Sunday, October 30, 2005 

Quick Slants - Week 8

Last week was not a good week for the AFC, which went 0-6 in games against NFC opponents. In particular, Philadelphia and the NY Giants scored late victories over San Diego and Denver, respectively, which allowed them to keep pace with Washington atop the extremely competitive NFC East. Those teams are featured in great matchups again this weekend.

Washington (4-2) at NY Giants (4-2)

Mark Brunell has quietly put together a very good season. He's first in the NFC in QB rating, with 1492 yards passing, and a 12-2 TD-to-INT ratio. Having Clinton Portis in the backfield certainly helps, as his 4.4 yards per carry is providing great balance. Plus, the Redskins defense has been stellar. In terms of yardage allowed, Washington is fourth-best in the NFL with 266.0 per game, and their schedule hasn't been all cupcakes (last week's mismatch against San Francisco excluded), as their opponents have a combined record of 22-17, good enough for the 9th toughest schedule so far (in contrast, the Giants opponents are 19-22).

The Giants had a stirring win last week, but I'm still not sold on their defense, which is the second-worst in the NFL. Look for Eli Manning to have some troubles in this game, which could have huge playoff tie-breaker implications for both teams.

Philadelphia (4-2) at Denver (5-2)

Denver is trying to rebound from a game they should have won, but lost, while Philadelphia is coming off a gift-wrapped win. I like the Broncos in this game because they can smother an already anemic Eagles running game - how can you be 4-2 when you're only averaging 57.5 rushing yards per game? To put that in perspective, the second-worst running team is Arizona, but they're averaging 71.2 yards per game. Jake Plummer makes me nervous, but frankly, so does Donovan McNabb.

Sunday Night
Buffalo (3-4) at New England (3-3)

The return of Tedy Bruschi is overshadowing this game in New England, as Patriots fans are coming to grips with the reality that the Pats are not going to steamroll their way to the Super Bowl this year. But this game is critical to the AFC East race. With the Jets on a bye, and the Dolphins facing a tough task as the Saints return to Louisiana (Baton Rouge), the winner of this game will gain a huge advantage. If the Patriots win, they could have a two game lead in the loss column.

But can New England slow down Willis McGahee? That will probably be the key to the game, as Buffalo is one of just 4 NFL teams that average more rushing yards per game than passing yards (Houston, Atlanta, and Chicago are the others). New England's defense has been a disappointment this season, and while Bruschi should provide an emotion lift, he can't play cornerback or defensive line, which have both been hard hit with injuries.

Monday Night
Baltimore (2-4) at Pittsburgh (4-2)

I feel obligated to write about this game, but it doesn't interest me much. Baltimore still has one of the top defenses in the league, but they can't score, averaging just 11.5 points a game. Even the pedestrian-paced Steelers offense should have no trouble topping that.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005 

A Tale of Two QBs

The best part of Sunday was watching two QBs decide games: Eli Manning of the Giants winning his, and Drew Bledsoe of the Cowboys losing his. What's surprising is that the veteran QB is supposed to be cool under fire and play it safe, while the youngster is supposed to push the envelope. In this case, Manning was brilliant and played great on the final TD drive, while Bledsoe made a ridiculous decision - throwing into double coverage on the outside of the field when you know the Seahawks only chance to win in regulation was an interception or fumble return.

Sunday, October 23, 2005 

Quick Slants - Week 7

This week got off to early start with Kansas City defeating Miami on Friday night, but there are several great games this weekend. There's no Sunday night game due to the World Series, and the Monday night game (NY Jets at Atlanta) isn't that interesting, but this afternoon will be a great advertisement for DirectTV's "Sunday Ticket" package.

Pittsburgh (3-2) at Cincinnati (5-1)

This game is a golden opportunity for the Bengals to prove if they are for real. Cincinnati has played the easiest schedule so far this season, as their opponents have a combined record of just 10-22. Pittsburgh's schedule has been fairly similar record-wise (11-18) but they have played a pair of .500 teams with pretty good talent (Patriots and Chargers). This could also be a battle between the top two quarterbacks in the AFC according to NFL passer rating. Ben Roethlisberger has 7 TDs this season and has yet to throw an interception, while Carson Palmer has already passed for over 1500 yards and 13 TDs while being intecepted just twice.

