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Saints, Broncos offenses will go at it

The welcoming committee for Joe Vitt as he returns from his six-game suspension to again be the Saints' interim coach consists of Peyton Manning and the revitalized Broncos.

Maybe Vitt wants to stay away another week.

New Orleans chose Vitt to stand in for Sean Payton while the head coach is banned for the 2012 season for his role in the team's bounties program. Aaron Kromer then was the interim-interim coach and the Saints lost their first four before rebounding with two victories.

"Real tough," Vitt said of sitting out the first six games. "I mean, listen, this is all I've ever done for 44 years between high school and prep school and five years of college and 34 years in the league; it wasn't a very easy transition. It was tough sitting back and watching our team play Sunday and it was tough not being around the guys, it was tough not seeing Sean.

"And I'm happy to be back now."

Having Vitt back might add some continuity for New Orleans. Facing Manning and Denver might add some headaches.

"With Peyton, the thing that's unbelievable is what he's been through physically and what he's had to endure physically and now he's coming back and he's putting up historic numbers," Vitt said. "I mean, in the last three games, he's averaged 300 yards, three touchdowns and a 70 percent completion percentage. The way he's playing in the second half, the way they're outscoring their opponents in the fourth quarter, is historic."

If not historic, certainly impressive. Denver has gone through a gantlet in the early season and survived with a 3-3 record. The defeats are to Atlanta, Houston and New England, two on the road.

Now is the time for the Broncos to take charge in the AFC West, but they figure to need plenty of points against the Saints. Manning would love to oblige against his hometown team.

"Yeah," he said. "It's such an important game just for our team, and I think you're playing on Sunday night in prime time and that's special. But it's coming off of a bye, it's a pivotal game, we're in that second quarter of the season and have two games left in this quarter, so they're all important.

"But I think for the reasons that are obvious, it's a game against a really good team, a team that's hot, a team that their record and statistics and all those are very misleading. It's a big-time football team that knows how to win."

New England (4-3)vs. St. Louis (3-4) at London

The Rams have played well at home, so shifting this game 4,000 miles away isn't a particularly good idea. But at least they went over to England early; the Patriots decided not to depart until week's end.

New England coach Bill Belichick won't let his players think about anything but football — American football, not soccer — when they get over there.

"The time change, the travel — that's certainly different than most normal games," Belichick said, "but it's not anything we haven't dealt with before. We've traveled to the West Coast. We're just going the other direction. Hopefully, we'll be able to deal with it."

Atlanta (6-0)at Philadelphia (3-3)

One of the more impressive stats in the NFL is Andy Reid's record after bye weeks: 13-0. Stretching that will be difficult against the league's only unbeaten team.

Reid fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo after the Eagles' last game, so Todd Bowles gets to design something to slow Matt Ryan, Tony Gonzalez and an offense that makes big plays.

"In this business you're graded on performance whether you're a player, whether you're a coach, head coach, assistant, it doesn't matter," said Reid, who has been under fire by critics who point to Philly's underachieving nature. "You're graded on performance."

The Falcons' performance has been their best ever; they've not been undefeated this deep into a season.

Carolina (1-5) at Chicago (5-1)

Everything is going right for the Bears and wrong for the Panthers.

Two days after Carolina's general manager was fired, star linebacker Jon Beason went on injured reserve with right knee and left shoulder problems that will require surgery. In the past two weeks, the Panthers also lost center Ryan Kalil and cornerback Chris Gamble to season-ending injuries. They've dropped four in a row.

Chicago has won four straight, allowing a total of 34 points. These Monsters of the Midway are led by the secondary, where Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings and Major Wright have been superb.

"He's an excellent football player," coach Lovie Smith said of Tillman. "He does so much and you see it time after time."

New York Giants (5-2)at Dallas (3-3)

Ah, home sweet home — for the Giants, who are 3-0 in Cowboys Stadium.

"Certainly you want to protect your home-field advantage and certainly play well at home," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett, said, "but you want to play well on the road, you want to play well in the parking lot, you want to play well on the moon. Our players hear me say that a lot. It will be a great challenge for us at our place on Sunday against this football team."

Particularly without linebacker Sean Lee, who was developing into a star but is gone for the season with a right toe injury.

