If fans need apologies for the last three weeks, Lowdown has got 'em! Dominic Raiola has a guilty conscience for snapping against the Titans, Joe Mays is sorry for giving Matt Schaub the Mr. Blonde treatment and Cam Newton will take the blame for the Panthers' struggles, whether he deserves it or not. Greg Schiano remains more apoplectic than apologetic, and while the Giants are happy to have their starters back, they may be sorry to see the backups go. Sorry doesn't need to be the hardest word. Let Lowdown be music to your acoustic meatus!

(All times Eastern; all Sunday games ranked by quality of matchup.)

New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles

8:20 p.m. Sunday, NBC
Line: Giants by 1

Ahmad Bradshaw and several other Giants starters were back at practice this week. That sounds like great news for the Giants, but it robs them of their ability to do what they did to the Panthers last week: beat the tar out of an opponent with guys you only expect to see in the second half of the first preseason game.

The Giants' bench is not like other benches. The bottom of a typical team's depth chart is populated by rookies, some transient veterans, and one or two new arrivals who spent last season on the Edmonton Eskimos and last month installing drywall. The Giants' bench is filled with characters from an unproduced inspirational underdog movie. Players like Andre Brown and Ramses "Pharaohtron " Barden -- the stars of the Panthers game -- were drafted by the Giants, then were injured, stowed on the practice squad, released, re-signed, re-injured, traded, reacquired, re-re-injured and, in Brown's case, cast adrift on an ice floe with nothing to eat but a dead walrus for a few months. (That last bit is unconfirmed. Brown's professional career is complicated and murky.)

Players like Brown and Barden keep resurfacing because Tom Coughlin is a tough taskmaster with a heart full of gooey teddy bears, and because the Giants organization values the experience these players gained in the system. It is better to give one more shot to your own reclamation projects than to someone else's.

Bereft of their backups, the Giants must now try to beat the Eagles with their starters. Eagles-Giants games never turn out the way they are supposed to, but the Giants will take control as soon as their pass rush gets two or three good licks on Michael Vick. In other words, the first Eagles drive.

Prediction: Giants 23, Eagles 16

* * *

San Francisco 49ers at New York Jets

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: 49ers by 4

Let us journey once again into the surrealist melting clockscape of Jets football. It's a place where a media mutiny nearly climaxes with a blogger walking the plank; where an All-Pro cornerback falls to injury and a backup running back is dragooned into replacing him; a place where Tim Tebow -- who looked more like a viable quarterback each time Mark Sanchez dropped to pass against the Dolphins -- tests the faith of his staunchest supporters by playing the role in Tony Sparano's offense once reserved for Lousaka Polite.

Most surreal of all: This game could have been an ideal matchup for the Jets. Their tamper-rammer offense should theoretically negate the 49ers' pass rush; as the Vikings proved last week, a team can beat the 49ers by running right at them, building a lead, and taking away their offensive balance.

But Darrelle Revis is out for the season, and a team built specifically to win games with defense has somehow been left with no choice but to move running back Joe McKnight, reluctantly, to cornerback. "The way I took it as was I wasn't good enough to play running back," McKnight told the Los Angeles Times. "I don't know if that's the case or not, but that's the way I'm looking at it right now." McKnight did intercept three passes in practice, including one by Tebow, marking the first time a backup running back ever intercepted a pass by a backup fullback in the entire history of horrible ideas.

Don't try to make literal sense of it. It's Jets football. Empty your mind and boggle at the sheer incongruity of it all.

Prediction: 49ers 24, Jets 10

* * *

New Orleans Saints at Green Bay Packers

4:25 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Packers by 9

Guys? Are you still mad?

"I think one thing that we really learned from it is, as frustrating as it is, ultimately it's a game judged by people who are imperfect, and there's going to be mistakes," Aaron Rodgers said in an AP report hours before the referee lockout ended. "And you hate it that it affected us and we lost a win because of it, but there's a lot of blame to go around other than referees. They have a job to do. They're trying to do their best. They obviously didn't bring their best in that game and in that play, but there's a lot of blame to fall on the shoulders of guys like myself who didn't play their best game that night."

Yeah. They are still mad.

Prediction: Packers 31, Saints 27

* * *

San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Even

A fine piece by Nick Canepa in the San Diego Union-Tribune outlines the fumbling woes of Ryan Mathews -- who was back from a broken clavicle less than 30 minutes before coughing the ball up in the red zone last week -- and offers some expert suggestions for solving them. "It's correctable. It's mechanical. Hold it high and tight. I never worried about how I look," said former fumbler Tiki Barber. Pause for a moment and imagine of the not-at-all image conscious Barber balking at Coughlin's demand that he hold the football the way Buddy Holly slung his guitar. "Aw, but coach, I look like such a dweeb."

Longtime NFL coach Ted Tollner got even more technical: "They drill through blasting machines and they talk of four points of pressure, five points of pressure, six points of pressure," Ball security is the place where the football and acupuncture collide, and anyone who learned about the four pressure points in high school may be surprised to learn that there are now others. Norv Turner is probably feeling 50 of them right about now.

The simple fact is that Mathews plays for the Chargers, and all Chargers must have a fatal flaw. Antonio Gates has the injuries, Philip Rivers the jerky mechanics, Quentin Jammer the penalties, Norv Turner the job as head coach. If these guys didn't keep having the same problems each year, we would not be able to act astonished every time they ruin a season.

The Chiefs also have running back issues. Peyton Hillis was walking around in a boot all week, and Dexter McCluster suffered such a gruesome elbow injury that he is probably strapped to a gurney somewhere. (McCluster actually practiced late in the week, which may mean he was fitted with a Luke Skywalker arm.) The silver lining to these injuries is more carries for America's Underused Employee, Jamaal Charles, who should get only 30 percent of his touches sapped away by unknowns like Shaun Draughn this week.

Prediction: Chiefs 20, Chargers 17

* * *

Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Lions by 4 ½

Meet Dominic Raiola, a 33-year old center and team leader. Dominic is supposed to stay perfectly still and not snap the ball while his quarterback tries to draw the opposing defense offside in overtime. Suddenly, his conscience plays a role …

ANGEL: OK, Dom, this is a pretty tough defense we're facin'. Just hold still, and if they don't flinch, we'll call for Jason.

DEVIL: Screw that. You wait your whole career for these fourth-and-shorts. Just snap the ball, and if it backfires, everyone will just blame Schwartz.

ANGEL: Watch out, Dom, that guy is trying to make you out to be the villain.

DEVIL: Whatever. Didn't you spend a decade working for Matt Millen? Your whole career has been a long nightmare. Snap the ball, and block a hole for Shaun Hill, right there.

ANGEL: Where did you even come from, devil? I've never even seen you here before.

DEVIL: We overbooked the Lions. I was supposed to tempt Mikel Leshoure.

ANGEL: This is a disaster. That sneak got stuffed! How can you smile?

DEVIL: Peace out. If you need me, I'll be hiding out on Eight Mile.

Prediction: Lions 28, Vikings 20

* * *

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Falcons by 8

In last week's episode of "Blame Cam," a rookie return man fumbled twice deep in his own territory and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott designed a game plan so vanilla it belonged on top of a pound cake, and everyone blamed Cam Newton for "sulking" on the sideline. This week, McDermott will order his defenders to vibrate in circles electric-football style, and Joe Adams will reward Ron Rivera's patience by running screaming from the field as the sight of an approaching kickoff. But Newton will hang his head for a few seconds, so local newspapers will publish cartoons of him in a ballerina's tutu playing with a Barbie Malibu Dream House, accusing him of being unable to properly react to a little adversity, without irony.

