Rss

Archives for : Atlanta Falcons

PUT UP OR SHUT UP: NFL Week 8 Preview & Picks

One of my favorite things about the NFL is how the schedule always has one or two gems each week, with great variance across the conferences and divisions. This week, we’ve got a setup for a couple of potential classics at the top, with a meeting of the past two Super Bowl Champions and a Monday Night re-match of AFC South rivals. I’m finding this season difficult to get a handle on…as always, there are some unexpected challengers and disappointments, but who they are seems to change from week to week more frequently than any time in recent memory. I mean, a week ago it seemed like maybe the Vikings were ready to make a comeback move, but then Brett’s ankle got tackled by a Green Bay Packer (of all things), and we’re back to asking whether an increasingly frail camel can handle any further straws. Such is life in the League. Let’s look at this week’s tastiest matchups:

THE FOOTBALLSICKNESS GAME OF THE WEEK FOUR-PACK  (We’re hoping for a Guinness sponsorship. The nectar of the Gods.)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: I know some of you are thinking, “Wait. Really? But the Saints have been flat, losing to teams like the Browns and Cardinals, both led by rookie quarterbacks. The Steelers, on the other hand, are 5-1 and being mentioned with the Jets as the best teams in the NFL after surviving Big Ben’s four game suspension to start the year using Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch to get it done. Surely the Steelers will roll, no? Actually…no. I don’t think so. First, my faith in the Saints’ offense isn’t really shaken. I think they’re due and bound to get it on track at home. The defense, though, seems to lack that magic it had last year, when it rode a tsunami of takeaways to a Sticky Lombardi. They’re coming much further apart now. But Gregg Williams is one of the better defensive minds in the NFL, and I will be surprised if he doesn’t have something for the Steelers. I expect the Saints to play well.  If they play well at home, they should beat just about anybody, including the Steelers. The matchups I’ll be watching are (1) how the Saints, who have been struggling to run the ball effectively in the absence of Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, rush against a Steelers defense that lost Aaron Smith this weekend, and (2) how Gregg Williams and Roethlisberger work against each other when the Steelers have the ball. Should be a blast. SAINTS 24, STEELERS 23.

The Texans go for the sweep at Lucas Oil Stadium against the Colts.

HOUSTON TEXANS AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: If Peyton Manning manages to lead this version of the Colts to the AFC South Division title again this season, it will be a freaking miracle, and #18 should be the unanimous MVP in such an event. Mark Schlereth said this week that he thinks the Colts are a 3-13 team without Manning, and while I thought that was stretching it, it’s sounding more and more reasonable as the Colts lose key players. The latest is Manning’s security blanket, tight end Dallas Clark, he of the 100-catch 2009 season. No matter how you slice it, that’s a problem. Especially when you need to score points to keep up with an outstanding Houston Texans offense. You remember them, don’t you, Indy? They ran you out of the building down in Houston on opening day on the strength of three Arian Foster touchdowns. And if they get this one in Lucas Oil Stadium, you will have been officially served. Which is precisely what I expect to happen. TEXANS 33, COLTS 27.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: The schedule is doing the Vikings no favors, this time handing them a trip to the land of the Chowds to face the Brady-Belichick Boys. We’ve said it before, but the Patriots can deliver the true kill shot here. This time, it all has to be too much for the Ol’ Gunslinger, don’t you think? I do. I consider myself capable of handling a pretty substantial amount of stress, and I cannot begin to imagine dealing simultaneously with all of Favre’s current issues. It’s obviously possible that he’s got one last magical run in him, and he’s overcome injuries that would have sidelined mere mortals on more than one occasion in the past…but I think the end has finally come.  I’m not particularly moved by the “Randy Moss Returns to New England” angle- I never thought of him as a Patriot so much as a mercenary. He seems more at home back in Minnesota- it’s weird to see him assuming a leadership role so quickly. But that’s what happens when it’s not coming from other places. Chilly. PATRIOTS 27, VIKINGS 20.

GREEN BAY PACKERS AT NEW YORK JETS: This is a good test for the Jets coming off the bye, even though the Packers are a severely-wounded monster. But remember- the beast is most dangerous when injured and/or cornered, and the Pack are both, here. The Packers are coming off a good stabilizing victory over the rival Vikings, and have some momentum coming into New Jersey. But the effects of losing so many key players are starting to show more clearly on the field. The defense still has that trademark aggressiveness but it loses something playing with the depth guys. I anticipate the front seven having a tough time stopping the dominant run game of the Jets, who have a beautiful tag team in the backfield with Not-Dead-Yet-Vet LaDanian Tomlinson and young power stud Shonn Greene taking turns gashing opposing defenses. Can the Packers move the ball and score enough against the fantastic Jets’ D without Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant, among others? I doubt it. JETS 24, PACKERS 17.


THE CONTINENTAL SHELF SELECTION (There’s a pretty steep drop-off in game storyline quality at this point.)

MIAMI DOLPHINS AT CINCINNATI BENGALS: Still waiting for that Bengals team that swept the AFC North to show up. And even if they do, it’s already too late. The Dolphins got robbed last week and are going to run the ball like crazy against a Bengals defense that has been spotty against the run, to say the least. The Dolphins are a tougher team both physically and mentally, and I think they’ll continue the line of teams the Bengals probably think they should beat but consistently cannot. DOLPHINS 20, BENGALS 16.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AT DALLAS COWBOYS: If the Cowboys don’t win this one, it is going to get UGLY. Like, Fishbone, no-alibi ugly. Fortunately, Jon Kitna is a capable veteran backup surrounded by young talent, including the obviously special Dez Bryant. They’ll finally get an easy one, and then some ridiculous Cowboy fan will inevitably suggest that Kitna should remain the QB when Romo returns. COWBOYS 31, JAGUARS 17.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS AT DETROIT LIONS: As recently as last year, this would’ve seemed like a circle win for the ‘Skins to go into Detroit and get a win. But, um…you remember how that worked out, right?  The Lions are coming off a bye, I love the way the Schwartz gets his teams prepared, and Kong Suh is already dominating. These guys are coming, and I think they get a win this weekend over a Redskins team that had enough possessions to score 60 and managed only 17 against a bad Bears team. LIONS 24, REDSKINS 23.

BUFFALO BILLS AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: The Bills snuck up on the Ravens last week in Baltimore, which assures them of having no chance of doing so at Arrowhead this weekend. The Chiefs lost Dexter McCluster to the dreaded high ankle sprain this week, but they should still win this game comfortably at home. Big day for Tom Jones and Jamaal Charles. BIG. CHIEFS 30, BILLS 20.

CAROLINA PANTHERS AT ST. LOUIS RAMS: The Panthers got off the schneid last week against a pathetic Niners group. DeAngelo Williams is banged up, they miss Thomas Davis, and I’m not yet prepared to believe David Gettis is the world beater his new fantasy owners are no doubt hoping he is. The Rams are a much-improved team, and the bulk of the credit goes to Slingin’ Sam Bradford. (See? Recycled nicknames suck. Stop doing it!) Bradford has looked fantastic, and they lost a heartbreaker to the Bucs, so they’ll be ready to cleanse the palate with a victory. Add a little home cooking, and I’m feeling good about this one. RAMS 23, PANTHERS 17.

DENVER BRONCOS VS. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (LONDON, ENGLAND): I predict a one-word reaction from the UK audience upon witnessing “football” as played by these two teams in 2010: “BOLLOCKS.” They’re both bad teams and I will waste no further breath on them until one of them plays a complete football game. Pretty please. Just one. BRONCOS 26, NINERS 17.

TENNESSEE TITANS AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: This should be a fantastic game, but at this point I have zero faith in the Norv Turner-led Chargers to bother showing up for their scheduled games. I quote Raheem Morris: “Stats are for losers.” The Chargers, who rank among the league’s top statistical offenses and defenses, embody that statement. The Titans are the anti-Chargers, doing more with less, playing tough, physical football, and displaying the mental and intestinal fortitude to play through bad breaks and down streaks to find ways to win. As a result, the Titans are gunning for at least a playoff spot, while the Chargers, who must have this one to have any hope, are hanging by a thread. The Chargers have been soft and flat, and if this game were in Tennessee I’d be picking the Titans in a walk. But the Rule of Desperation applies here, and I think Philip Rivers leads a late drive to save the season…for now. Plus, hey, it’s November. This is when the Chargers’ season typically begins. CHARGERS 27, TITANS 24.

The Seahawks' defense, led by superstud rookie safety Earl Thomas (29), always has the ball in its sights.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS: This one is a sneaky-good matchup. The Seahawks are playing outstanding defense and starting to gel on offense, largely on the strength of the Marshawn Lynch addition, the coming together of an offensive line that is new to each other, and the emergence of Big Mike Williams, who leads the NFL in targets in the two weeks since the ‘Hawks traded Deoin Branch to the Patriots. The Raiders just laid a whooping on the Broncos at Invesco, and now come home confident and ready to host one of the better teams in the NFC. The Raiders have a chance to get right back in the thick of things. This should be a good battle between two confident teams and it pits strength on strength, with the Raiders’ powerful running game and the Seahawks having one of the top run defenses in the league. I think the Raiders have more talent, but the Seahawks have been more consistent in 2010. Nevertheless, I’m leaning with the home team here coming off their best offensive performance in years. I think they’ll hold the momentum. But it should be a good one. RAIDERS 24, SEAHWAKS 23.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT ARIZONA CARDINALS: If Raheem Morris was even half serious they need to win this one in a walk. The Cardinals looked lethargic and overmatched last week in Seattle. How will they look against an upstart from the opposite corner of the country? I sense a downward spiral coming. BUCS 20, CARDINALS 16.

ON BYE WEEK 8: ATLANTA FALCONS, CHICAGO BEARS, CLEVELAND BROWNS, NEW YORK GIANTS, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES, BALTIMORE RAVENS

WHAT IN THE WORLD?!? NFL Week 7 In Review

Another week of NFL madness almost in the books, with only an NFC East Monday Night battle between the ultra-desperate Dallas Cowboys and the better-than-we-thought New York Giants left to unfold. This week started off crazier than most. The Bills got up big early on the Ravens before succumbing to superiority, the Browns hammered the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints into submission, #4 brought out some magic but couldn’t get it done in what we can only assume will be his final trip to Lambeau, and the Steelers got the rulebook bounce to eeek out a win in Miami. Let’s bounce around the league for a few notes and observations from each game.

