Alas, the first bye week is here, but have no fear. We’ve got at least five blue-ribbon games on tap this week, including a battle of undefeated teams.
Here’s a primer on the week ahead:
Green Bay at Minnesota: The Brett Favre Bowl. Need I really say more? Probably not, but I will anyway. We get Aaron Rodgers against the future Hall of Famer, who never seemed to take a real shine to him. We’ve got Cheeseheads vs. Favre. We’ve got a Monday Night Football rating bonanza. And coming off a week in which Favre won a game in the final seconds with a miracle/lucky/Favrian desperation pass to the back of the end zone, who isn’t going to tune in? I maintain that the beating Favre is taking will limit him greatly and that his flashes of brilliance will be very few and far between when the weather turns and he has to play outside in the cold. We will see some crumbling by the week. He’s indoors this week, though, and will no doubt be highly motivated.
N.Y. Jets at New Orleans: So the Saints won’t drop a 40-spot on every team they face, and Rex Ryan’s Blitzkrieg Bop D gets another firm challenge. If not for some horrid special teams play by the Titans last week, the Jets would have lost that game. I see them taking a little step back here at some point. Saints coordinator Gregg Williams disposed of rookie QB Matthew Stafford in Week 1 with an array of varied blitz packages and I’d imagine the same is in store for rookie QB Mark Sanchez this week. More must see TV.
Baltimore at New England: The Patriots took a step toward reclaiming their elite status in the AFC last week, but this will be a severe test on all levels. Can their defense take the physical pounding of Baltimore’s run game? Will Joe Flacco make a mistake? Will Ravens coordinator Greg Mattison get a little more aggressive with his scheme to try to derail Tom Brady as others have? The Pats seem to be trying to restore their run game — for good reason — but the Ravens have the best rush defense in the NFL.
San Diego at Pittsburgh: I have not been overly impressed with the Chargers and the schedule has been kind to them. Facing a Steelers team suddenly on a losing streak (albeit just two games) adds some tension to the game. With San Diego unable to contain the run, this seems like the perfect opportunity for Pittsburgh to rediscover its run game. I’m not sure the Chargers will be able to pressure Ben Roethlisberger as much as it generally takes to defeat him. All around, great Sunday night drama here. Another five-star game.
Dallas at Denver: Denver’s defense is quietly holding teams to under a touchdown per game. Of course, you could point to the schedule and the overall poor play within the AFC West and ask, “Are they really that good?”, but we’ll get a better idea after this contest. The Cowboys continue to strike me as a team bound for another 8-8 or 9-7 season and I’m not sure too many analysts pegged the Broncos to be among the league’s undefeated clubs for this long. We get Kyle Orton, the ultimate game-manager, vs. Tony Romo, the gunslinger.
Seattle at Indianapolis: Matt Hasselbeck will try to get back for this game and the Seahawks could have Walter Jones and Lofa Tatupu back as well. Peyton Manning is on the loose and I expect him to move the ball with relative ease. The Seahawks’ run of injuries has been epic dating back to last season, and if the linebackers are still ailing, this game could get out of hand. I still think the Seahawks can compete in the NFC West, but they aren’t getting many breaks (broken ribs aside).
Tennessee at Jacksonville: The Titans have to win a game, soon, right? Not sure any other 0-3 team could make a case for being 3-0, but they keep finding ways to lose (special teams has been horrible). The Jags salvaged their season last week and whenever these clubs get together it’s a bare-knuckle battle. A loss for the Titans would drop them deep to the bottom of the AFC South and give them losses to division rivals Jacksonville and Houston. I’m sticking to my theory that that won’t happen and the Titans will still find a way to make a playoff push.
Detroit at Chicago: Been a long time since anyone mentioned let-down game and Detroit Lions in the same sentence, eh? (At least with the Lions being the potential let-down-ers, and not the let-down-ees). The Lions are not the worst team in the league this season and are putting together some real weapons on offense behind an underrated line. I like Jay Cutler to continue piling up the TDs and for the Bears to get the win here, but the Lions will give them a game.
Oakland at Houston: The Texans can’t get out of their own way and sustain any forward momentum. The Raiders, after a promising start in Week 1, look like, well, the Raiders. One thing Oakland has going for it is the ability to play physical football, particularly with a huge defensive line. The Raiders also have the rare ability to stifle Houston’s passing attack with their secondary. Assuming JaMarcus Russell can complete, oh, 40 percent of his passes (and I realize that might be asking a lot), I like Oakland’s chances. Also, the Raiders should just pound it with their running backs and keep Russell to 15-18 attempts. If he has any confidence left, it must be waning.
Buffalo at Miami: The loser here is in big, big trouble, especially if that loser is the Dolphins. Miami will turn its offense over to quarterbacks Chad Henne and Pat White and I’d expect to see a whole bunch of Wildcat. The Bills have given it their all and that defense is coming along. Injuries to the secondary are hurting Buffalo, however, and we’ve got a T.O. situation that could become highly combustible. Could we see some sideline histrionics in South Florida? The Bills get Marshawn Lynch back and I think they will grind this one out, which would leave the Dolphins in a huge hole.
Cincinnati at Cleveland: The Bengals are an 87-yard fluke TD away from being undefeated. I could see them being a little too high against what may be the worst team in the NFL, but even if they have first-half doldrums, it won’t be enough for the Browns to spring an upset. Cleveland doesn’t have any stability at quarterback, coach Eric Mangini hasn’t pushed many right buttons and it could be a while before the Browns win a game.
N.Y. Giants at Kansas City: The Giants complete their epic three-game road trip while Bruce Springsteen took over their digs. And I can’t fathom them not going 3-0 on the trip. Even five turnovers might not be enough to keep the Chiefs in this game.
Tampa Bay at Washington: Will Jim Zorn make it through halftime? I kid, I kid. But the pressure is on in Washington and the Redskins have yet to look close to impressive. The Bucs have been worse. Josh Johnson is an intriguing prospect and he will add a spark and unpredictability to Tampa Bay’s offense in his first NFL start. He could create problems outside the tackles and keep the game interesting, but this is a must-win for the ‘Skins at home. Even another ugly victory like their escape against St. Louis a few weeks back won’t quiet the fans.
San Francisco at St. Louis:: The Rams don’t have much going for them, while the 49ers are adjusting to a few weeks without Frank Gore. San Francisco looks like the class of the division and its defense is likely to get after Marc Bulger or Kyle Boller, whoever ends up under center.