Week six of the 2011 NFL season has a few key intra-conference games and two clear mismatches as the best teams in each division begin to attempt to pull away from the pack.

Here’s a preview of all of the action on the NFL schedule for Sunday, Oct. 16:

Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 PM

Indianapolis can only lean on Peyton Manning’s absence as an excuse for a winless start for so long. The Colts (0-5) have had the opportunity to beat their last four opponents, but have not closed out the games. Indianapolis quarterback Curtis Painter has found a favorite target in receiver Pierre Garcon. The tandem has hooked up for two touchdowns in each of the past two games. They’ll likely have to repeat the feat to win because Cincinnati’s rushing defense, ranked second in the AFC in yards allowed (88.6), isn’t likely to allow big runs. The Bengals (3-2) should be very pleased with the development of rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who has guided his team to wins and hasn’t shown a propensity for making mistakes. Dalton needs to use running back Cedric Benson to control the ball and keep the Colts defense from attacking him with blitzes from defensive stalwarts Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

San Francisco 49ers at Detroit Lions – 1:00 PM

Detroit and San Francisco play a showdown game between improbable NFC division leaders. Each franchise has gone through years of losing records, but both are on an early track for the playoffs. The Lions (5-0) have the offense weaponry of quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson. The Niners defense may be the best Detroit has faced this season. It allows 15.6 points per-game, the least in the NFC. San Francisco (4-1) must keep the Lions in check, because the Niners offense, while efficient, is not very productive outside of running back Frank Gore. If Detroit can force San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith into passing situations, it believes it can either sack him or force him into mistakes. The Lions will have one less day of preparation after playing Monday, but they’ll feed off a loud, home crowd.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers – 1:00 PM

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s sprained left foot didn’t immobilize him last week when he threw five touchdown passes for Pittsburgh (3-2). This week, he’ll face a Jacksonville defense with just eight sacks on the year. If Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall’s hamstring keeps him out of the game, Jacksonville may be able to make Roethlisberger work harder. To win, the Jaguars (1-4) need to pressure the Steelers offense into mistakes in order to give their rookie quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, an opportunity to work with shorter fields. The Steelers defense loves the opportunity to harass quarterbacks with coverages and blitzes, and this is their first crack at Gabbert. Despite their reputation, however, Pittsburgh’s defense has only one interception and two forced fumbles this season.

Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins – 1:00 PM

Washington (3-1) hopes that it can use running back Ryan Torain to exploit a weak Philadelphia run defense that has allowed 140.2 yards rushing per-game, the third-most in the NFL. The Redskins would much rather run than ask quarterback Rex Grossman to make plays. He has seven turnovers in four games. The Eagles (1-4) face must-win situations for the next few weeks if they hope to salvage the season. Michael Vick’s 10 turnovers have been alarming for Philadelphia, but not more than the inconsistent play of his offensive line. Running back LeSean McCoy must produce yardage to keep a very talented and determined Redskins’ defense from creating havoc for Vick and adding to its 15 sacks, the fourth-best total in the league.

Buffalo Bills at N.Y. Giants – 1:00 PM

Coming off a terrible loss to an inferior Seattle team, New York (3-2) hopes to stop Buffalo (4-1) from displaying its offensive skills. The Giants, who lead the NFL in sacks with 18, must make Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick uncomfortable and stop running back Fred Jackson from creating second-and-short situations for Buffalo. The New York secondary is not as strong as its defensive line, which will have its work cut out for it: the Bills have allowed only three sacks of Fitzpatrick this season. Giants quarterback Eli Manning is meshing well with receiver Victor Cruz. That tandem needs to stretch a Buffalo defense that has given up the third-most yards per-game in the league (421.8). The key for New York is to get points from its yardage. Buffalo must pressure Manning, but it’s not what they do well. The Bills defense has just five sacks on the season.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons – 1:00 PM

Carolina (1-4) isn’t as bad as its record. The Panthers have yet to be dominated during a game, but also haven’t made enough game-winning plays when they needed to do so. The Carolina defense is tied for second-worst in the NFC by allowing 26.4 points per game. It will be tested this week by Atlanta (2-3), whose offense is fueled by a number of game-breaking players. If he gets protection, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has Roddy White, Julio Jones, Michael Turner and Tony Gonzalez as targets. Protection can be a problem: Ryan’s been sacked 14 times this year. Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton, who has accounted for seven touchdown passes and five rushing scores, must keep his team’s offense in gear and the pressure on Atlanta. Carolina tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey should create matchup issues for the Falcons linebackers and safeties.

