New York Giants

Tom Brady, Haloti Ngata, Dawan Landry

2011 NFL Season: Championship Week

And then there were four:

Baltimore Ravens (13-4) vs. New England Patriots (14-3). 3:00 pm ET. Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Give me the Ravens over the Patriots (-7.5). How much of the betting line is driven by the Patriots impressive win over the one-dimensional Denver Broncos? How much is driven by another underwhelming performance by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco? The Patriots are at home and have the better quarterback. They also have a defense that just might be coming together at the right time. The return of Patrick Chung (#25) to the lineup has inspired some confidence in New England that the back end just might hold up under duress. Who knows! The Patriots haven’t faced a team with a decent passing game since Week 12 (Philadelphia), and in that game, they surrendered 393 yards to Vince Young.

Conventional wisdom says the Ravens have to run the ball to win this game; that Ray Rice is their most reliable, consistent, and dynamic offensive player. The “smart money” says that Baltimore’s defense is beginning to show signs of age and strain; and, that they will be hard-pressed to defend the new tactical weapons in Brady’s arsenal (tight ends Gronkowski and Hernandez). Perhaps, this game will be decided by the battle between Patriots safeties Patrick Chung (and whomever else Belichick puts back there) and Joe Flacco. The Patriots tight ends have been tremendous all season long, but the Ravens tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are very talented and capable of exploiting mismatches all over the field.

The production of Gronkowski (90, 1327, 17) and Hernandez (79, 910, 7) during the 2011 season has been historic. Still, the more conventional and conservative Ravens had a productive duo. Hickson and Pitta combined for 94 catches, 1033 yards, and 12 touchdowns.  Gronkowski and New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham were the only single players to eclipse those numbers. So, the Ravens also bring a viable tight end duo to this contest.

Perhaps the single greatest advantage in this game goes to Tom Brady. However, in recent years, Brady has proven susceptible to pressure up the middle combined with press coverage on his slot receivers. This approach compels him to hold the ball longer, while in a collapsing pocket. He must wait for his excellent (but slower) tight ends to uncover against man or zone coverage, or he must buy time with his feet. The Ravens have a solid rotation of defensive tackles, including Haloti Ngata, who are capable of man-handling the Patriots interior lineman, pressuring Brady, deflecting passes, and defending the run. I believe the game will turn on the ability of these players to pressure Brady and slow down the Patriots offense.

The 2011 Ravens defense, in my estimation, is not as powerful as the 2008 version. Still, the Ravens have some options. I believe that Lardarius Webb (#21) may wind up facing Wes Welker in the slot. The Patriots have the option of featuring Welker or either of their tight ends. I’m not sure that Deion Branch or any of the other wide receivers are still capable of having a big game against the Ravens (#Ocho!!). Ed Reed is going to spend a major portion of the day dealing with Gronkowski and/or Hernandez. This will place a premium on Bernard Pollard’s ability to cover, make tackles, and deliver big hits.

The Patriots did not win any games this season against teams that finished the season with winning records. I’m not sure what difference that makes. The Patriots beat teams that had Super Bowl aspirations all season long: San Diego, the Jets, Philadelphia. Still, they have managed to lose to teams that used physicality to dominate the line of scrimmage: the Giants and Steelers, in particular.

I like the Ravens physicality in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Baltimore 31, New England 21.

Stats of interest:

Tom Brady’s 300-yard passing games vs. Baltimore: 0

Brady’s 3 touchdown games vs. Baltimore: 0

Games completing under 60% of passes: 3

New York Giants (11-7) vs. San Francisco 49ers  (14-3). 6:30 pm ET. San Francisco, California.

It’s pouring down rain in San Francisco. I like the Giants as much as any team in the league in bad weather. The last time these teams met, Frank Gore played a half, and Ahmad Bradshaw missed the entire contest. Bradshaw’s return to the lineup means a great deal for him and Eli Manning, but it also makes Brandon Jacobs more dangerous…and in bad weather, with a wet track, Jacobs’ change of pace may be just what it takes to finally power through that impenetrable San Francisco defense.

