David Carr with solid protection. RB Domanick Davis carried only 14 times for 51 yards, but his efforts on Houston's go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter were huge and included a 5-yard touchdown run.

Indianapolis allowed a whopping 227 net yards rushing to the Broncos, who were without Pro Bowl back Clinton Portis. The Colts struggled to put any pressure whatsoever on QB Jake Plummer (zero sacks), allowing an average of 14 yards per pass attempt.

Houston will go to Davis as long as this is a close game, but odds are it won't be a close game for long. The Texans should show good fight, but the Colts are playing for a division title and early-round home field advantage and simply bring too much offense to the table for Houston's soft defense to handle. Carr should have increased opportunities to throw the ball and could pile up some decent numbers in doing so.

When the Colts have the ball - The Colts averaged more than one point for every minute they had the ball. Problem was, they only had the ball for slightly more than 15 minutes (15:02), and one of Indy's two TDs was the result of a defensive touchdown.

The Colts put together one drive lasting more than three minutes (4:02), and that march ended in a blocked punt. QB Peyton Manning faced considerable pressure and threw for only 146 yards one week after gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated. RB Edgerrin James gained only 27 yards on seven first-half carries and was a non-factor for much of the game. Perhaps the most telling stat was Indy's inability to gain a single yard on offense in the fourth quarter - this with the NFL's No. 1 passing offense.

Houston put little pressure on QB Steve McNair (zero sacks) and yielded 183 yards rushing to the Titans. Injuries have taken their toll on the Texans, who bring one of the league's worst defenses to this game.

Two things could stop Manning, James and company from piling up huge numbers against the Texans: an out-of-nowhere performance by a Houston defense that perhaps will gamble a bit more in its final game of the year or, most likely, a Colts' blowout that keeps Indy's best players on the bench for much of the contest.

Atlanta vs. Jacksonville

Atlanta Offense

Sacked/G=2.3

Rush TDs/G=.36

Rush Avg.=4.5

Jacksonville Defense

Sacks/G=1.5

Rush TDs Against/G=.7

Rush Avg. Against=3.1

Atlanta Defense

Sacks/G=2.3

Rush TDs Against/G=1.3

Rush Avg. Against=4.6

Jacksonville Offense

Sacked/G=1.8

Rush TDs/G=.8

Rush Avg.=4.2

When the Falcons have the ball - Atlanta's offense put together a solid-if-not-spectacular running game (148 yards) and took advantage of four Tampa Bay interceptions to build what proved to be an insurmountable 30-7 lead. Overall, the Falcons were far from special on offense, but they got the job done.

RB T.J. Duckett ran for 93 yards on 27 carries and QB Michael Vick earned 39 yards on 12 scrambles. Vick's protection was okay and he was less than accurate, but he avoided sacks and big mistakes and made the most of his eight completions with a pair of touchdown passes.

Jacksonville's second-ranked rush defense continued its dominance against stud running backs (or any running back, for that matter) by limiting Deuce McAllister and the Saints to 61 yards on 25 carries. However, the Jags struggled to do the same to New Orleans' passing attack, putting little pressure on QB Aaron Brooks (one sack) and allowing 289 yards passing.

Vick will need to enter this game sharp, because he most likely won't bail the Falcons out of this one with his legs. Atlanta should be able to muster a decent passing attack against Jacksonville's average secondary as the Jags keep Duckett down most of the afternoon.

When the Jaguars have the ball - RB Fred Taylor put the Jags on his shoulders and burst for 194 yards on 34 carries against the Saints' porous run defense. Rookie QB Byron Leftwich was given decent production (one sack), but made little of it by completing only 9 of 17 passes with two picks and one touchdown. Leftwich has thrown four interceptions in his last five quarters of play.

Atlanta held Tampa Bay to 94 yards on 22 carries, with 15 of those yards coming on one run. Key, however, was the Falcons relentless pressure on QB Brad Johnson in the first half (zero sacks, four interceptions - two caused by pressure). Both the Falcons' pressure and their coverage seemingly vanished into thin air in the second half when Johnson completed 21 of 27 passes for 276 as the Bucs staged a furious rally that fell just short.

Taylor should have another big day against the Falcons, but if by chance Atlanta slows him down, there is ample reason for optimism otherwise. The struggling Leftwich gets to face a defense that has allowed 60 completions in 79 attempts for 645 yard and nine touchdowns in its past two games.

