Times Staff Writer


Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Bills by 7.

Introduction: It's quarterback Drew Bledsoe and the Bills' inefficient offense vs. the Texans' porous defense that gave up 34 points to Cincinnati last week.

Plot: Even with running back Travis Henry, wide receiver Eric Moulds and Bledsoe, Buffalo's offense has had trouble scoring. Bledsoe has had eight passes intercepted and thrown only six touchdown passes for the Bills, the second-lowest scoring team in the AFC. The Texans have built a ground attack around rookie running back Domanick Davis, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of his last four starts.

Bottom line: Buffalo Coach Gregg Williams may not finish the season unless the Bills start winning soon, like Sunday against the Texans.



Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Panthers by 6.

Introduction: After getting past Seattle last weekend, Coach Steve Spurrier and the Redskins have to step up and face the Panthers, who completed their sweep over Tampa Bay.

Plot: Even without running back Stephen Davis, out with an ankle injury, the Panthers had enough offense to defeat the Buccaneers. Carolina's Jake Delhomme has thrown five touchdown passes, with three interceptions, in his last three starts, and played well against Tampa Bay. Washington's Patrick Ramsey has a 77.7 quarterback rating with 12 touchdown passes and eight interceptions.

Bottom line: The Redskins need the ball to be effective, but the Panthers have an excellent ball-control offense.



Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m., Ch. 11.

The line: Rams by 6.

Introduction: If St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger struggles as he did last weekend against Baltimore, don't be surprised to see veteran Kurt Warner get some playing time.

Plot: The Rams failed to generate much offense against the Ravens but still scored 33 points. Coach Mike Martz cannot count on that happening against the Bears, who have the least penalized defense in the NFL. With 17 fumble recoveries and 12 interceptions, the Rams are tied with Kansas City for most takeaways. In last week's 12-10 loss at Detroit, the Bears had 199 yards in offense.

Bottom line: As long as Bulger can get the ball to Torry Holt, who leads the NFL with 66 catches for 1,099 yards and nine touchdowns, the Rams should be in good shape.



Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Chiefs by 6.

Introduction: The 1972 Miami Dolphins should be concerned about the 9-0 Chiefs, who are getting solid play from quarterback Trent Green and big plays from their defense.

Plot: Kansas City leads the NFL with a plus-18 turnover advantage. In his last four starts, Green has thrown for eight touchdown passes and one interception. Kansas City's Priest Holmes leads the NFL with 14 touchdowns rushing. The Bengals have won three of their last four games, including last week's victory over Houston. Cincinnati running back Rudi Johnson has gained 317 yards and scored four touchdowns in his last three games.

Bottom line: If the Bengals can shut down Holmes, the Chiefs may be in for a tough battle.



Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Browns by 6.

Introduction: The struggling Browns have lost three games in a row, and the Cardinals have not won a road game in more than a year.

Plot: Cleveland Coach Butch Davis has continuing problems with the Browns' passing game. In last weekend's loss at Kansas City, no Cleveland receiver had as much as 35 yards. With running back William Green out because of a suspension, the Browns need backup James Jackson to step up. Arizona quarterback Jeff Blake has passed for 1,712 yards and 11 touchdowns, with nine interceptions.

Bottom line: Look for the Browns to try to establish a running game, even without Green in the lineup, because that gives them their best chance to win.



Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Dolphins by 6.

Introduction: Every loss by the Dolphins turns up the heat on Coach Dave Wannstedt.

Plot: With rookie quarterback Kyle Boller sidelined because of a thigh injury, Baltimore will start Anthony Wright over Chris Redman. Wright's mobility adds a new dimension to the Ravens, who depend heavily on Jamal Lewis, who leads the NFL in rushing at 1,156 yards. In a loss to the Tennessee Titans last week, Miami quarterback Brian Griese threw three interceptions, fumbled twice and was sacked four times.

Bottom line: If Miami's Ricky Williams has a big game, the Dolphins win easily. If Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis has a big game, the Ravens have a chance.



Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Saints by 8 1/2.

Introduction: Coach Dan Reeves and the Falcons will look for a second consecutive victory after a seven-game losing streak.

Plot: Atlanta quarterback Kurt Kittner passed for only 65 yards last week against the New York Giants and has had four passes intercepted, with two touchdowns. Running backs Warrick Dunn and T.J. Duckett have combined for 907 yards and eight touchdowns for the Falcons. New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister is averaging 4.5 yards rushing and has gained 871 yards.

Bottom line: New Orleans, which has won three of four, can't afford to allow Atlanta to score first because the Falcons are much tougher playing with a lead, thanks to Dunn and Duckett.



Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Eagles by 3 1/2.

Introduction: Donovan McNabb played like a Pro Bowl quarterback in the fourth quarter of the Eagles' comeback victory over Green Bay on Monday night. New York's Kerry Collins played like Joe Pisarcik in the Giants' loss to Atlanta.

Plot: Now that the Eagles have bounced back from their poor start, they will look to add to the misery of the Giants, who trail Dallas by three games in the NFC East. Philadelphia averages 4.7 yards a rush, fourth-best in the league. New York's Tiki Barber rushed for 120 yards last week but fumbled twice.

Bottom line: The Eagles have won four consecutive games and moved back into the NFC playoff picture, but they need to play a complete game to defeat the desperate Giants.



