Some Teams Make or Break Already?
Divisional Games Are the Focus
There's some big divisional games this week. Take the NFC North. We could see Green Bay and Detroit start putting distance on Minnesota and Chicago, or they could be all bunched together. You also have two NFC divisions with 2-1 division leaders facing each other: Tampa at Carolina and Seattle at San Fran. There are also a couple of bottom-feeding battles involving teams that were playoff teams last year. Reference Kansas City at San Diego.
Only five undefeated teams remain: 3 in the AFC, 2 in the NFC. Everyone in the AFC has won at least once. That's pretty amazing heading into Week 4. In fact, just New Orleans, Atlanta and St. Louis are winless. The Saints, idle this week, can't do anything about it, while the other two play Texas teams. St. Louis has it's work cut out heading to Dallas, and Atlanta hosts the upstart Texans.
New England is off until tomorrow night, so sit back and enjoy the games.
Here are the picks:
Sunday, Sept. 30
Baltimore (2-1) at Cleveland (1-2), 1 p.m.
Baltimore barely beat Arizona at home, and Cleveland lost on that last second field goal at Oakland (the way Oakland lost on the last second FG to Denver the week before -- expect the timeout rules to change soon). But Baltimore is No. 1 against the run, so it's likely Cleveland will need to depend on Derek Anderson for another big game. A really big game, because Cleveland, despite having defensive guru (at least he's supposed to be) Romeo Crennel as head coach, the Browns are 31st in the league in overall defense and rushing defense, and last in points allowed.
Prediction: Ravens, 24-17.
Chicago (1-2) at Detroit (2-1), 1 p.m.
Most if not all of Chicago's defensive secondary will be sitting this one out. Detroit has the best passing game (by yards) in the league -- by 64 yards per game. Then again, Detroit is also the worst against the pass and 30th in points allowed. Brian Griese replaces Rex Grossman under center for Chicago. An upgrade for sure, but by how much I'm not -- ya, it's an upgrade. If Chicago loses, they'll be 1-3 and may not be returning to the NFC Championship game. But Detroit would be 3-1 and possibly on their way. Then again, look at both teams' opponents so far, and you can explain their records. This should be an interesting game to watch.
Prediction: Bears, 27-24.
Green Bay (3-0) at Minnesota (1-2), 1 p.m.
Who scheduled two NFC North head-to-head games for 1 p.m.? Kelly Holcomb starts in relief of Tarvaris Jackson for Minnesota. I don't think too much really separates these teams, but it's a game of matchups. Brett Favre and Green Bay's passing game is near the top of the league, and Minnesota's pass defense is not. The Vikings' rushing defense is near the top, but that might not really matter to Green Bay. The Pack's defense is average across the board, so Minnesota will run the ball and hope Holcomb can find a rhythm. Green Bay has done well against Minnesota, even when Minnesota was a better team.
Prediction: Packers, 24-23.
Houston (2-1) at Atlanta (0-3), 1 p.m.
Statistically, these teams are fairly comparable. The AFC is 8-6 against the NFC so far, and that's because Miami is 0-2 against the NFC. Atlanta leads only K.C. and Buffalo in points scored. Houston is just outside the top 10 in points allowed, and that's after giving up 30 to Indy. Bobby Petrino is wondering what he did to deserve this. Michael Vick kills his third coach, and he's not even there.
Prediction: Texans, 21-10.
N.Y. Jets (1-2) at Buffalo (0-3), 1 p.m.
You really have to feel bad for Buffalo. They really could have started making traction this year, and they get ruined by injuries. To borrow from Mel Brooks again, "Only a miracle can save them."
Prediction: Jets, 31-13.
Oakland (1-2) at Miami (0-3), 1 p.m.
Miami has had one of the toughest schedules in the league so far. Oakland beat Cleveland at home by virtue of abusing a poorly written timeout rule. Because of the schedules each team has played, I'm reluctant to put much stock in the stats. This game may earn the moniker "Game of the Lousy Quarterbacks."
Prediction: Dolphins, 21-17.
St. Louis (0-3) at Dallas (3-0), 1 p.m.
Let's just move on.
Prediction: Cowboys, 35-16.
Seattle (2-1) at San Francisco (2-1), 4:05 p.m.
Early battle for the top of the division between the two teams that should be at the top of the division. San Fran has allowed 17 more points than they have scored; Seattle has scored 14 more than they have allowed. But the Niners beat Arizona and Seattle lost to the Cards. These teams are 8-8 against each other and Frisco has won the last two, both by identical 24-14 scores. This should be another fun game to watch.
Prediction: 49ers, 20-17.
Tampa Bay (2-1) at Carolina (2-1), 4:05 p.m.
Another battle for the division lead. Amazing how important these games can be when weeks 15, 16 and 17 roll around. For the last four years, the NFC South team finishing last one year won the division the next year. Jeff Garcia has really revived Tampa. David Carr is expected to start for the injured Jake Delhomme. Carolina is 0-1 at home (2-0 on the road); Tampa is 0-1 on the road (2-0 at home). Weird stuff. Go with Carolina's running game.
Prediction: Panthers, 21-14.
Denver (2-1) at Indianapolis (3-0), 4:15 p.m.
Indy has done well against Denver for several years, and Denver has to travel to the dome. The Broncos have been inconsistent at best so far, and they needed to abuse that timeout rule to beat Oakland at home. Bring back Plummer!
Prediction: Colts, 28-14.
Kansas City (1-2) at San Diego (1-2), 4:15 p.m.
If Denver loses, one of these teams will be tied for first in the division. Two of the best running backs in the league last year are .. um, not .. this year. Ultimately, San Diego is just a better team, and they're at home.
Prediction: Chargers, 28-10.
Pittsburgh (3-0) at Arizona (1-2), 4:15 p.m.
These afternoon games aren't shaping up to be very interesting -- on paper, anyway. Pittsburgh is destroying teams, and Arizona is who we thought they were. Well, maybe they're a little bit better. If they pull of the upset today, they could end up being the surprise team of the year.
Prediction: Steelers, 31-17.
Philadelphia (1-2) at N.Y. Giants (1-2), 8:15 p.m.
Now that Donovan McNabb is done whining and blaming everyone else for his problems and is actually playing his position, Philly has a chance. Keep away from the soup commercials, Donovan. But did New York experience an epiphany last week too? They went on the road to beat what was looking like a good Redskins team who was heading into a bye and should have been playing extra hard. The Giants just give up too many points (30th in the league).
Prediction: Eagles, 31-17.
Monday, Oct. 1
New England (3-0) at Cincinnati (1-2), 8:30 p.m.
Please read my separate pregame report to be posted later tonight, maybe tomorrow.
Prediction: Thanks for reading Pats Pulpit.
Open Date: Jacksonville (2-1), New Orleans (0-3), Tennessee (2-1), Washington (2-1)
Last week: 10-6.
I'm not feeling too good about a lot of my preseason picks. But it's just Week 4. Long way to go. The good news is I won't waste another pick on New Orleans this week.
Season: 30-18 (.625).
Steady as she goes. I was 27-19 after three weeks last year. Teams actually had byes in Week 3 last season.