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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Game Scout - Week 8
October 27, 2006

Arizona Cardinals (1-6) at Green Bay Packers (2-4)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Terry Donohue
SERIES: 69th meeting. The Packers lead the series 42-22-4, including a 41-16 victory over the then-St. Louis Cardinals in an NFC first-round playoff game during the 1982 season at Green Bay in the teams' only postseason meeting. The Packers have won four of the last five encounters, dating to 1988. The Cardinals, though, won the last meeting, 20-13 in 2003 at Arizona. The Packers have won the last seven meetings in Wisconsin, dating to 1955, and are 5-0 at Lambeau Field.
2006 RANKINGS: Cardinals: offense 26th (32nd rush, 14th pass); defense 23rd (18th rush, 24th pass). Packers: offense 10th (18th rush, 6th pass); defense 32nd (10th rush, 32nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: With the Cardinals and Packers combining to allow 518.3 passing yards per game, balls will be flying all over Lambeau Field. But the team that can mount the better running attack might prove to be the victor. While the Packers received their first 100-yard rushing game of the season last weekend from RB Ahman Green, Cardinals RB Edgerrin James continues to voice frustration that he has gone longer than ever before without a 100-yard game to start a season. Arizona coach Dennis Green hinted there will be changes along the offensive line, but didn't say what they would be. The Packers are holding out hope that rookie WR Greg Jennings can overcome a right ankle injury in time to play because the receiving corps is frighteningly thin and the Cardinals can key on shutting down Donald Driver. Either way, expect a heavier dose of Ahman Green early on as the Packers search for offensive balance.

FAST FACTS: Cardinals: SS Adrian Wilson leads NFL defensive backs with 12 sacks since 2005. ... QB Matt Leinart seeks to become team's first rookie quarterback to win a game since Jake Plummer in 1997. Packers: OLB A.J. Hawk is on pace for 155 tackles. The franchise rookie record is 166 by Rich Wingo in 1979. ... Have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in their past eight games.

Atlanta Falcons (4-2) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
SERIES: 11th meeting. The Falcons are 1-4 in the Queen City, with their only victory coming in the teams' first game, a 9-6 ugly-fest in 1971. In the last meeting, Atlanta wiped away memories off a disappointing Week 2 home loss to Chicago with a 30-3 win at the Georgia Dome against a 2002 Cincinnati defense that allowed him to complete 16 of 26 passes for 174 yards and two TDs. Vick ran five times for 56 yards.
2006 RANKINGS: Falcons: offense 6th (1st rush, 32nd pass); defense 20th (11th rush, 27th pass). Bengals: offense 18th (19th rush, 12th pass); defense 19th (25th rush, 13th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: There will be a critical battle of backups in the trenches when the Bengals have the ball. Cincinnati is without injured LT Levi Jones, replaced by rookie Andrew Whitworth, who will have to deal with DE Patrick Kerney. Kerney slides from the left to the right side of Atlanta's line because John Abraham is out along with DT Rod Coleman. The Falcons were still able to stuff Pittsburgh's running game last weekend with fill-in starters Chauncey Davis and Jonathan Babineaux combining for nine tackles and two sacks. If the Bengals are able to put drives together, they are difficult to stop with a 62.5 touchdown percentage inside the red zone, where they have scored on all 16 trips. The Bengals' defense has been poor against the run all season and will struggle to contain RB Warrick Dunn and QB Michael Vick on the ground. Cincinnati should get a boost with LB Brian Simmons and SS Dexter Jackson back in the lineup for the second consecutive week.

FAST FACTS: Falcons: Are 1-4 in Cincinnati. ... Vick is 15-4 when throwing at least two touchdown passes. Bengals: Have won eight consecutive home games against NFC teams. ... RB Rudi Johnson is third in franchise history with 15 career 100-yard rushing games.