St. Louis Rams at Green Bay Packers – 1:00 PM

With its high-powered offense averaging a league-best 34.6 points per game, Green Bay (5-0) causes problems for good teams with experienced secondaries. Meanwhile, St. Louis (0-4) has an injury-depleted defense with seven cornerbacks placed on injured reserve since August. This should mean a big day for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The key for the Rams is controlling the clock with running back Steven Jackson and keeping Green Bay from scoring seven points on every drive. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford must avoid mistakes against an experienced Packers defense. St. Louis defensive lineman Chris Long could change the game by getting pressure on Rodgers, whose offensive line isn’t totally healthy.

Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens – 4:05 PM

Houston (3-2) will be without a key player on each side of the ball as receiver Andre Johnson continues to rest his injured hamstring and linebacker Mario Williams is out for the season after tearing his pectoral muscle. Still, the Texans defense, which has forced 14 turnovers this season, may haunt Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco by blitzing. The Ravens (3-1) must use running back Ray Rice, both as a blocker and a rusher, to keep the pressure off Flacco. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub must establish his passing game, which new acquisition Derrick Mason will help, to keep the vaunted Ravens defense from keying on Texans running back Arian Foster. Baltimore allows the fewest points per game in the league (14.3), and it thrives on scoring defensive touchdowns, like the three it had against the Jets in week four.

Cleveland Browns at Oakland Raiders – 4:05 PM

Cleveland (2-2) wants to use its two running backs, Peyton Hillis and Montario Hardesty, to eat the clock and pile up yardage against an Oakland defense that allows 422.4 yards per-game, second-most in the NFL. If the Browns ask quarterback Colt McCoy to drop back often against the Raiders talented defensive line, poor results could ensue. The Raiders (3-2) need quarterback Jason Campbell to continue to find other offensive options, like wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey, to take the load off featured back Darren McFadden, who has a league-high 519 yards rushing this season. If Oakland can balance its offense, it can create a challenge for an unproven Cleveland defense.

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 4:15 PM

After a season-opening loss to Green Bay, New Orleans (4-1) has reeled off four straight wins. Averaging an NFC-best 336.6 passing yards per-game has helped, but quarterback Drew Brees is starting to get contributions from a three-back rotation of rookie Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles. This development is not good news for Tampa Bay (3-2), which gave up 213 rushing yards to San Francisco last week in a 48-3 defeat. Worse still for the Buccaneers is that their 17.4 points per game average on offense is second-worst in the NFC. Quarterback Josh Freeman and running back LeGarrette Blount must control the ball and the clock for Tampa, because it doesn’t seem as though they can score with the Saints.

Dallas Cowboys at New England Patriots – 4:15 PM

New England (4-1) is averaging nearly 500 yards per game and 33 points on offense each week. With quarterback Tom Brady already posting MVP-like numbers, Dallas must find a way to slow him down. The Cowboys (2-2) can lean on a defense that is allowing the fourth-fewest yards per game in the league (291.8) and is the best against the run (61.8). That may mean that New England running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will not be as much of a factor as he was when running for 136 yards against the Jets last week. The Cowboys need receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant to be healthy  and help quarterback Tony Romo attack a Patriots defense that has given up the most yards in the league this season.

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears – 8:20 PM

Chicago (2-3) faces a Minnesota rushing attack featuring Adrian Peterson after the Bears allowed Detroit’s Jahvid Best to run for 163 yards. The Vikings (1-4) will stick to the script of establishing a running game with Peterson and hoping that quarterback Donovan McNabb can make enough throws to keep the Bears from keying on the ground game. McNabb has been ineffective and immobile. The Chicago defense will seek to pressure him often. The Bears need running back Matt Forte to produce yardage. Otherwise, the Vikings defensive line, led by Jared Allen, will bull rush Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, who has been sacked an NFL-high 18 times this year.

Miami Dolphins at N.Y. Jets – 8:30 PM

Monday, Oct. 17

After losing three games in a row on the road, the Jets (2-3) find relief in the form of a Miami team seeking its first win and having lost starting quarterback Chad Henne for the season. The Dolphins (0-4) will start Matt Moore, who needs running backs Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush to help him guide the offense against an experienced New York defense. The Dolphins defense has been lousy against the pass: it’s ranked 31st out of 32 teams. That is good news for Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, whose inconsistent play and nine turnovers have been at the core of the team’s struggles this season. After trading Derrick Mason to Houston, the Jets will need Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress to step up their production and help.

On Bye Week: Seattle, Tennessee, Kansas City, San Diego, Denver, Arizona

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