Game of the Week
The line: Seattle by 3½
|The Rams will use Steven Jackson plenty with the Seahawks coming to town. (Getty Images)|
The story: The Seahawks better be careful. St. Louis not only is playing well, it can reestablish itself as the team to beat in the division. I know, I can't believe I just said that, either, but the Rams are hot, with Steven Jackson doing the bulk of the running -- in the league, not just on his team -- and Marc Bulger doing a nice job of playing keep-away. For the record, Bulger hasn't thrown an interception in his past 214 attempts, and he's aiming for his third 300-yard game against the Seahawks.
Seattle always seems to struggle with these guys, especially in the Too Tall Dome, where the noise is right up there with, oh, say a Megadeth concert. Of course, everyone seems to struggle here, with the Rams having the league's best home record (44-14, .759) since moving to St. Louis in 1995.
The Seahawks won't have Alexander, which means it's up to Matt Hasselbeck to carry the team. He has the receivers to do it -- especially now that tight end Jerramy Stevens is back -- but, man, did he look dreadful against Chicago. Hasselbeck has more interceptions than touchdowns, and that's where St. Louis can trip up these guys. Under defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, the Rams are forcing the turnovers they did not a year ago. They already have 15, only four fewer than their total for 2005.
More important, they're cutting down on the mistakes on offense. Only two clubs were more careless with the ball last year, but that's not happening now. Neither is the "Greatest Show on Turf," which explains why ball control is the password. If the Rams control the clock, they'll control the Seahawks. If you're the Seahawks, relax, take a deep breath and consider this: 1) You dominate opponents early, outscoring them 38-10 in the first quarter, so jump out to the lead here and make Bulger throw; 2) The Rams lost to San Francisco ... San Francisco, for crying out loud.
The bottom line: Dating back to 1995, the Rams are 39-1 when they have a 100-yard rusher and 9-1 when that back is Steven Jackson.
Three games I'd like to see
|Drew Brees doesn't make the mistakes that his predecessor in Nawlins did. (Getty Images)|
Memo to Jim Johnson: Keep your eyes on Reggie Bush. He's more dangerous as a receiver than as a running back, leading the league with 34 catches. The Saints like to get him the ball in space, and if you watched his punt return last weekend, you know why.
Philadelphia is favored here, but the Eagles should be wary. This is a potential trap. They come off a huge emotional victory and face an opponent that continues to play inspired football. The Saints can be exploited with the pass, as Tampa Bay rookie Bruce Gradkowski demonstrated a week ago, which means it's up to Donovan McNabb again. Look for him to have a big game. Also look for him to have a tight game. The Saints' only loss this year was a three-pointer at Carolina. These guys are legit, and they're 2-0 at home.
Something to consider: The Saints defense hasn't allowed a point in the second quarter, with the club outscoring opponents 36-0.
|Jake Delhomme might not get much support from Carolina's running game. (AP)|
The Ravens would be among the league's elite if they could get more from their offense, but so far it has been torture. No question, Steve McNair has helped -- especially in crunch time -- but in his past three starts, Baltimore has produced exactly three touchdowns. If that were Kyle Boller, I guarantee they'd have him on a spit.
Baltimore is the favorite here because it's home, where the Ravens are 41-17 under Brian Billick, and they win again if they can fluster Jake Delhomme. While Carolina is built around its defense and running game, it's the quarterback who's largely responsible for having them on a three-game tear. He hasn't thrown an interception in four starts and is finally getting the protection he and the team need for the Panthers to move up in the NFC South.
Delhomme might be forced to do more than normal here because Baltimore is murder against the run -- holding opponents to 2.9 yards a carry -- and because rookie running back DeAngelo Williams is sidelined. If DeShaun Foster is ineffective, and I'm betting he is, we find out just how good Carolina's offensive line is when the Panthers are in third-and-long. The Ravens love to bring the heat, and beware linebacker Bart Scott. He's tied for the AFC lead with five sacks.
Something to consider: Carolina is at its best when forcing opponents into third-and-long. The Panthers have allowed opponents to convert only 24.6 percent of their third downs.
|Warrick Dunn leads Atlanta's league-leading rushing attack (365 yards). (Getty Images)|
People complain about Michael Vick's accuracy as a passer, but who needs to throw when you're running defenses into oblivion? With 333 yards, Vick is the league's 16th-leading rusher -- ahead of Larry Johnson, Clinton Portis, Corey Dillon and Brian Westbrook. He also averages 8.8 yards a carry, which looks remarkable until you realize that teammate Jerious Norwood averages 8.3.
