Vikings looking to put the squeeze on Bears QBs

The lasting image from the Bears’ trip to San Francisco was

49ers defensive end Aldon Smith running amok.

And now Chicago’s battered offensive line gets to face Jared

Allen, Chad Greenway and the Vikings on Sunday at Soldier

Field.

No, Minnesota (6-4) is not in San Francisco’s class for creating

mayhem with a physically imposing defense. But the way the Bears

(7-3) are blocking – make that NOT blocking – for their

quarterbacks, just about any team will be a major challenge,

whether it’s Jay Cutler back from a concussion, or backup Jason

Campbell on the field.

”You’re going to play a great team on their home field, a place

that we’ve struggled at,” Greenway said. ”But this is a new year,

a new team. And I think we’re going to have a focus going in there

that we’re going to give ourselves a chance.

”It’s going to take our best effort. It’s going to take our

best game of the year to win out there this week.”

To get that win, the Vikings figure to emphasize their ace,

Adrian Peterson, and the running game, while fitting in throws to

Percy Harvin, who also is having a strong season. They must be

careful not to fall victim to Chicago’s ball-hawking defense, which

did little against the 49ers, but otherwise has been brilliant. The

Bears have seven interception returns for TDs and have forced 30

turnovers, the most in the league.

The Vikings don’t get many takeaways, but they can get after

quarterbacks. Allen has 13 sacks in eight games against the Bears,

including 3 1/2 in last year’s season finale.

Whichever defense sets the tone figures to swing things in its

team’s direction.

On Thanksgiving Day, Houston beat Detroit 34-31 in overtime to

improve to 10-1, Washington held off Dallas 38-31, and New England

routed the New York Jets 49-19.

Also Sunday, it’s San Francisco at New Orleans; Green Bay at the

New York Giants; Atlanta at Tampa Bay; Baltimore at San Diego;

Pittsburgh at Cleveland; Denver at Kansas City; Seattle at Miami;

Buffalo at Indianapolis; Oakland at Cincinnati; Tennessee at

Jacksonville; and St. Louis at Arizona.

The Monday night game has Carolina at Philadelphia.

San Francisco (7-2-1) at New Orleans (5-5)

As intriguing as any game on the schedule for many reasons.

The 49ers could get back quarterback Alex Smith from a

concussion, but with the way Colin Kaepernick performed in a rout

of the Bears on Monday night, it’s uncertain who will get the call

from coach Jim Harbaugh.

Regardless, it’s the San Francisco defense that could decide

things. If the 49ers can put pressure on Drew Brees and the

increasingly dynamic Saints offense – Aldon Smith leads the NFL

with 15 sacks – they could control matters. But New Orleans has won

three straight and five of six, and Brees could become the third

player with 30 TD passes in five seasons.

Green Bay (7-3) at New York Giants (6-4)

The last time they met, New York eliminated a 16-1 Packers team

from the playoffs. At Lambeau Field.

The Giants will need to rekindle the overwhelming pass rush that

was decisive in that game, plus get Eli Manning back on track. He’s

struggled the last two weeks, both losses, and hasn’t played

particularly well in a month. A better running game also would help

him.

Green Bay, though, has five straight victories and is tied with

Chicago atop the NFC North. In his past seven games, Aaron Rodgers

has 24 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 117 QB rating. There’s

a chance he could get back top receiver Greg Jennings from a torn

abdominal muscle, too.

Atlanta (9-1) at Tampa Bay (6-4)

Atlanta lost for the first time two weeks ago, then needed to

rally to beat Arizona. The Falcons have won six of the past seven

meetings with the Bucs, but those were different Tampa teams. This

one is as potent on offense as, well, Atlanta.

Buccaneers rookie Doug Martin already has rushed for 1,000 yards

and seven touchdowns.

”Their rookie running back has had some really explosive

games,” Smith said. ”It will be a challenge for us.”

But covering Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez will be

a huge challenge for the Bucs.

Baltimore (8-2) at San Diego (4-6)

The Ravens will have star safety Ed Reed as they seek their

fourth successive victory and eighth in nine games. His one-game

suspension for illegal hits was overturned on appeal and instead he

was fined $50,000.

Reed and the Baltimore defense haven’t played close to the level

of previous standards, but did have a strong performance in taking

charge of the AFC North last week at Pittsburgh.

San Diego, loser of five of its last six, leads the NFL in

throwing interceptions (14) as Philip Rivers struggles without much

supporting talent compared to previous years.

