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FANTASY FOOTBALL WEEKLY FEATURES

Game Scout - Week 14
December 7, 2006

Cleveland Browns (4-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Thursday, 8:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/06/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: NFL Network, Bryant Gumbel, Cris Collinsworth
SERIES: 110th meeting. The Browns lead the regular-season series 55-52 but the Steelers beat the Browns in the only two playoff games the rivals have played. The Browns' last victory over the Steelers was in Pittsburgh on Oct. 5, 2003.
2006 RANKINGS: Browns: offense 29th (30th rush, 24th pass); defense 21st (24th rush, 16th pass). Steelers: offense 7th (19th rush, 7th pass); defense 10th (8th rush, 14th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Browns limited Steelers RB Willie Parker to 46 yards on 16 carries in the first meeting, but repeating the feat could prove difficult with Parker averaging 116.8 rushing yards at home. Pittsburgh's offensive line has been struggling to protect QB Ben Roethlisberger, so the Steelers need a strong ground presence against Cleveland's 24th-ranked run defense. The Browns' offense has had its own issues with pass protection, including allowing five sacks to Pittsburgh three weeks ago. The Steelers' blitz-zone scheme always brings pressure from virtually every spot on the field, and Pittsburgh will be relentless in coming after Browns QB Derek Anderson, who is likely to make his first career start in place of Charlie Frye (wrist). After rushing for 150 yards as a team last Sunday, Cleveland must get similar production to give Anderson a legitimate shot to move the ball through the air.

FAST FACTS: Browns: Lead the series 55-52 but are 21-32 in Pittsburgh and have lost 13 of the past 14 meetings. Steelers: Are 17-5 at home since 2004. ... Have scored at least 20 points in all 16 home games started by Roethlisberger. ... Have won the past six meetings.

Atlanta Falcons (6-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-9)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Dick Stockton, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
SERIES: 27th meeting, Buccaneers lead 15-11. Falcons won the last meeting 14-3 earlier in the season at the Georgia Dome.
2006 RANKINGS: Falcons: offense 9th (1st rush, 32nd pass); defense 24th (10th rush, 31st pass). Bucs: offense 30th (28th rush, 29th pass); defense 19th (19th rush, 21st pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Falcons racked up 306 rushing yards in the first meeting, leaving it to the Bucs to prove they can stop Atlanta's ground game and force QB Michael Vick to make plays through the air. Plays should be there to be had downfield with the Bucs forced to use their safeties heavily in run support and the secondary having allowed a league-high 23 touchdown passes. But the Falcons have struggled all season with dropped passes and don't want to due any favors for Tampa Bay's offense. Bucs rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski isn't getting much help from RB Cadillac Williams on the ground, and his lack of arm strength doesn't keep defenses honest. If Gradkowski turns the ball over, coach Jon Gruden might turn to backup Tim Rattay.

FAST FACTS: Falcons: Vick needs 40 rushing yards to break the single-season quarterback record of 968 set by Chicago's Bobby Douglass in 1972. TE Alge Crumpler has set a single-season career high with seven touchdown receptions. Bucs: RB Mike Alstott has five touchdowns in the past five meetings. ... CB Ronde Barber needs one interception to take over the career franchise record from Donnie Abraham (31).

Baltimore Ravens (9-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-5)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
SERIES: 4th meeting -- The Chiefs lead the series, 3-0. This marks the first Ravens' game in Kansas City. The Chiefs have won all three meetings in Baltimore, beating the Ravens 27-24 in 2004. Priest Holmes ran for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
2006 RANKINGS: Ravens: offense 23rd (24th rush, 16th pass); defense 1st (2nd rush, 9th pass). Chiefs: offense 13th (6th rush, 19th pass); defense 14th (14th rush, 15th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: If the Ravens can contain RB Larry Johnson, they should be able to shut down the Chiefs' offense, which relies heavily on play-action. Kansas City also knows it can't get stuck in long passing situations and hope to protect QB Trent Green against Baltimore's fast and aggressive blitz packages. But Johnson has produced against some of the league's best run defenses this season, so Green should be able to count on support from his ground game. The Ravens' offense looked tired in a Nov. 30 loss in Cincinnati, but will have three extra days of rest. The No. 1 goal for coach Brian Billick is to get QB Steve McNair into a rhythm. Billick won't abandon the run, but he also needs to let McNair take a few shots downfield and get reliable targets like TE Todd Heap a few touches early on.

FAST FACTS: Ravens: McNair has seven touchdown passes and two interceptions since coach Brian Billick took over the play-calling six games ago. ... Will play first game in Arrowhead Stadium. Chiefs: Are 5-1 under coach Herman Edwards when leading at halftime. ... Green is 11-2 in his past 13 starts at home.

Indianapolis Colts (10-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (7-5)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
SERIES: 12th meeting. The Colts hold a 9-2 edge including a 21-14 victory in the first game this season when the Colts were outrushed 157-10 in the first half but held on to get the victory.
2006 RANKINGS: Colts: offense 3rd (15th rush, 2nd pass); defense 16th (32nd rush, 3rd pass). Jaguars: offense 15th (3rd rush, 25th pass); defense 4th (5th rush, 6th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Jaguars rushed for 157 yards in the first meeting and still lost, 21-14. But they will again turn to the tandem of RBs Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew to pound away at the Colts' worst-ranked run defense and attempt to control the clock. QB David Garrard is playing very efficiently and found some chemistry last Sunday with WR Matt Jones, who has a significant height advantage against the Colts' small secondary. Indianapolis also must solve its issues with poor tackling and missed assignments. Offensively, the Colts have the ability to keep the Jaguars off balance if they're able to establish the run and control the tempo. Indianapolis also struggled with uncharacteristic drops and turnovers last Sunday. With Jaguars CB Rashean Mathis tied for the league lead with seven interceptions, look for Colts QB Peyton Manning to target Brian Williams on the other side of the field.

FAST FACTS: Colts: Will clinch AFC South title with a win or tie. ... K Adam Vinatieri has missed his last six field-goal attempts from 50 yards or longer. ... WR Marvin Harrison needs seven receiving yards for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season. Jaguars: Are 17-2 under coach Jack Del Rio when leading after the first quarter. ... Taylor needs 48 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the sixth time in nine seasons.

Minnesota Vikings (5-7) at Detroit Lions (2-10)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Jesse Palmer, Jennifer Hammond
SERIES: 91st meeting in the series which began in 1961 with a 27-point victory by the Lions. The Vikings hold a 59-29-2 advantage, including the current nine-game winning streak that dates back to Oct. 13, 2002.
2006 RANKINGS: Vikings: offense 14th (13th rush, 14th pass); defense 5th (1st rush, 26th pass). Lions: offense 16th (31st rush, 6th pass); defense 26th (22nd rush, 25th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: Despite throwing four touchdown passes and 10 interceptions the past six games, QB Brad Johnson is likely to remain the Vikings' starter for at least one more week. Backup Brooks Bollinger has a separated left shoulder and rookie Tarvaris Jackson admitted he's probably not ready to take over yet. The Vikings are still on the outskirts of the playoff picture and should be in good shape against the Lions as long as RB Chester Taylor is able to play through bruised ribs and help control the field position. Detroit knows it isn't likely to win the game on the ground against the league's top-ranked run defense. Look for offensive coordinator Mike Martz to spread the field and attack Minnesota's shaky secondary. Even backup quarterback Josh McCown was used as a receiver in several packages last weekend.

FAST FACTS: Vikings: Have won the past nine meetings. ... S Darren Sharper has eight career interceptions against Detroit, his most against any opponent. Lions: WR Roy Williams is the team's first 1,000-yard receiver since Johnnie Morton had 1,154 in 2001. ... Detroit and Oakland are the only teams officially eliminated from the playoffs.

New England Patriots (9-3) at Miami Dolphins (5-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Dick Enberg, Randy Cross
SERIES: 83rd meeting. The Dolphins have an all-time lead of 47-35, with New England posting a 20-10 home victory when both teams played in October. The Patriots scored all of their points off Dolphins turnovers and a blocked Olindo Mare field goal.
2006 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 6th (12th rush, 10th pass); defense 9th (3rd rush, 18th pass). Dolphins: offense 17th (27th rush, 11th pass); defense 6th (7th rush, 5th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: RB Ronnie Brown will miss his second consecutive game with a broken hand, but the Dolphins received a strong effort from backup Sammy Morris last weekend. Miami needs to run the ball effectively because even though the offense has improved with QB Joey Harrington, he proved last week that he is still prone to making a few critical mistakes per game. The Patriots will devise new looks to throw his way and the Dolphins don't have the margin for error to overcome losing the turnover battle. But Miami's defense was strong in the first meeting, holding the Patriots to 213 yards of total offense and not allowing a play of longer than 15 yards. New England needs a better effort out of QB Tom Brady, who threw for just 140 yards against Miami at home. If the Dolphins have a defensive weakness, it's a vulnerability to big pass plays, and Brady is far more in tune with his receiving corps than he was in Week 5.

