Game of the Week
The line: Patriots by 3½
The story: There's a running gag that no matter where these two meet it's a home game for New England. That's because the Pats win here almost as easily as they win in Foxborough ... at least they do with Tom Brady. The league's reigning MVP is 6-1 overall vs. the Steelers and 2-0 in the playoffs, with both victories at Heinz Field.
Now, give Brady and coach Bill Belichick two weeks to prepare for the Steelers, subtract James Harrison and Aaron Smith from the league's No. 1-ranked pass defense, saddle inside linebacker James Farrior with a calf injury, make Hines Ward (ankle) questionable, and what do you have? Yep, New England as a 3½-point favorite.
That's reasonable considering the Patriots have the league's worst overall defense and worst pass defense, which means bombs away for Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger is putting up big numbers this season and might put up big ones here, but history tells us to beware. In six games vs. New England, including the playoffs, he's 2-4 with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions, but in head-to-head competition with Brady he's 1-4.
So Roethlisberger operates at a disadvantage except ... except there's that lousy New England pass defense which Big Ben and Mike Wallace should exploit. There's also Roethlisberger's past three games. He's hot, hot, hot, with nine touchdown passes and one interception, where Brady is not. He has five TDs and three interceptions over the same period.
Either or both of these guys have appeared in eight of the past 10 AFC Championship Games, so they know how to win big games ... and this is a big game. Brady holds the edge not just because of history but because his offensive line protects him better than Roethlisberger's bodyguards. Granted, the Patriots' pass rush isn't much, but have you seen what's in front of Roethlisberger? Neither has Big Ben. He has been sacked 20 times this season.
|Peek at the Week VIII|
Tom Brady has done well vs. the Steelers in the past, but will the Patriots be able to block LaMarr Woodley? Matchups to watch >>
After Further Review: Steelers have speed to burn
|NFL coverage on the go|
Something to consider: Roethlisberger has a 114.4 passer rating at home, third best in the NFL behind Aaron Rodgers (129.4) and Drew Brees (124.4). He also has 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in five regular-season games vs. New England.
Three games I'd like to see
The line: Bills by 6½
The story: I've said it before and I'll say it again: Washington doesn't have a quarterback controversy; it has a quarterback problem. Neither Rex Grossman nor John Beck is good enough to get these guys over the hump, and coach Mike Shanahan is beginning to find out the hard way. He just lost his top running back. He just lost his top tight end. And wide receiver Santana Moss is out 4-6 weeks.
So how does Washington win this one?
Good question. Buffalo is coming off a bye and is rested. The Redskins are coming off another loss, this time to Carolina, and are desperate to stop the bleeding. "We have to win," said Shahanan. That's another way of saying, "Someone dial 911." The 'Skins are sinking fast and in need of a Washington bailout.
Buffalo is not, and it's time to start taking the Bills seriously. They can run. They can pass. And they can play defense. In fact, their 16 takeaways are tied for the league lead, and remember that, folks: Washington's quarterbacks have six interceptions the past two games, and the Redskins have 14 turnovers this season.
Ultimately, that might determine the outcome here. Either that or Fred Jackson's play. Jackson is having a terrific season, and tell me why Washington should stop him when it couldn't stop anyone the past two games? I don't know either.
Something to consider: Jackson has 100 yards rushing in four of six games.
The line: Lions by 3½
The story: There's an epidemic of Tim Tebow Fever sweeping Denver, with thousands each day catching it -- and that figures. It's a whole lot easier catching Tebow Fever than some of those errant passes the Denver quarterback scattered around Miami last weekend.
Nevertheless, Denver fans love the guy, and why not? He wins. OK, so he has accuracy issues, and that's being kind, but last time I checked the league wasn't measured on style points. It was measured on wins and losses, and as poorly as Tebow played over the first 57 minutes last Sunday, he still won.
Now the question: Can he beat struggling Detroit? Not only have the Lions lost their past two, they've lost their swagger. That can happen when a playmaker like Jahvid Best bows out of the lineup, or Matthew Stafford limps off the field.
