Culpepper returns, Smith heads to Buffalo in Week 7 of NFL

Updated: October 17, 2003, 10:06 AM ET

JERSEY CITY, New Jersey - Daunte Culpepper returns for the unbeaten Minnesota Vikings and Bruce Smith heads back to Buffalo in Week 7 of the NFL.

The Vikings (5-0) host the Denver Broncos (5-1) and the Washington Redskins (3-3) visit the Buffalo Bills (3-3) in marquee interconference matchups Sunday.

Steve McNair and the Tennessee Titans (4-2) hope to hand the Carolina Panthers (5-0) their first loss of the season in another top interconference meeting.

The Kansas City Chiefs (6-0), the lone remaining unbeaten team left in the AFC, visit the aging Oakland Raiders (2-4) on Monday night.

Culpepper has not played since fracturing three small bones in his lower back while diving for a touchdown in a September 21 win at Detroit.

Gus Frerotte replaced Culpepper in the win at Detroit, then led the Vikings to victories over San Francisco and Atlanta before the bye week.

Frerotte probably would love a chance to play against Denver since he played for the Broncos in 2000 and 2001. He has completed 38-of-64 passes for 690 yards and seven touchdowns in three games with Minnesota.

But after the bye gave Culpepper an extra week of rest, coach Mike Tice declared him ready to play.

In Minnesota's first two wins of the season, Culpepper completed 35-of-56 passes for 409 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. He was 7-of-13 for 105 yards and rushed for two touchdowns in the win over Detroit before the injury.

At 6-4, 260 pounds, Culpepper has the ability to beat teams with his arm and legs. Denver's Jake Plummer can do the same but has a foot injury and will be sidelined for the next few weeks.

Plummer missed last week's 17-14 win over Pittsburgh due to soreness in his right shoulder. Veteran Steve Beuerlein will make his second straight start after throwing two touchdown passes and a pair of interceptions against Pittsburgh.

The Vikings have won eight straight games, dating to last season. They last got off to a 7-0 start in 2000.

Smith was an 11-time Pro Bowl defensive end in 15 seasons with the Bills from 1985-99. He returns to Buffalo for the first time since signing with Washington as a free agent in February 2000.

Ironically, Smith is just two sacks shy of breaking Reggie White's all-time record as he enters his old stomping grounds.

"I'm not even going to elaborate on that," Smith said of possibly setting the sacks record in Buffalo. "It will be a special week. My family will be up there. I'll see a lot of friends. But I have a job to do when I get there."

The Panthers knocked Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts from the ranks of the unbeaten last week. This time, McNair will try to bump the Panthers.

McNair needed only 18 completions to pass for a career-high 421 yards in a 38-17 rout of Houston last week. He threw for 391 yards in a 38-30 loss at New England on October 5.

McNair, who has passed for 1,632 yards and 11 touchdowns with two interceptions, has relied less on scrambling for big gains and more on his quartet of receivers - Derrick Mason, Drew Bennett, Justin McCareins and rookie Tyrone Calico.

The Raiders have gone from Super Bowl to bust while the Chiefs are off to the best start in the 43-year history of the franchise.

Last season, the Chiefs led the league with 467 points, followed by the Raiders with 450. Kansas City is averaging more than 32 points per game this season, but the Raiders have crashed to an average of just more than 19 per game.

When they last met in the 2002 season finale, the New England Patriots (4-2) knocked the Miami Dolphins (4-1) out of the playoffs. Now the Pats will try to knock them out of first place in the AFC East.

The Patriots rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter and posted a 27-24 victory over Miami on a 35-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri 2:03 into overtime. Vinatieri kicked the game-tying 43-yard field goal with 69 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

The loss cost the Dolphins the AFC East title. Miami, New England and the New York Jets each finished 9-7, but the Jets won the three-way tiebreaker for the division. Both the Dolphins and Patriots missed the playoffs.

The Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) visit the New York Giants (2-3) in a battle of NFC East rivals.

Both teams were expected to contend for the division title, but instead are tied for third, behind the first-place Dallas Cowboys (4-1) and Washington.

McNabb repeatedly overthrew his receivers and finished 11-of-26 for 126 yards in the Eagles' 23-21 loss at Dallas last week.

"My hand injury affects my grip, but I'll work on it," McNabb said about his inaccuracy problem this season. "You need both hands to hold the ball and my hand injury affects the security of holding it."

Coach Bill Parcells has the Cowboys riding a four-game winning streak heading into a meeting with the Detroit Lions (1-4), who have dropped four straight.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2) started their Super Bowl run with a 31-6 rout of the San Francisco 49ers (2-4) in the divisional playoff last January. This time, the teams will duel out west.

Brett Favre would rather forget his last trip to St. Louis. The three-time Most Valuable Player was intercepted six times, three of which were returned for touchdowns, as the St. Louis Rams rolled to a 45-17 rout of the Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoffs in January 2002.

The game was billed as a showdown between Favre and Kurt Warner, the two-time MVP of the Rams. Warner threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns with an interception.

Favre would like to make amends for that performance but will not be dueling with Warner when the Packers (3-3) visit the Rams (3-2). Marc Bulger is running the show in St. Louis and has a 9-2 record as a starter since last season, including an 8-0 mark at home.

Bulger threw for 352 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in St. Louis' 36-0 rout of Atlanta last Monday.

The Seattle Seahawks (4-1), first in the NFC West ahead of the Rams, will host the Chicago Bears (1-4).

Marty Schottenheimer has yet to win a game this season. He hopes his first comes at his former home.

Schottenheimer and the San Diego Chargers (0-5), the lone remaining winless team in the NFL, visit the Cleveland Browns (3-3).

Schottenheimer is familiar with Cleveland's "Dawg Pound," having coached the Browns for 4 1/2 seasons from 1984-88. He produced four playoff berths, three division titles and two trips to the AFC championship game along with a 44-27 record.

The 60-year-old Schottenheimer has just one losing season in 16 years as an NFL coach. But he's mired in a nine-game losing streak with the Chargers, dating to last season.

Marvin Lewis meets the team he helped win a Super Bowl on Sunday when the Cincinnati Bengals (1-4) entertain the first-place Baltimore Ravens (3-2) in an AFC North matchup.

It's the first year as an NFL head coach for Lewis, the defensive coordinator for the Ravens when they established a record for fewest points allowed during a 16-game season in 2000 and went on to defeat the New York Giants in the Super Bowl.

In other games, the New Orleans Saints (2-4) visit the Atlanta Falcons (1-5) and the Houston Texans (2-3) meet the Jets (1-4).

The Colts (5-1), Steelers (2-4), Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) and Arizona Cardinals (1-5) are idle.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index