Game of the Week
The line: Eagles by 2½
The story: The Cowboys say they should be considered a playoff threat. Well, then, beat Philadelphia. The Eagles were in the NFC Championship Game a year ago and just obliterated the defending division champions. Beating Philadelphia would go a long way toward Dallas being taken seriously, and beating the Eagles is possible if Tony Romo keeps playing the way he has.
What's remarkable about Romo is just when you're ready to write him off, just when you're ready to declare the guy a stiff and move on, he goes out and looks like Troy Aikman -- putting the ball on target, making few mistakes and winning. Romo hasn't had an interception in his past three games and if you think that's unusual you're right. It's the first time it has happened in his career.
Of course, the last time he and Dallas were at The Linc it was a disaster, with the 'Boys absorbing a 44-6 beatdown to miss the playoffs. Romo stunk, but so did the rest of the team. It was also December, when Romo and the Cowboys have about as much precision as the Faber College drill team. Romo is the target, and Philadelphia must frazzle him with its pass rush, then leave the rest to a secondary that excels at interceptions. The Eagles have 14, with Asante Samuel at the head of the class.
But checking the Cowboys' passing game won't be enough; the Dallas rushing game is effective too, with Felix Jones a difference maker. He can run, he can catch and he is explosive -- especially with the ball in space. Philadelphia better be careful. The Eagles have the defensive backs to stay with guys like Roy Williams and Miles Austin, but their linebackers may be overmatched by tight end Jason Witten and Jones.
Having said that, I like the Eagles here -- and not because Terrell Owens picked their opponent. Nope, Philadelphia has a zillion weapons at Donovan McNabb's disposal, with Brian Westbrook expected to play, and McNabb steadied himself last weekend after two off weeks. It's also time for Romo to have a hiccup, and he has had plenty against the Eagles. If Philadelphia is as successful attacking him as they did Eli Manning, the Eagles coast.
Something to consider: Call him Mr. November. Romo has won 12 consecutive starts in November, with three or more touchdown passes in eight of those 12.
Three games I'd like to see
The line: Ravens by 2½
The story: A week ago, Baltimore played an undefeated opponent coming off a bye and won easily. This time the Ravens play a first-place opponent coming off a bye, and they don't need to win easily as much as they need to win, period. Cincinnati is tied with Pittsburgh for first in the AFC North, and if you think the Ravens should be nervous you're warm. Another loss here, and they're two back of a club that holds the tiebreaker advantage. Not good.
But this might be worse: The Ravens may play without star defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, still nursing an ankle he injured against Denver, and that's a problem when Cedric Benson is in the on-deck circle. Benson is the AFC's second-leading rusher, and he tore through the Ravens for 120 yards the last time these two met.
I mention that because Baltimore must make a choice: Shut down Benson or shut down Carson Palmer. Baltimore's secondary -- particularly its cornerbacks -- has been under siege all season, with Palmer driving 80 yards in the final two minutes to beat the Ravens last month. It's not often you say the Ravens' defense is a concern, but ... the Ravens' defense is a concern.
Kyle Orton couldn't make a late push against Baltimore last week because Denver's offense is not designed to rebound with big plays. Cincinnati's is, with the Bengals taking most of their games to the wire this season. Baltimore didn't slow these guys down the first time as much as they slowed themselves down, with Chad Ochocinco fumbling deep in Ravens' territory, the Ravens returning a Palmer interception for a touchdown and Shayne Graham missing an easy field goal. That won't happen again, which means the Ravens better bring their "A" game.
Something to consider: The Ravens offense, which averages 28.4 points per game, is on schedule to set a franchise scoring record (24.7 in 2003).
The line: Colts by 8½
The Texans were the trendy pick in the AFC South, and I confess: I had them making the playoffs as a wild card. Lately, they're beginning to look the part, only there are a couple of issues here: 1) They just lost tight end Owen Daniels, their second-leading receiver, and 2) they face the league's best and brightest team.
There is little not to like about the Colts, who are off to a 7-0 start for the fourth time in the past five seasons and playing the best football of anyone anywhere. Peyton Manning is extraordinary, having the best season of his Hall of Fame career. He has a raft of wide receivers he trusts. Joseph Addai and Donald Brown are solid backs. The offensive line rarely gives up sacks. And the defense ... ah, now there's the biggest difference. The defense was playing well without Bob Sanders, but now he and cornerback Marlin Jackson are out for the season.
If and when the Texans fall behind they must look for openings in the Colts' defense, and they won't do it with the run. They'll have to do it with the pass, and the Colts rank seventh in pass defense. But there is hope, Houston: In addition to the losses of Sanders and Jackson, Kelvin Hayden won't play this week because of a knee injury. That means the Colts suit up two rookies as starting cornerbacks, and, yes, that could be a problem against Matt Schaub.
