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Sunday, September 25, 2005 

Quick Slants

After last week's impressive slate of games, this week is a bit of a downer, with only two games between division rivals (Arizona at Seattle, Kansas City at Denver). Also, bye weeks have begun, as Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, and Washington get an early week off.

Sunday
Cincinnati (2-0) at Chicago (1-1)

It's a battle of (gulp) first place teams at Soldier Field as the Bengals vist the Bears. Cincinnati is the highest-scoring team in the AFC, but their 37-8 win over Minnesota last week was misleading - the Vikings are truly a terrible defensive team, second only to the 49ers for the most points allowed so far this season (61). That said, Bengals QB Carson Palmer has started the year red hot, completing 53 of 74 passes for 617 yards, 5 TDs, and 2 INTs, and RB Rudi Johnson has picked up where he left off to give the team great offensive balance.

The Bears are tied with the Lions at 1-1 but routed them 38-6 last week. Chicago has allowed only 15 points this season, but they've played one-dimensional or poor offenses so far. Washington ran for 164 yards against the Bears in Week One (121 by Clinton Portis) but passed for just 159. In contrast, Chicago held Detroit to 29 yards last week, but Joey Harrington's 5 INTs and Chicago's 31-0 halftime lead were mostly to blame for that. Unless Palmer has his first bad game of the year, it's hard to see the Bears winning this one.

Cleveland (1-1) at Indianapolis (2-0)

The main point of interest in this game is whether Romeo Crennel can stop Peyton Manning like he did when he was with the Patriots. I don't think that is going to work - the Browns have a surprisingly porous defense, and had to hang on for dear life against the Packers last week.

New England (1-1) at Pittsburgh (2-0)

This is the game of the week, but as a Patriots fan, I'm worried. Not about the whole season, but this game is another tough spot. Pittsburgh is 2-0 but hasn't been tested yet, with easy 27-7 and 37-7 wins over Houston and Tennessee, respectively. Ben Roethlisberger has been incredibly efficient, going 9-for-11 last week with two TDs after a 14-21-0-254 2TD performance in the opener. Even with Duce Staley (probably back today) and Jerome Bettis hurt, their running game has been stellar, with 73 carries for 341 yards.

The only edge the Patriots have is an emotional one - yes, the Steelers want "revenge" for last year's AFC title game, but the Patriots played very sloppy last week while the Steelers may be a bit over-confident. The injuries to the Patriots secondary make me lean toward the Steelers in this game, but it still isn't time to panic. Every team in the AFC East is 1-1, and you can make a case that all of them could be 1-2 after today.

Sunday Night
New York Giants (2-0) at San Diego (0-2)

San Diego absolutely needs this game, and I expect them to win. The Giants are off to a terrific start, leading the league in points (69), but they've only played Arizona and New Orleans. By comparison, San Diego's close losses against Dallas and Denver look impressive. The Chargers have yet to get a big game from LaDainian Tomlinson in terms of yardage (19-72; 19-52) but he's scored 3 of San Diego's 5 TDs. More disturbing is how shaky Drew Brees has looked. After completing just 18 of 35 passes and throwing a pair of picks against the Cowboys, Brees was more accurate last week (15-23) but his one interception was a killer. The Chargers had the ball and a 14-3 lead to start the third quarter, but Champ Bailey intercepted Brees and scored on a 25 yard return just 11 seconds into the period. Now trailing 14-10, the Broncos defense picked up the spark and nearly shutout the Chargers the rest of the way, setting up Jason Elam's game winning kick for a 20-17 win.

Monday Night
Kansas City (2-0) at Denver (1-1)

Speaking of Denver, this will be a good test for the Kansas City defense as they play their first tough road game after opening up against the Jets and Raiders. Denver slowed down Tomlinson last week, but the 1-2 punch of Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes won't make things any easier Monday night.

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