Prediction: Falcons 34, Panthers 27

* * *

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Patriots by 4

The annual trip to Buffalo: For the Patriots, that's the football equivalent of a cool washcloth to the forehead, some herbal tea, Branford Marsalis' "Contemporary Jazz" on low volume, and a fresh brown paper bag to breathe into. The Bills did get some good news this week: Fred Jackson returned to practice. That means their nine running plays on Sunday will be slightly more effective.

Prediction: Patriots 27, Bills 14

* * *

Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams

1 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Seahawks by 1

The Imposter Phenomenon is a psychological syndrome that causes individuals to feel guilty about their success. Some IP sufferers believe their achievements are the result of sheer luck or circumstance, not their own abilities. The syndrome can be overcome using therapeutic techniques that allow the sufferer to self-validate accomplishments by internalizing affirmations like, "Hey, we sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times" or "Our secondary really clamped down on one of the best receiving corps in the NFL" or "How about that big win over the Cowboys two weeks ago?" Left unchecked, the Imposter Phenomenon can lead to self-defeating behaviors that leave an individual well short of his or her personal or career goals. Of course, in the event that the patient really is an imposter whose achievements were the result of sheer luck, the same thing will happen, and there is not a darn thing therapy can do about it.

Prediction: Seahawks 17, Rams 9

* * *

Tennessee Titans at Houston Texans

1 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Texans by 13 ½

Having exhausted all of the home-run throwbacks and Jedi mind tricks against opposing centers in their playbook, the Titans can now return to their regularly scheduled effort to bring back obsolete units of measure to make their offense look effective. Did you know that Chris Johnson is averaging 5.1 ells per carry?

Meanwhile, Matt Schaub (ear) felt healthy enough by midweek to serve as a celebrity waiter at Owen Daniels' charity dinner at an upscale Houston steakhouse. Is there anything more appetizing than a waiter whose ear looks like steak tartare? Folks, the surf-and-turf is great, but you really must try the acoustic meatus.

Prediction: Texans 21, Titans 10

* * *

Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals

4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Cardinals by 7

This week, Reggie Bush gave several long interviews about the state of the Dolphins and his role as one of the team's leaders, interviews that were taken very seriously by the sports world and not parsed for insights into his personal life and emotional state. Bush's sprained left knee was monitored on a day-by-day basis, and while Bush is questionable for Sunday, the Dolphins were relieved to learn that the injury was not more serious, because Bush is such a vital and reliable part of the team's offense. Meanwhile, Kevin Kolb's fine play has left the first-place Cardinals with the enviable dilemma of deciding between two quarterbacks with recent hot streaks under their belts when John Skelton returns from injury in about two weeks.

Why does that entire last paragraph read like it was beamed in from Pluto?

Prediction: Cardinals 22, Dolphins 13

* * *

Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars

4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Bengals by 1

After several seasons with no real personality, the Bengals suddenly have two. The First-Half Bengals are thrilling on offense, with A.J. Green going deep, Andrew Hawkins skittering across the middle, and rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu throwing the occasional bomb to keep Andy Dalton's arm fresh. They are also overpowering on defense, with Michael Johnson and Geno Atkins leading a pass rush that has recorded 10 sacks. After halftime, the Queen City Bumblers entertain fans with their hijinks for about 20 minutes, with the Bengals getting outscored 38-10 in the third quarter before the Dalton Gang rides back in to save the day. Three good quarters will be enough to beat the Jaguars, but the next step for the Bengals will be giving opponents more than 45 Minutes of Hell.

Prediction: Bengals 20, Jaguars 16

* * *

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos

4:05 p.m. Sunday, CBS
Line: Broncos by 7

We interrupt the Peyton Manning Midlife Crisis Tour to bring you the Joe Mays Def Over-Apology Jam. Mays tore off a piece of Matt Schaub's ear with a vicious hit on Sunday, which is a pretty bad thing to do, but he has apologized both privately and very, very publically several times for the incident. Anyone who has ever received an over-apology knows how awkward it can get. "Really, Matt, I am not that kind of guy. If you wanted to drive my car off a cliff with all my high school trophies and family albums in the trunk because of this, I would hand you the keys right now. Here, let me rub some ointment on your acoustic meatus for you. No? Well, let me buy you a new stereo. Mono! Radio! Drat, what was I thinking?"