FAST FACTS: Patriots: RB Corey Dillon has 36 touchdowns in 39 games with the team. ... Will clinch the AFC East with a victory and a loss by the Jets. Dolphins: LB Zach Thomas has posted double-digits in tackles in 34 of his past 43 games, including six this season. ... WR Chris Chambers has a touchdown reception in nine of his past 10 home games against NFC East teams.

New York Giants (6-6) at Carolina Panthers (6-6)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
SERIES: 4th meeting. Panthers lead series 3-0. The Panthers defense held a New York Giants offense that ranked third in the NFL in points per game scoreless en route to a 23-0 win on Jan. 8 in the NFC divisional playoffs. Carolina became the first team to register a shutout win on the road since the Los Angeles Rams beat Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-0 in the 1979 NFC Championship game.
2006 RANKINGS: Giants: offense 11th (7th rush, 15th pass); defense 15th (11th rush, 23rd pass). Panthers: offense 19th (18th rush, 17th pass); defense 11th (13th rush, 10th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: RB DeShaun Foster appears as though he will return after missing two games, but the Panthers are concerned about QB Jake Delhomme's bruised thumb. If he's unable to go, backup Chris Weinke will see his first action of the season. Whether it's Delhomme or Weinke, the Panthers need to take advantage of the Giants' secondary. WRs Steve Smith and Keyshawn Johnson not only have a mismatch against the corners, but the Giants have been getting shaky play out of Ss Will Demps and Gibril Wilson. New York would do its secondary an enormous favor by getting consistent pressure on the passer. Offensively, the Giants need to open strong and attempt to take the crowd out of the game. The offensive line has struggled with communication and penalties on the road, and the Giants' can't afford to consistently set themselves back five or 10 yards and still hope to move the chains. If New York can keep the game close, Carolina has blown five fourth-quarter leads this season.

FAST FACTS: Giants: RB Tiki Barber has led the team in rushing in 76 consecutive games, the longest streak in NFL history. ... Of Brandon Jacobs' 115 career rushes, 50 have resulted in a touchdown or first down. Panthers: Have won all three previous meetings. ... Smith leads the NFL with 95.8 receiving yards per game.

Oakland Raiders (2-10) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Steve Tasker
SERIES: 25th meeting. Raiders lead 17-7 and have won the last three. Oakland was 23-20 on Sept. 14, 2003 on Sebastian Janikowski's 39-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining. Raiders haven't played in Cincinnati since Nov. 5, 1995, with Harvey Williams gaining 134 yards as Oakland rushed for 184 yards in a 20-17 win.
2006 RANKINGS: Raiders: offense 32nd (22nd rush, 31st pass); defense 3rd (25th rush, 1st pass). Bengals: offense 8th (26th rush, 4th pass); defense 31st (15th rush, 32nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: This matchup could actually be tighter than most anticipate if the Raiders' top-ranked pass defense is able to cause problems for the Bengals' high-powered offense. Oakland struggles to move the ball and Cincinnati has allowed just seven points in its past two games, but the Raiders will have a chance to give the Bengals a scare if they're able to force a few turnovers and capitalize on short fields. Of course, Cincinnati has had three extra days of rest and preparation after its victory over Baltimore on Nov. 30. Expect a bit of a more conservative game plan out of the Bengals, who don't want to give an inferior team a shot of adrenaline by making costly mistakes. The Raiders will be playing their second game under new offensive coordinator John Shoop, who is excited about the emergence of RB ReShard Lee last weekend and will look to get him heavily involved in the game plan once again.

FAST FACTS: Raiders: WR Randy Moss is on pace for 763 receiving yards, which would be a career worst -- lower than his 767-yard total in 2004 when he missed three entire games. ... Oakland and Detroit are the only team's officially eliminated from the playoffs. Bengals: Are 16-0 when RB Rudi Johnson has at least 25 carries. ... CB Chad Johnson is tied with Isaac Curtis for the franchise record with 20 career 100-yard receiving games.

