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Long-time divisional rivalries heat up this week

The National Football League is getting into the teeth of its schedule with eight divisional matchups among the 15 games (Pittsburgh and Indianapolis have the week off) on the Week Four slate.

Only 12 divisional games were played the first three weeks of the season.

Some of today's clashes are big rivalry games, particularly the matchup between the Super Bowl champion New York Giants and the Eagles in Philadelphia. New England at Buffalo, Oakland at Denver, San Diego at Kansas City and Minnesota at Detroit are some of other big divisional games.

Denver quarterback Peyton Manning will get his introduction to one of the fierce rivalries that exists in the AFC West when the Broncos host the Oakland Raiders. Teams in the AFC West, the only division in the NFL where all four teams are original American Football League franchises, have been going at it since 1960.

"Being a guy that has an appreciation of football and the history of it, I certainly understand what an important rivalry it is (and) the great teams that have occurred in this series, the great players that have played in these games," Manning said Wednesday. "I also know it's a pivotal game. It's a division game, which counts double.
We're 1-2, they're 1-2. It's a game we need to play well."

Blame it on the replacement refs or what have you (the regular officials ratified their 8-year deal Saturday), but the league seems as balanced as ever. Only three undefeated teams -- Atlanta, Arizona and Houston -- are left and only Cleveland and, surprisingly, New Orleans are winless.

>Game of the day

Giants (2-1) at Eagles (2-1)

TV: Ch. 2, 8:20 p.m.

The line: Eagles (-2).

The scoop: This has developed into one of the league's bitterest rivalries. Philadelphia has won seven of the last eight (including postseason). Last time the teams met, Vince Young quarterbacked the Eagles to 17-10 win at MetLife. Giants won in last visit to Philly when Eli Manning threw for four TDs and posted 145.7 rating. Manning has streak of 22 200-yard passing games going, second longest all-time. ... Giants have not played since Thursday night (Sept. 20) rout of Carolina while Eagles played late afternoon game at Arizona last week. ... Giants are being helped by three new faces, RB Andre Brown, TE Martellus Bennett and WR Ramses Barden. ... Eagles' Michael Vick had thrown six INTs so far.

Outlook: Giants win typically tense slugfest, 20-17.


>Top attractions

Patriots (1-2) at Bills (2-1)

TV: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Patriots (-3 1/2 ).

The scoop: New England has won 21 of the last 23 games in the rivalry, including 10 of last 12 at the Ralph. Remember when all-time series was close (40-39-1) in favor of the Pats? ... Injury question: will Bills have RB Fred Jackson back? If not, Tashard Choice will have to carry the load again. ... Pats haven't had losing record when facing Bills since 2002.

Outlook: Looking for Bills' front four to have a big game and keep Buffalo in it. Patriots, 31-28.


49ers (2-1) at Jets (2-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: 49ers (-4).

The scoop: New York will have to carry on without All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis (season ending knee surgery). Jets coming off overtime win at Miami, while Niners try to shake off upset loss at Minnesota. ... San Francisco hasn't developed much pass rush (5 sacks), but neither have the Jets (3). Lack of rush should help Marc Sanchez have productive day for Gang Green.

Outlook: Last season, Niners played well on road in Eastern Time Zone (4-1), but that was then ... Jets, 20-17.


Saints (0-3) at Packers (1-2)

TV: Ch. 29, 4 p.m.

The line: Packers (-7 1/2 ).

The scoop: New Orleans is winless because defense is giving up 447.3 yards per game. Chiefs ran off 92 plays and controlled the ball in Saints OT loss last week. ... Packers, who were last in both categories in 2011, are surprising third in league in total defense and first against pass. One reason Green Bay is having trouble protecting Aaron Rodgers is that running game is averaging only 78.3 yard a game and just 3.7 per attempt.
Outlook: Packers are angry but so are Saints. New Orleans, 38-31.


Bears (2-1) at Cowboys (2-1)

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

The line: Cowboys (-3 1/2 ).

The scoop: Makes you think of Landry versus Halas of long ago, but actually franchises have met only 20 times in regular season play since Cowboys' first season in 1960. ... Cowboys haven't been very impressive in losing at Seattle and getting by Bucs (16-10) after opening win at home over Giants. ... Chicago QB Jay Cutler has faced Dallas only once in his career, a 27-20 win at Cowboys Stadium in 2010.

Outlook: Bears not as fierce outside of cozy confines. Dallas, 24-17.


>Best of the rest

Raiders (1-2) at Broncos (1-2)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Broncos (-7).

