Minnesota at Kansas City (8:20 p.m., ESPN)

Arrowhead Stadium will be rocking as usual when both teams attempt to remain within striking distance of their respective division crowns. Minnesota QB Jeff George endured a consistant pass rush, a rash of penalties and several dropped passes in Monday night's 24-17 loss to Tampa Bay, but he still is 5-1 as the Vikings' starter, and Minnesota is averaging 28.2 points over that span. WR Cris Carter has 43 catches for 579 yards and nine touchdowns in the past five games. But PK Gary Anderson has struggled this season, going 0 for 5 on field goal attempts of 41 yards or more. S Antonio Banks (Virginia Tech) will make his first start for the Vikings, who will shuffle their secondary because of a lingering hamstring injury to S Orlando Thomas. The Chiefs pounded out 177 yards rushing last week and got 131 punt-return yards -- including an 80-yarder for a touchdown -- from Tamarick Vanover in a 16-10 win over Denver. Kansas City has won its past nine games against NFC teams, and its plus-17 turnover differential this season is the NFL's best. The marquee matchup is in the secondary, where CBs James Hasty and Cris Dishman, who have combined for 10 interceptions, take on Carter and Randy Moss. Hasty and Dishman are the first cornerback teammates since 1972 to have at least 40 career interceptions each. The Chiefs have at least one interception in 11 straight games.


Detroit at Tampa Bay (4:15 p.m.)

In this matchup for first place in the NFC Central, the Buccaneers try for a franchise-record sixth consecutive win. However, they will have to get it against a Lions team that has beaten them in nine of the teams' past 10 meetings, including a 20-3 thrashing on Oct. 31. Detroit rushed for just 31 yards last week, but still beat the Redskins. Gus Frerotte will start again at quarterback. But as good as he has been recently, WR Germane Crowell has been terrific all season, with 1,035 yards receiving, 17 yards per catch and seven touchdowns that all rank in the league's top 10. The Lions' 39 sacks rank second in the the NFC and their plus-9 turnover differential leads the conference. Buccaneers QB Shaun King won his first career start on Monday night in a big game against the Vikings, and he will start again. King passed for only 93 yards, but Tampa Bay rarely asks much more of its quarterbacks, and King's efficiency and poise won praise from the coaching staff. RB Warrick Dunn should return from an ankle injury, and FB Mike Alstott's 772 yards rushing are 75 short of his career high. CB Donnie Abraham has five interceptions in the past three games, returning two for touchdowns. That has been the key to Tampa Bay's plus-8 turnover differential in those games.

Different Directions

The Colts already have improved their victory total of a year ago by seven, and have tied for the third-best single-season turnaround in NFL history. The all-time record improvement of nine games seems well within their reach. But today they face a desperate Patriots team. After eight games, New England was 6-2 and QB Drew Bledsoe had the AFC's top quarterback rating, at 97.9. Now the Patriots are 7-5, and Bledsoe's rating has sunk to 79.6 largely because of four touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in the past four games. The Colts have been an elixir for Bledsoe in the past: He is 3-0 against Peyton Manning and 7-0 against Indianapolis, with 16 touchdown passes and one interception in that span. Defensively, New England will pit star cornerback Ty Law against the Colts' star wide receiver, Marvin Harrison, even though Law had surgery Tuesday in which three pins were placed in his broken right hand. Harrison had seven catches for 105 yards and three touchdowns in the teams' previous meeting, which the Patriots won, 31-28.

Late-Blooming Bengals

Cincinnati's record in the 1990s is 51-106, tied with Tampa Bay of the 1980s for most losses by any NFL team in a decade. But in December, when the weather turns cold, when games mean little and opponents are weary, the Bengals come to life. Cincinnati is 19-18 in Decembers this decade, including 8-4 under Coach Bruce Coslet.

Deion at WR?

Dallas appears ready to use CB-KR Deion Sanders as a wide reciever for the first time this season. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones reportedly raised the possibility to Coach Chan Gailey after Dallas's 13-6 loss to New England last week, and it seemed to become even more likely when rookie WR Wane McGarrity broke one finger and dislocated another on his right hand in practice on Wednesday. Michael Irvin and Ernie Mills are out because of injuries.


A look at this week's best subplots

Dolphins run defense through eight games

Allowed 75 yards rushing per game and 2.5 yards per carry, and Miami started 7-1.


Dolphins run defense in the past four games

Allowed 127 yards rushing per game and 4.0 yards per carry. Miami was 1-3 during the stretch.

Panthers LB Kevin Greene

Needs one sack for 10th season with at least 10. Only Bruce Smith and Reggie White have more 10-sack seasons with 12 apiece.


Packers QB Brett Favre

Needs 182 yards passing to reach 30,000 for his career in his 126th game, which would be third-fastest to that milestone in league history.

Giants offense

Last week against the Jets, scored most points in a game (41) since 1995. QB Kerry Collins had Giants' first 300-yard passing game since 1993 and WR Ike Hilliard had the most single-game receiving yards (181) for a Giant since 1966.


Bills defense

Third in NFL against the run (83.7 yards per game), second in pass defense (173.2 yards per game) and second in total defense (256.8 yards per game). The Bills have won 10 straight against NFC teams.

Jaguars pass rush

Leads NFL with 47 sacks. DE Tony Brackens (10), LB Kevin Hardy (9A 1/2) and DT Gary Walker (8) are NFL's only trio with at least eight apiece.


Broncos pass rush

Has recorded an average of 4 1/2 sacks in four wins and an average of two sacks in eight losses this season.