Game of the week
The line: Colts by 8½
The story: There is only one undefeated team out there, and it's not Indianapolis. It's the Kansas City Chiefs ... at least for now. But Kansas City is in Indy this week and in Houston the next, and a show of hands, please, by those who think the Chiefs remain unbeaten after these two field trips.
I thought so.
But so what? This game serves as a barometer for a vastly improved Kansas City team. I don't expect the Chiefs to win here, but I do expect them to be competitive -- and a year ago you couldn't say that. But a year ago Romeo Crennel wasn't calling defenses, and it's the Kansas City defense keeping the Chiefs in games. In three starts they have allowed five touchdowns and 38 points. A year ago opponents put 85 points on them through three games. Throw in an offense that hasn't lost a fumble and an offensive line that has surrendered just two sacks, and you have a club you can't ignore.
Of course, people keep telling me Kansas City hasn't really beaten anyone, but it beat San Diego -- holding Philip Rivers and that high-octane offense to 14 points is an achievement. So let's see what happens here. More to the point, let's see if they can withstand a first-half Colts surge. Indianapolis is outscoring opponents 61-30 in the first two quarters, and if Kansas City falls behind big by halftime it's over; if not, fasten your seat belts.
Yes, the Chiefs fell behind Cleveland and won, but this isn't Seneca Wallace they're defending. Peyton Manning never takes his foot off the accelerator, and I call anyone from the New York Giants as my first witness. The Chiefs' hopes rest with their running game. It's what they do best, and defending the run is what the Colts do worst (they rank 29th).
Run at them, move the chains and hold the ball. The more you have it, the less you see of Manning ... and that's critical to pulling the upset. You saw what happened when Houston kept feeding Arian Foster. So feature Jamaal Charles, Thomas Jones and Dexter McCluster, and hope you don't have to rely on Matt Cassel to outduel Manning ... because he won't.
Something to consider: With a victory, Kansas City can become the eighth team in league history to begin a season 4-0 after starting the previous year 0-4.
Three games I'd like to see
The odds: Ravens by 7½
|Another week of absent runners means more Kyle Orton passes. (Getty Images)|
Granted, Baltimore ranks 21st against the run, but tell me just who's going to plow through the Ravens' defense. Knowshon Moreno? He is out for Sunday. Laurence Maroney? Correll Buckhalter? Please. Now you know why Orton is warming up in the bullpen as we speak. But that should be a concern for Denver, and here's why: You play Baltimore in a hostile environment, against the league's best pass defense, against a defense that has allowed four TDs all season and against a defense that has Ray Lewis patrolling the middle of the field ... and somehow you're supposed to win with the pass?
I don't see it. What I do see is Denver's hopes attached to turnovers. Baltimore makes them but doesn't create them. You can look it up. The Ravens are dead last in the takeaway/turnover department, with just two takeaways and nine turnovers -- a minus-seven ratio. If Denver can win that battle it has a chance to win the game. Otherwise, I have one message for Kyle Orton: Duck.
Something to consider: With 332 passing yards, Orton can rank in the top five quarterbacks for most passing yards through a team's first five games. The Rams' Kurt Warner leads everyone with 1,947, achieved in his first five games of 2000.
The odds: Texans by 3½
The story: The heat is off Tom Coughlin and his Giants -- for now -- thanks to last weekend's demolition of Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears. But I would be careful not to get overwhelmed by what happened there. First of all, Matt Schaub is not going to get sacked 10 times. Second, the Texans have what Chicago does not -- an honest-to-goodness running game -- and I don't know a better way to slow down a pass rush. Arian Foster will move the ball as no one with Chicago could, and that will put the heat on the Giants' sputtering offense ... which, of course, could be a problem.
It's not just that Ahmad Bradshaw, the team's leading rusher, has a sore ankle. He says it's OK, and that he'll play and so forth, but he hasn't practiced this week. Nevertheless, Bradshaw is not the concern; Eli Manning is. The passing game has been spotty, and that's being kind. Manning seems out of sync and so do the receivers (Hakeem Nicks, are you listening?), who look more like backboards than pass catchers. Sure, the Giants can put up big passing numbers, but they seldom put up big passing plays and struggle to convert third downs. But they'll have to against this offense -- and they just might have success against this defense.
If there's a hole in the Texans, it's defending the pass. They rank dead last in the league and were punctured for over 400 yards in each of their first two starts. So let's see what Manning and Co. do here. Just guessing, but Eli asked big brother this week for pointers. Peyton shredded the Texans for 433 yards passing in the season opener, and while I don't see that happening here, I do see Eli having to throw more than usual to keep up with his opponents.
Basically, this looks like a track meet waiting to happen. If there's one message Coughlin should try to get through to players this week it's this: Don't make stupid mistakes. In others words, save those left-handed passes at the goal line for the next walkthrough or the back yard.
Don't get me wrong. The Giants could pull the upset. But they must stop turning the ball over, as well as limit the damage by Foster, Schaub and Andre Johnson -- only I don't know how they do it.
Something to consider: Foster has run for 100 or more yards in four of his past five games.
