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NFL Week 9 predictions

Saints at Panthers Jets at Chiefs Broncos at Patriots
Jaguars at Bengals Chargers at Dolphins Raiders at Seahawks
Buccaneers at Browns Redskins at Vikings Ravens at Steelers
Cardinals at Cowboys Rams at 49ers Colts at Giants
Eagles at Texans

(Byes: Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Tennessee)

Arizona Cardinals (6-1) at Dallas Cowboys (6-2)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas – TV: FOX

  • TV announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Charissa Thompson
  • Keys to the game: Arizona didn’t need to see Washington’s “casino blitz” fronts baffle the Cowboys to bring the same approach to Dallas. The Cardinals are third in quarterback pressures this season and lead the NFL in blitzes the past two seasons.
  • Whether it’s Tony Romo – a game-time decision with a back contusion – or Brandon Weeden staring down the barrel, the crux of the Cowboys’ plan of attack doesn’t change in feeding RB DeMarco Murray. He’s ahead of Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season record pace with 1,054 yards through eight games. Flipping the ball to Murray and TE Jason Witten for short gains is the best route to live to fight another down, but big plays will show themselves if Dallas quarterbacks stay patient.
  • Cardinals QB Carson Palmer, consistently reliable and productive this season, has three receivers averaging more than 14.3 yards per carry. Dynamic rookie John Brown (14.4 yards per catch) and Michael Floyd (18.6) might worry the Cowboys based on issues the past two games dealing with vertical routes.
  • Dallas might blitz to get more pressure, but the Cowboys still pick their spots, focusing instead on assignment discipline containing RB Andre Ellington.
  • Matchup to watch – Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson vs. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant: Peterson trails the opponents’ top receiver and often does it without help over the top because of the propensity to blitz. He is also returning from a concussion that knocked him out of last week’s game.
  • Player spotlight – Cowboys WR Terrance Williams: Williams leads the Cowboys with six touchdown receptions and a 16.3-yard average. With Peterson tracking Bryant all over the field, Williams becomes a primary target.
  • Fast facts: Arizona leads the NFC with a plus-nine turnover margin. … The Cardinals’ 6-1 start is the franchise’s best since 1975 (7-0). … The Cowboys have not lost more than two consecutive games since 2010.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

With or without Romo, the Cowboys focus on balancing the offense without extreme risks to protect the ball. Arizona remains steady and takes another one in the fourth quarter.

Our pick: Cardinals 28-23

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-7) at Cincinnati Bengals (4-2)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati – TV: CBS

  • TV announcers: Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
  • Keys to the game: The Jaguars are doing a respectable job with a miniscule margin for error. Jacksonville’s defense has allowed only three touchdowns in the past four games, but turnovers – including a pair of pick-sixes from the right arm of QB Blake Bortles last week – closed the door on the team’s second win.
  • More consistency from the running game, in the form of back-to-back 100-yard games from RB Denard Robinson, has the attention of the Bengals (29th in the NFL vs. run). But Bortles will need to move the offense without giving the ball away.
  • A few takaways from a defense that ranks second in the NFL with 25 sacks (Bills, 28) could help ease the rookie’s burden. WR A.J. Green (toe) returned to practice for the Bengals on Wednesday and despite being limited is optimistic he will play Sunday for the first time since Oct. 8, but speedy RB Giovani Bernard (hip) could be held out with a Thursday night game against the Browns looming. That would give rookie RB Jeremy Hill, agile and powerful, a chance to tote the ball 20-25 times as offensive coordinator Hue Jackson proves the Bengals can overpower teams.
  • Matchup to watch – Bengals WR Mohamed Sanu vs. Jaguars CB Demetrius McCray: Sanu is clicking with QB Andy Dalton and has emerged as an explosive threat with Green out the past three games. McCray has done a solid job since taking over the starting job four weeks ago.
  • Player spotlight – Jaguars LT Josh Wells: Luke Joeckel is still recovering from a concussion, and the undrafted rookie Wells would get the call if Joeckel can’t play. Wells gave up just one sack filling in for Joeckel last week, but is still very inexperienced.
  • Fast facts: The Jaguars will fly directly to London for a Week 10 game vs. Dallas. The team will play one home game each of the next four years at Wembley Stadium. … Bengals LB Vontaze Burfice (knee) is out. He has played 223 of 391 defensive snaps since signing a four-year extension.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Without serious assistance – read: points – from his defense and special teams, Bortles is not fully equipped to tame a veteran Bengals defense.