Cincinnati vs. Cleveland

Cincinnati Offense

Sacked/G=2.3

Rush TDs/G=.7

Rush Avg.=4.1

Cleveland Defense

Sacks/G=2.1

Rush TDs Against/G=.8

Rush Avg. Against=4.6

Cincinnati Defense

Sacks/G=2.0

Rush TDs Against/G=1.1

Rush Avg. Against=4.6

Cleveland Offense

Sacked/G=2.7

Rush TDs/G=.4

Rush Avg.=3.8

When the Bengals have the ball - For the second time in three weeks, the Bengals met a defense with which they couldn't wipe the turf. Cincinnati couldn't get its running game untracked and RBs Corey Dillon (7-37) and Rudi Johnson (11-30) were of little use after halftime.

Cincinnati's offensive line was routinely beat by St. Louis blitzes, and QB Jon Kitna was sacked three times and threw three interceptions. LT Levi Jones struggled with a sore knee, and G Eric Steinbach (bruised thigh) missed the game, but should be in the lineup against the Browns. Reserve G Scott Rehberg struggled in place of Steinbach.

Cleveland put decent pressure on Ravens' QB Anthony Wright (3 sacks), but that was like locking the door and then leaving it wide open. The Browns were shredded by RB Jamal Lewis (205 yards, 2 TDs), who almost single-handedly negated any need for a passing game.

Cincinnati will go to Dillon/Johnson early and often in hopes of pounding the Browns into submission and to not risk big mistakes against Cleveland's tough pass defense. Both RBs could have productive days, and if they do, Kitna should follow suit.

When the Browns have the ball - Cleveland's offensive line wilted against the swarming Ravens. QB Tim Couch was under fire all day, getting sacked five times and knocked down on numerous others. Rookie RB Lee Suggs' 68 yards on 20 carries was the highlight on offense for the Browns.

Suggs has a good opportunity to build on last week's success against the Bengals, who against the Rams allowed 143 or more yards rushing for the sixth time this year. Neither could Cincinnati couldn't disrupt QB Marc Bulger (1 sack), and Couch could end the season with a bang - or at least a loud pop - if Suggs and RB Jamel White run well against the Bengals.

Detroit vs. St. Louis

Detroit Offense

Sacked/G=.7

Rush TDs/G=.3

Rush Avg.=3.5

St. Louis Defense

Sacks/G=2.7

Rush TDs Against/G=.6

Rush Avg. Against=4.9

Detroit Defense

Sacks/G=1.6

Rush TDs Against/G=.9

Rush Avg. Against=4.0

St. Louis Offense

Sacked/G=2.6

Rush TDs/G=1.2

Rush Avg.=3.7

When the Lions have the ball - When a team's leading rusher gains 22 yards and its starting QB throws for 17 yards, that team either gets pummeled or has a heck of a lot of depth. It was the former for the Lions on Sunday. Detroit piled up 106 total yards of offense in a performance that leaves the Lions ranked just below LSU in the most recent BCS standings.

St. Louis made stopping the Bengals look easy, slowing Cincinnati's powerful ground game (23 carries, 99 yards) and pressuring QB Jon Kitna into three sacks and three interceptions. The turnovers gave the Rams a league-leading 44 heading into Sunday's game. St. Louis was especially stingy in the second half, allowing only 127 total yards.

This one could get ugly even if the Lions had something tangible for which to play. From a stats perspective, this is bound to be another lost weekend for anyone who is in the unenviable position of counting on a Lion, unless the Rams dominate early and Harrington spends two or three quarters airing it out. That said, backup QB Mike McMahon will most likely have another chance to prove he's worth keeping for another year.

Rams' DT Brian Young (sprained ankle) is expected to miss Sunday's game against the Lions.

When the Rams have the ball - The Rams offensive line was splendid against a Bengals' front that rarely brings much to the table. RB Marshall Faulk had his fifth 100-yard game in his past six games while averaging 5.5 yards per carry. QB Marc Bulger (one sack) was solid and once again saved his best for key plays, including 9-of-11 accuracy for 90 yards on third down plays.

In only two weeks this season (1 & 9) have the Rams scored fewer points than the Lions in that same week. In fact, St. Louis averages more points per game (28.5) than Detroit has scored in any given game (23) - and that was when the Lions were playing "well," so to speak.

