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NFL 2011 Season – Week 14 Preview

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Ezra Shaw / Getty Images

A key NFC East matchup highlights the NFL schedule for week 14, while several division leaders in the AFC look to take another step closer to the playoffs. Here’s a preview of this week’s NFL games:

Sunday, December 11

Kansas City Chiefs at New York Jets – 1:00 PM

Kansas City (5-7) will start Tyler Palko at quarterback, while Kyle Orton allows his dislocated finger to heal. Palko didn’t have any interceptions against Chicago last week after throwing three in each of his two previous starts. Palko may be challenged by the Jets’ experienced and talented secondary. On offense, New York (7-5) is tied for eighth in the league in scoring at 24.2 points per game. The Jets hope to see improvement of the inconsistent play of quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has thrown an interception in all but three games this season. The Kansas City defense has picked off 17 passes, tied for second-best in the NFL, but it has struggled to pressure quarterbacks, recording just 20 sacks.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville Jaguars – 1:00 PM

Tampa Bay (4-8), which is on a six-game losing streak, expects quarterback Josh Freeman expects to play Sunday. If Freeman’s shoulder woes keep him sidelined, Josh Johnson is ready to step in, as he did last week. The Jaguars’ defense is ranked fifth in the league in yards allowed, but it has many injuries in the secondary and could be vulnerable to the pass. The Buccaneers need more production from running back LeGarrette Blount, who had only 19 yards rushing in last week’s loss to Carolina. Jacksonville (3-9) averages just 12.7 points per game, next-to-last in the NFL. The Jaguars offense revolves around running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the league’s leading rusher with 1,137 yards. The Buccaneers may key on Jones-Drew, allowing rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert to work against a Tampa Bay defense that ranks 30th in both points and yards allowed per game.

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins – 1:00 PM

New England (9-3) averages an AFC-best 30.2 points per game. The Patriots are led by quarterback Tom Brady and his 30 touchdown passes. Brady’s favorite red zone target is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has 13 touchdown catches. The offensive line must keep pressure off Brady, as the Redskins’ defense has 33 sacks, tied for fifth-best in the league. Washington (4-8) hopes to take advantage of a Patriots’ defense that gives up a league-worst average of 412.1 yards per game. Redskins’ quarterback Rex Grossman will not have tight end Fred Davis as a target, as he and offensive tackle Trent Williams were suspended for the team’s next four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Washington may need rookie running back Roy Helu to extend his two-game string of 100-yard rushing days.

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers – 1:00 PM

Atlanta (7-5) ran Michael Turner 27 times for 139 yards in winning the first meeting between these NFC South teams by a 31-17 score in week 6. Carolina’s 27th-ranked rushing defense is missing both starting defensive tackles this week, which means Atlanta will likely try to sweep the season series with the ground attack. Carolina (4-8) averages just under 400 yards per game on offense. Quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers’ running game must give their best effort against a Falcons defense that gives up just 90 rushing yards per game, third-best in the NFL. Carolina may look to stretch the field with wideout Steve Smith, who has 1,092 receiving yards, tied for second-best in the league.

Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens – 1:00 PM

Indianapolis (0-12) starts quarterback Dan Orlovsky again this week after he threw for 353 yards against New England in his first NFL start since 2008. Orlovsky faces a Ravens defense that gives up the third-fewest points (16) and yards (287.3) per game and leads the NFL in sacks with 41. Baltimore (9-3) ran for 290 yards against the Browns last week. The Ravens like to keep the ball in the hands of running back Ray Rice. The Indianapolis defense gives up an average of 29.8 points per game, worst in the league. The Colts are last in the league in interceptions with five, so Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco may have a big day, as well.

Philadelphia Eagles at Miami Dolphins – 1:00 PM

Philadelphia (4-8) should have quarterback Michael Vick and receiver Jeremy Maclin back this week, but the season is all but lost for the Eagles, who are three games off the division lead with four games to play. Philadelphia running back LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s second-leading rusher (1,134 yards) and touchdown leader (15), is the key to the league’s third-ranked overall offense. McCoy faces a Dolphins’ defense that gives up an average of just 93.2 yards per game, fifth-best in the league. Miami (4-8) has won four of its last five games by scoring efficiently behind quarterback Matt Moore and capitalizing on the running of Reggie Bush. The Eagles defense has given up too many late scores to opponents.

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions – 1:00 PM

Detroit (7-5) had to rally from a 20-0 deficit to beat the Vikings 24-20 back in week 3. Quarterback Matthew Stafford leads the Detroit offense, which ranks fourth in the league in scoring, against a Vikings defense that yields an NFC-worst average of 27.5 points each contest. Minnesota (2-10) has a depleted secondary, which may have trouble against the Detroit passing attack. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been out for two games with an ankle sprain and is questionable for Sunday. Minnesota may also be without quarterback Christian Ponder, who has a hip pointer. If Ponder can’t play, Joe Webb will get the start. Lions defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh will miss his second game while serving a disciplinary suspension.