Our pick: Bengals 30-18

New York Jets (1-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-3)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo. – TV: CBS

  • TV announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Evan Washburn
  • Keys to the game: The Jets made the move to QB Michael Vick and hope he will benefit from having a full week of practice with the first-team offense. Vick fumbled twice after replacing Geno Smith last week and acknowledged he has to be more careful with the ball as at 34 years old, he’s not quite the same dynamic open-field threat as in his earlier years. The Chiefs enter with the league’s top-ranked pass defense, and Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg needs to stay committed to the ground game as long as possible to extend drives, protect the Jets’ beleaguered secondary and shorten the game.
  • The Chiefs’ offense has found a nice balance with a nearly even split between the ground and passing attacks. QB Alex Smith will play despite a sore shoulder suffered last week, and has thrown only one pass that traveled more than 20 yards over the past five games. However, he has shown good accuracy in recent weeks and should find his receivers generating ample separation against the Jets’ depleted secondary. New York’s best hope is for its defensive line to dominate in the trenches and apply constant heat on Smith, who has been sacked 18 times.
  • Matchup to watch – Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson vs. Chiefs LT Eric Fisher: Whipped by Rams DE Robert Quinn for consecutive sacks last week, one that resulted in a shoulder injury for Smith, Fisher can expect to be targeted again Sunday. Wilkerson doesn’t possess quite the first-step quickness of Quinn, but will be moved around as coach Rex Ryan seeks mismatches. He will also test RT Ryan Harris, while Fisher will have to contend significantly with OLB Quinton Coples.
  • Player spotlight – Chiefs ILB Josh Mauga: Not re-signed by the Jets after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury, Mauga joined the Chiefs at the start of training camp. He re-joined coordinator Bob Sutton, formerly the Jets’ linebackers coach, and Mauga was elevated to the starting lineup due to injuries to starters Joe Mays and Derrick Johnson.
  • Fast facts: The Jets are tied for first in the NFL with 18 turnovers and tied for fifth with 63 penalties. … Alex Smith has thrown 21 of his 214 passes more than 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Jets are playing out the string for a coach destined to be looking for work in two months. The Chiefs are finding their rhythm on both sides of the ball and must focus on every victory in the busy AFC playoff picture.

Our pick: Chiefs 28-19

Philadelphia Eagles (5-2) at Houston Texans (4-4)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at NRG Stadium, Houston – TV: FOX

  • TV announcers: Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston, Tony Siragusa
  • Keys to the game: Eagles QB Nick Foles has not found the counter punch for defenses loading up to stop RBs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles and inviting him to attack one-on-one coverage. Foles trusts athletic TE Zach Ertz and can stretch the Texans horizontally with two-back sets.
  • Foles won’t have much time to scan the field. Texans DE J.J. Watt is almost always a mismatch, but especially so Sunday with OG Todd Herremans playing with a biceps injury.
  • If the Eagles are going to beat the Texans, they need to neutralize red-hot RB Arian Foster and put QB Ryan Fitzpatrick in obvious passing situations. Fitzpatrick is 29th in the league in third-down passing.
  • Fitzpatrick is protecting the ball with the offense revolving around Foster, who is averaging 129.8 rushing yards per game and has scored six touchdowns. He also has 16 runs of at least 10 yards and 22 carries that have resulted in first downs.
  • Matchup to watch – Eagles DE Fletcher Cox vs. Texans LG Ben Jones: Jones has struggled in pass protection. Cox is developing into one of the league’s better two-gap ends and is an outstanding pass rusher. The Eagles send their extra pressure from the edges, which means no help is coming for Jones.
  • Player spotlight – Eagles RB Darren Sproles: Back from a knee sprain, Sproles is dangerous as a receiver and punt returner, with seven of his 18 punt returns going for 16 yards or more. Houston is 31st in punt coverage.
  • Fast facts: Foster has four consecutive 100-yard games and is on pace for 18 touchdowns this season. … Philadelphia has scored just three touchdowns in its past 10 red-zone possessions.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Philadelphia needs a fast start, and in allowing only three first-quarter points in the past four games the Eagles can throw the first punch, but will their defense hold up against Foster?