But injuries are part of the game. Unfortunately for the Lions, they're also part of their quarterback's résumé. Every season he gets hurt, and maybe this is nothing serious. He practiced with the first team this week and said he feels OK, and that's terrific. That means it's Stafford's right arm vs. Tebow's magic, and I make it a push.
I know, Tebow doesn't produce gargantuan numbers or throw the pretty pass or set his feet exactly right, but he does make the Broncos worth watching. You're always waiting for that signature Tim Tebow moment to kick in, and last week it arrived with three minutes left in the fourth period. Then he took over the game, found a way to win and skyrocketed the ratings on Denver talk radio.
It's all Tim, all the time there, and what else are they going to talk about? The snow? Matt Prater? Knowshon Moreno? Please. Give me Tim Tebow, and give it to me in large doses.
Something to consider: The Lions are outscoring opponents 128-42 after halftime.
The line: Eagles by 3½
The story: The Eagles are coming off a bye, and I mention that because coach Andy Reid hasn't lost immediately after a bye. Yep, he's 12-0, and the Eagles are an NFL-best 18-4 in games after byes. I don't know what that means, but it is worth mentioning. So is this: Philadelphia not only is rested, it is healthy, with tackle Jason Peters and defensive end Trent Cole returning to the lineup after sitting down the past few weeks.
The problem is that the Eagles draw division opponent Dallas right out of the chute, and the Cowboys might be the best team in the NFC East. I said might. This game will go a long way toward addressing how good/bad either of these teams is. All I know is that Philadelphia has lost four of its past five and five of its past seven with Dallas, though none of those losses happened after byes.
That might mean the Eagles are catching their opponent at just the right time.
Still, Philadelphia better be careful. The Cowboys' Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are healthy, and combined with Jason Witten and Laurent Robinson comprise a dangerous set of receivers. Rookie running back DeMarco Murray will be an issue, too, especially for an undersized front seven that couldn't stop any back until the Redskins came along.
Then there are the Dallas cornerbacks. They're healthy, too. And watch out for Jason Hatcher's return to defensive end. Teamed with Jay Ratliff he should push the middle of the Eagles' pass protection, which is always a topic of debate in Philadelphia.
I guess what I'm saying is that this should be one helluva ballgame. You have two teams that can move the ball, and the league's best run offense vs. the league's best run defense.
In the end, this may come down to Tony Romo vs. Michael Vick, and which one makes the critical mistakes. Normally, I like the Eagles at home, but they have lost two of three there. But they never, ever, lose games following byes under Reid, and don't ask me why. We might find out here.
Something to consider: Vick has rushing touchdowns in four of his past six starts at home. That's why linebacker DeMarcus Ware this week said the Cowboys' job is to "corral the rabbit."
Monday night lights
The line: Chargers by 3½
The story: Uh-oh, it's Halloween, and I can already hear the ghosts and goblins at Arrowhead haunting and taunting San Diego fans with another refrain of, "Na, Na, Na, Na ... Na, Na, Na, Na ... Hey-yeyyyyy ... Goodbye!"
|San Diego isn't humming, and Philip Rivers' struggles are a big reason. (Getty Images)|
That's why we're here, folks.
I'll be honest, I'm bothered by how inaccurate Philip Rivers has looked this season -- and so should the Chargers. He has thrown more interceptions (9) than touchdown passes (7) and seems completely out of sync with his receivers, which is odd because this is the guy who led the league in yards last season while throwing to free agents off the street.
Rivers insists he's not hiding an injury, saying, "I'm as healthy as I've been through six games." OK then, so then what's the problem? Coach Norv Turner suggested it has to do with timing, and he has that right. Because Rivers is not the same guy he was last year, the year before that or the year before that.
To complicate matters, he and the Chargers must operate at least two weeks without Pro Bowl left guard Kris Dielman, who suffered a concussion in last weekend's loss to the Jets and a seizure on the flight home. Tyronne Green, who started seven games last season, takes his place.