The Giants have more versatility on offense. The 49ers have more depth on defense. But if the rain is going to affect the Giants pass rush, it’s also going to affect 263 pound Aldon Smith. I like Cruz, and Nicks, and Manningham more than I like Michael Crabtree and whomever else the 49ers have found to play opposite him. Vernon Davis is a phenomenal talent, but he is not a wholly unique talent. I like the Giants to live with his production and force someone else to beat them.

New York 27, San Francisco 17.

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2011 NFL Season: Trends, Ends, and Bends (Week 3)

When does a season really take shape? Is it in the beginning when surprising teams get off to hot starts? Is it when elite teams hit their stride and begin to pile drive the competition? Or is it late in the season when the scramble for playoff position is at full tilt? Each season is different, but I think I can say there are some things I know about the 2011 season.

  1. The Buffalo Bills are for realfinally. I’ve liked this team for several years now and they’ve been a disappointment. This team has more confidence, better offensive coaching (Chan Gailey), and more playmakers at key positions. Can they outlast the Patriots and Jets? I think they’ll have to beat one or both of them on the road to make the playoffs.
  2. The Minnesota Vikings are a mess. The entire team is playing the second half of games as if they are expecting the worst. And their fans are doing the same thing. In the first half of games this season, the Vikings have outscored the Chargers, Buccaneers and Lions by a combined score of 54-7. The second half of games has been a merciless parade of broken tackles, three-and-outs, “too smart” playcalling, and sloppy play. Leslie Frazier bears full responsibility for this. The team has the talent. He has to get inside his player’s heads and clear out the cobwebs.
  3. The Atlanta Falcons are overrated…and so is Matt Ryan. Guys who are mediocre outdoors and on the road are mediocre, period. When Michael Turner is unable to get off on the ground, the Falcons have trouble scoring and winning. Roddy White could have won that game yesterday. It’s not all on Matt when they lose, but it’s not all on him when they win — and they can’t seem to win consistently outdoors and on the road.
  4. However, the luck of the Bucs is due to run out soon. For the second consecutive week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won big games vs. conference opponents that harbor dreams of making a post-season splash. For the second consecutive week, Bucs QB Josh Freeman has thrown an interception in the end zone. That has to stop. Focus up young man and take what the defense gives you!!
  5. Cam Newton can win games. The Panthers played in a virtual monsoon for part of their game vs. Jacksonville. The Panthers have issues on their offensive line and only one professional wide receiver. Still, Newton has found a way to provide leadership and stability. For a team playing without Thomas Davis and John Beason, getting off the field on 3rd down is going to be a stiff challenge. Carolina has the toughest schedule in the entire league this season and it will get much more difficult as the year progresses.
  6. Running Mike Martz’ system requires mental toughness. I don’t believe there is a coordinator in the league that puts more pressure on his QB’s than Martz. Whether it’s calling protections with limited blocking, reading blitzes, calling audibles or making accurate and timely throws, Martz’ demands may just be too high for Jay Cutler and this group of Bears.
  7. Why did the Vikings run the ball with Toby Gerhart on 4th down vs. the Lions? Why???????
  8. The Steelers have a +/- turnover ratio of -9. This team doesn’t have the overall talent to play at that level. If that number doesn’t change, the Steelers are going to miss the playoffs. Between Roethlisberger’s fumbles, interception and missed field goal, Pittsburgh lost roughly 19 points. A game that might have been a blowout, especially given that starter Kerry Collins was knocked out, wound up as a tightly contested game that I will remember for Pierre Garcon’s dropped touchdowns as much as anything else.
  9. Before this season, the Steelers have ranked in the bottom half of turnover ratio only 6 times since 1988. Each time, they’ve missed the playoffs. This morning…they rank dead last in a league of 32 teams.