Our pick: Eagles 24-23

San Diego Chargers (5-3) at Miami Dolphins (4-3)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at SunLife Stadium, Miami – TV: CBS

  • TV announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Jenny Dell
  • Keys to the game: The Dolphins have pinned down their past two opponents, and three of the past four failed to reach 15 points. The Chargers don’t mind a low-scoring game, and it even suits their brand of keep-away offense in which Philip Rivers picks and pecks his way down the field to lull defensive backs to sleep before throwing over the top to Malcom Floyd or Antonio Gates.
  • Miami’s stock of edge rushers is solid, and the Dolphins can drill gaps to test a Chargers offensive line thinned by injuries. Rivers has a quick release and has been sacked 13 times this season. It’s essential that Miami put pressure on him, putting this game on the Dolphins’ front seven.
  • While banking on its defense, Miami has to get the offense clicking early. The Dolphins might even force the issue with WR Mike Wallace, who voiced frustration this week with his lack of vertical opportunities.
  • QB Ryan Tannehill has been better facing zone schemes, but he’ll get a heavy dose of tight man coverage from the Chargers. His playmaking ability will be needed outside the pocket.
  • Matchup to watch – Chargers OGs Chris Watt and Johnnie Troutman vs. Dolphins DE Olivier Vernon: Watt, a rookie, and Troutman are rotating at right guard and coach Mike McCoy plans to stick with the hot hand – if the Chargers get their sputtering ground game going. Vernon has 10.5 sacks in the past 14 games. He’s a terror because of his size, strength and agility.
  • Player spotlight – Dolphins LB Jelani Jenkins: The supersub remains the team’s leader in tackles (53) by a wide margin and one of the pleasant surprises for the Dolphins this season. He’ll be a huge part of the game plan to slow down Chargers RBs Branden Oliver and Donald Brown.
  • Fast facts: Rivers need 418 yards to reach 35,000 career passing yards. … Miami plays four teams with a winning record in November. … The Dolphins are 14-1 when Tannehill has a passer rating of 90 or better.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Confidence is slipping in the Chargers’ running game but with Rivers’ quick trigger, San Diego can dominate the ball with long drives made up of short, high-percentage passes. Miami needs a mistake-free Tannehill to match the veteran, and should be able to exploit the San Diego offensive line.

Our pick: Chargers 23-20

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-3)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at FirstEngergy Stadium, Cleveland – TV: FOX

  • TV announcers: Thom Brennaman, David Diehl, Laura Okmin
  • Keys to the game: The Bucs have to find a way to run the ball with more consistency as they continue to struggle to sustain drives and protect second-year QB Mike Glennon. Cleveland allows 4.8 yards per carry, and Bucs RB Bobby Rainey is seeing an increased workload with the coaching staff apparently losing faith in former three-down back Doug Martin.
  • The Browns’ offense is still working to recover from the season-ending injury to C Alex Mack. In the two full games since his injury, the Browns have totaled 108 rushing yards, compared to averaging 145 yards through the first five games. QB Brian Hoyer is seeing a heavy dose of eight-man fronts designed to stuff the run and dare him to push the ball vertically. His accuracy has been highly inconsistent, but Hoyer believes he’s poised to burn teams that overplay the run. Considering the Bucs’ are making a massive adjustment to their 30th-ranked pass defense, a breakout game may well be there for the taking.
  • Matchup to watch – Bucs SS Bradley McDougald vs. Hoyer: The second-year player out of Kansas is expected to make his first career start in place of 2012 first-round pick Mark Barron, who was traded to St. Louis. McDougald had four tackles through six games and while his main assignment will be in run support, Hoyer will attempt to attack him and FS Dashon Goldson as the last line of defense.
  • Player spotlight – Browns TE Jim Dray: With Jordan Cameron (concussion) out, Dray will see significant snaps. He has nine catches for 118 yards and a touchdown this season and is a superior blocker to Gary Barnidge.
  • Fast facts: Glennon has a 52.9 passer rating in the first half compared to 106.8 in the second half when the Bucs are regularly playing from behind. … Browns OLB Paul Kruger has five sacks through seven games after recording 4.5 all of last season.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Browns split with Jacksonville and Oakland and must take care of their third soft spot in a row before the schedule begins to heat up with a Thursday night tilt at Cincinnati next week.

