Everything you need to know for Week 9 as Sunday kickoff approaches. ...
Key game-time decisions
All players questionable unless noted.
Foster fully practiced Friday after being limited the previous two days. With Ben Tate ready to play -- despite cracked ribs -- there will be less pressure to push Foster onto the field. Still, it's all hands on deck with the Texans' season spiraling.
White returned to practice Friday. He missed the past two weeks and hasn't been himself all season. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport said on NFL Network's "NFL GameDay First" that White does not expect to play Week 9, barring significant improvment. He is trying to get fully healthy.
Graham played last week after being questionable, but he was limited to mainly red-zone targets on just 20 plays. Plantar fasciitis can be a fickle, lingering injury. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport said on NFL Network's "NFL GameDay First" that Graham expects to play, although he might remain on a pitch count.
Colston missed Wednesday and Friday's practice, the latter being a bad sign for his availability.
Stacy practiced fully Thursday, indicating he'll be ready to play. Quinn's status is unknown after not practicing Thursday or Friday with an illness.
DHB was limited Thursday and didn't practice Friday, which is not a good trend line. If he can't go, even more pressure will be on T.Y. Hilton, LaVon Brazill and Co. in their effort to replace Reggie Wayne.
It sounds like he will be ready to go, but he will need to pass pregame tests.
Royal didn't practice all week.
Murray will play this week, barring a big-time pregame setback.
Aside from some chilly games on the East Coast, only one game appears to have weather implications. Rain in Seattle, who would have thunk it?
Three players to watch
The perfect storm might have been brewed for a crazy Dez-day. How often have we seen a receiver go off the week following questions -- whether they come from the player or media -- regarding how often he is targeted? Even if that isn't a good reason to expect a big Bryant day, the struggling Minnesota Vikings defense is plenty. The Vikings' defensive backfield has been a sieve and is missing several starters. Get ready for the Dez love-fest.
Rivers' consistency has been remarkable. He ranks first in the NFL in completion percentage and second in passer rating. The Chargers haven't flopped in their East Coast swings thus far this season. Rivers will have to avoid the dreaded early-start doldrums again to keep the Chargers in their playoff position. Much more difficult division games await in the future.
Cam Newton needs to turn this contest against the Atlanta Falcons into his signature 2013 win. To keep pace for playoff positioning, Cam must lead the Panthers to a home win against a division rival that sports a weak defense and is on the ropes. If he can't, all that good will he's built up the last several weeks will be neutralized.
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The biggest advantage for the Bills lies in their pass rushers taking advantage of a shaky Chiefs offensive line. Mario Williams and Co. need to disrupt Alex Smith and force turnovers in order to pull off the upset.
It's one thing to face a bunch of backup quarterbacks in a season, it's another to remain focused enough not to play down to the competition. With former backup Thad Lewis out, the Chiefs' defensive backs will be licking their chops going after rookie starter Jeff Tuel, who looked overwhelmed in his first regular-season action earlier this year.
With or without Roddy White, this game will be on Matt Ryan. There is little chance the Falcons' middling running game will be able to produce against a stout Panthers front. The question will be can a limp offensive line protect Ryan enough for his arm to make a difference?
The Panthers should be able to pound the rock on the ground against a defense that allowed 201 rushing yards to the Cardinals in Week 8. That running game should open things up for Cam Newton on play-action and read-option plays.
Tony Romo will have a bounce-back game against a bad defensive backfield missing several of its starting pieces. If the Cowboys can block Jared Allen, Romo should be able to pick apart the Vikings' defense, which has allowed opponents to convert 51 percent of third-down opportunities.
Leslie Frazier keeps saying he hopes Christian Ponder plays well enough to keep the starting job. Here's one thing that could help: Get the ball to Cordarrelle Patterson -- a lot. Patterson has more dynamic ability than any Vikings player not named Adrian Peterson. Whether it's on the quarterbacks or offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, the fact that the rookie wideout doesn't touch the ball frequently is a shame.
