Peek at the Week: Giants-'Skins appropriate way to mark 9/11

by | Senior NFL Columnist

Game of the week

N.Y. Giants at Washington, 4:15 p.m. ET

The line: Giants by 3½

The story: This is first on the marquee not because it's the best game Sunday but because it's the best story, and I'll sum it up like this: 9/11. It's the 10th anniversary, and having these two clubs meet is appropriate ... for everyone. Coach Tom Coughlin's son was in one of the World Trade Center towers when a plane struck, so you don't have to remind him of what the date means. He lived it.

"There are going to be emotions, no doubt," said Coughlin. "I feel very strongly on this subject. I would be one to stand up and say for all America not to ever forget 9/11, what happened to our country. I think we all have a responsibility to be on the alert now.

"We always salute the families that lost loved ones on 9/11, the three locations and the heroic firemen and policemen and emergency people that were there trying to save others.

"Of course, in my own family we're blessed that our son was able to get out of the second tower. And I think that once he was safe, all our emotions turned to those who weren't as fortunate as we were."

Though most of the players involved in this game weren't with either team or even the NFL when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were struck, they do remember what they were doing when tragedy occurred -- and, as the bumper sticker says, they will never forget.

"That was the first terrorism incident I can remember where people have no regard for anyone else's life," rookie linebacker Mark Herzlich told the New York Post. "I just didn't understand that."

What I do understand is why this game is meaningful. It brings together two communities directly affected by the 9/11 attacks, and here's to the NFL schedule makers. It's the perfect way for the league to mark the anniversary.

Now, on to the game. There are a couple of things to watch here. First, Washington starts Rex Grossman at quarterback, and he looked decent the final three games of 2010. That's when he produced two 300-yard performances, including one against the Giants. Grossman is on a short leash, with John Beck in the bullpen, but this isn't so much about Washington's quarterbacks. It never is in Mike Shanahan's offense. It will be about how effectively the Redskins can run.

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Which brings me to the second item: The Giants' defense. There are injuries everywhere, with six players already down for the season -- including middle linebacker Jonathan Goff. Goff will be replaced by rookie Greg Jones, and if you haven't heard of him this might be why: He went from third string to starter in four days. Of course, he was the only true middle linebacker left on the roster. So he starts.

But that's not all. Now defensive end Justin Tuck is complaining about a neck injury that could sideline him. If you're a Giants fan, that's disturbing. Heck, if you're a Giants fan, the entire summer has been disturbing.

Something to consider: The Giants have won eight of the past nine in this series.

Three games I'd like to see

Pittsburgh at Baltimore, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

The line: Ravens by 2½

The story: Welcome to the weekend's best game. There is no rougher, tougher, more competitive series than this one, with each of the past six regular-season games decided by no more than four points. There is no more violent series, either, with Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffering a broken nose on the Steelers' first series in Baltimore last year -- then playing on to rally the Steelers to a last-gasp victory.

Expect Roethlisberger to factor in this decision, mostly because you expect him to exploit Baltimore's secondary. It's not the Ravens' defensive backs, though, that concern me most here. It's an offensive line that hasn't stopped changing. Bryant McKinnie takes over at left tackle after he was cut by Minnesota, while Michael Oher moves to right tackle. Marshal Yanda is the right guard, Matt Birk returns to center and Ben Grubbs is the left guard. It's an experienced offensive line but one that never played together during the preseason.

"We're going to make sure it's not a problem," coach John Harbaugh said.

There's no better time than now. In their past eight games vs. Pittsburgh, the Ravens have allowed 28 sacks -- with linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley combining for 12. Bad, huh? It gets worse. The Ravens aren't sure Birk will be ready, and he hasn't missed a start since 2005.

Now you know why these guys jumped at the chance to sign Andre Gurode.

Something to consider: Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin is 4-0 in season openers. Harbaugh is 3-0.

