Carolina (2-4) at Atlanta (1-6)
Time: 1 p.m.
Line: Falcons by 2.
Vs. spread: Panthers 4-2; Falcons 3-4.
Series: Tied 4-4.
Last meeting: Falcons won, 51-23, on Oct. 4, 1998, at Atlanta.
Outlook: When these two teams last met in 1998, Atlanta forced six turnovers, scored an NFL record three times during a 48-second span and won, 51-23. This year, the Falcons have scored 83 points in seven games -- six of them losses. Times definitely have changed for last season's NFC champions. Even sure-footed kicker Morten Andersen is struggling, having connected on only six of 11 field-goal attempts. Still, Atlanta is favored by two points, which tells you all you need to know about the struggling Panthers.
Notable: Falcons' minus-11 turnover differential is worst in the NFL.
St. Louis (6-0) at Tennessee (5-1)
Time: 1 p.m.
Line: Rams by 3.
Vs. spread: Rams 6-0; Titans 2-3.
Last week: Rams beat Browns, 34-3. Titans had a bye.
Series: Rams lead 5-2.
Last meeting: Rams won, 28-13, on Sept. 26, 1993, at Houston.
Outlook: Tennessee QB Steve McNair returned to practice Wednesday, five weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a ruptured disc in his back, and there's a chance he could start today, replacing Neil O'Donnell, who was effective in his absence. The Titans are 5-1, but four of their wins were by a combined eight points. They'll need to play better to beat a team that has scored 28 touchdowns and is on pace for an NFL-record 75, which would shatter the mark of 70. Of course this will be the Rams' toughest test to date. All of their victims are under .500.
Notable: Rams RB Marshall Faulk leads the NFL with 795 yards from scrimmage.
Dallas (4-2) at Indianapolis (4-2)
Time: 4: 15 p.m., Ch. 45.
Line: Colts by 3.
Vs. spread: Cowboys 4-2; Colts 4-1.
Series: Cowboys lead 7-3.
Last meeting: Colts won, 25-24, on Sept. 15, 1996, at Dallas.
Outlook: Dallas has won seven of the past eight games in this series, but these are anything but the same old Colts. Indianapolis owns the NFL's No. 1 passing attack and three of the league's brightest young stars: QB Peyton Manning, WR Marvin Harrison and RB Edgerrin James. After losing back-to-back games, the Cowboys rebounded to beat Washington last week. The question is which team will show up today, the good Cowboys or the bad Cowboys?
Notable: Cowboys QB Troy Aikman has 87 victories in the 1990s, making him the winningest quarterback in any decade. Joe Montana had 86 in the '80s.
Cleveland (0-7) at New Orleans (1-5)
Time: 1 p.m.
Line: Saints by 9 1/2.
Vs. spread: Browns 3-3; Saints 2-3.
Last week: Browns lost to Rams, 34-3. Saints lost to Giants, 31-3.
Series: Browns lead 9-3.
Last meeting: Browns won, 17-13, on Dec. 5, 1993, at Cleveland.
Outlook: Is there any doubt that this is the Crummy Game of the Week? The teams are a combined 1-12, and last week they scored a combined six points. The Saints gave up 31 to a Giants team that entered the game averaging 14. New Orleans hasn't won since beating Carolina in its opener, and you have to wonder how much more misery coach Mike Ditka can take. The Browns might not have a better chance to win, but their problems are complex. Their offense averages only 198.7 yards a game, their defense allows 405.9, and they are minus-8 in turnover differential.
Notable: Browns have scored a league-low 53 points.
N.Y. Giants (4-3) at Philadelphia (2-5)
Time: 1 p.m.
Line: Giants by 2 1/2.
Vs. spread: Giants 4-3; Eagles 5-2.
Last week: Giants beat Saints, 31-3. Eagles lost to Dolphins, 16-13.
Series: Giants lead 69-58-2.
Last meeting: Giants won, 16-15, on Oct. 3 at New York.
Outlook: The Giants have won the past five games in this series, including a one-point victory four weeks ago, but they'll need to work to make it six straight. After starting 0-4, the Eagles have won two of their past three games and nearly upset Miami on the road last week. Philadelphia's defense has been stifling during that span, holding the Cowboys, Bears and Dolphins to an average of 13.7 points. The Giants' offense finally woke up last week in the victory over New Orleans.
Notable: The Eagles lead the NFL with 19 takeaways and their 14 interceptions rank second in the NFL.
New England (5-2) at Arizona (2-4)
Time: 4: 05 p.m.
Line: Patriots by 3.
Vs. spread: Patriots 2-4; Cardinals 2-4.
Last week: Patriots beat Broncos, 24-23. Cardinals had a bye.
Series: Cardinals lead 6-3.
Last meeting: Patriots won, 31-0, on Sept. 15, 1996, at New England.