Look for Mays to become less apologetic this week when he realizes that knocking Carson Palmer out of the Raiders lineup is really more of a favor.

Prediction: Broncos 26, Raiders 16

* * *

Washington Redskins at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

4:25 p.m. Sunday, Fox
Line: Buccaneers by 2

As a once-in-a-while feature here at Lowdown, we present "Ask the NFL Personality," your chance to interact with an important football person on any topic you like. In this segment, Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano answers reader mail.

Coach, I am a 24-year old quarterback who looked great in my first two seasons, but I now throw like I learned my mechanics by watching Jay Cutler and Tim Tebow build a backyard catapult. Do you have any advice for me? -- Josh from Manhattan, Kan.

COACH SCHIANO: When they line up in the victory formation, I want two big linemen in the A-gaps. Every linebacker has to fire the gaps right behind them. I better see some left guard who had you blocked the entire game blown backward on this play! This is how you are going to show me that you are tough enough to play for me! Grrrrr …

Coach, I am an offensive coordinator for my father's team. I have two questions. First, can you teach me how to conduct myself on the field so I don't do something "borderline" like follow a referee into the tunnel, berating him in language that would get censored from a Lil Wayne album? Second, since your offense looks like it was photocopied from a 1983 copy of Football's Totally Tubular Strategies, are there any coaching vacancies coming up? -- Kyle from Landover, Md.

COACH SCHIANO: When you reach the quarterback, club downward with your forearm to jar the ball loose. You may have to reach down for this, because he will probably already be kneeling, because a kneel play takes about a quarter of a second to execute, which is why coaches who lack my clarity of thinking don't bother turning them into object lessons about macho posturing. Never mind that! Club the ball loose, scoop it, and score a touchdown that will cut the lead to 13 points! Mua-ha-ha-ha-ha.

Coach, I am a promising rookie quarterback who will be starring in Gatorade commercials 15 years from now, when you are coaching linebackers at Fairleigh Dickinson. I honestly don't care if you come after me at the end of the game, because all of my linemen and coaches now know what's coming, and I am quick enough to get to my knee before your sad little strategy pays off. Does that bother you? -- Bob from Waco, Texas

COACH SCHIANO: Kid, I am gonna be coming after you when you kneel at the end of the game this week. Guaranteed.

Prediction: Redskins 24, Buccaneers 14

* * *

Chicago Bears at Dallas Cowboys

8:30 p.m. Monday, ESPN
Line: Cowboys by 3

Lost in the chaos of the final days of the Times of Withering Sorrow, otherwise known as the replacement official era, was the plight of Kevin Ogletree. Ogletree was robbed of the chance to catch a touchdown pass when he slipped on a replacement's hat, making him the Anti-Tate; the hat thrown because the replacement either thought Ogletree stepped out of bounds or just scored his third goal. The Cowboys won, Ogletree was not injured, and the attempt to merge the NFL with "Mario Kart" never caught on, which is a good thing, because no one wants to see Jay Cutler get his hands on a Mega Mushroom. Jerry Jones, of course, can now safely take off his blackout glasses before he crashes into something heavy.

Matt Forte may return to the lineup this week to keep Cutler out of trouble. If ever there was a week to miss due to injury, we just lived through it. If Forte watched no football whatsoever last week, he is a) the happier for it; and b) just like Jones.

Prediction: Bears 19, Cowboys 14

* * *

Note: The acoustic meatus is the outer ear canal. It is OK to play with it in public, but never insert anything smaller than your elbow!