Baltimore Ravens (4-2) at New Orleans Saints (5-1)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Sportexe Momentum
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Randy Cross
SERIES: 4th meeting. The Ravens lead the series, 2-1. The Ravens won the first two meetings (in 1996 and 1999) before losing to the Saints, 37-25, in 2002. In that loss, the Ravens fumbled three times and quarterback Jeff Blake was intercepted twice. Saints running back Deuce McAllister rushed for three touchdowns. This marks the first regular-season trip to New Orleans for the Ravens.
2006 RANKINGS: Ravens: offense 28th (26th rush, 25th pass); defense 3rd (2nd rush, 7th pass). Saints: offense 7th (17th rush, 5th pass); defense 13th (21st rush, 9th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Ravens coach Brian Billick takes over the play-calling from fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, but there isn't likely to be a major overhaul. Expect Billick to maintain the personnel packages but trim the game plan a bit. The Ravens have struggled to run the ball with any consistency, but RB Jamal Lewis must get off to a strong start because Baltimore doesn't want to expose QB Steve McNair -- coming off a concussion in his last game -- to Saints DEs Will Allen and Charles Grant on obvious passing downs. Billick is also concerned about his secondary, and met with CB Samari Rolle over the bye week to discuss the unusually high amount of big plays he has allowed this season. Baltimore needs to be sound in the secondary because Saints QB Drew Brees has built a quick rapport with rookie WR Marques Colston and Joe Horn appears to be over his early season problems with drops.

FAST FACTS: Ravens: Were held to less than two touchdowns in 14 of 22 games under Fassel. ... Have won their past four games immediately following a bye. Saints: Are 5-1 or better for just the fifth time in franchise history. ... Are 8-9 in games immediately following a bye week.

Houston Texans (2-4) at Tennessee Titans (1-5)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker
SERIES: 9th meeting. Tennessee Titans lead the series, 6-2, and the Texans are looking for their first victory over the Titans since 2004 when RB Domanick Davis ran for 129 yards and a touchdown as Houston staged the biggest comeback in team history after trailing 21-3 early in the second quarter. Houston scored 28 unanswered points to get the 31-21 victory.
2006 RANKINGS: Texans: offense 27th (30th rush, 19th pass); defense 31st (27th rush, 31st pass). Titans: offense 25th (14th rush, 28th pass); defense 29th (32nd rush, 12th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: While Texans QB David Carr has an NFL-best 70.3 completion percentage, Titans rookie Vince Young is at 47.5 -- ahead of only Kerry Collins, the man he replaced three games ago. Young should benefit from extra practices over the bye week and returns to the state of Texas, where he led the Longhorns to the national title in January, but it has been the running game that has allowed Tennessee to be competitive in its last two games. The Texans give up 4.6 yards per carry and need to focus on containing RB Travis Henry so they can then pressure Young into mistakes. Houston is wary of Young's mobility, but he has also fumbled five times -- losing three to go along with four interceptions. The Texans' offense received a huge boost with rookie RB Wali Lundy rushing for 93 yards last Sunday. If Lundy can produce on the ground from the start, Carr should have plenty of success setting up shots downfield against the Titans' secondary.

FAST FACTS: Texans: A victory would give the team its first winning month since October 2004. ... QB David Carr leads the AFC with a 125.6 fourth-quarter passer rating. Titans: Seek consecutive victories for the first time since 2003. ... RB Travis Henry has 308 rushing yards in two career starts against Houston.

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-3)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
SERIES: 3rd meeting. The Jaguars lead the series, 2-0, winning 38-21 in 1997 and 28-25 in Tom Coughlin's final season in 2002. Both games were played at home. This is the Jaguars' first trip to Philadelphia in the 12-year history of the franchise.
2006 RANKINGS: Jaguars: offense 22nd (12th rush, 24th pass); defense 9th (12th rush, 11th pass). Eagles: offense 1st (8th rush, 1st pass); defense 16th (14th rush, 21st pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Eagles are hardly pressing the panic button -- all three of their losses have come on the final play of the game. What they are focusing on is tightening up a few areas, including their pass rush. Philadelphia has 15 sacks in two games and just 10 in their other six. Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich has a sore ankle and must prove to coach Jack Del Rio he is healthy before getting the nod Sunday, but backup David Garrard provides far more mobility. Regardless of who is behind center, the Jaguars don't want to get caught up in a scoring duel and need RBs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew to control the field position in a tough road environment. Jacksonville's defense could be without DT Marcus Stroud for a third consecutive game, making it easier for Philadelphia to establish the running game. RB Brian Westbrook and TE L.J. Smith give the Eagles the ability to exploit mismatches in the short running game with the Jaguars starting a rookie in OLB Clint Ingram and Daryl Smith forced inside with Mike Peterson out for the season.