  10. The Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2004. That was a long time ago. What’s missing? The power running of Corey Dillon. Even before Dillon, the Pats could rely on Antowain Smith to get short yardage conversions, maintain possession and keep defenses honest. Dillon, of course, was particularly valuable in the Red Zone. When the Patriots lose, it’s because they’re throwing a few too many passes against teams that either have a slew of good DBs or they have a good pass rush or both (Bills ’11, Jets ’10, Ravens ’09, Saints ’09, Giants ’07). They don’t lose often, but when they do — that’s why.
  11. The Giants’ Victor Cruz really is that good. I know most people have never heard of this guy, but if you live in New York, you must remember his breakout performance in last year’s pre-season game vs. the New York Jets. Yeah, it was pre-season. Yeah, it was a year ago. But, Cruz showcased the savvy, strength, agility, and speed against the Eagles that he did against the Jets. He never saw the light of day behind Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith and Mario Manningham and Domenik Hixon. The Giants were DEEEEEEEEEEEP at wide receiver. Cruz is just one more high-quality player at the position.
  12. Big men with bad feet. Antonio Gates. This is going to be an ongoing problem isn’t it?
  13. James Harrison is a strong man. If anyone threw Dallas Clark around like that on the street, the police would have been called hours ago.
  14. I don’t care much for Mike Shanahan. I think he definitely knows what he’s doing. Two rings bear that out. Still, I thought Washington has the pieces in place to make a run last year. The best player on that offense, when his hands cooperate, is Fred Davis. The best player on that defense, once he masters that scheme, is Brian Orakpo. That’s not a bad tandem to build around.
  15. So let me get this straight. Some people think the Eagles would be better off with a guy who couldn’t beat the lowly Seattle Seahawks. If Tarvaris Jackson can beat Kolb (as a Seahawk) and Warner (as a Viking), maybe he knows something about the Cardinals that even Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t know.
  16. Andy Dalton and Cam Newton are both 1-2, sort of. Guess what. Andy Dalton has been credited with a win he didn’t deserve. In Week 1, the Bengals beat the Browns, but Dalton was knocked from the game with his team trailing 14-13 at halftime. Dalton didn’t return to the game. The Bengals won under the leadership of Bruce Gradkowski. Dalton is 0-2 in his other starts and mustered all of 8 points vs. the San Francisco 49ers. I’m not sold.
  17. I was wrong about Matt Schaub. Maybe I don’t watch enough Texans games…maybe I do. It seems to me that Schaub almost always manages to put up big numbers (thanks to Andre Johnson and a Shanahan-based offensive system), but never does enough to win the big game. Week 1 wins at home vs. the Colts are not big wins, especially if the game is played in Houston as it was in 2010. On the road vs. the Saints — make me a believer! Couldn’t get it done. At home vs. the Ravens in ’10 — make a believer! Couldn’t get it done. Winnable games with a playoff spot on the line in 2010 — make a believer!! Couldn’t get it done!!!
  18. If your name is Matt, I’m not feeling you, unless…. Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan, Matt Cassel! No thanks. Matthew Stafford! I’m buying that guy. He’s a baller. If he ever begins to go by Matt Stafford, we’re done. Matt’s come up short almost all the time. Hasselbeck is the only Matt to even win a playoff game. As highly regarded as these players are, you’d think they were setting the world on fire. Let’s put this in perspective…the four Matt’s have been in the league for a combined total of 28 years and have amassed a combined post-season record of 5-9.
  19. I was for the Raiders before I was against them. The Raiders swept the otherwise powerful AFC West in 2010. While the national media continues its infatuation with the San Diego Super Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, the Silver & Black have quietly emerged as the team to beat once again in this division. Oakland is poised to make the post-season in 2011 if they can remain focused and out of the 9-7 morass that will get dicey if they face a tie-breaker with the Bills in late December.
  20. All I know about the Jets rush defense is that they are not nearly as good as Rex Ryan would have you believe. Call it The Kris Jenkins Effect. In last year’s Super Bowl, we saw a bit of the Cullen Jenkins Effect. Of course, it was overshadowed by the B.J. Raji Effect, but nonetheless, the Jenkins men cast a large shadow in the trenches. The Jets have been without Kris Jenkins off and on for much of the past 2 years. They have been their most formidable with Jenkins, but now it’s all catching up with them.
  • 27 – 121 – 1
  • 27 – 112
  • 32 – 234 – 4