Our pick: Browns 27-24

Washington Redskins (3-5) at Minnesota Vikings (3-5)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at TC Bank Stadium, Minneapolis – TV: FOX

  • TV announcers: Chris Myers, Ronde Barber, Jennifer Hale
  • Keys to the game: Rather than lean on QB Colt McCoy for one more game entering the bye week, the Redskins appear inclined to get Robert Griffin III on the field for the first time since Week 2. With RGIII’s trademark mobility likely limited, the onus is on the offensive line to provide protection for the franchise quarterback. That begins with the ground game, which finally showed signs of life at Dallas. While the Vikings rank 16th against the run, they have the league’s fourth-best pass defense in large part due to a group of defensive tackles that has racked up 10.5 sacks through eight games.
  • Pass protection has been equally concerning for the Vikings’ offense. Although rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater was dropped just once last week, that was against Tampa Bay’s toothless defense. He was sacked a combined 13 times the previous two weeks, and admitted he has to stop overthinking and get rid of the ball quicker. That’s especially true against a Redskins defense that continually confused veteran QB Tony Romo last week with jailbreak blitzes. If Bridgewater can quickly identify the scheme, big plays are there to be had. If not, stalled drives and turnovers will rule the day.
  • Matchup to watch – Redskins RG Chris Chester vs. Vikings DT Sharrif Floyd: Although Floyd was limited midweek by ankle and knee injuries, he already has a career-high three sacks, and Chester was whipped multiple times by Dallas’ interior rushes last week.
  • Player spotlight – LCB Bashaud Breeland: The fourth-round rookie is quickly making a name for himself after battling Cowboys WR Dez Bryant on “Monday Night Football.” The Vikings lack a dynamic downfield threat, but matchups against big-play artist Cordarrelle Patterson should prove interesting.
  • Fast facts: Redskins coach Jay Gruden and Vikings coach Mike Zimmer spent three years together on coach Marvin Lewis’ staff in Cincinnati. Zimmer interviewed for the Redskins job that ultimately went to Gruden last offseason. Zimmer said he will not overthink the gameplan due to Gruden’s familiarity because, “What you don’t want to do is mess up your players.”

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

If Romo couldn’t handle the Redskins’ pressure last week, what does that portend for a rookie seeing coordinator Jim Haslett’s exotic 3-4 scheme for the first time?

Our pick: Redskins 20-13

St. Louis Rams (2-5) at San Francisco 49ers (4-3)

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, at Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. – TV: FOX

  • TV announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch, Pam Oliver
  • Keys to the game: The Rams jumped out to a 14-0 lead at home in Week 6 before defensive breakdowns and poor pass protection ultimately led to the 49ers battling their way to a 31-17 victory. After starting out strong, Rams QB Austin Davis steadily regressed during that game as the 49ers implemented a slew of stunts and line tricks that confused the offensive line and kept Davis on the move. With the Rams entering with a tattered offensive line, their hope lies in running the ball early and grinding out lengthy drives.
  • 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick torched the Rams’ young and aggressive secondary in the first meeting, including an 80-yard touchdown just before the half that completely flipped the momentum. The Rams did a solid job of limiting the 49ers to 3.0 yards per carry, and must get a similar effort to help unleash DE Robert Quinn and the improving pass rush.
  • Matchup to watch – Rams LT Greg Robinson vs. 49ers OLB Dan Skuta: Talk about a baptism by fire. Robinson was expected to man the blind-side protector spot for a decade — at some point. But after three starts at left guard, the 22-year-old Robinson’s time is now to slide outside following Jake Long’s season-ending injury. Skuta is no Aldon Smith, but he did have a pair of sacks in the first meeting.
  • Player spotlight – 49ers C Marcus Martin: If you think Robinson is green, try the 20-year-old Martin, a rookie out of USC who will start in place of injured Daniel Kilgore. Coach Jim Harbaugh has praised Martin’s ability to translate what he learns in the classroom to the field, but live battle against Rams DTs Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers is another level.
  • Fast facts: The Rams have had a league-leading six returns for touchdowns scored against them, all coming in their five losses. … Kaepernick has a 117.6 passer rating with six TDs and no INTs in winning his past three starts against the Rams.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

While the Rams are dispersing nametags to introduce who is starting at some positions, the 49ers are as healthy as they have been all season coming off their bye week and motivated to begin their playoff push.