FAST FACTS: Jaguars: Taylor needs 82 rushing yards to become the sixth active player with 9,000. ... Drew has already tied Greg Jones' team rookie record of three rushing touchdowns. Eagles: QB Donovan McNabb has thrown for at least two touchdowns in every game this season. ... McNabb needs 12 completions to tie Randall Cunningham (1,874) for second place in franchise history.

Seattle Seahawks (4-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-3)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Matt Vasgersian, JC Pearson, Jay Glazer
SERIES: The Chiefs lead, 30-18. Kansas City dominated this rivalry when Seattle was in the AFC West from 1977 through 2001. The Chiefs hold a 19-5 series lead in Kansas City. Seattle was winless there between 1990 and 1999.
2006 RANKINGS: Seahawks: offense 21st (20th rush, 17th pass); defense 15th (8th rush, 25th pass). Chiefs: offense 24th (21st rush, 21st pass); defense 11th (24th rush, 6th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Seahawks QB Seneca Wallace gets his first career start in place of injured Matt Hasselbeck and must make do without MVP RB Shaun Alexander and behind an offensive line that continues to struggle. Expect plenty of short passes to the running backs and TE Jerramy Stevens, who needs to be effective quickly in his second game back from injury to provide Wallace a safety valve. Wallace has mobility and a strong arm, but the Chiefs will attempt to rattle him early and the West Coast offense goes flat when it doesn't have timing. Kansas City's primary offensive goal has to be to protect the ball and not do Seattle any favors. RB Larry Johnson will carry a heavy load because while the Seahawks are ranked in the middle of the pack defensively, they do rush the passer well and have the ability to create a slew of turnovers through pressure. When QB Damon Huard does have time to work downfield, however, the Chiefs' receivers should be able to gain separation -- the Seahawks are giving up so many big pass plays that SS Michael Boulware was benched for Jordan Babineaux.

FAST FACTS: Seahawks: Do not have a quarterback on the roster with an NFL start in the preseason or regular season. ... Wallace will make his first NFL start in the same stadium in which he made his first collegiate start for Iowa State. Chiefs: Johnson is already fifth in franchise history with 35 rushing touchdowns. ... Have a 16-game home winning streak when having a positive turnover margin.

San Francisco 49ers (2-4) at Chicago Bears (6-0)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Pat Summerall, Brian Baldinger
SERIES: 60th meeting. The 49ers lead series 30-28-1, but the Bears have won the past two meetings in the past two seasons.
2006 RANKINGS: 49ers: offense 17th (9th rush, 18th pass); defense 28th (21st rush, 30th pass). Bears: offense 14th (24th rush, 10th pass); defense 2nd (3rd rush, 4th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: It's not difficult to pinpoint the big difference between the teams -- while the 49ers are allowing 242.3 passing yards per game, the Bears are giving up just 243.2 in total yardage. The 49ers are giving up far too many big plays and now must contend with Bears QB Rex Grossman, who is second in the NFL at 12.71 yards per completion. However, Chicago's running game has continued to muddle along and coach Lovie Smith hinted RB Cedric Benson will be worked into the mix early. The good news for the 49ers is they expect to have their starting offensive line on the field together for the first time since the sixth play of the season. LG Larry Allen returns and must help control the line of scrimmage for the running game. RB Frank Gore needs to gain positive yardage on first and second down to avoid exposing QB Alex Smith to the Bears' fierce pass rush on long passing downs. The Bears to have a concern with SS Todd Johnson starting in place of injured Mike Brown.

