TITANS (5-11) AT STEELERS (15-1)
The skinny: Believe it or not, Tennessee has won 10 of the past 12 meetings with the Steelers, including playoffs, an ominous sign for the defending AFC North champs. And, for teams who have defensive-minded coaches, the winning team has scored 30 or more points in each of the past five meetings. Many of the Titans' former stars are gone, but not Steve McNair, who completed 15 of 16 passes and threw three touchdowns the last time he was at Heinz Field. The Steelers, who have 14 regular-season victories in a row, need five more to break the NFL record.
Prediction: Steelers, 30-13
BENGALS (8-8) AT BROWNS (4-12)
The skinny: Marvin Lewis has been stuck on 8-8 his first two seasons in Cincinnati, though he is hoping to change that this year with the development of QB Carson Palmer, a former No. 1 overall pick. Palmer finished the 2004 season with a flurry, throwing nine touchdowns in his final three starts. Cleveland has a new head coach, Romeo Crennel, who has spent the offseason cleaning up the mess left by Butch Davis. He might have a bigger mess if Trent Dilfer remains his quarterback.
Prediction: Bengals, 24-13
TEXANS (7-9) AT BILLS (9-7)
The skinny: Buffalo was stampeding toward a playoff spot last season, winning eight of nine games, until the Steelers ended its hopes with a convincing victory in the season finale. The Bills, though, might have a little problem with carryover. They switched quarterbacks, casting aside Drew Bledsoe for J.P. Losman, a former No. 1 pick who has never played an NFL game. Houston can only hope to win its third game in a row on the road.
Prediction: Bills, 24-10
SAINTS (8-8) AT PANTHERS (7-9)
The skinny: New Orleans finished the 2004 season with a flurry, winning its final four games. But maybe no team finished stronger than Carolina, which won six of its final eight games after a horrid 1-7 start. The Panthers have lots of their injured players back and could win the NFC title for the second time in three years. The Saints, who have lost four of the past five to the Panthers, have too much offensive talent to keep missing the playoffs. And, yet, they do.
Prediction: Panthers, 21-7
SEAHAWKS (9-7) AT JAGUARS (9-7)
The skinny: Winning the NFC West is like being named prettiest fat girl at the prom, which is maybe why Seattle is not getting ready for a Super Bowl run in 2005. Conversely, Jacksonville ought to be feeling pretty good after finishing with the same record (9-7) in the AFC South, primarily because the Jaguars have to play Indy twice a season. But the Jaguars still rely on Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith, a pair of aging veterans. That should not make them feel good.
Prediction: Jaguars, 17-16
JETS (10-6) AT CHIEFS (7-9)
The skinny: Kansas City has either been No. 1 or No. 2 in scoring in the NFL in each of the past three seasons. But it's preventing points, not scoring, that has been the biggest problem in the Chiefs' teepee, the precise reason Kendrell Bell, Patrick Surtain and Sammy Knight were acquired. Maybe they can do something other KC teams have not been able to do — stop RB Curtis Martin, who has 232 yards and four TDs in his past two meetings with the Chiefs.
Prediction: Chiefs, 31-24
BRONCOS (10-6) AT DOLPHINS (4-12)
Ch. 2, 11 a.m.
The skinny: Miami is celebrating its 40th season in the NFL with a new head coach, Nick Saban, who never had a losing season in 11 years as a college head coach. Well, there's one streak out the window. Here's another: The Dolphins have never lost at home to Denver (3-0) when the Broncos are coached by Mike Shanahan. If Shanahan thinks he has problems with an inconsistent quarterback, wait till he gets a load of the Dolphins' problems. He'll feel relieved all the way back to Denver.
Prediction: Broncos, 20-10
BUCCANEERS (5-11) AT VIKINGS (8-8)
Ch. 13, 11 a.m.
The skinny: Brian Griese led the NFL with a 69.3 completion percentage in 2004, and his yards per gain (7.83) were a Tampa Bay team record. Imagine what the Buccaneers, who have won just 12 games since the Super Bowl, would have done if Griese hadn't played that well? Minnesota will discover what life is like without Randy Moss, who went to Oakland. His replacement, Nate Burleson, who had 1,000 receiving yards with Moss in '04, might have 1,500 without him.
Prediction: Vikings, 28-20
BEARS (5-11) AT REDSKINS (6-8)
The skinny: Depending on your perspective, Washington either finished tied for second in the NFC East last season, or tied for last. But the Redskins did rank among the league's best in defense (No. 3), even without Pro Bowl LB Lavar Arrington. Their defense is not likely to be put to the test against Chicago, which is starting rookie quarterback Kyle Orton and will have to wait for rookie RB Cedric Benson to get into playing shape. This is one day they won't need their offense.
Prediction: Redskins, 13-3
PACKERS (10-6) AT LIONS (6-10)
The skinny: Green Bay might have a difficult time winning its fourth consecutive division title, and one of the reasons is Detroit, which has as much, if not more, offensive firepower than the Packers. The Lions, though, have to find a defense to complement their young and talented receiving corps (three No. 1 picks in the past three years) and second-year RB Kevin Jones. If not, the Packers might only have to worry about the Vikings in the NFC North. Brett Favre needs 266 passing yards to join Dan Marino and John Elway as the only players with 50,000 yards.
Prediction: Lions, 31-28.
CARDINALS (6-10) AT GIANTS (6-10)
The skinny: Despite its anemic record, Arizona was in playoff contention until the final weekend in '04, testament to the weak competition in the NFC West. The Cardinals, though, have a chance to be the surprise team in the NFC this year, especially if new QB Kurt Warner can come close to the form that made him a two-time NFL MVP. The Giants, meantime, will be happy if their quarterback, Eli Manning, can come close to the form of his brother. They brought in Plaxico Burress from the Steelers to give him some help.
Prediction: Cardinals, 21-20
COWBOYS (6-10) AT CHARGERS (12-4)
The skinny: San Diego went from worst to first in the AFC West in 2004, and the reason was QB Drew Brees, who all but came back from the scrap heap to make the Pro Bowl. Dallas did about the opposite last year, going from 10-6 to 6-10 because the Cowboys didn't have a quarterback and didn't have a running game until rookie Julius Jones began playing in Week 9. Bill Parcells has tried to correct the quarterback problem by signing Drew Bledsoe, who spent the past three seasons in Buffalo.
Prediction: Chargers, 23-14
RAMS (8-8) AT 49ERS (2-14)
Ch. 13, 2:15 p.m.
The skinny: San Francisco had the worst record in the league last year, and are destined to have it again this year, too. The 49ers drafted QB Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick, and new coach Mike Nolan intended to hand the offensive reins to him. But Tim Rattay had a strong preseason and will start against St. Louis, which has won four of the past five meetings. The Rams have been to the playoffs four of the past five years, but they benefit from a weak division.
Prediction: Rams, 27-13
COLTS (12-4) AT RAVENS (9-7)
ESPN, 6:30 p.m.
The skinny: A tough start for Indianapolis, which enters another season as an early Super Bowl favorite but still must prove it can beat New England. The Colts solidified the interior of their defense with the signing of DT Corey Simon, and that will help against Baltimore. The Ravens have tried to upgrade their offense with the addition of WR Derrick Mason and the drafting of rookie WR Mark Clayton. But their new 4-3 defense gets an immediate test with Peyton Manning.
Prediction: Colts, 20-10.