Philadelphia at St. Louis, 1 p.m. ET

The line: Eagles by 4½

The story: It's a wakeup call for the NFL's "Dream Team," and it's also a potential trap. St. Louis looks like the team to beat in the NFC West. Moreover, it looks dramatically improved from the club that last year was 5-3 at home. Of course, looks can be deceiving, but if the Rams want to gain the league's attention they're at the right place at just the right time.

What intrigues me here is how Philadelphia's offensive line plays. That's a potential danger zone for a team deep at most positions. If the line is soft, quarterback Michael Vick is vulnerable ... and if Vick doesn't play, look out below. There is no Kevin Kolb to handle emergency landings.

St. Louis can pressure the pocket, and look for the Rams to attack the middle of the Eagles' O-line, where there's a rookie at center and two guys discarded by previous clubs to either side. Only left tackle Jason Peters remains from last year's lineup, with former left guard Todd Herremans moving to right tackle.

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Normally, Philadelphia would have an offseason to straighten out its offensive line, but not this year. So it hired Howard Mudd to do it, and, suddenly, the turnstiles are busy. This is what we call a developing story, folks, with the emphasis on "developing."

The Eagles two years ago reconfigured their offensive line at the last minute, too, and then-quarterback Donovan McNabb was hurt in the season opener. McNabb's successor, Kevin Kolb, was hurt in the season opener last year. Terrell Owens had it wrong when he suggested DeSean Jackson sit this one out; he should have directed his comments to Vick.

Something to consider: Jackson has 24 touchdowns in his career and is averaging 47.2 yards per score.

Atlanta at Chicago, 1 p.m. ET

The line: Falcons by 3½

The story: Poor Chicago. You would think after suffering through another lost summer with the Cubs it would catch a break. Yeah, sure, and Carlos Zambrano will win the Cy Young. So the Bears draw the toughest out in the NFC last season, and they do it with two of their star players -- linebacker Lance Briggs and running back Matt Forte -- unhappy campers. The problem: They want new contracts, and they're not getting them. Not now, anyway.

So the Bears soldier on through a torturous three-week hike that has them open with Atlanta, go to New Orleans, then return to face Green Bay. Brutal. Two of the three are in Chicago, which is good, but the last time the Bears were there quarterback Jay Cutler was the target of a posse of critics -- with NFL players piling on the guy for bowing out with an injury.

The Bears stood by him then, and they've stood by him since, but I'm curious to see how fans respond.

Of course, what matters is how Cutler responds. He was sacked 52 times last season -- one reason the Bears drafted Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi -- and that better change. The Bears shuffled their offensive line in the offseason, with Chris Spencer taking over for Olin Kreutz at center, and this is a good litmus test for everyone. The Bears think they're better in pass protection. The Falcons think they have the pass rusher to complement John Abraham in Ray Edwards. Something has to give.

Something to consider: When Cutler has a passer rating of 100 or better his teams are 22-0.

Monday night lights

New England at Miami, 7 p.m. ET

The line: Patriots by 7½

The story: Two reasons the Dolphins are in trouble: 1) It's New England, a team that has won four of the past five meetings; 2) The game is home, where Miami was 1-7 last season. Talk about a home-field disadvantage. The Dolphins couldn't beat anyone but Tennessee here. Not Cleveland. Not Buffalo. Not Detroit.

Tom Brady brings a 12-6 record vs. the Dolphins to Miami, where the home team was 1-7 last season. (Getty Images)  
Tom Brady brings a 12-6 record vs. the Dolphins to Miami, where the home team was 1-7 last season. (Getty Images)  
But it's a new year with a new Miami lineup that includes Reggie Bush, Mike Pouncey and Larry Johnson ... yes, Larry Johnson ... and might not include Daniel Thomas. Not yet, anyway. He has a sore hamstring, which makes the Johnson signing understandable. Anyway, it's a lineup that also returns quarterback Chad Henne. The Dolphins think he can put them in the black. Me? I think he throws too many interceptions. Anyway, Miami's strength will be its defense, with a unit that can attack the pocket and a secondary that is so good that Vontae Davis said it includes the league's best tandem of cornerbacks.