FAST FACTS: 49ers: Smith's eight touchdown passes ties the team's total for all of 2005. ... WR Arnaz Battle has caught at least two passes in nine consecutive games. Bears: Have allowed 59 points, their fewest through six games since allowing 34 in 1934. ... Have allowed fewer than 10 points in nine consecutive home games.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) at New York Giants (4-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan
SERIES: 16th meeting. Giants lead the all-time series 9-6 but the Bucs have won three of the last four games between these teams.
2006 RANKINGS: Bucs: offense 29th (27th rush, 27th pass); defense 27th (30th rush, 15th pass). Giants: offense 2nd (2nd rush, 7th pass); defense 21st (15th rush, 23rd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: With a short week following a big Monday night win at Dallas and facing a three-game home stretch, the Giants' chief concern has to be avoiding a letdown. The Bucs have produced just 23 offensive points the past two games and are starting a rookie quarterback in Bruce Gradkowski, but the Giants are also battling several injuries along their defensive line and lost OLB LaVar Arrington for the season. Regardless, until Gradkowski starts connecting on some of his deep shots to WR Joey Galloway, defenses will continue to stack the box with eight men in an effort to stuff RB Carnell Williams and the Bucs will struggle to move the ball. Tampa Bay's defense essentially won the game for the team last weekend, but it still is showing its age and will have a difficult time slowing the Giants' balanced attack. The Bucs are allowing 152.3 rushing yards per game and now must deal with the league's leading rushing in RB Tiki Barber. Tampa Bay's only real chance is to create turnovers and hope Gradkowski can capitalize on short fields.

FAST FACTS: Bucs: LB Derrick Brooks will tie Paul Gruber's franchise record by playing in his 183rd game with the team. ... Have outscored the Giants 72-41 in winning three of the past four meetings. Giants: Barber is averaging 4.67 yards for his career, third-best all-time among players with at least 2,000 carries (Jim Brown, 5.22; Barry Sanders, 4.99) ... Have outscored their opponents 122-46 in the second half.

St. Louis Rams (4-2) at San Diego Chargers (4-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
SERIES: 9th meeting. Rams lead, 5-3, and they have won the only two games played in the series since the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995. Both games were in St. Louis. There have been just two games in the series played in San Diego in 1975 and 1994. The Rams won the 1975 game in overtime.
2006 RANKINGS: Rams: offense 8th (22nd rush, 4th pass); defense 24th (23rd rush, 22nd pass). Chargers: offense 4th (3rd rush, 13th pass); defense 1st (5th rush, 2nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Many experts are pointing to this game as a litmus test for the Rams, but the Chargers have an identical record and an opponents' combined record for 13-24 compared to St. Louis' 15-23. With San Diego failing to rush for 100 yards in either of its past two games, expect the Chargers to lean more on RB LaDainian Tomlinson and attack an undersized Rams defense allowing an average of 121 rushing yards. One of St. Louis' goals over its bye week was preventing big plays, and the Rams are excited to have CB Fakhir Brown back in the lineup. Another focus was tightening up the pass protection. QB Marc Bulger has been sacked 19 times through four games and the offensive line will have to deal with its first true 3-4 opponent this season. The Chargers are without injured OLB Shaun Phillips, who leads the team in sacks, but have plenty of other athletes who can rush the passer from various spot. Bulger has thrown just one interception and if he can make the right reads he can burn San Diego's mediocre secondary.

FAST FACTS: Rams: Are 6-2 in games immediately following a bye since 1998. ... RB Steven Jackson has three consecutive 100-yard rushing games against AFC teams. Chargers: Tomlinson has 7,834 yards in 85 games. Only seven players have reached 8,000 in fewer than 90. ... QB Philip Rivers is second in the AFC with a 116.0 fourth-quarter passer rating.

