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Countdown: Favre, Big Ben take aim in Pittsburgh

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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Minnesota at Pittsburgh, 1 ET

NFL ON FOX PREVIEW

ALTTEXT Brett Favre and the undefeated Vikings take on the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Daryl Johnston preview.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The weather should be ideal for a passing duel and you better believe that Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, who is on pace for a 5,000-yard season, is excited about facing a Minnesota secondary minus CB Antoine Winfield, who flew here with a walking boot on his sprained right foot. If Winfield doesn't play, the Vikings plan to rotate three different players for Winfield and as a nickel back. Karl Paymah and Benny Sapp will both play a lot at left cornerback while rookie Asher Allen will be active for the first time this season. Allen and Sapp are better in the slot than Paymah, who was burned in the fourth quarter last Sunday by Baltimore's Mark Clayton. The Steelers have their own concerns with DE Aaron Smith gone and that could be critical in trying to jam up Adrian Peterson. Both defenses are very good against the run; Pittsburgh has gone 24 games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. It could be a shoot-out, though, between Big Ben and Brett Favre, who is off to a remarkable start. There are quality receivers on both sides and two great pass rushers in James Harrison (6 sacks) and Jared Allen (7 1/2 sacks). Steelers safety Troy Polamalu will play, but he's closer to 80 percent and unlikely to make the dynamic plays he did in the season opener against Tennessee. The Steelers are concerned with how RB Rashard Mendenhall, who is averaging 5.1 yards a carry, holds on to the football. CZAR'S SCOOP: The last time the Vikings were 6-0 was 2003 and Mike Tice was the head coach. The Vikings lost seven of their final 10 games and were knocked out of the playoffs on the final play of the season in Arizona when Nate Poole caught the game-winning TD. That team and the '78 Redskins are the NFL's only teams to miss the playoffs after starting 6-0. There has been speculation that Vikings coach Brad Childress, who is in the final year of his contract, could get an extension during the bye week if he splits these next two games at the Steelers and Packers. The bottom line is that Chilly was right about Favre's impact on his offense. Because of all of his off-the-field escapades, this will be kicker Jeff Reed's final season in Pittsburgh. He will be a free agent. Steelers owner Dan Rooney, the current American ambassador to Ireland, will be at the game because he attended his granddaughter's wedding Saturday in Pittsburgh. It will be Rooney's third game of the year. The middle of Heinz Field between the numbers was re-sodded last Monday and held up well when Pitt played there on Saturday.

Green Bay at Cleveland, 1 ET

NFL ON FOX PREVIEW

ALTTEXT Aaron Rodgers and the Pack take on the Browns in Cleveland. John Lynch preview.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Once again, Aaron Rodgers will be working behind a patched-up offensive line with rookie T.J. Lang at left tackle and probably Scott Wells again at center. The Browns, who had 12 players suffering from the flu this week, probably will use Josh Cribbs in the wildcat formation. Cribbs took 13 snaps last Sunday and gained 45 yards on six carries. He also had an interception inside the 20-yard line. The Packers have been struggling at running back and signed Ahman Green (inactive today) this week to help Ryan Grant. Still, the Packers are facing the NFL's worst defense and Rodgers does have a healthy receiving corps. The Packers are still struggling a bit with their new 3-4 look, but rookie Clay Matthews made an impact in his first start, collecting two sacks and three tackles for losses against Detroit last Sunday. No. 1 B.J. Raji still hasn't fully recovered from a training-camp ankle injury. Cleveland will be without top linebacker D'Qwell Jackson who is out for the season. Billy Cundiff will be Cleveland's PK. CZAR'S SCOOP: Browns coach Eric Mangini, who was fined $25,000 for failing to put Brett Favre on his injury report last December, had 21 players on it this week, including the 12 flu players. However, no flu player will miss the game. Browns QB Derek Anderson is 36th among quarterbacks with a passer rating of 41.7. He's completing 44.4 percent of his passes after going 11 of 41 in his last two games. Of those 30 incompletions, 16 have been dropped. Interesting, that's the same number of drops Braylon Edwards had last season with the Browns. Former Cleveland quarterback Bernie Kosar started his job this week, serving as the "eyes and ears" for owner Randy Lerner. When Kosar filed for bankruptcy more than a year ago, he listed a $1.5 million debt he owed the Browns. The Packers never entertained any trade offers for OLB Aaron Kampman, who continues to look lost in his new role as a linebacker after being one of the game's best pass rushers the past two seasons. Kampman did have two sacks vs. the Lions. The Packers hope to have both Chad Clifton and recently signed RT Mark Tauscher available for Favre and Vikings next Sunday.