Philadelphia Eagles (6-6) at Washington Redskins (4-8)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Kenny Albert, Brian Baldinger, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 146th meeting. Redskins lead the series, 75-64-6. The Eagles defeated the Redskins handily four weeks ago in Philadelphia, 27-3. Brian Westbrook rushed for 113 yards and wide receiver Donte Stallworth had six receptions for 139 yards in the romp.
2006 RANKINGS: Eagles: offense 2nd (11th rush, 3rd pass); defense 17th (28th rush, 7th pass). Redskins: offense 18th (10th rush, 23rd pass); defense 28th (23rd rush, 24th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Jason Campbell's mobility has provided the expected help for the Redskins' pass protection, with Campbell getting sacked just three times in 98 dropbacks. But Campbell is still prone to the mistakes of a first-year starter, and the Redskins don't have a chance in most games unless RB Ladell Betts is able to have a big game on the ground. The good news for Washington is that Philadelphia's undersized front seven is vulnerable to the run, although the insertion of LB Omar Gaither into the starting lineup helped the Eagles' run defense against Carolina on Monday night. The biggest factor for Philadelphia is if QB Jeff Garcia continues to feel increasingly comfortable in the offense. He produced several big plays while on the move against the Panthers and will need to find similar success with the Redskins likely to focus on neutralizing RB Brian Westbrook until Garcia proves he can hurt them downfield.

FAST FACTS: Eagles: WR Reggie Brown has scored eight touchdowns on 39 touches this season (20.5 percent). ... Lead the NFL with 61 plays of at least 20 yards. Redskins: Betts needs to average 90 rushing yards over the final four games to become the 10th 1,000-yard rusher in franchise history. ... LG Derrick Dockery has started 58 consecutive games, the most on the team's offense.

Tennessee Titans (5-7) at Houston Texans (4-8)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Don Criqui, Rich Baldinger
SERIES: 10th meeting. Titans lead series 7-2 and beat the Texans 28-22 at LP Field on Oct. 29. Tennessee has won the last three games in the series.
2006 RANKINGS: Titans: offense 25th (5th rush, 28th pass); defense 32nd (30th rush, 28th pass). Texans: offense 28th (24th rush, 21st pass); defense 25th (16th rush, 27th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Titans can't get outgained by more than 200 yards and still hope to sneak away with a victory like they did in the first meeting. The Texans were able to control the ball for 36:21 that day, but they're never quite sure what they will get out of their ground game. QB David Carr was benched in Tennessee and is coming off a game in which he was sacked five times and lost two fumbles against Oakland, so the Texans need to find a way to get his confidence up early on. Tennessee is receiving inspired play out of rookie QB Vince Young, but the Titans' offense still hinges on RB Travis Henry's ability to move the chains and create short-yardage situations. If the Texans are able to shut down Henry -- and the Titans rushed for just 79 yards in the first meeting -- Young will have to step up and make plays in the passing game.

FAST FACTS: Titans: Are 41-2 under coach Jeff Fisher when leading entering the fourth quarter. ... Young needs 235 passing yards to break Dan Pastorini's (1,702) rookie record. Texans: Carr leads the NFL with a 69.1 completion percentage. ... WR Andre Johnson needs nine receiving yards for his second 1,000-yard season in three years.

Green Bay Packers (4-8) at San Francisco 49ers (5-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Matt Vasgersian, JC Pearson, Tim Ryan, Laura Okmin
SERIES: 59th meeting. The Packers lead the series 31-26-1, which includes a 4-1 record against the 49ers in the playoffs. Green Bay has won the last five meetings, dating to 1999, and 10 of the last 11 encounters, dating to 1995. Thanks in part to five meetings in the postseason, the interdivisional teams met annually from 1995 to 2003. This is their first meeting since a 20-10 Packers win on Nov. 23, 2003, at Green Bay.
2006 RANKINGS: Packers: offense 12th (20th rush, 9th pass); defense 29th (17th rush, 30th pass). 49ers: offense 26th (9th rush, 27th pass); defense 22nd (21st rush, 22nd pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: For the 49ers' offense to take the next step, QB Alex Smith is going to have to capitalize on the eight- and nine-man fronts defenses are throwing at San Francisco in an effort to contain RB Frank Gore. Smith is struggling to hurt teams vertically, but the Packers' porous secondary presents an excellent opportunity to build some confidence pushing the ball downfield. Then again, Green Bay has been done in by poor run defense and tackling the past two games, so Gore might have success no matter how many men the Packers throw at him. Green Bay's offense needs to lend a hand by sustaining more drives. The Packers haven't moved the ball consistently, converting just 11 of 40 third-down situations during their three-game losing streak. But something has to give with the 49ers allowing opponents to convert 46.5 percent of the time on third down.

