By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Sunday NFL Preview: Week Eight
PHILADELPHIA — I have dubbed this week in the NFL, “Statement Week”. The midway point of the 2008 NFL Season is upon us and now it is time for teams to make their move toward the playoffs or planning for the off-season. Former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle’s favorite word “parity” is alive and kicking in the NFL ranks.
The good thing is that there is so much competition every week with a ‘never-say-die’ attitude prevalent around the NFL. But the wild thing is that no one has any idea who is going to win when teams line up, regardless of their record. The weekly upsets have produced a desperate feeling around the NFL.
Jobs are on the line — three head coaches and one GM have already been fired with several others on the hot seat — so fans, players, owners, and coaches are all trying anything to get their team in contention. The desperation is fueled by an understanding around the NFL that at the midpoint of the season, the sands in the 2008 season hourglass are quickly slipping away and there is little time to change their team’s destiny.
Every NFL team seems to be jumbled between 4-2 and 2-4 (twenty teams) as we hit halftime of the NFL marathon-like season. The current standings show that there is little separation as there is one lonely undefeated team (Titans 6-0), three (5-1) teams — Giants, Bills, and Steelers; three (5-2) teams Buccaneers, Redskins and Panthers; three (4-2) teams — Patriots, Cardinals, and Falcons; four (4-3) teams that need to figure out if they are going up or down — Cowboys, Bears, Packers, and Broncos; five (3-3) teams that will either join the playoff hunt or not in the coming weeks (Eagles, Colts, Jaguars, Jets, and Ravens); three (3-4) teams that are up and down too much — Chargers, Vikings, and Saints; five (2-4) teams who are either moving up the ladder or following toward the draft – Dolphins, Browns, Rams, Texans, and Raiders; the reeling (2-5) Niners (fired head coach Mike Nolan this week); and the NFL’s basement dwellers of the (1-5) Chiefs and Seahawks with the (0-6) Lions and (0-7) Bengals bringing up the rear.
This week’s slate of games features several marquee match-ups that will go a long way in establishing playoff spots and moving up in conference standings (only two divisional games).
Giants at Steelers -This is a highly anticipated playoff type game, the Steelers host the Super Bowl champion Giants in FOX’s featured afternoon game. Some are saying that this game is a preview for Super Bowl XLIII, but it maybe a little early. Look for a lot of running from two power teams with stellar attacking defenses.It’ll be New York’s Brandon Jacobs (“He’s a Mack truck coming downhill,” says Giants LB Antonio Pierce) vs. Melwelde Moore, signed in the off-season “in case,” as he says, starter Willie Parker got hurt (he did). Moore comes off a 120-yard rush game (plus five catches) with three TDs.
Chargers vs. Saints in London – Did I mention this game is in London, England so it is Fish-n-Chips for everyone. The NFL for the second year in a row will be going global as these two (3-4) teams face-off in Wembley Stadium. I am calling this game the “Desperation Bowl”. It will be a battle of the two quarterbacks ranked first and fourth in NFL passing yardage this season(former Chargers and Saints QB Drew Brees; 2,224 yards and Chargers QB Phillip Rivers; 1,697 yards). But unfortunately for international fans, superstar Reggie Bush (knee) will not play and LaDainan Tomlinson maybe limited by a toe injury. Tomlinson said of the game in London, “I honestly think the London game was why the Giants were successful last year.” L.T added, “They went to London and it kind of changed their season. Hopefully, London brings us that.”
Bills at Dolphins – Two the NFL’s better stories collide in a crucial AFC East match-up. The Bills behind a high-powered offense featuring quarterback Trent Edwards, running back Marshawn Lynch, and receiver Lee Evans will attempt to outscore the Dolphins and their “Wildcat” offense.
Other must-see games this week: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Young and the Restless Dallas Cowboys, Atlanta Falcons at the Philadelphia Eagles, Arizona Cardinals (looking for first division title since 1975) at the Carolina Panthers, the Indianapolis Colts at the undefeated Tennessee Titans as Jeff Fisher’s team goes for their first 7-0 start in team history, and our featured game the St. Louis Rams at the New England Patriots.
Speaking of must-see, the NFL continues to deliver as week 6′s CBS doubleheader game on Sunday (mostly Colts-Packers plus Jets-Raiders overtime coverage) was the most-watched program of the week (Oct. 13-19) with 23.2 million viewers, which was more popular than shows: CSI, Dancing with the Stars, Grey’s Anatomy. NFL games also topped the local ratings in 26 of 30 markets last week, against competition including MLB’s AL and NL Championship Series.
This week’s games will also feature several reunions.
– Falcons quarterback Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan returns to Philly (grew up in the suburbs and played at Willam Penn Charter in the city) to play the Eagles as his team looks to close out doubts regarding their contender status at Lincoln Financial.
– Saints head coach Sean Payton leads his team against the San Diego Chargers this Sunday in London. Payton played semi-pro football in Leicester – about two hours north of London – for the Leicester Panthers of the Budweiser British American Football League in 1987.
– This week the Ravens look to get back to over .500 as they host the Raiders in a reunion game for Buddy Ryan’s Boys. Brothers Rex Ryan and Rob Ryan will lock horns as defensive coordinators for the Ravens and Raiders (ranked second in the NFL in defense) respectively.
