With the NFL approaching the halfway point of the 2012 season, division races are beginning to take shape, as teams anticipate the second half of their schedule. Here's a preview of this week's action:

Thursday, Oct. 25

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings — 8:20 P.M.

Mall of America Field, Minneapolis
Tampa Bay (2-4) quarterback Josh Freeman is the 11th-rated passer in the NFL. He'll have to contend with a Vikings' defense that is tied for third in the league with 22 sacks. With quarterback Christian Ponder committing seven turnovers in his past three starts, Minnesota (5-2) may rely on running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson's 652 rushing yards are tied for third in the NFL. He'll face a Buccaneers' run defense that ranks third in the league, allowing just 76 yards per game on the ground.


Sunday, Oct. 28

Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears — 1 P.M.

Soldier Field, Chicago
Carolina (1-5) has the worst record in the NFC. The Panthers visit a Bears' defense that yields a league-low 13 points per game. Panthers' quarterback Cam Newton must have better success than Detroit's Matthew Stafford did against Lovie Smith's team on Monday night. With quarterback Jay Cutler nursing sore ribs, Chicago (5-1) may lead with the running tandem of Matt Forte and Michael Bush. Carolina's run defense gives up an average of 120.3 yards per game.

San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns — 1 P.M.

Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland
San Diego (3-3) may not have wanted a bye week after blowing a 24-point lead to Denver in Week 6. The Chargers offense averages 24.7 points per game, while the Browns rank 27th in the NFL in total defense, allowing 410.6 yards per game. Cleveland (1-6) figures to rely on rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. The Browns' running game ranks 30th in the league at 79.1 yards per game, and the Chargers have the NFL's top-ranked run defense.

Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions — 1 P.M.

Ford Field, Detroit
Seattle (4-3) must protect rookie quarterback Russell Wilson from the fierce Lions' pass rush. Expect to see more carries for Seahawks' running back Marshawn Lynch, who is tied for third in the NFL with 652 rushing yards. Detroit (2-4) is still hoping to salvage its season against a Seahawks' defense that allows just 15.1 points and 297.3 yards per game. Lions' wide receiver Calvin Johnson needs a bounce-back game after he was held to 34 yards against the Bears on Monday night.

New England Patriots vs. St. Louis Rams — 1 P.M.

Wembley Stadium, London
New England (4-3) leads the AFC East despite several last-minute losses and often playing to the level of opponents with inferior talent. Quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Wes Welker, the NFL leader with 688 receiving yards, travel to London to face a Rams' defense ranked 10th in total yards allowed per game. St. Louis (3-4) is scoring just 18.6 points per game, which ranks 26th in the league. They should improve that output against the NFL's 29th-ranked pass defense.

Miami Dolphins at N.Y. Jets — 1 P.M.

MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
Miami (3-3) will try to run the ball against a Jets' run defense that ranks 30th in the league, giving up an average of 147.7 yards per game. Dolphins' rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill could see pressure when he does have to pass. With an inconsistent Mark Sanchez often struggling, New York (3-4) has the 28th-ranked passing offense. The Jets could improve against a Dolphins' defense that yields 284.8 passing yards per game, second-most in the AFC.

Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles — 1 P.M.

Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
The league's lone remaining undefeated team, Atlanta (6-0) visits the Eagles, who are coming off a bye week. Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid has never lost when coming off a bye. Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan is the NFL's fourth-rated passer at 98.8. He'll face a defensive game plan from newly promoted Eagles' defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. After giving the ball away 17 times this season, Philadelphia (3-3) must cut down on the turnovers and improve on its 17.2 points per game average, which ranks 30th in the league. The Falcons' defense has 19 takeaways and will look to create more against quarterback Michael Vick.

Washington Redskins at Pittsburgh Steelers — 1 P.M.

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
Coming off a tough, last-minute loss to the Giants, Washington (3-4) must adjust its NFL-worst pass defense, which allows 328.4 passing yards per game. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers hope to take advantage of open receivers. Pittsburgh (3-3) must prepare for Redskins' quarterback Robert Griffin III, who should see many blitzes from a Steelers' defense that allows just 277.3 total yards per game — the fewest in the AFC.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Green Bay Packers — 1 P.M.

Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wisc.
Jacksonville (1-5) is in rough shape. The Jaguars are tied for the fewest wins in the NFL and will be without running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who suffered a foot injury in last week's loss to the Raiders. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert has a torn labrum in his left shoulder, but he is expected to play. Packers' linebacker Clay Matthews may add to his NFC-leading nine sacks against the NFL's worst offense. Green Bay (4-3) is fighting back into the NFC playoff picture. Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the NFL's top-rated passer with a 109.6 rating. He will face a defense that ranks 28th in the league in total yards allowed.

Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans — 1 P.M.

LP Field, Nashville
Indianapolis (3-3) puts up 262.5 passing yards per game behind rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who will challenge a Titans' defense that ranks 30th in the league in total yards allowed. Tennessee (3-4) has rallied behind quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who will again start for injured Jake Locker. Titans' running back Chris Johnson could be key, as the Colts defend the pass much better than the run.

Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs — 4:05 P.M.

Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
Quarterback Carson Palmer has thrown the ball effectively for Oakland (2-4), but the team ranks a dismal 31st in rushing yards per game with just 76.8 yards on average. The Chiefs' defense has given up 30.5 points per game, the third-highest average in the league. Kansas City (1-5) will start Brady Quinn at quarterback, benching turnover-prone Matt Cassel against a Raiders' defense that has just seven sacks and three interceptions on the season.

N.Y. Giants at Dallas Cowboys — 4:25 P.M.

Cowboys Stadium, Dallas
Dallas (3-3) won the opening night meeting between these teams, but the Giants have won five of their six games since Week 1. Quarterback Tony Romo looks to pick apart the Giants' secondary like he did in the first meeting. New York (5-2) must protect Eli Manning from the Cowboys' pass rush. Dallas' pass defense ranks third in the NFL, allowing just 187.3 yards per game. The running of Giants' back Ahmad Bradshaw could be the key to opening up passing lanes for Manning in this game.

New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos — 8:20 P.M.

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver
The Broncos can expect a lot of Drew Brees' pass attempts. New Orleans (2-4) leads the league with 335.2 passing yards per game, but has the NFL's worst running game at 76.2 yards per contest. Denver (3-3) is scoring 28.3 points per game behind quarterback Peyton Manning, the league's second-rated passer. The Saints allow 465.5 yards per game, the most in the NFL. They must prove they can stop Manning consistently enough to win the game.


Monday, Oct. 29

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals — 8:30 P.M.

University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
San Francisco (5-2) has the ninth-ranked total offense in the league. Niners' running back Frank Gore has 601 rushing yards, good for fifth in the NFL. The Cardinals do not defend the run as well as they do the pass. Arizona (4-3) has lost three straight games. The Cardinals must protect quarterback John Skelton against a 49ers' defense that ranks first in the league in total yards allowed with 272.3 per game.

Bye Week:
Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans