Lions give Rams their best chance for a victory

Oct 31, 2009 - 4:14 PM By BARRY WILNER AP Football Writer

While everyone's focus is on Lambeau Field and the return of Brett Favre, the game taking place one state east is being virtually ignored. The Rams-Lions matchup is noteworthy because it might be St. Louis' only real shot at a victory.

Favre facing the Packers in Green Bay will be compelling theater. The winless Rams at the one-win Lions could be theater of the absurd.

But there is one angle that gives this matchup of bottom-feeders some cachet: Detroit would like nothing better than to have another franchise join it in the 0-16 club the Lions founded a season ago.

And looking at the 0-7 Rams' remaining schedule - New Orleans, Arizona, Seattle, Chicago, Tennessee, Houston, Arizona and San Francisco - they have a good shot at gaining membership. While there are opportunities for St. Louis to win in the second half of the season, particularly against the struggling Seahawks and Titans, the Lions will provide the best opportunity.

"We don't talk about streaks," Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "It doesn't matter whether you're 7-0 or 0-7 when Wednesday rolls around, especially Wednesday and it's time to play another team. That's the only team you're focused on."

The team the Rams are thinking about has lost three straight since snapping a 19-game skid in Week 3 against Washington. Like the Rams, the Lions cleaned house in the offseason, bringing in an accomplished defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, as coach. Unlike Spagnuolo, the defensive mastermind behind the New York Giants' championship in 2007, Schwartz has tasted victory in his new job.

Not that it's necessarily an advantage for Detroit, according to linebacker Julian Peterson.

"The teams with no victories are the scariest," Peterson said.

The Lions hope to have top draft pick Matthew Stafford back at quarterback, and they certainly could use a boost for an offense that has managed 103 points in going 1-5. Still, that's 43 more points than the Rams have scored playing one more game.

Also Sunday, it's Denver at Baltimore; San Francisco at Indianapolis; the New York Giants at Philadelphia; Miami at the New York Jets; Seattle at Dallas; Carolina at Arizona; Cleveland at Chicago; Houston at Buffalo; Oakland at San Diego; and Jacksonville at Tennessee.

Atlanta is at New Orleans on Monday night in a key NFC South matchup.

Off this week are New England, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Washington and winless Tampa Bay.


Minnesota (6-1) at Green Bay (4-2)=

Ah, the Favre Fest.

The Vikings have been great closers most of the season, and were in position to beat the Steelers a week ago before a couple of late turnovers for touchdowns. Adrian Peterson leads the NFC in rushing and has scored eight touchdowns. The Vikings lead the league with 24 sacks, and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers is vulnerable, having been taken down 25 times.

Since a 30-23 loss at Minnesota, the Packers have scored 57 points and allowed three. Of course, those were in wins over Detroit and Cleveland.

Maybe all that matters in Titletown this weekend, though, is that Brett's back.

"What I was a part of there in the past will never be taken away, and I'm very proud of that career, and the fact that it was with Green Bay," Favre said. "This is a totally different year, and I have no idea how this will unfold. But there's no sentiments, really, one way or the other. We need to win this football game."

Denver (6-0) at Baltimore (3-3)=

Denver is one of three remaining unbeatens. This is the deepest into a season that many teams have been spotless. Coming off a bye, the Broncos bring a load of confidence along with their premier defense into Baltimore. A win will give Josh McDaniels the best start by a rookie head coach since the 1970 merger.

The Broncos rank second overall on defense, about where the Ravens usually reside. But Ray Lewis and Co. have struggled during a three-game slide, and if they don't get to Kyle Orton, he'll do the same thing he's done all season: efficiently pick them apart.

With both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati idle this weekend, the Ravens can take a big step back into the AFC North race with a win. Or just about fall out of it with a loss.

San Francisco (3-3) at Indianapolis (6-0)=

No team has displayed more balance than the Colts, who have scored 179 points and yielded 77. They are plus-4 in turnover margin and rank ninth on defense. Peyton Manning is having as good a season as any in his three-MVP career, and early season injuries have not slowed the Colts. Instead, the replacements have performed so well that Indy now has enviable depth just about everywhere.

A win will give Jim Caldwell the same distinction as McDaniels.

Into the Lucas Oil Stadium lair come the 49ers, who are switching starting quarterbacks from Shaun Hill to Alex Smith and rank 21st in pass defense. Yes, that's Peyton sporting a wide grin.