To make matters worse, the Lions limping, secondary-stripped defense is in possibly its worst health, yet. Against the Panthers, DE Kalimba Edwards (groin) was lost for the season, DT Luther Ellis is done for the year due to a concussion and DE Robert Porcher (wrist, elbow) may have played his last game of the season, as well. For the Lions, this game will most likely be a struggle; for the Rams, a track meet.

New York Giants vs. Carolina

New York Offense

Sacked/G=2.8

Rush TDs/G=.4

Rush Avg.=4.0

Carolina Defense

Sacks/G=2.5

Rush TDs Against/G=.7

Rush Avg. Against=4.0

New York Defense

Sacks/G=2.7

Rush TDs Against/G=.8

Rush Avg. Against=3.9

Carolina Offense

Sacked/G=1.4

Rush TDs/G=.6

Rush Avg.=4.1

When the Giants have the ball - With only one veteran starter in C Chris Bober and three rookie starters, the Giants' offensive line barely had a chance. Rookie QB Jesse Palmer was swarmed all day and suffered five sacks, and New York was held to 54 yards rushing on 22 carries (2.5 yards avg.). The Giants' 10 first downs were a season low and they barely eclipsed their season-low for total net yards with 213.

After two straight games and 10 total points of offense on the road, it would seem that a home game could be just what the Giants' need. That may not be so. New York has scored 10 points or fewer in five straight home games and 13 points or fewer in seven straight games overall.

Can the Giants make a valiant last stand for soon-to-be ex-coach Jim Fassel? All signs point to "not likely" against a Carolina defense that just held the Lions to 106 yards of offense despite missing two starters on the defensive line. Okay, so shutting down the Lions doesn't mean squat. Still, these days the Giants aren't a whole lot better - if at all - than Detroit.

Carolina DE Mike Rucker and DT Brentson Buckner will sit out another game, but both should be ready for the playoffs.

When the Panthers have the ball - The Panthers' offensive line gave QB Jake Delhomme (zero sacks) all the time he needed and paved the way for 124 rushing yards minus RB Stephen Davis. DeShaun Foster picked up the slack with 76 yards on 21 carries and three catches for 38 yards, although he gave much of it back when his lone fumble was returned 62 yards for a touchdown.

C Jeff Mitchell (groin) is expected to play this week against the Giants, who actually put together a decent effort on the defensive side of the ball against the Cowboys. New York limited Dallas to 104 yards rushing and DE Michael Strahan sacked rookie QB Jesse Palmer three times.

Carolina has locked up the NFC South division title and isn't in desperate need of a win. However, the Panthers haven't been especially sharp the past two months and will seek to enter the playoffs on a positive note without creating further health issues for a handful of starters on both sides of the ball who are nursing one malady or another. Both Davis and Foster should see significant time against a New York defense that plays well against the run, but does little else up to par. It's unlikely the Panthers will have to score many points to win this game, anyway.

Arizona vs. Minnesota

Arizona Offense

Sacked/G=2.4

Rush TDs/G=.3

Rush Avg.=3.8

Minnesota Defense

Sacks/G=1.9

Rush TDs Against/G=1.5

Rush Avg. Against=4.9

Arizona Defense

Sacks/G=1.3

Rush TDs Against/G=1.1

Rush Avg. Against=4.0

Minnesota Offense

Sacked/G=2.7

Rush TDs/G=1.14

Rush Avg.=4.8

When the Cardinals have the ball - Rookie QB Josh McCown may be having second thoughts about life as a starting quarterback in the NFL. McCown was harassed all day and sacked eight times, but still managed to completed 25 of 40 passes nary an interception and led the Cardinals with 38 rushing yards. Starting RB Michael Shipp could muster only 32 yards on 12 carries. Shipp wasn't given many opportunities from the second quarter on as the Cardinals played most of the game with a sizable deficit.

Minnesota couldn't have played a more complete game on defense against the Chiefs until collapsing late in the third quarter. The Vikings' sizable lead helped to minimize the impact of RB Priest Holmes, who went relatively unnoticed until he scored three touchdowns in four Chiefs' possessions late in the game.