The scoop: After dismal showing at Miami, Raiders came home and rallied to beat Steelers on 43-yard FG by Sebastian Janikowski. Broncos couldn't overcome big early deficit and fell to Texans (31-25). ... Oakland has won its last four in Denver, but Broncos' Manning has won his last three starts against Raiders. ... Oakland coach Dennis Allen was Denver defensive coordinator in 2011.

Outlook: Raiders at their best against AFC West opponents. Oakland, 27-21.


Panthers (1-2) at Falcons (3-0)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Falcons (-7).

The scoop: Carolina QB Cam Newton coming off perhaps his worst performance as a pro last week against Giants. ... Falcons demolished Chargers on road last week in most impressive showing yet.

Outlook: Atlanta looks too solid for inconsistent Cam and Panthers. Falcons, 34-17.


Titans (1-2) at Texans (3-0)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Texans (-12).

The scoop: Texans built big lead, then held off Broncos last week in Denver. … They lead AFC in turnover ratio (plus 4) and total defense (255.7), but their opposition has been mediocre (Jaguars, Dolphins, Broncos). ... Even with Chris Johnson, Titans have averaged NFL-worst 39.0 rushing while Houston has allowed only 67.7.

Outlook: Jake Locker stands up to tough Houston rush (9 sacks), but Texans win, 27-20.


Chargers (2-1) at Chiefs (1-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Chargers (-1).

The scoop: San Diego shut out from the field at home for the first time since 1999 in 27-3 loss to Falcons. ... San Diego lost, 23-20 in OT, in 2011 finale at Arrowhead. ... Jamaal Charles of Chiefs ran for 233 yards in comeback win at New Orleans. It was his second career game with 230 or more. Only Jim Brown (3) has more.

Outlook: KC really better than showed against Bills. Chiefs, 28-24.


Dolphins (1-2) at Cardinals (3-0)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Cardinals (-5 1/2 ).

The scoop: Cardinals are surprise team of league despite ranking 31st in total defense. Facing the Patriots and Eagles in successive weeks will do that to your numbers. ... Miami's Dan Carpenter (4 of 6) is last in FG percentage. His misses cost Miami win over Jets last week.

Outlook: Miami rookie QB Ryan Tannehill has yet to pass an NFL road test, but Dolphins have run more than 40 times last two games. Conservative Dolphins keep it tight. Arizona, 19-14.


Bengals (2-1) at Jaguars (1-2)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-1 1/2 ).

The scoop: Hottest passing combo in AFC may be Andy Dalton to A.J. Green. They hooked up for 183 yards on nine receptions last Sunday at Washington. … Only the Titans (113) have given up more points than the Bengals (102). Jaguars, however, are last in AFC with 52 points despite Maurice Jones-Drew, who is second in the league with 314 rushing yards.

Outlook: Jags can't keep up with Bengals, who have rung up 34 and 38 points last two games. Cincinnati, 31-21.


Vikings (2-1) at Lions (1-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Lions (-4).

The scoop: Detroit leads the league in passing but Matt Stafford has thrown for more INTs (4) than touchdowns (3). Shaun Hill took over for Stafford (hand) in last week's OT loss to Titans and threw for two touchdowns in last 1:18. ... Vikings coming off upset at home over 49ers behind Christian Ponder, who has a 70 percent completion rate and 104.9 passer rating. Lions have won last three in series dominated by Minnesota (66-33-2).

Outlook: Ponder looks like a keeper, and Detroit defense has been a disappointment. Lions, 31-30.


Redskins (1-2) at Buccaneers (1-2)

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m.

The line: Buccaneers (-2).

The scoop: Home game against Redskins defense (30th in league at 429.3) may be just the tonic for Bucs' struggling offense (last in league, 243.7), which has produced only 60 points in three games, 34 in one game against Giants. ... Tampa Bay leads league in rushing defense (47.2) but is last in pass defense (353.3). ... Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III has 103.5 passer rating with just one INT so far.

Outlook: Redskins didn't quit, came back and tied game after falling behind Bengals, 24-7, last week. They will be a tough out. Washington, 24-21.


>Dog of the day

Seahawks (2-1) at Rams (1-2)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Seahawks (-3).

The scoop: Ex Bill Marshawn Lynch of Seahawks leads NFC in rushing yards (305). ... Rams hung in with Bears on the road until Major Wright's 45-yard interception return gave Chicago some breathing room in fourth quarter. St. Louis, however, was held to two FGs.

Outlook: Looking for Rams to pressure rookie Russell Wilson into some mistakes. St. Louis, 17-14.

Last week's results: 6-9 outright, 4-11 versus spread. Season's record: 22-23 outright, 17-26-2 versus spread.