The line: Cowboys by 6½
|Chris Johnson has been up and down and is due for a big week. (Getty Images)|
The problem for Tennessee is that all-everything running back Chris Johnson has been bottled up the past three games, two of which the Titans lost, so that puts the heat on others (Vince Young, please stand up) to make critical plays. So far they haven't. Nevertheless, that might change this weekend because Young is back in his home state and he has something to prove to fans there. Remember when he went to Houston as a rookie? It might take something similar to pull the upset here.
Dallas pulled itself together against Houston, but that was two weeks ago. In their only home appearance the Cowboys were drilled by Chicago. But they seem to have learned a lesson in their defeat of the Texans, and it has everything to do with featuring more of their running backs and less of Tony Romo. It's not a knock on Romo. There is nothing wrong with the Cowboys' pass attack, except that Dallas sometimes leans on it so heavily it forgets that, oh, yeah, Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice are still on the roster.
After what Kyle Orton did to Tennessee, I would expect offensive coordinator Jason Garrett to dial Romo's number again. But don't forget what happened in Houston, Jason. You won by balancing your attack, and there may be a lesson there for the future.
Something to consider: The Titans have 10 straight victories vs. NFC opponents, including a road win two weeks ago vs. the Giants.
Monday night lights
The line: Jets by 4½
The story: A week ago, this was all about Brett Favre returning to New Jersey. Now, it's all about Randy Moss returning to the Vikings. Just a hunch, but the media that usually covers the Patriots will be present and accounted for this evening. Moss is the story, not Favre, with the former New England wide receiver making his second trip to the new Meadowlands in four weeks.
|Peek at the Week V|
To beat the Colts, you have to be aggressive and score points. Five things to watch >>
The first one didn't go so well, with cornerback Darrelle Revis basically saying that Moss quit in the second half of a 28-14 New England loss. I'm not sure how Revis would know because he wasn't around for the second half, sidelined by a sore hamstring that kept him out the past two weeks. But he practiced this week, and you can only hope he'll play. Because if he does, you know who he covers -- Moss-Revis might be the next best thing to Federer-Nadal.
Naturally, there is more than just Randy Moss here. There are two teams locked and loaded for runs at this season's Super Bowl. OK, so I'm way ahead of myself, but tell me the Vikings don't go deep into the playoffs, or that the Jets didn't just jump ahead of New England in the AFC East forecast. All I know is that there is talent galore here, with the Jets' Santonio Holmes making his season debut after a four-game suspension and the Vikings getting a lift from Moss for their moribund passing attack.
Did I say passing attack? That's the cue for Favre to step forward, and so far he hasn't. Big deal. He missed training camp. Granted, he missed training camp last year, too, and produced the best numbers of his career, but look at Minnesota's first five games. There were four stiffs that allowed Favre to take a breather. That wasn't possible this year, and you see the results.
I expect a better, more improved Brett Favre on Monday A) because we're a month into the season; B) because he just added a nuclear weapon to the passing attack; C) because it's Monday Night Football, a stage where he excels.
But it's not Favre that should worry the Jets. It's Adrian Peterson. While the Jets have the league's fourth-ranked run defense and allow only 3.2 yards a carry, they haven't faced an offense that ranks higher than 13th in rushing. Minnesota not only is fifth but, in Peterson, it has one of the league's premier backs. If he can find holes in the Jets' defense it should loosen the back seven for Favre and, of course, No. 84.
The Jets, on the other hand, almost surely will be forced to rely more than usual on quarterback Mark Sanchez. That's not because LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene aren't producing ... because they are. This is more about the Minnesota front seven and how effective it is -- and has been -- against the run. So the Vikings are ninth in that department now. That will change. They were second a year ago, first the year before that and first the year before that. I think you get the idea. The Vikings will make Sanchez beat them, and he's capable. He hasn't thrown an interception this season, one reason the Jets look like the bullies they said they would be.
Something to consider: In his past four Monday night appearances, Favre has a 72.1 completion percentage, with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Crummy game of the week
The line: Jags by 1½
The story: Sorry, there's not much to interest me, you or virtually anyone outside the 716 area code. The Jags just stunned Indianapolis but they are as stable as a deck chair on the Titanic. Buffalo hasn't won a game, just got smoked by the Jets and is searching for an identity under new coach Chan Gailey.
First, the Bills cut their starting quarterback. Then they trade their starting running back. If you think this is an offense in flux, you're warm. The Bills haven't done much of anything anywhere, and this is the time ... and the place ... to change.
In Jacksonville's only road game this season it was torched by San Diego, with the Jags committing six turnovers -- including four David Garrard interceptions. That's not unusual. Jacksonville has lost six of its past seven on the road, with Garrard throwing four TDs and 11 interceptions.
Something to consider: Maurice Jones-Drew has run for a TD in each of his four games against Buffalo.
Upset of the week
The moment I heard Todd Collins was starting was the moment I jumped on Carolina's bandwagon. The Panthers played well last weekend. The Bears did not. They stunk. But that's not what has me pushing Carolina this weekend. This is: Chicago has no running game, and without a running game you better have a quarterback. Todd Collins is not my idea of a quarterback to run this offense.