If the Cardinals show up ready to give the Vikings a fight, they may be able to do so. Despite turning things around on the defense the past few weeks, Minnesota routinely gives up big yards and points on the road. If the Cards' offensive line can control the line of scrimmage (one of a few big "ifs") well enough to let Shipp be a factor, they should be able to put a respectable amount of points on the board. If this doesn't happen and McCown is forced to throw as many times (40) as he did against the Seahawks, the rout may very well be on for the Vikings.

When the Vikings have the ball - The Vikings offensive line was just plain dominant against the Chiefs for much of the game. Minnesota piled up 223 rushing yards at 5.7 yards per tote led by rookie RB Onterrio Smith's 146 yards and three touchdowns on only 21 carries. Despite suffering two sacks, QB Daunte Culpepper tossed three touchdowns before halftime and often had enough time in the pocket to enjoy a cup of coffee.

Arizona put little pressure on Seahawks' QB Matt Hasselbeck and let Seattle burn them for 160 rushing yards on only 30 carries. On Sunday, the Cards' 28th-ranked pass defense will face the league's No. 1 scoring QB in Culpepper, and the matchup isn't a whole lot better for Arizona's run defense against the Vikings' stable of capable runners.

San Diego vs. Oakland

San Diego Offense

Sacked/G=1.7

Rush TDs/G=.9

Rush Avg.=5.09

Oakland Defense

Sacks/G=1.5

Rush TDs Against/G=1.3

Rush Avg. Against=4.4

San Diego Defense

Sacks/G=1.7

Rush TDs Against/G=.8

Rush Avg. Against=4.3

Oakland Offense

Sacked/G=2.5

Rush TDs/G=1.0

Rush Avg.=4.3

When the Chargers have the ball - The Chargers offensive line held up reasonably well considering that for the most part it lacked anything resembling a seasoned veteran. RB LaDainian Tomlinson gained 91 of San Diego's 116 rushing yards, and QB Drew Brees was given adequate protection and shouldered much of the blame himself for his three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble).

LT Damion McIntosh (ankle) will miss Sunday's game and will be replaced by Ed Ellis.

Tomlinson should finish the season with a bang against the Raiders, who allow a whopping 149.8 rushing yards per game. On Sunday, Oakland enabled the Packers to rediscover their struggling running game (156 yards) with an effort on the defensive line that fell somewhere in-between "kind of trying" and "taking an afternoon nap." The Raiders allowed 548 total yards and treated Bret Favre like a long lost friend.

Brees could put together a nice performance, as well, but odds are it won't be necessary. Tomlinson gained 187 yards the first time these teams met on Week 4 on the Raiders' turf.

When the Raiders have the ball - Oakland ran the ball about as well as you would expect a team facing a 27-point halftime deficit to run the ball. The Raiders averaged 6.5 yards per carry, but this came on only 16 carries as they had to abandon the ground game early. Three Oakland quarterbacks (they have three healthy QBs?) suffered from poor pass blocking (5 sacks) against a team that expected them to pass on nearly every down.

To make matters worse, if it matters at all at this point, RT Lincoln Kennedy tore a triceps muscle and is done for the season and LG Frank Middleton (quad), who sat out Sunday's game, is now through for the year, as well. OL Chad Slaughter and LG Langston Walker will replace Kennedy and Middleton, respectively.

San Diego let Jerome Bettis - he of the fading career - pound them for 115 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. The Chargers mustered little pass rush against the Steelers, despite a pair of sacks, and allowed QB Tommy Maddox enough time to efficiently complete 11 of 18 passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns.

Despite the fact that this game will generate little interest among anyone who isn't coaching a fantasy football team in a league championship game, it could be a rather exciting contest for offensive-minded fans. RBs Tyrone Wheatley and Charlie Garner will most likely split carries in hopes that the sum of their parts equals one Tomlinson. In short, the only things that will stop these two offenses are these two offenses.

Green Bay vs. Denver

Green Bay Offense

Sacked/G=1.1

Rush TDs/G=1.1

Rush Avg.=4.9

Denver Defense

Sacks/G=2.3

Rush TDs Against/G=.6

Rush Avg. Against=3.9

Green Bay Defense

Sacks/G=2.37

Rush TDs Against/G=.7

Rush Avg. Against=4.2

Denver Offense

Sacked/G=1.7

Rush TDs/G=1.3

Rush Avg.=4.9

When the Packers have the ball - After three sub-par games, the Packers running game returned to form to the tune of 157 yards on 37 carries (4.2-yard avg.), their first 100-plus rushing performance in four games. Green Bay's offensive line - a strength for the team for much of the season - utterly dominated its Oakland counterpart. QB Bret Favre had a career game with 399 yards passing and four touchdowns while facing nearly non-existent pressure (one sack).

