COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF: Czar's final notes

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Ex-Cowboy Troy Aikman will loosen up his throwing arm this morning on FOX NFL Sunday and hum a few passes to television partner Cris Collinsworth. ¿Cris was complaining a little bit that I was throwing it a little too hard,¿ Aikman said from Green Bay. ¿I should have gotten him a pair of gloves.¿ Aikman was joking, but reports had him throwing pretty hard. Ready for a comeback? ¿I don¿t think so,¿ he said. But nothing is definite. There were reports this week that Miami, reeling after losing two straight and minus starter , indirectly contacted Aikman about coming to the rescue, especially with backup possibly in need of clavicle surgery. ¿Nothing happened,¿ Aikman said. ¿And Ray rebounded and had a good practice on Friday,¿ said offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who remains good friends with Aikman. ¿I think Ray will be fine (in Sunday night¿s game against the New York .)¿ The rumors will continue to hound Aikman, now in his second season as a FOX analyst, because he¿s healthy — concussion free and no more back pain — and because he feels he could play if he wanted to. And that question remains unanswered. Does he really want to?

The scoop on Sunday¿s FOX games

GAME: Atlanta at Pittsburgh
The turf at Heinz Field is really torn up and we¿ll see if Atlanta¿s Mike Vick can do his stop-and-go moves. The will be minus bruising runner T. J. Duckett. On the flip side, the get solid center back and Bill Cowher wants to get 10-12 snaps in the second half. The offense has been clicking under (4-1 as a starter) and has been loving it. He has 30 receptions with Tommy, only six with . CZAR¿S SCOOP: Stewart hasn¿t rocked the boat in Pittsburgh, but it¿s difficult to imagine the keeping him next season when he earns $6.3 million. The last lost to the when Terry Bradshaw was a rookie in 1970. Pittsburgh is confident because they know how to attack 3-4 defenses. They face something similar to Atlanta¿s defense every day in practice. GAME: Detroit at Green Bay
This looks like a Green Bay blowout. The have lost 12 consecutive road games and their offense has been pathetic. In the last two games, Detroit¿s offense has averaged 215 yards a game and failed to make a first down on 14 of 27 possessions. The want to force QB to the air, believing they can stuff RB after allowing less than 90 yards rushing in the last three games. DE vs. is the matchup Green Bay wants to avoid, hoping to slide a tight end Porcher¿s way. CZAR¿S SCOOP: The first Detroit game was a wakeup call for the , who should have been upset in the opening game at Ford Field. Some will be looking for ex-teammate , who was disliked for his arrogant attitude. Some in Packerland are upset that Mike Sherman hasn¿t received more praise for the team¿s 7-1 start, tops in the NFL. Favre didn¿t like wearing the brace on his left knee during the Miami game and he¿s considering not wearing it Sunday. He didn¿t wear it in practice on Friday. There are still rumors that president Matt Millen won¿t be back next season. GAME: New York at Minnesota
The don¿t fear running and will blitz him as much as possible. goes against rookie holdout LT , who could play 25-30 snaps. Culpepper is responsible for 19 of the ¿ league-high 24 turnovers. Culpepper¿s 19 are more than all but two other NFL teams. Minnesota coach Mike Tice almost benched Culpepper last Sunday, so look for warming up. CZAR¿S SCOOP: There are some who believe Jim Fassel orchestrated his play-calling scenario, allowing offensive coordinator Sean Payton to fail against Philadelphia and then making himself look good against an awful Jacksonville team at home. Talk about a bunch of cynics! There is a good chance that rookie TE may need corrective surgery for his turf toe. The will pay No. 1 holdout McKinnie his $9.35 million signing bonus in installments next year and 2004. GAME: New Orleans at Carolina
The are excited about the return of CB Dale Carter to the lineup after being suspended for the first half of the season. How rusty will QB be? New Orleans has been acting like the 2000 , the last team to score more than allow more than 20 points in eight consecutive games. RB Deuce McAlister has seven runs of 20 yards or more and faces a Carolina defensive front minus DT , who was suspended this week for taking a banned substance. CZAR¿S SCOOP: Former New Orleans GM Randy Mueller, who was surprisingly fired by owner Tom Benson after the college draft, has been rumored as a possibility in Seattle, Detroit and Jacksonville, should any of those franchises make executive changes. Mueller, who is responsible for the ¿ personnel transformation, lives outside Spokane and would prefer returning to the . He worked there for 17 seasons. GAME: Washington at Jacksonville
With RB out, will , who had 110 yards rushing in his first NFL start, be able to run through the Jags¿ 26th-ranked rushing defense? There could be a great matchup between ex-Redskins DE vs. tough-guy OT . Ex-Jaguar will be chasing , whose QB rating ranks 16th in the NFL. Odd note: Washington QB played here four times as a Gator and won them all with 11 TD passes. CZAR¿S SCOOP: Of all the cities in Florida, this is Steve Spurrier¿s favorite. He has tons of golfing buddies here and this could be a pro-Redskins¿ crowd. Spurrier doesn¿t like winning with his running game, but he believes his 4-4 team still has a playoff shot. Although he gave Tom Coughlin a two-year extension, Jags owner Wayne Weaver has been unhappy with some of Coughlin¿s football decisions. Coughlin better win this one. GAME: Seattle at Arizona
QB will start, but he complained of soreness behind his throwing shoulder this week. He has tendonitis and didn¿t throw in practice on Thursday and Friday. The bad news for Jake is that he¿ll be without and , his two big-play receivers. Veteran and will be the starters. CZAR¿S SCOOP: Although owner Paul Allen has said nothing, speculation persists that GM-coach Mike Holmgren will be fired if the continue to slide. How can Holmgren stop it with so many injuries? If he is available, Holmgren would be a hot commodity on the open market. One owner who would be interested is Jerry Jones, who is desperate to turn his ugly offense around.
Tagged: Falcons, Lions, Packers, Dolphins, Vikings, Saints, Giants, Seahawks, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Cardinals, Steelers, Shane Matthews, Brett Favre, Ahman Green, Jay Fiedler, Todd Bouman, Daunte Culpepper, Plaxico Burress, Jerome Bettis, Kordell Stewart, Jeff Hartings, Stephen Davis, Marco Coleman, Jon Jansen, Brentson Buckner, Mark Brunell, Renaldo Wynn, Jeremy Shockey, Bryant McKinnie, Tommy Maddox, Dale Carter, Kenny Watson

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