So who do you stop? Try Warrick Dunn. Yep, he's off to the second-best start of his career and leads the club in rushing. The Falcons run from anywhere on any down, and they're so effective that they lead the league with 36 dashes of 10 or more yards and nine of 20. If you can bottle them up -- good luck, Tim Lewis -- you put Vick in a difficult position. That would be the pocket.
Atlanta's leading receiver is tight end Alge Crumpler with 11 catches, or as many as Reggie Bush had last weekend, and Vick is the fourth-most inaccurate passer among the league's 33 rated quarterbacks. So make him beat you with his arm. I know it's tough, but the Giants just might be able to pull it off. While they are ranked ninth against the run, opponents average only 3 yards a carry -- the third-worst total out there. The Giants looked great last weekend, but that was outdoors ... against a sporadic offense ... in a division game they absolutely had to win. Let's see them pressure Vick as they did Mark Brunell.
Something to consider: Under Jim Mora the Falcons are 2-0 following a bye and 13-5 at home.
Crummy game of the week
|Chad Pennington and the Jets try to recover from the beat-down in Jax. (Getty Images)|
Don't look for many points here, either. New York's defense is decent; Miami's offense is not. End of story. The Jets just got waxed 41-0 and run the ball as effectively as Miami throws it. Which is to say the heat's on Chad Pennington to make something happen. Again. I'll trust him here. He's 30-of-49 with five touchdowns and no interceptions in his past two starts against Miami.
Something to consider: The Jets secondary needs a break, which is why Miami is on the schedule. The club allows 5.0 yards after the catch and has given up a league-high 65 first downs passing. Compare that to, say, the 31 first downs Kansas City allows, and you know why this club dialed defensive back Hank Poteat this week.
Upset of the week
St. Louis over Seattle. Give me a break. I'm trying to get back on track here. The Rams are home, where they have the league's best record since 1995. And the Seahawks are on the road, where they historically have trouble. Plus, they're without Alexander and might be missing Engram. Seattle turns the ball over; St. Louis doesn't. St. Louis leads the league in takeaways; Seattle is 10th. That's enough for me.
Five guys I'd want to be
|Drew Bledsoe's recipe for a big game: playing at home vs. the Texans. (Getty Images)|
2. Mike Shanahan, coach, Denver: He loves nothing better than beating the Oakland Raiders, which means he's about to become one happy guy. Shanahan is 17-5 vs. the Raiders, including 9-2 at home, and he faces the worst Oakland outfit in ... oh, I don't know, maybe forever. The Raiders have talent; they just don't know how to use it. Just lose, baby.
3. Tony Wise, offensive line coach, New York Jets: Once he was the offensive line coach in Miami. Then the Dolphins fired him, saying his line wasn't any good. Well, it wasn't ... but where's the talent? They're still asking in Miami. Nice to have Tony back on his feet; nicer to have his unit playing well.
4. Dick Jauron, coach, Buffalo: He returns to Detroit, where he was an interim coach last season and a candidate for this year's job. He didn't get it, and here's the chance to demonstrate that team president Matt Millen goofed.
5. Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina: The Defensive Player of the Year candidate seeks a sack for the fourth consecutive week. Sunday's short-straw winner: Ravens right tackle Tony Pashos, who undoubtedly will have help.
He said it
"When Coach (Dan) Reeves was here he knew how to use my talent and knew what to do with me. They (the Falcons coaching staff) have to do the same thing. They have to be creative and understand what my strengths and weaknesses are and make sure they put it to work and get me opportunities. Like I said, a couple of years ago when Coach Reeves was here he was able to do a lot of different things, helping us get to the playoffs. They have to do the same thing here." -- Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick on a conference call with Giants reporters
Stat of the week
The sky is falling in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers are 1-3 for the first time since 2002. Big deal. They finished 10-5-1 that season. Plus, no Bill Cowher-coached club ever started 1-4, which is the bad news for Kansas City. The worse: The Chiefs go to Heinz Field, where Pittsburgh has won 16 of its past 20 regular-season games.
Where we will be
I'll probably be at Ship of Fools on Second Avenue watching as many games as a fool can. This week's knee surgery has me on the sidelines, a safe place if Terrell Owens isn't around.
Pete will be in St. Louis to see which way Pisa Tinoisamoa leans.