Kickoff: Sunday, 10 a.m.

The line: Titans by 10.

Introduction: Linebackers Akin Ayodele and Mike Peterson lead a Jaguar defense that will try to end the Titans' streak of scoring at least 30 points at six games.

Plot: Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor has three 100-yard rushing games this season, including last week's 152-yard effort in a victory over Indianapolis. Rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich has either passed or rushed for a touchdown in eight consecutive games. In his last four starts at home against Jacksonville, the Titans' Steve McNair has completed 89 of 124 passes for 992 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception.

Bottom line: The Jaguars are playing with a lot of confidence, but they do not have enough firepower to knock off McNair and the Titans.



Kickoff: Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 2.

The line: Broncos by 8.

Introduction: Jake Plummer is expected to return to the lineup for the Broncos, who lost three of four games with their starting quarterback sidelined because of a foot injury.

Plot: With veteran quarterback Doug Flutie making his first start of the season, the Chargers ran over Minnesota last week, Flutie completing 21 of 29 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns. Denver running back Clinton Portis has rushed for more than 100 yards in five of eight games. Rod Smith leads the Broncos in receiving with 39 catches for 487 yards.

Bottom line: The Broncos need a victory to stay in the AFC playoff mix and that will be enough motivation to defeat Flutie and the Chargers.



Kickoff: Sunday, 1 p.m.

The line: Colts by 6.

Introduction: Coach Herman Edwards and the Jets kept their slim playoff hopes alive with last week's victory over Oakland.

Plot: Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning leads the NFL with 2,475 yards passing and 18 touchdowns. He has thrown for at least one touchdown in eight consecutive games. Defensive end Dwight Freeney has six sacks and three forced fumbles in his last four games. The Jets' Santana Moss has 24 catches for 474 yards in his last four games.

Bottom line: The Colts have to find a way to get more production from running back Edgerrin James, who is averaging only 3.7 yards a carry. The Jets will be ready to pull off an upset if the Colts rely too much on Manning.



Kickoff: Sunday, 1:15 p.m.

The line: Vikings by 4 1/2.

Introduction: The struggling Vikings have lost three in a row and the Raiders have lost seven of nine.

Plot: The Raiders have not defeated a .500 or better team all season and have lost their last five games. Journeyman Rick Mirer will start at quarterback for Oakland, which ranks 27th in the league in third-down efficiency. On third downs, Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper has completed 39 of 58 passes for nine touchdowns and no interceptions. Viking defensive end Lance Johnstone has 6.5 sacks in his last seven games.

Bottom line: The Raiders' defense has not slowed many teams and that's not expected to change against the Vikings, who lead the NFL in averaging 6.1 yards per offensive play.



Kickoff: Sunday, 1:15 p.m.

The line: Seahawks by 10.

Introduction: The schedule continues to be kind to the NFC West-leading Seahawks, who have played only one team this season that has at least a .500 record.

Plot: Seattle is undefeated at home and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has won 10 of his last 15 starts. Detroit quarterback Joey Harrington has been sacked once per 56.6 pass attempts, which is the best ratio of all-time. Harrington has also thrown 13 interceptions, and nine touchdown passes. The Lions have won two in a row.

Bottom line: The Seahawks should not have too many problems with the Lions, who have not scored more than two touchdowns in a game since their season-opening victory over Arizona.



Kickoff: Sunday, 1:15 p.m., Ch. 11.

The line: Buccaneers by 4.

Introduction: The Buccaneers' once-dominant defense has looked shaky in recent weeks, and the Packers' offense has been inconsistent under quarterback Brett Favre.

Plot: In a battle between 4-5 teams, the Packers are hoping that Favre plays better than he did in Monday night's loss to Philadelphia. Favre fumbled three times and threw an interception. Green Bay running back Ahman Green leads the NFL with 78 first downs and 1,376 yards from scrimmage. Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson has thrown for 2,345 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Bottom line: The Bay teams are fighting to stay in the playoff picture but the Buccaneers have more to play for as defending champions.



Kickoff: Sunday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN

The line: Patriots by 4.

Introduction: Bill Parcells returns to New England for the first time as the Cowboys' coach and will face Coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots, who have won five consecutive games.

Plot: Dallas quarterback Quincy Carter's numbers are nothing special -- nine touchdown passes and nine interceptions -- but he ranks third in the NFL with a 100.0 passer-rating in the fourth quarter. New England's Tom Brady has thrown for 2,071 yards and 11 touchdowns, with eight interceptions. Kevin Faulk leads the Patriots in rushing with 417 yards.

Bottom line: The Cowboys have been winning games with a solid defense and big-play offense, but expect the surging Patriots to follow the same blueprint in a big win.



Kickoff: Monday, 6 p.m., Ch. 7.

The line: 49ers by 4.

Introduction: Coach Bill Cowher has the Steelers believing they will return to the playoffs for a second consecutive season -- but only if they beat the 49ers.

Plot: After losing six of the first eight games, the Steelers stepped up on defense with five sacks against Arizona last week. Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox has thrown four touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last two starts. San Francisco will start Tim Rattay at quarterback for the second game in place of Jeff Garcia, who has been sidelined because of an ankle sprain.

Bottom line: With Rattay in the lineup, the 49ers are able to throw the ball deep and that will be the difference if the Steelers do not mount a consistent pass rush.

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