Granted, he did some nice things with Washington, but that was three years ago. Did you see him last weekend? He looked lost. Did you see Jimmy Clausen? He was this close to upsetting the defending Super Bowl champions. The Panthers are home, the Bears are a mess, Jay Cutler is on the sidelines ... yeah, I like Carolina's chances to break through.
Something to consider: Chicago's Charles Tillman had an interception the last time these two met, and that's usually a good sign for the Bears. They've won 14 of 17 when Tillman has a pickoff.
Five guys I'd like to be
1. Baltimore QB Joe Flacco: In his last game vs. Denver he was 20 for 25 with four touchdowns and a 103.7 passer rating.
2. Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell: Including the postseason, his Colts have won their past four against Kansas City at home. Moreover, they have won their past six in October at home.
3. Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers: Call him Mr. October. He aims for his eighth straight October victory with a 100-plus passer rating. As a starter in October, Rodgers has completed 72.3 percent of his passes for 16 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 116.1 passer rating.
4. New Orleans QB Drew Brees: He's 3-0 against Arizona, with five touchdowns and no interceptions in his past two games vs. the Cards.
5. San Diego QB Philip Rivers: He's 8-0 against Oakland.
Five best mano-a-manos
1. Chicago DE Julius Peppers vs. Carolina T Jordan Gross: Gross estimated they lined up opposite each other over a thousand times in practice over the past seven years, but now that Peppers has gone from Carolina to the Bears it's for real.
2. Minnesota WR Randy Moss vs. N.Y. Jets CB Darrelle Revis: This is a better rivalry than Harvard-Yale, with Revis calling out Moss again this week by charging he quit on the Patriots three weeks ago. It's your chance to respond, Randy.
3. Tennessee Titans vs. officials: They lead the league with nine personal fouls and 37 penalties, defensive end Jason Babin has been fined three times and cornerback Cortland Finnegan has been fined at least twice. Dirty? Draw your own conclusions.
4. Jacksonville QB Trent Edwards vs. his past: Think Jack Del Rio is picking Edwards' brain this week? He quarterbacked the Bills for three seasons, and while he probably won't play Sunday he could factor in the outcome ... or at least the game-planning.
5. Minnesota Vikings QB Brett Favre vs. his past: Favre's season with the Jets was one to forget, with the future Hall of Famer not even taking the last snap of the season. Brad Smith did. Coach Rex Ryan says he would've urged Favre to return if he didn't have Mark Sanchez, but he does have Sanchez and, frankly, Jets fans are relieved. There was too much Bad Brett while he was here.
Five things that may only interest me
1. Since the current playoff system was implemented in 1990, 22 teams have reached the playoffs after rebounding from losing records through four games -- including four that made it to the conference championship game.
2. Peyton Manning has 59 300-yard games in his career. If he makes it there again this weekend he becomes the third quarterback in NFL history to reach 60, following Dan Marino (63) and Brett Favre (61).
3. With a defeat of Detroit, Rams rookie Sam Bradford would become only the third quarterback since 1970 to be taken with the first overall pick of the draft and win three consecutive starts in his first season. Who were the others? Drew Bledsoe in 1993 and Jeff George in 1990.
4. San Diego's Philip Rivers has a touchdown pass in 17 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL, and has 24 completions this year of 20 or more yards -- the best in the league.
5. In five of the past nine seasons a team that started 2-2 or worse advanced to the Super Bowl -- and three of them (the 2001 Patriots, the 2003 Patriots and 2007 New York Giants) went on to win the Super Bowl.
Numbers to watch
1: TD passes for Brett Favre to reach 500 for his career
3: Games with Cleveland that were decided by three or fewer points
5: Number of consecutive wins for Tampa Bay over Cincinnati
11: Punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns this season
11½: Shaun Phillips sacks vs. Oakland
74: Yards passing for Brett Favre to reach 70,000 for his career
124: Yards rushing for Adrian Peterson to reach 5,000 in his first 50 games
• Baltimore: Sunny, high of 71
• Buffalo: Partly cloudy, high of 65
• Charlotte, N.C.: Sunny, high of 83
• Cincinnati: Sunny, high of 83
• Cleveland: Sunny, high of 72
• Detroit: Dome
• Indianapolis: Sunny, high of 84 (retractable roof)
• Houston: Sunny, high of 85 (retractable roof)
• Washington, D.C.: Sunny, high of 73
• Glendale, Ariz.: Sunny, high of 93 (retractable roof)
• Arlington, Texas: Sunny, high of 87 (retractable roof)
• Oakland, Calif.: Partly cloudy, high of 75
• San Francisco: Partly cloudy, high of 73
Where we will be
• Pete Prisco will be in Houston to push Arian Foster for league MVP.
• I'll be in Baltimore to eat my way through Lexington Market, then return Monday to drive the welcome wagon for Brett Favre at the New Meadowlands.
• Mike Freeman will be in Washington to lead tours of Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood.
• Gregg Doyel will be in Indianapolis to pick up your checks at Shapiro's.