Game of the week
The line: Giants by 9½
The injuries: Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress (ankle), running back Derrick Ward (ankle) and safety James Butler (hamstring) did not practice Thursday. Burress has been bothered by a bad ankle all season but continues to play ... and score touchdowns. Ward's situation is not as certain, with the running back considered questionable for Sunday's game.
|Eli Manning and the Giants are rolling with five consecutive wins. (US Presswire)|
The story: It's the game of the week not because of who's playing but because of where it's played. That would be London, the first time the NFL has taken a regular-season game across the Atlantic, and, OK, I admit it, I'm interested in the response. The English send us the Beatles and The Who; we give them the Miami Dolphins. No wonder there's a balance of trade deficit. I can think of a lot of reasons to see a football game on Sunday, but the 2007 Miami Dolphins aren't one of them.
The Giants, on the other hand, are. They're the second-best team in the NFC, pending a Nov. 11 showdown with Dallas. One of those two wins the division, and the Giants are making their case this month. Their defense has been magnificent, with the G-Men producing a league-high 27 sacks -- including 12 in one game. Osi Umenyiora is tied for the league lead with eight; backup Justin Tuck is tied for third with seven; Mathias Kiwanuka has 4.5; Michael Strahan has four. Anyway, I think you get the idea.
The best line about this game goes to Dolphins defense end Jason Taylor, who said "We can't win in America. Maybe we can win overseas." Uh, not likely. First, the one decent thing about Miami's offense -- running back Ronnie Brown -- is gone, for the season. So you can get used to Cleo Lemon handing off to Jesse Chatman or looking long for Ted Ginn Jr. Which also means you can get used to Miami punting.
Second, hard as it is to imagine, the Dolphins defense is worse than that offense. If you watched any of last weekend's loss to New England, you'd understand. The Patriots could have put up 70 on these guys. In five of Miami's past six games, the Dolphins allowed 30 or more points, and they hemorrhaged 41 and 49 in their past two.
I look at that Jason Taylor inflatable that went up at Trafalgar Square and realize he'd have to assume that size to make a difference in this game. The Giants should beat these guys up with a solid running game and Eli Manning. Miami ranks 31st against the run, which means it can expect to see a lot of Brandon Jacobs. Everywhere you look, the Giants have the edge, particularly when it comes to their defense vs. the Dolphins offense. Vernon Carey vs. Umenyiora? I don't think so.
One word for Lemon: Duck.
Three games I'd like to see
There is so much at stake here. If Pittsburgh wins, you can start a standing eight-count on Cincinnati. The blow would be devastating, especially because it would mark the team's eighth loss in its past 10 starts. But if Cincinnati wins, then we have a race in the AFC North, with the Steelers suddenly one of the rabble.
|Look for Willie Parker to run wild against the Bengals. (US Presswire)|
There's another reason, of course, and it deals with one problem Cincinnati's defense can't seem to solve: The run. The Steelers do it, the Bengals can't stop it. Simple as that. Ben Roethlisberger isn't the difference maker here; Willie Parker is. If the Bengals can't stonewall the guy, they're cooked, and the evidence says they're starting to simmer. The Bengals' six opponents have averaged 4.7 yards per carry, and if you think that's bad, you're right. Only three teams are worse.
Now let's move to the Cincinnati offense. The Bengals won last weekend with Kenny Watson scoring three times, which is good, but don't look for an encore Sunday because it's not going to happen. Nobody plays the run better than Pittsburgh, which has allowed one 100-yard rusher in its past 56 games and hasn't allowed one this season or last -- a streak of 31 in a row, including the playoffs.
Kenny Watson? Rudi Johnson? It doesn't matter. The Bengals must throw to beat Pittsburgh, just as Jay Cutler threw to beat the Steelers the week before. Carson Palmer has nine touchdown passes in his past three games against the Steelers, so he should be up to the job. The problem is he has been off his game lately, but, hey, so has everyone in that locker room. Since torching Cleveland for six touchdowns in Week 2, Palmer has five TD passes and seven interceptions. If he doesn't snap out of that funk Sunday, the Bengals can start packing parachutes for their descent to the bottom of the division.
The scenario for Cincinnati is simple: Stop the run, but if you can't -- which I think will be the case -- then force turnovers. Cincinnati can do it. The Bengals' 14 takeaways are the sixth-best total in the league and one of the few things right with the 29th-ranked defense. And if they fail to add to that total? It's been a slice, fellas. See you next year.
Something to consider: Roethlisberger is 8-0 in his home state of Ohio.
