Here’s an inside look at Sunday’s NFL games, starting with the Chicago Bears looking to maintain their roll without starting quarterback Jay Cutler against the resurgent Oakland Raiders.
Game: Chicago at Oakland
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
What to watch for: It’s an easy assumption with Cutler out that the Bears will gear their offense around RB Matt Forte. But they don’t exactly field a run-every-down offensive line, and the Raiders’ front four doesn’t exactly lend itself to running lanes. So look for Caleb Hanie, who was 13 of 20 for 153 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers last season, to try to stretch the field with receivers Roy Williams and Earl Bennett, along with TE Kellen Davis. Forte also should be an effective receiver for Hanie, considering he’s generated 34.7 percent of Chicago’s yards from scrimmage since his arrival in 2008, tops in the NFL.
Raiders QB Carson Palmer has played well in two consecutive wins, leading Oakland to the top of the AFC West, but he must rely on receivers Chaz Schilens and Louis Murphy, the latter having only one catch on the season. Look for Oakland to set in a double tight-end formation with Brandon Myers and Kevin Boss where they can also use fullback Marcel Reece as a receiver. RB Darren McFadden is out again, but Oakland’s Michael Bush has averaged 115.3 rushing yards a game since Week 7. DT Richard Seymour is expected back for the Raiders, who have 28 sacks.
One of the keys for the Bears is how well the defense has been playing during their five-game winning streak, forcing 15 takeaways in that stretch. The Raiders haven’t scored in the fourth quarter in their last five games.
Czar’s scoop: The Bears believe there is a chance that Cutler, who had thumb surgery on Wednesday, could return before the regular season ends. Chicago’s final two games are on the road at Green Bay and Minnesota. The Bears have scored 30 or more points in their past three games; it’s been 46 seasons since they’ve scored 30 points in four straight games.
Despite his championship-game performance, Hanie has thrown only 14 career passes in the regular season. Hanie will the 18th different starter for the Bears at quarterback since 1998 — the most in the NFL in that span. Second? The Raiders and Dolphins with 17.
Forte needs 142 scrimmage yards to pass Hall of Famer Gayle Sayers’ total of 6,263 for fourth place in franchise history. Chicago’s Devin Hester, already perhaps the greatest kick returner in NFL history, averages 60.8 yards per score on his 31 career touchdowns.
The Bears are very familiar with new backup quarterback Josh McCown, who played for the UFL’s Hartford Colonials in 2010 despite being offered a contract by the Bears prior to that season. He was in the 49ers’ training camp this summer. He started all eight games that season for Hartford and set new league single-game records for passer rating (137.4 vs. the Sacramento Mountain Lions in Week 1) and completion percentage (88.0 at the Omaha Nighthawks in Week 2). He finished the season with 10 touchdown passes in eight games.
Game: Washington at Seattle
Time: 4:05 p.m. ET
What to watch for: Seattle quarterback Tarvaris Jackson threw on back-to-back practice days, but that doesn’t mean is his torn pectoral muscle is much better. He’s just dealing with it although he has a lot of pain on deep throws. Jackson will have Sidney Rice, who has been hampered by a sore knee.
The Seahawks play a lot better at home, and they may have to deal with Redskins WR Santana Moss back in the lineup. Moss missed more than a month with a broken hand. A week after proving he belonged in the lineup with a touchdown catch, Redskins WR Donte’ Stallworth could be on the bench with Moss in the lineup.
Two ex-Buffalo Bills will meet, as well. Redskins ILB London Fletcher will be trying to tackle Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch, who has scored six touchdowns. Seattle gets back defensive starters in safety Atari Bigby and lineman Anthony Hargrove. Washington S LaRon Landry will be back after missing the Cowboys game with an Achilles’ tendon strain.
The Redskins must worry about Seattle DE Chris Clemons, who has eight sacks. Washington has lost six straight but showed some life against the Cowboys (losing in OT), and Rex Grossman should benefit with the return of Moss to go with tight end Fred Davis. Washington, though, has been unable to sustain a consistent running game this season. Rookie Roy Helu figures to get most of the carries for Washington.
Czar’s scoop: Their impact hasn’t been great, but the Redskins do sport 10 rookies from April’s draft on their active roster — and that is with second-rounder Jarvis Jenkins on injured reserve since August.
Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall felt so badly about Dallas WR Dez Bryant beating him for a catch that set up last Sunday’s winning field goal that he said he should be cut. “People think I’m on suicide watch,” Hall said. “I’m perfectly fine. (I’m) still swagged out because I still feel like I’m one of the best in the game. I probably haven’t been as productive as I would like. . . . I’m just frustrated at myself. I still feel like I’m a hell of a corner. I’ve got to make those plays.”
Seattle S Kam Chancellor, a promising second-year player who earns $450,000 this season, was fined $40,000 for a helmet hit on Rams TE Lance Kendricks just a week after being fined $20,000 for a similar hit on Ravens WR Anquan Boldin.
New England at Philadelphia: Eagles QB Vince Young gets his second consecutive start, but he’s facing an ever-improving New England defense that has eight sacks and six forced turnovers in the Pats’ past two wins. Patriots QB Tom Brady still is bothered by an elbow strain that affects his accuracy early in games. Brady has completed less than 58 percent of his passing attempts in two of his past three starts. The Eagles can put pressure on Brady, but their secondary will be hard-pressed to neutralize TE Rob Gronkowski, who has 10 touchdown catches while averaging 14.4 yards a catch. Eagles CB Nnamdi Asomugha (hyperextended left knee) is a game-time decision.
Denver at San Diego: The Chargers continue to scramble on the offensive line with three starters out. Brandyn Dombrowski starts at left tackle and rookie Steve Schilling and recently signed free agent Tony Moll will be the guards. This has to be great news for Denver’s pass-rushing due of rookie Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. Miller still leads the AFC in sacks with 9-1/2, just ahead of Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs, who had three sacks Thursday night. Denver’s Tim Tebow is 4-1 as a starter this season, and he seems to do much of his damage in the fourth quarter. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers now has 21 turnovers (17 interceptions) on the season.
Pittsburgh at Kansas City: The Chiefs claimed QB Kyle Orton off waivers from Denver this week, but still plan to start Tyler Palko. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has been red-hot lately as Pittsburgh continues to evolve into a passing team. He has two great deep threats in Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, giving Hines Ward seemingly fewer and fewer opportunities. Roethlisberger will wear a glove on his throwing hand to protect a broken right thumb. The injury is similar to his thumb injury during his second season, which ended with a Super Bowl victory. Pittsburgh is 8-3 in primetime games under Mike Tomlin, while the Chiefs are coming off a horrible second half Monday night in a blowout loss to the Patriots.