Indianapolis Colts (6-0) at Denver Broncos (5-1)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
SERIES: 16th meeting. The Colts lead the series 11-4 over the Denver Broncos. The Colts also have a pair of blowout wins in the playoffs. Three seasons ago Denver lost 41-10 at Indianapolis in an AFC Wild Card game, then two seasons ago the Colts beat the broncos 49-24 in an AFC Wild Card game.
2006 RANKINGS: Colts: offense 3rd (16th rush, 2nd pass); defense 18th (31st rush, 3rd pass). Broncos: offense 23rd (4th rush, 30th pass); defense 4th (7th rush, 8th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Something has to give. The Colts are averaging 28.5 points per game while the Broncos have the league's top-ranking scoring defense at 7.3 points per game and have surrendered just two touchdowns all season. Denver must find a way to contain QB Peyton Manning early and keep the game close because the Colts have outscored their opponents 101-57 in the second half this season. That also means a solid effort from an offense that has yet to show any consistency. It doesn't get any easier for the Broncos, who lost LT Matt Lepsis for the season and are likely to move RG Cooper Carlisle to the left side to deal with Colts DE Dwight Freeney. To avoid putting the reshaped line under too much pressure, Denver has to run the ball effectively early on. And that shouldn't be a monumental task with Indianapolis second-worst in the NFL allowing 158.0 rushing yards per game and dead last at 5.2 yards per carry.

FAST FACTS: Colts: Are the ninth team in league history to start consecutive seasons 6-0. The 1929-31 Green Bay Packers are the only team to start consecutive seasons 7-0. ... INVESCO Field is one of only three stadiums Manning has played in without throwing a touchdown pass. Broncos: Have won an NFL-best 13 consecutive home games. ... WR Rod Smith needs one reception to pass Steve Largent (819) for 12-most all-time.

New York Jets (4-3) at Cleveland Browns (1-5)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
SERIES: 19th meeting. Browns lead series, 11-7. This will be the Jets' second visit to Cleveland since the franchise rejoined the NFL as an expansion team in 1999. The Jets won 10-7 in Cleveland in 2004 behind then-backup QB Quincy Carter, subbing for an injured Chad Pennington.
2006 RANKINGS: Jets: offense 19th (13th rush, 23rd pass); defense 30th (28th rush, 26th pass). Browns: offense 32nd (31st rush, 26th pass); defense 22nd (29th rush, 10th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Jets coach Eric Mangini and Browns coach Romeo Crennel were both defensive assistants under New England coach Bill Belichick, but Mangini is experiencing far more success at this point than his close friend. Crennel let offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon go this week, with Jeff Davidson taking over the play-calling. Davidson would be wise to stick with a heavy dose of the ground game -- the Jets allow 142.2 rushing yards per game and the Browns have to find a way to protect QB Charlie Frye better. RB Reuben Droughns has the ability to wear a defense down and the longer the Browns' offense is on the field the more it protects the defense as well. Cleveland lost CB Gary Baxter for the season and the Jets will attempt to exploit the secondary with three-receiver sets featuring WRs Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery and Justin McCareins. With rookie RB Leon Washington providing a strong ground presence in recent games, QB Chad Pennington should have success working off play-action.

FAST FACTS: Jets: Have matched 2005 win total. ... Coles' 42 receptions are the most by a Jet through seven games since Al Toon's 43 in 1986. Browns: Crennel was the Jets' defensive line coach from 1997-99. ... Are averaging 14.6 yards per game after finishing last in the NFL at 14.5 last season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4) at Oakland Raiders (1-5)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
SERIES: 17th meeting, series that began in 1970 is tied 11-11 overall, including 8-8 in the regular season and 3-3 in the post-season. The Steelers won the last meeting in 2004 in Pittsburgh, 24-21, and have won five of the past six games between the teams, back to 1994. Their post-season meetings in the 1970s were epics; they met either in the playoffs (two) or the AFC championship game (three) five straight times from 1972 through 1976, including the famous Immaculate Reception game in 1972 in Three Rivers Stadium.
2006 RANKINGS: Steelers: offense 9th (15th rush, 9th pass); defense 12th (9th rush, 19th pass). Raiders: offense 31st (10th rush, 31st pass); defense 5th (26th rush, 1st pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Raiders won their first game of the season last week despite turning the ball over five times. That combination won't work against Pittsburgh, which has its back against the wall in the AFC and should come out motivated. The Steelers will focus on stopping the Raiders' ground game early on and then abusing Oakland's vulnerable offensive line. The Raiders must keep the game close and stick with the run, even if RB LaMont Jordan's stiff back causes him problems and Justin Fargas sees significant action. Pittsburgh expects QB Ben Roethlisberger to play following last Sunday's concussion, and he'll face a quickly improving Oakland defense. Look for the Steelers to come out running behind RB Willie Parker and only attack the Raiders' secondary if the ground game stalls. Oakland did an excellent job of containing Cardinals WR Anquan Bolin last weekend and will attempt to recreate that success against Steelers WR Hines Ward.