San Francisco at Houston, 1 ET

NFL ON FOX PREVIEW

ALTTEXT Michael Crabtree makes his debut with the 49ers as they take on the Texans. Brian Billick preview.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: There is no question that No. 1 pick Michael Crabtree will play a lot as an outside receiver for the 49ers, probably at the expense of Josh Morgan. Bodog.com has placed the over/under on Crabtree's receiving yards total at 45.5 yards, and you can imagine that the 49ers would like to see it higher than that. Shaun Hill is coming off his worst game as a starter, but he also has RB Frank Gore back and that's a huge key to San Francisco's offense. The 49ers will want to pound Gore between the tackles and try to hit Crabtree with some quick hitch passes, hoping he can break some plays after the catch. Although San Francisco has a solid defense, it was torched by the Falcons before the bye and Houston QB Matt Schaub is off to a tremendous start. He leads the NFL with 14 touchdown passes and his 1,810 yards rank second. The good news for San Francisco is that Houston has been one-dimensional this season; the running game is 30th in the league. Texans coach Gary Kubiak has been unsuccessful lighting a fire under RB Steve Slaton. CZAR'S SCOOP: Texans owner Bob McNair is one of the major movers in wanting to lower the overall compensation due the players in the next collective bargaining agreement. McNair believes it is essential to make a reasonable profit, especially a new owner like himself who has a significant debt service because of his expansion fee and new stadium costs. The 49ers are still without a new stadium and they seem reluctant to strike a joint-venture deal with the Raiders that might help both franchises achieve the ultimate goal — a new stadium. California simply doesn't have the tax revenues to help NFL franchises in the construction of new stadiums. Without question, California has the three worst NFL stadiums in the league. Houston rookie OLB Brian Cushing and DE Mario Williams are both hurting and didn't practice much this week, but they will play.

Atlanta at Dallas, 4:15 ET

NFL ON FOX PREVIEW

ALTTEXT Dallas has won two consecutive games following bye weeks under coach Wade Phillips. Thom Brennaman preview.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Cowboys are healthy and plan a three-headed running back rotation against the Falcons, who are undersized along the defensive line. In their only loss this season, the Falcons surrendered 168 rushing yards to the Patriots, who dominated them with 39:49 in time of possession. The Cowboys want to follow suit, allowing Tony Romo to pace himself and not force any bad throws. They also have a massive offensive line that is better suited for run blocking than pass blocking. The Cowboys believe Roy Williams (ribs) will play, but they don't need him that much with the emergence of Miles Austin and the expected use of both tight ends, Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett. The Falcons have a balanced offensive attack with QB Matt Ryan playing like a poised veteran. He has taken only two sacks all season while throwing for nine TDs. Ryan wants to control the clock, too, but he can do it throwing to TE Tony Gonzalez (23 catches, 3 TDs) or going to deep to Roddy White. Michael Turner has six rushing TDs, although he is averaging just 3.5 yards a carry. Cowboys RB Felix Jones will wear a brace to protect his knee while Dallas says that OLB DeMarcus Ware won't be slowed by a foot stress fracture. Ware has two sacks and is looking for a new contract and the Cowboys do have $11 million under the salary cap to take care of him. CZAR'S SCOOP: The Bengals wanted to trade for Cowboys backup TE Martellus Bennett and you have to wonder if Jerry Jones revealed the deal in order to fire up his players and also to let the coaching staff know that his team does have a lot of good, young talent. Falcons punter Michael Koenen plans to try hitting the huge video board (160 feet long and 72 feet wide) in warmups. The board hangs 90 feet above the playing field. "If I accidentally hit it, I accidentally hit it," Koenen said. Wade Phillips is 6-2 in games following a bye week. Believe it or not, this will be the first time the Cowboys have been in their new stadium, dubbed "Jerryland" by Ware, during the daylight hours. They were unable to practice there during the bye week because of the U2 concert. The Falcons are again minus change-of-pace RB Jerious Norwood and LCB Brian Williams. If Tennessee owner Bud Adams decides to fire coach Jeff Fisher, you can bet that Fisher would be a top candidate in Dallas if Jones makes a change. The Cowboys have been forced to use three high school turf or indoor facilities because of recent rains. Dallas lost its indoor bubble on May 2 and must build a new one in time for the 2011 Super Bowl. The AFC will practice at TCU's $7 million indoor facility while the NFC team is scheduled to practice at the Cowboys' complex at Valley Ranch. The Cowboys have moved several practices to Coppell High School, Southlake Carroll High School and Standridge Stadium in Carrollton.