– When the Giants take on the Steelers, it will be a reunion of quarterbacks Eli Manning (Giants) and Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers). Both were drafted in 2004 and each have won a Super Bowl. They are one of only three sets of quarterbacks in history to be drafted in the same year and to win a Super Bowl, and the only pair who were selected in the first round (others: 1971 – Jim Plunkett and Joe Theismann; 1979 – Phil Simms and Joe Montana)
Remember there is no Sunday Night Football game on NBC this week as everyone will have their eyes on my Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Also make sure that you cast your Pro Bowl ballot for your favorite players.
Rams (2-4) at Patriots (4-2), Sunday 1:00 PM ET (FOX) at Gillette Stadium
Broadcast Team: Chris Rose, JC Pearson, and Nischelle Turner (Field reporter)
A couple of weeks ago after the firing of Rams beleaguered head coach Scott Linehan, this match-up looked like a potential cakewalk for the Patriots. But there is a new sheriff in town at St. Louis as new Rams head coach Jim Haslett has dialed up the right mix for the hard-charging Rams. Haslett has driven his team from 0-4 to 2-4 by preaching tough defense and running the football. The magical mix really came together last week as the Rams thumped the “Young and Restless” Cowboys 34-14 in the Edward Jones Dome. Now the Rams go on the road in search of their third straight win this time in the cold New England.
Both teams are currently in second place in their divisions with an eye on moving up in the standings — Rams trail the Cardinals by 2 games and the Patriots trail the Bills by 1 game. Surprisingly this series is tied at 5-5 with the Patriots have won the last two meetings with the Rams, including a 20-17 victory in Super Bowl XXXVI. So you know both teams will bring their “A-game”. The Patriots have struggled on offense this season only scoring twenty points once in the last five games, but they finally started to looked like their 2007 dominant selves as they pounded the Broncos on Monday Night Football 41-7. Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel, who has had a bullseye on his back all season as he replaced America’s Quarterback Tom Brady (knee), finally looked comfortable in the win over the Broncos throwing for numbers 18-24, 185 yards, 3 TDs – two to Randy Moss, and no interceptions. But the key for the Patriots will be who is going to run the football as three of their top four running backs probably will miss Sunday’s game. Sammy Morris and LaMont Jordan were listed Friday as doubtful for the game, and Laurence Maroney is out for the season with a shoulder injury. That leaves Kevin Faulk, primarily a third-down back, rookie free agent BenJarvus Green-Ellis and fullback Heath Evans.
Defensively the Patriots will count on an attacking scheme built around a versatile linebacking group that can cover and pressure the quarterback. Everyone will talk about Super Bowl heroes Mike Vrabel and Tedy Bruschi, but the big playmakers are ’07 free agent signee Adalius Thomas (3.5 sacks) and potential defensive rookie fo the year Jerod Mayo (leads Pats with 48 TKLS). However there will be a big hole in the Patriots defense as veteran safety Rodney Harrison was lost for the season to a quad injury.
The Rams will look to counter on offense with their workhorse running back Steven Jackson, who is also fighting through an injury (strain). Jackson ran for a season-high 160 yards and three touchdowns — tripling his scoring output from the first five games – and leads the Rams in rushing (508 yards) and receiving (25 receptions for 259 yards). Also watch for quarterback Marc Bulger — In 18 career starts vs. AFC, Bulger has a 94.3 passer rating – getting the ball to emerging rookie receiver Donnie Avery (15 receptions for 184 yards and 2 TDs – one rushing and one receiving).
On defense the Rams will lean on defensive end Chris Long, the second overall selection of the draft, has started all six games collecting 30 tackles and two sacks which tie him for first among NFC rookies. Another player to watch on the Rams rejuvenated defense is safety Oshiomogho (OJ) Atogwe, who had two interceptions last week against the Cowboys and 10 picks in his last 14 games (3 INTs for the season).
LV’s Pick: The Patriots rank second in the NFL with 11 consecutive interconference wins at home and they are an amazing 11-1 at home in October since 2003. Those two statistics and the fact that the Patriots desperately want to catch the Buffalo Bills does not bode well for the Rams. Look for Cassel and Moss to combine for a couple of big plays on offense and on defense 2nd year safety Brandon Merriweather should fill in admirably for Rodney Harrison as the Patriots stop the Rams’ two-game winning streak 31-14.
NFL Week 8 Games
OAK @ BAL 1:00 PM CBS
ARI @ CAR 1:00 PM FOX
TB @ DAL 1:00 PM FOX
WAS @ DET 1:00 PM FOX
BUF @ MIA 1:00 PM CBS
STL @ NE 1:00 PM FOX
SD @ NO 1:00 PM CBS — In London, England
KC @ NYJ 1:00 PM CBS
ATL @ PHI 1:00 PM FOX
CLE @ JAC 4:05 PM CBS
CIN @ HOU 4:05 PM CBS
NYG @ PIT 4:15 PM FOX
SEA @ SF 4:15 PM FOX
IND @ TEN 8:30 PM ESPN
Byes: Bears, Broncos, Packers, Vikings.