San Diego (3-3) at Philadelphia (3-2)

A pair of inconsistent teams meet in this one. Both teams are growing desparate, as the Chargers are two games behind the Broncos and one behind the Chiefs, while all four teams in the NFC East are tied with 2 losses. You have to wonder if the window of opportunity for the Eagles is closing, but I expect them to take full advantage of their run defense and home crowd in this one. San Diego already defeated the defending Super Bowl champs on the road, but the Eagles aren't are banged up as the Patriots.

Dallas (4-2) at Seattle (4-2)

It's a homecoming for Drew Bledsoe as he returns to his native state. The key to this game is whether the Dallas defense can slow down the best offense in football. Seattle has gained 407 yards per game, including 166 per game on the ground. Dallas has given up 293 yards per game (4th in NFC, 7th in NFL), limiting opponents to 95 rushing yards per game. This game is also a coaching rematch from Super Bowl 31 as Bill Parcells matches wits with Mike Holmgren.

Denver (5-1) at New York Giants (3-2)

This could be the highest scoring game of the weekend. Both of these teams have better than average offenses, but their defenses leave a lot to be desired. The Giants are allowing an alarming 417 yards per game, better than only the woeful 49ers. I think Eli Manning will outplay Jake Plummer, but that won't be enough unless they can slow down the Broncos running game. Denver is simply on a roll.

Monday Night
NY Jets (2-4) at Atlanta (4-2)

The contrast between the two quarterbacks couldn't be more dramatic, as the dynamic (but erratic) Michael Vick takes on the steady (but aging) Vinny Testaverde. Expect this game to be decided on the ground.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005 

He's Back

Patriots LB Tedy Bruschi will be back at practice today, and everyone has an opinion on whether it is a good idea for a recovering stroke victim to come back to the NFL.

I'm not a psychologist, but after any traumatic event, we go through certain stages: Denial, Anger, Acceptance, etc. In the big picture, we want to get our lives "back to normal". For Tedy Bruschi, the only way to return to normal is to play football, something he's done since he was a kid.

Personally, I'll be a little uncomfortable watching him out there, especially for the first few games. And I suspect that same feeling is motivating many of the media members who have harshly criticized his decision to return. It's easy to speculate "what would you do?" in this situation, because it's not real for us. We just see the money, the rings, and his family from a distance and conclude - "he should retire". Maybe Bruschi just has to prove to himself that he can come back, and will retire at the end of the season. I don't know. But he certainly gave the impression at his news conference on Monday that he hasn't been happier for months. All fans should wish him luck.

Saturday, October 15, 2005 

Quick Slants - Week 6

Five weeks into the season, and it's clear that 2005 is going to be another wild year in the NFL. For example, there are 7 teams in the NFC at 3-2 or 3-1 across three divisions, while in the NFC North the Detroit Lions are at first place at 2-2 ahead of a pack of also-rans. Need to blog and run today, so I'll keep this short.

NY Giants (3-1) at Dallas (3-2)

This is a big game for Eli Manning. He'll be facing a tough crowd and an improving defense. Dallas's easy win over Philadelphia last week shocked me, and there's no reason why they can't continue their streak against the Giants

Jacksonville (3-2) at Pittsburgh (3-1)

While a big question mark in this game is the health of Ben Roethlisberger, if any team can survive the loss of their QB, it's Pittsburgh. Tommy Maddox has won his share of games for the Steelers, but the Jaguars will no doubt focus on stopping the Pittsburgh running game. After an impressive victory over previously unbeaten Cincinnati last week, Jacksonville has to be feeling confident.

New England (3-2) at Denver (4-1)

Two unpredictable teams meet in Denver late Sunday afternoon. The Patriots are due for a loss given their track record so far this season, while the Broncos have been just as inconsistent: a horrible season opening loss to Miami, and then they nearly blew last week's game against Washington. But in between they were brillant, so this is an impossible game to call.

Monday Night
St. Louis (2-3) at Indianapolis (5-0)

In past years, the question for this game would be: who will outscore whom? But Monday night the Colts defense hopes they can answer their critics and stop the high-flying Rams. I won't be convinced the Colts are for real until they win a few games against quality opponents, but a solid defensive outing in this one will go a low way to impress me.

Sunday, October 09, 2005 

Quick Slants - Week 5

As we hit the second quarter of the season, it's time to start separating the contenders from the also-rans. This week's schedule features several high-profile matchups involving division leaders.