The Eagles didn't want to cover Kenny Britt.

TENNESSEE TITANS 37, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 19: Anyone else starting to think the NFC has no hope whatsoever of winning the Super Bowl this year? The Eagles looked on point a week ago in a thrashing of the Falcons. This week, they looked disinterested and lost, failing to make obvious adjustments in an ugly loss to the apparently dangerous Titans. Kenny Britt shook off his mid-week barfight benching to score three TD’s as the Titans beat a good team easily without a big Chris Johnson performance. This should tell us something. This team is legit.

GREEN BAY PACKERS 28, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 24: Too soon to have Wikipedia change the entry for “Regret” to include a big picture of Brett Favre? The ankle got hammered again and looks like it’s back to how it was in March, Favre can’t stop throwing bad INT’s, and there is a silicone-infested pox on his house. Things aren’t going well for the Ol’ Gunslinger. Tonight he looked like Cap Rooney trying to come back- he had happy feet and threw panic garbage up into the blue. This swan song ain’t going the way he envisioned it when the boys came down to the ranch to get him. The Pack needed this one to get back on track, and now have control in that division. (No, I don’t care that the Bears have the same number of wins.) Still plenty to iron out, and they obviously miss their injured stars, but they’re going to compete in the NFC just like we thought they were.

CLEVELAND BROWNS 30,  NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 17: Hang on, I’ll be right back. I’m just checking for frogs falling from the sky. And locusts. I expect both momentarily.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 23, MIAMI DOLPHINS 22: Hmmmmm. Awfully nice break they got there. But a win is a win, and the Steelers did it again. There’s no “deserve” column in the standings. This isn’t the BCS.

ATLANTA FALCONS 39, CINCINNATI BENGALS 32: Carson Palmer threw for over 400 yards. Great. They were down 17-0. Am I supposed to be impressed that he then was able to chuck it around after it meant little? And hey, Bengals: Roddy White is still open. How is it that NFL teams haven’t figured this out yet? Cover him. With 2 guys. All the time. Matt Ryan barely even bothers to look at anyone else. 12 catches, 201 yards, 2 TD’s and a 2-point conversion that made him look like a 7th-grader playing with 2nd-graders. The Bengals, well…they pretty much just reek. Ced Benson once again couldn’t do much, the defense played horrible football all the way around, and the Bengals were down early and thus out of it by halftime. Forget the score. The Mouthy Twins made plays all day, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Most NFL teams aren’t good enough to spot a playoff contender 17 points and have any hope of winning. And the Bengals aren’t as good as most NFL teams. True story.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS 17, CHICAGO BEARS 14: I’d like to thank the Bears and Redskins for three hours of hideously unwatchable football. Four picks for DeAngelo Hall and the Redskins get a W (As in, “Wow. We really get a win for that?”) Who here has seen Jay Cutler and Jeff George in the same place before? Can I get one of those neat Camaro n’ mullet mustaches superimposed on a picture of Cutler just to be sure? I think we may have a Finkle-and-Einhorn kind of thing going on here. The Bears are just awful on offense. It’s like Cutler is in a race with the offensive line to see which happens first: he throws the final backbreaking pick, or they chaperone some pleasantly-surprised defensive lineman in to finally break Cutler’s back.

Darren McFadden looked like a former #1 overall pick in Denver on Sunday.

OAKLAND RAIDERS 59, DENVER BRONCOS 14: There are some really gross things happening in the Davis Estates this evening, I fear. Really gross. Look, if Darren McFadden plays like that, the Raiders aren’t losing another game. But I’m guessing we’re likely to see a lot of big days against that Broncos’ run defense. Small, weak and slow is no way to go through life in the NFL, boys. Also, it was nice to see Kyle Orton remember that he is, in fact, Kyle Orton. Change is scary, and that one was freaking me the hell out.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 37, BUFFALO BILLS 34: To say that the Ravens almost choked is the obvious observation here, but the fact of the matter is that the Buffalo Bills played one hell of a football game and were simply constrained by their limitations, most notably a dearth quality NFL players. But Lee Evans and Steve Johnson are certainly 2 of them, and Ryan Fitzpatrick at least played one on TV this weekend. The Bills just missed getting a huge first win, and if not for a questionable non-whistle on the clinching Ray Lewis strip of Shawn Nelson, they might have pulled it out in overtime. Tough way to go out. Despite the frightening adventure, the Ravens can take pride in coming back from way down.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 23, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 20: Personally, I think that classic song from The Wizard of Oz said it best: “Turnovers and penalties and brain farts, oh my!” I’ll ask it again, though it appears to be largely for the benefit of my sanity: Why does Norv Turner still have this (or any) head coaching job in the NFL? I don’t get it. Offensive coordinators make good money too, Norv. Good cross-country win for the Patriots, who are now 2-0 After Randy. Just saying. If they keep winning, Mr. Brady needs to be in the MVP conversation.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 22, ARIZONA CARDINALS 10: Nobody goes into the Seahawks’ house and gets a win. Nobody! That defense is really turning into something. They’re extremely stout against the run, and opportunistic in the passing game, with rookie safety and Sickness favorite Earl Thomas getting yet another pick in this one. Meanwhile, they started to work Marshawn Lynch a bit more, and Big Mike Williams caught 11 balls and a score. I like what I’m seeing in Seattle.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 18, ST. LOUIS RAMS 17. Josh Freeman does it again in the 4th quarter. This kid has that thing, believe you me. He also has Mike Williams, who made more than one fantastic bail-out catch to save Freeman’s bacon. The defense did enough, and Cadillac Williams got open for the winning score from Freeman, who has now done this 5 times in his brief NFL career. In related news, who the hell is going to want that Panthers’ job when they fire John Fox? Atlanta, New Orleans and now the Bucs look to be a team on the rise…that division is a quiet monster. A tough loss for the Rams, but no reason to hang their heads. A young football team is going to lose games like that, especially on the road.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 42, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 20. The Jaguars lost by more than 22 points for the fourth time this season. That’s not good. The Chiefs are, though. They’re using Dexter McCluster and Jamaal Charles more, Dwayne Bowe is coming to life, and Matt Cassel even looks vaguely comfortable running the offense. The defense and special teams are making plays, and the schedule sets up nicely. The Chiefs have the inside track on the Raiders in the AFC West.

CAROLINA PANTHERS 23, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 20: We’re sending the Broncos and Niners over to London this week? I’m not even sure which joke to use. Is it (1) “We want them to like NFL football, right?” Or, perhaps (2) “Payback for the whole ‘Boston Massacre’ thing, is it?” Or maybe (3) “What, did the Queen run out of knitting associates for tea and crumpets next week?” Whatever. David Gettis became this week’s Danario Alexander, Alex Smith fell down and got a boo-boo, and the Niners lost to a previously winless Panthers team that sucks. Real bad. The Niners are clearly on the Andrew Luck plan at this point.

THESE TEAMS LOOKED AMAZING ON BYE: NEW YORK JETS, HOUSTON TEXANS, DETROIT LIONS, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

THEY JUST KNOW HOW TO WIN: NFL POWER RANKINGS

1.  PITTSBURGH STEELERS: That was all I needed to see to know they’d be undefeated if Ben had been playing all year.

Mike Tomlin has the Steelers looking and feeling good.

2. NEW YORK JETS: 5-1 going into the bye is a good start, but considering the bar they set for themselves, it doesn’t mean much yet. It wasn’t pretty in Denver, but they found a way to win.

3. BALTIMORE RAVENS: I still think they’re better than the Pats, but that’s a game they should have won and they didn’t. Why should we believe it’ll be different under the January pressure?

4. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: That was a great win for a team that probably has some guys who needed to know they could do it without Randy Moss. Belichick and Brady ride again.

5. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: OK, now what? Andy’s right- it’s a good problem to have.

6. NEW YORK GIANTS: It doesn’t sound fancy, but a touchdown per quarter will get you a lot of wins.

7. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Losers of two straight and I don’t care. They’re dangerous.

8. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: That was very nearly a loss. This team is not what it once was, and it is losing guys. If Peyton gets anywhere deep with this squad, it will be one of his best performances yet.

9. ATLANTA FALCONS: That was a disconcerting loss to the Eagles, but let’s see how they rebound. The Eagles were hitting on all cylinders. These things happen.

10. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: A beatdown of the Bucs should have them back on the right track. Helps that the Browns are coming into town.

11. TENNESSEE TITANS: A good “take care of business” win over the helpless Jags.

12. MIAMI DOLPHINS: I’m not sure what to make of a victory over the depleted Packers. But I think the Dolphins have a shot to jump up

13. HOUSTON TEXANS: I tiptoe, with extreme caution, back in.

14. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Apparently Mike Shanahan packed the smoke and mirrors. Good thing he found Brian Orakpo waiting in DC.

15. GREEN BAY PACKERS: My, how the mighty have fallen. And it’s super-tenuous.

16. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: They’ll fight it out for NFC North supremacy in the latest episode of the Favre Bowl.

17. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: They get a boost based on Marshawn Lynch, the New and Improved Big Fat Mike Williams, and a defense that gets it.

18. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: I’m excusing the blowout loss to the Saints. Let’s see how they handle it.

19. ARIZONA CARDINALS: I’m assuming they’ll get it together coming off the bye. If they don’t, they’ll drop plenty.

I have seen the future, and it's name is Sam.

20. ST. LOUIS RAMS: Say whatever you want. That team is 3-3, has a good quarterback and a decent defense.

21. CHICAGO BEARS: Consider this a compliment.

22. DALLAS COWBOYS: What? Win a game. Seriously.

23. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: This is me waiting!…this is me waiting.

24. DENVER BRONCOS: Need some TD’s, fellas.

25. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Colt McCoy has my full attention.

26. CINCINNATI BENGALS: Yyyyyup. Still here.

27. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Nope. Not remotely impressed.

28. OAKLAND RAIDERS: I give up.

29. DETROIT LIONS: Just not good enough yet to match up with the better teams in the NFL.

30. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Thaaaat’s more like it.

31. CAROLINA PANTHERS: Back to Matt Moore. That should help.

32. BUFFALO BILLS: Unlikely to see 31 in 2010.

SWEATING BULLETS AND SPINNING: Week 7 NFL Picks & Preview

Now or never, boys. And maybe never regardless.