So let's see, Rivers is off, Dielman is out and the Chargers are sputtering. Uh-oh. For all the talk of San Diego's "explosiveness," the Chargers haven't scored 30 points in any game this season. Kansas City came dangerously close to beating them last month and lost only when quarterback Matt Cassel went brain dead, throwing a last-minute interception to safety Eric Weddle. That was the Chiefs' last loss, and a victory here ties them with San Diego and Oakland for first in the AFC West. Tell me that shouldn't make things interesting.
The Chiefs also are coming off a lopsided upset of Oakland, the Raiders' first division loss in nine games. Yes, Kansas City's offense is crippled without running back Jamaal Charles, but Cassel has settled down -- throwing five touchdowns and two interceptions in his past three starts, all wins -- and Jackie Battle seems to have found a home at running back.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that the defense has settled down, too. The club that surrendered 89 points in its first two starts has allowed 61 in its past four, including its first road shutout since 1973. Plus, the Chiefs are home, and home teams have won 22 of the past 31 games in this series.
Granted, Kansas City's victories have been over struggling quarterbacks (Donovan McNabb, Curtis Painter and Kyle Boller), but Rivers leads the AFC in interceptions. I guess what I'm saying is San Diego better be careful. The Chargers make a raft of silly mistakes and last week added stupid penalties to the list. Reprise that effort, and they lose again.
Something to consider: Rivers is 5-2 on Monday nights, with 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Crummy game of the week
The line: Saints by 15½
The story: New Orleans just put up 62 on winless Indianapolis, the Rams can't tackle and St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford isn't out of a walking boot. Connect the dots, people. This looks like another blowout waiting to happen.
Unless you have Fantasy players on New Orleans or belong to the A.J. Feeley Fan Club, there's no reason to watch this game. Saints win, and they win big.
I know they're not the greatest road team (2-2 this year). But this is St. Louis, and this is a dome ... the same environment they're used to. The Rams are used to losing. The Saints are used to dropping the hammer. Put the two together, and what do you have?
Millions of viewers ready to switch channels.
Something to consider: Drew Brees has a touchdown pass in 34 straight games, the third-best streak in NFL history.
Upset of the week
The line: Bengals by 3½
The story: This makes no sense, right? I mean, Cincinnati is having a wonderful season. Andy Dalton is the most successful rookie quarterback. A.J. Green is the most successful rookie wide receiver. Marvin Lewis is a Coach of the Year candidate. And the Bengals' defense ranks second in the league.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: Seattle has Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst for quarterbacks, and tell me that's not better for Cincinnati than it is Seattle.
So why push the Seahawks? Because strange things happen up here, and because the Bengals historically are one of the league's worst clubs after byes. In fact, their 5-16-1 record ranks last in the league. Oh, and because Marshawn Lynch and Zach Miller are expected to return to the lineup, which means they score more than three points.
I don't know, there's something that just doesn't feel right about this game. Seattle has been better lately, and while it still stinks it's a different club at home -- good enough to pull the upset.
Look, I don't trust Jackson or Whitehurst, either, but I saw Seattle come this close to upsetting Atlanta here, and I saw it pound the Giants three weeks ago at the Meadowlands. Something tells me this will be close and that Seattle hangs around for the win.
Something to consider: Cincinnati's Green aims for his fourth straight game on the road with a touchdown catch.
Five guys I'd like to be
1. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh: Under his direction, the Ravens are 6-0 at home vs. the NFC.
2. New England quarterback Tom Brady: Not only is he 6-1 vs. Pittsburgh, he has 14 touchdowns, 3 interceptions and a passer rating of 104.8 vs. the Steelers.
3. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub: In six starts vs. Jacksonville, he has 10 touchdown passes, 3 interceptions and a passer rating of 109. He shoots for his third straight start vs. the Jags with a passer rating of 121.1 or better.
4. Denver linebacker Von Miller: He aims for his sixth straight game with a sack.
5. San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith: He's 5-1 in his past six home starts, with 12 touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 107.9. The 49ers are 8-0 when Smith's rating hits three digits.
Five best faceoffs
1. Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson vs. Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan: Ryan earlier this year said something about sticking it to "the all-hype team," and I think we know who he had in mind. In fact, he said "we're going to beat their ass when we play them." That didn't go over easily with Jackson, who said, "It's hard for me to kind of respect that because the coach is really not out there playing." So who's going to do something about it?