In last year’s AFC Championship Game, Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall pounded the Jets for 121 yards on 27 time consuming carries.  The Jets were unable to overcome the Steelers running game and were forced to retool for this year. A week ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars crawled into town led by Luke McCown. En route to a 32-3 blowout, Maurice Jones-Drew was still able to scratch out 88 yards on 18 carries. The team ran for 112 yards on 27 carries in a losing effort. The writing was on the wall. Yesterday, the Raiders dispensed with any notion that the New York Jets have a stout run defense. Darren McFadden bought space in Rex’s head like a desperate shoe salesman with a web cam and a penchant for panty hose. 171 yards later, the Jets are looking for a new story to tell. They are not the bullies of the AFC. They weren’t at the end of last season and they are not at the beginning of this season. Rex has work to do and so do the men in the trenches. Kris Jenkins is not walking through that door.

On to the next.

Five Quarterbacks: Name that Buster!

Curious stats for the viewing public.

’09 Eagles offense (except vs. Dallas): 29.5 ppg  McNabb (11th in yards, 5th in Scoring)
’09 Eagles offense vs. Dallas: 8.0 ppg  McNabb

’10 Eagles offense: 29.4 Vick/Kolb (1st in Yards; 2nd in Scoring)
’10 Eagles offense: 33.6 ppg  Vick

’09 Cowboys offense: 22.6 ppg  Romo (2nd in Yards, 14th in Scoring)
’10 Cowboys offense: 25.3 ppg  Romo/Kitna (7th in Yards, 7th in Scoring)
’10 Cowboys offense with Jon Kitna: 32.1 ppg  Kitna

’09 Giants offense: 25.1 ppg  Manning (3rd in Yards, 6th in Scoring)
’10 Giants offense: 25.7 ppg  Manning (8th in Yards, 8th in Scoring)

’08 Broncos offense: 23.1 ppg Shanahan with Jay Cutler (2nd in Yards; 16th in Scoring)

’09 Texans offense: 24.1 ppg K. Shanahan with Matt Schaub (4th in Yards; 10th in Scoring)

’10 Redskins offense: 19.1 ppg M & K Shanahan with McNabb/Grossman (17th in yards; 25th in scoring)

I don’t know about you, but I see a trend.

2010 NFL Season: Week 15 in Review

A game of inches, obscene noises, and definitive silence.

Antonio Cromartie, aka The Jersey Boy: Nice Grab

And this, too. (And it’s not a replay.)

Antonio Cromartie Masterfully Turns the Inside Shoulder

Um, and this one, too.

Antonio Cromartie Demonstrates Desperation

And this, too.

Dwight Lowery Snuggles Close to Emmanuel Sanders

Jets 22, Steelers 17.   “Emmanuel!! Wait!  Dont’ leave me this way.   I luuuuuuuv you, man!  Don’t go!  I need you.”

No whistles.  No biggie.  It all evens out in the end.

In other news: (more…)

A Look Back at the 2005 NFL Draft

Back in April, the NFL concluded the 2010 draft.  This year’s draft was punctuated by the prime time debut of Round 1 at New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall.  The draft was extended over a three day period and received wide acclaim from fans and media, alike.

It is too early to say who the winners are for the 2010 draft.  Some draft picks never make it out of camp; some never fulfill the promise of their rookie contract.  Still others exceed the greatest expectations.  It has been widely stated that the average career of an NFL player is 4-5 years.  Given that, let’s take a look at the 2005 NFL Draft.

The Rules of the Game

There are as many ways to evaluate the success of a draft class as there are to evaluate players.  What matters most?  Years as a starter, Pro Bowl selections, All Pro selections, team wins, championships, value at selected position, value over next selection?  There are a lot of criteria to consider.

I’ll leave that final determination to you.  For my own purposes, I admit using a subjective mix of all of those criteria.   Here is a link for you to make your own decision.

Top Dog of the 2005 NFL Draft

1. Dallas Cowboys.   The Cowboys used two first round selections to grab DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears.  Ware has become a dominant defensive force in the league.  He has been selected to four Pro Bowls and been named All-Pro three times.  He is arguably the best player at his position in the entire NFL.  Ware, to the Cowboys credit, was taken just before Chargers LB Shawne Merriman.