Atlanta (4-2) at New Orleans (6-0), Monday night=

Some of the juice was taken out of this matchup when the Falcons were belted by Dallas last weekend. Still, these are the two best teams in the NFC South and among the best in the conference. A shootout in the Superdome is not unlikely.

New Orleans leads the league with 238 points in six games; Minnesota is next with 206 in seven. The Saints proved at Miami they're never out of a game, rallying from 24-3 to a 46-34 victory in which quarterback Drew Brees ran - yes, ran - for two TDs. Atlanta's secondary has been thinned by injuries, never a good thing, but ominous against the Saints.

N.Y. Giants (5-2) at Philadelphia (4-2)=

Seven hours or so before the Yankees take on the Phillies across the street in the World Series, these NFC East rivals go at it for first place in the division.

If RB Brian Westbrook can't go, the Eagles must depend on talented youngsters on offense who have performed well and, at times, spectacularly. New York's suspect secondary must deal with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek.

Then again, the secondary won't be tested much if Donovan McNabb doesn't get time to throw, and the Giants' front seven match up well with Philly's blockers.

Miami (2-4) at N.Y. Jets (4-3)=

It has been a tough few weeks for the hosts, who broke a three-game slide by routing the Raiders, but lost versatile running back-kick returner Leon Washington with a gruesome broken leg. The Jets also have run-stuffing DT Kris Jenkins sidelined for the season with a knee injury.

Now they must face the wildcat that ran all over them three weeks ago, and a young quarterback, Chad Henne, who did his best work against New York. The Dolphins' solid offensive line knows how to handle Rex Ryan's bevy of blitzes, too.

But Miami's defense showed severe leakage against New Orleans, and the Jets have their running game geared up behind Thomas Jones and rookie Shonn Greene.

Seattle (2-4) at Dallas (4-2)=

Seattle was off last week, giving the Seahawks a chance to heal a bit physically and emotionally. They had to swallow hard and place star left tackle Walter Jones (knee) on injured reserve, and their other leaders - QB Matt Hasselbeck (ribs) and LB Lofa Tatupu (pectoral muscle) - still are banged up.

Dallas, however, is feeling frisky thanks to the emergence of Miles Austin at receiver and a revitalized pass rush. Linebacker DeMarcus Ware has four sacks in the last two games. The 2008 league leader also has a very rich contract extension.

Carolina (2-4) at Arizona (4-2)=

The Cardinals have impressed with some big plays on defense in their last few games, and how refreshing is that? Should they match their powerful offense with a staunch D, the NFC West could become a romp for the defending conference champs.

Nothing is finer in Carolina, where coach John Fox seems ready to stake his job on QB Jake Delhomme snapping out of his funk.

This is a rematch of last January's playoff game in Charlotte where the Cardinals snapped their East Coast slump. They have gone 3-0 in the eastern time zone, including that win, but now get the Panthers in the Valley of the Sun.

Cleveland (1-6) at Chicago (3-3)=

If Jay Cutler is salivating about facing the Browns, who can blame him? Cutler has been plagued by bad decisions and interceptions in the Bears' two-game slide, but Cleveland has only three picks this year.

The Browns also have allowed an average of more than 29 points in their defeats, even though coach Eric Mangini supposedly is a defensive specialist.

Houston (4-3) at Buffalo (3-4)=

Two teams on the upswing, getting some strong defensive play. The big difference has been with the ball, where the Texans are prolific (nearly 24 points a game) and the Bills are impotent (16 a game).

Terrell Owens, who has been virtually invisible in Buffalo - and nobody can blame the weather yet - gets a look at two prime receivers who are carrying their offense in Andre Johnson and tight end Owen Daniels.

Oakland (2-5) at San Diego (3-3)=

Every time they lose, particularly the way the Raiders did to the Jets last week (38-0), it becomes more incredible that they've got two wins. And Oakland nearly beat the Chargers to open the season.

Still, this looks like a total mismatch, especially with the Chargers finally finding their offensive stride in a rout of the Chiefs. Now is a good time for the defense to step up; Oakland has an AFC-worst 62 points.

Jacksonville (3-3) at Tennessee (0-6)=

Is Titans owner Bud Adams whispering in Jeff Fisher's ear about who to play, specifically at quarterback? Is Fisher, the longest-tenured coach in the league, listening? Or is he secure enough to do what he wants, knowing if the Titans fire him after this abysmal season, he'll land a job elsewhere?

The Jags, one of many inconsistent teams destined to finish around .500, also come off a bye, but with nicer memories after a 23-20 victory over the Rams. But it did take overtime against a winless opponent.

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