Chicago at Cincinnati, 4:15 ET

NFL ON FOX PREVIEW

ALTTEXT Cedric Benson will face his former team as the Bengals host the Bears. Tim Ryan preview.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: This is such a huge game for both teams' playoff aspirations. The Bengals are short at tight end, but you can bet that Cedric Benson wants to have a huge game against his former team. Also, Carson Palmer is back and has big weapons in Chad Ochocinco, Andre Caldwell and Laveranues Coles. They keep hoping that rookie TE Chase Coffman can produce. Both teams are coming off disappointing losses and the Bears seem to have lost their running game and prefer to have Jay Cutler win the game. Cutler has some solid weapons in rookie Johnny Knox, TE Greg Olsen and Devin Hester. On defense, Hunter Hillenmeyer plays the strong side and Nick Roach stays at MLB. Also, look for former Bucs DE Gaines Adams to see some playing time at the expense of Adewale Ogunleye. DE Mark Anderson will be in Chicago's four-man pass rush for the injured Tommie Harris, who is out. CB Nathan Vasher may play some free safety when the Bears move Danieal Manning to cornerback in nickel situations. Houston torched the Bengals' secondary last week and Cutler wants to follow suit. CZAR'S SCOOP: You have to love Chad Ochocinco. A week after receiving his second NFL uniform fine ($10,000) for a chin-strap violation, Chad said he'd like to set up his own NFL players' news network via his Twitter account, calling it OCNN — the Ochocinco News Network. One of Cutler's reasons for wanting out of Denver was the hope of getting a new contract from his new team. Well, the Bears relented and gave him $30 million in new money after originally thinking they would wait until next season. There is no question that Benson is running for a new contract this season, but his remarks that the Bears "blackballed" him in the NFL are nonsense. His failure to live up to the status of the fourth-overall player taken in the 2005 draft did him in, plus his constant whining about the Bears and how the defensive players were too rough on him. Plus, Thomas Jones beat him out for the starting job. The arrival of Adams means that Ogunleye most likely won't be a Bear next season.

New Orleans at Miami, 4:15 ET

NFL ON FOX PREVIEW

ALTTEXT The undefeated Saints head to Miami to take on the Dolphins. Charles Davis preview.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Miami and its vaunted wildcat offense averages an NFL-high 177 yards rushing per game and you can bet the Saints will see something new from the formation, considering Miami is coming off a bye week. The Saints are truly balanced, actually running the ball more than Drew Brees throws it. Still, Brees is coming off a 369-yard effort against the Giants and you can bet he will put pressure on Miami's young cornerbacks, Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. What should help the Dolphins is that new QB Chad Henne has shown better arm strength than Chad Pennington and it gives the offense a better chance to go deep to Ted Ginn Jr. Miami still hasn't found a replacement for Patrick Cobbs, who was a good blocker and receiver out of the wildcat. Brees has 15,310 passing yards in 53 games with the Saints, becoming the fastest player in NFL history to reach 15,000 with one team. LT Jermon Bushrod is more than a capable replacement for injured Jammal Brown for the Saints. CZAR'S SCOOP: Back in 2006, during the free-agency period, Drew Brees was initially thinking he'd choose Miami over New Orleans. Yes, Kansas City and Detroit also checked him out, but neither team made a serious run. In the end, Brees chose the Saints because then-Miami coach Nick Saban seemed more concerned with his shoulder injury (he got decked in the 2005 playoff game for the Chargers) than what he could bring to the field as a player. Remember, Saban took Daunte Culpepper over Brees and since that fateful decision, the Dolphins have had seven different quarterbacks and two more head coaches. From a football perspective, it was a no-brainer. The Saints had just finished 3-13 and were starting over with a new coach in Sean Payton. The Dolphins, meanwhile, had already rebuilt themselves under Saban, finishing 9-7 the year before. Brees settled on New Orleans once they guaranteed his first season at $10 million (five more at $50 million).