It doesn't, but he and Sean Smith at least are in the conversation. I'm not sure how that helps them here because they face Tom Brady, and good luck, fellas. Brady is 12-6 vs. Miami and coming off an MVP year where he threw a league-best 36 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Granted, he doesn't have elite pass receivers, but when, outside of Randy Moss, has he ever had one?

Something to consider: Henne aims for his third straight game at home with 300 yards passing vs. New England.

Oakland at Denver, 10:15 p.m. ET

The line: Denver by 3½

The story: The last time these two met in Denver it was a 59-14 Oakland beat-down, and tell me that hasn't been mentioned in meetings this week. Denver's defense stunk last season, and that will be the first item that changes under new coach John Fox. The Broncos will win with their defense because ... well, because that's how Fox has won before. Keep opponents close, grind out yards with an effective running game, make big plays down the stretch.

It has worked before, and I have no doubt it will work again. The only question is how long it takes. My guess: By next season, the Broncos challenge San Diego for AFC West supremacy. Of course, no one was better in the division last season than the Raiders, who didn't lose an AFC West game but were 2-8 outside the division. Not good.

Hue Jackson takes over as head coach, and expectations are high. Maybe, people tell me, this is the year the Raiders break through and have a winning season for the first time since 2002. OK, maybe. But I don't see it. I don't trust Jason Campbell, and I don't trust their offensive line. Moreover, the Raiders lost two key starters in tight end Zach Miller (Seattle) and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (Philadelphia). That is not moving forward.

Something to consider: Kyle Orton is 21-9 as a starter at home.

Crummy game of the week

Tennessee at Jacksonville, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

The line: Jags by 3½

The story: Looking for the next AFC South doormat? You're at the right address. Tennessee has a new head coach. Jacksonville has a new quarterback. OK, Tennessee has a new head coach AND a new quarterback, but at least Matt Hasselbeck has been a successful starter. The Jags' Luke McCown? He has been an unsuccessful starter, 1-6 in his NFL career. Nevertheless, he was named numero uno this week after coach Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio decided he liked David Garrard about as much as he liked Byron Leftwich and cut him.

Del Rio said it was because Garrard threw three interceptions in practice, forgetting to mention that he also had a $9 million bonus due that afternoon. Anyway, this is a good series gone bad, starting with this game. Hasselbeck will be replaced by Jake Locker sometime this season, and McCown will be replaced by Blaine Gabbert. I don't know when. All I know is that both of these teams are stuck in neutral.

Something to consider: Only three Hall of Fame players won their debuts as a head coach. Tennessee's Mike Munchak tries to become the fourth.

Upset of the week

Washington (+3½) over the Giants

One thing about Mike Shanahan's teams: They almost always get off to quick starts. OK, so last year was an exception, when Washington dropped two of its first three. Nevertheless, they were 3-2 before the bottom fell out. Shanahan's 2008 Denver Broncos won four of their first five. In 2006 they won five of their first six. The year before they won five of their first six again. I think you get the idea.

The Giants are reeling from injuries to their defense and just lost their starting middle linebacker. Now, defensive end Justin Tuck is complaining of a sore neck that makes him iffy for Sunday's game. I never questioned the Giants' defense ... until now. Combine that with an offense that is erratic, and I feel an upset waiting to happen.

Five guys I'd like to be

1. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: He's 9-2 vs. Baltimore, including seven straight wins and two playoff victories.

2. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson: This is his month. The guy averages 110.9 rushing yards per game in September, the best for that month in NFL history. Hall of Famer Jim Brown is second with 110.8.