FAST FACTS: Packers: QB Brett Favre has gone three consecutive starts with a passer rating below 60.0. ... RB Ahman Green has 7,893 rushing yards in seven years with the team, 314 yards shy of Jim Taylor's franchise record. 49ers: Gore leads the NFL with 12 carries of at least 20 yards. ... Are 3-0 this season when Smith has a passer rating of at least 100.

Seattle Seahawks (8-4) at Arizona Cardinals (3-9)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: FOX, Thom Brennaman, Barry Alvarez, Charles Davis, Chris Myers
SERIES: 16th meeting. Seattle leads the series, 8-7. The Seahawks have won the last four meetings by a 115-62 margin, including 21-10 at Qwest Field in the second game of this season.
2006 RANKINGS: Seahawks: offense 21st (14th rush, 22nd pass); defense 18th (18th rush, 17th pass). Cardinals: offense 27th (32nd rush, 12th pass); defense 30th (20th rush, 29th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Cardinals have to feel like they have a chance to be competitive with the Seahawks winning by the skin of their teeth while trying to overcome several key injuries. Meanwhile, Arizona's offense has started to hit its stride with the latest offensive line changes finally paying some dividends. If rookie QB Matt Leinart has time in the pocket, Cardinals WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald should have little trouble getting open downfield against the Seahawks' shaky secondary. The bigger question is whether Arizona's defense can lend a hand. The Seahawks' offense can hurt opponents on the ground or through the air, and the Cardinals don't stop either particularly well. But Seattle also relies heavily on timing and tempo, both of which have been lacking since QB Matt Hasselbeck returned from a knee injury two games ago.

FAST FACTS: Seahawks: Clinch NFC West title with a win and a loss by San Francisco. ... LB Julian Peterson's nine sacks in 12 games are 3.5 more than he had in his previous 20 games. ... WR D.J. Hackett has eight receptions with no drops on third down. Cardinals: Seek consecutive victories for just the second time in three years under coach Dennis Green. ... Have lost the past four meetings.

Buffalo Bills (5-7) at New York Jets (7-5)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots
SERIES:
2006 RANKINGS: Bills: offense 31st (29th rush, 30th pass); defense 20th (29th rush, 11th pass). Jets: offense 24th (17th rush, 20th pass); defense 27th (27th rush, 20th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bills know they can move the ball against the Jets -- they had a season-high 475 yards in the first meeting in a Week 3 loss at home. But they have to do a better job of protecting the ball and capitalizing on scoring opportunities. The Jets aren't blowing anyone away statistically, but they've won five of their past seven games by producing a plus-three turnover margin. New York's biggest concern has to be its run defense after Bills RB Willis McGahee carved them up for 150 yards in Buffalo. He has averaged 134.5 yards in the past four meetings, and the more success he has means the less pressure the Jets can put on QB J.P. Losman to make plays. The Jets also want to get their own ground game untracked so they can take advantage of the Bills' smallish front line and hopefully set up play-action for QB Chad Pennington to attack Buffalo's two rookie starting safeties.

FAST FACTS: Bills: WR Lee Evans has already set career highs with 65 receptions for 925 yards. ... WR Terrence McGee has 4,048 career return yards, making him just the 21st person to top 4,000. Jets: Will double 2005 win total with their next victory. ... Pennington (11,058) is the fifth player in franchise history to pass for at least 11,000 career yards.

Denver Broncos (7-5) at San Diego Chargers (10-2)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Grass
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
SERIES: 94th meeting. The Broncos lead the series over the Chargers, 52-40-1. The Chargers seized a rare victory in Denver earlier this month, only their second in Colorado since 1999. The Broncos have split their last four games at Qualcomm Stadium. The Broncos capped their 1997-98 season with a Super Bowl victory over the Packers. Denver beat the Chiefs -- then coached by Marty Schottenheimer -- during those playoffs.
2006 RANKINGS: Broncos: offense 22nd (4th rush, 26th pass); defense 13th (9th rush, 19th pass). Chargers: offense 5th (2nd rush, 13th pass); defense 8th (6th rush, 13th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The speed of the NFL clearly got to rookie QB Jay Cutler in the Broncos' loss to Seattle, and now he makes his first career road start against one of the league's most athletic front sevens. Coach Mike Shanahan made the switch in hopes of taking advantage of Cutler's strong arm, but Denver has to be able to run the ball first and help thwart the Chargers' aggressive pass rush. RB Tatum Bell is coming off a strong game, but it's not easy to find running lanes against San Diego with DT Jamal Williams clogging up the interior. The Chargers will likely be pretty conservative offensively unless Cutler proves he can move the ball. RB LaDainian Tomlinson will continue to receive a heavy workload, especially with Broncos MLB Al Wilson likely to be slowed even if he is able to return from a sprained neck suffered against Seattle. Denver has done an excellent job containing Chargers TE Antonio Gates, who does not have a touchdown reception in the past seven meetings.