Our pick: 49ers 34-16

Denver Broncos (6-1) at New England Patriots (6-2)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass. – TV: CBS

  • TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Tracy Wolfson
  • Keys to the game: The Patriots are pliable for several reasons not including injuries. The defense struggles on third down (44.9 percent conversions) and isn’t holding up against the run (129.6 yards per game). Where coach Bill Belichick often finds the right answer is in the red zone. But that’s also an area of strength for the Broncos, who lead the NFL with 35 red-zone receptions as a team and 22 TD passes.
  • The Broncos’ emerging defense has shot up to fourth in yardage allowed per game, and first in yardage per play. Where they want to flex some muscle is third down, and the Patriots’ front five is not bulletproof. Pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware have a combined 16 sacks, but their challenge is more difficult against a quick-timing offense that revolves around tight end Rob Gronkowski more than ever.
  • Gronkowski has seven TDs and 558 yards on 40 receptions this season, and presents a matchup nightmare for a coverage scheme that struggled to keep pace with San Diego’s Antonio Gates last week. The Broncos tried multiple safeties against Gates, to no avail, and might be forced to sacrifice size for speed by putting a cornerback on the 265-pound tight end. QB Tom Brady has 14 touchdowns, no interceptions in the past month.
  • Broncos QB Peyton Manning will hand the ball off to RB Ronnie Hillman if New England drops flooded zones behind light fronts as the Patriots did last season – allowing the Broncos 280 rushing yards in a Patriots win – but he’ll work underneath to control the clock and keep the Patriots honest.
  • Matchup to watch – Broncos WRs Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Wes Welker vs. Patriots cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard: The Patriots might try to counter Thomas’ size by placing Browner opposite him; last year, that assignment fell to Aqib Talib, who shut Thomas down in their November 2013 showdown until a late, game-tying touchdown. If the Patriots use Browner on Thomas, Revis would be free to cover Sanders, and could defuse the deep posts that have become a staple of the Broncos offense; Revis has allowed just one reception of more than 24 yards, and hasn’t permitted a touchdown since Week 1. But against Welker, the Patriots could have problems, and with the wind expected to gust to 20 miles per hour, Dennard could see plenty of action if Manning chooses to emphasize Welker.
  • Player spotlight – Patriots RB Jonas Gray: As part of a rotation Gray could evolve into a workhorse to give offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels the ability to slow the pace and salt away games in the fourth quarter. But this is his first high-profile NFL showdown, three weeks after being activated from the practice squad.
  • Fast facts: Manning’s last win in Foxborough was in 2006. … The Patriots have won four of the past five meetings. … Broncos coach John Fox is 2-6 against Belichick.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Manning and the Broncos have 10 double-digit quarters in seven games and are never out of a contest, but this time the defense has its day against Brady and the Patriots.

Our pick: Broncos 34-24

Oakland Raiders (0-7) at Seattle Seahawks (4-3)

Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, at CenturyLink Field, Seattle – TV: FOX

  • TV announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
  • Keys to the game: The Seahawks were already bit by a heavy dose of fakery from a desperate team in the Rams who converted two trick plays on special teams to beat Seattle two weeks ago. The Raiders had an ill-fated fake field-goal attempt last week, but coach Tony Sparano admitted he was willing to take a chance because “you don’t go on the road to lose.”
  • The Raiders did show a spark with their ground game, but the issue has been staying close enough to opponents to remain balanced for four quarters. All too often, rookie QB Derek Carr has been forced into a one-dimensional attack, and Oakland simply cannot afford to fall behind early.
  • The good news for the Raiders is the Seahawks’ offense continues to get off to slow starts in which RB Marshawn Lynch does not get receive enough touches to establish a rhythm. QB Russell Wilson also lacks downfield playmakers, so safeties are able to be aggressive on underneath routes and in run support.
  • Matchup to watch – Raiders OLB Khalil Mack vs. Seahawks OTs Russell Okung and Justin Britt: Although he has yet to record a sack, Mack leads the Raiders with 35 tackles and was labeled an emerging star by Browns coach Mike Pettine following last week’s game. He’ll see time working against another rookie in Britt, who coach Pete Carroll called a “legit” starting tackle this week, and Okung, who has struggled with injuries and pre-snap penalties this season.
  • Player spotlight – Seahawks MLB Brock Coyle: The undrafted rookie from Montana has played just eight snaps at linebacker this season, but is in line to get his first career start. With K.J. Wright would slide back to the weak side if Malcolm Smith (groin) cannot play, with Coyle replacing Bobby Wagner (turf toe).
  • Fast facts: The Raiders have a 13-game losing streak. … Carr threw three touchdown passes during a 41-31 victory against Seattle in the teams’ preseason finale. … Including playoffs, Wilson is 19-2 at home with a 106 passer rating.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Seahawks will not lose focus during a critical two-game home stand that includes next week’s game against Giants before embarking on a brutal final seven-game stretch that includes six games against opponents with double-digit victories in 2013.

