Vikings-Packers leads interesting week full of division matchups

We're approaching the midpoint of the season and that means one thing -- more division matchups. And in this season of über-parity, no one is really out of it (okay, except the Bills and Panthers and Browns... But at least the Bills and Panthers are coming off a bye, so they didn't lose last week!).

Besides the division games, there are some other juicy contests with playoff ramifications, and the Sunday and Monday night games are straight out of a soap opera. Gonna be another fun weekend of football goodness.

The storyline:

The Master faces the Pupil once again, after Brett Favre swept Aaron Rodgers a year ago. Favre goes back to Green Bay for the first time since the sexting allegations surfaced, with his image in tatters and his offense still limping along. * #### Why you should watch:

Come on, who won't be watching? Between the Favre drama and the fact both of these Super Bowl hopefuls badly need a W, you have the makings for a classic. The Vikings would be wise to ride Adrian Peterson all day. Clay Matthews could return for the Packers. They need him badly. * #### Did you know?

Peterson has scored a rushing touchdown in four straight games against the Packers. ... Minnesota's Randy Moss has a touchdown catch in six consecutive outings vs. Green Bay. ... Rodgers has a 103.9 career passer rating against the Vikings. ... Green Bay's Charles Woodson leads the NFL with 17 interceptions since 2008. *

The storyline:

The Wade Phillips saga continues with the 1-4 Cowboys coming off another loss in which penalties and turnovers doomed them. The Giants are the hottest team in the NFC and a win here further cements them atop the NFC East. * #### Why you should watch:

A Dallas loss and reporters will flock to Jerry Jones postgame, again. Could the Cowboys double their opponent's yardage, yet lose again? New York's pass rush will test the age of Dallas' offensive line. * #### Did you know?

Giants quarterback Eli Manning is 19-4 in October starts throughout his career -- the best winning percentage among Super Bowl era signal-callers. ... New York has won 14 consecutive games when Justin Tuck has a sack. ... Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware has a sack in four consecutive games. ... Dallas' Roy Williams has five receiving touchdowns in his past three outings. *

The storyline:

The Chargers usually wait until January to start losing games they should win, but they have started that pattern early this season and find themselves in a 2-4 hole. If the Patriots play defense like they did in the second half last week, Norv Turner could find himself back in the crosshairs. * #### Why you should watch:

Deion Branch put up Randy Moss-esque numbers in his first game back with the Patriots. Danny Woodhead is becoming Mr. Everything for New England. San Diego's special teams tend to succumb to unthinkable brain cramps. * #### Did you know?

The Patriots lead the league in points per game with 30.8. ... New England's Tom Brady has won three consecutive games against San Diego. ... The Chargers are 20-6 at home under coach Norv Turner. ... San Diego leads the league in defense. *

The storyline:

The Eagles are 3-0 on the road and face one of the most physical teams in the league with more offensive stars wounded (Jason Peters, DeSean Jackson, etc.). Michael Vick could return to start, which would continue a stunning QB carousel in Philly. * #### Why you should watch:

Vince Young could end facing one of his heroes. Chris Johnson is getting back in a groove. LeSean McCoy is evolving into one of the most potent weapons in football. * #### Did you know?

McCoy is one of only two players with 400-plus rushing yards and 200-plus receiving yards. ... Philadelphia's Juqua Parker has a sack in five consecutive games against AFC opponents. ... The Titans have won 11 straight vs. NFC teams. ... Tennessee's Kenny Britt has a TD catch in four consecutive games. *

The storyline:

Ben Roethlisberger worked through the rust last week in his return from suspension. Now he meets a road crowd for the first time since the latest sexual allegations against him, where the reaction could be quite hostile. * #### Why you should watch:

The Dolphins need to find a way to translate their gritty road style (3-0), to the comforts of home. Brandon Marshall will see plenty of Troy Polamalu over the top, but Davone Bess is making teams pay for that tactic. Both teams are in the thick of the playoff chase. * #### Did you know?

The Steelers have won four consecutive games against the Dolphins. ... Pittsburgh leads the NFL in scoring defense. ... Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown is averaging 5.7 yards per carry in the fourth quarter. ... Miami's Chad Henne has four 300-yard passing games in his last five at home. *

The storyline:

This is an epic showdown with massive playoff consequences ... Seriously, though, someone from this division is going to the playoffs and this could be a tiebreaker special. * #### Why you should watch:

Max Hall is seemingly unafraid of diving headfirst into a cauldron of linebackers. The Cardinals are in first place despite being outscored by a whopping 50 points this season. * #### Did you know?

The Cardinals have won 12 of 14 games against NFC West opponents. ... Arizona's Darnell Dockett has the most sacks of any defensive tackle since 2008 (25). ... Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is 16-5 in his last 21 games against division opponents. ... Seattle's Leon Washington leads the NFL with a 37 yard kickoff return average. *

The storyline:

The NFL's worst defense travels to face one of the league's worst offenses. The Bears are on the cusp of letting another fast start slip away, while the Redskins are finding ways to stay in games despite mediocre offense and woeful defense. * #### Why you should watch:

Donovan McNabb returns to his hometown for the first time as a Redskin. Jay Cutler needs to bounce back or fans might start cheering more for McNabb than him. Will Mike Martz call three times as many passes as runs? * #### Did you know?