Still, I can't imagine Indianapolis losing here. The Colts had their emotional letdown last weekend against San Francisco, yet still won. Now they face the only "threat" in their division -- and I use that term liberally -- with a win putting Houston out of the division picture for keeps. I don't see how Indianapolis misses.
Something to consider: Indianapolis defensive end Dwight Freeney aims for his ninth straight game with a sack.
The line: Giants by 3½
The story: Sound the alarms. The Giants are on a three-game losing binge, Eli Manning is struggling and the defense is worse than the umpiring in the World Series. Something must change, and it must change now. Maybe that's why coach Tom Coughlin told players it's "a one-game season," with this being the one game. All I know is the Giants follow this contest with a bye, and there is no way they go limping into vacation off another stinker.
That means San Diego better look as good as it did two weeks ago against Kansas City. Unfortunately for the Bolts, there are no guarantees. I don't trust them after they dropped three of their first five, and you shouldn't either. Of course, they lost three of their first five the past two seasons under Norv Turner, so I guess we should be used to it by now.
San Diego is on a two-game roll, and diehards think maybe this is the start of something special. I wouldn't be so sure. The Bolts knocked off Kansas City and Oakland, two of the worst clubs out there, and I don't know what those victories mean other than that the Chargers won two games they should have won.
San Diego shouldn't win this one, but it could. It all depends on what defense shows up, and I'm talking about either side. The Bolts looked awful their last time in the Eastern time zone, with Pittsburgh running over, around and through them. The Giants have looked awful the past three weeks, with New Orleans and Philadelphia each putting 40 up on them, but having defensive lineman Chris Canty and linebacker Michael Boley back can only help.
Something has to give, and it's someone's playoff hopes. The loser here can start to worry.
Something to consider: In his past five games against the NFC, Philip Rivers has 11 TD passes and one interception. On the road this season he has seven touchdown passes, one interception and a passer rating of 104.
Monday night lights
The line: Steelers by 2½
The story: I guess that line means nobody trusts Denver anymore. Critics kept waiting for the sky to fall, and it happened a week ago when Baltimore hammered the Broncos. But now Denver is home against an opponent that has twice as many losses. Yet Pittsburgh is favored, and I'll tell you why: 1) It is coming off a bye; 2) It's a big-game team; 3) It's the defending Super Bowl champ; 4) It has the reliable quarterback and 5) Its bone-crunching defense can hurry, harry and harass Kyle Orton.
Oh, I almost forgot: After Baltimore, nobody completely trusts Denver, and the point spread is the evidence.
The problem for the Broncos is that they were just taken apart by a defense that isn't as good as the defense they face here, and if they struggled with Baltimore how are they going to solve Pittsburgh? Better ask Orton. He doesn't make mistakes, but to overcome Pittsburgh, pure and simple, he will have to make plays.
Pittsburgh will blitz from all angles, daring Denver to win with Knowshon Moreno or Correll Buckhalter and hoping to squeeze Orton into atypical errors. But it's not the offense that is driving Denver; it's the Broncos' defense, and it let Denver down for the first time last week. More to the point, the Ravens ran on Denver, which means Pittsburgh will feature a lot of Rashard Mendenhall to see if it's déjà vu all over again.
The Steelers are rested, so that is good. But this is not: They are 1-2 on the road, with the one victory at Detroit. If this stays close to the wire, the Broncos win.
Something to consider: Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin is 4-0 on Monday night.
Crummy game of the week
The line: Seahawks by 9½
The story: The Lions can't beat St. Louis at home, so how are they going to beat Seattle in Seattle? They're not, even though they get Calvin Johnson back in the lineup. OK, so the Seahawks are floundering. Detroit is worse. The Lions have won one of their past 23 starts, haven't won on the road in over two years and just lost to a team that was on a 17-game bender.
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But at 1-6, it all looks good for Detroit, though I'm not sure how effective injured running back Kevin Smith is here. Not much, on the other hand, looks good for Seattle, one of the season's disappointments. The Seahawks, magnets for injuries again, have dropped five of their past six and are fading from the NFC West picture.
Once they were dead-bolt cinches to win at home. Not anymore. They lost to Chicago there, and they lost to Arizona there. They won't lose to Detroit, but big deal. They should beat Detroit because ... well, because everyone but Washington does.
Something to consider: Seattle TE John Carlson has five touchdowns in his past seven games at home.