3. Cincinnati cornerback Leon Hall: He has five interceptions against the Browns, his most vs. any opponent.

4. Tennessee running back Chris Johnson: He averages 105.3 yards rushing vs. Jacksonville.

5. Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt: He's 23-12 at home and just drew Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers as his first opponent.

Five best faceoffs

1. Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan vs. New York Jets coach Rex Ryan: I saw the twin brothers go at it last season when Rob was in Cleveland, and the game was one of the season's best -- with the Jets winning in overtime. Their dad, Buddy, put off surgery to see this game, which means it must be meaningful.

2. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco vs. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: Flacco is 0-6 against Big Ben and has seven touchdowns, eight interceptions in eight career starts vs. the Steelers.

3. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh vs. Seattle coach Pete Carroll: This one goes back a few years when Harbaugh coached Stanford and Carroll coached Southern California. Following a blowout victory over the Trojans where Harbaugh attempted a two-point conversion late, Carroll met him at midfield and asked, "What's your deal?" Well, since you asked, it's five years at about $5 million per.

4. Denver coach John Fox vs. Oakland's Al Davis: Once upon a time Fox was the Raiders' defensive coordinator but he resigned before the 1996 season. He never said why, but it's apparent it had to do with Davis and how he wanted his defense run. Fox insists he holds no grudges, but I remember how Shanahan used to treat the Raiders when he played them. This might be the same.

5. Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs vs. ... um ... uh ... the Steelers: Suggs went into training camp refusing to say the word Steelers. Now, he said, he has added the word Pittsburgh to his list. Don't ask him who's next on the schedule.

Five things that may interest only me

1. If you want to reach the Super Bowl it's a good idea to win the opening week. The 45 Super Bowl winners have a 37-7-1 record in openers of their championship seasons.

2. Of the 474 teams that lost season openers in the Super Bowl era, 111 went on to the playoffs.

3. As an Oakland Raider, quarterback Jason Campbell is 3-0 vs. Denver and 5-0 vs. the AFC West.

4. He ranked second last year in red-zone productivity, with nine touchdown passes, no interceptions and a passer rating of 118.8. Can you name the quarterback? If you said, "Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers," you are Pete Prisco's next guest on his afternoon radio show.

5. With a victory Sunday, Roethlisberger moves to 70 in 99 career starts. That would make him the fourth quarterback to hit 70 wins in 99 or fewer starts, with Tom Brady and Roger Staubach tied for first at 94 games and Ken Stabler third at 98.

Numbers to remember

8: Straight season openers won by Pittsburgh, the longest active streak in the NFL
17: The longest NFL streak for season-opening victories, by Dallas (1965-81)
44.07: Average points per game in 2010, the highest in 45 years
158: Ben Roethlisberger regular-season passes without an interception
335: Tom Brady regular-season passes without an interception
46-3: The record of Donovan McNabb's teams when he has a passer rating of 100 or better

Sunday's weather

Baltimore: Scattered thunderstorms, high of 79
Chicago: Partly cloudy, high of 78
Cleveland: Scattered thunderstorms, high of 72
Houston: Sunny, high of 96 (retractable dome)
Jacksonville, Fla.: Isolated thunderstorms, high of 93
Kansas City, Mo.: Sunny, high of 82
St. Louis: Dome
Tampa, Fla.: Scattered thunderstorms, high of 90
Glendale, Ariz.: Sunny, high of 98 (retractable dome)
San Diego: Sunny, high of 70
San Francisco: Partly cloudy, high of 65
Landover, Md.: Isolated thunderstorms, high of 79
East Rutherford, N.J.: Isolated thunderstorms, high of 73

Where we will be

 Pete Prisco will be in Tampa Bay to dish the dirt with Ndamukong Suh.
 I'll be in Baltimore to worship at the statue of Johnny U.
 Mike Freeman will be at the Meadowlands to tell us what Rob Ryan meant when he said his twin brother Rex is "a little freaky."
 Gregg Doyel will be in Houston to throw dirt on the Colts.


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