Despite a score that wasn't as lopsided as the Packers' 41-7 thrashing of Oakland, Denver may have played just as well against the Colts - and in Indy's barn, nonetheless. The Broncos held the Colts to only 183 total yards - an incredible feat on the road against the league's No. 1 passing offense and its No. 3 offense overall. Denver allowed the Colts only 47 yards rushing and 136 yards passing - both figures representing roughly half of Indy's season average in either category - and sacked QB Peyton Manning twice.

Green Bay's biggest advantage in this game is that it needs to win in order to make the playoffs. Green will probably struggle to duplicate last week's numbers, though Denver will probably rest a few key players, and it will be important for both he and the offensive line to have solid games in order to avoid asking Favre to go into gunslinger mode against the Broncos' tough secondary.

When the Broncos have the ball - The Broncos manhandled the Colts up front, dominating the line of scrimmage and posting a laughable 44:58 to 15:02 advantage in time of possession. Minus RB Clinton Portis, Denver ran the ball 54 times for 227 yards and QB Jake Plummer was almost perfect, completing 14 of only 17 passes for 238 yards while not enduring a single sack.

Green Bay allowed the Raiders success on the ground with 104 yards on 16 carries, but in all, many of Oakland's 298 total yards were gained in garbage time after the Packers had put the game away. The Packers smothered three different Oakland QBs and posted five sacks.

This matchup would normally make for one heck of a game, but both the Broncos' effort and personnel are in question as Denver may have more to gain than lose by resting key players and to some degree taking the day off. Green Bay is nothing special on defense, but with the playoffs on the line and with Portis out for another week, one shouldn't expect too much from the Broncos' offense.

Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh

Baltimore Offense

Sacked/G=2.7

Rush TDs/G=1.1

Rush Avg.=4.9

Pittsburgh Defense

Sacks/G=2.2

Rush TDs Against/G=.9

Rush Avg. Against=3.9

Baltimore Defense

Sacks/G=2.8

Rush TDs Against/G=.4

Rush Avg. Against=3.5

Pittsburgh Offense

Sacked/G=2.5

Rush TDs/G=.7

Rush Avg.=3.4

When the Ravens have the ball - Despite slight early returns, the Ravens stayed committed to their running game and it paid off big-time. RB Jamal Lewis gained 151 yards on his final five carries after gaining only 54 yards on his first 17 attempts. QB Anthony Wright faced substantial pressure in the first half and was sacked three times before halftime, but the O-line did a much better job protecting him in the second half.

Pittsburgh didn't put a great deal of pressure on San Diego QB Drew Brees (2 sacks) and didn't do a whole lot to slow down LaDainian Tomlinson (91 yards, 2 TDs), but the Chargers' - most notably Brees (2 INT, 1 fumble) - shot themselves in the foot enough times to make any defense look at least average.

This game plan is a no-brainer for the Steelers: stop Lewis. Despite all of the attention, the bruising Baltimore RB should run for at least 100 yards as the Ravens seek to pound their way into the playoffs while minimizing Wright's opportunities to keep them out of the postseason.

When the Steelers have the ball - The Steelers' offense of old was on display against the Chargers. Pittsburgh stayed committed the running game early and benefited from one of the best performances of the season by its offensive line to pile up 181 yards on 43 carries. QB Tommy Maddox was sacked twice, but had plenty of time to complete 11 of 18 passes for 160 yards and three touchdowns without an interception.

As usual, Baltimore was downright nasty on defense in its 35-0 blanking of the Browns, allowing fewer than 80 rushing yards for the second straight game, sacking QB Tim Couch five times while knocking him down numerous others. The Ravens also recovered three fumbles - two of which were forced on sacks of Couch - and came up with one interception.

The Jerome Bettis rejuvenation tour is likely due for a crashing halt, leaving things up to Maddox against the Ravens' 4th-ranked passing defense. Not including their anomalous performance against the Seahawks in Week 12, the Ravens have allowed no more than 17 points in any of their previous six home games.