I think the good doctor said it best in “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas,” when he said “what’s the score here? what’s next?” Having watched things unfold these past few weeks in the NFL, I feel like I just walked into a horribly-carpeted, sensory assault and battery of a casino room, and the combination of the mescaline and acid is really starting to mess with my mind. I can’t tell who’s real and who’s a figment of my imagination, everything I see seems to be moving and growing and slithering and disappearing, and frankly, I’m starting to freak out a little bit. Are the Giants and Chiefs really this good? Are the Cowboys really this bad? Did the Browns really complete forward passes last week? At least the Bills and Steelers continue to provide some reality, assuring me that things really remain as they’ve always been. Aw, man, homey…my mind’s playin’ tricks on me.

THE FOOTBALLSICKNESS.COM GAME OF THE WEEK FOUR PACK

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT TENNESSEE TITANS: The Eagles last week showed that on their good days, they are ready to compete with anyone. Kevin Kolb was smooth and efficient but this time found his big play mojo, and LeSean McCoy continued to provide an explosive and stabilizing presence as Philly ran the Falcons off the Linc field. Of course, Kolb also threw DeSean Jackson into an oncoming train, so there are things to work on. The Titans had an even easier win, blowing out the pathetic Jaguars on Monday Night Football (what the hell happened there, ESPN? You’ve gotten the MNF matchups pretty right-on, but who green-lit the Jaguars for prime time? Bad call.) It should be an interesting contrast of styles between the pass-happy Eagles offense and the strong Tennessee pass D. On the flip, Chris Johnson is no doubt licking his chops to see an Eagles’ D that ranks 22nd against the run. Looking forward to this one. EAGLES 24, TITANS 20.

NEW YORK GIANTS AT DALLAS COWBOYS: I remember this matchup from last year vividly, because I watched it with my dad, brother and a couple friends in the sports book at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. We stopped the plane in Vegas for a little dinner on our way home from the Broncos-Browns tilt in Denver during week 2.  (Yes, as a matter of fact, we do have that.) The Sunday Night battle between the Giants and Cowboys went back and forth, we caught a glimpse of Charles Barkley heading to dinner, and New York won a nail-biter 33-31. Which actually sounds about right to me for this one. The Giants are playing sound football and making quality adjustments. The Cowboys are as desperate as it gets, and even though they’re already done in my book, they’ll be done in everyone’s if they lose this one. They would be awfully, awfully good if they could just stop shooting themselves in the face. But they can’t. GIANTS 33, COWBOYS 31.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS AT MIAMI DOLPHINS: This should be a good one between two physical, old school teams led by 3-4 defenses that get after the opposing quarterback.  Cameron Wake is making a name for himself as the new Dolphin sack monster, and Brandon Marshall has added a dimension to that offense that renders them complete. The Steelers, though, are playing dominant defense. They’ll let Marshall get some of his, but ultimately they’re just too strong on defense. Big Ben’s return takes them to a whole other level, one that most NFL teams in 2010 just can’t reach. That includes the Dolphins. STEELERS 23, DOLPHINS 17.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS AT GREEN BAY PACKERS: Should be fascinating to see how the Lambeau set treats the latest Favrian drama unfolding in Minnesota. Both teams simply gotta have this one, so it should be a fun, old school battle between two of the old guard. The Packers have been beset on all sides with key injuries, with Jermichael Finley, Nick Barnett, and Ryan Grant among others down for the year. They need to get things stabilized before this season is set adrift on the Sea of 9-7. The Vikings, meanwhile, have an opportunity here to take back the division they won last year and appeared to have summarily conceded with their losing ways to open 2010. But the Packers’ misfortune, the Lions’ rebuilding project, and the Bears’ dearth of offensive lineman who block people means the Vikings are still very much in it. And now they have Randy Moss and Sidney Rice might be coming back in a couple weeks. They’re stacked. The only question now is if they can flip the switch. I think Moss has his first big game back with the Vikes against a team he has always enjoyed dominating. VIKINGS 24, PACKERS 23.

THE OTHER STUFF

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Colt McCoy was poised and accurate in his debut at Pittsburgh against Dick LeBeau’s blitz-happy, confusing defense. His reward? A trip to the Superdome to face Gregg Williams’ quarterback mauling turnover machine featuring The Jon Vilma Bruise Explosion. The Browns will try to control the ball on the ground and with the quick passing game in order to protect both McCoy and their defense. Speaking of which, I wonder how long it took Drew Brees to find Eric Wright’s #21 on film. The Surgeon is going to come out and just pick the Browns apart. I can already see this one. They couldn’t cover anybody when they played Tampa, so I have no reason to believe the Saints machine will even feel the bump as they speed over the Browns along their road back to the playoffs.  SAINTS 27, BROWNS 17.

CINCINNATI BENGALS AT ATLANTA FALCONS: Is there a bigger paper tiger in the league right now than the Bengals? Aside from Dallas, nobody is doing less with more right now. The chemistry experiment has thus far led to a disappointing fizzle, and if they keep losing, things will get unstable. In that event, best to get as far from northern Kentucky as possible. The Falcons are looking to bounce back after the Eagles were less than hospitable on Sunday, and get to return home to the Georgia Dome where Matt Ryan has been significantly better than on the road thus far in his career. I think the Bengals play well out of the bye, but the Falcons are the better team playing at home. FALCONS 27, BENGALS 20.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS AT CHICAGO BEARS: If you’ve been following along, you know I don’t think the Bears are any good. They can beat you up on defense but since they’ve made the strategic decision to send 10 guys into the pattern on offense they’ve been having trouble keeping Jay Cutler upright. The Redskins are a much more complete team. They’re not particularly outstanding at any one thing and they lack playmakers on offense, but they’re tough, physical, experienced and well coached. It’s a tough game going into Soldier Field, but if Brian Orakpo doesn’t eat Jay Cutler’s face like a wolverine, the Bears need to consider that a victory. REDSKINS 23, BEARS 20.

OAKLAND RAIDERS AT DENVER BRONCOS: This traditionally heated rivalry will contain all the hatred but none of the juice this year, as both teams are struggling to establish a rhythm. The Raiders haven’t gotten much ‘up’ from their quarterback upgrade, and the Broncos can throw it around for all kinds of yards but have trouble scoring touchdowns. Which, for you newcomers, can be a problem if your goal is to win football games. I’m no at all sure what to expect here in a division matchup that tends to render records less relevant. I continue to expect the Raiders to play better consistently but they haven’t done it. The Broncos are at home, and they seem to play reasonably well for longer stretches than the Raiders, so I guess I’ll take them. Yuck. BRONCOS 27, RAIDERS 24.

BUFFALO BILLS AT BALTIMORE RAVENS: Is there a mercy rule in the NFL? RAVENS 31, BILLS 10.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: If you missed it, let’s just say I’ve been somewhat critical of Norv Turner as head coach of the Super Chargers. That isn’t likely to change this week, as the Pats should dominate a disheveled Bolts squad. Show me something, Chargers, and then maybe you’ll get some respect here. Until then, however, it’s PATRIOTS 31, CHARGERS 21.

ARIZONA CARDINALS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Suddenly, this is a battle between the two best teams in the NFC West. Which admittedly is like being the two tallest munchkins, but a division title is a division title. Or at least, that’s what one of those two teams will be saying to convince themselves they can win that opening round playoff game. I think the Seahawks are the better team at the moment, and I know they have the biggest advantage in this game: the 12th Man of Qwest Field. SEAHAWKS 24, CARDINALS 23.

ST. LOUIS RAMS AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: If you didn’t know this was the Bucs and the Rams, this would be a fascinating matchup, so just pretend it’s someone else and check this one out. There’s a lot to watch. Two young quarterbacks on the rise with intriguing young receivers. The Bucs have the better record, but there are reasons they need to be concerned about this game. The beast that is Steven Jackson should feast on the 31st-ranked Bucs run defense, and Sam Bradford appears to have found a new friend in Danario Alexander, who whether you’ve heard of him or not is still big and fast.  The Bucs got lambasted by the Saints last week, so this will be a good test. Can they get back up for a team that will not roll over but should probably be a win at home for Tampa? The Rams haven’t played well on the road yet, and the Bucs need this one. I’ll take the home team. BUCS 20, RAMS 17.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: The Jags are bad, they’re on a short week, they’re going on the road to Arrowhead Stadium, one of the toughest challenges in the NFL, and the Chiefs are really pretty damn good. This is the beat-down the Chiefs have been laying in the weeds waiting to drop on someone. CHIEFS 34, JAGUARS 16.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS at CAROLINA PANTHERS: If you want to see a game dominated by stagnant offense caused by atrocious quarterback play, this is the contest for you. NINERS 23, PANTHERS 16.

ON BYE: DETROIT LIONS, HOUSTON TEXANS, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS, NEW YORK JETS

NFL WEEK 4 IN REVIEW

Another week of drama in the game that never lets us down, the NFL. Kind of a strange one this time. The Eagles enjoyed a seasons’ worth of drama and turmoil in the course of a week, the lowly Jags beat the Colts on a 59-yard field goal, the Niners still can’t win, the Jets and Ravens are asserting themselves, and the NFC is wide open. Let’s have a spin around the league and I’ll tell you what I saw on Sunday as we look forward to a fun Patriots-Dolphins Monday Night Football matchup.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 17, PITTSBURGH STEELERS 14: Ravens win on a classic fourth-quarter drive led by Joe Flacco. Beautifully done. Up to that point, neither team could muster much, to nobody’s surprise. Another physical battle that lived up to its billing. The Ravens clearly missed Ray Rice a bit, and the Ravens clearly missed Big Ben in this game more than the previous three combined. I think maybe the rematch will be more enlightening, if not more exciting. One thing I’m sure of after these past two weeks: the AFC North is just going to beat itself up, all year long.

From 60 to 0 in .3 seconds.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS 17, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 12: What a whirlwind week for the Philadelphia Eagles. After all that, Michael Vick’s starting tenure lasted a handful of plays before he got sandwiched by two Redskins defenders and suffered what must be an incredibly painful cartilage injury in his upper chest/rib area. I’m not a doctor, but that’s going to be tough to play with even if he’s able. Merrill Hoge, who had broken ribs and rib cartilage injuries suggested today that the latter were infinitely more painful and affect every aspect of your life. I wonder what throwing a football, which extends your rib cartilage to its limit, feels like? I’m thinking Kevn Kolb has his job back for awhile. And that doesn’t look like a good thing so far. The Redskins didn’t look significantly better, and Donovan McNabb didn’t look fantastic in his return to the Linc. But he won, and he enjoyed a heartwarming standing ovation from the Eagles faithful, whom I must praise for the class move. Well done. You may boo him from now on when he comes in, but that needed to happen, and it was good to see.