New Orleans Saints at Tennessee Titans – 1:00 PM

New Orleans (9-3) has had few missteps while reeling off its current four-game win streak. The Saints’ Drew Brees became the fastest quarterback to amass 4,000 passing yards in last week’s 31-17 win over the Lions. Jimmy Graham already has New Orleans’ records for yardage (1,046) and receptions (75) by a tight end. The Titans defense only gives up 19.1 points per game, sixth in the league. They’ll need to pressure Brees to be effective. Tennessee (7-5) is a much more formidable team when running back Chris Johnson runs for 100 yards or more, as he has in three of the last four games. If Johnson can help the Titans control the ball, they can keep Brees off the field and exploit a Saints’ defense that gives up 378.8 yards per game, 27th in the NFL.

Houston Texans at Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 PM

Houston (9-3) hopes rookie quarterback T.J. Yates can manage the Texans’ offense into the playoffs. The team also signed former NFL QB Jeff Garcia as third-string insurance. Texans running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate will be needed against a Bengals’ defense that gives up the sixth-fewest yards in the league. Cincinnati (7-5) must find a way to score against a Texans’ defense that is second in the NFL in points and yards allowed and sacks recorded. Bengals’ rookie quarterback Andy Dalton couldn’t help his team beat the Steelers or the Ravens in the past four weeks. Dalton must avoid untimely interceptions and involve running back Cedric Benson in the offense.

Chicago Bears at Denver Broncos – 4:05 PM

Denver (7-5) is riding the wave of enthusiasm around quarterback Tim Tebow, whose 149.3 passer rating in the Broncos’ last-second win over the Vikings on Sunday was the key to victory. Tebow and resurgent Broncos running back Willis McGahee must continue to play well against the Bears’ eighth-ranked run defense. Chicago (7-5) has no real choice but to stay with quarterback Caleb Hanie, who has compiled a dreadful 40.8 passer rating while starting in place of the injured Jay Cutler over the past two weeks. Worse news for the Bears is that running back Matt Forte is expected to miss 2-4 weeks with a sprained ligament in his right knee. Marion Barber will start in Forte’s place, but the aggressive Broncos defense will key on him and try to pressure Hanie into mistakes.

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals – 4:05 PM

San Francisco (10-2) has clinched the NFC West title, but it wants to guarantee itself a first-round bye, too. The 49ers regulars will play against a Cardinals’ defense that is ranked 25th in the league in yards allowed per game. San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis can create coverage issues for the Cardinals linebackers. Arizona (5-7) must perform better on offense than it did in the 23-7 loss to the 49ers in week 11. The Cardinals send running back Beanie Wells and quarterback Kevin Kolb against a San Francisco defense that gives up just 71.8 yards rushing and 13.4 points per game. Both are the best totals in the league.

Buffalo Bills at San Diego Chargers – 4:15 PM

Losers of five consecutive games, Buffalo (5-7) is headed toward a losing season after starting 5-2. Bills’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has averaged nearly 40 pass attempts per game during the skid. Running back C.J. Spiller needs to help chip away at the Chargers’ 26th-ranked run defense. San Diego (5-7) just snapped a six-game losing streak on Monday against the Jaguars. The Chargers will look to quarterback Philip Rivers and the league’s sixth-ranked offense to exploit the Bills inexperienced secondary. With a league-low 17 sacks, Buffalo needs to get more pressure on the quarterback.

Oakland Raiders at Green Bay Packers – 4:15 PM

Green Bay (12-0) almost looked beatable during its dramatic win over the Giants last week. The Packers figure to not have to sweat the result as much for this game, as Aaron Rodgers and the NFL’s highest-scoring offense welcomes Oakland’s 26th-ranked defense. The Raiders will try to disrupt Rodgers’ timing with a pass rush. Oakland (7-5) sputters on offense when its running game doesn’t lead the way. Quarterback Carson Palmer must step up against a Packers’ defense which allows an average of 397.8 yards per game, the second-most in the league. Raiders’ running back Darren McFadden, who has missed five games with a sprained foot, is doubtful as are Oakland receivers Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford, who also have foot injuries.

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys – 8:20 PM

New York (6-6) enters this NFC East showdown on a four-game losing streak, but the Giants played well last week before falling to the undefeated Packers. Quarterback Eli Manning should have opportunities to throw downfield against the Cowboys’ suspect secondary. New York must protect Manning against a pass rush led by linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who has 10 career sacks against the Giants. Dallas (7-5) looks to quarterback Tony Romo to exploit a New York defense that ranks 29th in the league against the pass. The Giants defensive front hopes to keep Romo from having enough time to throw against its secondary.

Monday, Dec. 12

St. Louis Rams  at Seattle Seahawks – 8:30 PM

St. Louis (2-10) averages a league-low 11.7 points per game. That number may not improve this week, as starting quarterback Sam Bradford is questionable and backup A.J. Feeley, who started last week, is out with a broken right thumb. Unproven third-stringer Tom Brandstater could play against a Seattle defense which held the Rams to 185 yards in a week 11 game won by the Seahawks. Seattle (5-7) will look to running back Marshawn Lynch to have a big game against a Rams defense that gives up an average of 157.8 rushing yards per game, the worst in the NFL.

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