Upset of the week
The story: I don't know what to make of the Cardinals anymore, but I do know this: For some reason they're better on the road than they are at home. The team that once couldn't travel suddenly can't lose out of the 602 area code -- going 3-0, including two in the Eastern time zone. Now Arizona stares down an opponent that was absolutely torched by Cincinnati, and if Carson Palmer can find holes in the secondary I bet Kurt Warner can, too.
Nevertheless, there are a couple of potential potholes for Arizona: 1) Wide receiver Anquan Boldin may not play; and 2) The Cards have no running game. Both will keep this game close, which means who do you trust -- Jay Cutler or Warner? I think you know where I stand. I don't like Cutler against anyone. The Cards will shut down the run and force him to beat them, which, of course, he can't.
Something to consider: Warner has a passer rating of 102 and completion percentage of 73.8 on the road.
Games within the games
San Diego QB Philip Rivers vs. Giants QB Eli Manning: It's the first meeting between these two since the 2004 draft. Manning was traded for Rivers after Manning said he wouldn't play for the Bolts -- making him the only guy in America who won't go to San Diego. "America's Finest City" took it personally and hasn't forgotten. Eli lost in San Diego in 2005 to Drew Brees, but this is different. This is mano-a-mano, Eli vs. Rivers, with San Diego fans angry all over again.
Cincinnati WR Chad Ochocinco vs. Baltimore LBs Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs: Chad said he sent them gift baskets with deodorant so "they don't have to sweat." After that ploy, I'm not sure who should be sweating more.
Dallas WR Roy Williams vs. Dallas QB Tony Romo: Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the huddle ... Williams wonders why he's not getting more passes. Uh-oh, I've heard this somewhere before. But, no, Williams insists he was misunderstood, that he is "not a T.O." and "not trying to be a T.O." Good. That's a start. During Philadelphia week, he gets the benefit of the doubt.
Washington CB DeAngelo Hall vs. Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff: It's always something in Washington. Jim Zorn. Sherm Lewis. Daniel Snyder. Now it's DeAngelo Hall's turn for 15 minutes of fame. The Redskins cornerback took aim at Dimtroff this week, telling reporters that he never trusted him when Hall was with the Falcons because "he lied to me several times." Swell, now how about winning a game instead of dissing the opposing GM?
Miami LB Joey Porter vs. New England: Porter tells it like it is, and this week he admitted "a natural hate" for the Patriots. "That's just going to be with me forever," he said. Fair enough. But do you really want to start making allusions to Spygate to rile up Bill Belichick?
What is the best game of Week 9?
Cowboys at Eagles
Ravens at Bengals
Texans at Colts
Chargers at Giants
Steelers at Broncos
Cardinals at Bears
Total Votes: 73,657
Five guys I'd like to be
Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning: He's 7-0 at home against Houston, with 20 touchdown passes and two interceptions.
Atlanta TE Tony Gonzalez: He has a touchdown in each of three home games this season.
Carolina QB Jake Delhomme: He aims for his fifth straight game against New Orleans with a passer rating of 100. Delhomme is 8-2 in his career against the Saints.
Arizona S Antrel Rolle: In his past eight November games he has four interceptions, including three for touchdowns.
New England QB Tom Brady: He aims for his third straight game vs. Miami with three or more TD passes.
Numbers, numbers, numbers
4: 100-yard receiving games by Vincent Jackson this season
5: Straight Aaron Rodgers starts with a passer rating of 100
24: Consecutive regular-season wins for Junior Seau with New England
39: Tim Hightower catches, tops among running backs
39: The Saints' average number of points per game
124.9: Ray Rice's average yards per game
7-2: Tony Sparano vs. AFC East
7-3: Carson Palmer vs. Baltimore
10-1: Matt Ryan at home
• Cincinnati: Mostly sunny, high of 67
• Foxborough, Mass.: Sunny, high of 60
• Jacksonville, Fla.: Cloudy, high of 79
• Indianapolis: Partly cloudy, high of 67
• Chicago: Mostly cloudy, high of 62
• Atlanta: Dome
• Tampa, Fla.: Cloudy, high of 83
• New Orleans: Dome
• Seattle: Few showers, high of 50
• San Francisco: Sunny, high of 64
• East Rutherford, N.J.: Sunny, high of 63
• Philadelphia: Sunny, high of 64
Where we will be
• I'll be at Giants Stadium to ref the Eli-Rivers 15-rounder.
• Gregg Doyel will be in Cincinnati to tell us who's No. 1, the Bengals or the Bearcats.
• Mike Freeman will be in Philadelphia to introduce Roy Williams to Tony Romo.
• Lee Rasizer will be in Denver to warn Kyle Orton of oncoming traffic.