2. Miami safety Yeremiah Bell vs. Miami running back Reggie Bush: The Dolphins not only can't win anymore; they can't figure out who's the enemy. This week it was Bush vs. Bell, with Bush saying the Dolphins "stink," and Bell responding that, no, actually, it's Bush who stinks. Beautiful. This club doesn't deserve Andrew Luck. It needs Dr. Phil.
3. Baltimore wide receiver Anquan Boldin vs. Arizona: Boldin was one of the Cardinals' top two receivers two years ago. Then he was traded to Baltimore, and now he's the subject of controversy -- with Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs saying Boldin needed to be more involved in the offense Monday. Boldin said he did not. "There's nothing to worry about," he said. We'll see.
4. Washington quarterback John Beck vs. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick: These guys are no strangers to each other. They competed against each other as early as the ages of 7 and 8 when they lived in Arizona (about an hour from each other) and swam. "When he was nine or 10 years old," said Fitzpatrick, "I think he was maybe the best in the backstroke in the state." Nice. That could come in handy as the season goes along.
5. San Francisco's Ted Ginn Jr. vs. Cleveland's special teams: Browns coach Pat Shurmur is shaking up his special teams, and just in time, too. Ginn is second in the league in kickoff returns and has seven punt returns of 20 yards or longer. That's trouble waiting to happen for a Browns team that allowed a 101-yard kickoff return vs. Oakland, had an 81-yard punt return last week called back because of a questionable penalty, allowed a touchdown off a fake field goal and had two field goals blocked against Seattle. "We'll have a couple new guys in different spots," Shurmur promised. Good thinking.
Five things that may interest only me
1. There are four teams averaging 30 or more points a game and nine averaging 25 or more. New Orleans leads everyone at 34.1 points per game.
2. With a win this weekend, Buffalo would become the eighth team in NFL history to win its first four home games (yes, Toronto is considered home) one year after losing its first four. Kansas City did it last season.
3. Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace has at least one 40-yard catch in six straight games, the best streak since Isaac Bruce in 2000.
4. Cam Newton on Sunday becomes the first rookie quarterback since the advent of the common draft (1967) to start opposite two first-round quarterbacks from the same draft. Newton earlier this season beat Blaine Gabbert and Jacksonville. He plays Christian Ponder and Minnesota this weekend. Newton was the first pick in the 2011 draft, Gabbert was the 10th and Ponder the 12th.
5. With a victory, New England's Tom Brady and Bill Belichick surpass Dan Marino and Don Shula for the most successful quarterback-coach tandem in the Super Bowl era. A victory would mark their 116th together.
Numbers on the wall
0: Rushing touchdowns allowed by San Francisco
5: Consecutive Indianapolis defeats of Tennessee
6: Kansas City sacks
21: Times that teams have rallied from deficits of 10 points or more to win
22-5: Joe Flacco at home
27: Consecutive games with at least 20 completions for Drew Brees
54: Games decided by seven or fewer points, second most in NFL history through seven weeks
• Baltimore: Sunny, high of 55
• Charlotte, N.C.: Mostly sunny, high of 60
• Houston: Partly cloudy, high of 77 (retractable roof)
• East Rutherford, N.J.: Sunny, high of 53
• St. Louis: Dome
• Nashville, Tenn.: Mostly sunny, high of 64
• Toronto: Partly cloudy, high of 50 (retractable roof)
• Denver: Partly cloudy, high of 56
• Pittsburgh: Mostly sunny, high of 53
• San Francisco: sunny, high of 71
• Seattle: Few showers, high of 52
• Philadelphia: Sunny, high of 53
Where we will be
• I'll be in Pittsburgh to find the build a better Roethlis Burger for lunch.
• Pete Prisco will be in Toronto to tell us who's the better coach, Mike Shanahan or Ron Wilson.
• Mike Freeman will be in Philadelphia to broker a treaty between Asante Samuel and the Eagles' front office.