Pittsburgh (6-4) at Cleveland (2-8)

Plax is back in Pittsburgh.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, the addition of wideout Plaxico

Burress, who was without a team all season, doesn’t offset the slew

of injuries on offense. Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder, ribs),

Antonio Brown (ankle), Jerricho Cotchery (ribs) and Byron Leftwich

(ribs) have been sidelined, but Brown could return in

Cleveland.

Fortunately for the Steelers, they have a trio of hefty running

backs who have come through in Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer

and Isaac Redman.

The Browns blew a 13-0 lead in Dallas last Sunday, another sign

of their inexperience. They do play hard for coach Pat Shurmur, who

is trying to save his job.

Denver (7-3) at Kansas City (1-9)

The Broncos have won five straight and have their sights on

running the table, perhaps grabbing home-field advantage for a

portion of the AFC playoffs, if not for the whole thing. Peyton

Manning needs one victory, something he’s likely to get against the

collapsing Chiefs who have dropped seven in a row, to have the

second most by a starter in league history. He would move ahead of

his current boss, John Elway.

Manning is directing a precise offense, but Denver lost leading

rusher Willis McGahee to a right knee injury. The Broncos’ defense

is getting superb play from Von Miller, who had three sacks last

week for 13 this year.

KC leads the NFL in turnovers with 31 and has a minus-21

differential. Denver’s minus-3 pales in comparison.

Seattle (6-4) at Miami (4-6)

One game after beating his former player at Southern Cal, Jets

QB Mark Sanchez, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll goes against one of

his Heisman Trophy winners, Reggie Bush. Well, Bush did win the

Heisman, but gave it back after he was found guilty of NCAA

violations.

Seattle’s defense gets better and more physical each week,

something Bush figures to learn Sunday. Bush has totaled 41 yards

rushing over the past two games, part of a three-game skid, and

even was benched in that span.

Buffalo (4-6) at Indianapolis (6-4)

Were the Colts exposed at New England last Sunday in their 59-24

defeat, or was it simply a case of Indy not being able to play with

the big boys yet?

”Once you sit down and watch the film, the critiquing and the

criticism, and once that happens, you sort of flush it and realize

it’s on to the next one,” Andrew Luck said. ”If this was the last

one of the season and you’re done, it would sting a lot more.”

Luck has five 300-yard passing games to set an NFL mark by a

rookie. His 2,965 yards passing are the most by an NFL rookie

through 10 games.

Buffalo’s defense awakened in a 19-14 victory against Miami, but

still ranks 27th overall.

Oakland (3-7) at Cincinnati (5-5)

With two consecutive victories, the Bengals have revitalized

their season. A schedule that includes San Diego, Dallas and

Philadelphia after the Raiders has them salivating about their

chances of making the postseason. Receiver A. J. Green has TD

catches in nine straight games.

Oakland, loser of three in a row, has former Bengals QB Carson

Palmer, the first overall draft pick in 2003 who still holds

Cincinnati marks for career completion percentage (62.9) and passer

rating (86.9). It will be Palmer’s first time facing the Bengals

since he forced a trade to Oakland last year for a first-round and

second-round pick.

Carolina (2-8) at Philadelphia (3-7), Monday night

No, the NFL can’t flex games to the prime-time broadcast on

Mondays, so viewers are stuck with two of the league’s biggest

flops.

Carolina thought it would build off Cam Newton’s sensational

rookie season, but instead of sizzling it has fizzled.

No worse than the Eagles, though. Expected to be championship

contenders, they have fallen apart, with sloppy play everywhere,

particularly on the offensive line, in the secondary and at

quarterback, where rookie Nick Foles could again get the nod ahead

of Michael Vick, who is recovering from a concussion.

Tennessee (4-6) at Jacksonville (1-9)

Jacksonville had powerful Houston in trouble last Sunday, but

couldn’t put away the game. The 37 points for the Jaguars in that

loss brought their season total to a measly 164. They will go with

Chad Henne at quarterback with second-year starter Blaine Gabbert

on injured reserve.

It looks like the Titans have fixed some of their defensive

woes, and they come off a bye that followed a 37-3 romp in Miami,

their best performance all season. Before that came their worst, a

51-20 thrashing at the hands of the Bears.

St. Louis (3-6-1) at Arizona (4-6)

Arizona was 4-0 when it journeyed to St. Louis and was beaten

17-3. Things have been downright ugly since for the Cardinals, who

can’t score, can’t decide on a quarterback, and struggle against

the run. A defense expected to excel has disappointed.

The Rams are maddeningly inconsistent, following a tie at mighty

San Francisco – a game they should have won – with a flop against

the Jets. Look for a steady diet of runs by Steven Jackson and

Daryl Richardson.

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and

http://twitter.com/AP-NFL