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NFL: Head-to-head


11 a.m.

The skinny: Cincinnati is off to the same 1-3 start as last year, when the Bengals finished 8-8, but the denizens of the Queen City have an entirely different perspective. Last year, there was patience under new coach Marvin Lewis. This year, there is unrest, uneasiness, because more was expected. Relax. The Bengals rebounded from their slow start last year to get to 8-5 before losing their final three games. One of those losses was to Cleveland, a 22-14 defeat that ended Cincinnati's playoff hopes. Bengals followers should be more concerned how their team finishes rather than how it starts. And be concerned that Cleveland, which is winless on the road, doesn't start 3-0 at home for the first time since 1973.

Prediction: Bengals, 21-17


11 a.m.

The skinny: All of a sudden, San Diego is looking like an offensive juggernaut, running up 34 points last week on the Jaguars — who had given up just 37 in their first four games — after scoring 38 against Tennessee. The Chargers have scored 140 points, second most in the NFL, which should put a lot of stress on Atlanta, which, until last week, had been winning with defense. The Falcons were surprised at home last week by Detroit, ruining their chance to start 5-0 for the first time in team history. They will need their NFL No. 1 rush defense against LaDainian Tomlinson, but they will also have to be aware of Drew Brees, who all of a sudden is looking like the quarterback the Chargers expected . . . long before they drafted Eli Manning and traded for Philip Rivers.

Prediction: Falcons, 31-27


11 a.m.

The skinny: Well, at least one head coach — and one owner — will be happy after this game. The only two winless teams in the NFL meet in Orchard Park, N.Y., where the Bills are being chastised by their owner, Ralph Wilson, for being unimaginative — a word typically never associated with Mike Mularkey. Actually, the Bills are more unlucky than unimaginative — three of their four losses have occurred in the final minute. The Bills have scored 52 points in four games, a total exceeded in futility only by the Dolphins, who have managed just 42 in five games. The Dolphins swept the series in 2003 scoring just one offensive touchdown in a 20-3 victory in Buffalo.

Prediction: Bills, 13-8


11 a.m.

The skinny: After a resounding victory in Week 1, Washington has lost four in a row and dropped into the basement in the NFC East, making Joe Gibbs wonder why he ever wanted to leave retirement. The streak might reach five against Chicago, who have deserved a better fate than their record would indicate. The Bears are coming off a bye — they are 10-5 following an off week — and hopefully they used the extra time to work on their offense. The Bears have scored an NFC-low 68 points and are using a former NFL Europe quarterback, Jonathan Quinn, to replace injured Rex Grossman. Fortunately, they might not need a lot of points against the Redskins.

Prediction: Bears, 20-13

PACKERS (1-4) AT LIONS (3-1)

11 a.m.

The skinny: In Green Bay, it's not just the cheese that smells. And it's not just the Swiss cheese that is filled with holes. The Packers' defense has huge gaps, and they were on display for everyone to see Monday. After an impressive victory in the season opener in Carolina, the Packers have lost four in a row. Their rookie cornerback, Ahmad Carroll, is nicknamed "Batman," but he looked more like Mister Freeze in the lopsided loss to Tennessee. Green Bay has won six of the past seven with Detroit, but these are not your father's Lions. Despite some key offensive injuries, they won in Atlanta last week, 17-10, and are trying for their first 4-1 start since 1991.

Prediction: Lions, 27-24


11 a.m., Ch. 13

The skinny: In one bombastic moment, Seattle allowed more points to the Rams in the fourth quarter (17) than it had the previous three games combined (13). Just like that, the Seahawks went from being in total control in the NFC West to allowing St. Louis to remain a threat. And, just like that, it precluded the Seahawks and New England from meeting as unbeaten teams. Not that it would bother the Patriots. They have won a league-record 19 in a row, including playoffs, but their margin of victory during the streak is just 9.2 points — proof the Patriots do not wither in close games. The Seahawks have won their past three road games, including two this season, but beating the Patriots in Foxboro is tougher than taking a soup bone from a rottweiler.

Prediction: Patriots, 28-26


11 a.m., Ch. 2

The skinny: OK, let's not be eager to say Kansas City is back. Just because the Chiefs ended a three-game losing streak in their most recent outing — a 27-24 victory against the Ravens — doesn't mean their problems have been solved. If anything, that game only highlights the Chiefs' biggest problem — defense — and it's not going away. The Ravens have problems scoring points in general, yet they ran up 24 on the Chiefs. Jacksonville, which is averaging just over 14 points a game, might double that total against KC. The Jaguars, though, are feeling a little insecure. After allowing just 37 points in the first four games, they gave up 34 last week to the Chargers.