FAST FACTS: Broncos: Are 7-1 when Bell rushes for at least one touchdown. ... Shanahan is 19-7 against San Diego. Chargers: Will clinch a playoff spot with a win and the AFC West title if Kansas City also loses. ... Tomlinson's 26 touchdowns are two short of the single-season record set by Seattle RB Shaun Alexander last season.

New Orleans Saints (8-4) at Dallas Cowboys (8-4)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Sunday, 8:15 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/10/06
SURFACE: Sportfield Realgrass
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer
SERIES: 22nd meeting. The Cowboys lead the series, 14-7, despite the Saints winning the last four games. The Saints have won those four meetings by a combined score of 93-47. In their last matchup on Dec. 12, 2004, the Saints claimed a 27-13 decision over the Cowboys in Texas Stadium.
2006 RANKINGS: Saints: offense 1st (21st rush, 1st pass); defense 12th (26th rush, 4th pass). Cowboys: offense 4th (8th rush, 5th pass); defense 7th (4th rush, 12th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: A shootout might actually benefit the Saints, who aren't likely to stop Dallas' balanced attack with any consistency. The problem for New Orleans is that WRs Joe Horn and Marques Colston continue to battle injuries that could keep one or both sidelined. The Saints made an increased effort to run the ball last weekend, but the Cowboys have the league's No. 4 run defense and a very athletic front seven. Dallas is far more vulnerable to the vertical passing game, so QB Drew Brees is going to have to push the ball down the field with whoever he has available at receiver. The Cowboys proved last Sunday that they can win even when QB Tony Romo is struggling a bit. Look for Dallas to lean on RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber in an effort to keep Brees on the sideline as much as possible. If the Cowboys win the turnover battle, they should win the game because the Saints can't afford to waste possessions.

FAST FACTS: Saints: Coach Sean Payton was a Dallas assistant from 2003-05. ... Brees has nine touchdowns, one interception and a 112.5 passer rating in his past five road games. Cowboys: Romo leads the NFL with a 102.4 passer rating. He has a 105.3 rating in his six starts. ... WR Terrell Owens has 58 receptions for 938 yards and 11 TDs in 13 games against the Saints.

Chicago Bears (10-2) at St. Louis Rams (5-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Monday, 8:30 ET
GAMEDATE: 12/11/06
SURFACE: FieldTurf
TV: ESPN, Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann, Tony Kornheiser, Suzy Kolber, Michele Tafoya
SERIES: 4th meeting. Kansas City leads the all-time series 3-0 with all the games taking place in Baltimore.
2006 RANKINGS: Bears: offense 20th (16th rush, 18th pass); defense 2nd (12th rush, 2nd pass). Rams: offense 10th (23rd rush, 8th pass); defense 23rd (31st rush, 8th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: It will be interesting to see how the Rams respond after QB Marc Bulger criticized unnamed teammates for a lack of intensity and preparation following last Sunday's loss. St. Louis needs a strong start not only for team chemistry and confidence, but to put increased pressure on Bears QB Rex Grossman. He has no touchdowns and six interceptions the past two games, forcing coach Lovie Smith to fend off calls for backup Brian Griese. Chicago needs to rebuild Grossman's confidence, and the best way is for RB Thomas Jones to exploit the Rams' weak run defense. If Jones can create shorter passing situations, Grossman is less likely to face the heavy pressure that has led to so many of his recent mistakes. The Bears' defense has its own issues trying to ward off the Rams' strong passing game without injured DT Tommie Harris and possibly CB Nate Vasher. The Rams will also want to take advantage of a Chicago run defense that gave up 192 yards last weekend.

FAST FACTS: Bears: Will clinch first-round bye with victory and losses by Dallas and Seattle. ... Team's .347 (17-32) winning percentage on Monday nights is the fourth-worst in the NFC. ... WR Muhsin Muhammad has just six receptions for 71 yards over the past three games. Rams: Bulger passed the 15,000-yard mark in career passing yards in his 56th game last Sunday, tying Dan Marino and Kurt Warner for the quickest ever to achieve the feat. ... WR Torry Holt is on pace for 1,213 receiving yards, which would snap a streak of six consecutive years over 1,300.

   
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