Our pick: Seahawks 31-16

Baltimore Ravens (5-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3)

Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh – TV: NBC

  • TV announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya
  • Keys to the game: For all the talk about sizzling Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger, the Ravens do have two key things working in their favor. The first is a ground game averaging 4.4 yards per carry and capable of complementing QB Joe Flacco to extend drives and keep Big Ben on the sideline. Baltimore’s offense has been hit and miss, and Flacco has been hampered by the inconsistency of his receiver beating press coverage. The Steelers continue to tinker with their secondary, but have dialed up the pass rush the past two games.
  • The Ravens also bring a stout run defense to Pittsburgh allowing just 3.7 yards per carry. RB Le’Veon Bell sets the table for Roethlisberger, averaging 4.9 yards per carry while ranking second on the team with 42 catches. The Steelers’ need that dual threat to help an offensive line that will be under constant assault as the Ravens attempt to pen Roethlisberger in the pocket. He is coming off a 522-yard, six-touchdown performance, and the Steelers have a developing group of receivers that runs much deeper than the Ravens can contend with if the pass rush doesn’t get home.
  • Matchup to watch – Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Steelers WR Antonio Brown: Webb missed the first meeting, when Brown caught seven passes for 90 yards, primarily against Jimmy Smith, who is out for this game. Webb has looked better each week as he works his way back from a back injury, but Brown will also see time against Dominique Franks, who is expected to start opposite Webb.
  • Player spotlight – Steelers WR Martavis Bryant: The rookie has three touchdown catches in two games after being inactive for the first six games. Bryant often pairs with Darrius Heyward-Bey in three-receiver sets with Brown, while Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore enter for other situations.
  • Fast facts: Five Steelers receivers have caught at least 12 passes and 13 have caught at least one. … Five of the past six meetings have been decided by three points or less. … Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs has sacked Roethlisberger 16.5 times, including playoffs, the most by any defender against Roethlisberger.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

These veteran-laden teams know each other extraordinarily well, and the physical season series typically come down to a play or two. With a razor-thin margin separating the bitter rivals, the Steelers have the edge with a red-hot quarterback against a secondary minus its top cover man.

Our pick: Steelers 23-20

Indianapolis Colts (4-3) at New York Giants (3-4)

Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, at MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J. – TV: ESPN

  • TV announcers: Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, Lisa Salters
  • Keys to the game: The Colts will lean on a pair of long-time Giants, RB Ahmad Bradshaw and WR Hakeem Nicks, to get back to their formula of controlling the ball and forcing foes to play catch-up. While Indianapolis’ calling card is QB Andrew Luck leading the potent passing game, that attack is set up by Bradshaw and fellow RB Trent Richardson, returning from a hamstring injury, setting the table and helping the Colts to average 34:50 in time of possession. That also alleviates pressure on Luck and enables him to spread the ball to his deep group of receivers led by Nicks, T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne, who is expected to return from an elbow injury.
  • The Giants don’t want to engage in a primetime shootout against Luck’s gang, and will again turn to rookie Andre Williams (3.1 yards per carry) with Rashad Jennings still sidelined by a knee injury. The Colts defense leads the league in allowing just 31.1 percent conversions on third down, but ranks just 29th in red-zone defense. Indianapolis was dissected by Pittsburgh last week, but Giants QB Eli Manning doesn’t enjoy the same strong supporting cast and coach Tom Coughlin noted the Colts’ high percentage of pressure generated on nearly every down-and-distance situation.
  • Matchup to watch – Colts WR T.Y. Hilton vs. Giants CB Jayron Hosley: The Giants’ secondary is thinned by injuries, including the uncertain status of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie due to hamstring and back injuries. Zach Bowman would likely get the start, with Hosley covering the slot, where the inconsistent third-year player will have to contain Hilton’s game-breaking speed.
  • Player spotlight – Giants SLB Devon Kennard: The rookie moves into the starting lineup with Jameel McClain sliding to the middle to replace injured Jon Beason. Kennard acknowledged he is still getting up to speed after missing three games earlier this season due to a hamstring injury.
  • Fast facts: The Colts led the NFL in 2013 with only 14 turnovers. They have 15 through eight games this season. … Manning will tie Phil Simms’ franchise record with his 159th career start. Manning is 88-70 (.557) while Simms was 95-64 (.597).