New England (2-2) at Atlanta (3-1)

Richard Seymour is out today, which makes the Patriots task even harder this afternoon in Atlanta. While Michael Vick was downgraded to questionable, the key to this game is whether the Falcons can throw enough to keep the Patriots defense honest. New England was effective against Pittsburgh despite their injuries because the Steelers are a one-dimensional offense. Atlanta falls into the same category, as Vick, Warrick Dunn, and T.J. Duckett are far more effective on the ground than through the air. Vick has just 77 pass attempts this season, compared with 32 rushes, and he is averaging more yards per carry (7.3) than per pass attempt (6.4).

Philadelphia (3-1) at Dallas (2-2)

What a difference a year makes. The Eagles are 3-1, and coming off a great comeback win over the Chiefs last week, but it's crowded atop the NFC East. Washington is 3-0 and the NY Giants are 3-1 (and off this week), so the Eagles need to win to keep pace. Dallas has been a tease all season, with their 19-13 loss to previously winless Oakland a major disappointment. Of course, they also needed to overcome a 12 point deficit to defeat the 49ers the week before, so maybe we shouldn't have been surprised. Every Cowboys game this season has been decided by 6 points or less, which means that Drew Bledsoe has made them just good enough to be competitive, but their offense is not consistent enough to win every week. Look for the Eagles to give the Cowboys their first lopsided game of the season.

Washington (3-0) at Denver (3-1)

Meanwhile, Joe Gibbs faces a similar problem. His Redskins are 3-0, but it's the weakest 3-0 I've ever seen. Washington's total margin of victory is just 6 points, including last week's 20-17 overtime win over Seattle. Add in earlier wins against Chicago and Dallas, and it is hard to be impressed. They did slow down Shaun Alexander last week (98 yards), but Denver has been rolling, and should win this game.

Sunday Night
Cincinnati (4-0) at Jacksonville (2-2)

This is an interesting test for the Bengals. They have looked very good this season, blowing out Cleveland, Minnesota, and Chicago, but they struggled last week against Houston, committing 14 penalties, which concerns me. The combined records of their opponents are just 3-10, but those 3 blowouts were certainly more impressive than how Washington, for example, narrowly defeated Chicago earlier this season.

The Jacksonville defense needs to respond after a poor game against Denver, as they surrendered 188 yards rushing to the 1-2 punch of Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell. Rudi Johnson is sixth in the NFL in rushing with 388 yards, but has only scored one touchdown this season. They also need to pressure Carson Palmer, who has only been sacked 5 times for just 19 yards. Palmer already has 1062 yards passing, and 9 TDs to just 2 INTs. Unless the Jaguars can force the Bengals to repeat their penalty-filled game of a week ago, they'll need to create some turnovers to stay close in this game.

Monday Night
Pittsburgh (2-1) at San Diego (2-2)

This is a marquee matchup, and while the Steelers are coming off a bye week, the Chargers are coming off something even better - a blowout win against the Patriots. Pittsburgh lost to New England two weeks ago, so I'm sure San Diego's success opened a lot of eyes this week. San Diego's defense has the easier task, since if they take away the running game Roethisberger will have a hard time winning the game himself. On the other hand, Pittsburgh has to pick their poison of either the best running back in the league, LaDainian Tomlinson, or an improving Drew Brees. The Chargers know that a 2-3 start will be hard to overcome, especially if they fall two games behind the Broncos, and losing to the Steelers could kill them if they are forced to survive a playoff tiebreaker for a wild-card spot. If San Diego wants to be considered a Super Bowl contender, they need to follow-up their impressive win last week with another big win.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005 

(Not) Born to Run

Philadelphia's 37-31 comeback win on Sunday over Kansas City was remarkable for many reasons. The Eagles trailed 17-0 midway in the second quarter, cut it to 17-6 on an interception return, then saw Dante Hall return the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown to fall behind 24-6. But Philadelphia scored the next 31 points in the game including 3 Donovan McNabb TD passes, as the Eagles defense completely shutdown the Chiefs high-profile offense.

Also remarkable was that Philadelphia gained just 28 yards on the ground on 17 carries. While the 17 carries in this game can be explained by the score, it wasn't the only poor rushing performance this weekend. The Jets gained 28 yards on 15 carries in their 13-3 loss against the Ravens, and the Jaguars ran the ball 11 times for 12 yards as they lost 20-7 against the Broncos. Both of those games were close for a half or more, so the defenses deserve full credit for stopping a pair of one-dimensional offenses.

Sunday, October 02, 2005 

Struck by Lightning

I must admit I did not watch the entire Patriots game today. With the Red Sox game starting at 2, and the Indians game starting at 1, my clicker was working overtime this afternoon.

