HOUSTON AT CHICAGO
7:20 p.m. Sunday TV: KJRH-9/2 Radio: KYAL am1550
The best game on the docket, one that already is part of the TV hyperbole machine: "Super Bowl Preview!"
While both the Texans and Bears have been formidable on defense and productive on offense, it's a reach to proclaim either of these clubs a championship favorite halfway through the schedule. However, the winner Sunday night will be in excellent shape for a home-field playoff game.
Chicago has built this version of the Monsters of the Midway around ball-hawkers such as cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs, each with two TDs. In all, the Bears have scored seven times on interceptions, once on a fumble return.
But they also struggle to protect QB Jay Cutler, and Houston has 24 sacks, led by J.J. Watt with 101/2 to top the NFL.
"He's long. He's tall," said Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice, whose son went to school with Watt. "When he feels he can't get clean on the pass rush he stops and he times it and he jumps up. He's a great athlete. He's playing with a lot of confidence and tremendous burst and I could go down the list over and over about the things he does well."
ATLANTA AT NEW ORLEANS
Usually, this is a meeting of NFC South titans, but the Saints have not done their part. Still, they come off their best performance in a 28-13 victory over Philadelphia, their third win in four games. And they surely will be stoked to play the runaway division leaders, especially with the Falcons being undefeated.
"For the players, it feels like every time we play the Falcons it's such a big game, whether it be our standings or the meaning of the game (or) just the fact that we're divisional opponents," Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. "We always know it's going to be a 16-round bout. But, I think it's kind of obvious that there's an extreme competitiveness on both sides knowing what type of game this will be."
Eight teams have gone 9-0 since 2002. Four went on to play in the Super Bowl and two (2006 Indianapolis and 2009 New Orleans) won it.
DENVER AT CAROLINA
Noon Sunday TV: KOTV-6
Peyton Manning is closing in on more milestones, and current coach John Fox would be a very willing recipient of Manning's latest achievements against the team that fired him after the 2010 season.
With two touchdown passes at Carolina, Manning would pass Dan Marino for the second-most touchdown passes in NFL annals; Marino had 420. Brett Favre holds the record with 508.
And with a win, Manning will tie Marino with 147 career regular-season victories, trailing only John Elway (148) and Favre (186).
The Panthers have fallen apart since Fox left, going 8-16 under Ron Rivera, but Fox draws no pleasure from that.
"I have a lot of great relationships there," Fox said. "It was the place that gave me my first opportunity as a head coach, so I'll always be indebted for that. I still own a home there. Some of my sons live that way, so it will be good to be back but it's the NFL and this game's only fun when you're winning."
SAN DIEGO AT TAMPA BAY
Vincent Jackson is having a terrific first season with the Buccaneers, and now he gets to show how good he is playing against the team that let him walk as a free agent after several contract hassles.
Jackson has 31 catches for 710 yards and six touchdowns, but most eye-opening is his 22.9-yard average per reception - game-breaker territory. No one in the league with as many as 20 catches comes close.
"Vincent is a great talent with his size and speed. He also has great hands and the ability to catch the ball in traffic and make things happen," quarterback Josh Freeman said. "Vincent's been tremendous. He complements Mike Williams and vice versa. Having those two allows you to do a lot of things with your offense.
"Off the field the guy is a leader and a hard worker."
BUFFALO AT NEW ENGLAND
The Patriots have to love the Bills being their first opponent coming back from an idle week. New England has won 17 of the last 18 against the Bills and scored a season-high 52 points in its win at Buffalo on Sept. 30, with touchdowns on six straight second-half possessions. Buffalo ranks 31st in defense, while the Patriots are No. 1 with 32.8 points and 440.8 yards per game.
Brady is 19-2 against the Bills with 49 TD passes.
OAKLAND AT BALTIMORE
The Ravens have won six of the seven meetings and three in a row. Oakland comes in limping, particularly at running back, with both Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson dealing with sprained right ankles.
Baltimore, which has won 14 consecutive home games, has two players within reach of milestones. Ray Rice needs 1 yard rushing to reach 5,000 for his career. Receiver Anquan Boldin needs 32 yards to reach 10,000 from scrimmage for his career.
N.Y. GIANTS AT CINCINNATI
Noon Sunday TV: KOKI-5/23 Radio: KYAL fm97.1
The Giants' offense has gone into something of a funk and Eli Manning has been off his game the last two weeks. With receiver Hakeem Nicks hobbled, that doesn't help the equation for New York, which was outplayed and overpowered at home last Sunday by the Steelers, even though the score was only 24-20.
Without Nicks, star slot receiver Victor Cruz is seeing double and even triple coverage.
N.Y. JETS AT SEATTLE
3:05 p.m. Sunday
The Jets also are coming off a bye during which they tried to fix, well, everything. In their last outing, they were awful on offense, defense and special teams in a loss to Miami.
Of special interest here is the relationship between Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Jets QB Mark Sanchez. When both were at Southern California, Carroll urged Sanchez to return for his senior year, saying he didn't think Sanchez was ready for the NFL. But Sanchez left - and led the Jets to the AFC title game in his first two seasons after being selected in the first round of the 2009 draft.
Player and coach remain close.
DETROIT AT MINNESOTA
Teams headed in opposite directions: Minnesota has lost two in a row and three of four as the passing game has disappeared. The Vikings must keep finding ways to get wideout Percy Harvin involved even as QB Christian Ponder struggles. At least they have the league's top rusher, Adrian Peterson, to be a focal point.
Lately, the Lions have displayed offensive balance, getting strong performances from someone other than Calvin Johnson.
Second-year pros RB Mikel Leshoure and WR Titus Young have been especially effective, and Leshoure became the franchise's first player since 1934 to run for three touchdowns in a half in last week's 31-14 win at Jacksonville. He has run for 375 yards in six games since being suspended for the first two weeks of the season.
TENNESSEE AT MIAMI
Titans owner Bud Adams put everyone on alert for their jobs after last week's fiasco against Chicago. Most pressing is finding someone - anyone - who can play some defense. Tennessee has allowed 308 points, historically bad numbers, and ranks 30th in overall D.
Jake Locker will return at quarterback for the Titans, barring a setback to his left, non-throwing shoulder. He missed five games.