HOUSTON TEXANS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS: So much for all that improvement in the Bay Area I expected prior to the season. The Raiders and Niners are a combined 1-7 and playing out the string a week into October. I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong with the Raiders. Part of it is injuries, as they rarely seem to start the same lineup twice. A big part of it is quarterback play, but Bruce Gradkowski has been fine. The defense has been underwhelming but not atrocious. Whatever it is, 0-4 is 0-4, and there’s not much else to say. The Texans impressed me by putting a bad loss against the Cowboys behind them, going on the road and winning against a team they needed to beat if they consider themselves a playoff team. Arian Foster shrugged off a first quarter benching to rush for another 131 yards on just 16 carries. Dude is legit.

CLEVELAND BROWNS 23, CINCINNATI BENGALS 17: I called it 23-20 Browns, so I’m starting to feel like I know these two teams pretty well. The Browns are making it known that they’re getting off the bus running at you with Peyton Hillis and a dominant offensive line, and if you don’t stop it, neither will they. I like it.  The defense is starting to come together, made some big plays this week, and if they could find Eric Wright might really be onto something. The Bengals are not running the ball as they did a year ago, and the passing game is inconsistent. Cincinnati is a pretty good team, but the thought that their impressive 6-0 record in the division in 2009 rendered them permanently on par with the Steelers and Ravens is obvious bunk.

NEW YORK JETS 38, BUFFALO BILLS 14: The Jets are going to be ranked #1 in my power rankings this week, because nobody has impressed me as thoroughly on both sides of the ball. Look, in a league filled with mediocrity and playing down to lesser teams, the Jets went up to Buffalo and swiftly handled business. I give credit for that, because that’s what championship teams do. Quarterbacks also get credit for going a quarter of the season without throwing a single interception, as Mark Sanchez has done. Keep doubting, doubters. These guys are for real. The Bills are also for real, but in the exact opposite way.  Until CJ Spiller gets more than 5 touches per game, I refuse to take them seriously. Welcome to the NFL cellar, Buffalo.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 41, CARDINALS 10. Here’s what I wrote in last week’s preview before predicting a 31-17 Chargers victory: “I’d say now is about the time for the Chargers to wake up. Philip Rivers is not letting Derek Anderson come to the Q and beat him. No way, no how.”  So, yeah. The Chargers are just a vastly superior team. But Anderson also added to the fascinating narrative that is The Story of How Matt Leinart Destroyed A Super Bowl Team. Anderson continued playing not unlike Derek Anderson, and was eventually replaced by rookie Max Hall. Time to go extra run-heavy in the desert.

DENVER BRONCOS 26, TENNESSEE TITANS 20: Apparently I don’t have a good enough feel for either of these teams yet. As of now, they’re firmly in the Pete Rozelle Memorial Mediocrity Division. They look like the result of a league set up to encourage everyone to finish 8-8.  The Broncos can really throw it around, and that will keep them competitive. I watched it, but I’m still not sure how the Titans managed to lose this game. Both teams lack consistency, but both can be explosive at times and will each therefore win their share of games.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 31, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 28: I’m sticking with the “the Colts will be fine as long as they’ve got #18” story for now, but they’ve got real problems with the run defense. They can’t stop anybody. Then again, they won a Super Bowl one time while we said that about them. They’ll be fine. But 0-2 in the division means it’s not going to be as easy as in years past. The Jags win their Super Bowl on a 58-yarder gun shot by Josh Scobee after MoJo runs wild and Marcedes Lewis continued to develop as a threat with a touchdown catch. As Deion said after the game, “that’s a big man catching the football right there.”

(Sidenote: My high school, Edison High of Huntington Beach, California, played against Marcedes Lewis’ in the 2001 regional title game. A bunch of friends and I attended. Lewis was one of a number of Division I & NFL players on that Long Beach Poly team. Winston Justice, Darnell Bing, Manny Wright and a phenom called Hershel Dennis all went to SC, and the first two are NFL players. Wright was, now plays in the Arena League. Lewis played tight end and defensive end and was unstoppable at each. He went to UCLA. And you may have heard about one of their wide receivers, who also returned punts. His name was DeSean Jackson. I wonder what happened to that kid. He was impressive. Suffice it to say, Long Beach Poly won that game, with Edison keeping it a respectable 42-28 final.)

NEW YORK GIANTS 17, CHICAGO BEARS 3. To paraphrase Dennis Green, ‘The Bears are who I thought they were!” In short, they can’t block a soul on offense and that’s going to be the death of them. The Martz-Cutler combination is an interception waiting to happen in the first place, and that embarrassing sieve of an offensive line is going to make it much, much worse. And the receivers aren’t helping, because they’re not open early enough for Cutler to get rid of it. The Giants aren’t an elite defense anymore, by the way, but they ate Cutler’s face and made some good progress on Todd Collins on their way to ten sacks. You just can’t win like that, and I’ll say it again: the Bears are 1-3 in my mind. They get credit only for the Cowboys win, which was quality. And the defense is fantastic. This is all on the offense. A good must-win by the Giants, who had the perfect game plan on both sides of the ball.

GREEN BAY PACKERS 28, DETROIT LIONS 26: The poor Detroit Lions and their fans. Another heart breaking loss that they just didn’t have enough strength, stamina or time to pull out. But another high draft pick wouldn’t hurt them, especially if they keep taking good ones like Ndamukong Suh, Louis Delmas, Matthew Stafford Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best.  The Packers are playing to the level of their competition right now. They came out firing like a Madden gamer, with Aaron Rodgers throwing three early TD’s and the Pack getting out to a big lead. But they seemed to shut it down a bit and couldn’t close it out. Again, the running game needs an upgrade with Ryan Grant, who perhaps now will be more thoroughly appreciated, gone for the season.

Sam Bradford has the St. Louis Rams believing.

ATLANTA FALCONS 16, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 14: Yep. That sounds about right. The Niners just can’t find anything resembling a rhythm on offense. At this rate, their defense is going to be exhausted and finished by week 9. Apparently Jimmy Raye wasn’t the only problem. The Falcons continue to look like a tough team to me, but not necessarily a strong one. They have an alarming one-track mind on offense, with Roddy White the obvious focal point, and it bogs them down for long stretches at times. Still, they’re 3-1 and in position to battle the Saints all year long, particularly if the Saints remain intent on playing sloppy football. Speaking of which…

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 16, CAROLINA PANTHERS 14 : Give the Panthers credit- they came to play in this one. The men in teal were smacking people, and James Anderson was Mr. Everywhere They Need Him To Be, forcing a fumble, recovering two more and recording a sack. Jimmy Clausen played acceptably well for a rookie in a tough environment. The Saints’ lack of Pierre Thomas and continued general inability to put it all together on offense kept it close, but the defending champs were able to grind out a tough division win at home.

ST. LOUIS RAMS 20, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 3: OK, I give up. I have no idea who, if anyone, is going to step up and win the NFC West with 6 wins. But I’m increasingly sure someone will. Sam Bradford looks like a number one overall pick, the defense is improved, and even a dinged-up Steven Jackson means people have to respect the run.  Meanwhile, the Seahawks laid their second road egg of the season. Just brutal. Who knew a chartered flight was the difference between a good football team and a bad one?

NFL WEEK 4 PICKS & PREVIEW

Ah, week 4. Usually, by the time this week’s games are over, most teams’ identities have been established and we know at least who absolutely won’t be in the playoffs. As they say, you can’t win it in September, but you can lose it (San Francisco).  On the other side of the coin, the teams off to a good start can put even more air in their sails with a week four victory. 4-0 is a quarter of the season nobody can take back, and puts those teams firmly in line for a dance card come week 18.  And, as if to emphasize the point, the NFL put together some first class matchups for our viewing pleasure this weekend. Let’s take a look, shall we?

FOOTBALLSICKNESS.COM GAME OF THE WEEK:

BALTIMORE RAVENS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS: I watch this game every time, start to finish. As Mike Tomlin said, “I think it is unique because it is the BEST rivalry in the National Football League.” He’s right, you know. You can have your Dallas vs. whomever, your Raiders-Chiefs, your Packers-Bears for the one millionth time in history on the frozen tundra. Right now, real time, real talk? This is the one. Easily the two most physical teams in the league, the Ravens and Steelers legitimately hate each other. Mostly, I suspect that’s because Monday mornings after these games suck real bad for everyone involved, win or lose.

Need we say more?

But it’s also because they’ve been battling for the division title for more than a decade now, with very little interference from the state of Ohio. Nobody wants to play either of these two on their home turf in the playoffs, and at least one home field game is the likely reward for whichever of these two comes out on top in the AFC North. So these guys will hit each other just a little harder than they hit everybody else, Hines Ward will smile a little wider, Ray Lewis will play a little more ferociously, and it will come down to the wire, as it always does. You don’t dare miss a moment. STEELERS 20, RAVENS 17.

BEST OF THE REST

WASHINGTON REDSKINS AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: I assume I don’t have to lay out the entirety of the McNabb/Kolb/Vick/Reid/Donuts storylines. Regardless, this is going to be a fascinating division battle. Can Vick maintain his high level of play against a more genuine NFL defense? (I think he can.) Can the Redskins go into a hostile environment and rally behind their new leader? How will Philly receive DMac5? Most importantly, who wins a key division matchup? Does Andy Reid do anything different to combat all the hours McNabb has no doubt spent in the Redskins’ defensive meeting room? I think the Eagles win a see-saw battle. EAGLES 27, REDSKINS 23.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT MIAMI DOLPHINS: If I’m the Patriots, I’m not sleeping well this week. The Dolphins have to feel like they let one get away at home this week, and they’re a good and proud team to begin with. Being the next team to hit South Beach, and a divisional rival at that, is not going to be a treat. The Dolphins have good balance in all phases, big-time playmakers on offense and a coach with the Big Tuna Seal of Approval. Of course, the Patriots, uh, have a few things going for them as well. But the defense is average, and they won’t get many easy victories this season playing as they have. Brandon Marshall just tore up a significantly better Jets secondary, and I have to assume he is licking his chops as he watches film of the New England corners. Another big day for the Beast, and the home team wins.  DOLPHINS 27, PATRIOTS 24.