DeMarcus Ware: 2005 Draft Cream of the Crop

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A Challenge to the Pittsburgh Steelers

You love to hear the story, again and again, of how it all got started way back when.” — MC Shan

Earl Campbell: 17 carries, 15 yards. STEEL CURTAIN.

I am a fan of the game of professional football.  I am a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  That’s been my team since the early 1970’s.  My affection for the team was born of a rivalry with a dear cousin who had pledged his football soul to the Minnesota Vikings and the Purple People Eaters.  He taught me most of what I knew about the game: players, teams, formations, terminology.  For him, it was all about Sir Francis (Tarkenton), Sammy White, Ahmad Rashad,  and Chuck Foreman.  We both felt like we’d lost a loved one when Drew Pearson caught that Hail Mary pass back in ’75.  Still, I liked the team with the black uniforms and the black helmet and the logo on just one side.  I liked Terry Bradshaw and Jack Lambert and Joe Greene and Mel Blount and Lynn Swann and Franco Harris.  I even liked Frenchy Fuqua.  What a name!  Maybe it was as simple as just liking the team that could beat the Cowboys. (more…)

Super Bowl XLIV: Keys to Victory – New Orleans Saints

The 15-3 New Orleans Saints head into Super Bowl XLIV against the 16-2 Indianapolis Colts as four point underdogs.  No need to add to the hype.  Let’s cut to the chase.  

SEVEN KEYS FOR THE SAINTS

Get consistent hits on Peyton Manning.  The Saints already know this and have admitted as much.  Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator, like to bring pressure.  The Saints knocked around Kurt Warner and Brett Favre as much as I can recall in years.  Warner hasn’t been hit like that since he played for the Giants.

The Saints have an “ace in the hole.”  Unlike most teams, the Saints have NO FEAR of getting outscored by the Colts in a shootout.  This means that even if Manning burns the blitz, the Saints will not feel the added burden of trying to slow down the game for their offense.  New Orleans’ capacity to SCORE will impact their willingness to blitz throughout the game.  Three teams in the AFC have used this same approach with some success against the Colts: the New England Patriots, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers.  When teams don’t feel that they can keep up on the scoreboard, they get conservative defensively.  New Orleans showed none of that in their all out attack on the Cardinals and Vikings quarterbacks.

Bobby McCray: Saints Speed Rusher and QB Retirement Machine

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2009 NFL Season: Week 13 Picks

After going 13-2 two weeks ago (missing on Oakland over Cincinnati and Kansas City over Pittsburgh) and following that up with a 10-6 week (including a 41-17 prediction of New Orleans over New England), there is no doubt that I am on fire!!

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2009 NFL Season: Week 9’s Biggest Losers

The week isn’t over yet, but on Sunday, some teams lost more than a single game.  It’s still early enough that anything can happen, but some teams may be watching their seasons fall apart.  Let’s take a look at the early casualties.