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

These teams aren’t as evenly matched as their records may indicate, and the Colts’ defense isn’t nearly as bad as last week’s showing against Pittsburgh. Luck pads his stat sheet against an undermanned defense that could be without multiple key veterans.

Our pick: Colts 37-26

New Orleans Saints (4-4) at Carolina Panthers (3-5-1)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Sticking to the master plan is starting to pay off for the New Orleans Saints.

“We didn’t point fingers and we stuck together,” Saints linebacker Junior Galette said. “We told each other we’re going to stick together and here we are in first place.”

Running back Mark Ingram rushed for two touchdowns and reached the 100-yard mark for the second game in a row as the Saints won consecutive games for the first time this season by defeating the Carolina Panthers 28-10 on Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium.

Quarterback Drew Brees threw for a touchdown and ran for another for the Saints (4-4) in the first meeting of the season between the primary NFC South contenders.

“It doesn’t matter how you start (the season). It matters how you finish,” New Orleans cornerback Keenan Lewis said. “We have to play everyone again in the division.”

Three of the Saints’ touchdown drives covered 80 or more yards Thursday night.

“We have to bring our ‘A’ game on the road,” Ingram said. “We just stayed with it.”

Ingram’s 3-yard touchdown run with 5:30 left sealed the outcome. He gained 100 yards on 30 carries just four nights after a 172-yard rushing performance against the Green Bay Packers.

“I feel like the more carries you get, the more you get in a rhythm,” Ingram said.

The Panthers (3-5-1), the defending champions in the division, have lost three games in a row and they’re winless in their last four games.

“We stand up and answer the same questions week-in and week-out,” Carolina tight end Greg Olsen said. “We say we’re going to fix it, but we have yet to find the solutions.”

Brees completed 24 of 34 passes for 297 yards, ending a string of four 300-yard passing games but it didn’t matter.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton was 10-for-28 for 151 yards. He was sacked four times.

“I didn’t do enough,” Newton said. “There’s a lot that hasn’t been done. We have to take ownership and hold ourselves accountable.”

The Panthers picked up their first touchdown in two games on Newton’s scramble on third-and-goal from the 10, completing a 10-play, 81-yard march with 10:14 to play in the third quarter.

New Orleans responded with a 14-play drive, scoring on Brees’ fourth-down sneak from 1-yard out for a 21-7 advantage.

Carolina reached the New Orleans 6 on the second play of the fourth quarter before losing yards and settling for kicker Graham Gano’s 31-yard field goal.

“We’ve got to find a way,” Panthers center Ryan Kalil said. “My concern is with myself and the offensive line. We’ve got to do better.”

The Saints broke out to a 14-0 halftime lead with two scores late in the second quarter.

Two plays after a Carolina turnover, the Saints broke a scoreless tie on Ingram’s 3-yard run with 2:38 remaining in the half.

It was the Saints’ fourth possession in Panthers territory, this set up by linebacker Junior Galette’s sack of Newton, resulting in linebacker Curtis Lofton’s recovered fumble at the 4-yard line.

New Orleans then went 85 yards in 10 plays to score again with three seconds left in the half. Brees’ 1-yard toss to tight end Jimmy Graham came one play after Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason was called for pass interference in the end zone.

The Saints drove to the Carolina 13 on the game’s opening possession before Brees’ deflected third-down pass was intercepted by defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, who returned the pick 15 yards to the Panthers 27.

New Orleans was back in Carolina territory on its next possession, but defensive end Charles Johnson’s sack resulted in Brees’ fumble. Defensive end Mario Addison recovered at the Panthers 47.

Carolina’s first two drives concluded with punts after edging into New Orleans territory. The Panthers ventured into Saints territory the next time before cornerback Corey White intercepted Newton.

NOTES: RB DeAngelo Williams, who has missed six games because of injuries this season (most recently a sprained ankle), was back in action for the Panthers. … The Panthers put LB Chase Blackburn on injured reserve. … With LB David Hawthorne on the inactive list for the Saints, LB Ramon Humber drew the starting assignment. … With the Saints placing WR Joseph Morgan on the reserve/suspended list, New Orleans played with five wide receivers. … The Saints are home for their next two games, beginning Nov. 9 against San Francisco. … The Panthers are back in action Nov. 10 in another nationally televised outing at Philadelphia.

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