McNabb has won four of his five career starts in Chicago. ... Washington's Brian Orakpo has 8.5 sacks in his last nine road games. ... Bears RB Matt Forte leads all NFC running backs with 742 receiving yards since 2009. Chicago's Johnny Knox leads the league in yards per catch average at 21.8 (minimum 15 catches). *

The storyline:

These teams combined for four wins last season, but each has won three times already this year. They are both in the thick of the playoff race, but Tampa Bay's division is significantly tougher, making this a must-win for the Bucs. * #### Why you should watch:

Sam Bradford looks nothing like a rookie and is running away with Rookie of the Year honors, while he lifts a franchise. Don't sleep on the Rams defense and running game. The Bucs have really struggled against better opponents. * #### Did you know?

Steven Jackson needs 32 rushing yards to pass Eric Dickerson and become the franchise's all-time leading rusher. ... St. Louis' James Hall is tied for fourth in the NFL with six sacks. ... Bucs wide receiver Mike Williams leads all rookies with three touchdown catches. ... Tampa Bay is 4-1 when Barrett Ruud has an interception. *

The storyline:

Two more upstart teams meet, both in need of a win. The Chiefs are out to prove their 3-0 start was no joke as they try to avoid a three-game losing skid. * #### Why you should watch:

The Chiefs have been very strong at home in the new-and-improved Arrowhead, with one of the game's most powerful home-field advantages being restored. Matt Cassel is coming off his best game of the season. * #### Did you know?

Jags running back Maurice Jones-Drew has a rushing touchdown in three straight games against the Chiefs. ... Rashean Mathis is the franchise leader in interceptions with 28. ... Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles has had at least 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his last three games. ... Kansas City's Derrick Johnson leads the team with 43 tackles. *

The storyline:

If either team is going to become a factor in the AFC West, now is the time to stand up. The Raiders are looking for a QB, again. The Broncos are looking for a running game. * #### Why you should watch:

This could be a big game for Brandon Lloyd, and if he can get it done against Nnamdi Asomugha, he'll really make a case for getting paid. Denver has no choice but to put the ball up in the air a ton. * #### Did you know?

Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy averages 18.3 yards per reception against AFC West opponents. ... Oakland's Zach Miller needs four catches to become the fourth tight end in team history with 200. ... Broncos wide receiver Brandon Lloyd leads the NFL with 13 20-plus yard catches. ... Denver's Champ Bailey has four career interceptions against the Raiders. *

The storyline:

Matt Ryan is badly in need of a return to form after faltering in front of the hometown fans in Philly last week. The Falcons secondary is getting exposed again, but the Bengals aren't exactly chucking the ball all over the place. * #### Why you should watch:

The Falcons could have difficulty with the AFC North portion of their schedule, and the Bengals need to come out of the bye quickly or their season will slip away in that tough division. * #### Did you know?

Bengals RB Cedric Benson is averaging 126.8 yards per game in his last six outings against NFC opponents. ... Cincinnati's Chad Ochocinco is one TD catch away from becoming the franchise's all-time leader in that category. ... Ryan is 15-1 as a starter at home. ... Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez has five TDs in five career games against the Bengals. *

The storyline:

The champs sent a message to the league last week, and, with Reggie Bush and Darren Sharper on the horizon, they could begin their ascent. * #### Why you should watch:

Colt McCoy survived Pittsburgh last week, but he gets another aggressive defense this week (assuming he gets the start). No Josh Cribbs equals no explosive plays for Cleveland, but they can run the ball some for sure. * #### Did you know?

Browns tight end Benjamin Watson has had at least five catches in four straight games. ... Cleveland is 7-2 all-time at New Orleans. ... Saints quarterback Drew Brees is 3-0 as a starter against the Browns. ... New Orleans' Sedrick Ellis has a sack in three consecutive home games. *

The storyline:

One of the AFC's elite takes on what might be the worst team in football. The Bills are at least rested coming off a bye. The Ravens can't get caught looking ahead to theirs. * #### Why you should watch:

This should be another opportunity for Joe Flacco to continue his steady play. Ed Reed could play for the first time since the 2009 postseason. * #### Did you know?

Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has at least two TD passes in three consecutive games. ... Buffalo is 14-7 after a bye. ... The Ravens have won five straight home games. ... Baltimore's Terrell Suggs has a sack in three consecutive games against the Bills. *

The storyline:

Once it looked to be a meeting of winless teams; then the 49ers went and beat Oakland last week. Now it's a must-win for San Francisco if it is to recover from an 0-5 start. * #### Why you should watch:

Matt Moore being back under center for Carolina after a horrendous start to season could mean plenty of turnovers. * #### Did you know?

Niners RB Frank Gore leads the NFC with 755 yards from scrimmage. ... San Francisco's Vernon Davis has scored a TD in three straight games. ... When Jonathan Stewart has at least 14 carries, the Panthers are 14-0. ... Carolina's Charles Godfrey leads the NFL in interceptions with four. *

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