Prediction: Chiefs, 31-28

49ERS (1-4) AT JETS (4-0)

11 a.m.

The skinny: New York has never started 5-0 in franchise history, not even during the old AFL days with Joe Namath. But here are the Jets, looking to keep pace with New England in the AFC East and stay among the league's unbeatens. Until last week, it looked as though that might be an easy proposition. But then San Francisco got quarterback Tim Rattay back, and all he did was throw for 417 yards and rally the 49ers from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit in a victory against Arizona. The victory, though, didn't come without a price — Pro Bowl LB Julian Peterson is out for the season with an Achilles injury. The 49ers have won the past five meetings with the Jets, but that was back when the 49ers were the 49ers.

Prediction: Jets, 28-20


11 a.m.

The skinny: Believe it or not, this is a rematch of last year's NFC championship game. The Panthers have looked little like the team that beat Philadelphia and made it to the Super Bowl last season. The only time they have shown any resemblance is when they defeated the Chiefs in Week 2, and just about everyone has done that. Injuries have played a big part. RB DeShaun Foster is the latest casualty, though it's possible the player he was replacing, Stephen Davis, could return. The Eagles, meantime, have had an extra week to prepare for the Panthers, which means it's entirely possible they will manage more than just a field goal against them this time.

Prediction: Eagles, 20-10


11 a.m.

The skinny: Just when it appeared it was headed for the NFL scrap heap, Tennessee ended a three-game losing streak by scoring 48 points in Green Bay. They will need it against Houston, a division team that has never beaten the Titans (0-4). The Texans are a revived team, too, and came within an overtime TD pass against the Vikings of riding a three-game winning streak. Of course, everyone knows Texans ride horses, and their horse has been wide receiver Andre Johnson, who has six catches longer than 25 yards — second most in the NFL. The Texans might feel at home with the cowboy hat-wearing crowd in Nashville, but don't expect the Titans to show them any Southern hospitality.

Prediction: Titans, 27-17


2:15 p.m.

The skinny: The teams have met just once in the regular season since Super Bowl XXX and, like three of the previous four regular-season meetings, Dallas won, 37-7, in 1997 at Three Rivers Stadium. The Steelers have won three in a row under rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger, who is beginning to look like another No. 7 who could make plays on the run — John Elway. The Cowboys, though, are coming off a 26-10 loss to the Giants and Bill Parcells is one honked-off Tuna. He said he lost confidence in his team after the Cowboys failed to convert several short-yardage situations against the Giants. The Cowboys, though, seem to respond to their coach's rants: They are 5-2 after a loss under Parcells.

Prediction: Cowboys, 17-16.


2:15 p.m., Ch. 2

The skinny: If Sonny & Cher sang "The Beat Goes On," Denver has popularized the mantra. Mike Anderson. Terrell Davis. Olandis Gary. Clinton Portis. Quentin Griffin. Now Reuben Droughns. It doesn't matter which back the Broncos plug into their zone-blocking system, he is guaranteed a 100-yard game and probably a 1,000-yard season. Droughns is the latest example, rushing for 193 yards — second-best performance in 2004 — vs. Carolina, a team with probably the best defensive line in the league. Droughns is a fullback who carried only 10 times for 25 yards in two seasons with the Broncos. But, against the Panthers, he had more yards than in his previous four years in the league combined (127). The Broncos have won 14 of the past 18 vs. Oakland.

Prediction: Broncos, 30-28


6:30 p.m., ESPN

The skinny: The people in New Orleans will recognize Minnesota RB Mewelde Moore, even if nobody else does. Moore, who had 92 rushing yards and 12 catches for 90 yards in his first NFL start, played high-school football in Baton Rouge, La., and set 24 school records at Tulane. Moore, though, wasn't the star of last week's overtime victory in Houston; that would be WR Marcus Robinson, who caught a 50-yard touchdown pass in overtime. New Orleans got RB Deuce McAllister back against Tampa Bay, but it didn't make much difference. Actually, having Aaron Brooks, Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth doesn't seem to make much difference, either. The Saints keep finding ways to lose.

Prediction: Vikings, 38-28