Bolts hit K.C., Lions tackle Tebow, Cowboys invade Philly

  • By NFL.com
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This week's marquee game takes place in Pittsburgh, where teams that have won seven of the last 10 AFC titles and five of the last 10 Super Bowls will meet. The Patriots have owned the Steelers in the Tom Brady-Ben Roethlisberger era, going 6-1 against them.

New England-Pittsburgh is the only Week 8 game between teams with winning records, but it's not the only intriguing matchup. The Dallas Cowboys visit the City of Brotherly Love for a Sunday night showdown between division rivals who have both exceeded their share of drama this season. The teams' combined record might be only 5-7, but many are looking at this as a statement game in the NFC East (or possibly an elimination game in a division that could come down to head-to-head tiebreakers).

The Patriots and Cowboys are among teams in good position this week to get difficult road victories based on matchups, injuries, history and other circumstances.

Detroit at Denver (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)


Venue: Sports Authority Field at Mile High

Last time at site: Jake Plummer outdueled Joey Harrington in Denver's 20-16 victory in Week 4 of the 2003 season.

Reason for road optimism: The Lions will try to get back on track in the Mile High City after two straight losses at home. But despite the Broncos' 2-4 record, this will be no easy task for Detroit. Quarterback Matthew Stafford sprained his ankle last week, and though it looks like he'll give it a go, you don't want to be gimpy against Denver's frisky pass rush, with rookie Von Miller racking up six sacks already. Running back Jahvid Best will probably not play, further complicating Stafford's task. Then there's Tebowmania, and if you think the fans in Miami were excited to watch Tebow last week, wait until the home crowd finally gets a chance to root for their man after all but breaking down John Fox's door with a pitchfork and demanding he start No. 15. With that said, the Lions have a good chance here. They have a full game tape to watch of Tebow and what the Broncos are trying to do with him under Fox. They also are mad as hell coming off two straight losses and analysts predicting their demise, saying they're the same old Lions. While much has changed in Denver since he was a defensive coordinator in the AFC West (with Chiefs), Gunther Cunningham -- now the DC in Detroit -- knows that division and its personnel better than most. He's also one of the best defensive tacticians in the league and will surely have an answer for Tebow.

New England at Pittsburgh (Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET)


Venue: Heinz Field

Last time at site: Tom Brady completed 30 of 43 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions and no sacks, as the Patriots won, 39-26, in Week 10 of the 2010 season.

Reason for road optimism: The Patriots are another team that does well after a bye, winning their last eight such games. And Tom Brady and Co. have made themselves mighty comfortable in Pittsburgh, winning AFC Championships in the Steel City on their way to two of their three Super Bowl titles. Brady and Wes Welker are on pace for 5,700 passing yards and 2,000 receiving yards, respectively, but can they keep it up against a Steelers defense that limits opposing passers to a league-low 171.9 yards per game? If Pittsburgh can slow down the usual barrage of points from the Pats, they have a good chance at victory, since New England's defense gives up 423 yards per game, most in the league. But the Steelers aren't forcing turnovers this year, which is uncharacteristic for them. They're last in the league with just three takeaways. And somehow, Brady and Bill Belichick always seem to know how to use the Steelers' aggressive defense against them.

Dallas at Philadelphia (Sunday, 8:20 p.m. ET)


Venue: Lincoln Financial Field

Last time at site: Playoff-bound Philadelphia rested its starters and lost, 14-13, to Dallas in Week 17 of the 2010 season.

Reason for road optimism: The Cowboys have won their last two in Philly, but the Eagles have won 12 straight after a bye, the longest streak since bye weeks began in 1990. However, teams coming off byes this season are just 3-9, as Michael Lombardi pointed out in his Monday column. The game shapes up as a battle between explosive Cowboys receivers Dez Bryant, Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten and star Eagles cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Asante Samuel. Keep your eye on another key matchup, though: Aided by Michael Vick's 372 yards on the ground, the Eagles lead the league in rushing at 170 yards per game, while the Cowboys allow the fewest rushing yards in the NFL at 69.7. Although no one should expect another 253 yards from rookie running back DeMarco Murray, Dallas' improving offensive line and Philly's season-long issues along the defensive front should provide the Cowboys with some running lanes.

San Diego at Kansas City (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET)


Venue: Arrowhead Stadium

Last time at site: Playing in a driving rain, the Chiefs used Jamaal Charles' 56-yard touchdown run and Dexter McCluster's team-record 94-yard punt return to knock off the Chargers, 21-14, in Week 1 of the 2010 season.

Reason for road optimism: Based on last week's results, the Chargers and Chiefs are headed in opposite directions. After starting 0-3, Kansas City has won three straight, while the Chargers seemed to take a step back by blowing a 21-10 lead against the Jets and losing 27-21 in a flurry of penalties, turnovers and second-half offensive ineptitude. One bright spot was the return of tight end Antonio Gates, who had five catches and a touchdown. Quarterback Philip Rivers has come under fire for throwing more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (7) so far. The Chiefs average just 175.6 yards per game through the air (30th in the NFL), but are seventh in the league with 129.3 rushing yards, even without the injured Charles. The Chargers' running game has been pretty good, too, with Ryan Mathews averaging 4.6 yards per carry. San Diego is also very good on third down, converting 55.4 percent, which is second-best in the NFL. Here's the key stat, though: The Chiefs have only six sacks all season -- only the Bills, with four, have fewer. A weak pass rush and the return of Gates could be enough to get Rivers back in the groove.

 

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