JUST “THE REST”

HOUSTON TEXANS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS: I don’t like this game one bit for the Houston Texans. They got smacked down by their home state big brothers last weekend, and the Raiders are going to be cheesed after Sebastian Janikowski’s dartboard kicking game cost them a win at Arizona last week. It’s a must-win game for Oakland, who had playoff aspirations three weeks ago. Now they’re holding on for dear life. The Texans need it almost as badly to re-convince themselves that they’re truly a contender, but who’s really the more desperate team? The Raiders. And they’re at home. If Louis Murphy doesn’t play I’m less confident, but I’m calling upset here on a 55-yard Janikowski redemption shot at the gun. RAIDERS 24, TEXANS 23.

CINCINNATI BENGALS AT CLEVELAND BROWNS: These two teams have had some crazy battles in recent years. Who can forget the 2007 barnburner won by the Browns 51-45? (I know. Most all of you have forgotten. Only Browns and Bengals fans would remember. But they’re also probably the only ones reading this paragraph.) In short, I think this is a trap game for the Bengals. They’re coming off two wins, one impressive (over the Ravens), the other not so much (a sloppy victory over Carolina this past Sunday), and they handled the Browns last year twice. The Browns, meanwhile, have reason to believe they should be 3-0. They’ve lost three times with one or two plays the difference in each game. But in week 3 at Baltimore they started to show that power running game that helped them roll off 4 straight wins to close 2009. Assuming Eric Wright decides to actually show up this week, I think the Browns win a close Battle of Ohio at home.  BROWNS 23, BENGALS 17.

NEW YORK JETS AT BUFFALO BILLS: The Jets are rolling and the Bills are the team that just cut their opening day starting quarterback after week 3. I will say this: it worked for the 2007 Browns, who traded Charlie Frye and allowed Derek Anderson to have the basically-mediocre-but-statistically-skewed season on which he still survives to this day. But is really the kind of precedent you’re looking to follow? Aaaaanyway, the J-E-T-S roll in this one, having found their stride by allowing Mark Sanchez to play football.  JETS 27, BILLS 13.

ARIZONA CARDINALS AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: I’d say now is about the time for the Chargers to wake up. Philip Rivers is not letting Derek Anderson come to the Q and beat him. No way, no how.  CHARGERS 31, CARDINALS 17.

DENVER BRONCOS AT TENNESSEE TITANS: A horrible Vince Young performance against the Steelers in week 2 notwithstanding, the Titans look to me like a playoff team. They have the best pass defense in the league at the moment, and that plus Chris Johnson means you’re in every game. When Vince Young plays well, they’re an outstanding team. The Broncos put all kinds of yards in the box score but very few points on the scoreboard against the Colts in a week 3 loss. They look totally discombobulated in the red zone, with constant miscommunication between Kyle Orton and his receivers. To my untrained eye, it looks like Orton’s indecision (or, if you prefer, slowness of decision-making) is the primary issue. Denver is without Knowshon Moreno this week and they are not equipped to stop CJ. Titans in a walk.  TITANS 30, BRONCOS 17.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: The Jaguars cannot score regularly or stop anybody in the passing game, and the Colts have Peyton Manning. COLTS 34, JAGUARS 10.

CHICAGO BEARS AT NEW YORK GIANTS: While I have no choice but to acknowledge that the Bears are, in fact, 3-0, I don’t have to give them mental credit for it. In my mind, they’re 1-2. Calvin Johnson caught that pass, and the Green Bay Packers lost that game. The Bears do get some credit for not losing them, but I don’t see an elite team. I might see an elite defense. Julius Peppers makes a huge difference and Brian Urlacher looks like he got younger this offseason. Lance Briggs is still the most under-noticed defensive star in the league. But I’m not convinced by the offense. Maybe Martz will work magic with Cutler but he still just forces the ball places he ought not do at this level, which is at least partially a result of the fact that his receivers just aren’t open all that often. The Giants aren’t a great team anymore, but they are a proud one, and they’re not going to lose all their games. This one’s at home against what I’m still calling a paper tiger. I can’t even promise I’ll be impressed with 4-0. But hey, they don’t have to impress me to make the playoffs. They just have to surprise me.   GIANTS 20, BEARS 17.

DETROIT LIONS AT GREEN BAY PACKERS: The Packers gave away a game in Chicago and are going to take it out on the Lions, who have played valiantly and will do so again only to accept a beat-down as their reward.  I still like Detroit’s direction, but they’re not good enough to hang with an angry Pack squad at Lambeau, especially if Jahvid Best can’t go.  PACKERS 37, LIONS 20.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT ATLANTA FALCONS: Sorry, Niners. Jimmy Raye or no Jimmy Raye, you now have to prove it to me. Alex Smith continues his enigmatic/mediocre ways and everyone else seems deflated by it, and Mike Singletary’s particular brand of motivational speech is not having the desired effect. The Falcons handled business at New Orleans last week, taking advantage of Saints mistakes for a win. They run the ball, they pass the ball, they defend. I’m taking them. FALCONS 20, NINERS 17.

CAROLINA PANTHERS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Another “uh-oh” game. The Panthers are a bad team and have to travel to maybe the toughest building in the league right now to face a defending Super Bowl champ who hasn’t played a complete game by a long shot yet and who just lost a game to a division opponent at home on a missed chip shot field goal. Get off the tracks, Jimmy. JIMMY. JIMMY!!!!  SAINTS 24, PANTHERS 9.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT ST. LOUIS RAMS: Sam Bradford got his first win at home against a decent Redskins team, so the days of just counting the Rams as a W on the schedule appear to be over. But I’m not sure they’re ready to start stringing them together, particularly if Steven Jackson isn’t entirely right. The Seahawks are the better team here, and should win.  On the other hand, their last road trip produced quite the mess in Denver, and I’m not sure the ‘Hawks are ready to grab this opportunity by the throat, either. I think they win it, but it’ll be a battle. SEAHAWKS 23, RAMS 20.

FOOTBALL SICKNESS NFL POWER RANKINGS, WEEK 4

In an effort to fit in with the crowd and also as a platform for further discussion of the NFL, we decided a Football Sickness Power Rankings series was warranted. My only criteria here is what I see on the field and in the box score. This will probably shift around quite a bit over the next few weeks as teams continue to show us their true colors over a larger sample size. For now, here’s what I’ve seen so far:

FOOTBALLSICKNESS.COM NFL POWER RANKINGS, PRE WEEK 4

Troy Polamalu and the Steelers defense have held down the fort and then some in Big Ben's absence.

1. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Best defense in the game and a 2-time Super Bowl Champion QB getting ready to come back.

2. GREEN BAY PACKERS: A potential juggernaut on both sides of the ball lead by an emerging great in Aaron Rodgers.

3. NEW YORK JETS: Well. That got better in a hurry, didn’t it?

4. BALTIMORE RAVENS: It hasn’t been anywhere near perfect, but to me that’s the scary thing.

5. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Wake up call for the defending champs. Let’s see how they respond.

6. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: They still have #18. They’re fine.

7. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Suddenly, the Michael Vick signing looks like a stroke of genius. The McNabb trade is another story.

8. MIAMI DOLPHINS: Quietly looking like one of the more complete football teams in the NFL.

9. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: They’ll go as far as their defense lets them.

10. ATLANTA FALCONS: I was impressed by the win at the Super Dome, in part because Matt Ryan had developed some troubling, if early, home-road splits.

11. HOUSTON TEXANS: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

12. TENNESSEE TITANS: Tough D, nearly unstoppable rushing attack, occasionally brilliant athletic quarterback…dangerous.

13. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Their fans will complain, but I’m watching. I just need a little more convincing. The Niners win was extremely impressive, but maybe the Niners suck. The Chargers never play well. And I’m a Browns fan, so…Please. But show me something coming out of the bye at Indy. You don’t even have to win. But you have to hang.

14. CHICAGO BEARS: I’m not at all convinced, but the defense especially has me believing they’re going to be a factor. I don’t trust anybody on the offense and I despise the lack of protection, but I recognize there’s talent. Again, I need to see more.

15. DALLAS COWBOYS: I had them much higher, but Sen Dog convinced me I should be more worried about them. For now, I am.

16. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: Standard Operating Procedure for NorvCo.

17. CINCINNATI BENGALS: So much promise, so many questions…

18. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: I still don’t see where the explosiveness is coming from outside of Adrian Peterson, and while they’ve played fine, the defense just doesn’t look as dominant.  We’ll see.

19. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: I’m officially giving them a chance to win the NFC West. Fun to watch on defense.

20. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: I don’t think badly of the Redskins, I just don’t think they’re all that good.

21. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Maybe it’s unfair, but the only real team you’ve played laid waste to your pirate ship.

22. NEW YORK GIANTS: And falling.

23. ARIZONA CARDINALS: Welcome to the Derek Anderson Show, ladies and gentlemen!

24. DENVER BRONCOS: I have no idea who these guys are. No idea where they’ll end up. But this reflects what I’ve seen so far.

25. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: I got sucked in by the Saints game. No more. Win a few. Convincingly.

26. OAKLAND RAIDERS: Man, what a disappointment thus far. I still think they’re a pretty good football team, but they’re still not getting good enough quarterback play. Gradkowski looks under control, but…he’s Bruce Gradkowski.

27. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Could easily be 3-0. But then, that’s the point, isn’t it?

28. ST. LOUIS RAMS: Sam Bradford = Bright future in St. Louis.

29. DETROIT LIONS: I love the way they might look in a year or two.

30. CAROLINA PANTHERS: In danger of falling off the list entirely. Already irrelevant in 2010.

31. BUFFALO BILLS: Only spared the cellar by a relatively strong performance against the Patriots last weekend.

32. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: I haven’t seen one positive. Long year for the Jags.

NFL WEEK 3 IN REVIEW: WELCOME TO THE PARTY! (NOW GO HOME.)

Week 3 was time for some teams that had underachieved early to wake up and set the tone for the rest of the season, and also time for brave pretenders to be knocked

down a few pegs. We had a few beatdowns, some battle royales, and even a Roy Williams sighting. Thanks to modern technology, I’ve seen most of every game, and can confirm that we’ve reached the portion of the season where we truly start separating the men from the boys. Let’s take a spin around the week that was in the NFL.

