Start times of two NFL games pushed back

BY foxsports • December 19, 2009

If you like to watch football played in the snow, you'll love Sunday's NFL schedule.

The storm that swept across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, dumping more than a foot of the white stuff in some areas, will turn many games into a slip-sliding exercise.

Outdoor-stadium teams hosting games include the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens.

The Eagles-49ers game in Philadelphia and the Bears-Ravens game in Baltimore had their starting times changed from 1 to 4:15 p.m. ET to accommodate fans and allow more time for city and stadium personnel to clear streets and walkways in and around the stadiums.

Both games will be televised on FOX.

The Bears' scheduled flight to Baltimore on Friday never got off the ground, as travel was crippled. The team didn't make it to Baltimore until 10:45 p.m. ET Saturday.

At the Meadowlands, the Jets have revived playoff hopes after three wins in a row over struggling opponents. They'll have quarterback Mark Sanchez back after a sprained right knee kept him out last week.

The Jets (7-6) are tied with Miami for second in the AFC East, one game behind New England, although they don't hold tiebreakers over either team.

A wild-card berth might be the Jets' more likely route to the postseason, but they may have to win their remaining three games against Atlanta (6-7), unbeaten Indianapolis and AFC North-leading Cincinnati to have a chance. New York is battling seven teams for two wild-card spots.

"They know how I feel," coach Rex Ryan said. "Our official stance is it's improbable right now. That's the way everybody will approach it right now. Our stance is we believe we're going to win every game. That's the way it's been since Day 1."

Sanchez was medically cleared by team doctors after practicing for the third straight day Friday, when he took all of the snaps with the first-team offense.

Sanchez, hurt in a 19-13 win over Buffalo on Dec. 3 after a headfirst slide, will wear custom-fitted braces on both knees. He already had been wearing one on the left from a previous injury.

"It's going to be a Joe Namath throwback game for Mark," Ryan said Friday. "He slid right in front of me in practice to make sure I knew he was ready to go. He feels confident."

In Orchard Park, N.Y., the New England Patriots hope to finally earn their first true road win of 2009.

There's probably no opponent the Patriots would rather visit than the Buffalo Bills, losers of 12 straight overall to the Patriots and trying to avoid clinching their fifth straight losing season Sunday.

New England (8-5) spent last week fielding questions about a defense that had struggled in back-to-back defeats and four players who had been sent home from practice after showing up late for a team meeting.

Despite those distractions, the Patriots beat Carolina 20-10 to keep a one-game lead over both Miami and the Jets as they try to reclaim the division they won five straight times from 2003-07.

New England may be without perhaps its most important player on defense, however, after standout nose tackle Vince Wilfork left Sunday's game with a foot injury. His status is unclear, as is that of fellow defensive lineman Ty Warren, who hurt his ankle against the Panthers.

That could further weaken a defense that has struggled, especially against the pass and on the road, where the Patriots are 0-5 aside from a win over Tampa Bay in London.

In Philadelphia, the Eagles are looking to win a fifth straight game for the first time since 2006, and get a step closer to a division title when they host the 49ers, who need to reverse their road woes to maintain any realistic playoff hopes.

Philadelphia (9-4) had dropped two straight and three of five after a 31-23 loss at San Diego on Nov. 15, falling into a second-place tie with the New York Giants while Dallas held a one-game division lead.

Four wins later, both the Giants and Cowboys are looking up at the Eagles. Philadelphia has put up more points each week during its streak - its longest since winning the final five games of 2006 - after earning a sweep of New York with a 45-38 win Sunday night at Giants Stadium to move to 4-1 in the division.

A victory Sunday plus either a Giants loss or tie or a Cowboys win or tie would put Philadelphia in the playoffs.

In Baltimore, a second consecutive game against a struggling NFC North opponent might be what the Baltimore Ravens need to win consecutive games for the first time in nearly three months and remain in the mix for an AFC wild-card berth.

The Ravens look to build off their most complete effort of the season when they host the reeling Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Ray Rice rushed for a career-high 166 yards on 13 carries and the Ravens set team records for rushing touchdowns (five) and total yardage (548) in a 48-3 home rout of Detroit last Sunday.

The Ravens (7-6) are in the wild-card mix with Jacksonville, Miami, Denver and the New York Jets, but they have alternated wins and losses in their last seven contests. Baltimore hasn't won consecutive games since opening 3-0.

"We know what we have to do," said running back Willis McGahee, who ran for two TDs last weekend. "We know we have to win the rest of our games, regardless of what happens."

Baltimore has a favorable final stretch to make that happen with Chicago (5-8) in town, followed by road games against slumping Pittsburgh and Oakland.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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