  • San Francisco 49ers. You knew the Titans were a dangerous opponent.  With Vince Young quarterbacking and Mike Heimerdinger calling plays, the Titans were sure to rely on a conservative attack  and their ability to pound the rock and force turnovers.  That’s exactly what happened.  The Titans won 34-27 on the road and forced Alex Smith into a sloppy, hurried game.  Frank Gore was dynamic and versatile, but he didn’t dominate the action like he did before the Viking game.  Suddenly, a team that began the season 3-1 with quality wins over division opponents is sitting at 3-5.  The bad news is that first-place Arizona won at Chicago on the strength of a 5 td performance by Kurt Warner (without Anquan Boldin).  The good news is that the Niners only trail them by 2 games — and already have a win at Arizona.  Mike Singletary has changed quarterbacks.  They score more points with Smith, but have less ball security than under Hill.  Next up: the Bears, Packers, Jags, Seahawks.  There is no reason this team can’t be 7-5 in a month.  Book It: If they’re +8 or better in turnovers over that time frame, they’re going to the playoffs.
  • New York Giants. If the playoffs began tomorrow, the New York Giants would have the same vantage point as the New York Yankees, and you and I.  They’d be watching from home.  The Giants have lost at home to the Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers.  They’ve lost on the road to the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles.  There really is no shame in losing to any of these teams.  The Saints finished in last place last season, but they’ve been remade and have yet to lose a game this season.  Arizona and the Eagles played in the NFC Championship game last year.  San Diego is a perennial playoff contender.  That the Giants have lost to these teams in consecutive weeks is surprising.  That the Giants have failed to score more than 20 points in any of these games is shocking.  The Chargers have been an enigmatic bunch all season.  They’re 5-3, but could be 7-1 or 2-6.  They’re inconsistent and have been unable to stop the run since the injury to Jamal Williams in September.  All of that sounded like a recipe for resurrection in the Meadowlands.  It didn’t happen.  Instead, the same depleted secondary that was undressed by Drew Brees was dissected by Philip Rivers.  The Giants could do “soul-searching” or any number of things on their bye week, but the answers (like the problems) are on the field.  The execution is simply what it has been — on either side of the ball.  When the sun rises tomorrow, the Giants will be 2 games behind the leader of the NFC East.  Next up: Atlanta, Denver, Dallas, Philadelphia.  This could get much worse before it gets any better.  Book It: If the Giants are not able to defeat second and third tier quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Kyle Orton, the season will be over before they meet host Dallas and Philadelphia in consecutive weeks.
EliManning_Scramble_JacquesCesaire

Eli Isn't the Only Man On the Run (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

  • Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are kicking themselves tonite for taking the Bengals lightly.  I don’t know why they continue to do that.  It seems they forget that they have a 3-8 record vs. Carson Palmer.  They don’t scare him.  He torches them more regularly and scars them more deeply than any QB in the league.  Really, if they think about it, they’re his bird bitches.  They probably don’t like to admit it, but 8 wins is 8 wins.  The Ravens know they will not be winning the AFC North this season.  They will not be beating the Steelers twice.  They may not even beat them once.  The good news, though, is that they hold tie breakers over the Broncos and Chargers.  Only 1 of them can win the division.  If the Ravens can somehow manage to get to 10 or 11 wins, they can sneak in as the 3rd in the AFC North.  New England, a probably division winner is the only team they’ve lost to in the AFC aside from Cincinnati.  It means their destiny is still in their own hands.  Baltimore can win 6 or 7 of their final 8 games.  If they do, they’re in because of their wins over the AFC West.  Next up: Browns, Colts, Steelers, Packers.  They get Indy and Pitt at home.  Book It: If Baltimore finds a way to win these 4 games and wins out until their Dec. 27th game in Pittsburgh, they’ll beat whomever they play in the Wild Card round.

Teams like the Bears, Texans and Packers lost games yesterday that likely surprised their die-hard fans.  What Bears fan doesn’t expect to beat the Cardinals in Soldier Field?  In all honesty, the Bears simply are not the same team they were at the beginning of the season.  The Bears were fortunate to beat the Steelers this season — and that win has been the cause of all “great expectations” since the signing of Jay Cutler.  It was a quality win.  It was something the Vikings were unable to do.  Still, there hasn’t been much for the Monsters of the Midway to hang their hats on.  Without Urlacher and Hillenmeyer, I don’t expect much.

For all their talent and perennial promise for unleashing potential, the Texans simply cannot be expected to win at Indianapolis.  I expect them to do what they did — play tough, play a little less than smart, and lose.

The Packers simply are not a good team.  They play unevenly and had to be flatter than week-old Coke after playing against Brett Favre under the national spotlight at home last week and then traveling in anonymity to lifeless Raymond James Stadium for a late game vs. a rookie quarterback and a rookie coach.  Teams that lose games like this don’t really belong in the post-season.  Green Bay will find their way out.

Addendum:

  • Philadelphia Eagles. Anytime you lose at home to a division rival, it’s painful and it adversely impacts your playoff positioning.  This version of the Eagles is losing games they are supposed to win.  They’ve lost at Oakland…and now this.  If you don’t think the Eagles are going to regret this loss, consider that over the next four weeks, they will be on the road at San Diego, at Chicago and at Atlanta.  The Eagles could lose every one of these games.  The last time the Eagles played on the West Coast, they lost to Oakland.  Against Dallas, the Eagles only ran the ball 23 times.  They didn’t run many plays overall.  Philly only converted 4 of 12 first downs, including some notable failures on 3rd and 4th down with short distances to go.  Jason Peters was injured.  Asante Samuel was roughed up.  Sheldon Brown was toasted.  Brian Westbrook was inactive.  Michael Vick was ineffective (He’s got time.)  McNabb looked like his ribs are still sore…and he also looked like he always looks.