No, I don't think the Colts lose, either, but there's at least a possibility, and here's why. A week ago they played a tough division rival in Jacksonville. Next weekend they play AFC nemesis New England. Tougher game. Sandwiched in between are the Panthers, who should be the least difficult assignment of all. Which means there's the potential for a trap, with Indianapolis unprepared for a club hanging on despite losing Jake Delhomme and backup David Carr.
|Peyton Manning and the Colts better not get too comfy, this is a classic trap game. (US Presswire)|
The problem for Carolina, of course, is solving the Indianapolis passing game. This is a club that couldn't hold Matt Schaub or Jeff Garcia in check, for crying out loud. So how does it stop Manning? I don't think it does. Second, the setting isn't good. The Panthers are home, and for some reason that's their little house of horrors. Their only two home dates, they lost. And they were 4-4 there a year ago. Not good.
Carr may play this game, but I'm not sure it matters. Yeah, he knows the Colts inside and out because of his tenure in Houston, and, yes, he was the last quarterback to beat these guys. But not here. Not now.
Something to consider: Carolina is 6-3 against defending Super Bowl champions and 3-3 when hosting the defending champion at home. That's the good news. Here's the better: They have never lost to the Colts, winning all three starts against them.
Here's another litmus test for both teams. For Detroit, it's a chance to solidify its second-place standing in the NFC North and reaffirm its belief that it can be a legitimate playoff contender. For Chicago, it's an opportunity to exact revenge for that Sept. 30 meltdown, move to 4-4 entering the bye and feel good about itself for a second-half push.
|Brian Griese has the chance to get the Bears back even. (US Presswire)|
I don't see that again. I also don't see a 34-point fourth quarter. Which means I don't see the Lions doing anything but fighting for their lives here. I know they're 1-2 on the road, but did you check out their past two away from Detroit? They were outscored 90-24 by Washington and Philadelphia, two clubs not exactly known for blitzkrieg offenses.
If Detroit is to hang tough, it must produce something close to a rushing attack. A week ago it did, rushing for more yards than yards passing for the first time in Mike Martz's tenure as offensive coordinator. That won't happen again. Martz won't allow it, and neither will the Bears. Which means it's on Jon Kitna again, and how carefully he's protected could determine the outcome of this game. In 22 starts with the Lions, he has been sacked 91 times, including six times last month against the Bears. If he struggles, so does this offense -- which means you can turn out the lights.
Something to consider: I know Lovie Smith says he won't abandon the run, but why not? Griese is shooting for his third consecutive 300-yard game. He averaged 351.5 in the past two.
Crummy game of the week
|Trent Edwards is the man for a Buffalo team that's almost 4-2. (US Presswire)|
Buffalo should win this game because it's the better club. It has a zillion guys on injured reserve but still should've beaten Dallas. Now the Bills are getting some of their injured people back -- like linebackers Coy Wire and Keith Ellison -- and that can be nothing but good.
Nevertheless, if you're a Jets fan, there's hope, and here's why: Look at the history of this series. The two split the past four years and seven of the past eight. Plus, the Jets won seven of their past nine against Buffalo at Giants Stadium.
This game is supposed to be another last chance for Chad Pennington, the classy but luckless Jets quarterback. Pennington isn't the cause of the Jets' failures, but he isn't doing anything to pull the club from its downward spiral, either. Let's face it; the Jets are toast, so why not take a look at the future with Clemens? I'm tired of asking the question. So just play, guys, and demonstrate for all of us why New England can wrap up this division in a couple of weeks.
Something to consider: The Bills are the only NFL team to start a rookie running back and quarterback.
Upset of the week
|Chad Pennington's days as Jets QB might be over. (Getty Images)|
Buffalo hasn't had a bad game in three weeks, and that bodes well for the Bills. Of course, all three of those games were home. Let's see what happens when they put their act on the road, where they have been outscored 64-10 in two losses.
With the loss of Jonathan Vilma, a subpar running game and Pennington under fire, I don't find the weapons the Jets must have to win. It should be close, but I'll lean toward Buffalo.
Five guys I'd like to be
Rian Lindell, kicker, Buffalo: Because he's dead-solid perfect against the Jets. In nine career games against them, he's 14-for-14 in field goals.
|Reggie Bush had no problem scoring against San Francisco last time. (US Presswire)|
Willie Parker, running back, Pittsburgh: Because Cincinnati can't stop him (or anyone else, for that matter). Parker averages 117.2 yards rushing per game against the Bengals.
Donovan McNabb, quarterback, Philadelphia: Because he hasn't lost to the Vikings or thrown an interception against them. McNabb, who is 3-0 against the Vikes, completes 65.6 percent of his passes against them, with seven touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 117.5.
Reggie Bush, running back, New Orleans: Because he produced a career-high four touchdowns in his only game against the 49ers.
Stat of the week
Since the 1970 NFL merger, the Pittsburgh Steelers are 95-6 when they rush for more than 200 yards. They've done it twice this season and are on a 24-game winning streak when they surpass 200.
Telling it like it is
"I'm numb to everything. I've been through the wringer." -- New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington on speculation about his future.
Where we will be
Pete will be in Nashville to help board the Vince Young bandwagon.
I'll be in Cincinnati to start the bidding on Chad Johnson
Mike Freeman will be in Foxborough to worship at the temple of Tom.