Sunday Morning Under the Helmet: What to Watch for in NFL Week Nine

Alex JohnsonCorrespondent INovember 8, 2009

NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 28: Jonathan Stewart #28 of the Carolina Panthers is pushed out of bounds by Randall Gay #20 of the New Orleans Saints on December 28, 2008 at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Panthers defated the Saints 33-31.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

It's that time of week again: time for football!

This week, we've got a lot on the table. We've got a divisional showdown on the big stage, we've got no-name players poised for superstar performances and we've got an upset alert like never before.

So take the next few minutes to read everything you need to know to get yourself prepared for another great weekend of NFL action.



Matchup of the Week: Dallas Cowboys (5-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-2)

The last time these two teams met up it was Week 17 of 2008 and the Eagles put a pounding on the 'Boys 44-6 en route to clinching a playoff berth.

This time, these teams are fighting for the NFC East lead.

Both sit a 5-2 just above the 5-3 New York Giants.

A win here would be huge for either team.

In order for the Cowboys to get that win and finally break back into the driver's seat of the division, they're going to need quarterback Tony Romo to continue to play like he has recently.

In his last three games, all wins, Romo has not thrown an interception, the longest such streak of his career.

Romo has topped 250 yards in each of those games, including two of them over 300 yards. He also tossed three touchdowns in two of those games with two TDs in the other.

Parallel with Romo's success is the rebirth of Big D's offense.

The offense currently ranks sixth in points per game, and second in yards.

Receiver Miles Austin and tight end Jason Witten are greatly benefiting from Dallas' recent offensive surge.

Austin has 21 receptions for 482 yards and five touchdowns in his last three games including a franchise-record 250 yards against Kansas City in Week Five.

In Dallas' seven games so far in '09, Witten has 37 catches for 348 yards and a touchdown.

Romo, Austin and Witten are going to need to continue putting up big numbers on offense this week if they plan to beat Philly because Donovan McNabb and the Eagles' offense are averaging 29 points per game this year.

McNabb's favorite target, DeSean Jackson, is having himself one heck of a season. He's a big-play threat and with McNabb's strong arm, the two find themselves hooking up quite often. The speedy receiver has found the end zone six times this season.

Four of those scores as a receiver, one on a punt return and even one rushing. All six of Jackson's touchdowns have been 50 yards or more. Dallas will likely put quite a bit of focus on slowing down No. 10.

McNabb's other weapons include tight end Brent Celek, rookies Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy and, of course, running back Brian Westbrook.

However, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Westbrook is not expected to play tonight after suffering a concussion two weeks ago against Washington.

Even if Westbrook doesn't play, Dallas' defense certainly will have its hands full trying to stop all of Philly's weapons but will have to find a way to at least slow them down if they plan to win on Sunday Night Football.


Keys to the game

-Jason Witten and Brent Celek

-Which quarterback plays better?

-DeSean Jackson vs. Miles Austin

Prediction: Eagles win 35-31.



Small Names, Big Games

Here we will take a look at three non-superstars who will post big numbers in Week Nine.


Jamaal Charles (RB, Kansas City)

With Larry Johnson suspended, the Chiefs will turn to Jamaal Charles to run the ball for them this week.

Charles is averaging 5.0 yards per carry in six games this season.

Kansas City goes against Jacksonville, who ranks 25th against the run today.

With the passing game struggling, expect Charles to see a lot of work out of the backfield this afternoon.


James Jones (WR, Green Bay)

James Jones will likely see a few extra looks from Aaron Rodgers today as fellow receiver Jordy Nelson and tight end Jermichael Finley will not play against Tampa Bay.

Speaking of Tampa Bay, the Bucs rank 15th against the pass, not awful but when they're off their game quarterbacks have put up big numbers against them.

Today could be one of those days, and Jones will benefit from it.


Fred Davis (TE, Washington)

Washington tight end Chris Cooley will be out several weeks with a broken ankle, so his second-year backup, Fred Davis, will step into the starting spot.

Davis has caught 15 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown, including eight catches for 78 yards and that one score last week in place of Cooley.

This afternoon, Davis and the 'Skins go up against an Atlanta team that has struggled to stop tight ends this season.


Oth ers To Watch: Ryan Moats (RB, Houston), Kevin Walter (WR, Houston), David Garrard (QB, Jacksonville)



Upset Alert!: Carolina (3-4) over New Orleans (7-0)???

The Carolina Panthers started off 0-3 but have won three of their last four games, including last week's 34-21 upset of the Arizona Cardinals.

This week, the Panthers will try to pull off an even greater upset when they head to New Orleans to take on the undefeated Saints.

To get that win, the Panthers will have to protect the football. They've had trouble doing so this season. They have turned the ball over 21 times, second highest in the NFL, including a league high 14 interceptions.

They cannot afford to turn the ball over at all against the Saints.

Along with not turning the ball over, the Panthers rushing attack will need to thrive for them to keep possession of the ball and MVP candidate Drew Brees off the field.

Last week DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart combined for 245 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Arizona.

Stewart and Williams will need to continue playing at a high level against the Saints' 11th ranked rush defense.

On defense, Carolina must slow down Brees and the passing attack.

Brees has already thrown for 2,006 yards and a league-high 16 touchdowns this year.

Good news for Panthers fans though: Carolina ranks first against the pass.

It will be the running game that the Panthers will need to put the most focus on.

Led by Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell and Reggie Bush, the Saints rank fourth in rushing yards per game. The Panthers have struggled to stop the run at times this season but they'll have to find a way to slow down this dynamic trio today.


Keys for CAR

-Protect the football

-Stop the run first, then the pass

-Get out to an early lead

-Run the ball heavily with Williams and Stewart

Prediction: Panthers win 34-26


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