Sunday Playbook by Milt Northrop: Falcons-Panthers meet in make-or-break game - The Buffalo News
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Sunday Playbook by Milt Northrop: Falcons-Panthers meet in make-or-break game

Sometimes the best laid plans …

When the NFL drew up the Week Nine schedule, it probably expected that today’s Atlanta-at-Carolina, Pittsburgh-at-New England and Indianapolis-at-Houston games would have huge playoff implications.

It wasn’t anticipated that Atlanta and Houston would be two of this season’s most disappointing teams or that Pittsburgh would slip so fast, starting 0-4, and the Patriots would look so shaky despite a 6-2 record.

Only one of the 12 games on the weekend schedule matches teams with winning records. That’s Chicago (4-3) at Green Bay (5-2) and the Bears will play without injured quarterback Jay Cutler.

Sometimes, though, a drab-looking slate produces some of the season’s most dramatic games. We’ll see.

Here’s a thumbnail look at Week Nine schedule:

Game of the day

Bears (4-3) at Packers (5-2)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Packers (-10ø)

The scoop: The 185th game of the NFL’s most-played rivalry. They started in 1921. Green Bay has won the last six (including playoffs) and eight of last 10 in series, but Chicago still leads overall, 91-87-6. Between the franchises they have won 18 league championships (Packers 11, Bears 7). … Bears coming off bye week while Pack won at Minnesota, 44-31. … Josh McCown fills in again for Bears while Cutler (groin) is out.

Outlook: Last Bears win at Lambeau was 2007. It won’t happen this time with McCown against Aaron Rodgers. Packers, 31-21.

Top attractions

Chiefs (8-0) at Bills (3-5)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-3ø)

The scoop: Chiefs lead league with 36 sacks, including 10 in home game against Terrelle Pryor and Raiders. … Kansas City also has given up fewest TDs (three) in Red Zone possessions and have allowed fewest offensive series inside 20 (10). Also leads league in allowing just 25.2 percent third-down conversions. RB Jamaal Charles leads league in scrimmage yards (rushing and receiving) with 1,018. … Bills were outplayed at Saints last week, but timing of three penalties against Buffalo produced an 18-point swing and last N.O. touchdown should have been defended.

Outlook: Chiefs are overrated but not as much as many locals seem to believe. Well-balanced Kansas City, 24-17.

Steelers (2-5) at Patriots (6-2)

TV: Ch. 4, 4:25 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-6ø)

The scoop: Pats are 2-2 in last four and had to come back for wins over Saints and Dolphins. … Steelers had won two in a row before three-point loss at Oakland last week. … Pittsburgh has only 10 sacks, so it shouldn’t threaten Tom Brady, who has been dumped 23 times so far.

Outlook: Steelers won at Gillette in ’08, but Pats are 4-0 at home this season. New England, 28-20.

Saints (6-1) at New York Jets (4-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Saints (-6ø)

The scoop: Battle of Ryan brothers — Rex, the Jets head coach, Rob, the Saints defensive coordinator. … Jets coming off embarrassing 49-9 loss at Cincinnati, one of worst in their history. … Even in rout last week, Jets gave up only 79 rushing yards and lead league with 623 yards, 3.1 yield.

Outlook: Saints won’t run on Gang Green. Saints 24-20.

Buccaneers (0-7) at Seahawks (7-1)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-15ø)

The scoop: Seattle back home after narrow escape in St. Louis (14-9). … Bucs make long diagonal trip cross country to Pacific Northwest. Last time, Josh Freeman led Tampa Bay to 24-7 win in ’09, but he’s a Viking now.

Outlook: Seattle QB Russell Wilson is 11-0 at home. Bucs rookie Mike Glennon facing a long day. Seattle, 31-17.

Colts (5-2) at Texans (2-5)

TV: Ch. 2, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Colts (-2)

The scoop: This was supposed to be a showdown to help decide AFC South race before Texans fell apart. … Teams split season series last year, but Colts’ Andrew Luck had four TDs, no INTs versus Texans.

Outlook: Looking for Texans to pretend they are still in division race. Houston 30-28.

Best of the rest

Ravens (3-4) at Browns (3-5)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-2)

The scoop: Baltimore has won last 11 against team from city Art Modell abandoned in 1995. Ravens won first game of 2013 season series, 14-6, on Sept. 15. … Browns have lost last three to Lions, Packers and Chiefs since win over Bills.

Outlook: With Jason Campbell at QB, Browns had Chiefs on ropes last week. Urged on by Dog Pound, Browns pull upset, 20-17.

Falcons (2-5) at Panthers (4-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Panthers (-7ø)

The scoop: Despite modest records, this could be key game in NFC South and wild-card race. Falcons need win to stay in playoff picture. Carolina needs it to keep pressure on first-place Saints. … Cam Newton led Panthers to 30-20 win over Falcons last Dec. 9 with two TD passes and 116 rushing yards.

Outlook: Atlanta tries to rebound from sad performance at Arizona last week. Panthers, 34-31.

Vikings (1-6) at Cowboys (4-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Cowboys (-10)

The scoop: Poor Vikings may be due for another shakeup after season. Indecision at quarterback isn’t helping situation although Christian Ponder is set to start this week. … Cowboys’ Tony Romo has 18 TD passes so far, third in league. Eight have gone to volatile, childish Dex Bryant.

Outlook: Dallas has beaten Minnesota only once in last eight meetings dating back to 1998 including two postseason games. Dallas, 33-20.

Titans (3-4) at Rams (3-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Titans (-3)

The scoop: Rams coming off short week while Titans haven’t played since Oct. 20. That’s fair scheduling? … Jeff Fisher of Rams returns to coach against team he led for 17 seasons.

Outlook: Rams pass rush makes up for lot of problems. Titans, 28-27.

Chargers (4-3) at Redskins (2-5)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Pick’em.

The scoop: It’s next-to-last cross country trip for San Diego, who won at Jacksonville two weeks ago to go to 2-1 in Eastern Time Zone. … Redskins coach Mike Shanahan spent the week feuding with former Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. … Shanahan has 20-12 mark all-time against Bolts. … San Diego QB Philip Rivers has had three 400-yard passing games this season.

Outlook: Redskins saw 21-7 lead vanish at Denver last week while Chargers had the week off. Giving home team the edge in tossup game. Redskins, 30-27.

Dog of the day

Eagles (3-5) at Raiders (3-4)

TV: Ch. 29, 4:05 p.m.

The line: Raiders (-2ø).

The scoop: Despite record, Eagles still in playoff contention because they play in sorry NFC East while Raiders are in with unbeaten Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers. … Michael Vick is out again, so Eagles have to turn to Nick Foles, who faces Oakland pass rush that dropped Ben Roethlisberger five times last week.

Outlook: Terrelle Pryor going for fourth win at home as starter. Raiders, 27-20.

Last week: 7-5 outright, 4-8 versus spread. Season’s record 62-50 outright, 51-57-4 versus spread.


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