Roy Williams helped the Cowboys get off the mat in Houston.

DALLAS COWBOYS 27, HOUSTON TEXANS 13: The Cowboys are the impetus for the first half of this week’s title. It’s about time, boys. I picked the Texans because I was impressed with their ability to win two different styles of football game. But I also picked the Texans because I was thoroughly unimpressed with the Cowboys in weeks one and two. They were playing flat, they weren’t sustaining drives on offense, they appeared to have completely forgotten about the running game, and, of course, they were losing. A better team showed up on Sunday and showed, even in an imperfect performance, that they are loaded. Look, a lot of teams are comfortable leaving a defensive back 1-on-1 on your third wide receiver. But, as much as we can harp on Princess Roy’s bust factor, he’s still going to toast your nickel guy in single coverage frequently- as he did twice against Houston. Speaking of which, the Texans need to get a handle on the pass defense, pronto, or all of Matt Schaub’s newfound confidence and grittiness will be for naught. They just faced a desperate Cowboys team that absolutely handled them. Next, off to the Black Hole to face a desperate Raiders team that lost a game because of their kicker this week. Uh-oh.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 31, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 10: And the Niners are the impetus for the second half of this week’s title. At 0-3, they’re fortunate to be in the worst division in the NFL and therefore still in it. But they fired Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye this morning, their quarterback apparently refuses to put two consecutive solid performances together, and they just got rolled on the road by an opponent that three weeks ago the entire football world outside of Kansas City believed was inferior. The Chiefs stuffed the Niners offense all day, and San Francisco’s allegedly elite defense gave up a bunch of points to an offense that had not been sustaining drives. As impressed as I was by the Monday Night game (sans turnovers) against New Orleans, it all just got cancelled out. These guys are probably done, and with all the chaos at Candlestick, I know more than one Niners fan who hopes Mike Singletary’s tenure at the helm is, as well. Meanwhile, I owe the Kansas City Chiefs an apology. They clearly have a game plan (strangely devoid of Jamaal Charles though it has been), buy-in from the team, and execution of an increasingly effective kind. I still have plenty of questions, but the direction is undeniable. The Chiefs now have my full attention.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 27, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 20: Yes, as a matter of fact, I will take instant credit for calling this one. I was even close on the score, having predicted a 23-21 Seahawks victory. My reasoning was that the Seahawks had things that the Chiefs already proved the Chargers struggled with, and the Chargers proved me dead right. Someday, I assume they will do so again by replacing Norv Turner, the NFL’s Mr. October. How many times can a team come out flat in September and awkwardly fold in January before someone notices a pattern around here? Just awful. Meanwhile, Pete Carroll is winning over his players and the Seahawks still have the baddest 12th Man in the NFL. Leon Washington’s two kickoff returns covered some warts on offense and defense, but it’s a three-phase game, folks. I like what I’m seeing in the “find a way to win” department. The Seahawks are 2-1 and are going to be heard from in an even-weaker-than-I-thought NFC West.

NEW YORK JETS 31, MIAMI DOLPHINS 23: What a game. In what I can only assume was a preview of fantastic battles for years to come, Mark Sanchez and Chad Henne went head to head with two fantastic defenses and performed like seasoned pros. This was a fun one to watch, and reaffirmed that the AFC East is going to be a wide-open battle all season long with three playoff quality teams.  Sanchez’s maturation is one of the stories of the year, because let’s face it: if THAT defense has an offense to match, they’re just going to be tough to beat. That Dolphins team is no slouch, and the Jets went to their house and won in prime time. He’s still going to have some ugly moments (like that pathetic hand off to a defensive lineman who saved his hide by dropping it), but Sanchez is coming along. And apparently, so is the chemistry between Chad Henne and Brandon Marshall, who diced up the Jets’ Revisless secondary for a 10-166-1 line. Adding a top 5 wide receiver to a team with quality secondary receiving options and a strong run game makes a big difference. Miami can play with anybody.

CHICAGO BEARS 20, GREEN BAY PACKERS 17: SlopFest 2010. This game did not change my opinion about either of these teams, with one exception: the Packers need to upgrade the backfield depth, because Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn aren’t going to cut it. In short, Marshawn Lynch needs to be a Packer before the deadline. But I’m not at all impressed with the Bears’ victory, mostly because I view it more as a Packers loss. The Bears’ defense was solid, and Julius Peppers is an

Some of the stars of Monday Night Football battle between the Packers and Bears gather for a group shot.

animal. But Jay Cutler still throws up total garbage far too regularly, their receivers just aren’t difference-makers (aside from tight end Greg Olsen), and the Packers committed just over 7 million penalties to simply hand the game over. Well, that, and…who the hell punts to Devin Hester? More importantly, who does it again after he breaks a long one on his first opportunity? You lost the game by three lousy points. Probably would’ve helped to kick that out of bounds and hold them to a FG or less, don’t you think?

MINNESOTA VIKINGS 24, DETROIT LIONS 10: That unusually strong breeze you noticed was the entire state of Minnesota exhaling. They looked a little better, but I’m still not seeing a championship team here. The Lions are off to a tough start despite being obviously superior to the team they were running out there last year. Hang in there, Motor City.

BALTIMORE RAVENS 24, CLEVELAND BROWNS 17: I’ll say this for the Browns- they never cease to amaze me with their ability to find new and infuriating ways to lose. Eric Wright decided to employ the “I’m not really interested in being within 10 yards of Anquan Boldin” defense, which turned out to be ineffective. Q had three scores. Peyton Hillis and the gaping holes he ran through were the bright spot for the Browns. You have to wonder what a more dynamic back would’ve done with such room, but it’s impressive against a strong Ravens’ D, nonetheless. Meanwhile, Joe Flacco must’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing Boldin running around free all day, and had his first big game of the season. But the Ravens still haven’t had a “put it all together” game, and they need one, but it’s not likely to come this Sunday at Heinz. Buckle up, Joe.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 38, BUFFALO BILLS 30: The Bills have now committed to Not Trent Edwards as their starting quarterback, and appear to have noticed that CJ Spiller is on the roster. The electric rookie scored two touchdowns, one as a wideout and one as a returner. What say we get him the ball a few more times, Chan? The Bills hung tough but simply don’t have the horses to run a full sixty with the New England Patriots.  The Pats offense is fine, but that defense is not up to Belichickian standards. There are some talented young players on that unit, but their inexperience still outweighs their talent often enough that it has to be concerning to the Hoodie.

ATLANTA FALCONS 27, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 24: Scott Fujita’s favorite “fat punk kicker” blows a 29-yard chippie in overtime and the Falcons take advantage. This one was a battle throughout, though, and the Falcons served notice that they have no intention of simply conceding the NFC South to the defending Super Bowl Champs. Atlanta is physical and well coordinated on defense, and starting to show better balance on the offensive side of the ball. The Saints, on the other hand, still don’t really look right, and Reggie Bush’s injury is a big deal to that offense. How long does the average Super Bowl hangover last? Can’t wait for the rematch in the ATL.

TENNESSE TITANS 29, NEW YORK GIANTS 10: Here’s another one that merely confirmed for me what I already believed about the combatants. The Titans are a playoff contender and the Giants are talented at the skill positions on offense but lack their traditional dominance in the trenches on both sides of the ball, having grown older and slower. Not a good combination. Bad Eli showed up, and given that I think the Giants’ best chance to win is to chuck it around, it comes as no surprise to me that Bad Eli means a twenty-point loss for the G-Men. It’s going to be a long year for Big Blue. The Titans, however, have things to look forward to as long as #28 is in the backfield. Chris Johnson got back to business after a tough outing in Pittsburgh week 2, going for 125 yards and two scores.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 38, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 13: The Pittsburgh Steelers have the best defense in the NFL. What a surprise. See, Tampa, that’s why you didn’t want to get too excited about your 2-0 start after wins over Cleveland and Carolina. That team you saw this weekend is what an NFL program is supposed to look like, and what you learned, if you’re paying attetion, is that you’ve got a long way to go.

CINCINNATI BENGALS 20, CAROLINA PANTHERS 7: This game was U-G-L-Y. Carson Palmer has simply never been the same guy since he got rolled up in the playoffs a few years back, and despite weapons all over the field the offense still looks out of rhythm. They’re not pounding it as effectively on the ground as they did a year ago, and the defense is on the field too much. But they’re still 2-1 and right in the hunt, so they have the opportunity to turn it up a notch. The 0-3 Panthers are already playing out the string. They just don’t know it yet.

ST. LOUIS RAMS 30, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 16: Sam Bradford gets his first win, which is good, but Steven Jackson got hurt, which isn’t. Jackson tweeted that it was just a sprain Sunday night, so hopefully he’s not out for too long. The Rams need him to have any chance to win games. The Redskins looked flat after a tough come-from-ahead loss against the Houston Texans week 2. They’d better get it together fast, because next up is a trip to Philly, where we will all be riveted to The Return of Donovan.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 28, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 3: So, apparently going with Michael Vick was the right decision. Vick handled every situation beautifully, made multiple unbelievable throws, and put the cherry on top with a 17-yard vintage Vick touchdown scamper. DeSean Jackson caught a touchdown, Jeremy Maclin caught two more, and the Eagles’ D shut down a Jacksonville attack largely devoid of talent, imagination, and attitude. But other than that they should be fine. I will say this for the Jags, however: Tyson Alualu was a fantastic draft choice at the number 10 slot, alleged pre-draft value be damned. The rookie D-lineman out of Cal is strong in both run and pass sets and is one of the few Jacksonville players who leaps off the screen.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 27, DENVER BRONCOS 13: Peyton Manning can throw it 57 times for 476 yards and have it be a good thing for his team. Kyle Orton can’t.

ARIZONA CARDINALS 24, OAKLAND RAIDERS 23: This one hurt for Raiders fans. If you draft a kicker in the first round and pay him a bajillion dollars, you expect him to make more than three of his six field goal tries on the day. And you damn sure expect him to make the 32-yarder at the gun. The Raiders have another tough one with the Texans coming to town this weekend, and a loss effectively ends their season. Houston can expect their best shot. Meanwhile, Arizona continues to prove that the decision to ignore better quarterbacking alternatives to Matt Leinart and Derek Anderson was also a self-sentence to irrelevance. Miraculously, they’re 2-1, and thanks to a miserable division they still have a shot at a playoff spot. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

DALLAS, WE HAVE A PROBLEM: NFL WEEK 3 PREVIEW & PICKS

Weeks 3 and 4 have always been key to my evaluation of who an NFL team really is. And this week 3 is a perfect example of that, because there are a ton of teams who have records that could be considered surprises or which, based on my observation, is masking either serious latent defects or a diamond within the coal. Let’s start with the game I will be absolutely glued to, Browns conflict or not.