New York found a pass rush against Washington, although it still was spotty. And if this one is close near the end, count on Eli Manning to produce.

Washington (3-4)at Pittsburgh (3-3)

For fans into quarterbacks who keep plays alive, this is the game. Sensational Redskins rookie Robert Griffiin III put on quite a show in the Meadowlands last Sunday with his speed and shiftiness — not to mention a strong and pinpoint arm. Ben Roethlisberger does it with his strength and power.

Both banged-up defenses are vulnerable to such exploits, especially Washington's if LB London Fletcher's 231-game streak ends because of hamstring and balance issues. Fletcher hasn't missed a game since entering the league as an undrafted rookie with the Rams in 1998.

Jacksonville (1-5)at Green Bay (4-3)

This is a tough enough assignment for the reeling Jaguars with Maurice Jones-Drew on hand. MJD won't be at Lambeau Field, sidelined for several weeks with a sprained left foot.

Green Bay has its offense in form after some sloppiness, but will be without defensive leader Charles Woodson in the secondary. Woodson broke his right collarbone.

"He's a guy people have to account for every time," Aaron Rodgers said. "I know if I was playing our defense, I would want to know where he's at, whether he was at the high safety or whether he was down in the slot or whether he was coming on a pressure. He gets a lot of hits on the football."

Seattle (4-3) at Detroit (2-4)

The Lions are on a short week after their offense was invisible Monday night in Chicago. The Seahawks haven't played since Oct. 18, when they did little with the ball at San Francisco.

Seattle has won the last three in the series, and could make the day miserable for Detroit's offense if it can't find a running game. Plus, Lions QB Matthew Stafford has five TD passes and six interceptions one season after throwing for 41 TDs with 16 picks. The Seahawks' defensive strength is in the secondary.

Indianapolis (3-3)at Tennessee (3-4)

Two inconsistent teams with improving outlooks, particularly the Titans, whose offense has come alive the last two weeks with Matt Hasselbeck in for injured QB Jake Locker, and running back Chris Johnson finally finding his way. But Tennessee's defense has struggled: it has only nine sacks, ranks 30th in yards surrendered and has just seven takeaways. But the Colts have forced only three turnovers, dropping them to minus-9 in turnover margin. Still, they've beaten Minnesota and Green Bay, albeit at home; Indy is 0-2 on the road.

Miami (3-3)at New York Jets (3-4)

The Dolphins probably should have beaten the Jets in Week 3, with usually reliable Dan Carpenter missing some makable field goals. Since throwing two interceptions at Arizona on Sept. 30, Ryan Tannehill has none in two games. He has a quarterback rating of at least 91.0 in each game during that span, with Miami winning twice.

The Jets have not swept Miami in Rex Ryan's three-plus years as their coach. They come off a painful overtime defeat at New England, when they got too conservative late in regulation. If that loss lingers, another could be on the way at the Meadowlands.

San Diego (3-3)at Cleveland (1-6)

After that debacle at home against Denver in which they blew a 24-0 lead, the Chargers had two weeks to lick their wounds and find some solutions. A key will be if they can improve that ragged pass defense; they're already stingy against the run.

Cleveland has stayed close in most of its games, but also has lost four in a row and nine of the last 11 against San Diego.

Oakland (2-4)at Kansas City (1-5)

Once among the fiercest and most anticipated rivalries, Raiders-Chiefs has become barely watchable. At least Oakland has the excuse of going through a transition period, and it comes off an uplifting comeback victory. That the Raiders fell behind so badly against weak Jacksonville is another story.

One thing the Chiefs can do is run the ball with Jamaal Charles. One thing the Raiders can't do, despite having Darren McFadden, is run the ball. KC will go heavy on the ground with Brady Quinn now at quarterback.

San Francisco (5-2)at Arizona (4-3), Monday night

Arizona has lost three straight, in great part because it can't protect its quarterbacks. This is hardly the matchup for fixing that problem: San Francisco has the league's stingiest and most physical defense.

The Cardinals are the only team in the league not to allow more than 21 points. Of course, they're not likely to score that many against the Niners, whose 100 points given up are the fewest for any club that's played seven games.