2009 NFL Season: An Early Peek at Week 9

Some games are already taking on a playoff atmosphere.  The Week 8 Falcons-Saints game on Monday night was one such game.  The one thing that is painfully clear to me (and probably to the Atlanta Falcons general manager) is that the Falcons really miss Harry Douglas.  If you don’t live in Atlanta or didn’t go to Louisville, you’ve probably never heard of him.  Douglas is a speedy wideout who was injured and lost for the season during pre-season.  He had two of his best games in 2008 vs. Chicago (5 catches, 96 yards) and Carolina (4 catches, 92 yards).  Douglas is a young guy, but he can stretch the field and create space for Roddy White.  That’s what’s been missing as teams exploit the absence of Jerrious Norwood and the presence of Michael Jenkins.

Next week, we’re going to see who gets off the mat…and who rolls over.

A month ago, if you told someone that the Chargers had the remotest chance of beating the Giants in New York, you’d have been run out of town.  Yet, after overpowering losses at New Orleans, home vs. the Cardinals and down in Philadelphia, the Giants may have shrunk the betting line to 2 or 3 points.  The Chargers are still a shell of their former selves, but anything is possible — especially in a game where Philip Rivers and Eli Manning will be playing for bragging rights.

Around Christmas time, when the Arizona Cardinals get the final confirmation that their 9-7 record is not good enough to get into the playoffs, they’re going to be kicking themselves for losing at home to Carolina.  They’re going on the road to Chicago.  The Cardinals have the perfect personnel to throttle the Bears all up and down Lake Shore Drive.  But, if Kurt Warner has his mind on other things, they can lose just like Cleveland did last week.  And if they do that, they’ll be watching the 49ers in the post-season.

Dallas travels to Philadelphia for what should be a classic confrontation of high-powered offenses.  The Cowboys have proven to have a stronger preference for running than the Eagles.  Too often Andy Reid get enamored with the beauty and grace of their passing game.  If that happens again this week, Dallas will leave town in first place.

The Miami Dolphins have had an interesting few weeks.  They lost a tough, tough game to the New Orleans Saints.  The offense could only muster 3 points vs. the Jets for much of the game, but the special teams unit exploded behind Ted Ginn, Jr.  The New England Patriots are coming off a bye and this could be the end of the ride.

The Baltimore Ravens play at the Cinncinati Bengals.  This is a game of the week candidate.  The Bengals have a one game lead over the Ravens and have already won in Baltimore.  A win here forces the Ravens to turn their attention to beating the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers twice…and they haven’t played this season.  If Baltimore loses, the chances of them making the playoffs, to me, drop considerably.

Don’t the Texans have something to prove?  When are they going to prove it?  They get to play the Colts in Indy this week and prove they can run and pass and stop the run and slow down the pass.  If they can’t do it, Indy gets to 8-0 and holds all the cards.  If Houston can find a way, a much deserved bye week is just around the corner.

NOTE: It had occurred to me that very little was probably said with respect to “race” last week as Mike Singletary’s 49ers faced off against Jim Caldwell’s Colts.  The NFL still has a long way to go, but it is worth noting that 5 of the last 6 teams to compete in the Super Bowl have had either a Black head coach or general manager.  The lone exception to this new trend is the New England Patriots.

The Raiders, Rams, Bills and Browns are all on a bye week.  Television programmers have never been so happy!

Monday night — Steelers vs. Broncos.  That’s a big one, even though the Ravens subjected Denver to an old-fashioned AFC North chin checking.  Denver will show up to play the Steelers and their fans will be juiced.  This game will get all the hype that probably should go to two teams who’ve already outdueled these two (Baltimore and Cincinnati).