Outlook: Six of New England's past seven games have been decided by three or fewer points, but the Pats finally might enjoy a laugher. No, not because they've suddenly gotten better but because the Cardinals' offense is so battered and so bad. QB Dave Brown will start in place of injured Jake Plummer and will try to save a team that has totaled 30 points in its past four games.
Notable: Cardinals' pass defense (168.8 yards per game) ranks first in the NFC.
Minnesota (3-4) at Denver (2-5)
Time: 4: 15 p.m.
Line: Vikings by 2 1/2.
Vs. spread: Vikings 1-5; Broncos 3-3.
Last week: Vikings beat 49ers, 40-16. Broncos lost to Patriots, 24-23.
Series: Vikings lead 5-4.
Last meeting: Broncos won, 21-17, on Nov. 24, 1996, at Minnesota.
Outlook: After rocky starts, two of last year's biggest powerhouses have flashed signs of life. QB Jeff George is playing the role of savior in Minnesota. George replaced Randall Cunningham in the starting lineup last week and led Minnesota to a 40-16 victory over the 49ers. Of course this week the 3-4 Vikings will face a defense that is not nearly so kind or gentle.
Notable: Broncos' Brian Griese has 913 passing yards and a 97.9 QB rating in his past three games.
Jacksonville (5-1) at Cincinnati (1-6)
Time: 1 p.m.
Line: Jaguars by 12 1/2.
Vs. spread: Jaguars 3-3; Bengals 1-6.
Last week: Jaguars had a bye. Bengals lost to Colts, 31-10.
Series: Tied 4-4.
Last meeting: Jaguars won, 34-17, on Nov. 29, 1998, at Cincinnati.
Outlook: Somebody wake Jacksonville when the playoffs begin. Two weeks ago, the Jaguars beat the winless Browns. Now, after a bye, they face the 1-6 Bengals. After this week, they play the 1-6 Falcons, 2-4 Ravens and 1-5 Saints. Then they play the Ravens again. Nice work if you can get it. Jacksonville can use the coming weeks to get its once intimidating offense untracked. The Bengals are getting a solid season from RB Corey Dillon (508 yards, 4.3 yards a carry), but that's about it.
Notable: Jaguars QB Mark Brunell is 3-1 with a 102.7 QB rating, including nine TDs to one interception, in his past four games against the Bengals.
San Diego (4-2) at Kansas City (4-2)
Time: 1 p.m.
Line: Chiefs by 6.
Vs. spread: Chargers 4-2; Chiefs 3-3.
Last week: Chargers lost to Packers, 31-3. Chiefs beat Ravens, 35-8.
Series: Chiefs lead 40-36-1.
Last meeting: Chargers won, 21-14, on Oct. 3 at San Diego.
Outlook: The winner in this battle of 4-2 teams will grab sole possession of first place in the AFC West for at least a day and even longer if Seattle, also 4-2, loses to Green Bay tomorrow night. The Chiefs have intercepted at least two passes in each of their past five games. That's bad news for the Chargers' struggling, 28th-ranked offense, which scored three points last week against Green Bay.
Notable: Chiefs have plus-46 second-half scoring differential and have won 22 consecutive games when holding the halftime lead.
Miami (5-1) at Oakland)
Time: 4: 05 p.m., Ch. 9.
Line: Raiders by 2 1/2.
Vs. spread: Dolphins 3-3; Raiders 4-3.
Last week: Dolphins beat Eagles, 16-13. Raiders beat Jets, 24-23.
Series: Raiders lead 15-7-1.
Last meeting: Dolphins won, 27-17, on Dec. 6, 1998, at Oakland.
Outlook: Oakland won't have to worry about injured Miami QB Dan Marino -- Damon Huard will make his second consecutive start. But that doesn't mean the Raiders can relax. They've lost four of their past five games against Miami, including back-to-back setbacks in 1997 and 1998 at Oakland. QB Rich Gannon expects to start for the Raiders despite breaking a bone in his left wrist last week. He'll have to face one of the best (No. 4 overall) and quickest defenses in the NFL.
Notable: All seven of the Raiders' games have been decided by seven points or fewer.
Tampa Bay (3-3) at Detroit (4-2)
Time: 8: 20 p.m., ESPN.
Line: Bucs by 2 1/2.
Vs. spread: Bucs 2-2; Lions 4-2.
Last week: Bucs beat Bears, 6-3. Lions beat Panthers, 24-9.
Series: Lions lead 24-18.
Last meeting: Lions won, 28-25, on Nov. 22, 1998, at Detroit.
Outlook: QB Trent Dilfer finally played his way out of the starting lineup, so ex-Raven Eric Zeier will lead Tampa Bay tonight. The Bucs can't do much worse than last week when Dilfer led them to six points, all in the first half. Detroit, which has won eight of its past nine regular-season games against Tampa Bay, is turning into one of the league's most surprising success stories. Despite losing RB Barry Sanders to retirement, the Lions are 4-2 and show no signs of slowing down.
Notable: Bucs have the NFL's top rushing defense (69.5 yards a game).