The Patriots defense let the offense down today, as they could not stop the Chargers, particularly in the second half. The 17-17 halftime tie was the result of a great first half by Tom Brady, who threw for over 200 yards. But in the third quarter, San Diego scored 2 TDs and held New England to just 9 offensive plays. The Patriots offense certainly didn't play well in the second half, but when your defense can't get off the field or even slow down LaDainian Tomlinson it limits your opportunities. Getting shutout 24-0 in the second half better motivate the Patriots to play better, since it doesn't get any easier next week against (a banged up) Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn, and T.J. Duckett.


Quick Slants - Week 4

While most of New England focuses on the Red Sox-Yankees series and the conclusion of the regular season, there's still a few football games worthy of our time this weekend.

San Diego (1-2) at New England (2-1)

LaDainian Tomlinson must be looking forward to this game. Even with Rodney Harrison out for most of last week's game, the Patriots still slowed down the Steelers running game. But Tomlinson, unlike Willie Parker, is the real deal. Parker is still the leading rusher in the AFC, but Tomlinson shredded the Giants for 192 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday night and is averaging 5.4 yards per carry this season. New England's defense will be tested again today.

The Patriots offense has been pass-happy so far this season. Consider that Tom Brady has a significantly higher number of pass attempts than Drew Brees:

Att Comp Pct Yds TD Int
Brady 123 78 63.4 948 3 2
Brees 80 52 65.0 575 4 3

With Kevin Faulk and Matt Light injured, you have to wonder if the Patriots can keep it up, but if they slow down Tomlinson, can Brees carry the Chargers offense?

Denver (2-1) at Jacksonville (2-1)

Jacksonville is being a tease again this season. Yes, they beat the Jets last week, but they needed overtime against a team that was using a QB with a torn rotator cuff. The Jaguars had a 308-168 yardage advantage and a 40:31 to 25:34 time of possession edge, but only a 16-12 edge in first downs. On the other hand, their come-from-behind win against Seattle is the Seahawks only loss so far, and they gave Indianapolis their toughest game of the year.

Then there's Denver, who have been impressive since being embarassed by Miami in the season opener. Both wins came at home, but they overcame a 14-3 halftime deficit against San Diego, then blew out Kansas City 30-10 on Monday night. Mike Shanahan must have given one hell of a halftime speech in the San Diego game. Up to that point, the Broncos had been outscored 48-13 in their first 6 quarters this season. In the 6 quarters since, Denver has turned the tables, outscoring the Chargers and Chiefs 47-13.

Philadelphia (2-1) at Kansas City (2-1)

The big story of this game is Donovan McNabb's abdominal injury, which illustrates his toughness and willingness to sacrifice for his team. McNabb already has 8 TD passes this season, but the Eagles have struggled this season, losing to the Falcons, blowing out the 49ers (and building up most of their stats in the process), then needing a game-winning FG to beat the winless Raiders.

Meanwhile, Kansas City's magic carpet ride crash-landed in Denver, as the Broncos shut down the Chiefs 1-2 punch of Priest Holmes (61 yards) and Larry Johnson (13 yards on 8 carries) in part because they exploded to a 17-0 first quarter lead. The Chiefs will bounce back in this game, but I still like the Eagles defense better, so I think Philly will win.

Monday Night
Green Bay (0-3) at Carolina (1-2)

This game has names, but it's not exactly a dream matchup for ABC. Brett Favre hasn't had much magic this year, while Jake Delhomme and the Panthers followed up their emotional win against the Patriots by falling flat on their faces in Miami. How often does a team win when they commit 13 penalties for 138 yards? Well, the Dolphins did, partly because they won the turnover battle 3-1, and partly because the anemic Panthers running game managed just 61 yards on 26 carries.

To be fair, Green Bay could have won last week if Ryan Longwell hadn't missed an extra point and a 42 yard field goal, but Favre isn't exactly putting up great stats:

Week 1 Det 27-44-2-201 0 TD
Week 2 Cle 32-44-2-342 3 TD
Week 3 TB 14-24-3-195 2 TD

Get the picture? Too many interceptions. Plus, Green Bay can't run the ball consistently - just 46, 116, and 75 yards in the three games so far, with the 116 coming against a weak Cleveland team.

I normally like Favre in a big spot, but Carolina is just as desperate, and the Panthers are a better team and should win this game.

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