FAST FACTS: Steelers: Ward's 15 career 100-yard receiving games are the third-most in franchise history. ... Coach Bill Cowher is 5-1 against Oakland. Raiders: Are allowing just 140.5 passing yards per game. ... Have allowed only 10 touchdowns in 25 opponents' trips inside the 20-yard line.

Dallas Cowboys (3-3) at Carolina Panthers (4-3)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/29/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer
SERIES: 9th meeting. Dallas leads series 5-3. Dallas has won five of the last six meetings. Dallas and Carolina met in a 1996 Divisional Playoff Game and a 2003 Wild Card Game, with the Panthers claiming victories in both.
2006 RANKINGS: Cowboys: offense 5th (5th rush, 11th pass); defense 8th (4th rush, 16th pass). Panthers: offense 20th (25th rush, 16th pass); defense 17th (20th rush, 17th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Cowboys QB Tony Romo showed promise and inexperience when he took over for benched Drew Bledsoe on Monday night. For Dallas to get more of the former and less of the latter in Romo's first NFL start, the Cowboys must get a strong game from RB Julius Jones. One of the reasons coach Bill Parcells has turned to Romo is his mobility, which could come in handy behind a shaky offensive line that has to contend with DE Julius Peppers. If Romo can buy some extra time with his feet, there might be a few big plays to be had. Allowing big plays has been the Cowboys' nemesis defensively. Ss Pat Watkins and Roy Williams have struggled to provide help over the top, which is a scary proposition against Panthers WR Steve Smith. While Carolina has the big-play threat, it also has had far too many drives stall with the league's worst third-down offense converting just 23.5 percent. The Cowboys' front seven is very stout and the Panthers could find it difficult to move the ball on the ground.

FAST FACTS: Cowboys: WR Terrell Owens has moved past Andre Rison for 21st place all-time with 744 career receptions. ... Begin a three-game road stretch. Panthers: Are 8-3 in their past 11 games decided by eight points or less. ... Smith is averaging 103.1 receiving yards per game since the start of the 2005 season.

New England Patriots (5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (4-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 ET
GAMEDATE: 10/30/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: ESPN, Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann, Tony Kornheiser, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya
SERIES: The Patriots and Vikings have only faced each other nine times, with New England holding the edge in the all-time series, 5-4. Most of the contests have been close. Only twice in this series has a game been decided by more than eight points, and two of the games have gone into overtime. The last time the two teams met, the Patriots scored on their first three possessions to take a quick 21-0 lead. Despite giving up 417 yards of total offense to the Vikings, New England hung on to prevail 24-17.
2006 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 15th (6th rush, 22nd pass); defense 10th (6th rush, 20th pass). Vikings: offense 12th (10th rush, 15th pass); defense 7th (1st rush, 18th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots enter the game averaging 131.5 rushing yards per game, but they are the only team among the top 11 in the league averaging less than 4.0 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the Vikings have the top-ranked run defense for the first time since 1994. New England can't run it down the throat of DT Pat Williams & Co., so QB Tom Brady will need to continue to spread the ball around -- and he has appeared more comfortable with his revamped receiving corps each week. The Vikings' Tampa-2 defense is designed to prevent big pass plays, so Brady will have to be patient engineering sustained drives. Minnesota finally started to show some confidence offensively last Sunday in Seattle, with RB Chester Taylor getting in sync behind the mammoth left side of the line led by LT Bryant McKinnie and LG Steve Hutchinson. But the Patriots are also very solid against the run and QB Brad Johnson has to make some plays downfield to open up running lanes for Taylor.

FAST FACTS: Patriots: Have outscored their opponents 156-64 during their five-game road winning streak. ... Rookie RB Laurence Maroney ranks second in University of Minnesota history with 3,933 rushing yards. Vikings: Are 23-22 on Monday nights. ... Have a four-game home winning streak on Monday nights.

   
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