Other games

New England vs. Tampa Bay in London: Even without RBs Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris, plus LT Matt Light, the Patriots definitely appear to be hitting a solid stride because Tom Brady is looking better and more comfortable every week. Ex-Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher's name has started popping up with the Bucs for two reasons: 1) he doesn't want to coach the Redskins and 2) the Glazers strike him as owners who could meet his hefty asking price. Word is that Panthers owner Jerry Richardson wouldn't pay Cowher's price, either. San Diego at Kansas City: Norv Turner usually loves to run the football, but the Chargers' offensive line isn't opening many holes for RB LaDainian Tomlinson and Turner tends to bail on it before L.T. can establish a rhythm. But who wants to run when the Chiefs have a young secondary and only nine sacks this season? The Chargers are allowing 141 rushing yards a game, meaning that K.C.'s Larry Johnson has a chance for a big day. He needs 124 yards to pass Priest Holmes (6,070) for most in franchise history. Indianapolis at St. Louis: The Rams are getting closer, but Peyton Manning is completing 73.5 percent of his attempts with 12 TDs and 1,645 yards in a 5-0 start. The Colts have won a franchise-record 14 consecutive regular-season games while the Rams have lost a record 16 straight. The Colts expect safety Bob Sanders to make his first start of the season. The Rams traded LB Will Witherspoon to Philly because they weren't planning on keeping him around next season at $5 million a year. With Donnie Avery doubtful, the Rams may start Tim Carter because he's the lone speed receiver they have. Buffalo at Carolina: The Bills start Ryan Fitzpatrick for Trent Edwards, who suffered a concussion last Sunday against the Jets. Fitzpatrick rallied the Bills from a 10-point deficit to a 16-13 overtime victory. Meanwhile, the Bills have junked the no-huddle offense and offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt has moved to the sidelines to call the plays. Fred Jackson will return kicks again for the benched Roscoe Parrish. However, the Panthers figure to run and run with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart all day against a Buffalo defense allowing 182 rushing yards a game. N.Y. Jets at Oakland: The quote of the week in New York belonged to Raiders DE Richard Seymour, commenting on Giants LB Antonio Pierce, who compared playing the Raiders to a scrimmage. "To be honest, I could really care less about what that guy said. I think they got what they deserved (last Sunday). I'm not sure how many points the Saints scored on them, but if I'm not mistaken it was half-a-hundred points. I think he's got enough to chew on himself with that." The Jets are hurting. NT Kris Jenkins, the heart of their defense, is out for the season and rookie QB Mark Sanchez has 1 TD and 8 INTs in three straight losses, plus he's minus Jerricho Cotchery. Arizona at N.Y. Giants: It appears that Kurt Warner will have all three of his top receivers ready to go against the Giants. Anquan Boldin (ankle) and Steve Breaston (knee) will both play despite missing a lot of practice time this past week. The Giants want to be able to run and control the clock in order to keep their porous secondary off the field. It might not be easy, considering Arizona has the NFL's top run defense. In fact, both teams need to throw a lot in order to be successful. And both Warner and Eli Manning have been playing well; that was a mere bump in the road last Sunday in New Orleans for Eli. Rookie RT Will Beatty could start for Kareem McKenzie, thus ending New York's streak of 38 straight games with the same offensive line. Philadelphia at Washington: The Eagles are coming off that horrible loss to the Raiders while the Redskins are dealing with a new offensive play-caller in Sherm Lewis, who was calling bingo games before he was hired. Redskins coach Jim Zorn won't even have consulting duties on this one as Lewis will relay his plays through Sherman Smith, who will then talk to QB Jason Campbell. The Eagles also seem to be downsizing Michael Vick as they attempt to get their offense back on track. Last week, Andy Reid called 54 pass plays compared to only 12 runs against the Raiders.
Tagged: Bills, Lions, Colts, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Dolphins, Patriots, Saints, Giants, Jets, Eagles, Redskins, Panthers, Cardinals, Chargers, Michael Vick, Sammy Morris, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Daunte Culpepper, Richard Seymour, Matt Light, Tom Brady, Chad Pennington, Kareem McKenzie, LaDainian Tomlinson, Drew Brees, Kris Jenkins, Fred Taylor, Will Witherspoon, Tim Carter, Antonio Pierce, Anquan Boldin, Larry Johnson, Bob Sanders, Eli Manning, Jammal Brown, Jason Campbell, Roscoe Parrish, Ryan Fitzpatrick, DeAngelo Williams, Patrick Cobbs, Fred Jackson, Steve Breaston, Trent Edwards, Jermon Bushrod, Ted Ginn Jr., Jonathan Stewart, Donnie Avery, Chad Henne, Mark Sanchez, Vontae Davis, Sean Smith

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