THE FOOTBALLSICKNESS.COM GAME OF THE WEEK:

Memory or premonition? (Our guess? Buckle up, Tony.)

DALLAS COWBOYS AT HOUSTON TEXANS: This battle for 2010 Lone Star State supremacy looked interesting to me before the season started. Now? Utterly fascinating on numerous levels. The Texans have come out of the gates strong on what appear to be key adjustments to both attitude and philosophy. They embraced the challenge of the opener against the Colts, and ran the defending conference champions out of the building without Matt Schaub having to do anything besides turn around and extend the ball to Arian Foster.  Last week, they came back from seventeen down against a Redskins team that beat these Cowboys in week 1. They’re loaded, they’ve won two tough games in almost polar opposite fashion, and as a result, they’re confident. The Texans have my full attention.

So do the Cowboys, but for very different reasons. They say the more desperate team usually wins. What I can’t decide is: Do the Cowboys know they need to be desperate right now?  The “it’s darn near impossible to go 0-2 and make the playoffs” stat that everyone bandies about doesn’t concern me so much with this Dallas team. I think they’ll get the offense together and eventually be the class of the NFC East. But they’ve dug themselves a hole, and though I haven’t seen it, I’m guessing the 0-3 percentage ain’t better than the 0-2 percentage. And the Texans are no joke. You think they don’t want to smack the Cowboys around? And you think they haven’t learned the lesson these past several seasons that, until they’re there, they’re not there? I think they have. The desperate team might usually win, but right now, the Houston Texans are the better team, and they’re at home. Prove me right, boys.  TEXANS 24, COWBOYS 20.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: The Charlie Whitehurst Bowl! If Ryan Mathews, he of the Dreaded High Ankle Sprain, isn’t ready to go this week, the Bolts are in trouble. The Seahawks present some of the same challenges the Chiefs did two weeks ago- fast, physical defense, a couple of speedy offensive playmakers, and one of the most ruthless home fields in the league. Qwest is just a tough place to play, bottom line. (And, by the way, the 12th Man needs to be marketing itself in some way with “A Tribe Called Qwest.” Who do we talk to?) The Chargers are the better team, but this is still the NFL, and the difference isn’t a chasm. I smell upset.  SEAHAWKS 23, CHARGERS 21.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: If this game were at the ‘Stick instead of Arrowhead, I’d be picking the Niners by three touchdowns. I know it’s a short week, but after dominating the Saints and losing anyway (sound familiar, Vikings fans?), they’re going to be bitter, and Patrick Willis and Frank Gore bitter is not something I’d want to deal with. What Kansas City does is what the Niners are built to stop. If ever a game screamed out for more Jamaal Charles, this is it (see what Reggie Bush did to Willis before he got hurt? Pay attention, Todd.), and if they don’t get their playmakers the ball in space constantly, they aren’t going to win. The offense hasn’t been running off sustained drives- they only scored one offensive touchdown against the Browns. It’s a soft 2-0, and it’s about to be exposed. NINERS 27, CHIEFS 13.

NEW YORK JETS AT MIAMI DOLPHINS: We’re going to have to start assigning a curse just like the Madden to the Hard Knocks participants. First they lay an egg opening night while losing the centerpiece of their defensive line, then Revis goes down while getting posterized by the Slouch, and now the Braylon Edwards extravaganza. To say they’re dealing with a lot of stuff is an understatement. Meanwhile, the Dolphins, who by the way have won this division much more recently than the Jets, have gone a quiet 2-0 after handling the Vikings. They’re playing solid defense, balanced offense, and have done just enough to win twice. I think they’re itching to prove they’re relevant in a tough division. DOLPHINS 17, JETS 14.

GREEN BAY PACKERS AT CHICAGO BEARS: Fantastic early season Monday Night Football matchup. Let me spare you the suspense: the Pack wins this one. But it might not be easy. The Bears’ offense found some interesting spurts of rhythm against the Cowboys, and Jay Cutler in rhythm is a beautiful thing. Still- they don’t block anyone in pass protection, and they’re going to have to throw, a LOT, to have any hope of pulling off what I would consider a substantial upset. Meanwhile, Clay Matthews has 6 sacks in 2 games and Kevin Shaeffer was the Bears’ left tackle a week ago. The phrase “max protect” cannot be uttered fast enough. But then what? Is Johnny Knox going to beat Charles Woodson (who probably views Cutler’s pick propensity as a sure thing)? And does Brian Urlacher still have that safety speed to run with Jermichael Finley? No. And no. PACKERS 31, Bears 17.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS AT DETROIT LIONS: Here’s a faith tester for Vikings fans: What percentage of “worried” would you say you are about this game? Whatever it is, I bet most of you aren’t answering “zero,” which is what you would’ve answered 9 short months ago. And rightly so, in both cases.  What’s clear is that the Vikings are nowhere near the same team they were a year ago without Sidney Rice, and without the seemingly instant chemistry that developed between Brett Favre and Percy Harvin in 2009. What is not at all clear, at least to me, is whether those are the only reasons the Vikings are playing so poorly, at least on offense. I’m deeply unimpressed by the O-line, despite the occasional gaping hole for Adrian Peterson. And Favre himself just doesn’t seem right, does he? It’s not just Rice being gone, and I don’t think it’s just missing training camp. It’s also having a brutally injured and surgically-repaired ankle that’s still healing. It’s also being 41 years old. Remember your dad’s 41st birthday? Riiiiiight. That. Meanwhile, the Lions have had their hearts broken two weeks in a row, and would no doubt love to deliver the kill shot to the Vikings’ season and Favre’s career. I don’t think they’re ready, but I won’t be surprised either way. (In other words, that sound you hear is the distant but distinct echo of a window slamming shut in Minnesota.)  VIKINGS 23, LIONS 17.

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT BALTIMORE RAVENS: As a Browns fan, I’m tempted to go with the trusty “let’s just move on” line here. The Ravens should roll all over them. That said, we haven’t seen a very cohesive Ravens offense yet, and I’ll go ahead and wait till they play it to make the leap. The Browns haven’t played great offensive football, but the fact of the matter is this: but for one bad throw in each game, they’re 2-0 right now. But they’ve been awful in the second half, totally uncreative on offense, and devoid of any semblance of a killer instinct. They’re not going into Baltimore and winning. As a sidenote: James Davis might see the ball this Sunday. I’m excited about that. So I’ve got that going for me. Which is nice. RAVENS 23, BROWNS 10.

BUFFALO BILLS AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Man, it sucks to be the Bills right now. Last week at Lambeau, this week at Foxboro against a Patriots team that figures to be in the mood to run it up. Word of advice for Chan Gailey: you’re going to need to score in this one, sir. Please get it to CJ Spiller a few more times and prove you care about winning. Thanks. PATRIOTS A LOT, BILLS A LITTLE. (Fine. 34-10.)

ATLANTA FALCONS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: I like the Falcons, but so far they’ve shown me nothing that leads me to believe they’re ready to challenge the Saints for division superiority. They just don’t have enough balance or weaponry on offense. The Saints, of course, have both of those things in spades. And they have an attacking, ball-hawking defense that just makes plays. They’ll struggle to maintain their usual dynamism without Reggie Bush, who aside from Drew Brees is the centerpiece of what they’re doing offensively down in the Big Easy. But they’re still a better team at home against a division foe. That’s a W. SAINTS 24, FALCONS 17.

TENNESSE TITANS AT NEW YORK GIANTS: Interesting matchup here, and one whose outcome will be determined by tempo (unless Keith Bulluck gives the Giants incredible notes). Whichever team can establish their ideal style of play will come out victorious. The Giants figure to come out throwing and try to put early points on the board, in hopes of minimizing the Chris Johnson-related damage. The Titans should, of course, feature a heavy dose of CJ2K, in hopes of minimizing the need for Vince Young to drop back. I like the Titans in a close one on the strength of a better D and CJ’s speed. TITANS 23, GIANTS 21.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: This is another one I think merits watching more closely than perhaps the names of the participants might indicate. The way to beat the Steelers is through the air and with as much speed as possible (and get rid of it, Mr. Quarterback. Now.). The Bucs actually have that. Mike Williams is a legit NFL #1 right now, which is incredible for a rookie. Kellen Winslow is a tough cover. Sammie Stroughter and Michael Spurlock aren’t bad. Their run game will do nothing against the Steelers’ dominant front 7, so they’re going to have to chuck it. If they can find a couple of big plays, their D is good enough to keep them in it. They’re at home. And after all, Charlie Batch is playing. All that said, I’m taking the Steelers. That D is BACK.  STEELERS 17, BUCS 13.

CINCINNATI BENGALS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS: If I’m reading these two teams right (and I think I am), this is a beatdown. The Panthers are giving Marvin Lewis, Mike Zimmer and their strong Bengals’ D the full week to prepare for Jimmy Clausen’s first NFL start. Good luck with that, kid. Don’t be surprised if either Leon Hall or Jonathan Joseph gets himself a pick six this week. BENGALS 31, PANTHERS 17.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS AT ST. LOUIS RAMS: The Redskins have to feel like they let a big opportunity slip through their fingers last weekend when Houston came back from 17 down to get ‘em. That Washington D is no doubt prepared to take their frustrations out on one Mr. Bradford. And with how impressive McNabb has been putting up yards in the passing game, the Rams will have a hard time keeping up. The Rams need to plan on a steady diet of Steven Jackson to give themselves a chance to win it in the fourth quarter. If it’s close, I think Bradford can win you a game with a little protection. But not this week. REDSKINS 27, RAMS 17.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: The Michael Vick Era begins. Of course, the Kevin Kolb Era began and lasted all of 10 pass attempts, so how seriously can we take this whole ‘era’ thing when it comes to Philadelphia quarterbacks at this point? Regardless, the Jags can’t stop them with Michael Vick or Kevin Kolb, so the Eagles are going to get themselves a W this weekend. Just give it to Shady and call the slants to DeSean and Jeremy and get out of the way. Mike will hit them a few times and make a couple plays with his legs and that will be plenty. The Jags are a mess, especially on offense and especially at quarterback. Is that “California Dreamin’” I hear on the jukebox? EAGLES 30, JAGS 20.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT DENVER BRONCOS: This could get high scoring. I liked what I saw from both of these teams on offense last week. It was as if the Colts remembered who they were, and the Broncos started discovering it. The appearance of rookie wideout Demaryius Thomas had a visible impact on the Broncos’ O. He stretched the field effectively for Eddie Royal, he got open, he caught a touchdown. Kyle Orton is efficient, so if you have weapons to whom he can distribute the ball, he’ll be a winning quarterback. Speaking of winning quarterbacks, the Colts have Peyton Manning, so they’ll win Sunday. (You can expect similarly brilliant analysis on the Colts every week. You’re welcome. ) COLTS 27, BRONCOS 20.