The fun tidbit: Rex Ryan is undefeated against brother Rob Ryan as both a coordinator and head coach (4-0). However, Rob has the best defense he's faced Rex with and an offense that will not be so easily shut down by his brother. It'll be fun to watch these two defenses get after it, with a bit of bro-pride on the line.
The random tidbit: It's an odd week (Week 9), so we should be expecting Good Geno Smith (Bad Geno apparently just appears in even weeks). However, I have a feeling that Cameron Jordan will have more to say about which Geno we see than the numerical oddity.
Jeff Fisher takes on his old team for the first time. He'll need much better play from quarterback Kellen Clemens, who threw some horrendous passes last week, but showed an ability to guide the offense. Rookie running back Zac Stacy has been a revelation and will need to duplicate his big performance from Week 8.
Titans coach Mike Munchak wants to run Shonn Greene more -- yet still insists Chris Johnson will get carries. I expect to see Greene on the field in early downs while Johnson becomes more of an asset on third downs and in the passing game.
Ryan Mathews currently owns a two-game streak of 100-plus rushing yards. Before his last two games, Mathews had gone 19 consecutive games without gaining 100 yards on the ground. When Mathews is running well -- and not fumbling the ball -- the Chargers' balanced offense is difficult for opponents to stop.
The Redskins' defense has improved the past four weeks, allowing 159 fewer yards per game than the disastrous first three weeks of the season. It was this time last year the Redskins made their run to the playoffs. The defense will need to continue its upswing if it wants to put together a similar streak.
The Eagles need to run the ball better this week, but it won't be easy against the sixth-ranked Raiders run defense. Philly's rushing yards have dropped precipitously the last six weeks, plummeting to just 48 yards in Week 8.
The Raiders' offense is boom or bust with Terrelle Pryor. However, the conservative play-calling we saw in the second half last week against the Steelers almost cost Oakland the game. The Raiders sit on the fringe of playoff contention thanks to the playmaking ability of Pryor. Live by it or die by it.
The Buccaneers' best chance to win their first game of the season in a stadium where the home team hasn't lost in two seasons will be to get after Russell Wilson. The Rams provided the blueprint last week -- heavy rushers on the outside taking advantage of shaky offensive tackle play and tough man coverage. The Bucs have the personnel to pull it off, but do they have the staff to scheme it?
The Seahawks are a mess in the passing game thanks to the offensive line's struggles and now Sidney Rice's injury. Marshawn Lynch is dealing with a knee issue, but Seattle will need to rely on the running game to tide them over until reinforcement come on the offensive line.
Some fun stats that surely will put a smile on the face of Browns fans: The Ravens are 5-0 after the bye under John Harbaugh, outscoring opponents 138-56. They also have an 11-game winning streak against the Browns.
Browns fans can breathe a sigh of relief that management didn't ship out Josh Gordon at the trade deadline. Cleveland's most dynamic weapon has shown explosion this season and already he seems to have a rapport with Jason Campbell.
Of all the anti-Tom Brady stats I could throw at you, the worst might be this: The Patriots are 9 of 49 on third down (18.4 percent) over the last four weeks. We've become too used to Brady extending drives on third down for that to continue.
Case Keenum showed well in his first game, a contest against a tough Kansas City defense. Then his bye-week work was enough to convince Texans coach Gary Kubiak to put the season -- and perhaps the coach's job -- in Keenum's hands.
Andrew Luck has ran just 22 pass plays in his career without Reggie Wayne on the field. Getting adjusted to life with his most reliable target sidelined will be difficult. It will be interesting to see whom he goes to when he needs a big play on third down.
To underscore the importance of the rivalry game, I leave you with the best tweeting owner in sports:
We preview every Week 9 game in the latest "Around the League" Podcast.
ColtsFans,we realize we had an exciting schedule this year,hype games grabbing attention;but the 2 games/Tenn,Hou,will b season determiningâ Jim Irsay (@JimIrsay) November 1, 2013