OAKLAND RAIDERS AT ARIZONA CARDINALS: Last, and quite possibly least, we have a contest between two teams trying new quarterbacks. As a Browns fan, I feel like I can tell both of these franchises that they need to be drafting quarterbacks early next year, because I saw the Derek Anderson and Bruce Gradkowski shows up close not all that long ago, and they were…well, they were just awful.  Frankly, I’m surprised the Raiders moved off of Jason Campbell so quickly, but I have to assume Tom Cable (or someone else) simply sees more likable qualities in Bruce Gradkowski at the moment. He does get rid of the ball, he has produced occasionally in limited action, and he’s well versed in the offense. It’s hard to argue too vigorously in Campbell’s favor. Meanwhile, Darren McFadden is making noise and looking to prove he is a feature back in the League, and if he can do ten more times what he did the first two games, I’ll be the first to describe him as such. I have no idea who wins this game. None. But I’m going with the Raiders by an eyelash.  RAIDERS 23, CARDINALS 17.

NFL SICKNESS: Week 1 Preview & Picks

Until recently, I hadn’t considered the possibility that anyone would be interested enough in my weekly NFL picks that the timing of their release, or the format in which they are presented, would matter. Well, color me surprised. Evidently they matter quite a bit, as some of you are apparently willing to forego your own intellect in favor of mine when it comes to making your weekly office pool picks. Even some of you whom I personally know to be knowledgeable football fans.

I’m flattered, but also must caution as to the advisability of making your choices on my observations. To say such advisability is limited is to say that Brett Favre looked old and tired this past Thursday night. Particularly where a point spread is involved. As such, I’m going to give you a predicted score for each game, and you may take that as you will (like, for example, a comment on whatever spread you choose to observe).

Those who follow me on Twitter (@FtblSickness) can attest that I projected a Saints win on Thursday night, but that the 14-9 score was a far cry from the 34-24 final I predicted. A fine example of what I mean when I say “I really don’t think you should gamble any money based on what I say about football. Or anything else.” Fair enough?  Excellent.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: My thought was that the home field advantage here would be enough to power the Saints to the victory. I also thought the defenses would be a step slow. So much for that.

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Most of what I read is that these are two teams that were bad last year and will therefore be bad this year and that the home team will win a battle of two bad teams in a sloppy game. Thanks for the bang-up analysis there, geniuses. The Browns are going to roll the Bucs, I don’t care where they play. The Bucs were 32nd in the NFL in rushing defense in 2009, and the Browns’ single biggest strength is their running game. I like Gerald McCoy and Brian Price a lot, but if you have Jerome Harrison in your fantasy league, start him. BROWNS 31, Bucs 17.


MIAMI DOLPHINS AT BUFFALO BILLS: I’m having a hard time imagining the game I’ll pick the Bills to win. I think they’ll be competitive most weeks, and I’m sure they’ll get a few. But I’ll be wrong those weeks. I like what Miami brings to the table generally, and as long as Ronnie Brown is healthy, they’re a lot to deal with for anybody. DOLPHINS 24, Bills 20.

CINCINNATI BENGALS AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: This will be one to see. Strictly on talent, top to bottom, I think the Bengals are the better team.  Cincinnati’s defense is clearly stronger than the Pats’ inexperience-riddled unit. But the dropoff from Tom Brady and his weapons to Carson Palmer and his is significant.  Something’s got to give. I’m giving the edge to the Hoodie, #12, and a noisy Patriots crowd.  PATRIOTS 31, Bengals 27.

INDIANAPOLIS AT HOUSTON: Houston gets an early crack on their home field to take down the South division bully Indianapolis Colts.

The BoneCrusher predicts a Texans victory over the Colts. I, myself, do not.

The Colts and Texans both boast high-powered offensive attacks and improved defenses. Bill Polian has quietly built a physical defense that might prove to be the best of the Peyton Manning Era. If so, that only leaves one conclusion about what the Colts are doing this year. Sorry, Houston- keep your eye on that Wild Card. You’re gonna need it. COLTS 37, Texans 28.

DENVER BRONCOS AT JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Clearly, this game can only be known as one thing: The TEBOWL! Jacksonville was among the most rumored Timmy suitors before the Broncos snatched him up, and his presence helped sell tickets to week 1 in Gator Country (and Broncos jerseys all over the place). But his impact on the field will likely be minimal. There, you’ll see David Garrard do just enough to compliment Maurice Jones-Drew’s powerful running to send Tebow’s Broncos home a loser. JAGUARS 20, Broncos 17.

ATLANTA FALCONS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Jamie Dukes picked the Steelers, at home, over the Atlanta Falcons as his upset special of the week. Go ahead and let that roll around in your head for a moment. Dennis Dixon or not, that’s one of two things, and maybe both: (a) insulting; and (b) a sign of the times. People are worried about the Steelers. It’s a concern I share, but not at home against a team that plays ball control (read: Steelers) football. Steelers win a dogfight at home. STEELERS 24, Falcons 21.

OAKLAND RAIDERS AT TENNESSEE TITANS: Here’s another week 1 game that I think has a ton of significance in the eventual playoff picture. The Raiders and Titans should both challenge for playoff spots, and this game could be the difference between getting in and not. My confidence in the Raiders, however, is heavily dependant upon Michael Bush, and he appears limited or out for this clash. VY and CJ will get it done in front of the home crowd. TITANS 27, Raiders 23.

CAROLINA PANTHERS AT NEW YORK GIANTS: I see these teams as similar in caliber if not style.  I keep reading how the Giants might surprise people and be a Super Bowl team. Well, if that happens I will certainly be among the surprised. But they’re not going to be a fun game for anyone. Same goes for the Panthers- you’re going to have to buckle the chinstrap and play the full sixty to beat them. This one goes to the hometown Giants as they open the new stadium. GIANTS 24, PANTHERS 21.

DETROIT LIONS AT CHICAGO BEARS: I’m not buying the Bears. I like almost nothing about how they’re put together. I believe in Martz and I think highly of several of their players- Lance Briggs, most notably. But I don’t see a team with discipline, cohesiveness or consistency. In Detroit, I see a team building all of those things, quickly. They’re not yet ready to play with the big boys, but they’re going to beat some teams you don’t think they’re going to beat as we enter the season. The Lions stun the Midway crowd on a Matthew Stafford-led touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. LIONS 28, Bears 23.

ARIZONA CARDINALS AT ST. LOUIS RAMS: Another one that tempted me. The Rams are a different offense with Sam Bradford at the helm. But he’s still a rookie and it’s not going to look that easy once the regular season gets going. That Rams offensive line is going to get eaten alive by a strong Cardinals front. I don’t think they have enough options for him to manage his way around that. Lots of dump-offs to Steven Jackson. The Cardinals will go to the run early and often as they establish a new identity without Kurt Warner. If Beanie isn’t ready to go, those runs will be a mix of handoffs and dump-offs to the vastly underrated Tim Hightower, with plenty of Fitz mixed in. CARDINALS 31, Rams 20.

GREEN BAY PACKERS AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: This game will be on one of the dual 42’s at Sickness Headquarters. Hopefully, unlike Thursday’s opener, this one lives up to the promise of a high-scoring, high flying barnburner. Everywhere you look, weapons. It makes no difference which green is on the field- there are dudes who make touchdowns their business. I need a heavy dose of Jermichael Finley and Desean Jackson to make up for Brad Childress’ poor playcalling on Thursday. Help me out, fellas. PACKERS 35, Eagles 24.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: The Seahawks haven’t lost a home opener in something like 100 years.  Welcome to year 101, ‘Hawks fans. It’s gonna be a long one. Starting with week 1. The Niners are physical and driven. Coach Singletary will want to establish a physical tone for his division rivals right away. Matt Hasslebeck will be lucky to finish this one. NINERS 30, Seahawks 17.

DALLAS COWBOYS AT WASHINGTON REDSKINS: One of the all-time great rivalries leads off the Sunday Night Football menu. The Cowboys are the far better team, but don’t be surprised if this is a game all the way to the last whistle.  I just haven’t liked the rhythm of the Cowboys’ offense, and I think we might be in for sort of a slopfest with the Redskins still developing an identity. COWBOYS 23, Redskins 17.

...and Ray has a message for him.

Rex has been striking this pose rather often...

BALTIIMORE RAVENS AT NEW YORK JETS: THWACK! BAP! SHMACK! POW! The only way this matchup could be tastier is if it were the finale, rather than the opener of the Monday Night Football season-opening doubleheader. (One of the better NFL traditions of recent years).  Expect nothing less than constant wood-laying and hat-bringing of the highest order. The Jets have been talking an awful lot, and Ray Lews is not the guy you want to cheese off right before he plays you in a season opener. I think the Ravens’ defense has a chip on its shoulder in this one. Rex clearly believes he was the reason they were so great. A lot of us think the primary reason is Mr. Lewis. And Mr. Lewis and company have something for Mark Sanchez this week, and my guess is it will come most frequently off of left guard. RAVENS 27, Jets 20.

SAN DIEGO CHARGERS AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: The Chargers start slow under Norv Turner on a seemingly annual basis. Arrowhead is a tough place to play and the Kansas City faithful will be hyped for the Monday Night finale. The Chiefs have a bunch of weapons and new talent on both sides of the ball, and the Chargers have mostly just lost guys on both sides. This will be more competitive than their reputations of recent years would suggest. Tamba Hali needs to test Brandyn Dombrowski early and often. If he doesn’t hold up, the Chargers are in trouble. But I’m taking them to win on a big debut game from Ryan Mathews.  CHARGERS 34, Chiefs 27.